Chicago Bears

2011 NFL Season: Comebacks, Comedowns, and “Come On” (Week 4)

The story of Week 4 was the dramatic comeback of the Detroit Lions over the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas. The Lions were being soundly beaten in all three phases of the game and trailed 27-3 in the second quarter. The Cowboys were poised to restore hope in the Lone Star State and serve notice that they could deliver convincing wins against quality opponents. Instead, following consecutive Pick Six plays off passes by Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys proved they remain uniquely positioned to lose games in frustratingly compelling ways. The Cowboys fell 34-30 and headed into the bye week with the same old questions and the same old answers.

The second big story of Week 4 unfolded in Cincinnati where the brash Bengals, led by coach Marvin Lewis, upset the undefeated Buffalo Bills, 23-20. The Bengals held Harvard’s Finest (Ryan Fitzpatrick) out of the end zone for the first time all season. With the smartest guy in the room unable to manufacture much offense, the visitors were left to lick their wounds. The Bills should have seen this coming. In 2010, the undefeated Houston Texans took a flight to Cincinnati and returned home without Owen Daniels and without their unblemished record. The Bengals, a team that has come to bank on physical, imposing wins over the Ravens, pushed themselves within striking distance with a 2-2 record.

Ok, maybe the second biggest story of the week was the 49ers surprising win over the Philadelphia Eagles. A few quick things about the Niners: Jim Harbaugh is a Michigan man and he’s cut out for this coaching business. He routinely handed Pete Carroll his lunch while both were at Stanford. Jim stole the keys from Pete’s Ferrari and drove it all around northern California every time the Cardinal “shocked the world.” The 49ers were a team with great expectations in 2010. The failure of Alex Smith to mature was at the root of much of their trouble — and the team seemed to lack mental toughness and depth in the running game. Remember Favre’s improbable pass to Greg Lewis in 2009? That was the last time the 49ers were where they thought they should be — until Sunday. The Eagles continue their tailspin, but the story of this game was the resilience of the 49ers; the maturation of Alex Smith; the depth of the Niners running game; and the toughness of a defense shaped by Iron Mike Singletary.

In other news:

  1. My Steelers stunk up the joint in Houston with a disheartening road kill look-alike game vs. the Texans. Andre Johnson left the game in the 2nd quarter. His injury provided no relief as Arian Foster ran all the way to Knoxville on the Steelers front 7. The Steelers need to bounce back. The Texans need to sustain momentum as they approach the middle of the most physical stretch of games in franchise history (Pittsburgh, Oakland, Baltimore).
  2. Matt Cassel’s ribs have healed. Look for him to make some noise with Breaston and Bowe until defenses figure out that the Chiefs have changed their offensive script for 2011.
  3. The Redskins are hard on the eyes, but Ryan Torain is a fun player. It would be nice to see Shanahan forego the merry-go-round approach to his running game, but it works. The offense gets yards; the GM gets an expendable player that he can cut at the end of each season. Exit stage left.
  4. What are the Miami Dolphins doing? Really. If you know, please call them and let them know.
  5. The Panthers almost won a close one in Chicago. I know you cannot “play the schedule,” but I can’t help thinking this team is going to start winning some of these close games. Newton continues to impress with his accuracy. Shockey continues to inflame with his tenacity. The refs should have come under fire for that call that took a touchdown off the board.
  6. The Raiders were simply ROBBED by the referees in the 3rd quarter against the New England Patriots. Officials picked up a flag on 3rd down that would have put the ball at the 1-yard line. Oakland was in the midst of creating a Decision Moment for the Patriots front line. Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were enjoying considerable success on the ground. While nothing is guaranteed, it is likely that Oakland manages to punch that in and draw within a touchdown of the Patriots. The Decision Moment never game; the game never tightened; the Patriots won…and all of this was done with nary an explanation.
  7. The Packers look like they would run over a nun.
  8. The Jets are all talk. Funny thing about talking smack — when that’s how you derive your identity, you don’t always play better by shutting up. You have to talk the talk all the time — even when you can’t back it up. And that’s when teams go from FEARING you to LAUGHING at you. It’s a slippery slope. Another beat down in Foxboro and the Jets will be comedic fodder for the indefatigable New York media.
  9. It’s too bad the Colts don’t have Peyton Manning.

Bye weeks begin in Week 5. Not soon enough for Dallas. Too soon for the Ravens. Just in time for the Rams and Browns. Jackson and Hillis could use a little rest before resuming their commitment to deliver pain to defenses around the league. (Through Torain and Hightower in that mix.)

 

2010 NFL Season: Championship Weekend

There is no need to be complex about the games on tap for this afternoon.  These teams all know one another.  They all play tough, physical games.  Today’s contests should be no different and should come down to the wire.

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears.

I am sure that I like Jay Cutler, the QB, much more than most people.  I think he can do most of the things that Aaron Rodgers can do, but I don’t believe he does them as artfully or as consistently.  That should be the difference.  Packers 27, Bears 23.

Greg Jennings: One-Fourth of the League's Most Explosive WR Corps

New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jets are doing something very wise this week.  They have been quiet in the days leading up to today.  They have not sought to manufacture tension or animosity.  They’ve needed this time to rebuild their emotional reserves following 2 games vs. heated rivals in New England and Indianapolis.  I think the Jets will that energy against a healthy defense featuring the league’s most dynamic player in Troy Polamalu.  The Steelers also bring the league’s #2 offense over the second half of the season.  I like the Steelers to finish what they started in the 2nd half against Baltimore where they outscored the Ravens 24-3.  I know everyone expects a close game, but I have a feeling that Pittsburgh may have tapped into something that really works.  When is the last time anyone outscored the Ravens by 3 touchdowns in a half?  Steelers 38, Jets 13.

Rashard Mendenhall: Ground and Pound

Note: Roethlisberger is 9-2 in playoff games.  The losses? 1)  A 41-17 blowout loss in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, at home vs. the New England Patriots during his rookie season.  2) A 2007 Division Round Game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars at home.  The Steelers played without Willie Parker (the league’s leading rusher through Week 16 that season) and Aaron Smith.  The Jags won on a gutsy 4th-and-2 draw play by David Garrard.  The league later admitted to missing the hold that kept Steelers DT Casey Hampton from crushing Garrard.  That’s it. 

Note 2: According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Defensive Hog Index is one stat that tends to track well with predicting post-season winners.  How did it work last season?  Not so great.  The number 1 ranking Green Bay Packers were knocked off in an offensive firestorm out in the Arizona desert.  What’s the deal in 2010?  The Steelers ranked #1, the Jets are #4, the Bears are #6, and the Packers are #10.

2010 NFL Season: Week 12 in Review

The season is winding down and the significant games for this week are in the books.  Tonite, the San Francisco 49ers play the Arizona Cardinals.  The game may well prove to be very entertaining (Remember last year’s tilt in San Francisco?), but both of these outfits have proven unfit for the rigors of this season.  Big winners this week: the New England Patriots who have found a way to get deep without deep speed; the San Diego Chargers who are serving notice that they are a team to be reckoned with — until the playoffs start; the Chicago Bears who provided a template for beating the high-flying Eagles; the Atlanta Falcons who showed that in the Dirty South, they have just enough to take all comers; and the “Survivors” — Pittsburgh and Baltimore — who were probably peeking around their Week 12 opponents, and thinking about health insurance for Week 13.

Chargers, Chargers Everywhere!

A few random thoughts:

  • As great as Peyton Manning has been in his career, he cannot like living THE LIFE OF MCNABB right now.  Without Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Ryan Lilja, Manning is experiencing life on the other side.  He still has Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and others, but this is his first taste in years of getting hammered — with no hope of relief.  Manning, unlike McNabb is not able to make plays with his feet — and it shows.  He’s giving up interceptions for touchdowns.  He isn’t choosing to throw the ball at the feet of his receivers to avoid turnovers.  He’s taking big risks and losing.  Fortunately for Manning and the Colts, they’ve lost 2 games in a row, but moved ahead of Jacksonville in the playoff hunt.
  • In 5 of his last 7 games, Manning has averaged less than 6 yards per pass attempt.  That’s awful.  You cannot win in today’s NFL doing that.  During that span, the Colts are 4-3, with one of those wins coming by 6 points over the Bengals who were “fueled” by Carson Palmer’s 3 INTs.  Manning has thrown 10 picks over the frame — and had two games with no touchdown passes.
  • The national media is articulate, understanding, and acutely accusatory in their analysis of Peyton Manning’s present condition.  Commentators are able to identify injured players at skill positions and along the offensive line.  Many have become Maddenesque with their ability to break down offensive line play (Exhibit A: former wide receiver Cris Collinsworth; Exhibit B: Yahoo.com’s Shut Down Corner column).  THE LIFE OF MCNABB, however, is not about making excuses.  It’s about making plays…even when playing with guys like James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Hank Baskett, and Freddie Mitchell.  It’s about figuring a way to move the ball on the ground even when your running backs all weigh 180 pounds soaking wet and the last tackle they broke was made by a toddler on the living room floor.  The Colts may make the playoffs, but I suspect Peyton Manning may need what Jay Cutler needed last year if he is to right this ship, right now.

What Can This Brown Do For You?

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A Look Back at the 2005 NFL Draft

Back in April, the NFL concluded the 2010 draft.  This year’s draft was punctuated by the prime time debut of Round 1 at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall.  The draft was extended over a three day period and received wide acclaim from fans and media, alike.

It is too early to say who the winners are for the 2010 draft.  Some draft picks never make it out of camp; some never fulfill the promise of their rookie contract.  Still others exceed the greatest expectations.  It has been widely stated that the average career of an NFL player is 4-5 years.  Given that, let’s take a look at the 2005 NFL Draft.

The Rules of the Game

There are as many ways to evaluate the success of a draft class as there are to evaluate players.  What matters most?  Years as a starter, Pro Bowl selections, All Pro selections, team wins, championships, value at selected position, value over next selection?  There are a lot of criteria to consider.

I’ll leave that final determination to you.  For my own purposes, I admit using a subjective mix of all of those criteria.   Here is a link for you to make your own decision.

Top Dog of the 2005 NFL Draft

1. Dallas Cowboys.   The Cowboys used two first round selections to grab DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears.  Ware has become a dominant defensive force in the league.  He has been selected to four Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times.  He is arguably the best player at his position in the entire NFL.  Ware, to the Cowboys credit, was taken just before Chargers LB Shawne Merriman.

DeMarcus Ware: 2005 Draft Cream of the Crop

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2009 NFL Season: The Jermichael Finley Effect

On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers opened the action at Chicago’s Soldier Field with a simple off tackle run to the left side.  Ryan Grant ran untouched 62-yards to the end zone.  Check this out.

First Play of the Game: I Formation, TE Motion Left

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2009 NFL Season: The Steel Curtain Falls

Playoff races are heating up around the NFL.  In Pittsburgh, playoff hopes are as icy as Lake Erie in December.  The Steelers have lost five games in a row, including a Thursday night shocker at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.  Things are so bad in Pittsburgh that Brady Quinn completed a mere 6 of 19 passes for 90 yards — and people blamed the DEFENSE.  This was unthinkable after the Steelers flexed their muscles at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver back in November.  Times have changed.  Pittsburgh is miles away from that victory and is in turmoil following a series of redundant, irritatingly close losses to the dregs of the NFL.

According to Mark Kaboly, the Steelers are unaware of what is wrong with the team.  They do not have solutions and are earnestly looking for answers.   His article in the Pittsburgh Tribune featured quotes from players like Casey Hampton, Hines Ward and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer.  None of them seem to know what the problem has been with this team.  Kaboly does a solid job of listing many of the issues, but he doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. AP’s Allan Robinson had the same experience in speaking with Chris Kemoeatu and James Farrior.  There is no one single problem and no one single solution.  Some problems can be fixed in 2009.  Some will take time.  The confusion is in the complexity.  So here goes…Top 10 Reasons Why the Steelers Are STILL Losing:

Is Troy Polamalu's Injury the Real Reason?

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2009 NFL Season: Week 13 Picks

After going 13-2 two weeks ago (missing on Oakland over Cincinnati and Kansas City over Pittsburgh) and following that up with a 10-6 week (including a 41-17 prediction of New Orleans over New England), there is no doubt that I am on fire!!

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2009 NFL Season: Week 10 Pick (Thursday Edition)

It is officially “on.”  We have passed the half-way point of the season.  National sportswriters, desperate for an angle, have begun to pass out “Midway Medals” and “Halfway Honors” to players they cover every week, and the opponents they love to hate.

Tonight, I like the 49ers to win a tight contest.  I’ve picked the Niners on the road vs. the Texans and at home vs. the Titans.  They lost both games.  In between those winnable games was a hard fought loss to the Indianapolis Colts.  Now that the 49ers have definitively proven they would be the “weak sister” of the AFC South, its on to small fish in the NFC.

"Devin, let me hold that for you!"

Aside from desperately needing to win this game, the Bears and 49ers can also commiserate over a pair of embarassing 45-10 losses.   The Falcons beat San Francisco by that score in Week 5.  The Bengals blasted the Bears in Week 7.

I know the college interns have been pouring over databases all week looking for the last time two teams played one another in the same season they lost by that score, by that margin, on a Thursday night, in prime time, with playoff hopes hanging in the balance, with two Black head coaches, with highly-touted quarterbacks who have not quite fit in with the team that drafted them, and, last but not least, with axes to grind against the Minnesota Vikings.  This is certainly going to an epic matchup.

It could go one of  three ways:

  1. San Francisco 45, Chicago 10.
  2. Chicago 45, San Francisco 10.
  3. San Francisco 10, Chicago 10.

There simply isn’t enough time to wait for both of these teams to score 45 points.

I’ll take option 1.  The Niners get it together at home and the world is introduced to Alex Smith for the first time and Vernon Davis, for the second time.

2009 NFL Season: Week 9’s Biggest Losers

The week isn’t over yet, but on Sunday, some teams lost more than a single game.  It’s still early enough that anything can happen, but some teams may be watching their seasons fall apart.  Let’s take a look at the early casualties.

  • San Francisco 49ers. You knew the Titans were a dangerous opponent.  With Vince Young quarterbacking and Mike Heimerdinger calling plays, the Titans were sure to rely on a conservative attack  and their ability to pound the rock and force turnovers.  That’s exactly what happened.  The Titans won 34-27 on the road and forced Alex Smith into a sloppy, hurried game.  Frank Gore was dynamic and versatile, but he didn’t dominate the action like he did before the Viking game.  Suddenly, a team that began the season 3-1 with quality wins over division opponents is sitting at 3-5.  The bad news is that first-place Arizona won at Chicago on the strength of a 5 td performance by Kurt Warner (without Anquan Boldin).  The good news is that the Niners only trail them by 2 games — and already have a win at Arizona.  Mike Singletary has changed quarterbacks.  They score more points with Smith, but have less ball security than under Hill.  Next up: the Bears, Packers, Jags, Seahawks.  There is no reason this team can’t be 7-5 in a month.  Book It: If they’re +8 or better in turnovers over that time frame, they’re going to the playoffs.
  • New York Giants. If the playoffs began tomorrow, the New York Giants would have the same vantage point as the New York Yankees, and you and I.  They’d be watching from home.  The Giants have lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers.  They’ve lost on the road to the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles.  There really is no shame in losing to any of these teams.  The Saints finished in last place last season, but they’ve been remade and have yet to lose a game this season.  Arizona and the Eagles played in the NFC Championship game last year.  San Diego is a perennial playoff contender.  That the Giants have lost to these teams in consecutive weeks is surprising.  That the Giants have failed to score more than 20 points in any of these games is shocking.  The Chargers have been an enigmatic bunch all season.  They’re 5-3, but could be 7-1 or 2-6.  They’re inconsistent and have been unable to stop the run since the injury to Jamal Williams in September.  All of that sounded like a recipe for resurrection in the Meadowlands.  It didn’t happen.  Instead, the same depleted secondary that was undressed by Drew Brees was dissected by Philip Rivers.  The Giants could do “soul-searching” or any number of things on their bye week, but the answers (like the problems) are on the field.  The execution is simply what it has been — on either side of the ball.  When the sun rises tomorrow, the Giants will be 2 games behind the leader of the NFC East.  Next up: Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia.  This could get much worse before it gets any better.  Book It: If the Giants are not able to defeat second and third tier quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Kyle Orton, the season will be over before they meet host Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks.
EliManning_Scramble_JacquesCesaire

