Time to sound the alarm? Bears' defense says no


Time to sound the alarm? Bears' defense says no

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
3:27 PM

By John Mullin

Throughout most of this season the Bears defense has been little cause for concern. Yardage allowed has been no worse than 10th since the off week. Points allowed has ranked no worse than 10th since week two. The rushing defense has been no worse than No. 4 since week four.

And yet...

The Bears have held just one of their last five opponents to fewer than 20 points per game. That compares with allowing just one of their first five opponents in 2010 to score as many as 20 points in a game. The yardage-per-game ranking that was No. 4 (300) after the second Detroit game has fallen to No. 10 (316). Only the Minnesota Vikings in the Monday Night snowfest (273) totaled less than 300 yards.

I wouldnt say that its time to sound the alarm, linebacker Lance Briggs insisted. Everything weve done is correctable. Plus at the end of the year, offensive coordinators have all years worth of tape to study and scheme off of us. Theres been some good schemes, good game plans against us the last couple games, and its really good for us to see those kinds of things.

We have an idea how teams are going to attack us, whats been successful and what teams are going to continue to do. Weve seen things this year alone that we havent seen in the seven years weve been playing this defense.

The Bears have no plans of any sort to modify dramatically their defensive scheme or even their approach.

The reason is that the sense is not so much that teams are outsmarting the Bears, but rather that the Bears are not playing like the Bears.

I just think that when there are breakdowns, usually theyre our own, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. And they attack us and all of those things. Thats all part of the game. But usually, theyre all correctable and we can adjust to them. And we have our little wrinkle here and there, but basically weve got to go out and really execute well, which were planning on doing.

Sunday would be a very good place to start, even with several starters likely to be pulled at some point of the game. The Packers gained 379 yards on the Bears in their first meeting, fifth-highest output against the defense this season.

Only Tom Brady (351) and Tony Romo (374) passed for more than the 316 yards Aaron Rodgers threw for against the Bears, who did not sack him even once.

Sick Bay

Wide receiver Earl Bennetts ankle improved enough to allow him some work at practice but Bennett is being listed as questionable for Sunday in Green Bay and could be held out of that game to ensure that he is fully recovered when the playoffs start for the Bears two weeks later.

Green Bay placed guard Marshall Newhouse on injured reserve and declared defensive end Cullen Jenkins, safety Atari Bigby, linebacker Frank Zombo and fullback Korey Hall all out with injuries.

No other Packers were listed as anything less than probable, including tackle Chad Clifton, cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker Clay Matthews, safety Nick Collins and defensive end Ryan Pickett, all of whom were limited in practice at one time or another this week.

Party animal

Lovie Smith isnt making any lavish plans for New Years Eve, just planning on spending the night watching TV in the basement with wife MaryAnne. No game film allowed.

No video, he said. Im going to take tonight off and just spend it with her tonight. Looking forward to that.

But if there isnt any excessive celebration in the works, it doesnt mean that there isnt a true sense of accomplishment as the calendar year comes to a close. Its a great feeling to go through what we have, Smith said. Everybody is upbeat because of what we have accomplished so far. And then to have an opportunity to play against our rival.

Smith clearly likes the idea of facing a team that creates an edge for his own. Indeed, he endorses the NFLs idea of having final games of seasons against division opponents. But even more than that, everyone should play against their main rival the last game of the season, always, where you have a lot to be pumped up about, Smith said. Were looking forward to going up to Lambeau. Weve had some success up there. We hear theyre anxious for us to get up there, and we cant wait to go, too.

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 get Jay Cutler back as QB competition with Brian Hoyer fades to black

Bears get Jay Cutler back as QB competition with Brian Hoyer fades to black

If there was any quarterback “controversy” swirling about the Bears – and one likely will be after this season – this one is safely resolved with Jay Cutler cleared by team medical staff to return from his injured thumb and begin practicing this week, all of this about the time that Brian Hoyer was undergoing surgery for his broken right arm suffered in the loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Whether Cutler would have been re-installed as the starter had Hoyer remained healthy, and throwing for 300 yards per game, is a moot point now. Indications were that Hoyer would not lose the job if he was playing well.

But now, “obviously Jay’s our starter,” said coach John Fox. “He was injured, not permitted to play medically. And now that he’s healed he’s back to being our starter.

“That’s really the facts and kind of what happened and where we’re at now. So I don’t know that there was a ‘competition’ to speak of. Just like there wasn’t a competition when Matt Barkley went in [at Green Bay]; he was our only quarterback left. So it’s good to have Jay back. We’re excited to have him back and hopefully he can remain healthy.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Team chemisty is difficult if not impossible to gauge from the outside. And whether teammates prefer Cutler or Hoyer personally is only marginally relevant anyway.

But Cutler was voted an offensive co-captain (along with Alshon Jeffery) and the offense ostensibly is more dangerous with Cutler and his deep-threat capability. Still, the Bears scored just 21 points in the combined seven quarters behind Cutler, while reaching 17-17-23-16 in whole games under Hoyer.

Cutler’s return is expected to have a ripple effect on the rest of the team.“We don’t really play into that much,” said center Cody Whitehair. “[Whoever’s] back there, we’re going to try and do our best to protect them and do our thing on the run.

“But you know, it is nice to have him back. He’s been a leader on the sideline even while he wasn’t playing and it’ll be nice to have him back out there.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.