Defensive grades: Peppers, Tillman lead the way

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Defensive grades: Peppers, Tillman lead the way

GLENDALE, Ariz. The overall play of the defense in a must-win game like this one is a little difficult to critique in absolute terms just because of the quality of the opponent. But all the Bears can do is play who shows up across from them and the Bears certainly did that on Sunday, against a woeful Arizona Cardinals team that faced one of the NFLs best defenses with quarterbacks Ryan Lindley and then Brian Hoyer in the second half.
The defense scored two touchdowns of its own, one on a fumble recovery by backup defensive back Zackary Bowman and the other on an interception by Charles Tillman in the third quarter. That ran the defenses total to nine for the season and the Bears record to 6-0 when their defense has scored in 2012.
A workmanlike effort when one was needed.
DEFENSIVE LINE A
Julius Peppers was dominating, with three sacks and a forced fumble as well as four tackles for loss and two quarterback hits in a game with the season on the line. He has played with emotion and leadership through the losing stretch and led by example on the field.
Without 3-technique Henry Melton, Israel Idonije moved in at tackle and provided good push inside, including a first-half sack of Lindley. The Bears frequently went with a rush line of four defensive ends that included Idonije, Peppers, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton. The group played the run sufficiently and got enough pressure on two bad quarterbacks.
Amobi Okoye also was in on a forced fumble that the Bears recovered for a touchdown.
LINEBACKERS A-
The linebackers flow to the ball prevented Arizona and Beanie Wells from getting into any rhythm in the run game, forcing the game into the hands of inept quarterbacks.
Nick Roach led the Bears with eight solo tackles and continues to be very solid alternate to Brian Urlacher. His responses to reads has gotten progressively quicker and he delivers more significant hits as his confidence has grown.
Lance Briggs broke up a pass and had six tackles in a strong performance overall. Geno Hayes was back in the lineup after missing last week with a knee injury.
SECONDARY B
Zackary Bowman gave the entire team a boost when he fell on a Beanie Wells fumble for a first-quarter touchdown. Charles Tillman, who contributed eight solo tackles, drove in the final nail with his interception return for a score in the third quarter. Kelvin Hayden gave the offense a scoring opportunity with an interception and return of 39 yards.
Chris Conte was lost with a hamstring injury, sending Anthony Walter into the free-safety spot and played well.
All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 111 yards on eight catches and rookie Michael Floyd caught six for 47 yards.
COACHING A
The Arizona offense was not much of a challenge in any area so the key was not exposing areas for big plays or mistakes. A conservative game plan was called for and the Bears executed it well.
SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cardinals blocked a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown in something of a disappointing breakdown that needs to be fixed before the Lions or someone else exploits it.
KICKING D
Adam Podlesh was called on to punt nine times and averaged 43.8 yards with three inside the 20. But the blocked field goal was a costly mistake that gave the Cardinals seven free points. Olindo Mare did kickoff three times for touchbacks.
COVERAGE A-
Amobi Okoye avoided a problem by staying on assignment when Arizona tried a fake FG in the second quarter. Patrick Peterson, one of the NFLs most dangerous returners, was limited to 11 net yards on two punt returns and the Cardinals averaged only 19.5 yards on two kickoff returns.
RETURNS D
Devin Hester put the offense in jeopardy fielding a punt inside the Chicago 5 and getting nothing on a frenetic return try. D.J. Moore effectively handed the Cardinals three points late in the second quarter when he let a punt bounce off him and into Cardinals hands. But it was on Hester to let Moore know where the ball was and he did not. Hesters one kickoff return for 40 yards was his best.
COACHING C
Penalties continue to occur too frequently and the breakdowns that allow kicks blocked cannot occur at the next level. Devin Hesters returning has always had an element of freelance, but without the explosiveness of his early years, something else needs to be built in.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle might need time to process everything that took place Saturday afternoon when he was surrounded by friends, family, teammates and fans, showered with gifts and overwhelmed by emotion.

The White Sox officially retired the number of one of the most popular players in team history in front of 38,618 at Guaranteed Rate Field. A banner covering Buehrle’s No. 56 was unfurled during an afternoon ceremony that makes the left-hander one of 11 players in club history whose number has been retired. Surrounded by fellow honoree Frank Thomas among many others, the always humble Buehrle -- who won 161 games in 12 seasons with the White Sox -- said afterward he’s not sure he belongs in the club.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Buehrle said. “It’s going to take time. I don’t know if it’s ever going to sink in and realize there it is.

“Amazing feeling. Can’t really put it into words how you feel. I wasn’t actually as nervous as I thought I would be once I was up there. But obviously glad it’s over with and it’s a special day.”

Buehrle’s list of dignitaries included Thomas, managers Ozzie Guillen and Jerry Manuel, Cliff Polite, Scott Podsednik, Jim Thome, Joe Crede, Jon Garland, John Danks and hitting coach Greg Walker.

White Sox play by play man Hawk Harrelson emceed a ceremony that lasted 30 minutes. Included were speeches by Thomas and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper as well as an unveiling of a series of gifts. The team presented Buehrle with a new truck, a baseball collage put together by Ron Kittle, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle -- much to the enjoyment of his duck hunting club seated on the 400 level -- as well as the flip-through-the-legs ball from Opening Day 2010. Club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also spoke during the ceremony, dropping in a series of one-liners.

“I’ve never seen him upset,” Guillen said. “I’ve never seen him overreact. Day in and day out he was the same guy. That’s what makes him so special. His teammates loved him.

“Buehrle did something: outsmart people. People don’t have stuff like him they think I’m smart, I can do this and fake it. Buehrle just grabbed the ball and threw it.

“To survive for so many years and have your number retired, there’s not that many people up there.

“It’s amazing with the stuff he had. I’ve seen a lot of better pitchers with better stuff. You don’t see too many guys with the same heart.”

Buehrle said Friday that he anticipated he’d be an emotional wreck for the event. The man beloved by the public isn’t much for public speaking. Throw in all of his friends and family present and Buehrle just hoped to get through his own speech. He said the sight of seeing his number unfurled almost put him over the edge.

“Emotions and trying to breathe deep and don’t start crying, tearing up,” Buehrle said. “I was trying to hold my emotions together. But just looking up there and seeing that. I can’t put it into words.”

When it was his turn to say the words, Buehrle spoke the way he pitched: tidy and efficient. Wearing a suit and sunglasses in case he teared up, Buehrle spoke with his wife and children at his side. Aside from his family, Buehrle said he avoided naming names during the 4-minute, 19-second speech because he had too many people to thank for the journey from 38th round draft pick to all-time great.

Buehrle said he wouldn’t be able to pick out his favorite part until he watches the ceremony again later.

“When I watch it back in a couple hours and realize what happened and what really went on,” Buehrle said. “It’s kind of hard to hear out there, but it’s just everything. I had Frank Thomas and Jim Thome behind me. They’re here for my day. It doesn’t make sense to me.”