Biggs; 10 Thoughts From the Bears vs Bucs Game.........
Biggs: 10 thoughts on Bears' win in London
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By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter 8:41 a.m. CDT, October 24, 2011
LONDON -- Ten things to take away from the Chicago Bears' 24-18 victory Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at historic Wembley Stadium:
1. At a crucial point in the game when the Bears could have polished off the Buccaneers with ease, the run/pass ratio got out of whack again. (Yep, again)
Plenty of explanations were offered up in the locker room by the players and all pointed to the same thing: The Bucs finally had adjusted and were taking away the wide lanes they had to run on the edges through much of the game.
The Bears pounded the Bucs for 177 yards rushing as Matt Forte ran for 145 yards on 25 carries. He had 108 of the team’s 138 at halftime, and the Bears pushed their lead to 21-5 less than five minutes into the third quarter when Marion Barber took a hand-off on a lead play and broke it through a huge hole on the back side to score on a 12-yard run.
With a 16-point lead, the Bears proceeded to have 17 pass plays called by Martz and 11 runs the rest of the way, a statistic that does not include the kneel down by quarterback Jay Cutler on the final play after nickel cornerback D.J. Moore’s interception sealed the game. (I care less about the excuse you don't throw on 1st and 2nd down from your own 30 with a 16 point lead)
“The way they were pressuring us, we weren’t going to be able to run the ball outside and get out on the edges,” Cutler said. “Because they were shooting gaps … that’s one of the things that we started feeling, started taking pressure.”
Cutler had a pass intercepted by fill-in Bucs safety Corey Lynch in the fourth quarter, helping the Bucs make a game of it down the stretch as they scored two touchdowns in the quarter and then had the ball at the end with a chance to win.
“Not really,” Forte said when asked if he was surprised Martz went away from the running game. “They kind of stopped a few of our runs. We had to make adjustments so we (lost) our flow. We had a couple of three-and-outs and that kind of stopped us in our game plan.”
Here’s where it didn’t add up, though. The Bears were up 21-18 and had first-and-goal at the Bucs’ 4-yard line with 3:52 remaining. Three run plays there and they have a shot at punching it in the end zone or forcing Tampa to start burning through its timeouts.
On first down, Cutler threw incomplete to Devin Hester on a quick slant. On second down, Lynch nearly picked him off again at the goal line. Blitzing cornerback Ronde Barber sacked Cutler on third down and only a facemask penalty against cornerback Aqib Talib after the play gave the Bears new life, pushed back at the 6-yard line. From there, they did try three consecutive runs, but they were stopped and ultimately settled for a Robbie Gould field goal as insurance.
Yes, the Bucs went to eight-man fronts in the second half to prevent the run. Everyone plays an eight-man front near the goal line where it’s difficult to have success throwing because the field is compacted. Safeties line up three yards in the end zone and sit on routes. You want to throw it over their heads? Go ahead and try. Defensive backs don’t have to backpedal in this part of the field. When you’ve run like the Bears had, there’s got to be a way to be a better four-minute offense – which is the mode teams go in when they’re working to grind out a victory. (This has been a weakness throughout Martz's tenure. The inabiltity of the offense to score on 1st and goal series' and settling for a FG. His goaling play calling is pathetic)
So, I asked Ronde Barber-- who has been around 15 seasons, well before Martz directed the Greatest Show on Turf -- if he was surprised the Bears threw the ball like they did with the lead late in the game.
“No, that’s Mike Martz,” Barber said. “They’ve got a talented quarterback, they’ve got a talented runner. I think they choose to use them equally. They’re a team that wants to throw the ball so no, I am not surprised. (This is why Devin Hester's comments about fooling the Bucs by passing on the goaline makes no sense. The only person Martz is fooling is himself. The Bears offense needs some serious work on their 1st and goal rushing game. It's bye week and an entire week of making it work will pay dividends longer after this week is up)
“We made a play when we had to, made them pay for it, I guess. That’s what they’ve shown themselves to be so you don’t expect them to be any different because they have a lead.” (And fans have said Ron Turner's offense was too predictable, lol)
OK. The Bears certainly need to be more efficient in four-minute mode, though.
2. The NFL didn’t get a lot of play from local media during the week, but the Bears got a solid spread in the Sunday edition of The Times of London. Nick Szczepanik wrote a story about the team and it was largely based on the burden players and coach have performing up to the standards set by those who came before them. “Bear with a burden” was the headline and Lovie Smith told Szczepanik, “I made the statement before the season that this is the best group that I’ve had in my eight years and I still feel the same way.”
