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Three Thoughts as Free Agency Slows Down…

| March 21st, 2014

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If you follow DaBearsBlog on Twitter, you know that I’m going to win a billion dollars soon. So…I got that going for me. Which is nice. In the meantime I’ll continue living my life among the not-so-rich.

Three thoughts…

  1. Everyone spent a month telling me that Lovie Smith was going to purge the Bears roster of all their talented players. Everyone spent a month telling me the allure of Lovie Smith would be too great for them. Corey Wootton. Minnesota. Henry Melton. Dallas. Julius Peppers. Green Bay. Charles Tillman. Home. Devin Hester. Atlanta. Major Wright. Mutual of Omaha. The only player Lovie pulled off the Bears roster was a man who owes his career renaissance to the man replacing Lovie. Is that ironic? It might be. I’m actually not sure.
  2. I don’t understand fan reaction to players leaving their favorite team. There is no reason to root against Josh McCown or Devin Hester or Henry Melton now that they’re no longer a Chicago Bear. If there was no salary cap, all of these men would remain in the navy blue and orange for years to come but running a modern organization is about making difficult decisions without the luxury of sentiment. I hope Devin Hester breaks the record Week One for Atlanta, as long as the Bears don’t open the season there. Because nobody will remember him returning kicks for the Falcons. They’ll remember him returning kicks on the Drive.
  3. A majority of the Tweets and emails I receive ask one question, “Who do you see the Bears drafting with the fourteenth pick?” Here is my answer: I don’t know. But one thing I truly believe is that no position on the defensive side of the ball is off the table. Yes there are pressing needs at DT and safety but if Emery identifies a potentially game-changing pass rusher, he’s taking him. If he identifies a potential shutdown corner, he’s taking him. I don’t think any of the moves made in free agency actually influence the draft approach, despite what Emery said in his press conference. As a matter of fact, I think Emery’s press conference statement that free agency will clue the media in to his draft approach is an old fashioned, transparent smokescreen.

Enjoy the weekend, poor people.

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Reactions to Day One of Free Agency

| March 12th, 2014

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ON LAMARR HOUSTON…

Of the three high profile defensive ends on the open NFL market, Lamarr Houston was the best fit for the Chicago Bears. Neither he nor the two Michaels (Bennett, Johnson) are elite edge rushers who’ll draw double teams on every down. But Houston is smart, gets off blocks and displays tremendous discipline; he is one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the game.

The Bears could fix their pass rush all they wanted. It wouldn’t matter if they continued being one of the worst run defenses in the history of recorded time.

From Brad Biggs:

…Houston plays the run very well, he’s durable (hasn’t missed a game in four seasons) and has the flexibility to shift around on the line. There is a good chance the Bears will slide him inside in the nickel package, which is probably what the plan was for Bennett. He’s athletic enough to see time at the three technique tackle position, if needed.

Versatility is great but production is better and that is what Emery is counting on. The reality is Houston, who will turn 27 in June, offers more bang for the buck than a 34-year-old Peppers and probably more than Jared Allen or DeMarcus Ware, both soon to turn 32.

Remember this, desperate Bears fans: it ain’t all getting fixed in twenty-four hours. Houston doesn’t solve their woes along the defensive line. But he solves one of them.

THREE ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Sam Comes Out, Peppers Decision, Peanut Acceptance Speech

| February 10th, 2014

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CONGRATS TO MICHAEL SAM

Michael Sam coming out as gay prior to the NFL Combine and NFL Draft is a rare moment of human courage that deserves to be celebrated. If you don’t believe Sam’s decision will impact his draft status, you’re living on Mars. A large contingent of individuals inside NFL locker rooms – many of whom are greatly influenced by religious beliefs – deplore homosexuality. Teams will avoid drafting Sam to avoid the “drama” associated with his presence in the locker room. The young man does not have an easy road but heroism is rarely easy.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: McCown, Peanut’s Payton Award, Longsnapper.com & More

| January 20th, 2014

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PFT: McCown Set to Play in 2014

From Florio at Pro Football Talk:

It’s unclear whether McCown will return to Chicago.  Because he signed a one-year deal under the minimum-salary benefit in 2013, the Bears can’t sign him until he actually becomes a free agent on March 11.  That now follows a three-day period during which McCown’s agent can engage in discussions with other teams.

With the Bears devoting $22.5 million in cap space to Cutler for the coming year, the Bears likely won’t have much in the budget for McCown.  Any team that views him as a potential starter would surely outbid the Bears.

