Support my attention-whoring ways by following us on twitter!

Get the SKOdcast imported directly into your brain!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Why the 49ers won't get to the Super Bowl

An interesting comment got me to writing a rather long response, so instead of posting it there, I though "Why not just make a post?", and so here it is: the reason the 49ers are morons for supplanting Alex Smith when they did and also why Matt Forte is a top 5 RB.

Let me be abundantly clear here: the comment I made about the 49ers had very little to do with Kaepernick's potential as an NFL QB, or even Kaepernick at all. I personally don't think he'll be a good NFL starter, but I've been wrong enough to know it is completely possible. What I was really talking about when I said the 49ers "never should have committed to" Kaepernick was their timing. They replaced Alex Smith in game 10 of the regular season. There are a few ways a first-time starting QB can go in his first full year, and unless you're Cam Newton or Andrew Luck (Who is simply having too strange of a year statistically to categorize) you will have one of a few kinds of years. For Kaepernick, he started hot then came back to Earth a bit against St. Louis and Seattle. That means he is taking one of two paths:

Up-Down-Up: The QB will do surprisingly well initially (this is probably because he brings something extra to the table, like speed, or because his coach is gameplanning him so as to hide his weaknesses... think Roethlisberger's first year) then fall on his ass once teams have film on him. Finally, due to overwhelming talent or good strategy, the QB will rise again, adjust to the adjustment, and finish strong, capping a good rookie year. This is RG3.
Up-Down: The same as above, but the initial defensive adjustment is too much for the QB, it exposes his inherent flaws, the QB cannot adjust, and the QB becomes a career backup. Ahem, Rex Grossman.

The big issue here is that Kaepernick will almost assuredly struggle at the exact wrong time. His seventh game will be against Arizona, his eighth a playoff game. For perspective, RG3 was great for four games, then did poorly for four of his next five games. Cam Newton did great for 4 games then struggled in six of his next seven before righting the ship. Rex Grossman was dynamite for 4 of his first 5 games before sputtering and crashing into oblivion. Kaepernick has been good or great in 4 of his first 5 games... and now he got beat up by Seattle. If the trend holds? He'll hit his struggle section right when the 49ers need him most. So, to reiterate, I don't disagree that Alex Smith is not a long-term answer. I disagree with the timing of his benching.

Moving on to Forte. I agree Arian, Purple Jesus, and Ray Rice are all better than Forte. Jamaal Charles is great, but he has a tendency to disappear from games occasionally and is a complete non-factor in the passing game. Marshawn Lynch has had a great run recently, so he might be #4. Who else is there to challenge Forte? Lesean McCoy just up and dsappeared this year, Reggie Bush was wildly inconsistent, Frank Gore is nearly as beat up as Michael Turner... just because Forte doesn't get used to his full potential doesn't mean he is worth less. His YPC are right there with everyone else I've mentioned and he is one of the three best pass catching RBs in the NFL (Sproles and Ray Rice). Even if we put JC ahead of him he is still #6. Seems trite to argue him being a top 5 RB on that kind of technicality.

This Sunday and its Meaning

This is going to be the biggest Sunday of football in recent Bear history. It's true: they went to a Super Bowl not long ago. And even more recently the Bears played the Packers in an NFC title game. But it's hard to say that either of those two games had quite the impact this weekend will have. Rex Grossman wasn't winning a Super Bowl. The Packer game only served to humiliate the Bears for letting the Packers fall ass-backwards into the playoffs. But this Sunday could change the entire trajectory of an organization that has largely looked exactly the same for eight to nine years.

If the Bears win and the Vikings lose (Thank God Green Bay actually has something to play for), the Bears get a weakened 49er team with a quarterback they never should have committed to. If the Bears win that game, Lovie is safe and the Cutler-Smith experiment will continue.

But let's be honest with ourselves, Bear fans. I probably don't even have to tell you that: we're Chicago sports fans! We're oftentimes a bit TOO pessimistic about what is going to happen to our sports teams. And really, pessimism is simply realism here. The reasoned observer will say that the Bears have a good chance of making the playoffs and getting blown to pieces by the 49ers. There's a good chance Lovie gets fired even if he DOES get to 10-6 and the playoffs in that case. The Bear fan in all of us, of course, is pretty damn sure they'll lose to Detroit this weekend while we also watch Minnesota lose by 30.

And in that scenario, well, everything changes. The head coach we've known since 2004 will be fired, Mike Tice will be gone, Marinelli too (mostly because new HCs want their own coordinators). Most likely so will the 4-3 Cover 2, Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester, and maybe even Jay Cutler. The entire face of this organization will change with that loss. And consider this: the Bears will have one of the best defenses in the league, two Pro Bowl starting corners, a potentially Hall of Fame linebacker (Briggs), a Hall of Fame DE, Henry Melton, the second or third best WR in the game, a top 5 RB, and a team that went 9-7. That sounds like a damn good job opportunity to me.

The coaching options are numerous, but I guarantee the top 2 names on the Bear's list will be Sean Payton and Rex Ryan (Yes, Rex Ryan just got run out of New York. But he has strong Bear ties, he made it to two AFC championship games with defense alone, and he has a very "Bear" mentality. Just enough reason for the Bear organization to put him at the top of a small list, whether the fans agree with it or not.). Rex represents a slightly more conservative approach to change. The defense will become a 3-4, which is entirely foreign to Bear fans, but the Bears actually have the pieces to run that defense right now with very little transition. Shea would be a great 3-4 OLB, Henry Melton is exactly what you want for the middle of your 3-4 line, and Peppers will be great doing anything. The non-change here would be the offense. Rex likes running the ball and occasionally slinging shit deep. Sound like a Cutler offense to you? Yeah. Rex almost fits too perfectly.

But before the Bears call him, they will certainly call the most coveted HC on the open market, Sean Payton. Through a very strange loophole, the Saint HC got released from his contract in part because of the year-long suspension from bounty-gate. I personally believe he's just going to leverage the Cowboy's and Bear's interest against the Saints in order to get a bigger deal, but what if he doesn't? The Bears job is by far the best of the three. It'll give Payton a defense for the first time in his career, one of the best receivers in the game, and a gun-slinging QB who he can either trade for someone he covets or give a one year tryout. Of course, Payton would change the defense AND the offense, and the last time the Bears ran something looking like a spread... well, Cutler still has bruises.

The league is changing. Will the Bears change with it? This team has never been anything but defense-first, run the ball, rinse, repeat, and the one season we tried becoming pass-centric Jay Cutler almost died at the hands of Mike Martz. The last few seasons Lovie has been awkwardly hiring new OCs, trying to turn this offense into something new and, well, good. But his results have been mediocre at best, and occasionally painful and even dangerous. It is, and I say this with love in my heart for Lovie, very clear he has no idea what to do on offense in today's NFL. But one thing is clear; he thinks he needs to change. This is why, if Lovie goes, the Bears will almost assuredly grab a coach that will change the very fabric of the team. I'm not here to argue whether changing is good or not. But the Bears may look at the list of Super Bowl champs and realize the last time a team won with their current mentality was 2003. And that was when the Bucs beat the Raiders in possibly the worst Super Bowl ever.

It is very rare that you get to watch something understanding the full weight and context of the situation you are seeing. Nobody knew the Bulls would trip and fall into the #1 pick to get D. Rose. Nobody knew Bartman was coming. Make no mistake. This Sunday means more to the Bear's organization than either of those two events. It could mean changing the entire identity of a team that has remained constant for so long. So tune in this Sunday and watch as a man fights for his job, and maybe more importantly, a team decides its trajectory for the next ten years.

Monday, December 17, 2012

University of Cincinnati Surprised to Find Itself In Classic Horror Movie Situation

CINCINNATI, OHIO (AP) The University of Cincinnati released a statement today, on behalf of its leadership and basketball program, pleading for help from other institutions, or at least some explanation as to their current, rather surreal circumstances.

"Is anybody else seeing this?!" reads the statement, "We keep going out the door of Conference USA, but... jesus it just leads right back inside! How is this possible?!"

Cincinnati left C-USA in 2005 for the Big East, a league with BCS ties and a proud basketball tradition.

"Just a few months back we were waking up to say Hi to Syracuse, Pitt, and Rutgers to throw the ol' pigskin around... then they were just gone! I mean, we thought it was strange, but then it got even weirder!"

"One day a week ago we were playing some NBA 2K13 with Villanova, then... jesus they just disappeared! We looked all over for them, but... they were gone! When we went to tell Georgetown, well, they were gone too! So was St. John's! God almost everyone was gone!"

But the worst was yet to come, apparently, as the letter's tone takes a turn for the desperate and clearly delusional.

"Then we noticed even our old buddies from C-USA, Marquette, were gone. That's when we noticed it... the Big East sign above the door... it was all beat up from what the ACC did to it when they came by a while back... but now it looked strange... warped...

it looked like it said C-USA."

Cincinnati is probably confused because the Big East has recently lost all but one of its founding members, leaving the conference with UConn, Cincinnati, and several former members of C-USA.

The letter continues, "We turned from the sign, frightened... and standing there was Tulane. Jesus it was TULANE. We thought we got away from them forever! When Louisville, Marquette, and us got out of that hellhole in '05 we thought it was over! But there it was! So we ran.

We ran for the door, through the foyer... and there they were. Houston! SMU! UCF! Memphis! Oh God they were all there. So we ran out the front door... and came right back in the back door."

The letter trails off from there, devolving into random pleas for help; "Found UConn. Can't escape. We keep trying to leave through the side door into the ACC house... but it's no use. We talked about it, and we think this is our hell. We keep reaching for an ACC hand to save us... but it never comes. Have to sign off now. Boise State made lasagna. I hear Navy will be here soon. Someone says maybe UMass too. God help us. We'll take any help. Even the Big 12! GOD SAVE US SOMEBODY PLEASE AGHHHHH!!!"

