Moon: O-line struggled, defense prevailed

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Moon: O-line struggled, defense prevailed

Players typically declare that they are not competing with their opposite numbers. Jay Cutler says he is not measuring himself against Aaron Rodgers. Julius Peppers doesnt watch film of Jared Allen. Defensive team goals are based on points allowed, yards allowed, takeaways and such, not whether their defense had better stats than the other guys.

But coach Lovie Smith said after the game that the Bears defense outplayed the other teams. Defensive players said the same.

What Im trying to say is we played a little bit better than them as the game went and that was why we were able to win, cornerback Charles Tillman said Monday, then included Matt Fortes 205 rushing yards and Devin Hesters touchdown return among other whys behind the Bears victory.

The Bears need to find a more meaningful measure of defensive performance than the other teams defense.

Smith in fact tempered that significantly on Monday, saying simply, We didnt play as well as we need to.. We wont play defense like that here very often.

That would be a good idea.

The Panthers had 10 plays of 20 yards or longer, and unlike in past Panthers nightmares when wide receiver Steve Smith abused the Bears, six different players made them. That doesnt include runs of 16 yards by running back Jonathan Stewart and 14 by quarterback Cam Newton plus a 15-yard completion to tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Newton was neither sacked nor hit hard enough to count except when he ran with the ball. Carolina ran 72 plays; the Bears had exactly one tackle for loss.

We need to get more pressure on them, Smith said, expanding the sweep of his not-goods. We didnt play the run well yesterday. We gave up big plays in the passing game. You just cant have that.
To be fair

A couple of perspective items to consider here:

The Panthers may not necessarily be a good prism through which to evaluate the Bears defense. Indeed, the wonder of Sunday may not be that the Panthers got 543 yards, but that they got only 543.

The Carolina offense has a No. 1 at quarterback (Cam Newton); two No. 1s at running back (Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams); two No. 1s at tight end (Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey; two No. 1s at tackle (Jordan Gross, Jeff Otah); and a Pro Bowl guard in Ryan Kalil, a No. 2. And thats not even including Steve Smith, a No. 3 but among the NFLs top wideouts over most of the past decade.

The time of possession disparity (Carolina had the ball 33 minutes 29 seconds, 7 minutes longer than the Bears) shouldnt be particularly surprising. The touchdown returns by Devin Hester and D.J. Moore meant that the Panthers had two more possessions than the Bears.

And very significantly, in a stop that was a decisive tipping point in the game, the defense allowed Carolina just three incompletions after a fourth-quarter Jay Cutler interception gave the Panthers the ball at the Chicago 29. Carolina missed a field-goal try from 52 yards to net nothing from the takeaway.
Yes, but

For the Bears to say that their defense out-played the Carolina defense carries a hint of whistling past the graveyard for a unit that is disarray. The Carolina defense, missing a Pro Bowl linebacker (Jon Beason) and cornerback (Chris Gamble) should not be any standard of comparison.

For the Bears to say that their defense out-played Carolinas, whether because the Bears scored a touchdown or because Carolinas gave up 224 rushing yards and that they only allowed 169,

A bigger problem looms up front, where games are typically won. The defensive line has just three sacks over the last three games, albeit against two quarterbacks among the NFLs more sack-proof in Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. Unofficial post-game stats had the Bears delivering zero quarterback hits on Newton after just two against Rodgers.

Without a pass rush, the difficulties in the deep secondary are magnified exponentially simply because receivers have time to get to the safeties level. And Bears cornerback play is far from the shut-down level.

Now the Bears get Matthew Stafford, who has not been sacked in three of the Detroit Lions four games. Stafford has been sacked five times but all came against the Minnesota Vikings, and the quarterback has been hit just 14 other times this season.

Updating

Guard Chris Spencers exact injury is a small fracture in his right hand, suffered in the first half of the Carolina game but not enough to sideline him Sunday or against Detroit. Anytime you have a player finish a game, Lovie Smith said, you feel pretty good about him going into the next one."
Scoring issues

The final Bears point total of 34 against the Carolina Panthers was ample but the offense is still not taking over games in any respect beyond Matt Fortes play.

The Carolina offense out-scored the Bears 29-20, with touchdown runs by Forte and Marion Barber augmented by two thwarted red-zone trips that resulted in Robbie Gould field goals of 20 and 24 yards.

But the Bears offense still has not scored more than two touchdowns in a game this season, scoring two each against Atlanta, Green Bay and Carolina. Only the Falcons offense was outscored by the Bears, and that game also featured a defensive touchdown, a fumble forced by Julius Peppers and returned by Brian Urlacher.
Not in a rush

The Carolina Panthers became the fourth straight team to rush for 100 or more yards on the Chicago defense. Running backs DeAngelo Williams (82 yards) and Jonathan Stewart (52) were supplemented by Cam Newtons 35 as the 169 rushing yards were the most since the New York Giants 189 in game four last Oct. 3.

More concerning perhaps, teams are averaging a stunning 5.1 yards per rush against a defense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL last season giving up 3.7 yards per carry.
Duly noted

Devin Hester is making history but hes also drawing unwanted attention and from more than just kick-coverage teams

For the second straight week Hester drew a 15-yard penalty for actions after a play was over. The first was a dead-ball foul for punching a Packer after a play in the loss to Green Bay. Sunday he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for following his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown with a series of three somersaults in the Carolina end zone.

The 15-yard penalty was assessed on the kickoff, Carolina started from its 36, its best starting field position of the entire game, and the result was a touchdown in eight plays.

Right guard Chris Spencer left the game in the first half with what was diagnosed as a broken right hand, according to several reports. Spencer returned to the game and played the second half with what appeared to be a cast or heavy wrap on the injured hand.

Safety Brandon Meriweather, no stranger to fines from the NFL, is expected to receive a letter from the NFL this week for his helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver Steve Smith in the second quarter.

The good news is that the Bears have gotten points every time they reached or breached an opponents 20-yard line. Last year the Bears scored points of any kind on only 40 of 51 red-zone possessions, 26th in the NFL. The bad news is that the Bears are scoring touchdowns on just half their red-zone possessions (5 of 10).

I am not making this up.

Former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick handled color commentary for the FOX telecast of the Bears-Panthers game, describing plays by individuals such as center Robert Garza and noting that offensive coordinator Mike Martz wants to run the ball." No, really, he said that.

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.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.