Right Wing Nut House

11/9/2008

BIG TEST FOR THE BELOVEDS

Filed under: CHICAGO BEARS — Rick Moran @ 9:54 am

Chicago Bears Rex Grossman throws the ball while playing the ...

Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman starts in place of injured Kyle Orton against the undefeated Titans.

I am heartily sick of writing about the election and I’ll bet you’re sick of reading about it too. How many times can you say “Obama won and how sucky is that?” Or “Obama is my president but if that socialist/marxist uber liberal makes one wrong move I will criticize him severely.”

Severely, I say!

Besides, who cares about politics when My Beloved Bears (”The Beloveds” or simply, “My Beloveds”) have a chance to send a message to the rest of the league that they are a force to be reckoned with?

Today, The Beloveds take on the undefeated Tennessee Titans who are coached by a former Beloved Jeff Fisher. His playing career was cut short by a horrific broken leg suffered on a special teams play in late 1984 but the Bears thought so highly of him that they made him an assistant coach under Buddy Ryan during the 1985 Super Bowl run. His longevity for an NFL coach is incredible, having been the Titans head coach since 1994 when they were still in Houston.

The Beloveds record stands at a semi-respectable 5-3 but it just as easily could be 8-0 and the game today would feature two unbeatens. Alas, My Beloveds blew 4th quarter leads in all three of their losses - one last second loss to Atlanta after having the Beloveds take the lead with 11 seconds left and another loss to Tampa Bay where the Bucs tied the game with less than a minute to go and won it in overtime.

In all three losses (and a 48-41 free for all victory against Minnesota) the Bears defense was pathetic. The once vaunted defensive front 7 now resemble a sieve more than a brick wall. The D-backs haven’t been much better but at least they’ve been hitting hard and picking the ball with regularity. The 8 man defensive line rotation would be fine except none of them are getting any pressure at all on the QB. The linebackers have played adequately (Urlacher, God bless him, appears to have lost a step) with Lance Briggs the only genuine standout of the whole front 7.

What has saved My Beloveds this season has been the offense led by the surprisingly capable Kyle Orton and rookie running back Matt Forte who reminds a lot of fans of Neal Anderson in his best years. Forte is a very hard running slasher with a nice initial burst and the power to run through arm tacklers. When they commit to the run and he gets 20-25 carries, he has been quite effective. He has also been a very good weapon in the flat where they line him up in the slot on occasion.

But the key to the offensive success has been Orton’s ability to find the tight ends with regularity. Both Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark are huge targets in the middle of the field and are especially effective on first down. Olsen can also line up as a wide receiver where his big body is a tempting target against smaller D-backs.

The big offensive question at the beginning of the year (beyond who was going to play QB) was at wide receiver. A surprise at that position has been the play of 6 year man Brandon Lloyd who has proven a good third down receiver and with enough speed to go deep every once and a while. Lloyd has been injured the last 3 games and Orton has missed him on those third down passing situations.

Devin “The Windy City Flyer” has proven to be a deadly weapon - if they could ever get the ball in his hands. The return specialist has shown that he can catch the ball in traffic and can outrun any D-back in the league. But Orton’s downfield throws have been atrocious so Hester’s efforts have mostly gone for naught.

Rashied Davis still has trouble hanging on to the ball as does Marty Booker, a former Beloved who made a return this year from Miami. But they’ve made just enough plays to keep the sticks moving. Davis has the speed to be a top NFL receiver and if he could ever get some consistency going, would really be a nice compliment to Hester.

But it has been Orton who has proven the doubters (including me) wrong and led the offense to semi-respectability. None of that matters today as Orton will probably sit with an high ankle sprain and Wonder Dog will start in his place.

Grossman looked barely adequate in leading The Beloveds to two late scores to win the game against the still-winless Lions. But he hadn’t taken a snap with the first team in practice since preseason and his timing throws - especially to the outside - were way off. Hopefully, the defense and special teams will come through and score one or two touchdowns to make Wonder Dog’s job easier. Grossman’s job will be not to lose the game by taking care of the ball and moving the sticks so that at least the defense can get off the field every once and a while. A score or two would be a bonus against the tough Titans defense.

Here’s how I see some of the key matchups.