The letter devolves into random scribbling and pictures of centaurs after that. When asked for comment, all the ACC would say is "Meh" and "Once the B1G takes North Carolina and Virginia we'll probably take em both. I mean, I guess."


The Bear's Playoff Chances

Well, I wanted to use this morning to stare at my dominant fantasy football win over Erik (and forget that my wife put up back to back weeks of 149+ points to beat me in a different league) but Red had to get all moody like he does, so I figured I should temper his and Fro Dog's enthusiasm over a Bear loss to Green Bay. Yeah, we looked awful. And yes, once more the defense gave up a respectable number of points to a great offense and Cutler screwed it up. ON THE OTHER HAND, the Bears are still 8-6 and have, with the 'skins, the easiest remaining two games on their schedule. Let's break down the NFC playoff hopefuls in order of playoff likelihood:

Washington Redskins
Remaining Games: @Philadelphia, vs.Dallas

So yeah, the Redskins pulled a Kirk Cousins out of their ass and beat Cleveland in Cleveland to nearly secure the NFC East. All they have to do is beat Philly (easy) and beat Dallas, a game they play at home. The only thing stopping them from hitting 10-6 and winning the East is the health of RG3, who is said to be recovering very nicely and on track to start at Philadelphia. So expect Washington to take the NFC East.

Chicago Bears
Remaining Games: @Arizona, @Detroit

Yes, the Bears are next in line in order of ease of schedule for getting to 10-6 and a playoff spot. Remember that as far back as 5 weeks ago we were anticipating a loss to the Packers but two wins at these two teams and a playoff birth. Well, now it's crunch time. Neither of these teams should be able to beat the Bears. One loss here will mean Lovie's job and potentially Cutler's as well (Emery has proven to be more willing to actually do things. Don't be surprised, if the Bears miss the playoffs, if he tries to throw Cutler to a team in position to draft Geno Smith or Matt Barkley.). All that said, it's pretty likely the Bears win out, go 10-6, and make the playoffs. That's because...

New York Giants
Remaining Games: @Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia

The Giants just got destroyed by Atlanta, so kudos to the Falcons for hitting on all cylinders right when they need to. The Giants are, of course, the Giants, so don't count them out here, but I'd expect a loss at Baltimore and a win at home vs. Philly to put them at 9-7. They might still make the playoffs though, because the Bears will lose the conference record tiebreaker if they finish tied with New York. In other words, Bear fans, Eli Manning is right there, and, wait, how did you get a baseball bat in your hand? No, don't do that!... okay maybe just his legs...

Dallas Cowboys
Remaining Games: vs.New Orleans, @Washington

That looks like 8-8 to me. Anybody see what Brees did to Tampa last week? Not only that, the Saints-Cowboys game is like the Sean Payton bowl, and I'm sure Drew has something to say about where his coach should end up. @Washington to end the year doesn't exactly inspire much confidence either. I can't imagine a scenario in which this team gets into the playoffs.

Minnesota Vikings
Remaining Games: @Houston, vs.Green Bay

That ALSO looks like 8-8 to me. The Texans need one more win to clinch home field throughout, so they'll be playing this game. The Packers will also have a shot, most likely, at a first round bye in week 17 (not to mention a shot at putting Minnesota down for good). The Vikings just don't have the firepower to take on either of these teams.

In Summary:
Considering one of those NFC East teams has to take the division, the Bears are basically facing down the Giants. Though that be a frightening proposition, all the Bears need is for Baltimore to take care of business this upcoming week and to win out against Arizona and Detroit. The tiebreaker goes to New York, yes, so the Giants or Redskins will need to lose a game. But I still think this team will fall into the #6 seed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Packers 21, Bears 13- With a Whimper

The collapse is more or less complete. The Bears could win their last two and get some help and still make the playoffs, but that seems incredibly unlikely. It doesn't matter anyways. This is not a good football team. It's hard to believe it ever was. They were failures in every possible phase today, and they let the division title that was in their hands for half a season go to Green Bay on their home turf.

There will be hard decisions in the future. The end of this season has gone about as badly as you could have ever imagined for the two individuals who have the most control over the team's fate: Jay Cutler and Lovie Smith.

I don't want to say goodbye to either of them, myself. The sinking feeling in my stomach tells me this franchise would be no closer to a title without them than it is with them, but there's also little that can be said to defend either one of them right now. There are plenty of excuses. There always are in a team sport where so many variables play into wins and losses, but the blame for this collapse will fall on the shoulders of these two, and it'll be truly interesting to see whether the axe will come out, and where it will land.

I don't much have the heart for a breakdown, frankly. The only good I saw was in the pass rush early on, and a run game that reappeared for just a few moments. After that it was all bad. The officiating was undeniably bad, but the Bears have no one to blame but themselves for being incapable of scoring points against any defense with a pulse. That Green Bay Packers squad that carried away the division championship today is clearly the worst unit that Rodgers has led since his first year as a starter, and the Bears weren't even close to them in either game. Think about that. Or don't. I won't blame you.

I haven't got the faintest idea where everything will be once the dust settles. I can only assume that I'll be as unhappy as I am right now.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vikings 21, Bears 14: There Goes the Neighborhood

As SKO was actually at the game, he’s asked me to step in and do the recap today. I was hoping it would be a good game. As you all saw, I was very very wrong. The Bears fall to 8-5, still leading the wild card race, but it was not an encouraging game.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Seahawks 23, Bears 17: Take the Points You Jackass

I'm a big defender of Lovie Smith. Have been for years. Very little of the stuff he gets blamed for is actually his fault, but this game....oh this game, Lovie f*&ked up royally. You do not go for it in field goal range (TO DETERMINE A TWO SCORE GAME, MIND YOU) on 4th down in the first fucking quarter. You do not pucker up and play prevent offense AND defense with a four point lead against a scrambling QB. You do not continually play two deep safety when your team CANNOT stop a running QB or the runningback. They were f&king running goddamn stunts to collapse the middle against a QB who WANTS to get outside the pocket! HE'S A F*&KING MIDGET ROOKIE FOR F*&K'S SAKE.

Sorry, that one's on Lovie. Tice called a brilliant game up till they got the 14-10 lead and then he puckered. The defense puckered all game long. It was obvious the front four wasn't getting any penetration and Lovie/Marinelli didn't dial up anything extra, and they continually gave Wilson the edge as though Urlacher could run him down like he would have seven years ago. Just pathetic.

The Packers now move back into first place at 8-4, with the head to head tiebreaker, and I don't see the New York Giants coming along to knock them back down. You had a rookie QB at his own 1 yard line at home in December, and you couldn't make a fucking play. There's very little reason to think this team's going to be able to contain Kaepernick, Wilson, RGIII, or Rodgers at this point. This was a costly one, folks, far more than the Texans or 49ers games. Utterly pathetic.

The Good:

Brandon Marshall: If it weren't for him this game would've been over before it started. He kept the chains moving, came up with the miracle ball to send it to overtime, and was generally the only receiver who did more damage against the Seahawks than the Bears.

Jay Cutler: He was utterly amazing today against one of the NFL's best pass defenses, and he couldn't find anyone other than Marshall to help him out. Earl Bennett dropped what may have been the best throw of Jay's career, and the game went away from them after that.

The Offensive Line: Cutler was untouched all game long, and they eventually got the run game going late. Terrible to see an effort like this wasted.

The Bad:

Lovie Smith: You do not pass on a double-digit lead at home over one of the NFL's best defenses. YOU DON'T DO IT. F*&KING FUCK, LOVIE. I just can't add anything more. I realize that there were numerous opportunities afterward, and that nothing in the first quarter "loses" a game, but you don't take points off the board. It's that simple. If you're at the 34 yard line and go for it, you're showing faith in both your offense and your defense. If you're already in chip shot range, you're just letting fucking emotion cloud your judgement.

Brian Urlacher: He was old, slow, and exposed the entire fourth quarter. I hate to say it, but Cam Newton, Kaepernick, and now Wilson should have it drilled into their heads by now that the "don't worry, Brian will run them down" approach to mobile QBs needs to go.

Earl Bennett: I'm aware that he had a TD and it sucks that he left with a concussion, but you can't drop that ball. Inexcusable. Absolutely pathetic that no one outside of Brandon Marshall can step up. This entire receiving corps has regressed from last year outside of Marshall, and they were shitty to begin with.

That's it for now. Another one where the meatballs can have their day, because every overblown, overrated meatball explanation for Lovie Smith being a bad head coach showed up today, and while it doesn't define a career, it fucked his team hard today.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Repost: Is it Possible to Diagnose an Entire News Organization With Clinical Depression?

Repost time, thanks to Iggins!

After almost every Bears victory, Chicago sportswriters find themselves compelled to write columns about how the victory wasn’t good enough. Even though they’re technically reporting on a win, they somehow manage to spend the entire time bitching about how it could’ve been better. Seriously, they were more negative about this win than they were about the two losses that preceded it.

The worst one I found this week came from CBS Chicago, courtesy of their Sports Editor (remember that, it’ll be important later), Adam Hoge. It just made me mad, not because of the inaccuracies but because these people just can’t write a positive story about anything. Morrissey’s Monday column was called “A Win is a Win, but Don’t Get Cocky,” for Christ’s sake. 

This one is more reasonably titled “There’s Hope for the Bears’ Offense After All,” but even that just seems petty to me. It implies that we should be surprised by that fact, like the fans by now should have decided this offense just sucks and will always suck and there’s nothing to be done but start over. Goodbye playoff dreams!

Anyway, he’s in italics.


It’s something the Bears haven’t had on offense all season.

