Biggs: 10 thoughts after Bears' loss

Discussion in 'Chicago Bears' started by short faced bear, Nov 25, 2013.

  1. short faced bear

    short faced bear Assistant Head Coach DBS Writer

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    By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter

    10:00 a.m. CST, November 25, 2013

    Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears missed a chance to take sole possession of first place in the NFC North, losing to the St. Louis Rams 42-21 at the Edward Jones Dome.

    1. With a methodical drive to open the third quarter that lasted 14 plays and took nearly seven minutes off the clock, the Bears were in position to pull within a field goal of the Rams. They were trailing 24-14 and a well-designed screen pass to fullback Tony Fiammetta set them up first-and-goal from the Rams’ 4.

    Problem is, the closer the Bears have gotten to the end zone in the last three games, the more problems they’ve had. Quarterback Josh McCown didn’t make a good throw to a wide-open Michael Bush on first down. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was blanketed by cornerback Janoris Jenkins on second down. McCown scrambled three yards on third down and then coach Marc Trestman made the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1.

    It’s hard to argue with him the way his defense was being gashed, right? But Rams linebacker Jo-Lunn Dunbar blasted Bush for a 4-yard loss on the critical fourth-down play. It was an opportunity missed.

    The low red zone, considered the 10-yard line and in, has been a problem since the Lions game in Week 10. Although the offense converted two touchdowns in its other goal-to-go situations against the Rams – a 3-yard pass to Brandon Marshall and a 1-yard run by Bush – they needed two defensive penalties (one a questionable roughing-the-passer call vs. Michael Brockers) and eight snaps after reaching the 1-yard line.

    In the last three games, the Bears have had six goal-to-go situations and they failed on two chances at a two-point conversion against the Lions. Add it all up and here is what you get:

    *29 snaps

    *17 passes, 12 runs, 37 yards gained, 20 points

    *4 plays nullified by defensive penalties

    *3 plays nullified by offensive penalties

    *2 touchdowns, 2 field goals, 1 interception, 1 turnover on downs, 1 failed 2-point conversion

    “Certainly we have to look at our goal-line offense, which is a very difficult thing to practice,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We spend a lot of time walking through it but you can’t get those types of reps. We didn’t get it done today. I give credit to the Rams. We kept fighting. We still got in but it cost us three minutes off the clock, which really hurt.”

    The Bears have been decent in red-zone opportunities this season. They entered this week 13th in the NFL, scoring a touchdown on 55.3 percent of red-zone trips. But as the statistics from the goal-to-go chances illustrate, it’s been a real struggle.

    Why? The Bears can’t win playing power football. Bush is a straight downhill runner and he seems to be running sideways. The offense is running the ball best in the shotgun with inside zone or inside trap plays. Whenever the Bears go to a tight formation, be it on the goal line or in short yardage, they’re not a good offense. They’re not moving the defense off the line of scrimmage. They’re allowing penetration. There are no holes for backs to get through. Bush is the kind of runner that can run over a linebacker at the second level. He’s not getting that chance. The running backs are being forced to make plays on their own and that means bouncing it outside or dancing.

    Passing-wise, the offense is still OK and will remain that way with the big targets in Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett. But it’s harder to throw the ball in the low red zone when defensive backs can cheat up and be more aggressive using the end line as help. The Bears should be able to win with Power O and lead plays but until they can, they’re going to have to spread defenses out and throw the ball and that is when mistakes can happen, like Jay Cutler’s interception in the end zone against the Lions.

    2. It’s not the first time it has happened and if Devin Hester’s career continues as long as he would like, it probably will not be the last. His 62-yard punt return for a touchdown was nullified when officials called Craig Steltz for holding at the start of the fourth quarter, wiping out a score that would have brought the Bears to within 27-21 with 14:39 remaining. Instead, they took over on their own 28 and while they eventually got a touchdown, it took 12 plays and 7 minutes, 24 seconds with nearly three minutes coming in the struggles from the 1-yard line.

    Steltz was genuinely bummed out when I told him Fox didn’t show a replay of the infraction. Watching the play, it looks like Rams linebacker Daren Bates was taken down to the ground right at the snap.

    “Did you see it?” Steltz said. “Was he the only one on the ground? We have to see. It happens quick in there. I felt like guys were falling down. It is all their perception, the officials. A guy goes down. How did he get down there? Who knows? Sometimes momentum is carrying a guy to the ground.

    “We broke the (total return touchdowns) record on the play. It is disappointing. Hey, you keep battling.”

    Hester didn’t see what the officials called.