Josh McCown is a different kind of guy and I don’t see him jumping to a terrible team for a few extra million dollars. Does he really want to be the caretaker quarterback in a place like Jacksonville or Minnesota, tutoring a rookie and waiting to be replaced? I think McCown has found a home in Chicago, in that quarterback room. And I also think he knows there’s a good chance he’s going to see the field in 2014 with a contender if he sticks around.

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A Few Questions to Ponder as Bears Prepare for a Pivotal Offseason

| January 15th, 2014

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I don’t really have a coherent column in my mind right so I decided to just lay out some Bears-related questions on my mind. Feel free to provide your own answers in the comments sections or by email: jeff@dabearsblog.com.

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Has the Great Peanut Tillman Played His Last Game as a Chicago Bear?

| November 11th, 2013

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It is the best play I’ve ever seen made by a Bears corner. 2003. Soldier Field. Minnesota Vikings. Game on the line. Daunte Culpepper sees Randy Moss. He looks across to the defense. He sees one man. Single coverage. No safety. No help. Snap. Moss takes off to the goalline and Culpepper throws the jump ball he’d thrown a hundred times. He’d completed about ninety of them. This wouldn’t be one.

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A closer look at Calvin Johnson’s historic 2012 season

| March 25th, 2013

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had a historic 2012 season, setting a new NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards. Perhaps his most impressive feat is that he did this despite going against Richard Sherman and Charles Tillman, the two cornerbacks who made the All-Pro team, in three of his 16 games. In other words, Johnson (or “Megatron,” as he has been dubbed), played three games against the two best cornerbacks in the NFL and still shattered the record for most receiving yards in a season.

How well did Johnson perform in those three games? The answers might surprise you. Let’s take a closer look at the per-game numbers.

It’s apparent that Johnson did not fare very well against top-flight cornerbacks. His completion percentage was significantly lower than either Tillman or Sherman gave up for the year (47.1% and 63.3%, respectively, per ProFootballFocus); the same was true for his yards per target against both Sherman and Tillman (7.3 and 5.9, respectively).

ProFootballFocus assigns grades for players for each individual game based on how well they perform relative to average. In the three games against Tillman and Sherman, Johnson posted three negative scores that together added up to -2.6. By contrast, his other 13 games featured 11 positive scores for a cumulative total of 28.9.

What does this mean for Johnson and the Lions?

Megatron destroys most opponents

Take a second look at those numbers Johnson posted in those other 13 games. He was stellar, averaging over 10 yards per target and 140 yards per game. Sure, some of it was against lesser opponents with terrible pass defenses (the Jacksonvilles and Tennessees of the NFL), but there were some other solid pass defenses in there too: Arizona, San Francisco, Minnesota, and St. Louis jump immediately to mind. The fact that Johnson could still break the previous yardage by over 100 yards record despite having these three poor games speaks volumes to just how incredible he was in the other thirteen.

Credit Tillman and Sherman

The success that these two cornerbacks had against such a dominant receiver speaks volumes to just how great they were last year, especially since on multiple occasions they were left to cover Johnson alone. This is also a testament to the rest of the Chicago and Seattle secondaries, especially the safeties, often helped double-team Johnson. Voters don’t always get their selections for the All-Pro teams right, but in this case they were 100 percent correct in saying that these two were indeed the best cornerbacks in football last year.

Pressing needs

If they want to become a winning team again, the Lions need other passing options to emerge as reliable targets.

Even though Johnson was unable to make plays against Chicago and Seattle, quarterback Matthew Stafford still threw his way an average of 11 times in those games. Admittedly, that was down slightly from the 13.3 targets Johnson averaged in the other 13 games, and it was also a slightly smaller percentage of total teams targets (24.1% versus 27.7% on the season); but that is still too many targets for a player  struggling to produce.

Against Seattle, Titus Young was able to take the pressure off Johnson, converting his nine targets into nine receptions, 100 yards, and two touchdowns. In the two games against Chicago, nobody was stepped up. Not coincidentally, the Lions beat Seattle and lost twice to Chicago.

Detroit has already made one move to improve their passing game this offseason, signing running back Reggie Bush, a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield. They also will get receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles back healthy. The Lions need them to take advantage of favorable coverage due to teams blanketing Johnson, which will in turn also help reduce the coverage on Johnson and free him to make more big plays.

Conclusion

Calvin Johnson is an incredible player, one who has clearly established himself as the best wide receiver in the NFL over the last two seasons. But his struggles against top-shelf secondaries show that he is not invincible, and the onus is now on Detroit to surround him with the necessary talent that will allow him to dominate against even the best competition.

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