While nobody would tell you this has been a stellar offensive unit, you don’t just get to throw out the times they have had rhythm because you’re writing a story in which they don’t.  They had great rhythm in the Carolina comeback, as well as the Colts and Cowboys blowouts and the Titans…. what’s a stronger word for ass-whoopin’?

Even when they were occasionally scoring points against bad teams earlier in the season, long drives were rare and continuity was nowhere to be found.

Those “bad teams” include the playoff-bound Colts (who beat the Packers), for starters, as well as the Rams (who tied the 49ers). As I said in my last post, even bad teams are capable of winning games because these are still some of the fastest, strongest, most frightening people on the planet and they are very good at playing football.

And it’s not the offense’s fault they played bad teams, they don’t write the schedule. It’s also not their fault they don’t have many opportunities for long drives: with the defense and special teams they have, long fields are hard to come by. Hell, the way defensive players were scoring through the first 8 weeks, possessions were hard to come by. Still, continuity was rare, so I’ll give you that half of your statement.

That’s pretty common when your offensive line can’t block anyone.

Except the Texans. And Titans. And Cowboys. And Colts. They’ve been pretty lousy, but there have been some moments worth watching, give credit where credit is due.

But Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, rhythm was somehow found and largely sustained against a decent Vikings defense as the Bears ended a two-game slide with a 28-10 victory.

I hate that any losing streak is called a “slide.” Yes, they lost two games, but did anybody honestly expect them to go out there and beat the Niners without Cutler? That was a planned loss, it’s not like the team was spiraling out of control.

How ironic that in a game where both starting guards went down with knee injuries — and the Bears’ benched right tackle was forced to play guard for the first time in his entire life — continuity appeared to be present on the Bears’ offensive line?

You know linemen are like… functioning, thinking human beings, right? The ironic hand of fate didn’t come down and make them play well, they worked their asses off coming back from one of the most embarrassing defeats they’ve ever suffered. Lady Luck didn’t block Jared Allen, offensive linemen did.

After scrambling for answers during a short week full of line changes and drama, the Bears were able to give Jay Cutler — returning from a concussion — just enough time to make plays and sustain drives.

“Just enough time” implies that Cutler had hands on his jersey as he was getting every pass out. Sure, he scrambled some, but that was mostly on long plays and bootlegs. For the most part, they didn’t give him “just enough time,” they gave him time to have a drink and think about his options before he threw the ball.

“We wanted to see some rhythm and a little sense of urgency,” Cutler said after the game. “Guys just doing their job, play after play and getting some drives together.”

It wasn’t always pretty. Cutler was often forced to scramble, but he was able to shuffle his feet and move like backup Jason Campbell cannot, giving the Bears’ offense a dimension it needs. In Campbell’s defense, even Cutler wouldn’t have been able to dodge the 49ers’ pass rush in San Francisco, but Sunday the Bears needed Cutler to win.

According to sportswriters, when Jay gets sacked because he holds onto the ball for 45 minutes instead of throwing it away, it’s the line’s fault; but when the exact same thing happens and he gets the ball out, they get none of the credit? Pick one or the other, Adam. They’re not great, but there are plenty of bad plays on the tape to mock without ragging them for things they can’t control.

True, Campbell probably would’ve eaten five sacks that Jay dodged, but Campbell also wouldn’t have held onto the ball long enough for it to be an issue.

After weeks and weeks in which offensive coordinator Mike Tice stubbornly stuck with his deficient tackles, he finally made the choice to bench Carimi in favor of Jonathan Scott — a move that paid off. Scott was quicker out of his stance and more effective, while Carimi came in and provided a nice boost as an extra blocker in short yardage situations.

Just the one deficient tackle, Hoge. Because of the early-season J’Marcus Webb drama, people always fail to notice that he’s actually played very well since then. There’s a reason Gabe got benched and J’Marcus didn’t, so give the guy some credit.

Unfortunately, knee injuries ravished-

 [rav-ish] verb (used with object)

1. to fill with strong emotion, especially joy.
2. to seize and carry off by force.
3. to carry off (a woman) by force.
4. to rape (a woman). 

I think you mean “ravaged,” Adam. Adam, it should be noted again, is the Sports Editor for You know, the one who makes sure the words are right before they publish things. In case they eventually notice this and correct it, I have a screengrab of the column from the day it came out.

-the offensive line during the game and sent guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer to the bench. Carimi moved to guard and was effective, but major health questions remain regarding a unit that was already playing a man down after Chilo Rachal abruptly left the team mid-week.

I suppose those health questions have mostly been answered now, but at the time that was an accurate statement. Just to update those who haven’t heard elsewhere, Spencer is hurt and won’t play this week, but he should be back in 1-2. Louis is out for the season with a torn ACL; and Jared Allen was fined $21,000 for that hit.

Cutler singled out Scott for playing well, a sign that he will remain the starting right tackle.

I would say the fact that coaches said he will remain the starting right tackle is a better sign that he will than the fact that Cutler – who, it should be noted, is not a coach – said he did a good job.

Meanwhile, Smith gave credit to Carimi and Edwin Williams for filling in at guard. Carimi said it was the first time in his life he played guard.

I was pleasantly surprised by Gabe’s performance at guard. He’s taller than one would expect, but clearly it didn’t give Jay many problems and he kept his guy out of the backfield, so I’ll take it. I figured Edwin would be fine; the only reason he hadn’t played was because Spencer was there.

“I thought the offensive line did a good job,” Cutler said. “There were a few moving pieces in there with some guys filling in. Under the circumstances, they played well.”

Under any circumstances, they played well. They played better than the five starters played in almost any game this season.

Health is a concern moving forward, but good signs remain. Just when one had to assume the offense wouldn’t “click” all season, it put together long, fluid drives Sunday.

Nobody assumed that except for you. Everybody just wondered when it was going to happen again. I say “again” because, as I noted before, there have been a few very solid outings and individual series throughout the season. If “clicking” means “executing 80-yard scoring drives on every possession,” then nobody clicks.

It’s a point I’ve made before, but the individual circumstances of the game have a huge effect on the offense’s strategy. You don’t want to put together beautiful long passes when you’re ahead 14 points, you want to run out the clock and avoid turnovers. So during at least half the games they’ve played, the fact that they didn’t wow anybody offensively can be at least partially attributed to the fact that they didn’t need to.

The Bears made its biggest commitment to the run all season, handing the ball off 36 times. That helped them keep the ball for over 37 minutes, resulting in one 14-play touchdown drive and two 10+ play drives that led to field goals. Getting positive yardage on first down and converting 11-of-19 third downs will go a long way in keeping your defense off the field.

This is the editor in me, but it should be “the Bears made their” biggest commitment to the run. Even though it’s a team, it’s a plural noun and therefore gets plural pronouns. I bring it up because Adam is writing for an ostensibly journalistic platform while I’m writing for a tiled-background blog about a man with a neckbeard, and my grammar is still better than his.

Of course there are still a number of things to clean up. Matt Forte lost a fumble and nearly was guilty of a second fumble that was originally ruled a touchdown for the Vikings on the field before being reversed. He suffered an ankle injury on the play though and failed to return.

This is some Norv Turner shit right here. A player fumbling once does not mean he has ball-security issues. There are no two backs in the league less likely to fumble than Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson, and both of them fumbled on Sunday. Peterson fumbled twice. It happens sometimes, it doesn’t mean he needs to improve his ball-carrying technique.

And he was “almost guilty” does not mean anything. He didn’t fumble. End of story. You don’t get part of a sentence because you’re “almost guilty” of ravishing someone. Either you did it or you didn’t.

Cutler was outstanding for the most part (23-for-31 and QB rating of 86.5) but also threw an interception when he missed Brandon Marshall high (something that comes with the territory with No. 6).

He didn’t miss high; Brandon volleyball-set that ball into a defender’s hands. That INT was totally his fault. Yes, it could have been a better throw, but he still should have caught it. It doesn’t mean Cutler had a bad day, though I would say his receivers dropping passes into the hands of their opponents is certainly something that comes with the territory for Jay.

He also stalled a drive in the first half with a goofy, unnecessary toss of the football that was deemed taunting.

Irritating, but the smile on his face when he did it made it worth it. When Jay is happy, the Bears tend to win a lot of football games. Plus it was hilarious.

The Bears coaching staff will nit-pick like that all week at Halas Hall — as they should — but the bigger story on the offensive side of the football Sunday was progress.

Is it? Judging by the story you chose to write, it sure as hell doesn’t sound like it.

Three weeks ago, as the Bears prepared for a showdown against the Houston Texans, head coach Lovie Smith talked about his team hadn’t peaked yet. He was right. Unfortunately, his team went on to regress in the next two games.

Again, it’s not a surprise that the team regresses against two of the best teams in the NFL without their starting quarterback. There aren’t a whole lot of teams in the NFL who could win a game against a playoff-level opponent with a backup QB. In fact, San Francisco might be the only one, and most people can see that Alex Smith was always going to be pushed aside for Kaepernick, the injury just forced Harbaugh to do it earlier than he wanted to.

The prevailing thought remained, however: If the offense could find some sort of rhythm, a promising season could be saved.

For some reason, people insist on acting like the Bears don’t have a 90% chance of going to the playoffs. “Saved” implies that they were almost knocked out but managed to get back in the game. Sure, they still have to win games to get there, but the likelihood of them losing out the season was more or less nonexistent. Unless something absolutely horrific happens, they’re all but guaranteed at least a wild card spot.

That happened Sunday against the Vikings in a must-win game, and while there’s still plenty of work to do, there’s hope for this offense after all.

Again, Hoge is equating “they played poorly for a while” with “they were never going to succeed and needed to rebuild from scratch.” I was as disappointed as anybody by the fact that we still don’t have that highlight-reel offense I pictured when we acquired Brandon, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s impossible.

