Should Bears rest starters if game is meaningless?

327844.jpg

Should Bears rest starters if game is meaningless?

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010
10:53 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Hopped on The Danny Mac Show on WSCR-AM 670 as I do every Thursday but this morning it was Matt Abbatacola sitting in for Mac and Spiegs. Matt had some things on his Bears mind:

Should the Bears give starters this weekend off?

Matt was on board with a lot of his listeners who favor resting keystarters if the game in Green Bay is meaningless. I disagree.

The prime directive is to do whatever advances you toward being betterin the playoffs. You shouldnt play starters so people hit statisticalgoals (Matt Fortes 22 rushing yards for 1,000, Johnny Knoxs 40 receiving yards for 1,000). Thats idiotic.

You dont structure your lineup based on winning or losing in order toget another team into or out of the playoffs. Your team is the only onethat matters, not whether you think you match up better against GreenBay, New York or anyone else.

And you dont rest players just to preserve them. If someone like Pisa Tinoisamoahas a knee that would benefit significantly from a game off, sit him.But no one is 100-percent healthy this time of year so the only fullweekends off should go to the true health risks.

That said, I dont have a problem with treating this like a thirdpreseason game where your starters play into the second half at least.But Cutler, his receivers, the offensive line and pretty much theentire (suddenly vulnerable) defense dont need two full weeks andSundays without games. That gets no one ready for anything.

Going into this season, did I expect this Bears team to be what and where they are?

As I said (and was harangued for) before the year, I thought this team would be 10-6 or better. The reasons lay in the number of elite players (Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher) on defense, plus very strong second-tier guys in Charles Tillman, Chris Harris and others. Put another way, I did not see how this team was going to be bad. I wasnt sure how good they would be but Ive covered bad over the years and this didnt smell like bad.

Besides, the Bears went 7-9 with Jay Cutler being terrible for the most part. If he had been simply bad, the Bears are 8-8 or better. And with Mike Martz coming in, the prospects of Cutler and the offense being exponentially better were very good. How Martzs offense played out has been a little different from even what it was in the first quarter of the season, but if the had not been improvement, that wouldve been the surprise, not that the offense turned out to be overall pretty decent, apart from statistical specifics.

Speaking of valued players, how much has Matt Forte advanced in 2010?

Forte has gone from a solid, serviceable back in years 1 and 2 (his 3.9-yard average as a rookie wasnt special) to flirting with elite status. Not as a pure runner, not as a pure receiver, but as an all-around back, and that is what the Chicago offense craves even more than any specialist.

Forte in 2011 is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and a surprise (and big mistake) will be if the Bears don't get an extension done with him prior to next training camp. Forte ranks ahead of Lovie Smith on the need-to-extend list, if only because Smiths value already has been set in the upper echelon of his job grade. Forte will cost the Bears proportionately far more if he gets anywhere close to free agency and bidding from teams like Green Bay that may have uncertain current situations at running back and could have a franchise answer in Forte, whose arrow is pointing decidedly up.

How much credit does Mike Martz deserve for his flexibility with the in-season adjustments he made in his offense?

Martz deserves tremendous credit for redirecting himself and his offense once it was apparent that the personnel was not yet at the point of being able to cash the checks he was asking them to cover.

All of the credit doesnt go to Martz, however. The change directive marks one of Lovie Smiths coaching milestones, with support from Jerry Angelo and others on the staff. If there was a surprise it was that Smith did not dictate major changes sooner than the off week but maybe it just took those three losses in four games to establish definitively what wasnt going to work.

All in all, a good visit. I usually only see Matt during training camp so it was good to check in with him. Well do it again next week after Packers Week has played out.

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.

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

The daily litany of injuries and practice limitations through training camp and to this point of preseason have been stories. But they typically do not take on real significance until about this time of the football year, when teams swing onto final approach for their first regular-season game.

Against that backdrop, the Bears’ injury forecast was trending the right direction on Monday when No. 1 tight end Zach Miller and No. 1 nickel receiver Eddie Royal, both out for extended periods going through the team’s concussion protocol, were practicing without the don’t-hit-me red practice jerseys they were in as recently as last week.

Right guard Kyle Long, down with a shoulder injury since the New England game, was not in practice pads Monday but trotted over to a nearby goalpost at one point during practice, got into his stance and delivered a couple of linemen “punches” to the padding.

All three are vital components of a struggling offense in desperate need of impact players at any position.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, held out of the Kansas City game on Saturday with hamstring soreness, was in uniform as well. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, was out running laps around the practice field, although he remains a longshot to be active for the Sept. 11 opener in Houston.

The situation was less encouraging for linebacker Pernell McPhee, who continues to do only controlled running and cutting along the sidelines as he works back from knee surgery in January. Chances of his return for the start of the regular season appear next to nil.

