View from the Moon: Rematch of the century awaits

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View from the Moon: Rematch of the century awaits

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted: 10:33 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

First, to make this very simple: The winner of the Bears-Seattle Seahawks game at noon Sunday hosts the NFC Championship game. Sixth-seeded Green Bay, my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, played out a jaw-dropper over the Atlanta Falcons, far beyond the expectations even of those who thought theyd dispatch the Falcons.

The speed-based Bears didnt especially want to go to Atlantas Georgia Dome. But they cannot be looking very forward to Aaron Rodgers and Friends coming in next weekend either.

In any case, Saturday was not a good day for defensive coordinators.

My picks of Pittsburgh over Baltimore and Green Bay over Atlanta were OK, -- the Steelers covered and the Packers won outright -- but the point production was staggering. The Steelers were No. 1 in scoring defense and gave up 24 to the Ravens, who ranked No. 3 and allowed the Steelers 31. The Falcons were No. 5 and gave up 28 points to the Packers in just the first half alone.

No. 2 Green Bay was the only one of the defenses on the field in the divisional playoff round that played to its defensive seed. And thats what waits for the Bears if they get past the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.

The unaccounted-for No. 4 scoring defense? That would be the Bears. Very unlikely that they suffer the same kind of points hemorrhaging as the other elite defenses, but on any given Sunday. ...

What happens Sunday?

My thought is that New England will ease past the New York Jets 30-20, a points differential reflected in the differential between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez.

The Bears-Seahawks will play out just about the same way, although not based on the quarterbacks. The Seahawks simply have no significant area of real excellence, and the playoffs are about high-impact playmakers. Even Arizona had Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin when they eked into their recent Super Bowl.

The Bears do. They have a defense that should be awake now, after seeing what the Seahawks did to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and recalling what Matt Hasselbeck did to them back in October.

If Jay Cutler and Mike Martz can internalize the lessons of the first eight games since the off week and not regress to the kind of performance they gave at Green Bay, the Bears will slowly pull away in the second half. Cutler will throw for three touchdowns and the Bears will be one game from their second Super Bowl appearance under coach Lovie Smith.
Bears 31, Seahawks 14You wanted who?

The Bears, stuck with nobodies like Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, could certainly use a true No. 1 wide receiver, couldnt they? Like the ones that other teams went after, like Tennessee and Randy Moss, like everybody and Terrell Owens?

Like the Baltimore Ravens and Boldin oh, wait, he just dropped a TD pass in the one-touchdown, divisional-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. ...

Like the Seattle Seahawks and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and his 40-million deal ... oh, wait, the Seahawks let him go and Baltimore picked him up. So then, like the Baltimore Ravens and Houshmandzadeh ... oh, wait, he just dropped a fourth-down pass, the final play for the Ravens in that loss to Pittsburgh.

Of the top 35 wide receivers in the NFL for 2010 in number if receptions, only Roddy White in Atlanta, Wes Welker in New England and Greg Jennings for Green Bay were still playing this weekend. So, please, enough about how the Bears absolutely have to get themselves a No. 1 receiver.
Final pre-playoff Lovie contract thoughts

The outcome of the divisional-round game will factor into organizational thoughts on adding a year, two or more to the contract of Lovie Smith, which expires after 2011. The market has tightened and Smiths price is unlikely to tick dramatically upward from its 5.5 million given the widespread belt-tightening going on throughout the league.

If the Bears fall to the Seahawks, so too could the urge to keep Smith from entering his contract year. If the Bears progress to the NFC Championship game, however, the surprise will be if he and the organization do not extend their association.

Negotiations rarely are public with Smith, agent Frank Bauer and the Bears. And Smith, like Dick Jauron before him, keeps his innermost thoughts just that: innermost.

However, Smith is confident in his abilities, with cause. He reached a Super Bowl in his third year, one sooner than Mike Ditka, and went to the playoffs in his second year, one less than Mike Ditka, and reached a Super Bowl in his third, also one year faster than Ditka.

