Chicago Bears: Michael Wilbon
The NFL announced Tuesday that the Atlanta Falcons are one of three teams set to host 2014 games in the United Kingdom. Based on the league’s schedule rotation, Chicago faces the Falcons on the road in 2014, meaning there’s a chance the Bears could play another matchup at Wembley Stadium. Teams have eight home games, with three coming against divisional opponents, so it appears there’s a 1-in-5 chance the Bears could be picked as the visitor for Atlanta’s game in London.
Since the NFL started playing regular-season games in London in 2007, it has never scheduled teams from the same division to face one another at Wembley. The NFL plans to announce opponents for the 2013 games in London sometime during this season.
The Bears last played in London on Oct. 23, 2011, and defeated Tampa Bay 24-18.
Here’s hoping the NFL picks the Bears to head back to London. We all know how well Bears fans travel, and the last time the team made the trip, there certainly was no shortage of supporters in the stands at Wembley and walking the streets of London during the week leading up to the game.
Besides that, for ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson and I, the trip was an absolute blast. On the night before the game, I attended a "tweetup" with several local NFL fans (I even met a Jaguars fan) who knew tons about the game and love it just as much as we do.
On the day of the game, I met a Bears fan who had hopped a train from Edinburgh, Scotland, for the six-hour ride to London to watch the game. A Bears fan for more than 20 years, he actually named his daughter Devin after kick returner Devin Hester. I wrote about him while trying to set the scene for what turned out to be an exciting day. His story was just one in seemingly dozens of interesting ones that I’d definitely like to experience again.
Let’s get into some links.
-- ESPNChicago.com Doug Padilla writes about Brandon Marshall’s plan to wear green shoes against the Giants on Thursday night, a move the receiver knows will draw a fine for violating the NFL’s uniform policy.
-- Giants running back David Wilson has been ruled out for Thursday’s game, writes ESPN.com colleague Dan Graziano. Veteran Brandon Jacobs will start in Wilson’s place. So my guess is New York’s already anemic rushing attack will be in even worse shape against the Bears.
-- Adam Jahns writes that defensive tackle Stephen Paea is hoping to return “as soon as possible to help my team and boys out.”
-- John “Moon” Mullin says the Bears need to get back to winning the turnover battle this week.
You can rank the candidates here.
Cutler has led two comeback victories, and stepped up to make game-clinching plays during a clutch situation Sunday to put away the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here’s what Graziano had to say about Cutler: “This is the same guy who got called all kinds of unflattering names for standing on the sideline during the NFC Championship Game a few years back? This guy who lowers his (throwing!) shoulder at the end of a critical run play instead of sliding, leveling a defender in crunch time against the Steelers? Marc Trestman hasn't just turned Cutler into a more efficient passer, he's turned him into a superhero. It's the Adventures of Surly-Man!”
Trestman deserves recognition for Cutler finally starting to realize his seemingly unlimited potential as a passer, but new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh has also been a major contributor to the signal-caller’s success.
“He’s a grinder, he’s a guy that comes in every single day, and he’s looking to help me get better,” Cutler said of Cavanaugh. “And, like on Wednesday’s, it’s hard, I don’t really want to do that, I’m tired, you know. But he pushes you through it. He does a good job. There’s some give and take there. In my younger days there might have been a little bit more rocky (of a relationship) than it is right now, but it’s going real well right now.”
Cavanaugh agrees, and called Cutler a willing pupil.
“He makes it easy [to coach],” Cavanaugh said. “He’s a talent. He works hard. He’s committed. He’s focused. He wants what we want: He wants the Bears to be successful. If you’ve got those things going for you, it’s hard not to have fun.”
Cutler said he and Cavanaugh share “some similarities,” and joked he doesn’t “know if the guy sleeps.” Cavanaugh, meanwhile, acknowledged the connection between himself and Cutler, before providing insight into the quarterback’s personality.
Head coach Marc Trestman called the pairing of Cutler and Cavanaugh “a good match.”
“I don’t think either one of us are really outgoing,” Cavanaugh explained about Cutler. “I think we’re maybe contemplative before we speak. I’ve noticed that about Jay, and I love that about him. He doesn’t just talk the talk. He’s usually thought something out, and that’s whether you ask him a question or he’s got a question for you. He puts a lot of thought into it. He’s a little introspective that way, and I think I am, too. I’d rather listen first than just pop out an answer if I’m not sure what I’m saying. So I think it allows us to communicate pretty well, and sometimes, it’s quiet around the two of us. We’re not saying a whole lot, but we’re both thinking.”
