Monday, October 20, 2014

Bears Take It On the Chin Against Dolphins

If you watched the Miami Dolphins-Green Bay Packers game on October 12, you knew the Bears would be challenged yesterday.  With a couple minutes left to play, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were down by 4 points and they had 60 yards to go for a score.  On the Miami 47-yard line with a 1:44 remaining, Rodgers was sacked and fumbled.  Luckily for the Packers, offensive tackle  T. J. Lang recovered the ball to give Green Bay an extra opportunity.  Rodgers prevailed and 6 completions later, the Packers regained the lead with just 6 seconds remaining.  Game over. Packers won, 27-24.

On September 28, in Soldier Field, the Packers dominated the Bears in the second half and won easily, 38-17.  And although the Bears played tough on October 12 to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 27-13, it was apparent that the Bears could have a tough game on their hands against Miami.  

On the Bears first possession, Cutler tossed two short passes to Alshon Jefferey and the Bears had a third and one.  Rather than attempt a short run, the Bears tried to fool the Dolphins with a long pass to Jefferey, but it failed and they had to punt.  It is easy enough to suggest that the Bears should have run for the first, but if you have watched the Bears play this season, often it seems like the opposition has the Bears playbook and know the game plan--they seem to know exactly what the Bears are going to do.  I can't blame the Bears for the long pass attempt.  

Ryan Tannehill had 49 yards rushing against the Packers and he must have seen the same opportunity against the Bears because he was running again.  On Miami's second possession, Tannehill's 14- yard run ignited an 81-yard touchdown drive.  The Dolphins were up 7-0.


Whatever defense the Dolphins were throwing at the Bears, initially they were covering the wide receivers well and Cutler was going heavily to Matt Forte on short passes. But when Cutler fumbled  (recovered by the Bears) and a few plays later he was sacked, it was time to punt the ball back to the Dolphins.  When the Dolphins had the ball, they moved it close enough for a long field goal attempt, but they missed--two Jay Ratliff sacks helped the Bears cause during that drive.  

On the next Bears possession, Cutler was sacked and then he tossed an interception to Reshad Jones who ran through the Bears offense that was in disarray.  When Brandon Marshall responded amidst of falling Bears players to catch Jones and make the tackle after a 50 yard scamper, it was really a fine moment in the midst of misery.  Marshall showed something of the old time Bears in that play.  Trestman might show that clip about a hundred times this week.  

Tannehill only had 23 yards to go for a touchdown and that's what he did with a couple passes.  It was Dolphins 14-0 with less than 6 minutes in the half.  The Bears went three and out, which was followed by a stalled Dolphins drive just before half.  

On the Bears first possession of the second half, Cutler featured hand offs to Forte and passes to Marshall to move the ball to the 10 yard line.  He tossed a TD pass to Forte from there and after the extra point, the Dolphins' lead was cut, 14-7.  On the drive, the Bears had used up 7 minutes. 

On the Dolphins' possession, Tannehill himself had a 30 yard run in the  midst of several Lamar Miller runs and receptions that gave the Dolphins another touchdown.  As the fourth quarter was about to start, the Dolphins had a 21-7 lead.  Both teams essentially had just one possession for the entire quarter.

At that point, the Bears could still come back, but Cutler had taken a beating and Forte was paying dearly for every yard.  The Dolphins were doing a good job defensing Marshall with some exceptions, but you have to wonder who was going to step up for the Bears.  

A Culver sack and fumble gave the ball back to the Dolphins on the Bears 16 yard line. Tannehill had another short drive for a touchdown, but the Bears defense held. The Dolphins settled for a field goal and the score was 24-7.  

Two plays from scrimmage later, Cutler hit Dante Rosario who fumbled the ball back to the Dolphins who took over at the  Bears 35-yard line.  The Bears defense held again and the Dolphins tried a 37-yard field goal that failed.  

