Secondary, special teams receive high marks

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Secondary, special teams receive high marks

The Panthers, who average 336 yards per game, had put 306 yards and 16 points on the Bears with 6 minutes still to play in the third quarter. On a 90-yard drive from its six-yard line, for example, Carolina converted plays of 18, 25, 15 and 17 yards, and the Panthers had 10 plays of 15 yards or longer.
Carolina, converting just 31.7 percent of its third downs coming in, converted 10 of 19 (53 percent) against the Bears and were never completely slowed down in a game where the Panthers offense was on the field more than 30 of the first 45 minutes.
DEFENSIVE LINE D
Pressure on Cam Newton was virtually non-existent for too much of the game. Julius Peppers got a first-quarter sack and added another in the second plus two QB hits but no other D-lineman was credited with a hit of any kind on the highly mobile Newton.
Henry Melton forced a key third-down throwaway in the second half to end a drive. Shea McClellin registered a tackle for loss and Corey Wootton deflected a pass.
LINEBACKERS C
Carolina totaled 119 rushing yards between Newton and the running backs but averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher each had seven tackles, with Urlacher making one for loss in addition to breaking up a pass.
They and Nick Roach were active throughout with early hits on backs, although Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams all had at least one run of 13 yards.
SECONDARY B
Maybe the Bears should only schedule big receivers. Steve Smith lit up the DBs for 118 yards and seven catches. His long was 47 and he was missed on throws by Newton on several other routes when he was open.
But Smith didnt score and Tim Jennings intercepted a Newton pass to Smith in the fourth quarter and returned it for a go-ahead TD, the franchise-record sixth this season. Jennings had a team-high eight tackles, all solo, plus a second interception and three passes broken up.
Run support early was strong from Charles Tillman and Major Wright. Chris Conte, who finished with eight tackles, was beaten badly when he took a poor angle on a 62-yard completion to Brandon LaFell to set up a field goal.
COACHING B
The plan was to emphasize rush lanes by both ends and tackles to contain Newton and be positioned for an anticipated increase in Carolina running the ball. The Panthers did try to balance their run-pass with 41 pass plays and 36 run plays, including five Newton scrambles which are virtually tweeners.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Robbie Goulds game-winner was the special-teams story of the game. There were several good sidebars, however.
KICKING A
Even if you miss one earlier from 32 yards, when you convert a 41-yard field goal through swirling win as time expires, when a miss means a loss, you get an automatic A from CSNChicago.com. Robbie Gould also put all four of his kickoffs too deep to be returned.
COVERAGE A
Adam Podlesh punted four times. One was fair-caught. The other three were downed. The Panthers had zero return yards for the game.
RETURNS A
A unique area to evaluate. Devin Hester came out with a clear plan to be more aggressive and popped an 11-yard punt return early. The Panthers were not going to give him chances to beat them on kickoffs and squibbed every kick. Key for the Bears was handling every one without mishap, contributing to an average starting position of the Chicago 32 after six kickoffs.
COACHING A
The coverage plans were drawn up by somebody. No one had a chance to make a tackle but one reason punts and kicks arent returned is because the coverage is too close and Dave Toub units are among the NFLs best.

The Kyle Schwarber reboot begins Monday in Iowa

The Kyle Schwarber reboot begins Monday in Iowa

MIAMI – This isn’t a Tommy La Stella situation. The Cubs purposely told Kyle Schwarber to take a few days off to decompress before reporting to Triple-A Iowa. The reboot will begin Monday in Des Moines.

“We’re doing it to hopefully reset him, get him back up with a fresh start,” manager Joe Maddon said. “As you would expect, he was very professional about it, understood it entirely.

“There’s no actual timetable. I don’t anticipate it to be long. But we’ll see how it plays out, give him a little bit of room to get things right and then move it forward from there.”

The Cubs broke the news to Schwarber after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field, where the entire lineup went 1-for-27 outside of rookie Ian Happ’s two-run homer. It left Schwarber hitting .171 with a .673 OPS, not enough to justify his 12 home runs and suspect outfield defense. The Iowa Cubs are in the middle of a four-game series this weekend in Round Rock, Texas.

The Cubs hope Schwarber can regain his confidence and almost become a trade-deadline addition, reenergizing the team the way he did in 2015, when he blasted 16 homers in 69 games and five more in the playoffs.

Under entirely different circumstances in 2012, future All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo used 70 games with Iowa to rework his swing and make adjustments after bombing his audition with the Padres.

“He’s going to go down and be able to exhale a little bit,” Rizzo said. “Hopefully, he can smooth things out. We’re all confident he will. Just do the best down there to get back up here and to be the Kyle Schwarber that we all know and love.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”