When you look at the group as a whole, the Bears have 20 players that are new to the roster this season (including rookie linebacker J.T. Thomas, who is on injured reserve), more turnover than Smith has been accustomed to in some time. There are five draft picks, four unrestricted free agents, five waived free agents, five undrafted free agents and fullback Tyler Clutts was signed off the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns. (And there should have been at least two more UFA's for the Oline. This proves that the 2010 Bears weren't as good a team as Bears management would like to have us believe)
The Bears celebrated the addition of five undrafted free agents at the start of the season as a sign of new times in their scouting department. It’s also a sign that the bottom of the roster was weak and watered down because of previous draft failures. Yes, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher has quickly developed into a role player on offense. Kyle Adams, Dom DeCicco and now Anthony Walters (who replaced Winston Venable) are playing multiple roles on special teams. But teams truly strengthen their rosters by pushing from the top down, not the other way around. When clubs can bring in elite talent that pushes starters to reserve roles, they are really strengthening their club. The undrafted players have pushed the roster from the bottom up. It’s not a bad thing. They’ve all found niches and that’s why they stuck around. But you really made big strides when you boost the top of the roster. (These are areas where Angelo would like to have us believe he's a great job when he's isn't. He often touts things as being exactly the opposite of how they are)
So, the question is what have the Bears been able to accomplish nearly half way through the season with this group of 20 new players at the top of the roster?
Gabe Carimi: The rookie right tackle showed promise early but has been sidelined since Week 2 with a right knee injury. The hope is he’ll be back on the other side of the bye week, and he looks to be a part of the line for seasons to come.
Chris Conte: The rookie free safety made his second career start Sunday and came up with his first pick at the goal line as he was in the right place at the right time. It remains to be seen if he can avoid the revolving door that sucks in just about every safety the Bears have tried during the Smith era. He’s got nice traits and athleticism but is raw at the position.
Adam Podlesh: Of all the free-agent acquisitions made by general manager Jerry Angelo, the punter got the biggest investment with $10 million over five years, $4.5 million of which he receives this year. If that doesn’t tell you a lot about the free-agent class, it should. Podlesh is playing up to his deal and has been a strength for a special teams unit that has been as solid as ever for Dave Toub. (Well at least Jer broke the bank for a punter, lol)
Roy Williams: The wide receiver has made two starts and played in six games now but the promise of him being a top-flight addition has disappeared. His four catches for 59 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown against the Bucs, could be evidence he’s starting to settle in. That would be welcome. The contract should have been a giveaway to what the Bears expected, not the flowery comments made by offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Williams’ base salary is $1.5 million and expectations in the NFL are shaped by two things -- draft status and contract size. (And he must have paid some of that to Martz for ass kissing him into a starting role before he even arrived)
Matt Spaeth: The Bears sunk a fortune into Brandon Manumaleuna a year ago and Spaeth didn’t come cheaply with a $7 million, three-year deal that pays him $3 million this season. He missed one game with a calf muscle injury and has been in for about one-quarter of the plays. He’s made four starts. (We seem to waste a lot of money trying to find Martz effective blocking TE's)
Tyler Clutts: The versatile fullback was signed off the practice squad of the Browns before the season opener and is a starter at a position the Bears use sporadically depending on the game situation. He’s made two starts and has contributed on special teams. (This guy is a much better bargain as a minimum salary blocker than the $14 mil we've spent on Manu and Spaeth combined)
Chris Spencer: Injuries have led to him making five starts at right guard after he was signed after Olin Kreutz exited. Spencer has a two-year contract for $6 million meaning he could be an option at center next season if Roberto Garza is not re-signed. But with the coaching staff high on Lance Louis, the guess is Spencer returns to the sideline after Carimi returns from injury. (A halfway decent investment so far)
The rest of the group is a mix of role players.
