Chicago Bears: Jay Ratliff
Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.
Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:
Pass rush: The Bears tied a season high with five sacks last week against Minnesota, and Julius Peppers produced his best performance of the season (2.5 sacks). Chicago racked up the sacks with aggressive and creative calls, and new addition Jeremiah Ratliff also contributed to the group in 23 snaps of action. He’ll play more Monday night against the Cowboys.
“I feel good. I feel stronger. I feel more balanced,” Ratliff said. “Everything’s holding up,and there haven’t been any complications. So I’m good.”
Obviously, the Bears need to dial up the heat even more against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has a penchant for making mistakes in the face of pressure.
Look for Ratliff to start inside next to Stephen Paea with Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside at the end positions.
That’s a good thing because it’ll mean the Cowboys have become one-dimensional.
“We’re to the point now where we’re there to make the play,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We just have to finish. We’re not talking about missed fits as much now as we were talking about maybe a couple of weeks ago. Now, we have to be more physical at the point of attack; get off blocks. We have to make tackles. There may have been some improvements here and there, but not enough where I would say we’ve improved in that area.”
Bears CBs vs. Dez Bryant:Bryant caught eight passes for 105 yards against the Bears on Monday night football last season, and he’s sure to make some plays in this contest. The key is for the Bears to limit the back-breakers, the plays that sway the momentum and become game-defining moments.
Chicago’s safeties also need to chip in against Bryant.
“We need all the guys to do their jobs and realize Dez Bryant is an explosive player. So of course, we’re going to keep our eye on him,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We’re going to have to take away what they like to do so much whether we match [me] with him. If that give us a good chance to win, then I’ll be all for it.”
Short yardage:The Bears average nearly 400 yards per game on offense, but in short-yardage situation the club is horrid. Against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears failed to convert three third-and-1 situations, and on the season, the Bears own a 42 percent conversion rate on third and 1.
“It’s a physical element, but it’s also a mental element. You’ve got to be assignment-right. Our mistakes have not been a question of effort or being outmanned or anything like that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Ours have been simply the three or four times we haven’t gotten it done, whether it’s goal line or short yardage, we’ve just got to do a better job in making sure we’re blocking the right guys. We’re going to get out-physicalled at times; teams do. But we feel it’s more just making sure that assignment wise, we’re sharp. All five guys plus our tight ends, our backs all have to be doing the right thing and we haven’t gotten it done. It’s difficult to make a yard in this league like that, and we’ve got to do a better job.”
Bears WRs: Alshon Jeffery is coming of a franchise single-game record 249 yards receiving, and Brandon Marshall is one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers. So the duo should generate big numbers for the offense, provided the line protects quarterback Josh McCown adequately.
Dallas ranks No. 31 in the NFL in pass defense at (294.9) yards per games. So Chicago’s sixth-ranked passing attack should be able to light up the Cowboys. Marshall needs 10 yards receiving to make him and Jeffery the club's first receiving duo to gain 1,000 yards each in a season since 1995.
Marshall said he doesn’t like the matchup against Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, but the Bears will look for ways to free up the receiver by lining him up in different places.
“They’re good players,” McCown said of Dallas’ cornerbacks. “Both of them are bigger guys, good cover guys, good man-coverage guys for sure and talented. We always feel good about our matchups, but this week especially. These guys are good players and they’ve been causing turnovers, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Other Bears inactives include quarterback Jay Cutler, linebacker Lance Briggs, long snapper Patrick Mannelly, offensive lineman James Brown, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff.
Ravens inactives include defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, receiver Marlon Brown, safety Omar Brown, running back Bernard Scott, receiver Brandon Stokley, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and linebacker John Simon.
Bennett rested his sore ankle on Thursday, but returned to the field in limited fashion on Friday.
“He (Bennett) worked probably 50 percent of the practice,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We were trying to be smart with him, but he got work in today and did well. Hopefully with 48 hours (until kickoff on Sunday) he’ll feel even better. But we got some execution done with him, so it was good.”
Bennett has battled through nagging injuries much of the season, but has still managed to start all nine games and catch 40 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns.