TITANS D-LINE VERSUS BEARS O-LINE

The Titans have an excellent front four anchored by two huge defensive tackles in Tony Brown and Alex Haynesworth. They account for 9.5 of Tennessee’s league leading 22 sacks which gives the Titans a huge advantage on passing downs. Their front four brings so much pressure they don’t need to blitz and can drop 7 or even 8 players into coverage. They also play the run very well giving up less than 92 yards a game.

The Bears O-line has been a surprise this year. Center Olin Kruetz may be getting a little long in the tooth but he and his linemates Garza, Tait, Beekman, and St. Clair have opened just enough holes for the backs and protected Orton adequately (15 sacks allowed). They will have their hands full today.

Advantage: Titans

TITANS OFFENSE VERSUS BEARS DEFENSE

Tennessee does not have a dominant offense. Kerry Collins is a barely adequate NFL quarterback as their passing game ranks 29th in the league. It is their 3rd ranked rushing offense that has led the way with rookie sensation Chris Johnson rushing for 715 yards and a nearly 5 YPC average.

The Bears D-Line must gum up the Titan’s blocking schemes and allow the backers to plug the holes. If they can keep Johnson under a hundred yards and force Collins to beat them, they have a chance.

Advantage: Titans

TITANS SECONDARY VERSUS GROSSMAN

I expect Wonder Dog to get picked at least once today and probably twice. The Titans D-backs lead the league with 13 interceptions and have a nose for the ball while Grossman tends to force the play - especially when under pressure. There’s a chance that by halftime Coach Lovie will be looking longingly at Orton who is listed as “doubtful” on the injury list but could be sent in if things look like they might get out of hand.

Advantage: Big one for the Titans

BEARS LINEBACKERS VERSUS CHRIS JOHNSON

This may be the key matchup of the game. Hunter Hillenmeyer will play today after sitting out last week with an injury. But the key will be Urlacher and his ability to fly to the ballcarrier. The DT’s will have to prevent the offensive tackles from getting by them to take Urlacher on one on one. If they can’t, Johnson will be in the defensive backfield before you can blink and into the secondary. The outside backers Hillenmeyer and Briggs must stay at home and prevent Johnson from making yardage on the cutback.

Johnson is not a huge threat as a pass receiver but he’s shifty enough that if he gets the ball in the flat, he can make a DB miss. Clean up will be important.

Advantage: Bears

SPECIAL TEAMS

Hester has yet to have a return for a touchdown this year. He is past due for a big game and this might be it. The weather is iffy which gives the Bears an advantage in field goal kicking with Robbie Gould’s local knowledge of conditions. Brad Maynard needs to be able to punt the ball out of trouble - something he has been inconsistent at doing this year. And the coverage teams must show more than they have.

Advantage: Bears

COACHING

Coach Lovie’s record in big games is not stellar. I have written in the past that he doesn’t seem to be able to get his players “up” enough, especially on defense. Fisher, on the other hand, his his boys flying around the field with purposeful abandon. Will Lovie stick with the running game even if Forte is not getting much? If he puts too much on Wonder Dog, it probably means a loss for the Beloveds. Fisher will no doubt try and test the Bear’s wounded secondary. If successful there, it should open huge holes for Johnson.

Both coaches are among the best in the NFL but Fisher has better personnel and the incentive of keeping the perfect season intact.

Advantage: Slight to the Titans

INTANGIBLES

The Beloveds are playing at home and will be at Green Bay next week. I wouldn’t put this in the category of a “must win” but it is possible the Bears need it more than the Titans. The defense has been embarrassed the way they’ve played and they should be. They are not a dominant defense but they are much better than they have shown so far this year. At times, they have appeared listless and disorganized. They have something to prove today and that may be the difference in the game.

For the Titans, they obviously want to remain undefeated and wish to prove they can win anywhere. But they have a 4 game lead in their division and may have a let down after last week’s overtime win against Green Bay.

Advantage: Bears

By all rights, My Beloveds should not be in this game. Grossman should stink up the joint, the Titans should run the ball effectively, and the Titans defense should dominate.

But if they played the game on paper, what fun would that be? I think Grossman will perform just well enough, the Bears will run the ball effectively in the second half, the defense will make a couple of big plays and Hester will bring one back. All of this adds up to a narrow Bears win in a low scoring contest.

Prediction: Bears 21-17.

UPDATE

Titans 21 Bears 14.

It shouldn’t have been that close. The utter futility of the offense under Grossman does not portend well for next week if Orton can’t start. It will take another two weeks for Wonder Dog to get enough reps in practice to give a halfway decent performance in a game. In the meantime, the offense sucks.

