Moon: Monster final four awaits on Bears schedule

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Moon: Monster final four awaits on Bears schedule

Monday, Nov. 29, 2010
8:27 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears finished an impressive November with a 4-0 record that included strong wins against NFC rivals Minnesota and Philadelphia. The play of the defense and Jay Cutler make them capable of beating anyone on any given Sunday and they finish the third quarter of the season with the Detroit rematch before a monster final four of teams quite capable of beating them as well.
W 19-14 Sept. 12 vs. Detroit Lions (2-9)
Bears survive four turnovers and red-zone failures to escape with a W after officials rule Calvin Johnson did not complete a potential winning TD catch. Cutler passes for 372 yards, Matt Forte nets 201 yards on 24 touches.

W 27-20 Sept. 19 At Dallas Cowboys (3-8)

Cutlers zero INTs plus in-game adjustments to Dallas pressure produced TD passes to Devin Hester, Greg Olsen and Forte. Physical defense forced three Cowboys turnovers, all involving nickel back D.J. Moore who gets his first two career picks.

W 20-17 Sept. 27 (Mon.) Green Bay Packers (7-4)
Nothing like a truly pivotal game just three weeks into a season. The winner gets the first tiebreak edge and the Bears have a chance to go 3-0 in the NFC. All games are statement games this one comes with an exclamation point.

L 3-17 Oct. 3 At New York Giants (7-4)

The missing pass rush returned to get Cutler and vault the Giants squarely back in the midst of a very tight NFC East race among non-exceptional teams. Cutler was sacked nine times and left at halftime with a concussion that ruled out realistic chances for a comeback.
W 23-6 Oct. 10 At Carolina Panthers (1-10)

A horrendous, 4-interception performance by Todd Collins was offset by 218 rushing yards, 166 by Forte who scored twice, and the defense shutting down the Panthers with 147 yards. Bears finally exploded in a first quarter and stayed with a run commitment with changes in the OL.

L 23-20 Oct. 17 Seattle Seahawks (5-6)

Seattle bumbled to three points in a loss to St. Louis, then came in from the week off to handle the Bears everywhere but special teams. Bears play calling (12 runs, 47 pass plays) becoming an issue as Cutler was sacked six times and Bears rarely got close to laying a hand on Matt Hasselbeck.
L 17-14 Oct. 24 Washington Redskins (5-6)

Cutler throws four INTs to DeAngelo Hall and fumbles at the goal line in another game in which Mike Martz refuses to run the football. Bears lose at home for the second straight week, first time since Lovie Smiths rookie year (2004). Questions now are whether Bears can change course on offense after three miserable performances in last four games.

Oct. 31 Off week

W 22-19 Nov.7 At Buffalo BillsToronto (2-9)

Tim Jennings interception led to a game-winning touchdown in a game that the Bears nearly let get away and gave up three TDs on defense for just the second time this season (Seattle). Cutler managed the offense with some control and the offensive line allowed just one sack while coaches committed to the run enough to call 26 plays on the ground.
W 27-13 Nov. 14 Minnesota Vikings (4-7)
In a best game of the season with all three phases playing well, the Bears all but bury the season for a dysfunctional Vikings team that has a quarterback done after the season and head coach possibly sooner. Cutler throws three TD passes and backs carry 32 times; defense gets four takeaways; and Hester shows he hasnt forgotten how to return kickoffs as well as punts.

W 16-0 Nov. 18 At Miami Dolphins (6-5)

The defense recorded the first shutout since 06 and the offense, while not punching in red-zone opportunities the way it needs to, was efficient. A third straight game with 30 or more rushes was a first for a Mike Martz offense and has helped the offensive line settle in and taken pressure off Cutler. The result is another solid game of third-down conversions against a respectable defense.
W 31-26 Nov. 28 Philadelphia Eagles (7-4)

The building continues with a new high for Cutler passing as he throws four TDs on just 21 attempts and Forte runs for 117 yards in 14 carries. The defense stays basic to deal with Michael Vick, who gets some passing yards but into the end zone only twice.
Dec. 5 at Detroit Lions (2-9) Next: vs. BEARS

The Lions were toe-to-toe with New England at 24-all after three quarters on Thanksgiving, then were blown away in the perfect passing game of Tom Brady that produced 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points. Detroit has lost four straight, cant run the ball and has been reduced to the dreaded role of spoiler, which they would like to be for the Bears.

Dec. 12 New England Patriots (9-2) Next: vs. NY Jets (MNF)

The Pats trailed Detroit at halftime and could not pull away until late against a team with nothing to play for. The impression is growing that the Pats play as well as they need to, which will be pushed to the limit in a showdown with the Jets, a game that features two of the Bears next three opponents after Detroit.

Dec. 20 At Minnesota Vikings (4-7) Next: vs. Buffalo

Winning the first game of Leslie Fraziers NFL coaching career was solid motivation and beating the Redskins in Washington was a respectable victory. Brett Favre not throwing an interception for just the second time this season is not good news for the Bears, who would like to count on his help when they see him on MNF in a few weeks.
Dec. 26 New York Jets (9-2) Next: at New England (MNF)
The woeful Cincinnati Bengals were no challenge (26-10) for the Jets, who are off to the second-best start in franchise history. The Jets have beaten Cincinnati three times in less than a year but this Bengals team (2-9) is not going to the wild-card round the way last years did.