McClellin was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, but he tweaked his hamstring at practice last Thursday and was inactive for the Bears’ Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
McClellin worked on the side with the training staff the past three days during practice but did not officially participate.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Sunday.
The Bears believe Ratliff will be in a position to contribute sometime in the next couple of weeks. The veteran defensive tackle participated in conditioning drills on Friday while his teammates practiced. Ratliff has not played in an NFL game since last November as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bears also list long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) as doubtful and right guard Jordan Mills (quad) as probable.
1. Hey genius, great analysis on Shea McClellin struggling to be a defensive end in a 4-3 front. Did you walk up to him this week and personally apologize to him after he lowered the boom on Aaron Rodgers? -- Phil, Buckley, Ill.
Dickerson: Is this Phil Emery? I'm only kidding. McClellin had the best game of his short NFL career against the Green Bay Packers with 3.0 sacks and two tackles-for-loss. McClellin was rewarded by being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Good for him. Finally, the Bears got a pass rush from the defensive line with McClellin and Julius Peppers leading the charge. But did I apologize to McClellin? No, because it was only one game. Let's see how McClellin (doubtful for Sunday) follows up that performance whenever he returns from the hamstring injury he suffered in practice on Thursday. And quite honestly, what exactly do I need to apologize to McClellin about? My opinion of McClellin was/is solely based on his lack of production since the Bears drafted him No. 19 overall in 2012. I never took a personal shot at him. In fact, I believe McClellin will have an above-average NFL career because of his speed, athleticism and work ethic, but I still question whether he is a good long-term fit in this style of defense. One solid performance isn't going to change that.
2. What's the latest on Jay Ratliff, and when can we expect to see him on the field? Bear down. -- Matthew, Crystal Lake, Ill.
Dickerson: Jeremiah Ratliff, as he now prefers to be called, still appears to be a couple of weeks away from returning to the field after his one-year layoff. Ratliff is with the Bears at Halas Hall, working on the side during practice with a helmet. Conditioning and getting himself into football shape is now the key for Ratliff. It's not easy to take a year off and just jump right back into it. If all goes well with Ratliff's conditioning, I could see him making his Bears debut sometime in the next couple of games, but he will not be active Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
This week our panel weighs in on the importance of a Bears win over the Lions, the Cutler decision and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears will go on to win the NFC North if they beat the Lions on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson:Fiction. It's way too premature to declare the Bears king of the NFC North if they knock off Detroit. If the Bears do improve to 6-3, they definitely will have positioned themselves to be a strong contender to win the division, or at the very least qualify for the playoffs. But let's not write off the Green Bay Packers just yet. Rodgers' fractured collarbone is a tough pill to swallow for Green Bay, but the Packers still have a good amount of talent on their roster, and expect several key players to return from injuries in the next couple of weeks. If Green Bay can just get adequate play from Seneca Wallace, or whomever they start at quarterback until Rodgers returns, then I believe the Packers remain contenders. So are the Lions, even if they lose on Sunday at Soldier Field. I have a feeling the race for the NFC North is going down to the wire.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. With Cutler back and a bunch of mediocre to lousy teams left on the schedule, I think the Bears finish strong, despite a porous defense. They hope the signing of defensive tackle Jeremiah (formerly Jay) Ratliff shores up the defensive line, which finally brought consistent pressure at Green Bay last week. That win over Green Bay is important for the Bears for tiebreaking rules. Detroit will play host to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, presumably without Rodgers, while the Bears likely will have to face him at home in the season finale. For a team that looked hopeless after the Washington loss, the Bears' future is bright again.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should protect Cutler and start Josh McCown on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Cutler is in the final year of his contract. The Bears don't owe him a cent beyond 2013. If Cutler struggles in the first quarter, then McCown needs to come off the bench and finish the game. This really isn't about protecting Cutler. This is about protecting the team. Does a healthy McCown give the Bears the best chance to win against the Lions? I believe he does. But Cutler pushed hard to return for this game. I think it could be in the best interest of coach Marc Trestman to be ready to give him the hook at a moments' notice.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I argued the opposite in a recent Hot Button, but Cutler believes he can go so you have to let him start. This is reality in the NFL. No team would dare bench a starter for more rest to play a journeyman backup, even one as solid as McCown. This isn't a Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith situation. In the NBA or any league with a long, drawn-out schedule, you rest your stars. But in the NFL, if a doctor clears you, you play.