    “Craig said he just fell,” Hester said. “I don’t know. I didn’t see it. It was perfect. We doubled the gunner. I think it was a bad punt. It was a clean catch. I don’t think he got a good hit on it and he’s a pretty good punter. It sucks, you know. To have a return like that called back. If it didn’t really mean anything, like a regular return ... I mean, any return means something. But when you have a chance to break the record and it is called back, it sucks.”

    Hester said this is the fourth return touchdown he’s had wiped out by penalty. Previous infractions have nullified touchdowns against the Browns, Chiefs and Seahawks.

    3. In a corner of the Bears’ locker room after the game, general manager Phil Emery huddled with quarterback Jay Cutler for a conversation. They chatted for a good while and it is anyone’s guess what the discussion entailed. Publicly, the Bears are saying Cutler remains “week to week.” He did not participate in practice last week and it’s up in the air for Sunday's game against the Vikings. It would not surprise me if Cutler missed this game and he seemed to hint at that last Monday on his radio show. Emery might need to rein in Cutler’s desire to get back on the field a little bit as he works to return from the high ankle sprain. Coach Marc Trestman announced last Monday that Cutler would not play in St. Louis. We’ll see how forthcoming he is with information this time around. It might be a fourth start of the season for McCown at the Metrodome.

    4. If the Bears do turn to Josh McCown to start against the Vikings, he should do well against that defense. He set a franchise record with 36 completions against the Rams and McCown’s first half was excellent (16-for-21 for 143 yards and two touchdowns). His 47th and final pass of this game was intercepted, so he went 148 attempts before an interception and he finished the game with 352 yards.

    “Yeah, I do (feel comfortable),” McCown said. “To be clear, I’m the backup and I’m just playing right now. Part of the backup’s job is to feel comfortable when he has to play, so I definitely feel comfortable. Again, I say it all the time, how could you not with the guys that I get to walk in the huddle with and get to play with? With our offense and what we’re doing, it’s fun to get to work in and it’s a privilege to get to work in, so I feel comfortable.”

    McCown’s comfort level is clear and he remained poised despite some heavy pressure at times. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod was dealing with a load from Rams right defensive end Robert Quinn, who had a sack/strip and fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown. Certainly, the practice reps with Jay Cutler sidelined have helped McCown settle in. We’ll see how the work is divided when the Bears return to the practice field Wednesday.

    5. An undisciplined effort against the Ravens was followed by another one as the Bears were called for 10 penalties for 84 yards, negating three touchdowns in the process. There also were penalties that were declined, two that happened during Kyle Long’s fracas with William Hayes. The Bears had been among the best in the league through the first nine games. Entering this week, they had the sixth-fewest penalties marked off against them with 53. Indianapolis was No. 1 at 38. With 468 penalty yards against them, the Bears were 10th. They will slip in both categories again this week.

    “To have those type of penalties hurts you tremendously,” coach Marc Trestman said. “And it wasn’t the pre-snap penalties that we had to control because we did a good job on both sides of the ball. But we played a fast team and things came up in all three phases. The penalties had a lot to do with real estate and field position, obviously, and starts for the offense.”

    6. The timeline for defensive tackle Jay Ratliff was pretty clear when the Bears agreed to terms with him on a one-year contract Nov. 2. It was going to take two to four weeks for him to get over the hurdle and ready to play, and people I spoke to suggested the timeline was likely going to fall closer to four than two. So, Ratliff has been able to watch four games now and after working in practice last week, he might have a chance to play a role in Sunday’s game at Minnesota. He would be the eighth defensive tackle to suit up this season, not including Corey Wootton. If Ratliff plays, we’re talking about a situational guy at this point. It’s unrealistic to think he can sit out 12 months and come back and log heavy playing time. But if Ratliff can give the Bears a spark and a little help, it will be a start because you just don’t know how this NFC North race is going to unfold, especially after the Lions somehow lost to the hapless Buccaneers and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon at Ford Field on Sunday.

    7. There has been a lot of talk about the possibility that general manager Phil Emery will place the franchise tag on quarterback Jay Cutler. Emery has sed the tag twice in two years, placing it on running back Matt Forte and then getting a deadline deal done and then using it to secure defensive tackle Henry Melton. There is little chance the Bears will tag Melton, returning from a torn ACL, a second time. The problem with placing the tag on Cutler is it would tie up a ton of money in the quarterback for just one year. Estimates are the tag for quarterbacks will be roughly $16.2 million in 2014. If Emery wants to commit that kind of money to Cutler, he’d be far better including it as part of a guarantee in a multi-year deal. What’s the price tag for Cutler? No one can say right now.