Running back Marion Barber, who is making $2.5 million of the $4.5 million in his two-year deal this season, plays sparingly. He wasn’t used when the Bears failed on third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1 two weeks ago at Detroit. But he made the most of six carries vs. the Bucs, busting off a 29-yarder and scoring on a 12-yard carry. (Playing and doing just what is expected of him as he proved yesterday. He makes the Taylor signing look even more ridiculous now)
Wide receiver Sam Hurd is a bigger version of Rashied Davis and gets more work on offense because of his versatility as a blocker. Defensive linemen Amobi Okoye and Nick Reed have had varying roles in the rotation. Okoye has three sacks and could be signed moving forward to add depth. Rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea has shown flashes the last two games. Safety Brandon Meriweather looks like the $3.25 million hope that went awry. At least the NFL’s fine police isn’t chasing him while he’s on the sideline. (And on the sideline is where he needs to stay. Conte took his job away from him yesterday. Another $3.25 mil wasted that could have gone to Forte)
So when Smith says it’s the best team that’s been assembled in his eight seasons, you have to wonder if the additions made were overevaluated or if the Bears are getting more production from these players than meets the eye. A lot of these players are starting to blossom a little and the most encouraging development is by the draft picks. But the investments the team made certainly don’t lead you to believe there were great expectations in free agency. They were all brought in on modest contracts with the exception of Meriweather who was on the street and got paid nearly twice what the New England Patriots were going to owe him this season. Perhaps this group will come together as Smith predicted, but it’s hard to say the Bears did much pushing from the top of the roster in developing the 2011 team. (Another example of the stupidity of Lovie and Angelo's "Safety Fever". If some other team offered him $3 mil they should have let them have him and his "bad boy' issues)
3. How good of a season is Matt Forte having? Near the midway point, through seven games, he is on pace to rush for 1,536 yards, which would rank fifth in franchise history behind four monster seasons by Walter Payton.
Forte is second in the NFL in rushing with 672 yards going into Monday night’s game with Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville 100 yards behind him. Some teams have already had off weeks, but Forte is near the top in nearly every category. He’s second in the league among backs with a minimum of 100 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. It would seem this will be the year Forte heads to the Pro Bowl for the first time. He’s certainly deserving at this point. (Not elite huh Jer?)
What happens from here with the club is anyone’s best guess. Just know this: He’s not going anywhere. Estimates are the franchise tag number for running backs in 2012 will hover near $7.7 million. That means if the Bears chose to tag Forte, they could do so a second time in 2013 at a cost of roughly $9.24 million – a 120 percent bump over the first tag figure. While Forte’s camp might not think the Bears want to go that route, the guess here is Angelo would have no trouble with that. (So they can tag him in consecutive years? I thought the players bargained that out of the new CBA. Have to check)
4. As well as the Bears have run the ball, it’s only natural to wonder if the success in that area can rub off on the pass blocking. The holes are there for Forte to dash through and the scheme is working quite nicely. Can it transfer to the pass blocking?
“When you establish the run it gives you a chance to throw the ball deep,” center Roberto Garza said. “Jay (Cutler) is doing a hell of a job of sitting in the pocket and making those throws.”
Cutler has been sacked 21 times, putting him on pace for 48, a slight improvement over last season. There have only been 10 sacks in the last five games, so there is progress going on here. The Bears have been happy with the work by Lance Louis as he fills in at right tackle and he’s expected to shift back to right guard when Carimi returns from his knee injury. But Spencer, signed to play center, has done enough good things at right guard to warrant a conversation when it comes to the position. He’s playing better each week and has been very effective with all of the pulling the line does in the run game. He and Garza got out wide right on Forte’s 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter with Spencer chopping down linebacker Adam Hayward. (Some things to be happy about far as the Oline goes. Less sacks and veteran depth)
“I am getting comfortable, you know,” said Spencer, a center by nature. “I don’t know what’s going to happen (when Carimi is back). After fighting my butt off and trying to get better by each game, me, I want to be on the field playing. (Please do so we can keep OMG off of it)
“Each week you have an opportunity to work on something you’ve got to get better at and I try to do that. I feel like it is getting better. I am starting to get comfortable and going at it hard, I’ll let the coaches make the decisions. It’s out of my hands.”
Louis has been a young project for offensive line coach Mike Tice and the goal this season has been to develop some younger linemen. That right there leads you to believe Louis will be in the mix, but the Bears are feeling more comfortable about the line as the games go by. A finished product? Hardly.
5. Veteran safety Chris Harris was back in the starting lineup one week after his benching and less than a week after he made a play for a trade he had to know wouldn’t happen. The defense was successful in not allowing the Bucs to strike with a big play over the top. But Harris was slow breaking and late arriving on Dezmon Briscoe’s 25-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. He ran a post-corner route and Harris was caught defending the middle of the field against no one.