“We’ve got some avenues that we’re going to have to decide here as we cut down [the roster] to the 53 and some time from now, so I don’t like making those decisions now,” said coach John Fox. “But we’ll continue to evaluate him. There are options. He did start [training camp] on PUP [physically unable to perform]. We have a lot of options and we’ll do what’s best for us and him.”

The team has kept details of McPhee’s procedure and injury in-house. But teammate Willie Young, whose 2014 season ended with an Achilles injury of his own, offered a perspective that hinted at how serious McPhee’s injury may have been.

“It’s a credit to him, because to bounce back from any what used to be career-ending injuries is a challenge,” Young said, adding, “but he’s on course, I would say.”

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

With the No. 1 units in all three phases generally done for the 2016 preseason, one of the few stats that coaches and teams focus on can be analyzed for a Bears team that doesn’t have a lot of numerical results worth noting.

Through three preseason losses the Bears curiously have a plus-1 turnover ratio, taking the ball away from opponents. Through three games last year the Bears stood at plus-6 after a 2-1 point of a preseason in which coach John Fox sought to change a losing culture with an aggressive preseason approach.

Why this matters in a preseason of failures is this: Of the 15 teams with negative turnover totals, only one had a winning record. Not that a positive preseason means regular-season success, as the Bears demonstrated last year.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

But while the Bears offense has done precious little with the football when it’s had it, at least it is not giving it to opponents. Brian Hoyer has thrown the only two interceptions in 96 throws by Bears quarterbacks, a rate of 2.1 percent.

The defense has been without starting cornerback Kyle Fuller and No. 1 nickel corner Bryce Callahan for the past two games, and top corner Tracy Porter for game one and part of game three, the latter because of a concussion.

Still, members of the defense, which has produced two interceptions and two fumble recoveries through three games, have noticed a difference this year from last year’s first in a 3-4 base defense.

“Faster, that’s the main thing,” said defensive tackle Will Sutton. “A year under my belt in the system, you’re not thinking as much because you should know the plays. I can play a lot faster because I know how the blocks are being made against this type of defense, for instance.”

[RELATED: Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?]

The results have not yet been reflected in points, yardage or wins. But within the defense, players believe that team speed has been increased along with reaction speed, breaks on the ball and other elements that go into producing takeaways.

“Absolutely,” said linebacker Willie Young. “We’ve got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and [linebacker Lamarr] Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year.

“But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence.”

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Bears coach John Fox declared in the wake of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that what transpired hadn’t been all bad. And that’s true; good wins don’t usually look as good in the film room afterwards, and bad losses don’t automatically show up all dark, either.

And so it is after preseason game No. 3 that the Bears in fact did have some good along with some bad in what was the worst performance of the preseason, if only because so much of it involved the No. 1 units, and they’re supposed to be better than that.

Since so much seemed to be (and actually was) bad on Saturday night, the contrarian approach is invoked here: Let’s start with the good.

Good: The Bears faced Kansas City (which also was missing a handful of key starters) without Bryce Callahan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Eddie Royal. Tracy Porter left with a concussion. They expect to have some if not all of those starters and sub-starters back by Week 1.

Bad: Miller, Porter, Royal and McPhee have varying degrees of injury histories, McPhee the least of the group but had never been put in the position of holding up as a full-time starter before last season. The chances of the Bears having all their key players for full seasons are slim.

Good: Jay Cutler has thrown 31 passes this preseason. None of them have been intercepted. In what proved to be a foreshadowing of a ball-security breakthrough for the historically turnover-prone quarterback, Cutler threw zero interceptions in 33 attempts last preseason. In the regular season Cutler had two games of 31 attempts and another of 33 with zero interceptions, plus pick-free games of 24, 27 and 45 attempts.

Preseason and training camp stats mean nothing; preseason and camp performances often do.

[RELATED: Bears defense can't pick up all the pieces from a broken offense]

Bad: Kevin White has shown less than nothing through preseason, catching a total of three passes and dropping an equal number in what is his de facto rookie season. He has run imprecise routes and looked a seventh-round draft pick, not a seventh-overall one. Despite his apparent explosiveness, no Bear is averaging less than White’s 4 yards per reception.

Good: Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith have had next-step preseasons, a matter of some potential significance given the health concerns with Eddie Royal and production concerns with White. No Bear has caught more than Bellamy’s 10 passes, and no Bear with more than two catches has averaged more than Meredith’s 16 yards per catch.

Bad: The Bears need a road win at Cleveland next Thursday to avoid the fifth winless preseason in franchise history.

Good: Of the previous four no-win warmup slates, the Bears finished 9-5 in 1962 and 11-5 and in the NFC Championship in 2010. The 1998 season, Dave Wannstedt’s last, wound up 4-12 but 1978 at least was 7-9.

Five of the last six times the Bears lost the “all-important third preseason game,” the Bears finished 8-8 or better.

Bad: (put in the Kansas City game tape)