Overall, like I said, this column made me angry not because there aren’t things to work on after Sunday, but because Hoge seems to have focused exclusively on them. Every time the Bears win, one of these assholes comes out with a column saying it wasn’t good enough. This stuff should be footnotes, the last paragraph reminding you not to buy Super Bowl tickets just yet, not the focus of your entire column. Just… just be happy about something, for once in your life. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it more.

For the Record: We're Still Alive Edition


That win yesterday was needed and welcome on so many levels. The most remarkable thing about it was the sanity on offense. I’m not one of those people who thinks Tice just needs to run the ball 40 times a game regardless of the production, but the early commitment to it allowed them to kill the pass rush, sustain drives, and dominate time of possession by a whole quarter. Jay didn’t have to come out firing the ball deep after a week off, and he settled into a nice rhythm early. As you said yesterday, there’s nothing like losing him to remind us that his ability to extend plays and fire balls into tight windows (the Spaeth TD was amazing) makes that offense look so much better than it’s really capable of being with anyone else.

Unfortunately: injuries. Tillman never even took his helmet off, so I’m guessing he’s probably fine and that’s more of a precaution than anything else. Briggs left with his foot in a boot but the rumors say it’s not believed to be serious at the moment. The Forte injury concerns me, since he missed a game with an ankle injury earlier and the offense just doesn’t run the same without him. Bush is a great backup but they don’t have the versatility in the passing game that they have with Forte. Spencer missing time doesn’t concern me that much, since Eddie Williams actually has played well whenever he’s gotten a chance the last two years. Louis is costly, though. He’s their best guard and most consistent offensive lineman. At least Gabe played well at guard after he went down? That may not be the worst place for Gabe. He can still use his dominant run-blocking skills but he’s less exposed against speed rushers.

At least the Giants did us all a favor and curbstomped the Packers. The storyline will be that the Giants are back, and they presumably are, but people will ignore that Green Bay got whalloped by a team that got destroyed by the Bengals a few weeks ago. All of the contenders have had at least one embarrassing loss now. We will see how this all plays out, although San Francisco has to be the favorite as long as Kaepernick is playing balls-out football.

I'm starting to think the Kaepernick thing was just the Bears saying "Do we really need to try as hard as possible to win a game 6-3... maybe? How about we just sit back and see if he can throw the ball and let them think he's great, thereby causing a QB controversy and guaranteeing the 49ers lose in the playoffs." Lovie Smith conspiracy theory ENGAGE. I don't think the Niners have a shot. They scored 17 offensive points yesterday. Kaepernick isn't jesus. Once there's enough film on him, he'll be stopped. It's funny, everyone is talking about how the Bears haven't beaten a great team, but the Bears have 3 losses to 3 playoff teams. They don't have one bad loss. The Niners got drilled by Minnesota, Packers lost to Indy, Atlanta lost to N'awleans, and the Giants have been beaten by several bad teams. But the Bears have zero losses to shit teams and two of their losses came sans Cutler.

Speaking of whom, that guy needs to be kept healthy, and therefore needs to be trained to fucking slide feet first. He is clearly a badass, but... he needs to realize that one extra yard up 15 against Minnesota is not worth him potentially getting hurt. With him, the Bears could win the Super Bowl. Without, they can't win a playoff game. His effect on the offense is night and day.

Tice called his third great game of the year. It's a simple strategy. Run the damn ball like hell in half 1. In second half ask self question: Is run working? Then run more but mix in play-action. Is run failing? then play-action a lot and mix in one or two runs per drive to keep defense on toes. It works so well! The way this team is structured, the offense should absolutely try to control the clock. If the defense can rest they are unstoppable.

The giants have been doing this all year, like I've said before, nobody cares what they do until they're in the playoffs. The reverse is true of the Falcons, who just love winning in not convincing fashion. They could be 6-5. The Packers just have too many holes. Rodgers will have to score 45 a game in the playoffs to keep moving on. I like Gabe at guard. It's the natural next step. He can't be trusted at tackle, he has dominant run block skills... I say keep him there. That ramshackle offensive line did a magnificent job yesterday.

I don’t know if the 49erse can be dismissed that easily, but I do believe Kaepernick will struggle at some point. Still, the kid is legit. I don’t harp on them for scoring just 17 pts because two pick sixes takes away offensive possessions. Can’t say they wouldn’t have done something on those drives. It’s the same argument people use against the Bears, which I don’t buy. Shouldn’t apologize for scoring on defense. They have the defense and run game to do special things. We will see.

I truly believe the Bears would have beaten the Texans with a full game of Cutler, even despite fumbling like assholes and Kellen Davis getting hand cancer. Hell, Cutler threw a TD pass that Marshall dropped and Forte dropped a deep pass that would have set up a field goal. He’d have made at least one or two plays in the second half to win the game. Also agreed that Jay needs to stop being a goddamn hero. Several times I screamed “SLIDE” at full lung capacity. Just, Christ. Stay healthy. He’s our only hope.

The offensive line play was certainly encouraging. It’d be best if they didn’t lose BOTH Spencer and Louis, though. Although yeah, Gabe may stick there.

The 49ers and Bears situations are reversed on offense, actually. The Bears have amazing pieces and have the potential to be amazing but sometimes fall short. The 49ers have a mediocre offense that has occasionally done really well. I'm hoping that, by the end of the year, the Bears offense should have come together and the 49er offense will be as mediocre as they are.

The NFC playoffs are going to be fun. First round playoff games could be Bears-Bucs or Bears-Seattle and Green Bay vs. New York. Again. If the Bears keep it up and manage to beat the Packers. The AFC playoffs is basically Houston and a bunch of teams who will lose to Houston.

At some point the Bears offense certainly has to start equaling the sum of its parts. Doesn’t make sense for it to continually underperform like it has, although they’ve faced a lot of top half pass defenses this year and the fact that Cutler’s been injured in 3 games doesn’t help. This team sort of reminds me of the 2008 Steelers. Their offense was hammered all year when they actually faced a lot of great defenses and just did enough to win, then in the playoffs they reverted back to form. That’s what I’m hoping this team is.

So…college football. Realignment chaos. Where’s Louisville going now?

Louisville to the ACC, and humorously they are leaving Cincinnati and UConn alone because they know they have no other options and can use them as replacement parts if the B1G scalps the UNC/'Cuse combo. UNC actually came out and made a "Statement of Commitment" to the ACC, which... I mean that almost guarantees they'll be in the B1G shortly. Soon the ACC will dissolve and Louisville will have to jump that ship too. Jesus.

If Cutler can just stay on the field and finish out the regular season intact, this team will have had 14 games together on offense as a whole unit (which I suppose ignores the injuries to Forte, BBE, and Alshon that have been dispursed throughout the season). I'm hoping that's enough to be able to go nuts when it counts.

I have this sneaking suspicion the Bears just didn't try in that 49er game. Like they knew they didn't need the damn win, so why bother? They ran a base cover 2 all day and didn't really attack the ball. It was odd. And the way they will just shut down the offense completely if they go up by 14, it's like they're trying to minimize the amount of film other teams have on them. The offensive line issues are a concern, but I expect to see a different offense in the playoffs.

The general consensus I heard from scouts was that the Bears came out in Cover 1, with 8 in the box daring Kaepernick to throw. By the time they decided he wasn’t just getting lucky it was 20-0. If the Bears ran into a Kaepernick led squad in the playoffs he wouldn’t drop 30 points on them, but I’m not sure how the Bears line would solve that defense. Let’s hope the 49ers lose another a game or two and the Bears win out and get the 2 seed and the 49ers are someone else’s problem. We’ll see.

Well, number one our QB won't be Jason Campbell, so Aldon Smith won't be able to just run straight at the QB for shits and giggles on 20 3rd and 7s. I don't think the Bears would dominate or anything, but they'll be able to put up 20ish points. And I don't think Kaepernick will have the massive passing lanes the Bears gave him again, like you said, they came out committed to stopping the run and letting Mr. Pistol try to throw. At this point the Niners would need to lose two more games and we would have to lose zero to get the #2 seed. Pretty unlikely. More likely that Atlanta falls back, I think.

Don’t the 49ers have just 8 wins as well? They’re 8-2-1. So if they lose and the Bears win the Bears are 9-3 and the 49ers are 8-3-1. The Bears just need to finish with more wins. It’s possible if the 49ers lose to the Pats or something. They also have to go to Seattle, who they only beat by a TD in San Fran, so that’s a potential fall there as well. They also have to play the Dolphins, who aren’t push-overs. Bears could beat Seattle, @Minnesota, @Detroit, @AZ to get to 12-3, and they could very well beat GB at home. It’s not likely, but could happen. Falcons could definitely fall as well. Have to play the Saints, who beat them already, have to play the Bucs and Panthers again, both of whom nearly beat them before, and they also play @Detroit, and the Lions are still capable of upsets. We shall see.

13-3 is better than 12-3-1 I guess, not sure what I was thinking there. I think the Falcons will end up with 3 or 4 losses. I have em losing to Tampa to end the year and the Saints Thursday (ed. Note: Good call, me!). Plus Detroit could easily pull the upset. The Falcons can't keep this up forever. It's too bad the Bucs have such a tough schedule from now on. They look like a contender, but they have games at Denver, at Atlanta, and at New Orleans. Not easy.

Yeah. Did not expect their offense to rise so far so fast, but I’m glad my whole “Freeman is better than Stafford or Sanchez” comment looks significantly less stupid now.

Something happened about game 5 of this year. Everybody on that team just had a fucking epiphany or something. Another potential reason could be V-Jax. I have to finally admit: he's a great receiver. How much of how good Rivers looked was V-Jax? And how much of Freeman's resurgence is him?