    For the sake of this item, let’s assume the Bears do not use the tag on Cutler. There are still an abundance of free agents to consider. Not many of them would be tag-worthy, but there is one player that would certainly be worth it. Kicker Robbie Gould has been terrific. He’s 19-for-20 on the season on field goals and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. If the Bears can’t reach a deal with Gould, they could tag him for about $3.4 million -- $475,000 more than he is earning this season. The team could then try to strike a long-term deal with Gould.

    What’s Gould going to be aiming for? I would be surprised if his target was not the top of the market. There is no reason it should not be. He’s the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history with a minimum of 100 attempts. Gould’s contract currently ranks ninth among kickers with an average per year (APY) of $2.7 million. Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski is tops in APY at $3.775 million, one of seven players above $3 million. It should be noted Gould’s current deal is second in terms of Year 1 cash at $5 million, but Year 1 of his deal was 2008.

    I’m not saying Gould is a prime target for the franchise tag but if Emery doesn’t use the tag on Cutler, keep in mind he’s shown no reluctance to use it in his first two years and it would be a negotiating tool available for one player. The way Gould is performing, and his high level of consistency, makes him a player the Bears probably will not want to lose.

    8. Jordan Mills made his 11th start of the season Sunday and without rewatching the game just yet, he was adequate. I know we didn’t see Chris Long in the backfield a lot in the passing game. The website Pro Football Focus, which general manager Phil Emery cited in the offseason for analytics, has been tough on Mills in grading this season. Entering the weekend, he was the 76th (and lowest) ranked offensive tackle. Mills had the lowest pass-blocking grade, a reflection of the statistics PFF has compiled for the fifth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech. Mills was credited with 47 quarterback hurries allowed (most), nine quarterback hits (tied for third most) and two sacks (39 offensive tackles had allowed more. In run blocking, Mills graded out much better at No. 36.

    I asked offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer about the analytics in relation to how he has graded Mills’ effort through the first 10 games.

    “I’ve seen some of the analytics and I disagree with what they are saying,” Kromer said. “When they know our system, they will know whether to grade him with a plus or a minus.

    “As an offense trying to get used to each other and how deep the quarterback drops and how deep the tackle sets, when the live bullets come it’s a little bit deeper and a little bit faster than you want sometimes. So, the times that the quarterback drops back and he has to step back up (in the pocket), it’s by design a lot of times. As I read it, and as I see the analytics of some companies, they say, ‘Well, that was a hurry and it made the quarterback move.’ That can be a design of the offense. There are plenty of those that were pluses for us in our grades when they gave him a minus.

    “Jordan has been playing against some very good defensive ends as a rookie fifth-round pick and has done a good job on a consistent basis.”

    Kromer makes a fair point. PFF and anyone else trying to assign an accurate grade to offensive line play has to deal with the unknown at times – what was the exact assignment on each given play? But the standards PFF are applying are across the board and other tackles are being evaluated in a similar manner. It’s certainly not an end all, be all. The bottom line for the Bears, to this point, is the quarterback has been upright a lot more than in previous seasons.

    It’s also worth considering where the top offensive tackles in the draft are ranked. Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick by the Chiefs, is No. 62. Luke Joeckel, drafted No. 2 by the Jaguars, is No. 72. Lane Johnson, selected No. 4 overall by the Eagles, is No. 57. Fisher and Johnson are also playing right tackle. Joeckel made four starts at right tackle and one on the left side before a season-ending ankle injury.

    9. The kick was a week ago. Robbie Gould won the 5-hour, 16-minute marathon with the Ravens by booting a 38-yard field goal in overtime in what special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, a veteran of 24 seasons, called the worst conditions he has ever witnessed. But I think it’s worth bringing to light what holder Adam Podlesh talked about with his role in the process, how Gould works to remain accurate in the tricky winds at Soldier Field.

    Podlesh said the winds were swirling for much of the game and conditions were at their worst near the end of the game. As the Bears set up for the game-winning kick, going toward the North end zone, a strong wind was carrying across the field to the West (Bears sideline). In instances like this, Podlesh tilts the ball toward himself (Ravens sideline) in order to help guide the kick.

    “A lot of teams don’t really have to ever do this because they don’t deal with a ton of wind,” Podlesh said. “I know there are other teams that do that. I did it briefly with Josh Scobee in Jacksonville and when I came up here Robbie asked me if I knew how to do that and I said yes and we kept on working it.”

