View from the Moon: It's not all about the Bears

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View from the Moon: It's not all about the Bears

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted 10:09 a.m.

By John MullinCSNChicago.com
So there I was, looking through the paper and websites, and come to find out

There are other playoff games this weekend! Who knew?

Just kidding.

With all the local attention and debate swirling over Bears-Seattle Seahawks, ranging from matchups to seedings to whatever, the concurrent run-up to divisional playoff games elsewhere in the Lower 48 could have been overlooked.

Not by View from the Moon, however. Some will only matter if the Bears win a couple more games and the AFC winners matter because the Bears are looking at one of them in the Super Bowl. But those are worth a serious look because one will be of potentially vital interest to the Bears, and the other two are third-time grudge matches.

Indeed, one beauty of this postseason is the presence of blood feuds. Pittsburgh-Baltimore. NY Jets at New England. And if the Bears and Green Bay Packers win this weekend.

Actually, the Patriots may not consider the Jets worthy of feud status; who is, for that matter? But the Jets did get a lot further in the 2009 postseason, Rex Ryan is getting more pub than the Pats put together, so maybe just this once.

Ill hold off on assessing Bears-Seahawks until closer to game time. In the meantime:

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CT

Easily the most volatile pairing in the 2010 postseason. Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs wearing a T-shirt bearing an insulting anti-Pittsburgh (the city) illustration. James Harrison taking time out from paying fines to obliterate someone in a Ravens helmet. Should be fun.

The all-important quarterback edge goes to the Steelers simply because of Ben Roethlisbergers experience and composure under postseason fire. Joe Flacco has been an under-celebrated nugget as far as reaching the playoffs all three years of his career. Flacco posted a 115.4 passer rating in the win at Kansas City, although two of his lesser games this season were against the Steelers.

But if Roethlisberger is a character question off the field, he has been anything but when hes on it.

Pittsburgh has never lost in the playoffs to a division opponent and beat the Ravens in the 2008 AFC Championship game. Neither team can be considered truly explosive on offense. On offense the Steelers ranked 14th in yardage and 12th in scoring. The Ravens were 22nd in yardage and 16th in scoring.

On defense, however, there are virtually no weaknesses. The Steelers ranked second in yardage allowed and No. 1 in scoring defense. The Ravens are 10th in yardage and No. 3 in scoring.

The key to a Baltimore win is the offense getting running back Ray Rice free. More than Flacco, Rice is the centerpiece of the offense, the No. 10 rusher in the NFL (1,220 yards, 4.0 per carry, and 63 pass receptions). Pittsburgh was the NFLs best against the run. Strength vs. strength.

More important than all of that, and where I think the game gets decided, is the turnover situation. One misplay or great play will decide this game. The Ravens were a plus-7 in turnover ratio; the Steelers were plus-17, second-best in the NFL. Sometime Saturday afternoon Harrison will force a fumble or Troy Polamalu will break on an interception and Pittsburgh will move into the AFC Championship game:
Pittsburgh 16 Baltimore 13

In the one the Bears and Chicago will be watching with the greatest of interest:

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Saturday, 7 p.m.

The Falcons have been virtually unbeatable in the Georgia Dome since Matt Ryan came to town. Atlanta ranks fifth in points scored and allowed, meaning the Falcons can score and can stop people from scoring. They convert a staggering 46.7 percent of their third downs, best in the NFC and second only to New England 48.2 among remaining playoff teams.

The Falcons have elite fire in both barrels on offense. Roddy White led the NFL in receptions (115) and yards (1,389) and was second in receiving TDs (10). Michael Turner led the NFC and was third in the NFL with 1,371 rushing yards. Tony Gonzalez threw in 70 catches at tight end just for good measure.

But here comes Green Bay, the only team in the remaining eight ranking in the top 10 for yardage both gained and allowed, points scored and given up, and in turnover ratio. The Packers will give up rushing yards (18th ranking) and they dont run the ball as well as championship teams do.

But heres the thing: The Packers went through the New York Giants, Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in their last three games, must-win situations against winning teams with a combined record of 31-17 and allowed no more than 17 points to any of the three.

Aaron Rodgers directed his offense to 45 points in a losing playoff game last season and to 21 and a win this year. He is emerging as one of the NFLs true elite quarterbacks. Ryan has been in just one playoff game, losing a wild-card game as a rookie when he managed a passer rating of just 72.8 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The crucial edge in all three non-Bears playoff games is the quarterback. It is in this one, too.

