Chicago Cubs

Offensive Grades: Line, Forte earn high marks

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Offensive Grades: Line, Forte earn high marks

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The offense again failed to control a game that it desperately needed to and was bailed out by the defense scoring as many touchdowns as Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall did.
Its not supposed to be that way, but perhaps its fitting that the Bears were what the NFL thought they were, based on the last six games. The offense finished with 297 yards and was an anemic 3-of-13 (23 percent) on third downs, mostly because of failed first- and second-down passes, usually toward Brandon Marshall.
It will not be good enough for the playoffs. It remains to be seen whether it is even good enough to beat the Detroit Lions, who couldn't score more than 18 points at home with Calvin Johnson breaking receiving records.
QUARTERBACK D
Cutler locked in on Brandon Marshall for five targets in the first two series, for zero completions (six attempts) or points in the first quarter. He was 1-of-11 midway through the second quarter and gave the offense no rhythm with sustaining drives through smart completions and moving the chains. Folded in is the fact that he was under limited pressure from the Cardinals, who sacked him just once.
Cutler finished with 12-of-26 passing for 146 yards, a TD and rating of 76.8. This is the second straight sub-standard performance by the central figure of the offense with the season hanging on his play. Cutler targeted Marshall on 14 of his 25 passes and repeatedly put the offense in long-yardage situations on third downs because of questionable throws against a team whose defensive strength was against the pass.
RUNNING BACKS B
The backs combined for 128 yards on 30 carries (4.3 per carry) and took advantage of breakdowns in the Arizona front. Matt Forte bounced a play for 36 yards in the first quarter that seemed to ignite a stagnant offense and then finished the drive with a four-yard TD burst.
Forte was forced to leave the game with an ankle injury after the half but finished with 85 yards on 11 carries, the second time in the last three games hes netted 85 on the ground.
Kalil Bell, signed last week after Michael Bush went on injured reserve with a rib injury, was able to get some snaps, and Armando Allen acquitted himself well with 24 yards on five carries in the third quarter alone after Forte went out.
RECEIVERS C
Brandon Marshall did battle all afternoon with Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety help and finished with six catches for 68 yards. He exploited a blown coverage in the secondary when Peterson failed to get the anticipated safety help and Marshall also made several catches on sheer physical effort.
He and Evan Rodriguez both posted drops on successive plays from inside the Chicago 5 that could have gotten the offense out of the hole.
Alshon Jeffery caught one pass for 35 yards and drew an interference call on the Cardinals.
Tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth sealed the edge for Fortes TD run with their blocking, and got a strong assist from Eric Weems on the play. The Bears spent much of the game in two- and even three-TE packages to help with Arizonas edge rush pressure and running the ball.
Other than Marshall, Davis (two) was the only receiver to catch more than one pass.
OFFENSIVE LINE A-
Against a good defensive scheme and personnel, the line performed well overall, particularly with Chris Spencer back at right guard and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Spencer had opened the season at left guard and Carimi at right tackle and coaches could have a decision to make when Jonathan Scott is deemed OK from his hamstring injury.
Carimi and JMarcus Webb were solid against two very good defensive ends in Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Center Roberto Garza had assignments under control despite the stunting and blitz work of the Cardinals 3-4
Rookie James Brown took a step of improvement at left guard and kept the stunts at bay. Overall the Cardinals had just one sack, which was Cutler running into the pursuit on an aborted scramble, and one quarterback hit.
COACHING C
Timeouts were wasted in the first half and the offense was fortunate to finish the second quarter with a touchdown in two-minute work. But coaching is not easy to evaluate when the quarterback is making decisions that send such a huge proportion of plays through one wide receiver.
The Cardinals were vulnerable to the run but the Bears repeatedly were going downfield early against the strength of the Cardinals defense. The lack of rhythm in the overall offense can be laid at Cutlers feet to some extent but the game plans continue to lack a sense of purpose, just Cutler dropping back, looking for Marshall and waiting for his favorite target to work open.

