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.

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

This week marks the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, depending on how you want to look at organized team activities (OTA’s), the third stage of the NFL offseason culminating in the mandatory minicamp June 13-15. Teams are allowed a total of 10 OTA sessions, giving coaches a final look at players before the break until training camp convenes in late July.

The sessions also mark the first time that the players, who were finishing college semesters this time a year ago, will be introduced to the REAL NFL, the professionals already part of the August fraternity to which the draft picks and undrafted free agents aspire.

Well, maybe it's not the true first time some of the rookies will “meet” the pros.

During the brief rookie minicamp, offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn did as all the coaches do: show his position group the film of them going through their drills. In the interest of accelerating the young players’ learning curve, however, Washburn went a step further.

[MORE: Bears QB coach Dave Ragone doesn't mind his type of turnover]

He followed the rookie film with the same drills being run by the pros, meaning the rookies could see how Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair and other vets did those same drills.

The difference was startling – as Washburn intended. The kids were being shown a new meaning for what they might have thought was “maximum effort.”

“That’s one thing coach ‘Wash and coach Ben [Wilkerson] have really been pushing to us — just making sure we’re doing everything to maximum effort, and always finishing near the ball,” said rookie lineman Jordan Morgan. “I feel like that’s stuff you hear at every level of football, but more so now, especially, it being the NFL.”

Rules limit the amount of work allowed vs. opposition, meaning how much Morgan might learn by going against a Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman or Pernell McPhee. But learning the every-play intensity at the NFL level may be difficult to comprehend for players who’ve obviously seen it done this hard before.

“The way the veteran guys run [the drills] is the way you’re supposed to do it,” Washburn said. “There’s a style of play, a work ethic you have to put into this. You can’t just get away with things because the guy in front of you is as good or better than you are.

“Scheme-wise, that has not been a problem, the way it has been with some rookies I’ve had in the past. It’s the day-to-day intensity and focus you have to put in for 16 weeks. That is a big adjustment.”

The NFL is replete with examples of college players arriving with elite physical abilities but not taking effort and learning intensity to the professional level. The Bears used the No. 8 overall pick of the 2001 draft on wide receiver David Terrell, who’d dominated on raw ability at the college level but never developed beyond a mid-level wideout.

Washburn saw something similar while coaching offensive line for the Detroit Lions.

“I had a rookie guard in Detroit who ate Hot Pockets and played video games at night,” Washburn recalled. “His rookie year he got by, played OK, but then had a big slump his sophomore year and said, ‘I gotta change my ways.’

“He absolutely changed everything and now he’s an absolute pro.”

If Bears rookies do anything video with their nights, Washburn intends for those videos to be the ways the pros do it

Why Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be 'pulling hard' for the Bears this season

Why Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be 'pulling hard' for the Bears this season

Jim Harbaugh is a former Chicago Bear, but that's not the main reason why he'll be rooting for the Monsters of the Midway this fall.

Harbaugh, the current Michigan head coach and former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, used to coach alongside current Bears assistants Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell in the Bay Area.

Fangio, the Bears' defensive coordiantor, and Donatell, the Bears' defensive backs coach, held those same positions for all four of Harbaugh's seasons leading the Niners.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Harbaugh voiced his support for his former assistants Monday, speaking with CSN's Pat Boyle at the Golf.Give.Gala golf outing in St. Charles.

"I know (the Bears) are going to have a heck of a defense," Harbaugh said. "Because I know they've got Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell and a tremendous coaching staff. So I'll be pulling hard for them."

Harbaugh also was asked about new Bears quarterback Mike Glennon, and you can hear his comments in the video above, as well as comments from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on another new Bears quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.