Fact or Fiction: Ratliff will make an impact for the Bears' defensive line this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's impossible to sign off on the idea of Ratliff making an impact until we actually see him on the field. Ratliff told ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that he is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the field, so it sounds as if he might not make his Bears debut until Nov. 24 at St. Louis at the earliest. When healthy, Ratliff was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. But he hasn't played in a game since November 2012. That is a concern.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. He will play at some point soon. If he doesn't suit up, that's a pretty big blunder for a team stretching the salary cap as it is. At 32, Ratliff certainly isn't in the prime of his career, but I'll take a big body and veteran savvy any day. The Bears need help, any help, on that depleted defensive line, and I think the former Pro Bowler can provide it, even if it's in spurts.
Fact or Fiction: Calvin Johnson will have more than 200 yards receiving against the Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Johnson will be his usual dangerous stuff, but he's not going over 200 receiving yards on the Bears. Now, is it possible that Reggie Bush rushes for more than 125 yards? You bet it is. And that's a major issue, because the Bears had all kinds of problems stopping Green Bay running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks on Monday. Charles Tillman's knee isn't 100 percent, so that will be working in Johnson's favor Sunday, but I can't see him replicating the kind of game he had against Dallas two weeks ago with 14 catches for 329 yards. I predict the Bears hold Johnson to 150 yards receiving and one touchdown. Consider that a moral victory.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Sure, he's coming off a 329-yard game and sure, the Bears' defense is a train wreck. But while Johnson is a decent bet to break his single-game mark against the Bears -- 133 yards -- I don't think he'll crack 200 for the second straight week and fourth time in his career. The key, of course, is the Bears defensive line. If they can pressure Matthew Stafford like they did to Rodgers and Wallace, Johnson will be lucky to get past the century mark.
Cutler is expected to test out his injured groin muscle on the practice field on Thursday to give the Bears an idea of where he is at physically in regards to potentially starting at quarterback Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) would not have participated on Wednesday.
Mannelly is considered week-to-week and is not expected to be active this weekend, while Ratliff told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Monday that he is still “a couple of weeks” away from returning from his injury.
Linebacker Blake Costanzo (back), tight end Dante Rosario (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were also listed as being limited.
It’s been nearly a year since Ratliff, 32, last played in a game, and while it’s projected he could play for Chicago in anywhere between two and four weeks, it’s unknown how effective he’ll be once the Bears plug him into the lineup.
From the team’s standpoint, even if Ratliff isn’t ready in the two-to-four week timeframe, it didn’t give up anything to get him, and signed him to a one-year deal, which means there’s no downside for the Bears over the long term. So in weighing the risk versus reward, the team saw the potential positive outcome in signing Ratliff as much more significant than the negative.
Given that Ratliff had plenty of suitors, other teams obviously saw it the same way.
If Ratliff returns as a mediocre player, that’s probably sufficient enough to give the Bears enough confidence to move Corey Wootton back to defensive end from the three-technique defensive tackle position. Normally the starting defensive end opposite Julius Peppers, Wootton was kicked inside to tackle on Oct. 6 in place of Stephen Paea, and ended up having to stay there when the team lost Nate Collins -- who was filling in for franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton -- to a season-ending knee injury. With Wootton forced to play inside, the Bears have started Shea McClellin at defensive end, and the former first-round pick has been ineffective.
So if the Bears can get Ratliff into the lineup over the next few weeks, it should cause a chain reaction along the defensive line that could result in more consistent play against the run, and more push with the pass rush. But the questions for now are when will Chicago be able to make that happen, and whether the team can hold up well enough over the next few weeks for Ratliff’s eventual Bears debut to even matter?
If Chicago buries itself in the NFC North race by losing two of its next three games against the Packers, Lions and Ravens before plugging in Ratliff on Nov. 24 at St. Louis, his debut won’t be as significant as it would be if the Bears were still in the thick of the playoff race.
