Moon View: Packers title bad news for Bears

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Moon View: Packers title bad news for Bears

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011
Posted: 5:41 p.m. Updated: 9:29 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears coach Lovie Smith very methodically stresses the value of takeaways (he would, being a defensive coach n all). He felt the sting of them when his 2006 Bears team lost a Super Bowl after an interception of a Rex Grossman pass was returned for a touchdown, and he was able to see it come to pass in Super Bowl XLV.

And it helps explain why the Bears are expected this offseason and draft to strengthen a defense that already is among the NFLs best but which the organization wants to raise even to a higher level.

Green Bay put 21 points on an elite Pittsburgh defense off turnovers -- 14 from interceptions, seven after a Rashard Mendenhall fumble. The Packers were a combined 7-0 when they held a positive turnover ratio. The Bears threw three interceptions vs. Green Bay, one for a TD to D-tackle B.J. Raji, or it would have been the Bears playing for the Lombardi Trophy instead of the Packers. The Bears were 7-0 in 2010 when they held a positive turnover ratio. ...

The Bears are likely to be looking up at the Green Bay Packers for the foreseeable future, because Green Bay accomplished far more in its significant draft positions than the Bears. The Packers passing game also proved good enough to get the better of the NFLs elite defenses, without the benefit of run-pass balance. So unless Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are leaving anytime soon, which theyre not, the Bears have won their last NFC North division title for a few years. ...

Add to the overall worry about the Packers ascendancy the fact that they won a Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed, meaning that they won three road games to reach the Super Bowl, then put 31 points on the NFLs No. 1 scoring defense to win a Super Bowl. This may have been the end of the 2010 season but the future is in the Green Bay youth as well as its cohesion. The Green Bay quarterback and offensive line get running back Ryan Grant back in 2011 and this is significantly bad news for the Bears. ...

If the Packers won a Super Bowl with 14 players going on IR and the reigning defensive player of the year (Charles Woodson) going out with a shoulder injury for the second half, what will they be like when they lose six offensive starters for the year?

QB legends

Aaron Rodgers played exactly the way he did all postseason, specifically, better even than he did in the regular season. As good as Bart Starr and Brett Favre were, Rodgers plays his best in the biggest games and the shock will be if he does not have his teams in Super Bowls or in conference championship games with the regularity that the Joe Montana, Steve Young, Terry Bradshaw and the other greats did.

Rodgers was the MVP of the Super Bowl and somehow it was a pick you could have made with reasonable assuredness before the game was even played.
Hurtin' Pack
When two great defensive teams get together, the chances of turnovers deciding the game increase exponentially. So it has been for the Green Bay Packers, who turned 2 interceptions into 14 points in the first half.

Ironically perhaps, Green Bays two defensive linchpins (Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson) did not figure prominently into either takeaway. The growing problem for the Packers, however, is the quietly increasing number of injuries, between wide receiver Donald Driver, DB Sam Shields and DB Woodson.

Good call

Lovie Smith was criticized after the NFC Championship game for deferring after winning the coin toss, giving the Packers the ball to start the game. The criticism was ill-informed, because the fact is that Aaron Rodgers produces far fewer points on opening drives of first halves than in the ones to start a second half.

Notably perhaps, then, the Packers won the toss and also chose to defer. They know Rodgers is better after a half.

No losers

Israel Idonije was a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award but Minnesotas Madieu Williams was accorded the honor. There are no losers for this award, though. The world is a better place for all of the honorees.

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.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."