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.

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

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Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”