Cubs are about to find out how Brewers will counter Jose Quintana move

Cubs are about to find out how Brewers will counter Jose Quintana move

MILWAUKEE – It’s nice that the Cubs like their dugout vibe again – except when John Lackey bumps into Anthony Rizzo – and Jose Quintana comes with three additional years of club control and Jake Arrieta says: “We expect to remain in first place.”

But after making it this far – ahead of schedule in a long rebuilding project – the Milwaukee Brewers are not at all conceding the National League Central.

The Cubs experienced a playoff-like environment in late July during Friday night’s 2-1 loss in front of a sellout crowd at Miller Park. Every year is different, the Cubs kept saying during all their stops and starts in the first half, and these next 60 games should feel like a real pennant race, not the cruise-control settings from last season.

How will the Brewers counter the Quintana move? Well, Harvard guy Brent Suter, a 31st-round pick from the 2012 draft, outpitched Quintana, a player the Brewers targeted and discussed in depth with the White Sox before Theo Epstein made his blockbuster deal during the All-Star break.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon sees an American League East-style lineup stocked with patient, powerful hitters, one that has kept the Brewers (55-50) within a half-game of first place, even after last week’s six-game losing streak.

Milwaukee also has an aggressive, involved owner (Mark Attanasio), a 30-something, Ivy League general manager (David Stearns), a top-10 farm system and the reality that chances like this don’t come around that often for small-market franchises with the July 31 trade deadline looming.

“You’re looking at what everybody else is doing,” Maddon said. “We’ve already been proactively in front of some other groups by getting that done. So now anything we can do on top of that in a positive vein, absolutely, is going to benefit us. I don’t doubt that the Brewers are probably going to do something.

“But at the end of the day, we just got to worry about what we’re doing. I think it’s going to be hard to duplicate what we’ve already done in regards to getting Quintana.” 

So much about his new existence is different, but Quintana has seen this movie so many times before with the White Sox, a tough-luck loss where he only gave up two runs in six innings. Jason Heyward also bailed out Quintana in the third inning with a spectacular leaping catch at the right-field wall to take a two-run homer away from Ryan Braun.

“It was a battle,” said Quintana, who is 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts for the defending World Series champs. “Every game counts. I’m really happy to feel that atmosphere every night when I go to the mound. It was a tough night for me, and we’ll come back tomorrow.”

After Suter limited the Cubs to four singles and a walk during seven scoreless innings, Javier Baez generated all the offense with a John Daly swing. Baez drove a pitch from Anthony Swarzak – the reliever making his Brewer debut after getting traded from the White Sox – off a stadium club window above the second deck in left field.

Baez admired his shot, stared out at the field and spit out a sunflower seed as he slowly began his home-run trot. Part of the crowd of 42,574 started chanting: “Let’s go, Cubbies!” The day before on the South Side, Maddon listened to a question about Arrieta’s prediction and talked about “baseball karma,” saying it’s “out there” and “it’s going to come back and bite you.”

“Milwaukee is not going anywhere,” Maddon said. “I don’t take anything for granted, man. I really approach the day the same all the time. My experience tells me that. If you are not doing that – if you start getting full of yourself and believe in whatever – it’s going to go away real quickly.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying: ‘I feel it. I like where we’re at. I like the way the guys are reacting. I like the energy.’ Those are all good thoughts, good words. But when you start getting full of yourself and thinking it’s going to come easily – that’s the trap.”

Whether or not the Cubs and/or Brewers make a splash on July 31, these two teams will clash nine more times within the next two months.

“It will be cool,” said Kyle Schwarber, who struck out swinging at Corey Knebel’s 97-mph fastball with a runner on third base to end this game. “We’re going to be playing our baseball. We can’t be worried about whatever the division is. We got to worry about ourselves and play our game and go from there.”

Wake-up Call: Jose Quintana picks up first Cubs loss; White Sox lose again

Wake-up Call: Jose Quintana picks up first Cubs loss; White Sox lose again

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