On the Bears next drive, a 24-yard pass play to Forte and pass interference call on a pass to Jefferey helped move the ball down the field to the 5-yard line.  On three runs, Forte ramrodded the ball in for the score.  The score was 24-14, but there was only 7:31 left on the clock and the Dolphins had the ball. 

Tannehill was able to execute a slow drive that ate up over 5 minutes and a Bears timeout.  With 2:16 remaining, Miami kicked a field goal and took a 27-14 lead.    Chris Williams of the Bears was able to return the Dolphins kick 50 yards into good field position for the Bears possession, but the Bears drive stalled at the 15 yard line.  The Dolphins won, 27-14. 

At this point in the season, the Bears are demonstrating some talent, but they are not playing as well as several other teams.  After the game, Bear players found it difficult to describe what they need to do to improve other than suggest that they need to play more consistently.  It was another tough, yet uninspiring loss that seemed to suggest that the Bears are talented, but have not played up to their potential.  

The Dolphins pass coverage at once inhibited the Bears' passing game and their pressure forced some errors on the part of Cutlet and his receivers.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Watt and Houston Come Up Short in Epic Battle against Indianapolis

Football is the most beloved drama of our times.  Whether in front of our TV sets/devices or watching in the stands, football has it all.  Nothing compares to its drama and spectacle.  

Last night, you didn't need an emotional tie to the Texans-Colts battle to get reeled in hook, line, and sinker.  There was J. J. Watt, the Texans defensive end, who gives his best every second and seemingly exhausts himself in the first ten minutes of the game and then calls on superhuman energy to keep going.  You had to keep watching even though the game looked like it was over in the first quarter.  What could Watt do?  

And there was Andrew Luck, who is looking more and more like one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  

The game featured several notable contributions: T. Y. Hilton's 9 receptions for 223 yards,  Pat McAffee's onside kick, Ahmad Bradshaw's rushes for extra yards and Arian Foster's smooth runs for 141 yards including 2 touchdowns.  Watt's play throughout the game and his fumble recovery and touchdown were fan-pleasing.  Ryan Fitzpatrick looked capable, but he was often rushed. The highlight reel for this game runs long and deep into both lineups. 

After the Texans went three and out on their first series,  the Colts Griff Whalen returned their punt for 17 yards to the 36-yard line.  The Colts had mixed success on offense, but Luck connected with Dwayne Allen for 15 yards and T.Y. Hilton for 40 yards. Trent Richardson runs kept the Houston defense honest, but the drive stalled and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 27 yard field goal to put the Colts ahead, 3-0. As fans were wondering how Houston would respond, Pat McAfee surprised everyone with an onside kickoff that he recovered.  Before the Texans defense could swallow their Gatorade, they were back on the field.  Immediately, Andrew Luck went to Hilton again, this time for 49 yard and Trent Richardson took it in from the 5-yard line.  After the extra point, Indianapolis was ahead, 10-0.

You have to give the Houston fans credit, because it didn't seem like the stadium quieted down much.  It's one of the benefits when you have a great defensive star, a big part of the drama comes from matching up to adversity.  

Another Texans three and out was followed by another good punt return by Griff Whalen--this one for 14 yards to Colts 44.  A couple runs set up a third and short for Luck who hit Dwayne Allen for 18 yards to the Texans 31-yard line. Luck hit Hilton for 14 yards and a pass interference call came a few players later.  Ahmad Bradshaw took it in from 5 yards. Bradshaw would prove to be difficult for the Texans to bring down most of the night. 

When the Texans had the ball, Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked twice on their series and once again the Texas offense went three and out.  The Texas defense buckled down, but Luck was able connect with Hilton on a third down pass that yields 37 yards to the 30-yard line. Mercifully, the Colts took some time to march down the field where Luck tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener.  As the first quarter closed, Indianapolis leads, 24-0.  Still the Houston crowd is not quiet.

Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is able to put together a touchdown drive that features a 28-yard pass play to Arian Foster. Fitzpatrick hits Andre Johnson from 4-yards out for the score.  Colts lead 24-7.  Whalen returns the kickoff to the Indianapolis 24.  On first down, Luck  is intercepted by Justin Tuggle who returns it to the Colts 24-yard line. Two plays later, Arian Foster rushes in from 12 yards out for the touchdown. The Colts lead is cut to 24-14. 

Luck puts together another long deliberate drive that ends with an Adam Vinatieri field goal.  Ahmad Bradshaw is featured in this drive as a receiver and rusher.  Houston continues to have trouble tackling Bradshaw. At the half, the  Colts lead, 27-14. 
 
The first three possessions of the second half yield no points. When Houston takes over on their own 30-yard line, Fitzpatrick calls Foster's number and he responds with an 8-yard and 34-yard run.  A pass to Andre Johnson gains 26 yards and Foster finishes the drive with a 2-yard scoring run. The Colts are still ahead, but only, 27-21.  

Luck goes back to Hilton on the next possession on a pass for  18-yards.  After a  short gain by Richardson, Luck hits Hilton for 33-yards and a score.  The Colts try for a 2-point conversion and fail. Colts lead, 33-21. After Arian Foster softens up on the Colts defense on a couple runs, Fitzpatrick hits Damaris Johnson for 40 yards, but the drive stalls.  The Texans miss a field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter and the Colts take over.  Luck moves the Colts up to midfield and fumbles when he is sacked--Watt picks up the lose ball and runs in for a 45-yard score.  The Colts lead is cut to 33-28 after the extra point.  

The Colts next drive stalls and when the Texans take over, they move the ball towards midfield, but when Fitzpatrick hits Andre Johnson, he fumbles and the Colts Mike Adams recovers at the Colts 40-yard line .  Luck takes over, but the Houston defense spearheaded by Watt is able to hold the Colts one last time.  The ball is punted back to the Texans with 2:21 remaining.  

An exhausted J.J. Watt and his defensive teammates watch as Fitzpatrick and the Texans offense have one last shot at redemption, but they are standing at their own 9-yard line.  It proves too much for Fitzpatrick, who has been rushed all day long.  On the second play of the series, he is sacked and fumbles.   D'Qwell Jackson recovers. Game over. 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bears versus Falcons: Receivers, Rushers, and Quarterbacks

Both the Falcons and the Bears have excellent receiving and rushing corps, and talented quarterbacks. Here's a look at some stats as they head into Sunday's match in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome. 

Falcon wide receiver Julio Jones is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds.  He has 40 receptions this year for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Receiver Roddy White has 16 receptions for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Tight end Levine Toilolo is 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds has 8 receptions for 69 yards and 1 touchdown.  Former Bears star, Devin Hester, has 14 receptions for 212 yards and 1 touchdown.  Quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 130 passes on 197 attempts for a 66% completion rate with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His QB rating is 96.4. Ryan has 9 rushes for 47 yards and no touchdowns.  Running back Steven Jackson has 63 rushes for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns plus 9 receptions for 57 yards.  Rookie Devonta Freeman has 19 rushes for 73 yards and 12 receptions for 103 yards.  Jacquizz Rodgers has 19 rushes for 75 yards and 1 touchdown and 7 receptions for 44 yards.  Running back Antone Smith has 11 rushes for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns and also has 6 receptions for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. The bottom line for the Falcons is that they have a lot of offensive talent in the skill positions and they need to involve a lot of players. 


Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall is 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds. He has 19 receptions for 188 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Receiver Alshon Jeffery, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, has 26 receptions for 359 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Martellus Bennett, the Bears tight end, is 6-foot-7 and 248 pounds.  Bennett has 32 receptions for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Both Marshall and Jeffrey have been hobbled.  Jay Cutler has completed 130 passes on 191 attempts for a 68.1 completion rate with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His QB rating is 94.9. Cutler has 16 rushes for 90 yards and 1 touchdown.  Bears running back Matt Forte has 82 rushes for 319 yards and 1 touchdown.  Rookie running back Ka'Deem Carey has 18 rushes for 78 yards.