    In perfect conditions, like the Bears had Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome, Podlesh tilts the ball slightly toward himself and a little toward the goalpost. With the wind blowing hard last week, he tilted the ball more toward himself. In a situation where the wind would have been blowing the opposite direction, Podlesh would have held the ball straight up. He never tilts the ball away from himself because a soccer-stryle kicker like Gould could strike the top of the ball with his ankle if he did that.

    “You never want to tilt the ball that way with a right-footed soccer-style kicker,” Podlesh said. “But what we’ll do is I’ll put it just straight up and that will help hold it up the opposite way. When you do this (tilting it toward himself or leaving it straight up), it will usually give you about 10 to 15 more yards without the ball breaking. So, it will stay on line 10 to 15 more yards depending on how hard the wind is until it breaks and starts moving.”

    Gould’s kick just made it inside the right upright sending the Bears to victory.

    “That kick held for such a long time,” Podlesh said. “We knew it was going to break. I knew it was going to go in and I’m there, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ I knew it was going to go in I was just waiting for it to break. There was too much wind for it not to.”

    10. I thought the Long family, from Bears guard Kyle to Rams defensive end Chris, and everyone else was classy and humble in the week leading up to a tough game for the siblings. Kyle lost his cool for a moment in the second quarter but you figure as a young player he will learn from the situation. The family was all at the game and everyone is relieved it is over. Howie can go back to the Fox studio next Sunday and his sons don’t have to worry about battling one another.

    “I don’t want to play my brother,” Chris said. “I don’t find it fun to have to compete against your brother in a game where it is so violent.”

    Chris and Kyle can find someone else’s brother to go against next week.

    10 a. Word is after the muddy mess last week, Soldier Field will be re-sodded after Friday’s Prep Bowl. That will leave a fresh surface for the Bears when they return home to face the Cowboys on Dec. 9. It gives workers plenty of time to complete the project and it will be a new field not used by the high school kids.

    10 b. Matt Forte’s 77 yards rushing moved him ahead of Neal Anderson and into second place on the franchise’s all-time rushing list. Forte is at 6,178 yards, 12 ahead of Anderson. Walter Payton is a long way off in the top spot at 16,726.

    10 c. Matt Forte is moving up other charts as well. He has 323 receptions and needs seven more to pass Marty Booker and Curtis Conway (329) and move into third on the all-time list. Johnny Morris is No. 2 at 356 and Walter Payton is No. 1 with 492.

    10 d. Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said he didn’t know he had been called for roughing the passer on a goal-line play until he reached the sideline.

    “I knew I was the one that hit him but I thought it was a pass interference,” Brockers said. “We got like four of those. I thought I had a clean hit on the guy and it was something else. I didn’t even know it was roughing the passer.”

    Brockers pledged to appeal if he is fined for the hit on Josh McCown.

    10 e. It was good to see former St. Louis Cardinals head coach Jim Hanifan in the press box before the game. Regarded as one of the finest offensive line coaches there has ever been, Hanifan is close to the Rams organization although he became persona non grata during Steve Spagnuolo’sbmbiggs@tribune.com tenure. Hanifan said he’s got a terrific relationship with coach Jeff Fisher, who is in his second season. Hanifan was a guest in Bears training camp for a week in 2009.

    10 f. The Lions are hosting the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. What does that have to do with the Bears? This marks the sixth time the NFC North rivals have played on the holiday in Detroit in the last 13 years. The last time the Bears played the Lions on Thanksgiving was in 1999 at the Silverdome. That 14-year drought without a game against the Lions on Thanksgiving matches the longest for the Bears since they first started playing Detroit on Thanksgiving in 1934. The Bears went from 1950 through 1963 without playing the Lions on Thanksgiving. The Bears last played on Thanksgiving in 2004 at Dallas.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sport...gs-10-thoughts-bears-20131125,0,7042108.story
  2. Jimmors

    Jimmors The Rhymenoceros Staff Member SuperFan

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    Damn, just think that Devin would have had 23 Returns for TDs by now if it werent for holding penalties.
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  3. DaTreeBears

    DaTreeBears Pro-Bowler

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    I'm not making excuses because Bears D is packer women ugly, but those refs were a joke. They screwed the Bears a few times and the Rams once. When you have instant replay to correct an egregious wrong call, why they can't they be used to overturn a miserable missed penalty call makes no sense. As if refs are perfect and never screw up throwing a flag is just idiotic. Even the refs rump ranger buddy in both agreed they screwed up the call for the Rams.

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