NU's Siemian struggles through the air continue

920665.png

NU's Siemian struggles through the air continue

Both Northwestern's and Nebraska's offense expected to see stout run defense against their highly-successful ground games. Bo Pelini's group entered Saturday's affair as the top rushing team in the Big Ten, running for 292.0 yards per game. The Wildcats also had attacked via the ground game through seven weeks, rushing for 229.9 yards per game, fourth best in the Big Ten.
And, for the most part, both offenses were limited on the ground.
Led by Damien Proby's 12 tackles, Northwestern held Nebraska to 44 rushes for 201 yards, its lowest rushing total this season. The Wildcats rushed 38 times for 180 yards, their third lowest total of the year and second lowest total in Big Ten play.
But the difference Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field was that one team, Northwestern, couldn't make up for the low run totals through the air in the Cornhuskers' 29-28 win at Ryan Field.
Nebraska was the 15th best pass defense in the country when they entered Evanston on Saturday, and ranked behind only Michigan and Minnesota in the Big Ten. Pelini's group used that to their advantage, constantly stacking the box against Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter.
The response was simple: attack the box against eight- or nine-man fronts, or try and attack the Nebraska cornerbacks one-on-one with little safety help over the top.
"Schematically you knew they were really going to load the box and we were going to have to take some shots down the field," Fitzgerald said.
The Widcats did a little bit of both, but couldn't rely on the latter to balance out the attack.
Northwestern's Trevor Siemian finished 15-of-35 for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Toby Jones, who beat single coverage down the right sideline to give the Wildcats a late second quarter lead.
Siemian's other touchdown pass, a 10-yard strike to Dan Vitale, came on the heels of a muffed punt return by Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. The Wildcats recovered on the Huskers' 14, giving Siemian a short field to work with.
But the second half was a nightmare for Siemian. Though he was never sacked and had relatively good protection, the junior signal caller finished was 6-of-18 for 57 yards after halftime. At one point he threw incomplete on six straight passes in the third quarter.
The plan, coach Pat Fitzgerald said, was to take chances on the outside and see if the Wildcat wide receivers could win those one-on-one battles. It happened once with Jones, but they needed one more play from the skill players they never received.
"If we make one of those catches and throws it's a different game. We ended up making one for the touchdown pass, but there were about four or five other ones that, if they're gonna go out and play one-on-one, we've got to take advantage of it," Fitzgerald said, "and we just couldn't make those plays."
Credit must be given to the Cornhuskers' secondary, which played aggressive and confident throughout the game. On his own, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste broke up five passes, more than half of the nine Nebraska compiled as a team.
The heavy run support was also meant to shut down Kain Colter, who finished with just 57 all-purpose yards, easily his lowest output of the season. He was a non-factor much of the afternoon, especially compared to his performance last season against the Cornhuskers, when he had 229 all-purpose yards in the Wildcats' 28-25 win.
But even without the luxury of Colter and Venric Mark, who left with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter, Siemian almost made up for his sluggish second half. On Northwestern's final drive, completing three straight passes for 32 yards to get inside the Nebraska 40 yard-line trailing by one.
That range was close enough for kicker Jeff Budzien, but Siemian threw an incomplete pass, tucked and ran for three yards on second down, and threw incomplete again on 3rd and 7 in an attempt to get closer. Budzein missed the 53-yard attempt wide right.
"We were in position to make a few plays there down the stretch and we didn't make them," Fitzgerald said.
On the other end, Taylor Martinez made up Northwestern's tough run defense with his arm, throwing for 342 yards and three touchdowns. The Big Ten's most efficient passer got better as the afternoon went on, scoring three second half touchdowns, including two passes in the final seven minutes.
In the end there was more than one reason Northwestern failed to take down the Huskers in a crucial Legends Divison game. But if teams continue to key in on the run, knowing Siemian will struggle throwing the ball, Saturday afternoon could be a trend for the Wildcats.
"We gave ourselves every opportunity to do it, but we didn't make plays down the stretch," Fitzgerald said, "and we give credit to Nebraska for doing that. We ended up on the short end."

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

PHOENIX – Brandon Marshall never needed a whole lot of encouragement to step before a microphone but the NFL, which sometimes wished he'd put a sock in it, has now invited the former Bears wide receiver to speak up.
 
The NFL extended an invitation for Marshall, whose time in Chicago ended in some measure because of his insistence on pursuing the media portion of his career, to address the league higher-up's ostensibly as part of a communications bridge-building. Marshall jumped at the chance.
 
"They thought it was important for a player to come up and give a player's perspective and talk about the relationship between owners and players," Marshall said on Monday at the outset of the NFL owners meetings. "I think it's evident that our relationship could be so much better."
 