Yeah…I always thought V-Jax was a Rivers creation. It really does appear to be vice versa. Yikes for the Chargers. So much fuckedness there.

The entire Rivers thing has to be questioned now. He did have LT, Gates, and V-Jax at their peaks. Now he has an acceptable (but not great) receiver corps, a good (but not great) RB... and he's sub-mediocre. That's a bleak, bleak picture there.

Very bleak. Archie Manning looks very smart for refusing to let Eli play for AJ Smith.

Normally this is where we’d finish with some hatred towards the week’s opponent, but frankly the Seahawks have never inspired anything more than apathy in me. They’ve twice been a playoff rival of the Bears, they’ve won in Soldier the last two years (with a huge no-Cutler, no-Forte, Knox-died, Barber got Hurt caveat), they made it to a Superbowl in recent memory and YAWN. Doooon’t care. Even in the years in the middle of the decade when they were one of the “conference elite” the conference just sucked. They’re boring. If they win this game I’ll be capable of hate, though.

I kind of like Seattle. Pete Carroll deserves hate for jumping the USC ship, but now he's just so goddamned happy... and really, if you aren't cheating you aren't beating the SEC, so more power to ya. Marshawn Lynch has found success after the Bills clusterfuck of RBs, and he has managed two of the most memorable RB moments of the last 5 years (BEAST MODE on the Saints and having a Skittles serving valet on the sidelines). Russell Wilson is probably the Chad Pennington heir I've been looking for (slowly backs away from Christian Ponder). Their CBs take Adderall. I can't hate you for taking Adderall. That's like hating someone for drinking a lot of coffee.

I dunno. Even though our paths seem destined to cross in the playoffs year after year they'vre never done something like the Canucks to warrant me hating them like I hate Vancouver. I hate that entire goddamned city/province/whatever Canada calls them JUST BECAUSE the 'nucks were such assholes in those series'. When considering living in different regions, my wife once asked me if there was a hockey team near Seattle. I said Vancouver was probably the closest city. She said she would be interested in watching Canucks games because she loves NHL hockey but has no close team in Des Moines. I told her I would divorce her immediately if she ever cheered for the Canucks. Not a joke.

...huh. How did I start talking about how much I hate Vancouver? Long story short: DOOOOOOOOOON'T CAAAAAAAARE.

My wife has a professor from Canada. The conversation:

Wife: I think you’d like her. She’s a big hockey fan.

Me: And she’s from Canada? What team?

Wife: I don’t know. They’re blue and green.

Me: F*&k her.

This is a good way to conclude, though. How do we feel about the Seattle Seahawks? Fuck the Vancouver Canucks.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jay Cutler's Value: Embracing the Unquantifiable (Sorta)

Earlier today, one of the author's at Yahoo Sports posited that Jay Cutler deserves consideration for league MVP, despite his underwhelming stats. As evidence, he used the fact that the Bears are 25-10 in their last 35 games with Jay Cutler, and just 2-6 without him going back to 2010. It's probably also worth noting that two of the losses attributed to Cutler, the 2010 Giants game and this year's Texans game, were fairly close contests in which Cutler missed the entire second half. The argument, therefore, is, basically, that Jay Cutler "just wins games."

This is unsettling to me. Not that it's untrue. It's absolutely true, in the sense that the Bears are an immeasurably better team with Jay Cutler at the helm than they are without him. What's unsettling is that this line of logic requires me to do something I'm not comfortable with. I have to disregard statistical performance and embrace some vague, unquantifiable "winning" quality that Jay Cutler has. At first glance this is terrifying, leading me somewhere into a realm dominated by people like Trent Dilfer, Skip Bayless, and Iggins! on a bad day.

Looking closer at the situation, however, I ask myself if it's really that crazy to say that Cutler's value to the Bears really does go beyond his production. Frankly, stats do still tell a major part of this story. In the eight non-Cutler games since 2010, Bears QBs have compiled a horrid stat-line, completing just 53% of their passes with a 5-17 ratio and a QB rating of 41.8, with 36 sacks in those 8 games.

Cutler, in that time period, has completed 59.8% of his passes with a 49-34 ratio and an 84.7 rating with 104 sacks in those 35 games. While those numbers seem underwhelming when compared with the NFL elites, the comparison between him and his backups really drives home what Jay has managed to do with a woeful supporting cast. It's mind-boggling, especially when you realize that, even though Jay has taken an average of 3 sacks per game during that time period, he's clearly bailed out his offensive line repeatedly (despite the narrative often stating the contrary) since they've allowed 4.5 sacks per game without him. Yesterday seemed to drive home that point, as Cutler scrambled several times to avoid sacks and had two very notable plays where he bounced outside to extend the play, with the pass to Marshall that led to interference in the end zone and the ridiculous laser to Spaeth for a a TD.

Now, it's fair to say "well, Cutler's backups suck. That doesn't excuse him for posting mediocre numbers just because they were worse." Fair point. Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie were dreadful, but Jason Campbell in his career was considerably better, even on middling Redskin and Raider teams, than he's played in two games as a Bear. Even with his history of poor protection, he seemed overwhelmed by the relentless pass rush that he faced behind the Bears line. Regardless of the dubious talent of Jay's backups, a disparity that great has to give one pause. 

The idea going into this season was that, with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Michael Bush, the return of a healthy Matt Forte, and a more "Cutler-friendly" offense run by Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates, Cutler would have no more excuses for statistically average production. In reality, it hasn't played out that way. Forte has been injured, under-used, and underwhelming compared to past years. The offensive line has been a roller coaster all year. Alshon Jeffery has missed half the season, and only Brandon Marshall has proven to be what we thought he'd be out of that group. Earl Bennett missed several games and has also seemed to disappear for long stretches. The team hasn't gotten even mediocre production at tight end, and Tice has called himself out for inconsistent play-calling. It hasn't been pretty, frankly. So Cutler does have excuses for an 81 rating and an average 13-11 ratio. He's also suffered from 25 dropped passes, with his receivers dropping nearly 9% of his throws, including several touchdowns.

So in the end it is safe to say that Cutler's value does, in fact, go beyond the numbers. I suddenly, mysteriously, find myself on the opposite side of the winning argument, a far cry from the days of the Cutler trade, when I had to duel with Broncos fans who cited Cutler's 17-20 record in Denver despite his excellent production as justification for getting rid of him. This, however, is not a case of football correlation not equaling causation. This isn't Tim Tebow winning while scoring less than 20 PPG as the media ignores his defense's contributions or the string of non-contending squads they defeated. Nor is this Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton riding the coattails of a masterful defense in a weak division to ride to a crown. Jay Cutler is a contributing factor, if not always the most noticeable one, to the Bears winning a lot of football games.

While the Bears may not throw the game on Jay's shoulders and tie their hopes to his right arm, like the Green Bay Packers do with Aaron Rodgers (a proposition that's been less profitable this year than in the past), they do rely on him to make an otherwise hopeless offense into a non-liability. Acknowledging this may require some uncomfortable acceptance of old-school axioms and seemingly outdated concepts like the "eyeball test", but the results are quantifiable on the scoreboard, and right now that really is all that matters.

The Story so Far (and Why it is Dumb)

Like the others, allow me to apologize for my extended absence from the airwaves. In my case, I was away simply because my job didn’t need doing. Everything coming out of Chicago was surprisingly positive for the last two weeks, and there just didn’t seem to be anything worth saying that Red or Iggins couldn’t say better.

Even the intrepid crew at the Sun-Times was pretty much on the same page as we were: the Bears are still leading their division and these losses came with a backup QB to two of the best teams in the NFL. Cutler’s absence was the death knell against the Texans, but people calmly noted that a single TD at any point in the second half would’ve changed the game completely and Cutler probably could have gotten one.

The 49ers loss was, in my book, an unfortunate repercussion of Cutler’s injury. The defense played poorly, but to me it looked like it was because they weren’t prepared. Colin Kaepernick threw the passes, but Jim Harbaugh was the one who beat the defense. He had them on their heels all night with plays they had clearly never seen before. Cutler being present does more than put numbers on the Bears’ side of the board, it gets the defense off the field. They get time to rest, to think about what they saw and try to adjust to it. Maybe they still lose, but at least they have a chance. As it was, Campbell gave them enough time to get some water and strap their helmets back on before they had to get back in there.

However, due to what I’m assuming is the magic of my birthday, the Bears got back on top of the division after a thrashing of the Vikings and an even worse Giants thrashing of the Packers. And it is with that that I get to the point.

When the Bears lost to the Texans after a punishing illegal hit that took Cutler out of the second half, people were talking about how they “showed who they truly were” and “got exposed as pretenders.” Nevermind that their offense has statistically been about three times as effective after halftime, Cutler’s presence would have been good for at least one TD in that game, and a TD might have been all it took to turn that one around; the team that lost was the real Chicago Bears, and the team that won seven games fooled us all into thinking they could play football well.

Today, the Packers were torn apart by the then-6-4 Giants. They got slaughtered at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, their superstar receivers were unable to break open in coverage, and Aaron Rodgers got sacked five times for the fourth time this season. Despite his admittedly incredible mustache, he just couldn’t get it going in the face of a fierce pass rush.

Not one person is talking about who the Packers “really” are. For three hours, not one commentator or reporter said word one about the Packers being “exposed.” The same way nobody was doing so after they lost to the Colts. The same way they weren’t when Aaron Rodgers had a hard time getting started this season. And it’s really pretty simple to explain.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bears 28, Vikings 10: Terror Alert Lowered to Orange

First off, I thank Iggins! for apologizing on my behalf for my annual disappearance. The back-to-back losses had less to do with it than my thesis, Thanksgiving, and a long road trip to North Dakota, where my brother has the gall to not pay for sports programming that he won't watch, so I missed the debacle in SF. I'm back now and shall not abandon you again, except when I go up to Minneapolis to watch Bears-Vikes 2 live. Now with the recap!