Since taking over a team with Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn for quarterbacks, an offensive line with Qasim Mitchell at left tackle and Steve Edwards at right guard, and David Terrell as the lead receiver, Smith has had no season with a winning percentage below .438 (two at 7-9) in his last six. Ditka had two of below that in his final four years.

What that means is that while considerable leverage rests with the Bears (Smith is under contract and the league is going cheap with multiple first-time head coaches), Smiths temperament is such that as far as agreeing to anything, he will likely be willing to let this season finish out first, if even then.

Hell gamble on himself.

Angel Gabriel

Former Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel used his billet of writing for National Football Post this week to do some self-serving puffy-chesting about how he was all over running back James Starks on draft day 2010. Gabriel had the kid on the phone but GM Jerry Angelo decided at the last minute to go for a quarterback, Western Michigans Dan LeFevour, in the sixth round.

Interesting timing by Gabriel, trumpeting his find (and taking a shot at Angelo, who let Gabriel go last offseason) after Starks bagged 123 yards in the Packers wild-card win at Philadelphia.

Thats great, especially by a sixth-round pick, although Starks had 47 yards through three quarters against Atlanta; couldnt find another Gabriel item on the guy. And I kept going over and over Gabriels original NFP Starks post and couldnt find his mentioning the picks of Dan Bazuin, Juaquin Iglesias, Mark Bradley, Roe Williams, Jarron Gilbert, Michael Okwo, Michael Haynes. Maybe those were all Angelos, too.

Oh, never mind ...

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

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

Here are some of Saturday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jose Abreu homers twice as White Sox beat Tigers for sixth straight win

Cubs bash three homers in come-from-behind win over Red Sox

Dwyane Wade would like clarity on Bulls' direction before making decision

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

Dax McCarty tallies assist against former team, but Fire still lose to Red Bulls

Eddie Jackson healthy, ready to bring center fielder range to Bears' secondary

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Watch: This is why new Bears running back Tarik Cohen is nicknamed 'The Human Joystick'

 

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

Trying to sort through some Halas Hall draft mysteries…. well, one big one, anyway.

Now that it’s all done: Were GM Ryan Pace and the personnel staff really in phase with John Fox and the coaching staff? Because that really is the franchise-grade question and one with the broadest possible ramifications.

The gut feeling is, yes. That’s really based just on watching the two of them together Saturday during the post-draft debriefing. If there was tension, frustration or a fracture in the relationship, the two were as good at masking it as they were concealing their draft plans.

Which they could be. Maybe reading John Fox’s face is no easier than Jay Cutler’s. They wouldn’t be the first to put up a fraud façade or public face.

But regardless of any taffy pulls or disagreements that may have played out during the draft, the jokes, asides and other responses to queries suggested otherwise. It wasn’t just what they said; it was how they said it.

“How would you grade your draft?” the pair was asked.

“I’ll tell you in three years,” Pace said.

“I’m sure we’ll get some ‘input,” Fox said, laughing, for a media corps that will provide more than a little of that “input.”

This was their third draft together. Fox has worked with myriad personnel guys and draft rooms, so how has Pace changed? Gotten bossier?

“He’s been the same guy,” Fox said. “We talk about that in this building, whether that be players, coaches or personnel people. I think he has done a terrific job and he’s got great people skills. You listen, but then you have to go with your gut, too… . After three years, every year you have convictions on players and everyone kind of keeps track of that. We have been in this spot three straight years and we’ve even been in this spot with high picks. I think he’s done a terrific job.”

Beneath all of the analyses of whether Mitch Trubisky is really the franchise quarterback the Bears have sought since Jim McMahon couldn’t stay healthy 30 years ago, or whether lesser-fete’d college programs (Ashland, Kutztown, North Carolina A&T) will produced NFL-grade talent for the Bears, lurks the deeper and arguably more significant assessment of what the 2017 draft means for the futures of Pace and Fox, jointly and individually.