The defense? Stopped the run but again, no pass rush at all. Collins was able to sit back in the pocket and play pitch and catch with his receivers - who were wide open thanks to the tremendous cushion they were being given by the corners.

Forte played well but didn’t get enough touches. Those runs at the end of the game were made after the line was exhausted pass blocking and had no push forward to give Forte any running room. Four straight runs in the hurry up offense for 5 yards total. If he had run those 4 plays earlier in the game, the Bears might have made a few first downs and flipped their God-awful field position. As it was, they allowed Wonder Dog to pass - a mistake on the coaching staff.

Next up, at Green Bay. Thank God the NFC North is so weak. Even if they lose next week the Bears still have a chance to win the division and go to the playoffs.

Beyond that - fagettaboutit.

5 Comments

  1. Rick,
    PLEASE keep coming up with these sports related posts ! I LUV IT ! It breaks the monotony of political posts and that in itself is good :-)

    Grossman has already thrown one pick - he is still the same old Wrecks Grossman :-) but he does have the arm strength - if only he could stop throwing those prayers out on the field begging the opposing D to pick the ball, he would still be the first choice.

    Other than JammieWearingFool, i have nt seen many political-oriented blogs open up about sports - please keep it coming !

    May be you could start a NFL predictions for the week, post? Here’s hoping :-)

    Comment by Nagarajan Sivakumar — 11/9/2008 @ 1:52 pm

  2. Rick,

    It was a tough loss for the Orange & Blue, but you gotta admit, it beats the Abe Gibron years!

    Comment by Mike Bell — 11/9/2008 @ 5:30 pm

  3. Don’t worry, Detroit will be providing another notch in the Bears’belt soon enough.

    Q. How do the Detroit Lions count?
    A. 0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4, 0-5, 0-6, 0-7, 0-8, 0-9, 0-10, 0-11, 0-12.

    Q: Where’s the safest place in a tornado?
    A: The Lions end zone at Ford Field: there are never any touchdowns there!

    Q: How do you keep a Detroit Lion out of your yard?
    A: Put up goal posts.

    Q: Why doesn’t Flint have a professional football team?
    A: Because then Detroit would want one.

    Q: What do the Detroit Lions and opossums have in common?
    A: Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

    Comment by P. Aaron — 11/9/2008 @ 7:44 pm

  4. Well I am proud to say that I was one who was singing the praises of Orton for the past several years. Many tought I was nuts, I continued to proclaim that this man is a diamond in the rough and should be our starter. He got his chance and as it turns out, he has talent! IT is nice to be right once in a while. Now I must prophesize, it is my belief, that this year, and possibly next year will be development years for the Bears. We are on the cusp of a dynasty. They actually made more smart decisions than dumb ones in the offseason (although they had their share of dumb ones), if they continue to make smart decisions this year, we will see a new Chicago Bears. Some youth on that O line would be a welcome addition. Let Grossman go (they should have kicked him to the curb instead of Griese last year), POSSIBLY pick up a veteran back up from free agency, OR start developing Haine as he showed some impressive digs in the offseason. GET RID OF BABICH, and find a defensive coordinator that is worth a shit. If Singletary does not make it as a head coach, I would like to see him as the tower man for the Bears. We need to get some new life in that defense. I am kind of torn on Lovie Smith, if he gets someone solid running the D, that could be the missing link….

    Mark my words, the next Dynasty in NFL football is these Chicago Bears, possibly your 2009 Bears, definately our 2010 Bears….

    assuming of course we don’t go back to doing stupid shit in the offseason!

    Comment by ED — 11/10/2008 @ 9:42 am

  5. I feel as though our “bend-but-don’t-break” defense has been exposed over the past few weeks. Even though the Bears D was able to completely stop the run against Tennessee, we completely given up the entire middle of the field for short 7 to 10 yard passes. That allows the opposing offense to have extended drives where even if they don’t score on us, they get far enough downfield that we end up with horrible field position (like yesterday). It’s the proverbial “death by a thousand paper cuts” in terms of football. Rex certainly did not have a great day, but there the Bears really didn’t do well in any facet of the game at all. While the Bears are probably still the best team in the NFC North, the pass defense is nowhere near where it needs to be for the long haul.

    Comment by Frank the Tank — 11/10/2008 @ 12:39 pm

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