Defensive grades: Peppers, Tillman lead the way


Defensive grades: Peppers, Tillman lead the way

GLENDALE, Ariz. The overall play of the defense in a must-win game like this one is a little difficult to critique in absolute terms just because of the quality of the opponent. But all the Bears can do is play who shows up across from them and the Bears certainly did that on Sunday, against a woeful Arizona Cardinals team that faced one of the NFLs best defenses with quarterbacks Ryan Lindley and then Brian Hoyer in the second half.
The defense scored two touchdowns of its own, one on a fumble recovery by backup defensive back Zackary Bowman and the other on an interception by Charles Tillman in the third quarter. That ran the defenses total to nine for the season and the Bears record to 6-0 when their defense has scored in 2012.
A workmanlike effort when one was needed.
Julius Peppers was dominating, with three sacks and a forced fumble as well as four tackles for loss and two quarterback hits in a game with the season on the line. He has played with emotion and leadership through the losing stretch and led by example on the field.
Without 3-technique Henry Melton, Israel Idonije moved in at tackle and provided good push inside, including a first-half sack of Lindley. The Bears frequently went with a rush line of four defensive ends that included Idonije, Peppers, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton. The group played the run sufficiently and got enough pressure on two bad quarterbacks.
Amobi Okoye also was in on a forced fumble that the Bears recovered for a touchdown.
The linebackers flow to the ball prevented Arizona and Beanie Wells from getting into any rhythm in the run game, forcing the game into the hands of inept quarterbacks.
Nick Roach led the Bears with eight solo tackles and continues to be very solid alternate to Brian Urlacher. His responses to reads has gotten progressively quicker and he delivers more significant hits as his confidence has grown.
Lance Briggs broke up a pass and had six tackles in a strong performance overall. Geno Hayes was back in the lineup after missing last week with a knee injury.
Zackary Bowman gave the entire team a boost when he fell on a Beanie Wells fumble for a first-quarter touchdown. Charles Tillman, who contributed eight solo tackles, drove in the final nail with his interception return for a score in the third quarter. Kelvin Hayden gave the offense a scoring opportunity with an interception and return of 39 yards.
Chris Conte was lost with a hamstring injury, sending Anthony Walter into the free-safety spot and played well.
All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 111 yards on eight catches and rookie Michael Floyd caught six for 47 yards.
The Arizona offense was not much of a challenge in any area so the key was not exposing areas for big plays or mistakes. A conservative game plan was called for and the Bears executed it well.
The Cardinals blocked a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown in something of a disappointing breakdown that needs to be fixed before the Lions or someone else exploits it.
Adam Podlesh was called on to punt nine times and averaged 43.8 yards with three inside the 20. But the blocked field goal was a costly mistake that gave the Cardinals seven free points. Olindo Mare did kickoff three times for touchbacks.
Amobi Okoye avoided a problem by staying on assignment when Arizona tried a fake FG in the second quarter. Patrick Peterson, one of the NFLs most dangerous returners, was limited to 11 net yards on two punt returns and the Cardinals averaged only 19.5 yards on two kickoff returns.
Devin Hester put the offense in jeopardy fielding a punt inside the Chicago 5 and getting nothing on a frenetic return try. D.J. Moore effectively handed the Cardinals three points late in the second quarter when he let a punt bounce off him and into Cardinals hands. But it was on Hester to let Moore know where the ball was and he did not. Hesters one kickoff return for 40 yards was his best.
Penalties continue to occur too frequently and the breakdowns that allow kicks blocked cannot occur at the next level. Devin Hesters returning has always had an element of freelance, but without the explosiveness of his early years, something else needs to be built in.

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

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Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

CLEVELAND - It doesn't take long for the 2016 Cubs to rebound.

Their American League-style lineup is just simply too talented to keep down for an extended period of time, especially with Kyle Schwarber now added back into the fold.

They Cubs hitters are so confident, they even left Progressive Field feeling good about themselves despite being shut out in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Cubs got on the board early Wednesday night, plating a run on the third batter of the game as Anthony Rizzo doubled home Kris Bryant.

"Take the momentum away. Take the crowd out of it," Bryant said. "It's nice to score first. Especially when you're the visiting team, to get out there and score within the first three batters is huge."

The early lead helped the lineup settle in and keep their foot on the gas for a 5-1 victory to take the series back to Wrigley Field tied one game apiece.

"Especially with a young lineup, I think when you see a few guys go up there and take some good quality at-bats, one happens after the other and the other guys seem to do the same thing," Ben Zobrist said. "It takes a lot of pressure off. When you see other guys having good, quality at-bats, you don't feel like you have to take pitches and you can be aggressive early on. 

"Oftentimes when you're aggressive in the zone is when you take the tough ones. We did a good job tonight laying off some good pitches. When they made mistakes in the zone, we really hit the ball hard. Even though we scored five runs, obviously we had a lot of baserunners on and we could've scored a lot more."

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Zobrist has a point.

The night after leaving nine runners on base and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs left 13 runners on base and tallied just three hits in 12 tries with runners in scoring position.

Between nine hits and eight walks, there were Cubs on base all game. Indians pitchers didn't retire Cubs hitters in order in an inning until the seventh.

The Cubs also forced the Indians to throw 196 pitches in nine innings and worked starter Trevor Bauer to 51 pitches through the first two frames.

"That was good for us," Bryant said. "We saw a lot of their bullpen, so we have a lot of information to learn from and hopefully use in the next game."

Anthony Rizzo summed up the lineup's mentality simply:

"Grind out at-bats, work the pitcher's pitch count up and get the next guy up," he said.

That "pass the baton" mentality is what drives this offense and after a brief lull in that regard in Los Angeles when they were shut out in back-to-back games in the NLCS, the Cubs leave Cleveland feeling pretty good.

"When we're able to [get pitch counts up], you can kinda feel it - our offense really feeds off of that," Zobrist said. "We believe that we're going to break through eventually."