Then come Sundays, they’re both doing.
We don't know much about receivers either; Brandon Marshall is like a Martian in the context of Chicago's football history.
But linebackers we know. Great linebackers we've watched in abundance. George, Butkus, Singletary, Urlacher. It's a linebacker's Mount Rushmore. Linebackers are to the Bears what centers are to the Lakers: Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, Shaq.
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At least Brian Urlacher is in great company, from John Unitas to Joe Montana to Jerry Rice to, well, the great Ed Reed. It would have been a surprise if it ended happily, though that's what Urlacher was hoping for right to the end. Just a week ago he was hopeful he would end his career in a Bears uniform but not particularly optimistic. His fears became reality Wednesday; the divorce was made final. Sentimentality is something with which the NFL is utterly unfamiliar.
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Yes, I'm talking about a new head coach and new staff and entirely new philosophy about trying to win in the NFL. It means we probably just watched the last Chicago appearance in a Bears uniform of Devin Hester, who's only the greatest return man in the history of the NFL and a man who should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Problem is, he isn't anywhere close to that return man anymore and he isn't an asset as a receiver, as we saw just before halftime when yet another Hester route-running mistake, not a Jay Cutler throwing mistake, led to that game-changing interception.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- One of the surest bets in the NFL is the Chicago Bears getting clowned in Candlestick Park. They don't just fly out and lose; the Bears, from all indications, head west completely unprepared and cowering, as if somewhere in the back of their minds they know they're going to be punked by the 49ers. And they're right.
This Monday night was no different from all the others, eight games and counting to be exact, dating back to 1985. Once again, the Bears didn't show, didn't post. They left the visitors locker room for the opening kickoff and went immediately into the fetal position.
It was 20-0 at halftime, by which point the 49ers had essentially beaten the Bears into submission. And while Mike Tice's offense was, well, offensive, uninspired and frighteningly amateurish, the defense to great surprise was just as bad in a 32-7 loss that was much more lopsided than the score might indicate.
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The Bears have the chance to prove otherwise in eight days, again on a national stage, but their starting quarterback has a concussion, so who knows about Jay Cutler's status and therefore whether it's even reasonable to think the Bears can score a touchdown in San Francisco Monday night.
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Why not the Chicago Bears?
OK, 13-7 over the Detroit Lions wasn't a masterpiece, but then again who in professional football today is painting any of those? With a fourth straight win, a Gladiatorial victory over Detroit, the only team in the NFL with a longer winning streak than the Bears is the undefeated but hard-to-buy Atlanta Falcons. And the Falcons don't play defense like these Bears do; nobody does. The Bears, rather defiantly, keep succeeding with a throwback style of defense the NFL has done everything to eliminate.
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OK, it's not the loss that's important to this discussion but the drama, specifically the halftime dustup featuring Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan. To recap: Ryan was trying to cover the Miami Dolphins' explosive receiver, Nat Moore, with linebacker Wilber Marshall. It wasn't working, but that didn't dissuade Ryan one bit. So an enraged Ditka told his defensive coordinator, "We can do it any way you want to. We can go right out back and get it on or you can shape your (butt) up."
Which brings me to Jay Cutler and Mike Tice and their little episode on Monday night in Dallas. In the age of relentless Facebook posts and anybody with a pair of thumbs tweeting after every down, an annoyed quarterback walking away from his coach in a heated moment during a football game equals an enormously big deal, to be chewed on all week.
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This isn't a discussion about Cutler's overall worthiness; he won six straight coming in and in doing so was becoming most everything the Bears had hoped a franchise quarterback could be. No, this is specifically about Monday night in Lambeau, about an opportunity squandered. Against a Packers defense that was there to be deep-fried, Cutler made bad decisions, repeated bad throws off his back foot, was late with passes when receivers had been open.
He publicly and animatedly ripped teammates when they made mistakes even though he committed a shopping cart full of his own and did not take back one word or gesticulation afterward. Cutler, for the record, had the same number of touchdown passes Monday night as the Packers punter, Tim Masthay, in a loss much more humiliating than 23-10 makes it sound.
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jim grazis (leesburg fl)
J'marcus Webb. Enough excuses. What I see is a player who just does not have the talent to succeed as a starter. Not quick enough on his feet is his greatest shortcoming. Your take?
