Super Bowl lessons

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Super Bowl lessons

Super Bowls finish off the playing portion of the NFL year. They also serve as standards for measuring your team, your players, your coaches, whatever, in terms of where you stand vis--vis the elite in the league, and they point to some things you may need to do to get to that level.

1 - Let-em-score touchdowns just arent a good idea.

The Green Bay Packers and Mike Holmgren lost a Super Bowl when they let the Denver Broncos score a go-ahead touchdown in a fourth quarter in order to give themselves more time for an answering score. That didnt happen.

The New England Patriots appeared to go into a matador mode on Ahmad Bradshaws six-yard run for the winning points Sunday. Bradshaw tried not to go all the way into the end zone, stopping just short of the goal line but falling in when he couldnt stop his momentum.

The Patriots lost this Super Bowl when they, like the Packers, could reply with points to overcome the Bradshaw score.

It seems to make sense at the time. But the teams that have done it in the biggest game of all have lost. Not sure how else to really judge the strategy.

2 - Get a high-impact wideout, no matter what it costs.

New GM Phil Emery said he wont be talking about needs or players but the two teams in Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI each had wide receivers that decide games, and the Bears simply dont have any at this point.

Not a new assessment but the Bears dont have a Hakeem Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. Or a Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Rob Gronkowski (more on that later).

But a point here is that these types of gamers dont come through one portal. They can cost, however, and Emery and the Bears will need to shop aggressively.

Nicks was a No. 1 draft choice. Cruz was an undrafted free agent nugget (sort of a Dane Sanzenbacher thing) who almost was cut prior to this season. And Welker cost the Patriots second- and seventh-round draft picks in a 2007 trade.

The Bears have the No. 19 pick of this years draft. They have four picks in the first three rounds. And the free-agent receiver market includes Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson and Dwayne Bowe.

Jerry Angelo disliked investing No. 1s in wide receivers. Emery said at his introductory press conference that he and Angelo were different. How different, and how much he thinks an elite wideout is worth, will be a factor in whether the Bears are in a Super Bowl discussion a few months from now.

3 - Just get in the playoffs. Period.

The Giants won this Super Bowl after a 9-7 season. The 9-7 Arizona Cardinals were within a historic Santonio Holmes catch of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple Super Bowls ago. The Packers at 10-6 won Super Bowl XLV after qualifying for the playoffs via tiebreaker.

Coaches and players always say just make the playoffs and anything is possible. Couldnt have said it any better.

4 - This is enough Manning for a while. A couple days, anyhow.

Eli Manning said some months ago that he thought he deserved to be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the game. Well, it aint braggin if you back it up.

Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP award and pulled past brother Peyton in the ring race. And Peyton is a longshot to be contending for one anytime soon if for no other reason than the condition of his neck and nerves in his right arm.

Eli completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown, without throwing any interceptions despite being pressured enough for three sacks by the Patriots.

And Eli did this with another fourth-quarter comeback, a true measure of quarterback greatness; talk of that is going to running amok for a long time now.

We played smart, Manning said, refusing to get too into personal buzz from the award. There at the end when we had an opportunity in the fourth, quarter, wed been in those situations and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score and guys stepped up and made great plays.

A problem now is that Peyton will start up again in his taffy pull with Colts owner Jim Irsay. Theyll meet this coming week about Mannings health and whether the Colts will pay the 28 million Manning is due by Mar. 8 or he becomes a free agent. The heavy leaning is toward his release by the Colts.

In the meantime, Manning elder Archie was not about to buck family tradition and be quiet.

I dont know anything about the Hall of Fame, Archie said when asked about the possibility of being the father of two Hall of Fame QBs. Eli is in his eighth year and I know one thing: He might have said earlier in the year that he belonged with the elite quarterbacks. He will not be saying that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Well see on that one.

5 - One play doesnt win or lose a game. Also Period.

Unless its one where a Jay Cutler breaks a thumb, that is.

Welker was near tears talking about the fourth-quarter pass that went off his hands deep in New Yorks end of the field with four minutes to play. Instead of a clinching touchdown or crucial lead-building field goal, the Patriots were forced to punt.

It hit me right in the hands, Welker said. I mean, its a play I never drop, I always make. Most critical situation and I let the team down.

Hell put himself in the Hall of Shame somewhere between Scott Norwood and Jackie Smith in the Goats Gallery, but hell be wrong.

Wes was running down the field, it looked like they messed up the coverage a little bit and I threw it to him and he just couldnt come down with it, said quarterback Tom Brady. Hes a helluva a player. Ill keep throwing the ball to him as long as I possibly can.

One play isnt why we lost today.

Big picture: The Patriots did not score in the second half. That isnt all on Welker.

6 - Chicago should never be without a star tight end.

The modern tight end began with Mike Ditka. The Bears may not ever have a Hall of Famer at the position but they are at without one at an elite level when they are all over the NFL as never before.

The Mike Martz tenure in Chicago may have seen the Bears reach an NFC Championship. But the transformation of the tight end position on his watch set the Bears behind the NFL, helped tie the hands of successor Mike Tice and cost Jerry Angelo, who never wanted him running the offense in the first place.

The work of Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski for New England has been over-covered. But the Bears had their 6-6, 255 tight end and Martz had no use for him. So Greg Olsens value dropped to the point where he had no future in Chicago and he was dealt to Carolina.

On the flip side, Martz wanting Brandon Manumaleuna cost the Bears millions of wasted dollars, which did Angelo no favors with the accounting department, besides contributing absolutely nothing to the offense. Along with that, Kellen Davis was elevated to a level of expectation that he has never hit before.

Nothing is irreversible but Emery and the Bears will be playing catch-up at a position where they had someone who fit the mold that is working against the type of secondary players that struggle against big tight ends.

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.