Green Bay 21 Atlanta 20

New York Jets at New England Patriots Sunday, 3:30 p.m. CT

The Jets have garnered a disproportionate amount of media attention, some of it by design, some of it by New York. When Jets coach Rex Ryan declares a divisional playoff game the second-biggest game in franchise history, behind Super Bowl III but ahead of a conference championship (which he lost to Indianapolis last year), somebody has seriously lost their compass.

The Jets defeated New England 28-14 in Game Two but the Patriots put a 45-3 humiliation on the Jets when the teams met in Gillette Stadium late in the season, a far more relevant case study for the game at hand.

Based on the numbers, the simple reality is that the Patriots are better at virtually everything. The Jets out-rush New England per game and per attempt but in nearly every other offensive category, the Patriots are superior. The Patriots rank eighth in yardage per game; the Jets are 11th. The Jets are 13th in points per game; New England led the league in scoring. The Patriots scored more touchdowns passing (37) than the Jets scoring rushing and passing combined (34).

The Jets are stingier at allowing yards but the two teams are nearly even in the more important scoring defense, 313 points given up by the Patriots to 304 by the Jets.

But the numbers really do not contain the full picture.

Where this game will be decided is in one spot: quarterback. Tom Brady is the NFLs best; Mark Sanchez isnot. Bradys 111.0 passer rating led the league; only Matt Hasselbeck has a lower rating than Sanchez (7.3).

The Patriots led the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio due in no small measure to Brady throwing just interceptions all season and the New England secondary intercepting 25 passes. Only the Steelers (21) had more than 19.

What that translates into is one quarterback with a Super Bowl resume against one who is inconsistent and facing a defense that statistically may not be the equal of the Jets but is more opportunistic. The Jets are not good enough to shut down New England but the reverse is most certainly true.

And playoff games are most often decided by quarterback play. For that reason alone:

New England 30 New York 20
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 cut 10 players, trim roster to 80

Bears cut 10 players, trim roster to 80

The Bears have until Tuesday to move their roster down to 75, and they began Sunday by cutting 10 players.

The following players were waived: DL Keith Browner, WR Kieran Duncan, WR Derek Keaton, OL John Kling, RB Senorise Perry, WR Darrin Peterson, DB Joel Ross, TE Gannon Sinclair, OL Martin Wallace, FB Darrell Young

The Bears' roster currently sits at 80 players. After getting the roster down to 75 on Tuesday, the team will then cut down to 53 for the start of the regular season.

The Bears open their regular season on Sept. 4 in Houston against the Texans.

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

The current state of affairs for the 2016 Bears is seriously concerning when, after adding multiple starting players and investing high draft choices, the best that can be said about the Bears defense is that it isn’t as bad as the Bears offense.

A unit predicted to contend for a spot among the NFL’s top 10 this year was pushed around for 378 yards and 23 points in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To push all of it off onto the fact that it was a preseason game won’t work, if only because the No. 1 defense allowed 239 of those yards and 20 of those points in the first half.

One mitigating fact is that the Bears offense hit a new preseason low and was coming back off the field before most members of the defense had had time to look at photos and to hydrate. Five of the Bears’ first seven possessions lasted less than 1 minute 30 seconds. Defensive players usually had time to get water or get with their coaches; not both.

And the defense did stiffen in the red zone, forcing the Chiefs twice to settle for field goals with the ball inside the Chicago 10 and a third time at the 23. And players at least bristled at the suggestion that the Bears are soft. “I take that personally,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "I have never heard that word… . The first time I’ve ever heard anybody call us ‘soft’ is [now].”

Coach John Fox found some good in “the way our defense improved. We got a couple turnovers down in the lower-red area.”

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But those were scant positives in a game that saw Kansas City put together drives of 50 yards or longer five of the first six times it had the football, and those were against the supposed front liners.

The Chiefs drove 53 and 62 yards on their first two possessions, which included conversions of third-and-5 and third-and-14, part of the Chiefs converting six of 10 third downs in the first half. (“Obviously our third-and-long defense wasn’t real sufficient,” Fox allowed.)