Also, observers shouldn’t get caught up in the fact Ratliff has spent most of his career playing in a 3-4 defense. When the Cowboys hired former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, there was plenty of optimism inside that organization about the type of production the club could get from Ratliff playing in a penetrating one-gap scheme. In eight seasons with the Cowboys, Ratliff racked up 27 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, and 15 pass breakups, in addition to forcing four fumbles.
In a more aggressive scheme that allows Ratliff to penetrate immediately (as opposed to holding up blockers, reading, and reacting like in a 3-4) the veteran, even at age 32, could still ring up similar numbers as a Bear, provided he’s healthy.
Ratliff will certainly be motivated since he’s playing on a one-year deal, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent. If Ratliff plays well enough, the Bears might even gain some leverage in negotiations with Melton, and could even decide to go with the former moving forward over the latter.
1. Jeff, I haven't heard Stephen Paea's name mentioned lately, is his toe injury still bothering him? What is the outlook on Paea long term? -- Joseph, Barrington, Ill.
Paea is far enough removed from the turf toe injury that it should not severely alter his play moving forward. As for the long-term future, I'd like to see the Bears consider moving Paea to the three-technique in the offseason and keep him there. At the moment, Paea is a better nose tackle. But with an entire offseason to work at the three-technique, I think Paea could be a very effective pass-rusher. I mean, he is one of the strongest guys in the NFL. And he dominated in college at Oregon State, more so during his sophomore season than his junior season. Paea just needs a little more confidence. Remember, Paea didn't speak a word of English until he was 16 years old. He didn't play football until his senior year of high school. In many ways, Paea is still figuring it all out. But his strength and natural abilities are off the charts.
2. Why won't Mel Tucker consider Shea McClellin as a linebacker? Bears coaches and management appear to want him to fail so they can dump his salary rather than what's best for the team. -- Gary, Mineral Bluff, Ga.
Hold on, Gary. The Bears desperately want McClellin to succeed, not fail. McClellin was Phil Emery's first draft choice as general manager of the Bears. Do you honestly believe that Emery wants McClellin to fall by the wayside? On the contrary, the Bears are expected to do everything in their power to make McClellin a player. But he can't switch to linebacker in the middle of the season for a variety of reasons, the most important being that McClellin is probably best suited to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense, not this version of the 4-3. McClellin is certainly capable of moving around the field and lining up in a two-point stance, but not on every down. Because the team had to move Corey Wootton inside to the three-technique defensive tackle, McClellin has to play defensive end. After McClellin and Julius Peppers, the Bears don't have many other options at end, which is why McClellin's snap counts have been skyrocketing since the opening weeks of the season. And McClellin is only making $771,034 in 2013 and has a projected salary-cap number of $2,253,654 next season. Money is not an issue. I agree that McClellin looks to be out of place at defensive end, but that is a problem the Bears need to worry about solving in the offseason. What's done is done.
That's why the Bears had little or no reaction when informed Ware told reporters in Dallas "we're going to be coming" [after quarterback Jay Cutler].
"You always want to prepare for the worst, so that's what we are doing," Bears right tackle Frank Omiyale said. "Whatever they do we'll be able to talk about it on the sideline and get it straight.
"It's a game. When the lights go on, they'll have a job to do, and we'll have a job to do."
The Cowboys' 3-4 front presents new challenges for a Bears offensive line that received mixed reviews following the team's Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions.
"They use their hands a lot better [than Detroit] because of the 3-4 defense," Omiyale said. "We just have to work at staying on our blocks and finishing while the ball carrier is going through the hole."
Ware and Ratliff were 2009 Pro Bowl selections, but Dallas did little to rattle Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb on Sunday. McNabb was only sacked once (by Ware) and hurried five times in the Redskins' 13-7 win. However, the Cowboys' track record of pressure -- especially by Ware -- speaks for itself. The outside linebacker recorded 20 sacks in 2008 and 11 sacks in 2009, while Ratliff posted an impressive 13.5 sacks over the past two years from his nose tackle spot.