It’s similar to the play the Atlanta Falcons ran to Michael Jenkins to beat the Bears in Atlanta on a last-second field goal in 2008.
“It was a great throw and a great catch,” Harris said. “That is a little dead spot in Cover-2, the coverage we play, and (Josh Freeman) found it. He threw a laser in there. Touchdown. Me and Peanut (Tillman) are both responsible for that and it’s a little dead spot, like 15 to 18 yards that’s kind of the hole there.”
That could be evaluated differently by the coaches in film review. The play is, no doubt, a Cover-2 beater, but the coaches want to see a defensive back make a play.
Where the position goes moving forward, Harris wouldn’t hazard a guess.
“Sit back and wait. I don’t know,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you.”
Major Wright was out with a hip injury but practiced last week and was probable on the injury report. He could be back. It’s worth noting although Brandon Meriweather dressed, he didn’t get on the field of play for the second straight week. (Despite the hole left open on Briscoe's TD I think this was still the best Safety combination we've seen in recent weeks. Conte played as directed and kept the ball in front of him and while Harris may have had an off game but he'll still come up with big plays in other games)
6. Football is starting to pick up in Europe. The NFL conducted a mini-combine Saturday for players ages 16 to 18. It wasn’t looking for talent ready to play professionally, but instead was helping young players who aspire to continue playing the game. New England Patriots offensive tackle Sebastain Vollmer is from Germany, where he began playing football at 14 before being recruited to play in college at Houston. He was a first-round draft pick. The Boise State Broncos, fourth in BCS standings, have three players from Amsterdam. They all play.
“Young kids, they’re starting to have aspirations because they are seeing more and more kids internationally going to high school and college in the United States,” said John Beake, the former general manager of the Denver Broncos and head of NFL Europe. “They are realizing if you go to high school or go to college, you have a greater chance to make it to the next level.”
Beake and Tony Allen, the NFL’s former director of international player development, helped put on the combine and 90 players showed up.
“There were really five or six of them you would say if they keep working at it and they have good grades that Tony would work on helping them,” Beake said. “There are players out there. Everyone is looking for them.”
7. The most extensive free time Bears players received during the trip was after the game Sunday night. The team returns to Chicago on Monday morning. The Bears will be off Tuesday before practices Wednesday and Thursday. Then, there will be a long weekend for the off week before preparation begins in earnest for the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s an even longer layoff than usual because the Bears don’t play the Eagles until Monday, Nov. 7 at Lincoln Financial Field, the first “Monday Night Football” meeting between the teams since 1994. (Work on the goaline stuff Lovie. They need it)
Lovie Smith has been good coming out of an off week. He’s 4-3 overall after an off week but 4-1 over the last five seasons, including the 22-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto last year. The only loss since 2005 was a 21-14 setback at Atlanta in 2009.
8. Big props to the U.K. Bears fan club, as passionate a group of football fans as you’ll discover in any Chicago neighborhood. I met up with them Saturday night to watch some college football. Only a few bars in London show college football, and we were at one not too far from the Chelsea soccer stadium. There were a few in the group from London, but the vast majority had traveled long distances to be in town for the game. One fellow came from Sweden and another was from Spain. Another guy made his way about 100 miles from Bournemouth after his wife delivered the couple’s first child the night before. He explained how he designed a vacation in the U.S. in 2006 to travel Route 66. The couple started in Chicago after seeing the Bears rough up the Bills 40-7 on Oct. 8, 2006. They completed their journey after watching the Monday night game the following week in Arizona, a game that’s well known in Bears’ lore. (Hope all of our English, Scots and Irish members enjoyed the game and will share their experiences with us. Thanks or cheering the Bears on to a win)
The fans talked about the history of the Bears, referencing George “Mugs” Halas at one point, and were delightful to spend time with. A lot of these folks spend more than 20 pounds a week to watch the games on the Internet, making the Sunday Ticket package on DirecTV look like a bargain. So, a tip of the cap to a fine group and a thank you for a memorable evening. (And we think we have it bad)
9. The fans I talked to Saturday night do not believe an NFL franchise in London will be viable. They would prefer to see two regular-season games a year here than have a franchise brought to the U.K., something NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said likely would happen via expansion if it ever does. The fans’ reasoning was that NFL fans in the U.K. are already attached to a team. There is a strong group of Bears fans. They said there is an emerging group of Bucs fans because of the concerted efforts being made by that franchise. The Patriots and Packers are also well represented. I pointed out that NFL fans in the Carolinas took to the Panthers pretty well after that franchise arrived. If the NFL comes, fans will emerge. But that process is a long ways off. The NFL wants to take the next step with two games a year here. Television ratings are growing, fan interest is ramping up but the NFL will need strong corporate backing before taking big steps in London. As the Bears fans pointed out, it’s next to impossible for them to find NFL merchandise in the U.K. They’ve got to hit the Internet to do that. So, there’s room for much growth but Goodell seems intent on exploring that avenue and it makes sense.
