Moon: Rodgers won't be the Bears' main concern

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Moon: Rodgers won't be the Bears' main concern

Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
10:15 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
In numbers befitting a classic rivalry, the last five Bears-Green Bay Packers games have been decided by 7 or fewer points). The Bears have scored 72 points in those games, the Packers 86.

Neither team has scored more 21 in any of those five. Unfortunately for Chicago, the Packers were the ones hitting that total.

There are few reasons to expect either or both of the teams to break out against the other. And that will be fine with coach Lovie Smith, with one enormous condition.

You can look at the defensive players and say it will be another low-scoring game, Smith said. But if you look on the offensive side of the ball, there are a lot of weapons there too. It could easily be a high-scoring game.

We just want to have one more point than they do.

Because of the closeness of the teams games over the past several years, one conclusion could be that someone is due for blowout. That happened in 2008 for Green Bay (37-3), in 2007 for the Bears (35-7) and twice in 2006, once for each side.

But one-score games mean that the outcome came down to one play, one drive, often the last possession with the need for a score or a stop. And a one-score game means the game hinging on a single turnover.

The Bears beat Green Bay by 3 points in Game 3 because of a takeaway in the final minutes. The Packers won in Green Bay by 7 as Jay Cutler threw second-half interceptions in the Green Bay end zone and at the Packers 24.

As much as anything, when you come down to a game like this, if you just protect the football a little bit. We had opportunities last time, Smith said. There were a couple picks that hurt us, but thats what happened in the past.

They were in the past but they point to the central question facing the Bears Sunday.

The No. 1 worry: Can the Bears score?

The deepest single cause for concern is not Aaron Rodgers, who has seized a spot among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. But the Packers have beaten the Bears without a dominant Rodgers and therein lies the real problem.

The Packers have not allowed the Bears more than 20 points in any of the last six games. With Cutler in charge under two different coordinators, and operating against the 3-4 defense of coordinator Dom Capers, the Bears offense has scored 4 touchdowns in four games against Green Bay.

Devin Hester broke a punt return in the first 2010 game, the only Bears win behind Cutler, but the Green Bay defense is getting more, not less, difficult to score on.

Last year was our first time with a 3-4 defense and we executed it very well, said linebacker Clay Matthews. But we still gave up a lot of points and yards in key situations. This year its the reverse really. Were not giving up as many points, and the yards may be up, but points are what really matters.
Sack threat

The sacks are problems in themselves because they cost both yards and downs. They also carry the inherent risk of turnover, a strip, an unsuspected hit on Cutler that puts the ball on the ground in a game where one mistake is likely to determine the outcome.

You just dont want to turn the ball over and you want to do a great job of running the football, Martz said. Matthews is going to make his plays. Hes a great player. But were trying to limit his impact as much as possible and stop the bleeding as much as you can. They do a great job.

Dom Capers is a great coach. He does a great job of scheming those things. As we get better with what we do, and as that group in the offensive line gets better, weve been able to deal with that much better as well.

Matthews, with 13-12 sacks on the season, accounted for 1 of the 6 sacks in a meaningless Game 16 when the Bears inexplicably exposed Cutler on 47 pass plays vs. 18 running plays, a game plan which coordinator Mike Martz admitted last week was a mistake.

The Bears cannot afford a similar strategic mistake in second-most-meaningful game they hope to play this season. The Packers blitz and they also play extremely solid defense when they dont, but it is the confusion created up front by the shifting Green Bay packages that can take down the Bears.

Were going to handle it, Cutler declared. Our offensive line has a good feel about what theyre going to do. The Packers might not necessarily bring the house every time. Im not for sure. They might play a little more zone to throw us off.

Im sure there is going to be some new wrinkles so were just going to have to feel it out as the game goes by.
Rodgers turnaround

The Bears under Lovie Smith handled the Packers while Brett Favre was up North. Green Bay and Favre had their way with the Bears for more than a decade after Mike Ditka and his Super Bowl XX core left. But in the final four Favre years the Bears owned the Packers to the beat of 6-2.

That changed when Rodgers took over. The Packers have reversed the flow of the rivalry and are 4-2 behind Rodgers. The only times the Bears defeated the Packers was by 3 points in OT in 2008, and by 3 again in Game 3 this season when Green Bay committed 18 penalties. One of those nullified a Rodgers touchdown pass, and the Packers turned the ball over to the Bears at the Green Bay 46 to set the stage for Robbie Goulds winning field goal.

Rodgers has validated superb regular-season passer ratings, with their mix of touchdowns, interceptions and yardage, with even loftier performances in his first two postseasons.

But after a passer mark of 105.8 in a 37-3 Packers win in his first Bears game, the Bears have held him below 93 in five straight games and the Packers to a max of 21 points (in the two 2009 games).

I think if you watch our couple games against him, we did ok, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. He throws it to the open receivers, puts the ball on the money pretty much every time. We have to try and make him feel as uncomfortable as we can.

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.

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Miami QB Brad Kaaya

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Miami QB Brad Kaaya

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

6'4" | 214 lbs.

2016 stats:

3,532 YDS, 62.0 CMP%, 27 TD, 7 INT, 150.3 QBR

Projection:

Third/Fourth round

Scouting Report:

"Groomed to be a quarterback from an early age, Kaaya flashes the mechanics and intelligence of a player who has spent hours in quarterback camps. However, he can be too mechanical and thinks too much rather than just flowing and responding to what the field offers him. Kaaya could have used another year of college, but he has the tools and intangibles to become an NFL starter. While he can work around his average arm strength, he must improve his accuracy and anticipation if he is to make a mark in the NFL." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Video analysis provided by Rotoworld and NBC Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles