Biggs: 10 thoughts after Bears' comeback win
Brad breaks it down for us :smile:
This is a long read, but it's really good...
LINK to the article Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears’ 23-22 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday that keeps them in sole possession of first place atop the NFC North at 6-1, the second-best record in the conference.
1. Lovie Smith has said at least three times this season the Bears need to get the return game going, an expectation created by the record-setting career of Devin Hester.
But Hester doesn’t have to score touchdowns on returns if the defense keeps getting in the end zone. That's what happened as Tim Jennings’ 25-yard interception return gave the Bears a 20-19 lead with 6:44 remaining and proved to be a game-changing play when things looked bleak.
The first touchdown of Jennings’ NFL career was the sixth interception return for a score this season for the Bears, breaking the team record of five set in 2004 when Smith was just installing his defense in his first season as coach. It is two more touchdown returns than the Bears had as a defense all of last season. The defense now has 10 interception returns for touchdowns in the last 20 games dating to the Week 4 meeting with the Panthers a year ago when D.J. Moore had a 20-yard return for a score in a 34-29 victory over the Panthers. Charles Tillman has four, Major Wright and Lance Briggs have two each and Jennings and Moore have one apiece in the last 20 games.
Randall Liu of the NFL office reports the six interception returns for scores this season is an NFL record through seven games, and the season record is within reach. The San Diego Chargers had nine interception returns for touchdowns in 1961, and the Seattle Seahawks had eight in 1998. The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams both have had seven in a season.
“The sky is the limit,” Tillman said. “When you set a number, you set your standard low. I don’t want to set my standard low. There is no limit. We’re gonna turn it up. It is remarkable.”
The Bears lead the NFL with 16 interceptions, putting them on pace for 36.5. The club record is 37 set in 1937 during a 12-game season. The NFL record is 49 by the Chargers in 1961.
But as Tillman said, what is remarkable about the Bears’ defense is the scoring. The team has six rushing touchdowns, six defensive touchdowns and nine passing touchdowns.
“As you look at it you can be surprised but if you guys watch our practices that's what we do each and every time we get our hands on the ball,” Jennings said. “We want to score with it. We're getting opportunities Peanut, Lance Briggs, Major, myself, we're gettng a lot of opportunities to score and that's been our mentality, that's been our focus all week.
“Everybody else was scoring and I felt left out but I was able to get one. We knew that if we got our hands on the ball we had to score. That's been our mentality all season. I was able to be in the right position and make a play.”
Tillman didn’t want to set any goals and neither does Jennings.
“I know we have plenty more games,” he said. “I am gonna have plenty more opportunities. I just have to stay on it, keep working and finish the season strong.”
2. The offensive line has been up and down, so it’s no surprise there was a little bit of everything in this performance. Some good running holes for Matt Forte, including a fine block by left tackle J’Marcus Webb pulling through the hole to take out linebacker James Anderson on the 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The pocket was clean with the game on the line in the fourth quarter on the winning field goal drive.
There also were the six sacks of quarterback Jay Cutler in the first half as the Bears made Panthers left end Greg Hardy look like a feared pass rusher. He had a career day with three sacks. Defensive end Charles Johnson, signed to a $76 million contract in 2011 to boost a pass rush in need of help a year after the loss of Julius Peppers, also had two sacks. Left guard Chilo Rachal struggled. There were breakdowns across the board and Cutler is to blame also for holding the ball too long.
The Bears lost 55 yards on six sacks, a sign Cutler was dropping back too far. If you recall, Craig Krenzel did the same in 2004, taking sacks for double-digit losses in yardage. Cutler's sacks were for losses of seven, 11, eight, four, seven and eight yards. One came on a screen play. When a screen doesn’t materialize, throw the ball away.
The line has to be more dependable and that is always going to be the case when the team has allowed 25 sacks, third-most in the NFL. The Bears struggled because the Panthers were slanting their line.
“They had some wrinkles , we knew what they were doing we just were not reacting well to it," right tackle Gabe Carimi said. "I am not going to give excuses for us. We should be able to do whatever. Whatever they had for us, we should have been able to handle.”
Center Roberto Garza was quick to note it wasn’t a bad first half for the offense but a bad first three quarters.
“It was ugly,” Garza said. “We just didn’t execute. We didn’t do our techniques. We didn’t play like we’ve played the last couple of weeks. But it’s a tribute to coach (Mike) Tice, Cutler and the receivers, they did a hell of a job of getting points when we needed them and going out there and finishing the game.
“We’ve seen it, we just didn’t adjust to it well on the offensive line. They were moving the guys, slanting and stuff like that, and we just have to do a better job of blocking the guys and making those adjustments.”
