Odds and end zones: Aftermath of 49ers debacle

946225.png

Odds and end zones: Aftermath of 49ers debacle

Exactly how significant or revealing the Bears 32-7 nightmare against the San Francisco 49ers was wont truly be evident until at least next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and the on successive Sundays against Seattle, the Vikings again and Green Bay. By then the season and the questions will quite possibly have been settled.

But the aftershocks from a game like reach potentially beyond the immediate game situations of 2012:

2013 draft plans

Simply concluding that Aldon Smith established that the Bears will address offensive line, chiefly tackle, with anywhere from two to four picks in next years draft may be how matters play out. The performances of Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb were collectively as poor as any in recent Bears history.

But there is a cycle to drafting that makes it a deadly proposition to be forced into addressing the same position repeatedly in a short time frame. That draws away picks that should have been addressing other needs coming in the normal replacement cycle. The Bears know from experience.

Sometimes it can work. They used No. 1 picks on tackles in 1981 (Keith Van Horne) and again in 1983 (Jim Covert). That was necessitated by injuries taking Dennis Lick (1976) and Ted Albrecht (1977), both No. 1s themselves.

The Bears overcame that with stellar drafting, including nearly the entire 1983 class plus a succession of hits on high picks on Hall of Famers (Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent) and high hits like Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, Wilber Marshall, Tom Thayer and others into a team with a Walter Payton base.

But more common are the disasters on the line after Covert suffered a career-ending back injury. The Bears were forced to use their 1991 No. 1 on Stan Thomas and 1992 No. 2 on Troy Auzenne, both major disappointments in search of replacements for Covert and Van Horne.

The Bears were able to overcome the 2002 No 1 used for Marc Columbo, whose Chicago career was over before it started because of knee injuries. But it took heavy spending in free agency for Fred Miller and John Tait. The Bears cannot count on that kind of success in a time of a diminishing talent pool on the offensive line and a shrinking salary cap.

If Carimi, Webb and now-gone Chris Williams are all draft misses ultimately, the Bears can ill afford to spend multiple picks on the offensive line at the expense of needs on the other side of the ball.

Worth noting?

A division-leading team giving up six sacks in a 20-point blowout loss after cleaning up on doormats. That would be the San Francisco 49ers, stomping the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in succession by a combined 79-3 score, then being drubbed 26-3 (giving up the 26 without answering) by the New York Giants. At home.

Lovie watch

A debacle like the one Monday in Candlestick Park will start the Lovie Smith haters eagerly anticipating a death spiral that will end with the Bears out of the playoffs and the Bears coach out of a job.

Anything is possible. Mike Tice could be one-and-done as offensive coordinator as well, definitely if the offensive bumbling continues. Jeremy Bates, too.

If someone wants the Bears to collapse just to see Smith be fired, that suggests other issues in play there.

But the Bears had back-to-back nightmares in 2010, losing to Seattle (six sacks of Jay Cutler) and Washington (four sacks four interceptions) in miserable performances -- at home -- and recovered to reach the NFC Championship game.

The 2011 season was over after the two-game embarrassments vs. Green Bay and New Orleans for a 1-2 start, and over again when an unraveling in Detroit (three sacks, six false-start penalties) left the Bears at 2-3. When Cutler went down with his thumb injury, they had recovered to 7-3 with five straight wins.

Thats not likely this year, even with a Cutler return, given the difficulty factor of the next four games.

But the Giants were 6-4 at the 10-game mark last season. The Green Bay Packers were 7-3 at this point of the 2010 season and even lost three of their last six. Their seasons didnt end badly.

The Bears' will if the offense continues to score one or zero touchdowns per game,which it has in four of the last five games, the only exception being the laugher in Tennessee. Still, best to let the whole thing play out before firing coaches, players and anyone else.

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.

Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.

The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.

In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.

Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Two weeks ago, it seemed Ian Happ was at the top of the list of Cubs potential trade bait.

Now, there are some circles of the fanbase that would rather see Javy Baez or Kyle Schwarber traded than Ian Happ.

Roughly two-and-a-half hours before Eddie Butler started for the Cubs in the series finale with the San Francisco Giants Thursday afternoon, the conversation with Joe Maddon turned to the neverending search for pitching and how young players can handle being a part of trade rumors.

"I think a lot of times when people are mentioned in a trade, sometimes it's perceived that they're not going well, people want to push them to the front of the line," Maddon said. "All of a sudden, [Baez is] going well, so I expect him to go to the back of the line relatively soon."

After a stretch where he went 1-for-18 from May 10-17, Baez entered play Thursday with eight hits in his last 13 at-bats, including two homers and eight RBI. He's raised his OPS 104 points in the process to .798.

[RELATED - Another reminder that Javier Baez is a game-changer — not trade bait — for Cubs]

Happ, meanwhile posted a 1.240 OPS in his first eight games in The Show, including seven extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers and a triple). 

Schwarber's batting average hasn't climbed over .200 since the last day of April.

Of course, part of the discussion with all three is the positional versatility — Baez and Happ can play all over the field while Schwarber is a left fielder and rare catcher.

"Another part of the trade narrative is based on depth, obviously," Maddon said. "So if you have other pieces like that, then you promote somebody within that group. I think Javy's gonna be in that position for a bit regardless — no intent on our part.

"However, he's still going to be mentioned in those moments because of what I just said — he's gonna go good or bad. And when he's going great, you're never gonna trade him. But right now, he's playing really well. That was a good game he had [Wednesday]. He's in the .270s now [average], better at-bats, he's not chasing pitches, the defense is obviously showing up.

"I just think the nature of our team, the young guys, you're gonna hear that. If you're gonna attempt to get pitching, you're gonna hear the typical names mentioned. And just from our players' perspective, I just would hope they won't take it to heart too often.

"But if they hear it enough and they're asked about that question often enough, of course it's gonna leave a mark. But [Baez] is impactful. Listen, none of these guys that you like aren't even nearly as good as they're gonna be in a couple years. Just be patient."

The Cubs are always going to be searching for pitching as their farm system has had much more success producing young hitters than arms.

The Cubs are still looking for some consistency from the fifth starter spot this season and looking further down the road, both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are only under contract through 2017. As of right now, only Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are penciled into the Cubs' 2018 rotation.

Of course, given the surplus of quality, young position players, the Cubs could deal from a position of strength to acquire impact, controllable pitching.

But it's hard to see them ever trading Baez or Schwarber — who are both in the midst of their first full season in the big leagues and will forever be entrenched in Cubs lore with their postseason heroics last fall.

Baez is also particularly important for his impact in the field, as an elite defender at three infield spots and the Cubs' only depth at the shortstop position after Addison Russell.

In Thursday's lineup, Maddon gave Russell a day off and inserted Baez at shortstop, a move that gives the Cubs manager peace of mind from a defensive standpoint — "It's a beautiful thing."

There's no way Happ will keep hitting like he has in his first two weeks in the majors, but his performance after only 91 minor-league games above Class-A ball could serve as a showcase for other teams looking at trade options from the Cubs system.

"I can't emphasize enough—- if you like our kids, just wait a little bit," Maddon said. "Continue to fertilize them, nurture them and they're gonna keep getting better."