Moon Musings from a Sunday of NFL football

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Moon Musings from a Sunday of NFL football

Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010
10:45 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The play of Matt Flynn for the Green Bay Packers should serve to quiet some of the snickering about the Bears facing backup quarterbacks (which has happened a lot this season).

Flynn started in place of concussed Aaron Rodgers and had the New England Patriots reeling right up to the final, game-ending sack. Rodgers doesnt make some of the new-guy mistakes but Flynn played better against the Patriots that Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez and a lot of other quarterbacks this season.

A fluke? Well, Drew Stanton, that third-stringer who started against the Bears, guided the Detroit Lions to a road win over playoff-hopeful Tampa Bay earlier in the day and beat the Packers with Rodgers a week earlier.

Look, no one is saying that backups are the players that starters usually are. But would the Bears have lost to the Miami if the Dolphins had Chad Henne or Pennington starting instead of Tyler Thigpen? Or to Detroit if Matthew Stafford is in rather than Stanton? Lovie Smth has virtually owned (8-3) Brett Favre, and Tarvaris Jackson iswell, Tarvaris Jackson. Can Joe Webb really do all that much worse?

Remember those guys?

Not that the Bears or anyone else is looking that far back and it doesnt mean anything now, but what the Philadelphia Eagles did with their comeback against the New York Giants puts a subtle exclamation point to the Bears win over Philly a few weeks back. It also did the Bears a little favor that could turn out to be very big.

If the Bears and Eagles tie as division winners (assuming the Bears get their business done in short order), the Bears have the head-to-head edge over Philadelphia and that could get them a bye past the wild-card round. The division winners with the two best records get that first week off; one of those two will be the Atlanta Falcons and the other could ultimately be determined by those 28 points in the final 7:28 by the Eagles in the Meadowlands.

Jet takeoff?

A less helpful (for the Bears) turn of events was taking place in Pittsburgh where the recently inept New York Jets were taking the measure of the Steelers. The Jets had a total of three field goals in the combined previous two games and the Bears would like very much to have been playing a collapsing team on a three-game losing streak.

What raises an eyebrow is the fact that the Jets did it on the road, against the fourth-ranked yardage defense. The Jets also are now 6-1 on the road as they get ready for Soldier Field.

Detroit doins

The Detroit Lions are starting to play the way I thought they would all season after all the upgrading they did in the offseason. Its just a little late.

They put a significant scare into the Bears with that 17-14 halftime lead two weeks ago. Then, off a losing streak at five games, they rocked the Green Bay Packers and didnt allow at TD. Now they average 6.5 yards per carry and run for 181 yards against what appeared to be a playoff team at Tampa Bay. Operative phrase: at Tampa Bay.

This was the first road win since they beat the Bears in 2007.

So the Lions have defeated two teams with winning records in the last two weeks and threatened a third (Chicago). Early prediction: The Lions will not finish fourth in the NFC North next year.

Nice call

Compliments to Jeff Fisher for his presenting offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger a game ball after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Houston Texans. Heimerdinger is battling cancer and Fishers gesture was one of those moments that helps you remember that there are battles in life far greater and with more at stake than a football game. Nice going, Guppy, and good luck, Mike.

Sound of silence
With the Bears playing on Monday night, we wont have our regular Monday night chat on CSNChicago.com from 7-8 p.m. Those are always a good time and right now well figure on hooking up Tuesday night instead of Monday.

Same on checking in with the guys at WFMB-AM SportsRadio 1450 in Springfield. We usually visit in drive time at 4:40 p.m. but well gab Tuesday instead. Other get-togethers right now will stay the same this week.

And one more thing

Ive had the Bears at 10-6 or better for this season and this will be No. 10. I had thought the upset of the New England Patriots would be that onenever mind.

But this time for sure.

The Vikings lost the Leslie Frazier buzz last week in that showing against the New York Giants in Detroit. Theyre honoring their 50 greatest players and coaches this weekend but since Chuck Foreman, Alan Page and Fran Tarkenton are in their primes or suiting up, thats just good for a brief emotional tick. Hey, the Bears retired the uniform numbers of none other than Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in 1994 and lost by 27, at home.

Minnesota is starting a rookie quarterback against a defense that has been roughed up the past two weeks. Joe Webb will give the Bears more problems than they would like, and the Bears could be in serious trouble if they prepared sloppily the way the Patriots did for Matt Flynn when the Packers came to Foxboro on Sunday night.