10. When you’re on a trip like this it makes you wonder where the 2012 schedule will take the Bears and who will be coming to Soldier Field. Here's a glance at what lies ahead next season beyond the typical NFC North home-and-away series:
2012 Home opponents
NFC South like finisher
2012 Road opponents
NFC East like finisher
With the Bears in third place in the NFC North, they would host the Falcons and travel to the Redskins based on current standings. There’s plenty of football remaining to see how that is decided but it is possible the Bears will face the Bucs again next year in a home game.
10 a. It was amusing reading an article Friday in the The Times of London about the Bears. Primarily, it was based on writer Tom Dart’s interview with Mike Ditka at his downtown restaurant. There were many references to “kicking ass” and Ditka discussed being an investor in the Elite Football League of India. They’re going to try to get some football up and running in the massive nation by 2013. (LMAO! Can you see Ditka running around wearing a turban and chomping on a cigar while he promotes the league on Fox)
“There’s big money behind it and it’s going to happen,” Ditka told Dart. “There’s 1.3 billion people over there and they got the money and nothing to put on TV but cricket. You say, so where are you going to get the players? We’re going to get them from India. They had 10,000 people that signed up for it already. Ten of them might be worth a damn, I don’t know.”
That’s capturing some vintage Ditka right there. (I wonder if Ditka can find a guy named
Prakash Grabowski in India)
10 b. Brian Urlacher seemed cool to the idea of being in London on Friday after the team arrived and said he planned to hole up in his hotel room Saturday in advance of the game. A victory put him in much better spirits.
“I didn’t stay in my room (Saturday),” Urlacher said. “I went out and saw London. It was cool. It was nice to do some things and do something different. It’s really cool here and there are a lot of things that I’d like to see if I come back but the whole experience was great.”
10 c. It’s not uncommon for fans to occasionally sprint onto the field in a European sporting match and that’s exactly what happened in the fourth quarter when a guy came running onto the field and stripped off his shirt before circling around. He high-fived a Bucs player on the kickoff team and tried to do the same with Bears safety Craig Steltz, who nervously sidestepped the man.
“Kind of surprised me for a second,” Steltz said. “Kind of took the neutral side, I didn’t hit him, I didn’t high five him. I figured he was smiling but you never know.”
Steltz was then told legend is Mike Ditka, during his playing days, once decked a fan on the field.
“He did?” Steltz said with big eyes. “I didn’t want to get involved in it.” (You were actually surprised to hear that Craig?)
So, Steltz watched like the rest of the people in the stadium as the man made security look silly. Lance Briggs joked it was because the security guards were wearing dress shoes.
“He shook three of them,” Steltz said. “I was caught off guard because they weren’t prepared exactly for that type of scenario.”
10 d. The buzz among some over here is that the Bears would like to be part of a semi-regular group of teams that plays in London. They certainly don’t want to give up home dates at Soldier Field and Goodell said that is the first obstacle in making games happen over here -- the NFL has to find teams able and willing to have a home game played abroad. That issue should become easier to manage if and when the regular season is expanded to 18 games and the preseason is slashed to two.
Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t see interested in a quick return, not to play a game anyway.
“When it’s someone else’s home game, we’ll come over any time,” he said. “I feel like for the league, internationally we should let them see all of the teams. They have had a chance to see the Bears. I think it’s someone else’s time now to come over.”
10 e. The time difference meant the world for rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who was able to watch the Rugby World Cup final in the morning. He grew up in Tonga aspiring to be a professional rugby player, and he was elated when New Zealand triumphed over France, the first title for the All Blacks since 1987. “All Blacks!!! Amen!!!” Paea wrote on his Twitter account. The match ended shortly before 5 a.m. in Chicago. Paea said the New Zealand club is the one he’s rooted for since childhood. (I would not want to play rugby against Stephen Paea without a helmet and full pads)
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