The Bears came out today on offense looking like the seeping puddle of diarrhea they've been the last few weeks, with a Matt Forte fumble and a sack of Cutler by Roberto Garza's foot on their first two plays from scrimmage. After that, however, things got much better as they took advantage of turnovers, a renewed commitment to the run, and, most importantly, the return of Jay Cutler to put up 28 points in a one-sided beatdown of the Vikings. The win put the Bears at 8-3, leaving the pressure on Green Bay to win tonight in New York, and most importantly helped to ease some of our still-present concerns over this team's title chances. Next week they get Seattle at home, which should again be another good test for this offense.

The Good:

Jay Cutler: As unspectacular as the final numbers are sometimes, is there really anyone left out there who doesn't appreciate that Jay Cutler alone can make this offense look something less than completely fucked. He keeps plays alive by scrambling and makes plays downfield outside the pocket like few can. Today he was a very efficient 23 of 31 for 188 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, and an 86.5 rating, although Marshall dropped two TD passes (one of which he was interfered with, to be fair) and the interception was also off of Marshall's hands as well. Most importantly, he came back, they won, they converted most of their 3rd downs, and he is healthy.

Brandon Marshall: I don't mean to harp on him for the drops, since he caught 12 balls for 92 yards and is now the first Bears 1,000 yd receiver in a decade. Greatest trade in franchise history.

Secondary: Tillman recovered a fumble (he left the game with an injury, but seems okay), Conte had an INT that set up a TD and nearly had another, and altogether they held the Vikings to 144 net yards passing.

Defensive line: Although they had just two sacks (one by Henry Melton, of course, and a split sack between an Idonije and McClellin sandwich) they harassed Ponder all day and forced him to try and make plays outside the pocket all game long, which he mostly failed to do. 

The Offensive Line: It wasn't a dominating performance by any measure, as their run game was hit or miss outside of one long, beautiful drive in the second quarter, and Cutler managed to avoid several sacks, but it was a step in the right direction. Chris Spencer played well before suffering what hopefully was a minor injury, although Edwin Williams looked good in his place. Jonathan Scott avoided any major errors at right tackle, which is an improvement on it's own. This is a tough Vikings defensive line, one that racked up seven sacks against this unit last year, and this was a baby-steps improvement.

Mike Tice: He's been a shitheel most of the year, frankly, and my patience is very thin, but I thought Tice called an excellent game today. There was some shitty execution, but for the most part he dialed up the right calls for the situation all game long. I appreciated the play action kill shot to Marshall, even if Brandon didn't come up with it, and the commitment to the run game, especially on that long touchdown drive that ended with the TD to Spaeth. Even the interception came on a great play call, as Marshall was wide open. More like this and I'll calm down, Mike.

The Bad:

Injuries: Forte went down with another ankle injury. Hester was concussed. They lost both Lance Louis and Chris Spencer. Tillman left, but appears to be okay. Now reports say Lance Briggs left the locker room with his foot in a boot. Hopefully none of these are terribly serious, but this win was costly. Can't possibly expect all of them to be back by next week. Guh.

First Drives: The Bears have been awful on their first drive of the game all year long, and today was no different. For the second time in three games they fumbled on their first offensive play. Maybe just take a knee next time.

The Ugly:

Christian Ponder: For a guy who was supposed to make his living as the next Chad Pennington, he's not very accurate and is fairly careless with the football. This is a talented Vikings team that would be legitimately frightening if they had a QB who could actually take advantage of the tremendous benefit that is Adrian Peterson.

That's all for now. Hopefully the injury situation improves throughout the week, but there's no reason not to be happy about the Bears stemming the tide and maintaining their spot at the top of the division. Go bears.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Conference Realignment Thoughts

So I realize now we posted naught of this: these last two weeks have been our annual "bye week(s)". It happens every year: Red and I have to take trips, finals, get swamped with work, are burnt out, and the Bears lose in depressing fashion. It all combines into us taking a week or two off to refresh, eat a lot, have something called Friendsgiving and Christmasian, and ignore the pain we feel about the Bears. We'll be back Monday! In the interim, some thoughts on realignment:

At some point we all have to admit that the "doomsday" theorists were right, don't we? Back when this whole thing started we all heard the theories of how the NCAA landscape was slowly turning into a Pangaea-esque 4 conference super-league that would leave the NCAA smoldering in its wake. Of course, when things "calmed down", everyone laughed at those peope.

"Ha!" they said, "You see, nothing is ever as bad as it first seems! You overreacting fools!"

Then everyone went back about their business. They watched whilst chuckling as the Big East tried to become the Big... Thing... adding teams from every coast imaginable (they probably offered colleges in Canada, London, Mexico, and semi-pro teams in the Congo). People got a bit more nervous when Syracuse and Pittsburgh decided they were done with the Big East.

"But that's natural," they said, "because the Big East just isn't relevant anymore. Of course this was going to happen!"

These are the same people that said realignment was done not months before. And here were two founding Big East members leaving the conference... but people still refused to accept that this thing was not over, would not be over, and will not be over until everyone has been assimilated.

But it got considerably harder to deny over the last week, didn't it? Maryland and Rutgers are now members of the B1G. Some fans are angry because they don't fit regionally. Some are angry because they don't fit athletically. Plenty are angry because Maryland was a founding member of the ACC. They say there is no loyalty anymore.

But what the hell does that even mean? Maryland (and Florida State) voted against the massive exit fee the ACC passed such a short time ago (a ridiculous $50 million) in part because the leadership of that conference had failed so mightily at cashing in on lucrative TV contracts. The conference had failed its members. Maryland felt it was riding a sinking ship.

How bad was it? Well, Maryland is literally willing to pay FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS to leave. Of course, that isn't the only factor: there is also the fact that the B1G is still, despite the dominance of the SEC and the terrible years the B1G has had the past two seasons, the most lucrative conference in the country. Lucrative enough to lure a founding member of an established power conference away from it's home. Maryland's athletic expenses are going to skyrocket! Instead of taking a "long" trip to Clemson every season, now they'll have games against Nebraska and Iowa!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Deja Vu and Prayers for a Time Jump: This Year's Bulls

Sigh. Where to begin?

I only actually started caring about the Bulls after Jordan left. That might sound strange, but I was born in 1989 and as such, until he left, had rarely known a season in which the Bulls weren't champions. At the same time as the Bulls were winning all those titles so were the minor league teams in the Quad Cities area, where I grew up. Being of an age in the single digits, and also being a pretty naive kid for that age, I was almost positive these things were being rigged for my enjoyment, so I just couldn't be happy about them. I was a precocious kid, winning a local NFL game picking competition at 5 and causing the editor to call my parents to make sure my Dad wasn't attempting to put two entries into the competition. My parents handed me the phone, and I proceeded to tell Mr. Nessler about why the Bears had lost on Sunday, why I was sure the Jets would win, and what a 4-3 defense was. He was convinced enough. I believe I took the $200 I won and bought comic books. Good times!

I suppose I related that story to show you that, if there was one thing I knew at that age, it was sports. I've been obsessed with them since I could talk. Yet I just couldn't care about the Bulls. Not until that title team got dismantled and the "rigging" of my NBA team ceased. Suddenly I cared a whole lot. While most Bulls fans were slowly drifting away from the NBA (half because Jordan left, half because the Starburys and Iversons of the world were coming in) I was just becoming interested in it. I "suffered" through Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, expressed frustration that the Bulls would trade for Jalen Rose, and got excited every draft day for who was going to be the next player to fill out the Bull's young core. I sat. I waited. I knew, eventually, the Bull's young pieces would mature and turn into a good team. Then, finally, the team got good enough to make the playoffs. And not only that, it was with a team centered around guys the Bulls had drafted! Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. This was 2004-2005.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Halftime in Chicago: The Defense

The midseason review rolls on with the defense. I could waste a ton of time throwing out superlatives to describe the play of the Bears defense this year. They're doing things right now that are just beyond what anyone could have imagined. 28 takeaways. 25 sacks. 7 interceptions for TDs. 2nd in scoring defense. A 7 TD: 17 INT ratio on defense, with an opposing QB rating of 62.9. They're allowing just 88 yards per game rushing, which drops to 78 ypg if you throw out Chris Johnson's 80 yard scamper against the second-stringers in last week's blowout.

The comparisons to the 1985 or even the 2006 team (even though the 2005 defense was actually better) will continue to come at a nauseating pace, but even those teams didn't take the ball away and score at this year's absurd pace. Naturally, the critics will say that they can't keep this up, and perhaps they can't, but the "turnovers are random" axiom often fails to apply to Lovie Smith's teams, since they've led the league in it for nearly a decade now. While the schedule is undoubtedly tougher in the second half, that's got more to do with the opposing defenses left on the docket, rather than the elite offenses, so I'd expect more of the same from these guys going forward. The only question is how many games they'll play.


#90 Julius Peppers: 14 tackles, 5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries.
Peppers this year hasn't actually been as dominant as he has been the last two years. It's funny to say that since he's tied for the lead in sacks, on pace for another double-digit sack year, and is still clearly one of the best pass rushers in the league, but he was such a menace the last two years that it's worth noting that he's dropped off just a slight bit this year. Part of the reason is his ailing foot, but the main reason is that he's simply got more help this year. He's playing fewer snaps than he has in each of the last three years and the team is still getting a better pass rush. Pepper's has still dominated in big games against Green Bay and Detroit, and he will be there when they really need him in the second half.