The vulnerabilities are obvious; a combined 9-23 record in their two Bears seasons puts a lot of jobs over a “vulnerable” trap door in an organization that has never retained a coach after three straight losing seasons – even if the last thing Chairman George McCaskey wants on his watch is a situation in such steep decline that it even continues to lose even after a regime change, as it did after three-season-losers Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron and Dave Wannstedt.

Irrespective of specific 2017 draft choices, the surest course toward cataclysm would be a divide between coach and GM, which some want to believe has begun, fueled if by nothing else but Chris Mortensen’s report Thursday that Fox only found out about the decision to pursue and make the Trubisky deal a short time before Pace made it. Mort walked back from the claim, and Pace ripped it as “so false” later on Friday.

Pace was adamant that he and Fox were in lock step on the move for a quarterback who ideally doesn’t see the field a lot this season. As a first-rounder the Bears do have him for as much as five years if they elect to pick up the option for the fifth year of his rookie contract.

Would Fox have wanted a defensive force? Probably. But he went 3-13 last season in no small part because he had to use three different quarterbacks and two of them were bad.

“I think the quarterback position was obviously a need position as well,” Fox said. “That became pretty clear as we went out in free agency and got Mike Glennon. I think you're always trying to add depth at every position.

“Unlike what some people think, quarterback is key, too. If you look back at a year ago, we went through three quarterbacks, due to injuries, so I think building depth is really important. I think Mitch is a quality, quality player. I think if you did research and we need to do that, I'm going to say that a lot of people had him ranked very high, and us no different.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan]

One cynical view making some rounds is that Pace has set Fox up to fail specifically by not giving him defensive help that would translate into win-now prospects for a coach who obviously needs to. But that doesn’t quite square somehow.

Pace and the draft powers were promising Fox a real shot at something even better than a quarterback. All they needed was for Cleveland to opt for Trubisky, which was in discussion over in Ohio until not long before the draft. Then the Bears, who’d talked over scenarios with San Francisco GM John Lynch over recent weeks, would have made that trade, but for Myles Garrett.

The Bears at No. 3 had tabbed three possible options for themselves, but with every intention of trading up unless the 49ers were blown away by a trade offer the Bears couldn’t match.

“I would say there were probably two of the three that we’d be willing to go up for,” Pace said, with a sly smile but without naming Garrett.

Which makes it reasonable to conclude that Fox knew the GM would get him the projected best edge rusher in the draft, unless their projected best quarterback was there. Which is what happened.

“We knew [Trubisky], obviously, was our top quarterback,” Pace said. “At one point in time – you don’t know what to believe – but up until the last second, there was speculation that Mitch could go 1. So then there’s even talks: ‘Wow, if he goes 1, and Myles goes to 2, what are we going to do?’

“And so all these scenarios are being played out. And there’s just so many of them. And we talk them all out. But the idea of ‘If Mitch is there at 2, and it’s realistic for us to go get him,’ that was something we discussed.”

The Bears were expected to prioritize the secondary, even as high as LSU’s Jamal Adams in some first-round scenarios. They didn’t get draft help for one of the poorest takeaway secondaries in NFL history until well into the fourth round. Was Pace undercutting his defense-based head coach and a staff boasting some of the top mentors in their areas?

Really?

Pace guaranteed $20 million of Bears money to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara ($7 million) and Marcus Cooper ($8 million) and safety Quintin Demps ($5 million). To have then used a high pick for a defensive back could conceivably have had McCaskey calling over and asking just exactly how Pace figured he needed to give his coaches a viable secondary. In the final analysis, Pace’s view of upgrading the secondary was more than draft-centric.

“We added a lot in free agency, so that was the plan,” Pace said. “We signed three corners in free agency and a safety and now we just drafted a safety. Part of our free agency plan was to attack the secondary and we accomplished it there. And that kind of allowed us to draft best player available when this moment came.”

If Fox had a problem with any of that, it was not apparent Saturday night after their third draft together.