Chicago Bears: Todd Collins

Bears free agents: Who will be back?

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
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Anthony AdamsAP Photo/David ZalubowskiAnthony Adams hopes he will be a priority for the Bears once the lockout ends.
Chicago Bears free agent defensive tackle Anthony Adams carefully dissected comments this spring from interviews and award-presentation speeches at Halas Hall.

Somewhere in there he’s put together enough context clues from the team’s brass to string together the words: We want you back.

Perhaps he’ll finally hear that from the club in the coming days, with teams likely getting back to the business of free agency now that the lockout is close to coming to a conclusion.

“At both of the award ceremonies, they spoke very highly of me, and I kind of got a sense that they do want me back from the Ed Block courage award banquet and the Brian Piccolo award ceremony,” Adams said. “From both coach [Lovie] Smith and [defensive line] coach [Rod] Marinelli’s speeches, they want to have me back. I’ve just got to hurry up and wait.”

With new rules soon to be in place, it shouldn’t take long. The league is expected to assign a designated period of three days to sign undrafted rookies and their own free agents before full-blown free agency kicks off around the NFL.

An eight-year veteran, Adams falls into a vital group of Bears free agents -- which includes center Olin Kreutz -- the team will try to re-sign for the upcoming season during what’s sure to be a chaotic time for general manager Jerry Angelo, director of player personnel Tim Ruskell, and contract negotiator Cliff Stein.

Adams hopes (and likely will be) one of the top priorities among that group.

“I love it here, man. I love the crowd, the team, the coaches,” Adams said. “There are really no big egos on this team. We’ve got some pretty heavy hitters on this team, who believe in that team-first concept. That’s really great for someone like me.”

Here’s a look at the players from the 2010 roster that the Bears will be considering during the exclusive three-day window to bring back their own free agents:

Adams

DT Anthony Adams

Priority level: High
Unheralded because he doesn’t post gaudy numbers (36 tackles, two sacks) from his nose tackle spot, Adams is one of the key elements to the team’s stingy run defense. His preference is to remain a Bear, but the club won’t be able to bring him back if it extends the run-of-the-mill three-year, $6 million deal it offered several players before the end of last season.

Aromashodu

WR Devin Aromashodu

Priority level: Low
Aromashodu flashed early last season, but quickly fell out of favor with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Aromashodu doesn’t want to return to Chicago. The team likely feels the same.

Bullocks

S Josh Bullocks

Priority level: Low
Bullocks was solid on special teams last season, but needs to make a more meaningful contribution on defense to stick. If he re-signs, Bullocks will have a tough time making the team.

Clark

TE Desmond Clark

Priority level: Low
Clark shined at training camp last year, and is arguably the club’s most athletic player at tight end. But for some reason Clark never received a legitimate shot to contribute on offense. With time dwindling on his 12-year career, Clark will explore opportunities elsewhere.

Collins

QB Todd Collins

Priority level: Low
His struggles when called upon, Caleb Hanie’s emergence in the NFC Championship game and the team’s decision to draft Nathan Enderle likely have signaled Collins’ exit from Chicago. There’s still a slight chance for a return, however.

Davis

WR Rashied Davis

Priority level: Moderate
Davis continues to be a standout performer on special teams, but might warrant a more extensive look at receiver after a strong outing in the regular-season finale. Davis likely won’t be highly coveted in free agency, thus increasing the prospects for a return to the Bears.

Graham

CB Corey Graham

Priority level: High
Graham cranked out what probably should have been a Pro Bowl season on special teams (he led the league in special-teams stops) in 2010. The team’s problem, however, is Graham probably feels typecast as a special teams only player with no shot at receiving a real opportunity to contribute on defense. That might lead to Graham looking elsewhere.

Iwuh

LB Brian Iwuh

Priority level: High
Iwuh tied for second on the team in special-teams tackles (18) last season, and showed in his only start (team-high 12 tackles with 10 solo against the Seahawks on Oct. 17) that he’s capable of potentially cracking the starting lineup full time. The team offered a multi-year extension at the end of last season, and if the deal is still on the table during the three-day negotiating period, he’ll sign it.

Kreutz

C Olin Kreutz

Priority level: High
Not as dominant a player as he used to be, Kreutz still ranks favorably among other players around the league at his position. Fortunately for the team, the NFL instituted the three-day negotiating window. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the Bears would have competition for his services.

Manning

SS Danieal Manning

Priority level: Moderate
The priority level should be high here, but team sources indicate the club has no plan to offer more than the three-year, $6 million deal it extended prior to the end of last season. Manning missed just three tackles all last year, finally coming into his own at the safety position. If the Bears won’t budge on the financial package, he’ll go elsewhere. Several teams are interested.