It’s always easier to watch a game tape with lots of corrections and teaching points coming off a victory and that will be the case Tuesday morning when the Bears go back to work at Halas Hall.
“It was up and down,” Carimi said. “We had some really good performances in the game and then we had some pretty awful ones. So, it feels good to get the W, look at the film and try to correct it and move forward. We’ve shown we can be a good offensive line. We've also shown that we can be not as good as we should be.”
Carimi said there were nice holes in the running game and then missed assignments that led to plays for no gain. Tice never got hot at his linemen. He just stayed on them to execute the plays.
“Usually this offense is good at halftime, coming out and scoring right away,” Carimi said. “It didn’t happen this time. It took until the fourth quarter to do that. We’re still a work in progress. But I think we are on the verge of being that efficient offense that we can be.”
Last week, the fine folks at Pro Football Focus, led by Neil Hornsby (Twitter @PFF_Neil) released offensive line rankings through Week 7. The Bears came in at No. 22 overall. They were seventh in run blocking, 25th in passing blocking and 30th in penalties.
“No player sums this line up like Gabe Carimi. Excellent going forward, he’s something of a liability when he’s on his heels,” the report read. “All things considered, this is a big improvement from a line that was once a laughing stock.”
Any type of rankings involve a tremendous amount of subjectivity. But it gives you an idea of how one established site sizes up the Bears in the trenches. The top five through the first seven weeks? San Francisco, Kansas City, Minnesota, New Orleans and Detroit. We saw the Vikings get overrun on Thursday night. The bottom five? Arizona, Jacksonville, Oakland, Seattle and San Francisco.
3. Captain Munnerlyn stood at his locker after the game and he looked ready to burst. The Panthers cornerback was at a loss to explain what happened to Carolina’s defense on the Bears’ game-winning drive. Without naming defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Munnerlyn criticized the inability of the play-caller to adjust as the Bears moved quickly downfield with easy throws from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall on slant routes.
“They did the same play at the end, I think four or five times in a row and they got the win,” Munnerlyn said. “I just play the defense they call but you gotta switch it up. I felt like Jay Cutler, he knew what we were in. So he knew the weakness of the defense and they attacked it.”
I asked Munnerlyn if the Panthers were sitting in a Cover-2 shell.
“I wish it was Cover-2,” he said. “We played a Cover-4 look. They kind of ran double slants on my side and forced me to squeeze No. 2 and … (outside cornerback Josh Norman) can’t play that. You tell a guy to jump that and if he jumps that and Brandon Marshall does a double move, it’s a touchdown. We’ve just got to do better. Even though Coach gave us that call, we’ve got to execute. We tried and we fell short.”
It was simple for Cutler. He completed four passes to Marshall for 36 yards. Earl Bennett, the inside receiver, caught one for 12 yards. Cutler didn’t need to look to his right. He was going left all the way.
In the Cover-4 defense, Norman was playing eight yards off Marshall at the snap. It opened the door wide for those slants throws. It was pitch and catch. If the Panthers had gone with Cover-2, Norman could have pressed Marshall at the line with safety help over the top.
“They were playing one coverage and we just kept hitting them and hitting them and hitting them,” Cutler said. “That’s pretty much it.”
Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera: “In the last couple of plays, we tried getting into one of our Cover-2s, and we didn’t get off in time and Cutler completed the throws.”
4. Rivera had a brief chat with Devin Hester before the start of the game. It’s a conversation you can imagine.
“He said, ‘I know what type of player you are and I hate to give the ball to you in a crunch-time situation. That’s all I am going to say,’” Hester said.
When these teams played last season, a special-teams mistake put Hester in position for a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown, the difference in a five-point game. So Rivera directed kicker Justin Medlock to squib kickoffs and punter Brad Nortman to kick away from Hester.
The result? Nortman had a six-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Armando Allen, Earl Bennett, Kyle Adams, Craig Steltz, Eric Weems and Corey Wootton all fielded kickoffs. Not Hester. The result was the Bears’ average starting field position was their own 37-yard line.
“We were not able to get any good returns going but they gave us good field position, so it is a win on our part,” Hester said. “We’ll take the ball at the 40 every time. If it’s going to help our offense and give us good field position, it’s a win for us.”
Rivera said the six-yard punt was on him, one of the dangers of extreme directional punting in windy conditions – winds were at 18 mph when the game started. That short kick set the Bears up on their own 38-yard line on a drive that resulted in a touchdown reception for tight end Kellen Davis. More on his score in a little bit.
“That was by design,” Rivera said. “That is what we were going to do. We weren’t going to let (special teams) beat us.”
Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub walked out of the locker room saying “squibs” to no one in particular. He did have a plan for it, though, and that included removing big blockers like Wootton and Adams and replacing them with smaller players better suited for returns like Allen. A bouncing squib kick isn’t the easiest ball to secure.
“Field the ball,” Allen said. “The only priority is to field the ball. It’s like playing shortstop.”
5. The 33-yard field goal Robbie Gould missed wide right at the start of the fourth quarter was the shortest kick he has missed in his career. But he responded with a game-winner, nailing a kick from 41 yards as time expired, the 10th game-winning kick of his career in the fourth quarter or overtime and the first since 2010 against the Green Bay Packers. It was the first Gould has had with the clock hitting 0:00.
“The only think I could do was start a new streak,” Gould said. “It’s great to have guys like (long snapper and holder) Pat (Mannelly) and Adam (Podlesh) and all the guys around me blocking. They’ve done a great job all year and I just got lucky that it fell in for me.
“I just overplayed (the miss). Everything was going right to left hard. I was like, ‘Oh that’s good,’ and it stayed there. I just gave it maybe a little too much credit.
“I’m very fortunate. If we would have lost the game because I missed a short field goal I’d be pretty upset about it, first of all as a competitor but also because I don’t want to let the guys down that worked so hard in here to get a big win. We were looking to get to 6-1 and just because I missed a short field goal there’s no excuse for it. That loss would have went on my shoulders, but we won and that’s a good thing.”
6. Kellen Davis made his second touchdown reception of the season in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard catch. He thought it was vs. Cover-2 from the Panthers but it could have been the kind of Cover-4 the defense was playing on the final drive of the game, a defense teams use in the red zone because it can put defensive backs in position to jump routes.
“It was just a regular second-and-medium down-and-distance call,” Davis said. “We ran it a few times earlier in the game. But we got the Cover-2 down there and that is good taking me up the middle vs. the two in the end zone. Jay threw a great ball and gave me a bunch of space to go up and make a play on it.”
It didn’t look like Cover-2 because there wasn’t a linebacker running the middle of the field with Davis. He went up over safety Charles Godfrey to make the catch before the other safety, Sherrod Martin, arrived.
“After I cleared the linebackers I wanted the ball,” Davis said. Davis has 11 career touchdown catches, the fifth-most in club history for a tight end, breaking a tie with Keith Jennings. More remarkable? Davis has 11 touchdown grabs in just 38 career receptions. That is one every 3.45 catches.
7. Bears fans probably held their collective breath when they saw quarterback Jay Cutler racing downfield in pursuit of Panthers cornerback Josh Norman after he intercepted the two-point conversion throw. Norman went 102 yards untouched, but in the NFL defenses cannot score on two-point attempts as in college. The try is no good and the play is dead. Whistles were blowing as Cutler was running downfield and safety Sherrod Martin and rookie defensive end Frank Alexander had a chance to block Cutler into oblivion. Alexander had a chance to block Cutler harder than he did 70 yards downfield. It’s how Cutler suffered a broken thumb last November against the San Diego Chargers.
“Well, if we chased it down, I suppose it would hard to say, ‘Yeah, we definitely understood it,'” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “But yes, we understood it, but we didn’t handle it as well. Neither side.”
8. There are a plenty of folks with ties to the Bears who are having a rough go of it in Carolina with the Panthers now 1-6. The team has five losses by six points or less and squandered a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“I am running out of ways to describe this,” said coach Ron Rivera, the former Bears defensive coordinator. “It was disappointing, obviously. Our guys played well enough to give themselves a chance to win. Who would have thought Steve Smith would slip? You have a great situation and set of circumstances, and that happens – and it’s tough. It really is. The guys played well, and the guys played hard. I feel bad for those guys in that room.”
Tight end Greg Olsen, traded to the Panthers before last season, has been stunned by the losing rut.
“If you were to tell somebody how these weeks have gone and the different ways we’ve lost, they wouldn’t even believe you,” Olsen said. “Eventually, you just have to put an end to it. I don’t even know what to tell you. We’ve talked about it. We’ve given speeches. We’ve done everything, but we just don’t take care of business in the fourth quarter. Whatever it is, it’s a mentality ... you just got to win -- just go ahead and play. Don’t do anything different. Do the same thing in the first quarter that you do in the fourth. I don’t think we always do that. Guys try to change, or we get ... whatever, I haven’t seen anything like it.
“You make your own fortunes in this league. You make your own bed. It’s very simple. Over time, here and there, could things not go your way? Yeah, but it all evens out. We got a couple of breaks today, and we still didn’t capitalize on it. So, it is our responsibility to figure out what’s going on, and we obviously haven’t.”
9. Brandon Marshall often makes his way to the locker room after wearing shoulder pads with no jersey. He doesn’t give his jerseys away like "Mean Joe" Greene in the old Coca-Cola commercial. He trades them with opposing players. Last Monday, he swapped jerseys with Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson after the game.
“Man that boy sweaty,” Marshall wrote on his Twitter account. “Going In the dryer then wall.”
Asked about his collection of jerseys, Marshall said, “I am a fan of the game so just like other people collect jerseys, fans, I do the same thing. I have been doing it since my rookie year. I have been doing it for a long time. I did it because when I just did it, just to save them up.
“I got all the guys on my team in Denver, Rod Smith, Tom Nalen, Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey, John Lynch. I started there and then I started working around. Then, if there is a UCF guy in the league, I trade jerseys with him. I gotta have his jersey to go on my wall. So, I have one side of my wall where it is gold background and that is for the UCF Golden Knights. Then, I’ve got the other guys. Anyone from Andre Johnson to Darrelle Revis.
“Tom Brady, I am supposed to have his in the mail. Last year he said he was going to send it to me. Hasn't come yet but I am going to call his people to get it to me. Charles Woodson when I was playing for the Dolphins, we beat them and he was a little bit upset after the game so I think I caught him at a bad time. But he was supposed to give me one and I still haven’t received that. Now that I am a Bear, I don’t think I will get it.”
He managed to pull off the trade with Johnson, who plays for a division rival, so perhaps a deal with Woodson is possible.
10. The trading deadline is 3 p.m. Tuesday and it would be surprising if the Bears were involved in any deals at the deadline. The NFL pushed back the deadline this season from the Tuesday following Week 6 to the Tuesday following Week 8 in an effort to create more flexibility for in-season moves.
Usually, the deadline comes and goes without much fanfare. But last season, Jason Campbell -- the Bears' backup quarterback who then was the starter for the Oakland Raiders -- suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6. The Raiders then got Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown to do something he said he wouldn’t do: trade Carson Palmer. Former general manager Jerry Angelo also pulled the trigger on a deadline trade with Tampa Bay for defensive end Gaines Adams in 2009. That deal went down four days before the deadline. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the Panthers might be considering trading running back DeAngelo Williams. Exiting the locker room Sunday afternoon, Williams sounded as if he was mulling that very real possibility in a conversation with teammate Steve Smith.
There is one interesting possibility to mull: The Kansas City Chiefs could be looking to deal disgruntled wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, whom general manager Phil Emery knows from his time in Kansas City. Bowe was drafted in 2007, two years before Emery arrived from the Atlanta Falcons. But it's doubtful a Bears deal for Bowe materializes because they believe strongly that rookie Alshon Jeffery is an emerging playmaker, even though he’s sidelined with a broken right hand.
10 a. Earl Bennett came out during the game-winning drive after taking a shot in the back from Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. Bennett said he just had the wind knocked out of him and he was fine.
10 b. If Brandon LaFell had even average speed for a wide receiver, he would have scored instead of making just a 62-yard reception in the first quarter, getting run down by cornerback Tim Jennings at the Bears’ 18-yard line. The play-fake by quarterback Cam Newton froze the linebackers and free safety Chris Conte got caught cheating toward the No. 1 receiver Steve Smith on the outside. That left the middle of the field wide open for LaFell. How did Jennings catch him?
“I’m faster than him,” Jennings said.
10 c. Defensive tackle Nate Collins was active for the first time this season, taking the spot of Amobi Okoye. Maybe the move was made with the Bears expecting the Panthers to be committed to a ground attack. Whatever the case, Collins was credited with three tackles – one solo and two assists in press box statistics.
10 d. Defensive end Julius Peppers made two sacks to give him a team-high 5 1/2. It was the 23rd time in his career he’s had multiple sacks, something he also did in Week 2 with two at Green Bay. Peppers now has a sack against 26 of the 32 NFL teams. The six teams that have shut him out so far: Bears (2 games against), Cincinnati Bengals (1), Houston Texans (2), Indianapolis Colts (3), Pittsburgh Steelers (1) and San Diego Chargers (3). The Bears host the Texans in two weeks on Nov. 11.
10 e. What are the chances Charles Tillman follows Tim Jennings’ award in September and is named NFC Defensive Plater of the Month for October? It could happen.
10 f. The Fox crew that will handle the Bears-Titans game Sunday in Nashville is Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick and Laura Okmin.
10 g. Referee Terry McAulay and his crew will handle the Bears-Titans game on Sunday.
10 h. The Bears opened as a four-point favorite over the Titans on Sunday night at LVH in Las Vegas.