#71 Israel Idonije: 21 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks
I'm not a big believer in grit, hustle, heart, or all of the other recycled crap that gets thrown at us as sports fans, but I'd have a hard time believing there are many people out there who don't like Izzy. He's just a relentless, solid football player who is never the fastest or strongest player out there and yet always seems to make an impact. He's given a lot of playing time away to McClellin and Wootton (although some of his loss of PT at end is mitigated by the snaps he gets at DT in sub-packages), but he's still one of their best run-stopping defensive lineman and his pass-rushing productivity is way up from last year. I'm glad we haven't seen the end of Izzy yet.

#98 Corey Wootton: 11 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 PD, 1 TD
With all due respect to Shea McClellin, the biggest newcomer on defense for the Bears this year has been Wootton. After missing much of his first two seasons with injury, Wootton appears to have recovered all of the burst that made him a potential first rounder before his knee injury his last year at Northwestern, and he's been a holy terror despite his limited reps at DE.

#99 Shea McClellin: 9 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks
Despite what Hub Arkush would have you believe, Shea's been a pretty good player this year. Fortunately for the Bears, Izzy's resurgence and Corey Wootton's development have allowed them to pick their spots and avoid having to put too much on McClellin's shoulders, but he's been very effective on 3rd down and on obvious passing downs, racking up over 10 hurries and pressures in addition to his 2.5 sacks and 3 tackles for loss, despite just barely over 40% of the snaps. I'm not sure how to deal with a first round pick actually making an impact in year one. Frankly, I didn't know that was allowed.


#69 Henry Melton: 26 tackles, 5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
Henry Melton is a monster of a man. Last year he was an inconsistent pass-rusher who racked up gaudy sack totals while struggling against the run and disappearing for long stretches. This year he's evolved into the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in the conference, with only Geno Atkins of the Bengals keeping him from claiming the top spot for the NFL. If you ever hear someone try to talk about Ndamukong Suh like he'd be anything other than Henry's backup, punch them. He's not even succeeding in Pepper's wake anymore, as he's done much of his damage with Julius rotating off the field. Hopefully he gets his extension soon and avoids a Tommie Harris-style injury, because we're seeing a guy develop into a pretty special player.

#92 Stephen Paea: 13 tackles, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks
Stephen Paea is also a guy who is turning out to be quite the football player. While he'll never put up the gaudy pass-rushing statistics of Melton, he's a better pass-rusher than most of the nose guards that have played the position in Lovie's tenure and is just as effective against the rush. Paea's kept Matt Toeiana, a very solid player, on the inactive list most of the year and hopefully he can stay healthy and continue to progress, because the early returns are very promising.

#93 Nate Collins: 6 tackles, 1 PD
Collins gets the third spot in the recap since he's managed to play his way into that spot in the rotation. This is somewhat surprising, considering he was suspended for the first game of the season and Amobi Okoye has performed well as a Bear, but Collins has certainly made the most of his opportunity. It's good for Lovie to have a guy like Nate that he can point to as an example of someone who earned his spot in the lineup simply through his hard work in practice.

#91 Amobi Okoye: 6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
Again, it's not like Amobi Okoye was under-performing. Just like last year, he's been a very effective rotational DT, but Lovie felt Collins gave them more and was playing better, and he's proven Lovie correct so far. You have to love that this unit, which for so long was just the Julius Peppers Show, now has so much depth and talent that a guy like Okoye can't even dress on Sundays.

#75 Matt Toeiana: 3 tackles
Toeiana, like his predecessor Anthony Adams (and his predecessor Ian Scott) was a hard-working gap plugger, but he just lacked the upside that Paea offered and has lost out on the numbers game, being inactive for the last seven games.


#53 Nick Roach: 17 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PD
Roach, like every other SAM backer in Lovie's system, will never get the credit he deserves, but he's been very effective this year, hasn't been caught out of position, and has made a few more big plays than he's used to, since he has been asked to do a bit more with Urlacher's range somewhat limited. I appreciate you, Nick. I swear.

#54 Brian Urlacher: 41 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 FF, 2 Fumble Recoveries, 6 PDs, 1 INT, 1 TD
It appears that the reports of Urlacher's demise were somewhat premature. Fortunately the Bears managed to restrain themselves from following Telander's sage advice that they cut Urlacher before the season, since he's rounded into form the last three weeks, culminating in his awesome effort against the Texans. While guys like Dan Bernstein may constantly moan that the Bears will be in trouble once teams "test" "#54's lateral motion, I'm guessing they'll fail if they try. He's on his way back, folks. He'll be there when it counts, like always.

#55 Lance Briggs: 48 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 FF, 1 Sack, 6 PD, 2 INTs, 2 TDs
That said, the torch on defense has clearly been passed to Lance Briggs, who is just playing out of his f*&king mind right now. I never grow tired of opposing runningbacks turning on that second gear as they zoom toward an opening, only for Briggs to swallow them alive in the backfield. Don't f*&k with Lance Briggs.


#33 Charles Tillman: 43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 FF, 1 Fumble Recovery, 6 PD, 2 INTs, 2 TDs
I can't add anything new about Charles Tillman that you haven't already heard or seen in recent weeks. One of the most underrated players in Bears history thanks to a zone defense that's always led to meatballs blaming Tillman for every opposing completion ever, Tillman's finally getting national recognition for being a badass, turnover-producing machine. All that's left for him in the second half is to find out if he can make history. He's only 4 forced fumbles away. He just got four of them in one f*&king game. Sorry, this defense just brings out the expletives.

#26 Tim Jennings: 42 tackles, 1 TFL, 15 PDs, 6 INTs, 1 TD
You're always welcome to avoid Charles Tillman if you'd like, so long as you're comfortable throwing at the NFL's leading interceptor. Jennings, like Tillman, has always been an underrated cover corner, but he's finally capitalizing on turnover opportunities and the results have been mind-blowing. 6 INTs is amazing, but 15 pass deflections after just 8 games is probably more impressive. Goddammit, I'm not even wearing pants at this point. I love this defense.

#30 DJ Moore: 25 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 PDs, 2 INTs
So far DJ's done a pretty good job this year of being DJ Moore. He's said whacky shit about Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. He's gotten two more interceptions. He's gotten several pressures on his signature "oh f&*k, it's that little pest" nickel-blitz.  He's given away some playing time lately to Kelvin Hayden since he's missed some tackles and got badly burned by Brandon LaFell against the Panthers, but I don't think DJ's going to be down for long.

#24 Kelvin Hayden: 10 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 PD
It's also possible that Lovie just wants to give Kelvin Hayden some more opportunities, because he's a very good player when he's healthy, which he appears to be this year. He was very effective in the opener when P'nut went out for a bit with an injury, but he's mostly split reps at nickel. This was a very good signing. Can I high five Phil Emery for padding the depth on this defense? I'll put my pants back on for it.


#47 Chris Conte: 40 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 fumble recovery, 6 PD, 1 INT
The Bears first started Major Wright and Chris Conte at safety together in week six last year. Since that time, in games where those two have paired up together, the Bears pass defense has a 10 TD: 25 INT ratio. They're always in position, they don't get beat deep, and they can come up quickly despite starting most plays at least 15 yards back from the line. You don't always hear their names called much, which is good, but they're both maturing into good players. Conte had a rough game against the Panthers, but has been very solid for a converted corner with just 17 career starts, and, as PFF noted, his closing speed is incredible as he's been one of the most efficient run-stopping free safeties in the NFL despite starting nearly every play deep.

#21 Major Wright: 32 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 FF, 4 PD, 3 INTs, 1 TD
No single player on the Bears roster has improved more than this year. Pro Football Focus has him on their NFC midseason all-star team, and noted that he's one of the best run-stopping safeties in the NFL this year. While he's not the world's greatest safety in coverage, he's made up for it with big plays, including the first of the seven pick-sixes the Bears have managed this year. Major was undoubtedly my biggest concern on defense going into the season, and he's responded by actually earning some of those comparisons to Mike Brown that people made on draft day.

That's it for now. It's rare to write one of these and not have to criticize someone. I'd feel like a rabid homer for all of the positivity, but there's really nothing about this defense you could criticize right now. Glorious.

Go Bears.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's Halftime in Chicago: The Offense

Clint is unimpressed
The last couple of years I've been able to break down the Bears at the bye week, since it's come very close to the mid-point of the season. This year the bye came a bit too early for that much perspective, so I've waited till now. As in the past, I'll break things down in thirds by offense, defense, and coaching.

On offense the story, as we know, has been inconsistency, but count me among those who think their struggles are a bit overrated. I've seen bad offense. I am a f*&king connoisseur of bad offense. This is not a bad offense. Is it a bad offensive line? Possibly, although they've been a dominant run-blocking unit when they commit to it. Their protection issues are still irritating, but the sacks tend to come in fits and starts and there are long stretches of competence (two sacks or fewer in four games, 5 or more in three). Bad offenses, regardless of opponent, do not rack up 500 yards of total offense, as they did against the Jaguars. They do not score 41 points against what is currently a 5-3 team. Bad offenses do not have Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte. They may not have figured out how to find that consistency and balance that great offenses have, but they're far closer than they've ever been in recent memory.


#6 Jay Cutler: 144/241 (59.8%), 1774 YDs, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 7.4 YPA, 85.3 Rating
The statistics aren't mind-blowing, but outside of the debacle in Green Bay he's having the best season of his Bears career. He's mostly kept his composure and avoided putting the defense in bad situations, he's gone for the big play when it will put the dagger into the heart of opposing defenses, he's clearly relishing having Brandon Marshall back, and he also shut up more than a few of the idiots who questioned his toughness by taking a bone-shattering hit from Ndamukong Suh and coming back in after one play. In his last four games he's got a 7-2 ratio with a 94.7 rating despite some typically shaky protection. The second half of this season is probably the most important stretch of his career to this point. He's either going to be the guy we all hope he can be, or he's going to get all of the blame for what could only be considered a major disappointment after this start. I think he's going to seize the opportunity, but to do it he's going to need to stay patient early in games, get the ball out of his hand quicker, and look off of Marshall earlier in his progressions.