But while conditions should affect the dome-based Vikings more than the Bears, the biggest issue I see for the Bears to overcome is Jay Cutler. The quarterback simply does not characteristically play well in the dark, as the Giants, Dolphins and Patriots game confirmed. Even his play in the win over Green Bay produced a lower passer rating than his season average.

Turnovers will decide the game and if Cutler can avoid them, the Bears should post win No. 10 and pick up their third NFC North title in Lovie Smiths seven Chicago seasons.

Bears 13 Vikings 10

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.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. 

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store. Sixth in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Jay Cutler lasted through two years under the John Fox coaching staff while his 2014 contract still contained some guaranteed money. The new regime under GM Ryan Pace was given the option by Chairman George McCaskey of cutting ties earlier regardless of financial commitment but Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains as coordinators made a go of it before Cutler's injuries (shoulder and thumb last season) and mediocre play regardless of supporting cast made the organization's decision for it.

Resolving a now-decades-old problem position has been goal No. 1 of Pace, with all indications that the process will be ongoing, vs. the Cutler's-fine approach of the past eight years. Step one was signing Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Mike Glennon to a three-year deal but with $16 million of the $18.5 million guaranteed coming in 2017. The situation establishes Glennon as the starter, with a chance to put a hold on the job beyond this season with a breakout year.

"It's a leap of faith to some degree," Fox acknowledged during the NFL owners meetings. "But I think you do that in a lot of different positions and evaluations of personnel and people. The big thing with him is that he has been in NFL football games. He has been in a lot of systems and around different players and personalities and, I think, handled it well."

The decision was made to move on from Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as backups, signing Mark Sanchez, 30, to a one-year pact worth $1 million guaranteed plus a per-game bonus that allows the deal to top out at $2 million. Connor Shaw showed promise before going down for the year with a broken leg suffered in preseason.

Pre-draft depth chart
 
Starter: Mike Glennon
Reserves: Mark Sanchez, Connor Shaw

Bears draft priority: High

The Glennon and Sanchez signings were modest financial and time commitments by NFL standards. Their depth chart has no "elite" in place and does not need another mid-range quarterback; they had that for eight years in Cutler and know what limitations a limited quarterback brings to a franchise.

Using Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints experience as the template, Pace has been clear that he is seeking a quarterback with the intangibles to do more than post statistics, going further to lift the collective team mojo, something too often painfully lacking during the Cutler tenure.

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All of which makes the quarterback draft options a level more interesting than the basic talent/traits assessments and evaluations that have circulated. The Bears have done extensive research on the quarterback prospects, and few envision scenarios where the Bears do not strike for one within the first several rounds.

The overarching No. 1 question: Will the Bears disregard draft slot (No. 3) and land a quarterback perhaps not graded that highly but with the intangibles the organization craves?

Question No. 2: Could quarterbacks go a surprising 1-2 with the Cleveland Browns tapping Mitchell Trubisky and San Francisco 49ers snatching Deshaun Watson?

As far as this year's class, "I'm not banging the table for any of them," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who tapped Clemson's Deshaun Watson as the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 draft class.

Keep an eye on:

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame — The Bears sent a task force to South Bend for Kizer's Pro Day, in addition to a Combine interview and private meeting. Athletic but INT rate (2.7 percent), accuracy (60.7 completion percentage) and W-L record (14-11) nothing special.
 
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech — Has been likened to both Cutler and Brett Favre for big-play predispositions, mobility and arm abilities. May have widest hit-miss potential, with major upside but also weaknesses in decision-making that concern some. "I just think his fundamentals break down too many times," Mayock said.
 
Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh — Bears coaches worked with him at Senior Bowl. Not as highly touted as others in the class but among most pro-ready and rates as possible nugget in mid-rounds — if left on the board that long.
 
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina — Bears were scouting him intently early last college season and invested a Combine interview and private workout in additional time with what some rate as the best-available at his position in a class short on "elite" talents. But opinions vary widely, with Trubisky being mentioned for Cleveland at No. 1 or for No. 12, for example.
 
Deshaun Watson, Clemson — Unquestioned intangibles leader with curious "negatives:" accuracy (67.4 career completion percentage) and turnovers (2.7 INT percentage). Two full years as starter, two appearances in national championship game.