Michael C. Wright
Jim, don't be so hard on the Nation, who played at my alma mater. I'm gonna say that talent isn't a question with Webb. What is, though, is maturity. Webb is actually the most physically gifted lineman on Chicago's roster. His problems are mental more than anything.I've talked several times to Mike Tice about Webb, and the coach is very high on him from an athletic standpoint. But Webb is a guy who makes mental busts from time to time, and isn't always dilligent with his preparation. He's also a guy who goes into the dumps after having a bad play, which can't happen over the course of an NFL game. You have a bad play, you have to forget about it and move on to the next play. With Webb, sometimes those types of things snowball on him, leading to progressively worse performances throughout a game.
TheDano (Mankato, MN)
Who starts opposite Brandon Marshall at WR opening week?
Michael C. Wright
You guys don't want to hear it. But Devin Hester will start opposite Brandon Marshall in Week 1. That's the plan right now with the team looking to work Alshon Jeffery in the slot and in Hester's outside position on occasion.
Read the entire chat here.
The Bears (finally) have a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, a punishing complement to Matt Forte in Michael Bush and a competent veteran backup quarterback in Jason Campbell.
Cutler and Marshall thrived with each other in the past, and the Bears are counting on the same for their Chicago reunion. Will they raise each other's games again as Bears in 2012?
Our panel weighs in on that and more in a Four Downs look at the offense heading into training camp:
Fact or Fiction: Jay Cutler will have a career season in 2012.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Check the numbers. Cutler made the Pro Bowl in 2008 for the Denver Broncos with Brandon Marshall as the No. 1 wide receiver and with Jeremy Bates on the coaching staff. The Bears, under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, plan to tailor the scheme to Cutler’s strengths, something Mike Martz refused to do. Cutler might not eclipse the 4,526 passing yards he accumulated that year in Denver, but he could easily set career bests in touchdown passes (27), completion percentage (63.6) and quarterback rating (88.1).
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. That’s not to say Cutler won’t play well. But he won’t put together a career season in 2012 because he won’t have to. True, Cutler is surrounded by arguably more weapons than ever. But it’s important to remember that the Bears plan to revert to their running roots, which means they probably won’t rely as much on the passing game. Cutler racked up a career-high 4,526 passing yards in 2008 with 25 touchdowns. But that team finished 8-8 and didn’t advance to the playoffs. Big numbers from the quarterback aren’t necessarily indicative of a big year for the team.
Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, Bears fans shouldn’t necessarily root for a career year considering that in 2008, when he threw for a career-high 4,526 yards (with 25 touchdowns), the Broncos went 8-8, failed to make the playoffs and two days after the season ended, coach Mike Shanahan was fired. If Cutler is able to fully utilize Marshall, avoid sacks and injury (though Jason Campbell is a lot more capable than Caleb Hanie), and implement a much more friendly and familiar offense under Tice, the numbers will be there -- career-best or not -- and the Bears will benefit.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. He better, right? Even with a still-questionable offensive line -- hey, this is the Bears, don’t expect perfection -- Cutler has everything else he needs to play at his best. He’s got Marshall, Matt Forte, an offensive coordinator from Earth in Tice. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Cutler should have the benefit of familiarity. This is his fourth season in Chicago. He seems more comfortable in his own skin. All of these things should coalesce into the season we’ve been waiting for.
Fact or Fiction: Brandon Marshall will catch 100 passes this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. He better. When Marshall is focused, he is hands down one of the best receivers in the NFL. It’s reasonable to expect Cutler to target Marshall an average of eight to 10 times per game. Marshall is already the best wideout in franchise history, even before catching a single pass in Chicago. So use him early and often. But as Eddie Royal showed in 2008, other receivers can have big years when Cutler and Marshall connect over 100 times in a season. Earl Bennett hauling in 70-plus catches also is not out of the question, but Marshall reaching 100 is a must.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Marshall has pulled in 100 catches in three of his first six seasons, and he’ll come close to the century mark in 2012. But he won’t hit it. He won’t need to, similar to the way Cutler doesn’t need the quintessential “career season” for the Bears to be successful. My guess is Marshall falls into the 85-90 catch range, on the way to becoming the ninth receiver in franchise history to gain 1,000 receiving yards. There just seems to be so many other weapons in the rushing attack and receiving corps to warrant feeding the ball to Marshall. Besides that, defenses would be absolutely silly to not make stopping Marshall -- with extra coverage -- a priority.
