Bears needing next step from Cutler


Bears needing next step from Cutler

A mantra of the Bears is their focus on cleaning some things up, whether assignments, procedures, techniques or whatever.

With the offense, some things have been reasonably clean or at least getting cleaner. The line has settled since Chilo Rachal took over at left guard. The five sacks and six penalties vs. Detroit notwithstanding, the group has allowed no more than two sacks in four of six games.

Brandon Marshall is seventh in the NFL in receptions (41) and receiving yardage (577).

Setting aside Jay Cutler's rushing yardage because his scrambles are basically broken plays, running backs combined are averaging 135 rushing yards the past three games and Matt Forte is averaging 100-plus on the ground the past two games.

The area that has not taken a true performance step forward so far is the most important one: quarterback.

Cutler is not playing to the level he was last season when he injured his thumb in game 10. Through the first six games last season he had eight TD passes vs. four interceptions. This year, hes again got eight but has thrown seven interceptions.

His passer rating is 78.3. Last year, without Marshall and with a struggling JMarcus Webb guarding his left edge, it was 85.7.

Cutler has improved to become the NFLs top-ranked passer in the fourth quarter. ESPN places him among the top quarterbacks in fourth-quarter situations of a touchdown difference or less.

But the Bears have never trailed in a fourth quarter other than at Green Bay the one time this season they needed him to direct a come-from-behind performance. With the Bears trailing 13-3 in that fourth quarter, he threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, not all the fault of his line.

After his display of resiliency following the Ndamukong Suh hit last Monday, Cutler has earned the respect of his coordinator.

For him to come back and suck it up, you could tell he was a little sore, but Im very, very proud of him, Mike Tice said. I thought he played well.

Carolina on his mind

Still, Cutler may be learning to win without being great and this may be the ultimate tipping point in his career. He didnt win anything in his first four years relying on his magic arm.

Of his seven interceptions, four were at Green Bay, legitimately classing that game as perhaps an aberration. Defenses like Houstons and San Franciscos will be better indicators.

The Bears are 23-9 since the start of 2010 with him as their starter. They crushed the Carolina Panthers in 2010 with him missing a game with a concussion and won 34-29 last year with him. He has shown signs of being more of a student of the game, something that channels talent rather than simply relying on it alone.

I have a lot of respect for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, Cutler said. I played him when he was here and down in San Diego. Theyre going to be well-prepared.

Major League Soccer playoff preview and predictions


Major League Soccer playoff preview and predictions

It’s playoff time in MLS.

The local team may be looking towards the offseason, but 12 of the league’s teams are heading into the postseason.

Two games tonight and two games tomorrow comprise the single-elimination first round. Four more teams are waiting to face those winners in the conference semifinals. Here’s a brief look at each of the four first round games and an MLS Cup prediction. (Fair warning: check out my MLS season preview to see how pointless the exercise of predicting MLS is.)

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union, Wednesday 6:30 p.m.

Neither team has ever won a playoff game so that will end for one of these two. Both struggled to close the regular season. Philadelphia is winless in seven straight. Meanwhile, Toronto’s only wins in the last seven were two wins against the last-place Fire. Still, with reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco back from injury, Toronto could make a deep run in these playoffs.

Pick: Toronto

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Wednesday 9:30 p.m.

The Galaxy finished with a league-leading 16 ties and had a 3-3-8 record in the final 14 matches. Nothing about that says title contender, but LA still has a talented roster. Like Philly, RSL enters the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak. Look for an LA win because they’ve lost at home just once this season.

Pick: LA

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact, Thursday 6:30 p.m.

D.C. closed the regular season on a strong run, winning four in a row before losing its finale. Patrick Mullins has been a huge boost at forward since joining midseason. Montreal is without Didier Drogba, who appears to be leaving the club. This seems like the most unpredictable of the four first round matches, but stick with the hot hand.

Pick: D.C.

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, Thursday 9:00 p.m.

Seattle enters as the hottest team in the league. The 8-2-4 record since Nicolas Lodeiro’s arrival, which has also been boosted by the return of center back Roman Torres, makes the Sounders a trendy pick for a strong playoff run. Kansas City is never an easy out in the playoffs, but going into a packed crowd in Seattle while the team is playing as well as anyone in the league is a lot to overcome.

Pick: Seattle

MLS Cup prediction

FC Dallas won the Supporters’ Shield in the regular season, but is without MVP candidate Mauro Diaz for the playoffs. That could be enough of a blow to allow a team like Seattle to knock them off in the next round. Colorado, No. 2 seed in the West, is a defensive team that peaked in the first half of the year. LA against the Rapids in a conference semi would be intriguing, but I think Seattle takes either out to go to MLS Cup.

In the Eastern Conference the New York Red Bulls have been the most consistent team in the league since a 1-6 start. The Red Bulls carry a 16-match unbeaten streak into the playoffs and should be able to get by either D.C. or Montreal. In the other semi, New York City FC and Toronto is an enticing potential matchup. Both can be fun teams to watch when things are clicking. That’s a tough one to pick, but the Red Bulls should be the favorite.

Pick: Red Bulls over Sounders

Indians will start Corey Kluber in Game 4 of World Series against Cubs

Indians will start Corey Kluber in Game 4 of World Series against Cubs

CLEVELAND — A day after his ace threw six shutout innings in Game 1 of the World Series, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona confirmed right-hander Corey Kluber will start Game 4 on short rest Saturday at Wrigley Field. 

Kluber only threw 88 pitches in Cleveland’s 6-0 win Tuesday night and is not only lined up to start Game 4, but is also potentially in line to start an if-necessary Game 7 — which also would be on three days’ rest. 

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The 30-year-old right-hander made one start on three days’ rest in the playoffs, in which he allowed two runs on four this with two walks and seven strikeouts against the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Those two runs, which came on an Ezequiel Carrera single and a Josh Donaldson home run, are the only two he’s allowed in 24 1/3 postseason inning. 

Francona said Game 2 starter Trevor Bauer and Game 3 starter Josh Tomlin both are in line to pitch on short rest, too, which could mean the Indians make left-hander Ryan Merritt or right-hander Danny Salazar (who were in the discussion to start Game 4) available out of the bullpen Wednesday night. 

Veteran right-hander John Lackey is in line to start Game 4 for the Cubs.