Marshall has been part of Showtime's "Inside the NFL" in recent years, flying to New York to participate in taping the show, and ultimately accepting a trade from the Bears to the Jets in 2015, which obviously cut down on his commute. The Jets released Marshall earlier this month, after which Marshall signed on with the Giants.
 
He told owners this week, "If we want our game to continue to be on that [positive] track, that it's on being super successful and being a pillar in our community and being a thread in our community, we have to make sure our relationship as players and owners is good."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]
 
The immediate response was more than a little positive: Per San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York:

https://twitter.com/JedYork/status/846400103472480256
 
Marshall predictably welcomed the forum and wants to see it expanded.

"I'd like to see more players be more involved in our owners meetings," Marshall said. "And not only at the owners meetings, but any time we're talking football, we should have players at the table. Commissioner Goodell is always open-minded. He always has that open-door policy. So I think he'll continue to listen and continue to evolve this part of our business."

Raiders-to-Vegas the latest in long line of NFL relocation drama, some of which included the Bears

Raiders-to-Vegas the latest in long line of NFL relocation drama, some of which included the Bears

PHOENIX — The Bears next play a team named "Raiders" in 2019, having just played them in 2015 at Soldier Field. Whether the Bears' schedule of opponents will say Oakland Raiders or Las Vegas Raiders is still fluid, but the Raiders are leaving Oakland sometime in the next several years after the expected vote Monday at the NFL owners' meetings.

Leaving a press conference at which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Raiders owner Mark Davis and a couple other league figures formally announced the foregone conclusion of the Raiders moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, a Cleveland media counterpart fell in beside me and remarked, "Well, at least that's one story you won't have to worry about covering in Chicago."

Maybe yes, maybe no.

The NFL game presents endless spurts of the byzantine and bizarre, so my colleague — who saw his Browns bolt from their lakefront to Baltimore one dark upon-a-time — might be premature with his effort at comfort. Besides, nobody to my knowledge ever took the temperature of Decaturites when their town lost the Staleys to Chicago (at least the Bears kept a Staley as a mascot). And a deal had been worked out, later abandoned, to move the Bears to Hoffman Estates in the mid 1990s, something that had been preceded by then-chairman Michael McCaskey shopping the franchise to various suburbs, low-lighted by a flirtation with Gary, Ind., to something that concept drawings labeled "Planet Park."

Hizzone Da Mare once told George Halas that if Papa Bear took his team out of the city, the "Chicago" part of its name wasn't going with it. And son Richie blustered regarding Gary, "Let them move to Alaska."

Well, I mean, then again, hey, if Juneau or Fairbanks can come up with the requisite relocation fees.

And you can only wonder how many members of Raider Nation are feeling that way about the Raiduhs, that they can go to Alaska (or Gary) for all they care.

The vote approving the Raiders' move to Las Vegas (presumably the league toned down any anti-gambling rhetoric for the day) was believed to be 31-1, with only the Miami Dolphins saying nay. But the side issues were everywhere and somewhat more entertaining, given that the deal was a fait accompli ever since the city of Oakland failed to deliver enough of a stadium package to keep its Raiders where they'd begun under Al Davis when the AFL was formed in 1960.

It was difficult not to chuckle as Mark Davis opined that he thought his late father "would be proud" of moving the team to the self-appointed entertainment capital of the world. True that; Al moved the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982, to a second location in that market subsequently, and then back to Oakland in 1995. Definitely a legacy to be proud of.

And one for Goodell, too, who summarized, "You know that our goal is to have 32 stable franchises for each of those teams and the league," meaning stable financially, not necessarily geographically. "We're all disappointed for Oakland and their fans," Goodell managed to say.

The Raiders do have one-year options on their lease in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and Davis said that if their Las Vegas facility isn't completed for the Bears' 2019 visit (OK, he didn't say "Bears," that was me), an extension might be in order.

Some observers are waiting for a reaction statement from jilted Oakland mayor Libby Shaaf, who got a thanks-but-no-thanks public letter from Goodell this weekend and sent a last-minute one for the league to delay its vote on the Las Vegas move, which the league didn't do. Somehow the thought of the Raiders asking Oakland to do something for them in their time of need is something worth buying a ticket to.

In the meantime, the move proceeds as expected, adding another mystery to the NFL firmament: moving a team to a significantly smaller sports market from the one it already occupied; moving not one but two teams into the Los Angeles market that had been abandoned by the Rams, Raiders and even Chargers (one of the teams now returning there); those sort of things.

How viable the Las Vegas market is for NFL football is something that'll play out over the next number of years. For now, good seats still available ... in Oakland.