#2 Jason Campbell: 1/1 (100%), 0 YDs, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 0.0 YPA, 79.2 Rating
I mostly just posted Campbell's stat line to demonstrate how incredibly flawed passer rating is. Jason, unfortunately, had to actually take meaningful snaps in a regular season game becuase of Jay's ribs. He didn't really do anything, and the scare ended as soon as it had begun, so we'll have to wait and hopefully never find out what Jason would do as head of the offense. I'm at least 72% sure that he'll be better than Hanie if that opportunity comes. I'm willing to leave that question unanswered, though.


#22 Matt Forte: 107 rushes, 539 yds, 5.0 ypr, 3 TDs, 20 receptions, 179 yards.
The offense still runs through Matt Forte, even if Mike Tice tends to forget that at times. He's averaging 103 yards from scrimmage per game, down from last year's ridiculously high total, but understandable given that he's no longer the team's best receiver, he was slowed for a bit with his ankle injury, and he actually has a true complementary back in Michael Bush. The team's going to need to lean on him more in the weeks to come. When they do, they tend to win a lot of ball games.

#29 Michael Bush: 77 carries, 236 yds, 3.4 ypr, 3 TDs, 7 receptions, 66 yards.
He's a beast. His yards per carry is rather low since the Bears basically used him to grind out the clock for three quarters against the Rams, but he's been extremely effective in the short yardage and goal-to-go situations that they brought him in for, he tends to wear down defenses on the few series that he gets each game, and he's actually shown some pretty good elusiveness as a receiver, twice hurdling defenders for first down receptions. So far he's everything we thought Chester Taylor and Marion Barber were going to be.

#25 Armando Allen: 17 rushes, 90 yds, 5.3 ypr, 1 TD
I don't want to make too much out of his garbage time yardage, but he's shown some nice burst and he hits the hole fast. A nice change of pace back.

#32 Kahlil Bell: 12 rushes, 32 yds, 2.7 ypr, 1 reception, 11 yds.
Cut in the preseason. Re-signed when Forte got hurt. Ineffective in his few opportunities, cut again. Always a bridesmaid...


#15 Brandon Marshall: 59 receptions, 797 yds, 13.5 yds/rec, 7 TDs
There really aren't enough superlatives to describe the joy that watching Brandon Marshall brings me after years of Johnny Knox, Bernard Berrian, Roy Williams, Muhsin Muhammed, and all of the other impostors the Bears have thrown out there as "#1 receivers." This guy is everything you could possibly want. He's big, he's surprisingly fast, he changes the way defenses approach the team, and the little things that he does as far as adjusting to under/overthrown balls, leaping for jump balls, and catching back shoulder throws are a breath of fresh air after decades of shit. He's on pace to shatter nearly every franchise receiving record, and, well, what more do you want me to say?

#80 Earl Bennett: 16 receptions, 178 yds, 11.1 yd/rec.
Unfortunately, in a fairly common pattern for his career, the BBE missed several games early with a hand injury. He's been back the last couple of weeks and used somewhat sparingly for various reasons (Cutler injured and the passing game shut down against Detroit, Cutler getting killed for an entire half against Carolina, Tennessee couldn't cover Marshall), but he's hopefully working his way back, with 6 receptions in the last two games. When he caught consecutive first downs against the Panthers it seemed to change the entire momentum of the game, so hopefully Cutler can remember that Earl was his guy before Brandon was his guy again, and that's it okay to have two guys, and is in fact really good for an NFL offense to use said guys.

#17 Alshon Jeffery: 14 receptions, 184 yds, 13.1 yd/rec, 2 TDs
In Jay's defense, he did look for Alshon Jeffery when Marshall was taken away from him early in the season. Jeffery, like Marshall, has been everything we could have hoped for from a second round draft pick. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist while making a great touchdown grab against Jacksonville and his still working his way backs. Most reports say he'll be back against the 49ers while a few optimists have speculated his return against Houston. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later, because the passing game, especially the quick game, is much more effective when he and Marshall are both on the field.

#23 Devin Hester: 13 receptions, 13.5 yd/rec, 1 TD
He's had a few great moments, like his TD against the Cowboys and his great diving grab against the Jaguars, but the song's mostly been the same for Devin. Hopefully he'll be relegated to an even smaller role once Jeffery and Bennett are both available for only the third time all season. Sorry, Devin, but this experiment's over. On special teams, he's been mostly hesitant and somewhat awful at times, but he still impacts opposing coaches and sent Ron River into full-blown hysteria, apparently. So that's nice.


#87 Kellen Davis: 10 receptions, 144 yds, 14.4 yds/rec, 2 TDs
For all of the fuss about Tice making greater use of the tight end than Martz, Davis is barely ahead of last year's pace. Of course, it'd help a lot of if he didn't drop every third pass thrown his way, but he's trying. His touchdown against Carolina was super awesome? He's also regressed a bit as a pass protector, with 3 sacks and several hurries allowed. Hopefully he'll play better in the second half, because they need production from that position, either as a receiver or giving Jay time to find his other guys.

#89 Matt Spaeth: 1 reception, 4 yds. 4.0 yds/rec.
On twitter, during the Panthers game, several media members tore into Jay for overlooking a wide-open Spaeth and forcing an incompletion to Marshall. On the very next play, Jay hit Spaeth for a first down with tons of room to run...and Spaeth had an absolutely brutal, unforced drop. He's also been poor in pass protection based on his usual standard, getting beat against Carolina and Tennessee. He'll need to step it up to avoid losing playing time to Evan Rodriguez.

#86 Kyle Adams: 2 receptions, 24 yds, 12.0 yds/rec.
Be honest. Do any of you remember either of these passes that Adams has allegedly caught? That's really all I have to say here, honestly. Haven't paid much attention to him.

#48 Evan Rodriguez:
He hasn't contributed much on the stat sheet, yet, but in his limited snaps in four game's he's been Pro Football Focus' highest-rated lead-blocker. Considering the knock on him out of college was that he was more of a receiver than an in-line blocker, it should be interesting to see what kind of problems he might pose if the Bears ever make an attempt to get him the ball against a defense that's been lulled into believing he's merely a crash-test dummy.


#73 J'Marcus Webb: 5.5 sacks allowed, 1 false start, 1 hold, 1 illegal hands to the face.
J'Marcus hasn't actually been terrible this year. He's actually been adequate, and sometimes more than adequate. The 5.5 sacks is a high total, but below what he's done the last couple of years and is more impressive when you consider that 3 of those sacks came in one game when Tice left him alone against Clay Matthews on 11 different occasions. The biggest improvement in J'Marcus has been in his run-blocking, where he's graded out positively almost every game, and in his discipline, as she's cut down on his false starts and holdings dramatically. His facemask against Tennessee that caused a safety was pretty bad, but I pin that one on Tice for passing in the end zone on 2nd and 14 with the lead in the first quarter. Keep it up, J'Marcus.

#62 Chilo Rachal: 1 sack allowed, 2 false starts, 1 unnecessary roughness.
Chilo had some trouble with his run-blocking against the Titans, but he's otherwise been a pretty solid, if not spectacular, player on the left side. He's certainly an improvement over Spencer or Chris Williams. Congratulations, Bears, after five years, you've upgraded the left side of your offensive line from total disaster to "possibly average, from time to time."

#63 Roberto Garza: 1 sack allowed, 3 false starts. 
After committing just 1 penalty all of last year (a hold) Garza has put on his best Olin Kreutz impression with three false starts at center in the first half. Please stop that. He's also been largely ineffective as a run-blocker.  It might not hurt to see if Spencer could be an upgrade at his natural position of center.

#60 Lance Louis: 2 sacks allowed, 2 false starts.
In 13 career starts at guard, Lance Louis has graded positively as a run blocker and allowed just 3 sacks. As a right tackle last year he allowed 10 sacks in just 11 starts. This year he's been the most consistent performer on the line and is the best-all around blocker on the team. He also flashed his old tight end skills with his first career reception on a tipped pass against the Titans. So far three of Tice's projects, Louis, Rachal, and Webb, are starting to pay dividends. Hopefully they can continue to make progress, because they'll be severely tested in the weeks to come.

#72 Gabe Carimi: 4.5 sacks allowed, 3 false starts, 3 holds, 1 unnecessary roughness.
The numbers don't really do justice to how bad Gabe Carimi has been in pass protection. He's allowed over 20 hurries and hits. He is, to quote Iggins! once more, " a dumpster fire." Now, he is also one of the highest ranked run-blocking tackles in all of football and he's the best run-blocker on the Bears. That doesn't make you feel less panicked about the future, does it? Me neither. He's a gaping hole in pass protection and that's what's going to count more than his run-blocking excellence down the stretch. There are plenty of excuses to be made about his knee injury, his relative inexperience, and that's fine, but there's been no evidence of progress throughout the year, and that is certainly concerning. Hopefully it gets fixed, but if there's one Bear that I'm struggling to find my optimism for, it's Gabe.

#67 Chris Spencer: 1 sack allowed, 1 holding.
He was mediocre throughout the preseason and was bulldozed in the run game against Indy and Green Bay. He played very well at right guard last year, but the switch to left just wasn't his thing. Would be interesting to see what he or Eddie Williams could possibly do at center if Garza continues to falter, but, much like his predecessor, Garza is a long-tenured, well respected veteran and it will take a complete disaster to get him benched.

That's it for the offense. Later this week I get to splooge all over the defense. Looking forward to it!

Go Bears.