Brighter days ahead for Bears
Brighter days ahead for Bears
With O-line improving and a solid defense, 2nd half of season has promise
On the NFL
5:16 PM CDT, October 31, 2010
At some point in the midst of the goal-line debacle, the drive to make DeAngelo Hall a Pro Bowler, and the fumbles that bounced the wrong way, the Bears may have determined the course of the rest of their season.
They may have even turned the corner.
There were signs in their loss to the Redskins that this team was growing and changing.
Barring injuries, the Bears should play better in the second half of the season than they have in the first. And the Bears should, without question, be in contention for a playoff spot if they stay the course.
This is why:
The offensive line may be coming together
This has been the Bears' biggest area of concern all season, and all of the problems have not been corrected. But something happened in the second half of the Redskins game when the Bears gave up only one sack and four pressures and paved the way for a running game that averaged 6 yards per carry. The line played as well as it had all season in both phases — certainly well enough to win.
Players are starting to get comfortable in new positions. It looks like the team has found a left tackle in Frank Omiyale.
Roberto Garza's return Sunday should upgrade both the right guard position, which he will play, and the right tackle position, which J'Marcus Webb plays. Webb's problems have come when he has been confused. The rookie never has had a veteran lining up next to him telling him what's coming.
Garza's return also gives the Bears more depth than they've had all season. If Chris Williams struggles at left guard, there is something the coaches can do about it — replace him with either Edwin Williams or Lance Louis.
Last year, the Bears' O-line played its best ball in December. This year's O-line could follow suit.
Mike Martz' scheme is taking root
The offense was sabotaged by Jay Cutler against the Redskins, but every other area of the offense was clicking and humming in the second half of that game.
Everyone figured it would probably take a year or so before the offense was operating on all cylinders. But it should be operating at a higher degree of efficiency in November than it did in September because players are more familiar with it.
Martz is a fine teacher. The best teacher, however, is a mistake made.
The running game is an area of untapped potential
Of course someone has to put a tap into it. If Martz does, he is likely to be pleased with the results. Both Matt Forte and Chester Taylor have run the ball dynamically in spots. There are a lot of yards in those four legs.
They showed it Sunday when Martz called five runs on one drive.
Martz is being hammered to run the ball. He knows that running it will take the pressure off his erratic quarterback. It will help minimize giveaways. And it will complement the Bears' defense.
He also knows that if he doesn't run the ball, and the team crumbles, it's possible no one will ever listen to him again.
It doesn't take a visit to Miss Cleo to see more handoffs in the Bears' future.
The defense and special teams units are among the best in the league
The defense is outstanding both at forcing punts (the Bears have forced three-and-outs 38.3 percent of the time, which is best in the NFL) and at getting turnovers (their 17 takeaways is second most in the league).
The only thing the defense needs to do better is get the quarterback on the ground. They have 11 sacks as a team, or 2.5 more than Clay Matthews all by himself.
The Bears developed a new dimension of their game against the Redskins with an aggressive blitz package. That should pay dividends moving forward.
The defense also should be enhanced by the return of Major Wright this week. Remember, the rookie safety was in line to start before a series of injuries sidelined him.
On special teams, Devin Hester has been rejuvenated and should impact field position all year. Even if teams follow the lead of the Redskins and punt it out of bounds, the Bears still will benefit — as they did in that game.
The competition is underwhelming
The division, if not the entire conference, is there for someone to claim. The Bears have four wins. Only three NFC teams entering Sunday — the Giants, Falcons and Seahawks — have five. Almost the entire conference is a big clump of so-so.
The only NFC team that should scare the Bears then, is the one in the mirror.
Up next for Bears: Bills
Buffalo's Fred Jackson makes a gain as Kansas City's Eric Berry drags him down a yard short of the first down. (DAVE KAUP, REUTERS / October 31, 2010)
By Dan Pompei, Tribune reporter
5:16 p.m. CDT, October 31, 2010
Quick look: The winless Bills look like the front-runner to get the first pick in the April draft, but they have become a dangerous offensive team since Ryan Fitzpatrick became the starting quarterback.