The Bears are often mentioned as the one of the top receiving teams in the NFL, but injuries have slowed their performance although not markedly.  Like a number of other teams, the Bears have struggled with the idea of keeping a fullback because they often struggle on runs in the red zone.  Short passes to Martellus Bennett has been a good option close in.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bears Fall to Panthers

The Chicago Bears lost to the Carolina Panthers in an odd game yesterday that will be remembered by the Bears' poor offensive showing in the second half.  No touchdowns, but fumbles, sacks, and interceptions led to the Bears' defeat. It was a game where defensive plays on both sides of the ball set up most of the scores.

Fans should have known they were in for an odd game when the Panthers scored first on a fluke punt return.  Bears gunner Teddy Williams hit Panthers return man Philly Brown who was waiting for the ball to arrive.  Brown got knocked down and the ball was on the ground with two Bears and two Panthers piling up for it.  Brown who had gotten up saw the ball outside the pile and picked it up and ran 79 yards for the score. 

After the the Bears Isaiah Frey stripped the ball away from Panthers Kelvin Banjamin after a catch, the Bears moved down to the 10-yard line where Cutler hit Matt Forte for the score to tie the game.  When the Panthers had the ball again deep in their own territory, Newton was sacked by Willie Young and lost the ball.  Lamar Huston recovered on the 12 yard line.  On third down, Cutler ran it in for the score and the Bears were up, 14-7. 

A little later, Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery on the Panthers' 30-yard line and the big receiver dashed in for the score.  The Bears must have been feeling pretty good about this time. 

Newton and the Panthers came back with a 7 play, 79 yard drive that culminated in a 9-yard touchdown pass to former Bear Greg Olsen and the Bears lead was 21-14 at the half.

In the third quarter, Newton passed to Kelvin Banjamin in the end zone who could not make the grab, but Kyle Fuller who was covering him was called for pass interference.  Chris Ogbonnaya took the ball in from 1-yard out and after the extra point, the score was tied at 21-21. A Bears' drive stalled on the Carolina 27 and Gould kicked a field goal.  The Bears were ahead, 24-21.

In the fourth quarter both offenses were stymied for the first few possessions.  A Cutler pass intended for Santonio Holmes was intercepted by Thomas DeCoud that gave the  Panthers possession on the Bears 32.   When the Panthers drive stalled, Graham Ganno kicked a field goal and the score was tied once again, this time 24-24. 

On the Bears' possession, Forte fumbled and gave up the ball to the Panthers on the Bears 23.  A few minutes later, Newton hit Greg Olsen on a 6-yard touchdown pass.  The Panthers had the lead, 31-24. The Bears had the ball with 2:18 remaining. Cutler was able to move the ball up to the Bears 45, but a couple sacks and two incompletions gave the ball back to the Panthers for the final seconds. A couple knees by Newton and the game ended. 

An odd game all the way around, with the Bears feeling good in the first half, and the Panthers redeeming themselves in the second.   It was a difficult loss for the Bears and perhaps easy to place blame for, but difficult to do so with any conviction.  The Bears lost because of a some plays with poor execution--I don't see this one as a real learning experience for anyone.  I don't believe it was a poor game plan.  I don't believe Cutler was horrific--he had 28 completions on 36 pass attempts--a 77.78% completion percentage.  Yes he did have 2 interceptions.  Matt Forte hardly ever fumbles, fumbled on a critical drive at a critical location. 

As George Halas would do under the circumstances, you look ahead and focus on the next game: "Who do we play next, kid." 

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bears versus Carolina Panters: Who Are the Carolina Panthers? How about Tomorrow's Game?