Melissa Isaacson Fiction. If Marshall stays healthy, it’s a reasonable expectation that he will be Cutler’s favorite target and make 100 catches, which he last accomplished in 2007, 2008 and 2009. But Cutler also likes Earl Bennett quite a bit; and he’ll have promising rookie Alshon Jeffrey, Devin Hester and dare we say Kellen Davis, not to mention Forte and Bush to spread things around. So again, while it would be great if Marshall had 100 catches, it may not be necessary.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Because why not? It’s late July, time to dream big. Marshall will be a marked man, of course, but I expect Cutler and Marshall to benefit from an existing chemistry and the former’s eager arm. Marshall caught 82 passes last season in Miami. I’m not even sure the Dolphins had a quarterback.
Fact or Fiction: By the end of the season, the offensive line will go from a weakness to a strength.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. That’s too big of a leap to make before the season begins. There are plenty of concerns on the offensive line, starting with the competition at left tackle between Chris Williams and J’Marcus Webb. Neither have been world beaters in the past and protecting Cutler’s blind side is critical. There also is a little uncertainty surrounding Gabe Carimi after he missed nearly his entire rookie season with knee issues. With questions marks at both tackle spots, it’s difficult to forecast the offensive line as necessarily a strength. The Bears would be happy if it simply wasn’t a liability.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Recent history tells us this offensive line probably won’t ever be a team strength. But the group will definitely look much better in the new Tice offense, which will eliminate the long drops and emphasize protecting Cutler over getting more targets into a route. As the season progresses, defenses surely will find ways to get pressure on Cutler. So it’s likely the offensive line will struggle on occasion. The biggest difference fans will see under Tice, though, is the Bears will correct offensive line issues much quicker than they did under Martz.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Once again, the season begins with similar questions, namely who will end up where. Beyond that, will Williams reach his potential and at which position will that happen? Will Carimi live up to the expectations of a first-round draft pick? Will Webb develop the consistency necessary to be an NFL-caliber player? And will the line as a whole protect Cutler and cut down on mental mistakes? In his final five games last season, Cutler was sacked just five times. With the Bears’ re-vamped passing game, it’s fair to expect the line to come out stronger than the beginning of last season. But it’s also fair to expect them to get better as the season goes along.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. How do you define “strength?” Forget fame and fortune, the Bears should hope the offensive line isn’t talked about at all come winter. Competency should be the first step, and with Tice installing a more normative offensive system, no more seven-step drops and midseason “Come to Lovie” meetings, the line’s individual weaknesses could be covered up and the Bears’ abysmal sack rate should go down precipitously.
Fact or Fiction: Michael Bush will have more touchdowns than Matt Forte this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Forte is one of the best NFL running backs between the 20s. But for whatever reason, the Bears usually prefer to let the second back do the bulk of the work inside the red zone. The Bears paid Bush good money to be Forte’s backup, so it stands to reason the organization is going to want to see a return on their investment. Letting Bush touch the ball around the goal line seems like a smart idea considering the free-agent pickup weighs in at 245 pounds. Bush also has scored 15 rushing touchdowns the past two seasons compared to nine rushing scores for Forte. However, Forte is a terrific receiver out of the backfield, and he will likely catch a few touchdowns from Cutler (Forte has eight career receiving touchdowns). But I expect Bush to narrowly edge out Forte in this department.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. This is a tough one because I certainly buy the fact the Bears will probably hand it off more to Bush in short-yardage and goal-line situations than Forte. But this season, I’m banking on Forte to score more touchdowns from 10-plus yards out. In 2011, Forte -- because of his intense training -- appeared to be a faster player than he was the previous year. I’m guessing Forte (because he trained angry due to the contract situation) will look even more beastly in 2012. In addition, look for Tice to find more ways to get Forte the ball in the passing game. Surprisingly, Forte caught just one TD pass in 2011. That number grows this season.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Potentially the best one-two running back tandem in the league, it is certainly conceivable that Bush, who was utilized in a variety of ways with the Raiders, can be used in the red zone or specifically on the goal line, where he is a strong, straight-ahead rusher. Bush gained more than 1,100 total yards in the final 10 games last season and had 13 touchdowns from 3 yards or less over the last two seasons. One way or another, after signing a four-year contract worth a reported $14 million, including a $7 million signing bonus, Bush will be used.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. It’s pretty amazing that Forte only had three rushing touchdowns. But I think he’ll benefit from the changes on offense and with Marshall in tow, the natural improvements to a lackluster red zone offense. Forte was so dynamic when he got touches, averaging nearly five yards a carry. Now that he’s getting paid like an elite back, I think he’ll finally pile up the rewards of his hard work -- the touchdowns -- be they from rushing or receiving.
Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright cover the Bears for ESPNChicago.com. Jon Greenberg and Melissa Isaacson are columnists for ESPNChicago.com.