Late rally improves offensive grades

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Late rally improves offensive grades

The end game will overshadow the middle game but the Bears (6-1) didnt so much defeat the Carolina Panthers (1-6) as escape them.

The 210 total yards of offense were the second-lowest to the 168 at Green Bay. The 25-percent third-down conversion rate was the seasons worst and put the defense back on the field too often too soon.

Because the Panthers werent kicking off deep to Devin Hester, the offense was effectively handed the ball at no worse than the Chicago 34 on four possessions and at the 45 after an interception. On none of those possessions was the offense able to manage even a field goal and only on one did the Bears run more than three plays.

Ball security was one of the strengths of the Chicago offense through the previous four wins and the seeds for disaster were planted when Jay Cutler lost the ball on a first-quarter sack. He proved that was no fluke by doing it again late in the second quarter.

The offense combined to have Cutler sacked on six of his 15 drop-backs in the first half. In one stretch, the Bears went three-and-out on six of seven possessions, two of those ending with fumbles.

QUARTERBACK C

Heres how well do this: An F for Jay Cutlers first three quarters, an A for the fourth, and a win for the .

Credit Cutler with his first come-from-behind win of the year, saving the game with a fourth-quarter drive after posting a passer rating of 37.8 through three quarters. His 12-for-14 passing in the fourth quarter, however, was franchise-grade stuff.

Cutler turned in the worst first half since his nine-sack nightmare at the Giants in 2010: six sacks, two fumbles, poor decision-making. Of nine passes thrown, seven were to Brandon Marshall, covered or not, and none to Devin Hester or Earl Bennett.

Cutler created problems for his line by holding the ball too long, contributing to four sacks in the first half, three in the first three possessions, and six overall. Cutler also squandered a potential drive by forcing a deep throw to Marshall into double coverage.

Half of Cutlers 28 attempts went toward Marshall. It wasnt working particularly well too often.

The real measure of a quarterback is winning even when he isnt playing well. Cutler did that, although needing Robbie Gould to hit a 41-yard field goal to finish it was far from dominant.

RUNNING BACK B-

Matt Forte established the run in the first quarter and with 61 yards in the first half, then was shackled with four carries for just nine yards in the second. His five catches on five targets, however, was crucial even if not producing big yardage (24). Forte provided some help in pass protection but was never a consistent factor after the first quarter (five carries, 44 yards).

Michael Bush was used sparingly, with three carries for net five yards, and did not catch a pass.

RECEIVERS D

Like Cutler, the overall evaluation has to be weighted toward the fourth quarter. Cutlers inaccuracy for three quarters was not helped by drops by tight end Matt Spaeth and WR Devin Hester. But tight end Kellen Davis highlight-reel TD catch was a big grab in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

Earl Bennett didnt see a ball thrown to him in most of the first three quarters, then jump-started the offense with catches of 24 and 11 yards on consecutive plays. Bennett caught three of the four passes thrown to him and his yards after the catch were pivotal in extending the plays.

OFFENSIVE LINE C-

Six sacks allowed in the first half, zero in the second. But 64 rushing yards in the first half, 15 in the second. A potential F performance was saved by protection when it mattered.

Run blocking early was strong, with tackles Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb sealing edges and left guard Chilo Rachal road-grading on two pulls for big gains that established the run. Pass protection needed to improve but early sacks were more Cutler and coverage than protection debacles.

A Roberto Garza false start hurt momentum in the fourth-quarter and the Bears failed to convert the resulting third-and-long on the first good possession in more than two quarters.

The Panthers slanted their line similar to the plan used by the Detroit Lions. The Bears had trouble with it in the first half but made enough tweaks in the second to keep Cutler from being obliterated.

COACHING C

A gameplan was difficult to discern, whether for reasons of confusion or execution, more likely both. But the six sacks in the first half were troubling for a variety of reasons involving planning by both the line and quarterback getting rid of the ball.

The offense never established any rhythm, not surprising given the number of three-and-outs beginning late in the first quarter.

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.

The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”   

This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.        

So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes. 

At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January. 

“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.

“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”    

The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did. 

“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year. 

“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”  

The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.   

“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”  

Bulls fail to show up against 76ers

Bulls fail to show up against 76ers

It's been said and proven that the Bulls can't handle any level of prosperity in this season of tumult, but they've apparently lowered the bar even more as they were unable to handle the thought of prosperity.

Taking a 10-point lead against the 10-man Philadelphia 76ers had the United Center buzzing with unselfish play, easy shots and Rajon Rondo wizardry. About 90 minutes later the slipper fell off Cinderella and life hit the Bulls hard in their 117-107 loss, as they failed to win their second game in a row for the first time in a month. 

76ers rookie Dario Saric led the brigade with 32 points and 10 rebounds on 12 of 19 shooting, with two triples. Five 76ers scored in double figures, including an undrafted big named Shawn Long scoring 18 points and seven rebounds in his 10th NBA game.

Jimmy Butler scored 36 with 11 assists and seven rebounds in 42 minutes, but the narrative was the same as he didn't have enough help on the offensive end for long stretches.

More importantly, it again signaled the reality that the belief this team can make a run for the playoffs with the schedule being the easiest of the contenders over the next two weeks is a fallacy—if the first 70 games is any indication.

If the Bulls can't take care of business against the likes of these 76ers, they can't be counted on do much against anybody, regardless of how the schedule shakes out for the last six games.

By the time the United Center faithful was on its third cycle of boos when a Bulls turnover led to them having more points in the paint than the Bulls had on the scoreboard, it was clear the night had turned for the worst and wouldn't be turning again.

They already had a 54-52 paint-to-total ratio and the Bulls committed just three fouls, meaning for all the 76ers activity, the Bulls didn't even touch them or give any consequences by making them earn it at the foul line.

The lead ballooned to 26 at 81-55 with 6:15 left in the third and the Bulls looked as lifeless as they had at any point, given the relative lack of competition.   They made a game of it, although the insertion of Anthony Morrow seemed to indicate a white flag more than a search for new energy.

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Morrow and Bobby Portis gave Butler the help he desperately needed with a surge that cut the deficit to 102-92 with seven minutes remaining—giving the Bulls a better than expected chance to salvage an improbable comeback.

But with the margins so thin and Butler already expending so much energy just to get the Bulls back in it, they couldn't do more than threaten as Saric probably earned a few extra rookie of the year votes with his career performance.

The Bulls defense, through, was far less than inspiring. The 76ers lived in the paint with guard penetration, scoring 40 in the paint in the first half alone. Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson and the rest of the perimeter players feasted on the Bulls as Robin Lopez and Joffrey Lauvergne were missing in action, leading Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to leave both on the bench for the majority of the second half.

And with this sobering bit of reality, one wonders where the Bulls truly go from here.