Eli Isn't the Only Man On the Run (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

  • Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are kicking themselves tonite for taking the Bengals lightly.  I don’t know why they continue to do that.  It seems they forget that they have a 3-8 record vs. Carson Palmer.  They don’t scare him.  He torches them more regularly and scars them more deeply than any QB in the league.  Really, if they think about it, they’re his bird bitches.  They probably don’t like to admit it, but 8 wins is 8 wins.  The Ravens know they will not be winning the AFC North this season.  They will not be beating the Steelers twice.  They may not even beat them once.  The good news, though, is that they hold tie breakers over the Broncos and Chargers.  Only 1 of them can win the division.  If the Ravens can somehow manage to get to 10 or 11 wins, they can sneak in as the 3rd in the AFC North.  New England, a probably division winner is the only team they’ve lost to in the AFC aside from Cincinnati.  It means their destiny is still in their own hands.  Baltimore can win 6 or 7 of their final 8 games.  If they do, they’re in because of their wins over the AFC West.  Next up: Browns, Colts, Steelers, Packers.  They get Indy and Pitt at home.  Book It: If Baltimore finds a way to win these 4 games and wins out until their Dec. 27th game in Pittsburgh, they’ll beat whomever they play in the Wild Card round.

Teams like the Bears, Texans and Packers lost games yesterday that likely surprised their die-hard fans.  What Bears fan doesn’t expect to beat the Cardinals in Soldier Field?  In all honesty, the Bears simply are not the same team they were at the beginning of the season.  The Bears were fortunate to beat the Steelers this season — and that win has been the cause of all “great expectations” since the signing of Jay Cutler.  It was a quality win.  It was something the Vikings were unable to do.  Still, there hasn’t been much for the Monsters of the Midway to hang their hats on.  Without Urlacher and Hillenmeyer, I don’t expect much.

For all their talent and perennial promise for unleashing potential, the Texans simply cannot be expected to win at Indianapolis.  I expect them to do what they did — play tough, play a little less than smart, and lose.

The Packers simply are not a good team.  They play unevenly and had to be flatter than week-old Coke after playing against Brett Favre under the national spotlight at home last week and then traveling in anonymity to lifeless Raymond James Stadium for a late game vs. a rookie quarterback and a rookie coach.  Teams that lose games like this don’t really belong in the post-season.  Green Bay will find their way out.

Addendum:

  • Philadelphia Eagles. Anytime you lose at home to a division rival, it’s painful and it adversely impacts your playoff positioning.  This version of the Eagles is losing games they are supposed to win.  They’ve lost at Oakland…and now this.  If you don’t think the Eagles are going to regret this loss, consider that over the next four weeks, they will be on the road at San Diego, at Chicago and at Atlanta.  The Eagles could lose every one of these games.  The last time the Eagles played on the West Coast, they lost to Oakland.  Against Dallas, the Eagles only ran the ball 23 times.  They didn’t run many plays overall.  Philly only converted 4 of 12 first downs, including some notable failures on 3rd and 4th down with short distances to go.  Jason Peters was injured.  Asante Samuel was roughed up.  Sheldon Brown was toasted.  Brian Westbrook was inactive.  Michael Vick was ineffective (He’s got time.)  McNabb looked like his ribs are still sore…and he also looked like he always looks.