Kansas City piled up 106 yards in the first quarter and what defensive “stops” there were might just as easily be credited to Kansas City execution as Bears playmaking. The Chiefs arguably had their initial drive stopped as much by tailback Spencer Ware colliding with blocking back Darrin Reaves on a third-and-short (2) for no gain. A fourth long drive of the half ended only when the Chiefs had a Bears blitz blocked, only to have Smith miss wide open wideout Albert Wilson inside the Chicago 10.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points.

The game, in which starters and first-alternates play the longest of the preseason, had its points of player evaluation. Rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, whose preseason has been marked by impact plays (not all of them good, of course), did generate another in the third quarter with an interception that thwarted a Kansas City scoring drive deep in the Chicago end. This was, however, after he had lost the ball and the receiver on a 58-yard completion the previous Chiefs possession.

And rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard, after missing practice last week to attend to family matters, collected two quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss among his three solo stops, according to initial game stats.

But rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has missed practice time with three different health issues since the start of training camp, was limited in practice this week with a hamstring strain, and missed an important opportunity for much-needed work against unfamiliar competition.

“We got a chance to look at some young guys and make evaluations,” Fox said, “and that’s what preseason’s for.”

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

John Fox’s hopes for this preseason game No. 3 actually were fairly modest: show improvement. The Bears gave their coach pretty much the exact opposite in a dismal 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which wasn’t really even as close as that score.

Tellingly perhaps, Fox was moderately damning with faint praise: “I don’t think it was all bad,” Fox said. “It might have looked like that but so do a lot of preseason games.”

And any presumed correlation between Saturday’s woeful performance and how the season may be a stretch. Five of the last six times the Bears have lost their third preseason game, they finished .500 or better, last year’s 34-6 drubbing at Cincinnati being the lone time the game-three result foreshadowed the course of the season.

But Fox was accurate in how the 2016 game-three loss looked. With quarterback Jay Cutler and the No. 1 one offense – or what was healthy of it – played into the third quarter, by which time the Chiefs were leading 20-0, had out-gained the Bears 331-94 and had allowed the Bears into plus-territory just once in seven possessions and with the Bears picking up zero first downs on five of the seven “drives.”

“It was good and bad, like anything else,” Cutler said.

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Concerning perhaps, while not easily quantifiable from a distance, the play by too many players looked lethargic and disinterested, whether it was the cause or the result of repeated breakdowns that killed Chicago drives and extended Kansas City ones. Whether success grows out of confidence or confidence follows from success is a relevant question but one that really doesn’t matter until the Bears have at least one or the other.

“I’ve never had a problem, whether it was all of last year or this year, as far as effort,” Fox said. “Our guys try hard and work hard. Now it’s just crossing that gap to having it happen under pressure. I think with young people sometimes that’s the growing pains. We’ve got the talent to do it. Now we’ve just got to execute better."

Cutler appeared frustrated on more than one occasion, which in the past has been a source of problems. Some of it clearly was with teammates and failed assignments. But this is a young Bears team still in a molten state and frustration, even when justified, can be an accelerant for tension.

This is still only preseason, but the critical trust relationship between Cutler and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is still a work in progress. The No. 1 offense has done less than nothing – 29 total points from 12 quarters of work – other than a brief burst early in New England. History suggests that Cutler is among those who need success to believe in his chief architect, and if Cutler’s attitude is fraying even a little bit, the danger is that it spread without something positive.

“We’ve got a great attitude,” Cutler insisted. “We’ve got a good team. Coach Fox put together a heck of a staff. Dowell and his staff are doing everything possible. Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] is a proven vet… . It’s just up to the guys.”

[RELATED: Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games]

The game was one of the poorer examples of complementary football, with no phase of the Bears – offense, defense, special teams – doing anything remotely setting up another in field position, momentum or whatever. That is unsettling, since it is unusual for a game to be marked by none of a team’s units performing well.

The offense went without a first down on its final four possessions going into halftime. That was capped off by an abysmal final three trips to the line of scrimmage that produced a false-start penalty, incomplete pass to a wide-open receiver and a sack.

The defense, which wasn’t getting much recovery time from those brief series, failed to stop any of the Chiefs’ possessions through three quarters without at least one first down. The Chiefs had six drives of 40 yards or longer and had the ball approaching 30 minutes to the Bears’ 15 through three quarters.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points, but the Chiefs had three different punt returners with at least one runback of 10 yards or longer.

As far as what might be positive in all of that: “It IS preseason,” Fox stated.