The Carolina Panthers became the 29th NFL franchise in 1993.  Founder Jerry Richardson had been working on establishing a franchise for the Carolinas since 1987. Like other franchise efforts, politicians lobbied and fans showed their enthusiasm by demonstrating a ticket-buying commitment.  Preseason games were sold out in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Columbia.  Plans were made to privately finance a stadium and good faith efforts were made that demonstrated a true commitment by the community to buy club seats, luxury boxes and more. 

The Carolina Panthers are in the NFC South and began playing in 1995.  In their second season they went 12-4.  In 2003, they reached the Super Bowl and lost to the New England Patriots, 32-29.  The Panthers own the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and conduct their training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  The Carolinas have a very large growing population that is currently over 14.6 million. North Carolina now has a larger population than New Jersey. 

Ron Rivera was hired as head coach in 2011 and the Panthers picked up Cam Newton in the draft.  Rivera’s Panthers made in the playoffs last year and lost to the 49ers in the division match.  
Rivera was a popular linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984-1992.  He was linebacker coach with the Eagles and defensive coordinator for the Bears and the Chargers before he took on the head coaching position with Carolina.  He is one of four Bears from the 1985 championship team who have gone into coaching—others are Leslie Fraser and Mike Singletary--and Jeff Fisher who was on injured reserve for the 1985 Bears season and worked as an assistant to Buddy Ryan. 

The Carolina Panthers are an expansion team that was instantly competitive.  They have a good fan base and a good number of transplants to the Carolinas who follow other teams as well.  

Tomorrow's Game

When the Bears meet the Carolina Panthers tomorrow, they will be up against a good team that has struggled recently due to injuries.  While the Packers beat the Bears, 38-17, last weekend, the Ravens whacked the Panthers, 38-10.  Quarterback Cam Newton has been playing with sore ribs and an ankle injury that has kept him from running with the ball—a big strength for the QB from Auburn who has run for over 700 yards in two of his seasons.  The offensive line has also struggled and injuries to their running backs have stacked up. 

However, the Panthers seem more concerned with the defense.  
Ron Rivera, the Panthers’ head coach, loves a tough defense. But the Panthers have been having a hard time against the run recently and that’s Rivera’s biggest concern going into the Bears game. Rivera is looking for improvements, but like a lot of coaches at this time of the year, he states that it’s not time to panic.  He suggests that it’s more a matter of players doing their part—that some of the problems stem from defenders taking unnecessary chances and moving outside their position. 

The Bears-Panters game will feature two very good quarterbacks. Jay Cutler leads the 2-2 Bears into the game with a 65.8% completion rate and a QB rating of 94.7.  Cam Newton brings his 2-2 Panthers into the game with a 63.8% completion rate and a QB rating of 98.2. 
The Panthers know that a healthy Cam Newton can do so much more. 

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships and other fine books. 

Jose Abreu First Year with the White Sox

Jose Abreu found a new home in Chicago playing for the White Sox this year.  His April performance was a firecracker start to his MLB career--knocking out 10 home runs and accumulating 32 RBIs.  Manager Robin Ventura suggested at the time that those around the club keep their expectations in check--it's was early in the season.  Now that the season is over, let's take a quick look at Abreu's stats for the year.  Abreau lost some playing time this season with tendinitis in his left ankle, but still saw plenty of action.

Jose Abreu's Stats:


He played in 145 games with 556 at bats,  80 runs scored, 176 hits, 107 RBIs, a .317 batting average, .383 on base percentage, and a  .581 slugging percentage.  He hit 36 home runs.

Importance to the White Sox 

Fans found it a very interesting season with Abreu around, and he'll be even more important next year with Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Gordon Beckam gone.  All three former Sox stars had disappointing years. 

Beckham still has several years remaining in his career and a change of venue might be just what he needs to correct some technical difficulties in his game.  

Konerko has retired as one of the most beloved Sox of all time.  He played for 18 years, 16 for the White Sox.  

Dunn's first year with the Sox was one of the most painful in memory in 2011.  He came back and played well in 2012 and 2013, but he was having a sub-par year in 2014 when he was traded to Oakland.  Dunn has had 14 years in the big leagues.  He has retired now that Oakland's season is over. 