Jan. 2 at Green Bay Packers (7-4) Next: vs. San Francisco

QB Aaron Rodgers was able to throw the Packers into a late tie vs. Atlanta but the Falcons issued a statement of sorts by defending home field against a potential playoff opponent. QB Matt Ryan was Rodgers equal in a matchup of two of the NFCs true elite quarterbacks. Packers need to firm up their run defense after Michael Turner ripped off 110 yards on 23 carries.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

John Fox, Vic Fangio nix report of rift in Bears coaching ranks

John Fox, Vic Fangio nix report of rift in Bears coaching ranks

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was game-planning for the Detroit Lions on Wednesday morning when he got a visit from his boss. A story had appeared that Fangio and coach John Fox were at odds to the point where Fangio was planning on leaving the Bears at the end of this season.

“I wasn't aware of [the story] and he told me about it because he was all nervous about it,” Fangio said. “So I said 'Don't worry about it… . [Fox was nervous] because it wasn't true and thought I might take it the wrong way.”

The Bears have more than enough to worry about, taking their 3-9 record to Detroit to face the streaking Lions. A looming staff upheaval could send the remainder of the season into a total collapse given that in this case, for instance, Fangio is very popular with his players.

Fangio said expressly that he plans on being back for 2017. Fox added his own staff statement.

“Well, I think when you spend as much time as we do as coaches, I think we get along great,” Fox said of Fangio and himself. “I want our whole staff back. Now, whether that proves to be a reality or not, things happen.”

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The surprise would be if the Bears 3-9 situation were without some tension. Linebacker Pernell McPhee verbally went after quarterback Jay Cutler earlier this season after the latter threw a costly interception. And whole units have had reason to harbor unkind thoughts about each other.

Fangio’s defense has maintained respectability through its injuries and even improved through the season. Their efforts have not always been rewarded by complimentary success or apparent game plans by the offense.

Conversely, the offense gave the defense a 13-point lead to start the fourth quarter against Jacksonville and the Jaguars won 17-16. The Bears led the Indianapolis Colts 23-19 midway through the fourth quarter and lost. The Bears led Houston 14-10 after three quarters and lost.

Still, “I think our staff is tremendous,” Fox said. “I think right now, if you flashback two years ago this defense was 32nd in the league; right now it is seventh. I think you even look at offensively, similar numbers even from a year ago. We were 24th. This offense is 16th. So with going on our fourth quarterback, I couldn’t be more proud of our staff. I’ll just leave it at I am very, very pleased with our staff.”

The standard for Bears evaluating Matt Barkley? Use what John Fox uses

The standard for Bears evaluating Matt Barkley? Use what John Fox uses

The play of Matt Barkley in the past two games catapulted the previously dismissed young quarterback deep into the Great Bears Quarterback Debate (GBQD), which may not be a particularly exclusive confab, but it does mean that Barkley has gone from castoff to contender for a job somewhere beyond this season. And one particular aspect of his game is the key to what has transpired, as well as what happens going forward.

The law of averages suggests that Barkley will put up a clunker at some point, maybe even more than one. Then again, maybe not. Of the four remaining defenses (Detroit, Green Bay, Washington, Minnesota), only the Vikings rank in the top 10 defensively in either points or yardage allowed through the first 13 weeks of the 2016 season. So Barkley won’t exactly be looking at a Murderer’s Row of the ’85 Bears, ’76 Steelers, ’00 Ravens and ’15 Broncos.

But there’s a bigger Barkley picture that serves as the real framework for evaluating whether or not he’s truly got the right stuff, regardless of whom he faces.

It is not what he’s done – getting his team in position to win in consecutive fourth quarters. It’s what he hasn’t done – turn the football over.

The measure of Barkley, as it was with Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, will be ball security. In a FoxWorld, that is axiomatic.

The second question to Fox after Sunday’s game was on Barkley’s performance. Fox’s mindset was evident in his answer: “He improved,” Fox began, followed immediately by, “He eliminated any interceptions.”

Barkley’s huge leap forward has indeed come, not with his TD passes (including the should-have-been ones), but with his control of the football.

Barkley may have been undone with drops against Tennessee. But he undercut his team with two appalling red-zone interceptions, one in the end zone.

After the interception on the Bears’ opening second-half possession, which turned into Titans points, Barkley proceeded to throw his next 33 passes without a pick. Then against San Francisco, Barkley stayed INT-free on 19 dropbacks (18 passes, one sack). The result was a season-high for Bears points and a win.

Barkley threw two interceptions in his emergency step-in for Hoyer at Green Bay. Given his situation there, no real surprise, and rightfully not a referendum on his quarterbacking.

But consider:

Before his broken arm against the Packers, Hoyer played his way into the GBQD less with his weekly 300-yard passing production than with his 200 pass attempts without an interception. Cutler, in his truncated season, revealed a regression from his step-forward ’15 and its ball security, sliding back up to an interception percentage in the unacceptable mid-3’s where it’s been for his career. This was the prove-it year for Cutler and he rendered ’15 as the exception, not a career turning point.

Barkley’s accuracy in the Soldier Field conditions last Sunday was exceptional. Not only did he not throw interceptions (which is how to earn a 97.5 passer rating), but also repeatedly put footballs where either his guy or nobody was catching them. Too often certain of his guys didn’t catch them, but that’s not on Barkley, who stayed with Josh Bellamy in a team-building statement.

Only the Vikings (No. 5) among the final four Bears opponents have interception percentages ranked better than 14th. Washington (95.0), Detroit (101.9) and Green Bay (102.1) are allowing egregious opponent-quarterback passer ratings (the Bears are at 94.3). Meaning: Barkley will have opportunities to stay his ball-security course against beatable defenses.

The inability of the Bears defense to generate takeaways is a significant 2016 storyline. But the ability of the Bears offense – specifically their quarterbacks – to hold onto the football is a potential tipping point in the most significant position-decision for the franchise.