2009 NFL Season: An Early Peek at Week 9

Some games are already taking on a playoff atmosphere.  The Week 8 Falcons-Saints game on Monday night was one such game.  The one thing that is painfully clear to me (and probably to the Atlanta Falcons general manager) is that the Falcons really miss Harry Douglas.  If you don’t live in Atlanta or didn’t go to Louisville, you’ve probably never heard of him.  Douglas is a speedy wideout who was injured and lost for the season during pre-season.  He had two of his best games in 2008 vs. Chicago (5 catches, 96 yards) and Carolina (4 catches, 92 yards).  Douglas is a young guy, but he can stretch the field and create space for Roddy White.  That’s what’s been missing as teams exploit the absence of Jerrious Norwood and the presence of Michael Jenkins.

Next week, we’re going to see who gets off the mat…and who rolls over.

A month ago, if you told someone that the Chargers had the remotest chance of beating the Giants in New York, you’d have been run out of town.  Yet, after overpowering losses at New Orleans, home vs. the Cardinals and down in Philadelphia, the Giants may have shrunk the betting line to 2 or 3 points.  The Chargers are still a shell of their former selves, but anything is possible — especially in a game where Philip Rivers and Eli Manning will be playing for bragging rights.

Around Christmas time, when the Arizona Cardinals get the final confirmation that their 9-7 record is not good enough to get into the playoffs, they’re going to be kicking themselves for losing at home to Carolina.  They’re going on the road to Chicago.  The Cardinals have the perfect personnel to throttle the Bears all up and down Lake Shore Drive.  But, if Kurt Warner has his mind on other things, they can lose just like Cleveland did last week.  And if they do that, they’ll be watching the 49ers in the post-season.

Dallas travels to Philadelphia for what should be a classic confrontation of high-powered offenses.  The Cowboys have proven to have a stronger preference for running than the Eagles.  Too often Andy Reid get enamored with the beauty and grace of their passing game.  If that happens again this week, Dallas will leave town in first place.

The Miami Dolphins have had an interesting few weeks.  They lost a tough, tough game to the New Orleans Saints.  The offense could only muster 3 points vs. the Jets for much of the game, but the special teams unit exploded behind Ted Ginn, Jr.  The New England Patriots are coming off a bye and this could be the end of the ride.

The Baltimore Ravens play at the Cinncinati Bengals.  This is a game of the week candidate.  The Bengals have a one game lead over the Ravens and have already won in Baltimore.  A win here forces the Ravens to turn their attention to beating the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers twice…and they haven’t played this season.  If Baltimore loses, the chances of them making the playoffs, to me, drop considerably.

Don’t the Texans have something to prove?  When are they going to prove it?  They get to play the Colts in Indy this week and prove they can run and pass and stop the run and slow down the pass.  If they can’t do it, Indy gets to 8-0 and holds all the cards.  If Houston can find a way, a much deserved bye week is just around the corner.

NOTE: It had occurred to me that very little was probably said with respect to “race” last week as Mike Singletary’s 49ers faced off against Jim Caldwell’s Colts.  The NFL still has a long way to go, but it is worth noting that 5 of the last 6 teams to compete in the Super Bowl have had either a Black head coach or general manager.  The lone exception to this new trend is the New England Patriots.

The Raiders, Rams, Bills and Browns are all on a bye week.  Television programmers have never been so happy!

Monday night — Steelers vs. Broncos.  That’s a big one, even though the Ravens subjected Denver to an old-fashioned AFC North chin checking.  Denver will show up to play the Steelers and their fans will be juiced.  This game will get all the hype that probably should go to two teams who’ve already outdueled these two (Baltimore and Cincinnati).