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.

Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

CSN's Cubs Pregame and Postgame host David Kaplan and analyst David DeJesus discuss the upcoming matchups in this edition of the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

The Cubs' bats are finally coming around. 

On the back of Anthony Rizzo, who hit three homers this weekend, the North Siders took two out of three from the Cincinnati Reds and have been winners of four out of five overall. 

The offense will attempt to stay in their groove against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who swept the Cubs at Wrigley during the teams' last meeting. 

Luckily for Chicago's pitching staff, Starling Marte won't be anchoring the Pirates' order. The outfielder is serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. 

After Pittsburgh, Joe Maddon's club hits Fenway Park for what should be a wild three-game set against the Red Sox. 

Watch David Kaplan and David DeJesus break down the upcoming matchups in the video above. 

 

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes officiating on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes officiating on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

You could see it building, with Fred Hoiberg's usually-monotone voice rising with his opening answer after his Bulls gave up a 2-0 lead to the Boston Celtics and now have to win at least one more game on the road to win a first-round matchup that's now tied at two games apiece.

Whether he was taking a page from Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale or finally succumbing to his own frustration after pleading with the officials to enforce the rules as he believes them to be, he made his most direct statement as Bulls coach in his assessment of the officiating surrounding Isaiah Thomas.

He believes Thomas carries the ball for a palming violation, a tactic could make an already-difficult player to defend even more so. 

"Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he's going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight," Hoiberg said. "When you're allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he's impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you're able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It's impossible to guard him in those situations."

Thomas scored 33 points and added seven assists with four rebounds in 35 minutes, helping torch virtually anyone who came near him and in his postgame news conference, pronounced himself as being an "impossible cover" to defenders.

"Not one man can guard me," he said. "That's just the confidence I have."

When told about Hoiberg's comments, Thomas said, "That's not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I've been dribbling that way my whole life, I don't know what to say to that."

Thomas repeatedly sliced through the defense for layups and open shots, and repeatedly told Bulls reserve guard Michael Carter-Williams "You can't guard me", to the point of earning a technical foul for the talk through the game.

Palming has become as prevalent through the game as the sneakers and mascots, so the timing of it seemed a bit peculiar. One wonders if it's more a motivation tactic to let his players know he's in the fight with them and maybe get a little something in Thomas' head before Game 5 as opposed to wanting it called every time down.

Several Bulls said they see Thomas do it repeatedly, and Hoiberg said it was a point of emphasis for the officials in the offseason—but Thomas was likely to break down the Bulls defense anyways, as he averages nearly 30 points a game on the season.

Thomas said he doesn't recall being called for a palming violation the entire season, and considering the violation seems so miniscule in the context of this playoff series, it could strike as a form of desperation or even motivation for Hoiberg, should his next check be a little lighter because of an impending fine for criticizing the officials.

Fizdale's statement seemed more in line with his personality, while it seemed Hoiberg was struggling with it a bit.

He didn't want to elaborate on it much when follow-up questions were asked, and when Jimmy Butler was asked to address it, he wouldn't wade into those waters.

"First off, Isaiah is a terrific basketball player," Butler said. "I don't really pay attention to if he's carrying the ball. It's not my job to watch that and call that. Even if I do call it, I can't do anything about it."

What Hoiberg and the Bulls can do is presumably come with a better start and a more sustained effort to Game 5, as opposed to complaints about the officiating on one particular issue.