No matter the outcome vs. NE, Bears are A-list team

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No matter the outcome vs. NE, Bears are A-list team

Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010
12:50 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears do not need to show well against the New England Patriots to establish that they are a legitimate A-list team in 2010. They already are, and the result Sunday will not change that.

If the Bears defeat or hang with the Patriots, thats a statement that skeptics and anxious fans can respect. But New England has beaten Pittsburgh, Baltimore and split with the New York Jets and my guess is that no one is dismissing those teams as contenders, especially the Steelers, who were double-digit losers.

The Bears have beaten the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears have won five straight, tied with New Orleans behind only Atlanta (six) for the longest active win streak this season. That alone is a statement of legitimate no matter what happens Sunday.
Snow birding

The damage from snow to the Metrodome this weekend has forced the NFL to shift the Minnesota-New York Giants game from noon Sunday in Minneapolis to Monday night in Detroits Ford Field. It is unclear whether the Bears visit to the Dome is in jeopardy but the University of Minnesotas TCF Bank Stadium could be readied in a matter of days for an NFL game. And the extent of damage and repairability of the dome is still being assessed.

The Big Fella

The sometimes-struggles of the New England defense have not dimmed the luster of one of its anchors: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a former No. 1 draft choice and the linchpin of the Bill Belichick 3-4 schemes.

Wilfork is listed at 350 pounds, but that typically gets an eye-roll for being on the low side. But Wilfork is enough of an athlete that Belichick has shifted him out to an end position, although since the defeat in Cleveland, he has been anchored at nose, which puts him opposite Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz.

Kreutz has faced the likes of Pat Williams from Minnesota and was a teammate of Ted Washington. He sees Wilfork in precisely the same class.

Hes like Pat, smart, hard to move, and they are better athletes than people give them credit for, Kreutz said. All the elite nose guards are the same: Theyre big guys who can run, can use their hands and they know their scheme and whats going on around them.

And finally

Each weeks game seems like it is the new most difficult to assess but this one really is. No, I mean it. The issue isnt weather; New England is used to this. It is that there are so many aspects to the Patriots that isolating one on which to base a decision.

What I keep coming back to is Belichicks lackluster performances in games after short weeks. Also, Greg Olsen and others have always, and correctly, stated that it is more difficult to come back from a good win than a bad loss. What the Patriots did to the New York Jets last Monday night is akin to the Bears upending the Packers in Game Three on a Monday, then being pounded by the Giants the following Sunday on the road.

New England is coming off a hugely emotional win over its chief division rival and off a short week. In a game of small factors, that is a big one. Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Bears defense, Patriots offense, Mike Martz, Bill Belichick those are all major elements in what will play out Sunday afternoon. In the end, the Bears are three-point underdogs, equating to roughly a handicapping equivalent of a touchdown, given the home-field advantage being worth about a field goal. They will win by three, not lose by three.

Bears 17 Patriots 16

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 establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.