Bears know wounded Lions are still dangerous

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Bears know wounded Lions are still dangerous

The Detroit Lions have inflicted their share of injury to opponents and now are limping into a Game 16 with one starting defensive lineman on injured reserve, his replacement not able to practice and their best defensive back also not practicing at the end of a season in which he has played just seven games so far.

Defensive tackle and 2011 first-rounder Nick Fairley went on IR and his fill-in, Sammie Hill suffered a toe injury in Detroits loss to Atlanta. Safety Louis Delmas has battled a knee injury all season and cornerback Jacob Lacey was lost to IR with a knee injury in the Arizona game two weeks ago.

But the Bears arent especially concerned about who wont be there. For one thing, all five of the Lions who registered sacks of Jay Cutler in the Bears 13-7 win on Oct. 22 linemen Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch, and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant are playing.

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A couple guys banged up up front but theyve still got Suh, still got the edge rushers, new corner out there, said quarterback Jay Cutler. But its the scheme. Theyre going to try to get a lot of pressure from the front four, bring a few guys and play coverage behind it. Nothing we havent seen and we wont be prepared for.

The 2012 problem

Cutler has played as well against Detroit as against any team in his career. His teams have been 6-2 against the Lions and he has thrown 11 touchdown passes vs. one interception and put up a rating of 100.9, vs. a career rating of 83.9.

But Cutler has yet to establish himself as a championship quarterback and Sunday is one of those situations. The Bears have totaled just 13 points in two of the last three Detroit games, and the 37 in the third, game two of 2011 was deceiving. The offense netted 216 yards, the defense scored twice on interceptions and Devin Hester took a punt return to the end zone.

The Bears have won eight of their last nine games against the Lions but the credit belonged to more than the offense.

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Indeed, part of the goal for the Bears offense on Sunday will be to play defense.

You want to flip the field, said coordinator Mike Tice. Theyre a very high-powered offense Detroit and we want to make sure we sustain drives.

We got back to doing pretty good in the red-zone again, so we want to get down in the red zone, because we had that stub-toe against Green Bay in the red-zone but over the last month or so, weve been pretty doggone good in the red-zone. So we want to continue that, so I told the guys this morning, Lets get in there more. And thatll be good, because we are pretty good in the red zone, actually.

Defensive disasters

The Lions have notoriety on defense Suh is a perennial top finisher in surveys of dirtiest in the NFL but the problems are more than reputation at this point.

In Detroits seven-game losing streak, the Lions have held no opponent to fewer than 24 points and have fallen to 29th in points allowed for the season (27.4).

The Bears have fallen hard in their last seven games but at least won two of the seven, the only two times (Minnesota, Arizona) they scored more than 17 points over that span.

The problem is that while the Bears rank ninth with 121.7 rushing yards per game, they have a No. 1 back (Matt Forte) dealing with an ankle injury and the No. 3 (Armando Allen) missing practice with a knee injury from the Arizona game.

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The Lions are 26th in rush yards allowed per attempt (4.5 per carry). The Bears were able to escape the first Detroit game with a 13-7 win in large part because they were able to rush for 171 yards and average 5.3 per carry, one of only five times this season they have topped 4.5 per carry.

The plan is to slow the Detroit pass rush with a running game marked by efficiency: four or more yards on first downs. The Bears struggled early in Arizona when they took and missed shots downfield early and faced too many second- and third-and-long situations. Against a Lions rush that sacked Cutler five times in the first game, the Bears want to control the tempo if not the bigger picture.

We cant control our own destiny, but we can control our half of it, which is winning a football game, Tice said. Thats what were intent on doing: going into Detroit and winning a football game.

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

The daily litany of injuries and practice limitations through training camp and to this point of preseason have been stories. But they typically do not take on real significance until about this time of the football year, when teams swing onto final approach for their first regular-season game.

Against that backdrop, the Bears’ injury forecast was trending the right direction on Monday when No. 1 tight end Zach Miller and No. 1 nickel receiver Eddie Royal, both out for extended periods going through the team’s concussion protocol, were practicing without the don’t-hit-me red practice jerseys they were in as recently as last week.

Right guard Kyle Long, down with a shoulder injury since the New England game, was not in practice pads Monday but trotted over to a nearby goalpost at one point during practice, got into his stance and delivered a couple of linemen “punches” to the padding.

All three are vital components of a struggling offense in desperate need of impact players at any position.

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Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, held out of the Kansas City game on Saturday with hamstring soreness, was in uniform as well. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, was out running laps around the practice field, although he remains a longshot to be active for the Sept. 11 opener in Houston.

The situation was less encouraging for linebacker Pernell McPhee, who continues to do only controlled running and cutting along the sidelines as he works back from knee surgery in January. Chances of his return for the start of the regular season appear next to nil.