Abreu defected from Cuba last fall after playing several years of professional ball there. The 27 year old rookie joins three other Cuban players on the White Sox:  Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Adrian Nieto. Teammates are getting to know Abreu and it seems like everyone likes the young man, his work ethic, and his humility. 

The White Sox are paying $68 Million for the first baseman/designator hitter's services for six years.  Many baseball writers and reporters are calling that a deal.   

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of  The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life), Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle, and other fine books.  



Friday, October 3, 2014

Vikings-Packers Ouch!

I wasn't sure that the Thursday Night Game that featured the Minnesota Vikings versus the Green Bay Packers was going to be a good game.  Yes, the Vikings were coming into last night's game even with the Packers at 2-2.  And yes, both teams were coming off wins.  It sounded like most of the analysts expected a dead even game.  But the Vikings would be without their new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, who hurt his ankle the previous week, and Adrian Peterson who remains out indefinitely due to legal issues.  Bridgewater had passed for 317 yards against the Falcons and left last Sunday's game with an ankle injury after a Vikings touchdown and a 2-point conversion put them ahead, 35-28.  Backup Christian Ponder came on in relief and the Vikings won, 41-28.

Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata

 Additional confidence in the Vikings' abilities were sparked by the performance of running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata who collectively gained over 200  yards against the Falcons. Never-the-less, even when Peterson is not gaining big yards, he is punishing defenders on every play.  He has to be one of those players that defenses never like to play against.

Packers Dominate

Regardless of the pregame talk and last week's Vikings success, it didn't take long for the Packers to take over.  Bridgewater was replaced by Christian Ponder who struggled.

The Packers went to work from the first whistle.  Eddie Lacy was the go-to guy on the first series and after he got the Packers down field on three runs, Aaron Rodgers tosses a scoring pass to Randall Cobb.  It was a four-play scoring drive.  A few minutes later, Rodgers led another four-play scoring drive and he hit Jordy Nelson on a 66 yard scoring pass that honestly looked like they were playing catch without a defense present.  It's scarey the way the Packers can do that at times.  

In the second quarter, ex Bear Julius Peppers caught a wounded duck from Ponders and high-tailed it across the width of the field to avoid tackles and sprinted into the end zone.  It was definitely one for the Peppers highlight book.  

Another interception of Ponders led to a quick drive and a Rodgers-to-rookie Davante Adams score.   At this point in the game, the Packers were flexing their offensive muscles with Lacy looking better with each carry, Cobb seeing more action, and Adams making his own statement.  One of the hopes that NFC North rivals may have held is that Aaron Rodgers extensive use of Jordy Nelson might be a weakness in the Packers game, but with Cobb contributing and new receiver, Davante Adams starting to get more opportunities, it was all bad news.  

Of course, the Packers defense was taking no-prisoners.  Although sports commentators and analysts have been pointing out the Packers' weakness in stopping the run, it hasn't been enough to give them any serious problems the last two games.  A good day by Matt Forte of the Bears did not save the Bears the week before. 

It was pretty much lights out at half, when the Packers led 35-0.  The Packers made it 42-0 in the third quarter when Eddie Lacy fueled another drive.  In the fourth quarter, the Vikings did manage a score when Ponder had a good 7-play drive and ran the ball in himself.  Matt Flynn came on in relief of Aaron Rodgers and tossed an interception that the Vikings parlayed into a field goal.  The Packers won, 42-10.  

What's Next for the Packers and Vikings

The Packers have a nice long rest before they suit up to play the Dolphins on October 12.  The Vikings also have a some respite before they meet the Detroit Lions on the 12th, who have the lead in the NFC North with a 3-1 record at this time.  The Lions play a good Buffalo Bills team this Sunday, week before the Vikings match. 

The Packers-Vikings Thursday Night Game was not very entertaining for most fans, but it was certainly appreciated in Green Bay.