Fitzpatrick came into the weekend with the second-best passer rating in the NFL, just behind Peyton Manning. The Bills' offense, which uses the spread passing attack that head coach Chan Gailey deployed at Georgia Tech, has come alive in recent weeks.
The defense, however, is another story. The Bills have given up an average of 30 points per game.
The Bills can't stop the run. They came into the weekend ranked last in the league in rush defense. If the Bears don't try to pound it on the ground Sunday, they never will.
The fact that the Bills' "home" game is basically being played at a neutral site — the Rogers Centre in Toronto — should work in the Bears' favor.
Key stat: The Bears have 17 takeaways; the Bills have six.
Key matchup: Bears tight end Greg Olsen versus Bills strong safety Donte Whitner. The Bills have given up 37 catches and seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends.
Early pick: Bears 31, Bills 29
Bears' week off could make, break season
Bears' week off could make, break season
Making good use of time crucial
Scouting the Bears
11:02 PM CDT, October 31, 2010
The Bears stumbled into their week off with three losses in their last four games and having blown opportunities at home against Seattle and Washington in the last two weeks, their offense playing below average and their defense doing enough to carry them.
Coach Lovie Smith's plan was to hold two days of practice with an emphasis on individual work and technique — something this team desperately needs — before giving the players the weekend off.
The question is simple: Was it enough?
Playing for five head coaches in seven seasons in the NFL, I saw plenty of different approaches to a week off, from the laid-back script of come in, watch tape and practice in shorts to full-scale training camp complete with full pads, competitive sets, blitzing and 11-on-11 work. Situations where film of our mistakes was handed out, homework style — watch it, write a report and hand it in before leaving town for the weekend. The over-the-top approach.
Players don't want that. They need this time to recover, mentally and physically. The Bears are no different. It has been three straight months of football, including weekends, with no break. After starting to hit in August, four preseason games and seven games into the regular season, bodies hurt, nagging injuries won't heal. Weeks start to run together. Routine becomes rut — watch tape Monday, practice Wednesday through Saturday. Play Sunday. Start it all over again.
Every player in the NFL will tell you the time off is crucial. Two to three constructive practices during the week that don't burn you out and then use the weekend to get away. Head back home, shoot over to campus to visit college football Saturday. Give your mind a break from the game and come back to work Monday with a new outlook.
The key is finding that correct balance during those off week practices because the atmosphere is going to be different. No game plans, no scripted practice of the opponent's offensive and defensive tendencies are handed out.
Practice schedules are set to work on individual technique More one-on-one coaching. Footwork, hand placement, shedding blocks, tackling. Fundamentals in the pro game are just as important as they are in high school and college. The week off affords a player time to work on his craft and fix lingering mistakes. Schedules aren't set down to the second, nor are the day-to-day routines of a regular game week apparent. It is the time — the only time — to make dramatic improvement.
Did the Bears make those improvements? We'll know that Smith, who is 3-3 coming off weeks off, took the proper approach with his team if it pays off on the field. The Bears travel to Toronto on Sunday to take on a Buffalo team that can't match them on talent. But the results have to go deeper than a win for the Bears to be a true contender in the second half.
After playing at Glenbard West and Iowa, Matt Bowen spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety with the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills, including playing for Lovie Smith and Mike Martz in St. Louis. When he's not writing for the Tribune, you can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com
Early pick: Bears 31, Bills 29
yikes! hope that 29 is a typo
Would it surprise you if it wasn't?
actually, yes it would. well, maybe disappoint me is a better term. Coming off the bye should allow the D to rest up and focus. i expect to see us keep them under 10...but I get what you're sayin'. these are the Bears afterall
Originally Posted by The Benjamin
Look at the Jets, a team which is supposed to be one of the best in the NFL came out completely flat after the bye.
Originally Posted by Nick
FWIW the Bears are 12-8 after the bye week.
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but this team has scrutiny. I'm crossing my fingers that they come off the bye with some cohesiveness...
They should. The only thing that really scares me about the Bills are that they are 0-7!
yeah and we have the vikes the following week...trap game, perhaps.