“We’ve got some avenues that we’re going to have to decide here as we cut down [the roster] to the 53 and some time from now, so I don’t like making those decisions now,” said coach John Fox. “But we’ll continue to evaluate him. There are options. He did start [training camp] on PUP [physically unable to perform]. We have a lot of options and we’ll do what’s best for us and him.”

The team has kept details of McPhee’s procedure and injury in-house. But teammate Willie Young, whose 2014 season ended with an Achilles injury of his own, offered a perspective that hinted at how serious McPhee’s injury may have been.

“It’s a credit to him, because to bounce back from any what used to be career-ending injuries is a challenge,” Young said, adding, “but he’s on course, I would say.”

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

With the No. 1 units in all three phases generally done for the 2016 preseason, one of the few stats that coaches and teams focus on can be analyzed for a Bears team that doesn’t have a lot of numerical results worth noting.

Through three preseason losses the Bears curiously have a plus-1 turnover ratio, taking the ball away from opponents. Through three games last year the Bears stood at plus-6 after a 2-1 point of a preseason in which coach John Fox sought to change a losing culture with an aggressive preseason approach.

Why this matters in a preseason of failures is this: Of the 15 teams with negative turnover totals, only one had a winning record. Not that a positive preseason means regular-season success, as the Bears demonstrated last year.

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But while the Bears offense has done precious little with the football when it’s had it, at least it is not giving it to opponents. Brian Hoyer has thrown the only two interceptions in 96 throws by Bears quarterbacks, a rate of 2.1 percent.

The defense has been without starting cornerback Kyle Fuller and No. 1 nickel corner Bryce Callahan for the past two games, and top corner Tracy Porter for game one and part of game three, the latter because of a concussion.

Still, members of the defense, which has produced two interceptions and two fumble recoveries through three games, have noticed a difference this year from last year’s first in a 3-4 base defense.

“Faster, that’s the main thing,” said defensive tackle Will Sutton. “A year under my belt in the system, you’re not thinking as much because you should know the plays. I can play a lot faster because I know how the blocks are being made against this type of defense, for instance.”

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The results have not yet been reflected in points, yardage or wins. But within the defense, players believe that team speed has been increased along with reaction speed, breaks on the ball and other elements that go into producing takeaways.

“Absolutely,” said linebacker Willie Young. “We’ve got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and [linebacker Lamarr] Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year.

“But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence.”

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Bears coach John Fox declared in the wake of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that what transpired hadn’t been all bad. And that’s true; good wins don’t usually look as good in the film room afterwards, and bad losses don’t automatically show up all dark, either.

And so it is after preseason game No. 3 that the Bears in fact did have some good along with some bad in what was the worst performance of the preseason, if only because so much of it involved the No. 1 units, and they’re supposed to be better than that.

Since so much seemed to be (and actually was) bad on Saturday night, the contrarian approach is invoked here: Let’s start with the good.

Good: The Bears faced Kansas City (which also was missing a handful of key starters) without Bryce Callahan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Eddie Royal. Tracy Porter left with a concussion. They expect to have some if not all of those starters and sub-starters back by Week 1.

Bad: Miller, Porter, Royal and McPhee have varying degrees of injury histories, McPhee the least of the group but had never been put in the position of holding up as a full-time starter before last season. The chances of the Bears having all their key players for full seasons are slim.

Good: Jay Cutler has thrown 31 passes this preseason. None of them have been intercepted. In what proved to be a foreshadowing of a ball-security breakthrough for the historically turnover-prone quarterback, Cutler threw zero interceptions in 33 attempts last preseason. In the regular season Cutler had two games of 31 attempts and another of 33 with zero interceptions, plus pick-free games of 24, 27 and 45 attempts.

Preseason and training camp stats mean nothing; preseason and camp performances often do.

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Bad: Kevin White has shown less than nothing through preseason, catching a total of three passes and dropping an equal number in what is his de facto rookie season. He has run imprecise routes and looked a seventh-round draft pick, not a seventh-overall one. Despite his apparent explosiveness, no Bear is averaging less than White’s 4 yards per reception.

Good: Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith have had next-step preseasons, a matter of some potential significance given the health concerns with Eddie Royal and production concerns with White. No Bear has caught more than Bellamy’s 10 passes, and no Bear with more than two catches has averaged more than Meredith’s 16 yards per catch.

Bad: The Bears need a road win at Cleveland next Thursday to avoid the fifth winless preseason in franchise history.

Good: Of the previous four no-win warmup slates, the Bears finished 9-5 in 1962 and 11-5 and in the NFC Championship in 2010. The 1998 season, Dave Wannstedt’s last, wound up 4-12 but 1978 at least was 7-9.

Five of the last six times the Bears lost the “all-important third preseason game,” the Bears finished 8-8 or better.

Bad: (put in the Kansas City game tape)