Defense deserves credit and blame for Carolina result

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Defense deserves credit and blame for Carolina result

The defense has been the answer for Bears problems in 2012. But while everyone was staring at the offense in the three-quarters debacle against the Carolina Panthers, the defense was a question.

Indeed, blame defense for no small part of the mess that the Bears found themselves in against the Panthers. While the offense couldnt stay on it, the defense couldnt get off it.

Like the offense, the defense turned its game on and around in the fourth quarter. A three-and-out plus Tim Jennings game-changing interception helped save the afternoon.

But the defense held the Carolina offense without a first down on only one of the first nine possessions. For the game, the Panthers had six drives of 45 yards or longer and Carolina sustained drives of eight (twice) 11, 12 and 17 yards, part of why the Panthers after three quarters held a 369-61 advantage in yards and were on the field effectively 30 of the first 45 minutes.

Field goals, schmield goals

The feel-good perspective would be that none of those drives ended in touchdowns. The defense held the Panthers to field goals.

Even when things werent going well, defensively we kept them to field goals and didnt let them get as many touchdowns, said coach Lovie Smith.

When someone drives 80, 74 and 63 yards on you, and drives from their 20 for a late go-ahead field goal, you didnt hold them to anything.

With the game in its hands after Tim Jennings interception, the defense allowed the Panthers to control the ball for 11 plays and move down the field for a go-ahead field goal with a little more than 2 minutes to play, albeit with 15 yards of help on a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Israel Idonije.

The Bears ran just 53 total plays on offense; that was a problem. The Panthers ran 77 plays; that was a bigger problem. Only the Detroit Lions (84, second 2011 game) and New England Patriots 78) had more snaps in regulation over the last two-and-a-half seasons.

As ineffectual as the offense was, that groups failure to stay on the field isnt an excuse for the defense dragging. The 17-play and one of the eights were in the second quarter, and the Panthers wet 80 yards in 12 plays on their first possession of the third quarter, after the defense had halftime and a couple minutes of Bears possession to rest.

If the defense was tired on those drives, the strength and conditioning coach should be fired (he shouldnt).

How they think

The Lovie SmithRod Marinelli scheme is sometimes characterized as bend-dont-break. Not exactly.

The front four plays a one-gap, up-the-field attack approach. It is not a wide-body, two-gap style. Behind them, the mindset is about controlling the game.

Sooner or later somebody is going to make a play, Jennings said. We know its tough to drive the field on us. Were going to give up plays but we want to keep things in front of us and hopefully theyre going to break before we do. Thats our mentality.

The problem on Sunday was that the Panthers werent breaking. Carolina converted seven of its first 12 third downs and had 10 plays of 15 yards or longer; the Bears had three.

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”