Maynard

P Brad Maynard

Priority level: Moderate
Maynard seems to have fallen out of favor with some in the organization after producing somewhat of a down year in 2010. Kicker Robbie Gould has shown strong support for the punter, but it might not be enough.

Roach

LB Nick Roach

Priority level: High
Injuries slowed Roach last season, but he should be in contention for the starting strong-side linebacker position in 2011. Roach wants to re-sign with the Bears, but the club could lose him if it can’t offer a strong deal during the exclusive period. Multiple teams are interested.

Tinoisamoa

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa

Priority level: Moderate
Because of his injury history, Tinoisamoa said the Bears will “try to find a way to devalue” him. When healthy, Tinoisamoa is a strong contributor. But the Bears probably won’t offer much more than a veteran minimum contract.

Wilson

LB Rod Wilson

Priority level: Low
Considered more of a special-teams player and reserve linebacker, Wilson could be brought back for depth reasons. But at this point, a return to Chicago seems unlikely.

Wolfe

RB Garrett Wolfe

Priority level: Low
Wolfe will only fall further down the depth chart with Harvey Unga returning from spending last season on the injured reserve. With the team already stacked at running back, Wolfe’s special-teams prowess still might not be enough to warrant a roster spot.

Note: QB Caleb Hanie is a restricted free agent, and in March received a low tender from the Bears. Running back Kahlil Bell is an exclusive-rights free agent.



NEW ORLEANS -- Seven combined starts in 2010 provided ample opportunity for Chicago Bears backup offensive linemen Lance Louis and Edwin Williams to assert themselves as favorites in Operation Rebuild 2011 along the offensive line.

Unfortunately, though, the duo failed to deliver when called upon, according to Bears coach Lovie Smith.

“If you just be a team player, eventually, you’re gonna really get a chance to prove whether you can play or not, and you need to take advantage of your opportunity,” Smith said. “Lance hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunity. Edwin did not take advantage of his opportunity, or hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunity yet. We still like those guys. They’re young players that are in the system.”

[+] EnlargeChris Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears are hoping Chris Williams can develop somewhere along the offensive line.
Which isn’t necessarily the place either would like to be heading into 2011 considering the team has stated adamantly that it’s in desperate need of a makeover. The offensive line allowed a league-high 56 sacks on Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie and Todd Collins with the unit going through five combinations of starters through the first eight games.

Louis entered last season as the starter at right guard, and started the first four games before bruising his left knee during a brutal performance against the New York Giants in which Cutler suffered a concussion as a result of absorbing an NFL-record nine sacks in the first half.

Williams replaced Louis and started the next three games before losing his spot to Roberto Garza, who moved from the left side to the right after missing two games because of arthroscopic knee surgery.

The ineffectiveness of Louis and Williams in starting stints doesn’t necessarily relegate them to backup roles for the rest of their tenures with the team. But having already seen how Louis and Williams performed under fire in 2010, the Bears will explore elsewhere first before coming back to the duo in their search for pieces in the rebuilding effort up front.

Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo both said they have an idea of how they would like the Bears' offensive line to look in 2011. But Angelo pointed out all the “moving parts” associated with the acquisition of talent brought about by the NFL lockout, which has put free agency on hold until there’s a new collective bargaining agreement.

Without the opportunity to deal in free agency now, the Bears might be forced to replenish talent for the offensive line by rebuilding through the draft, which is a shaky proposition. Smith said the Bears typically begin the offseason conditioning program shortly after they return from the NFL owners meetings, which wrapped up on Tuesday. During that time, players would normally be at the facility working out, watching film, and building the camaraderie necessary for cohesion at positions such as the offensive line.

There’s also the possibility of players hindering any attempt to rebuild up front by reporting to the team after the lockout out of shape. Smith and offensive line coach Mike Tice said they are not worried about such a prospect.

"Chris Williams has been all over the offensive line. J’Marcus [Webb] has a little flexibility of whether he can play left [tackle] or right [tackle]. [Starting left tackle] Frank Omiyale: same thing, [as well as] Roberto Garza. They’ve all played across. We just have to see what the total group looks like first. That’s an area that we’ve said that we would like to improve.”

Firming up the ever-shifting offensive line is an offseason project in itself, especially with regard to Chris Williams, a former first-rounder who was drafted to be the left tackle of the future, but wound up starting 11 regular-season games last season at right guard.

Smith wants to find a permanent position for Chris Williams, and admitted that although he played well on occasion, the left guard battled frustrating spurts of inconsistency.

Olin Kreutz
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLovie Smith said he would like to see veteran center Olin Kreutz return for a 15th season with the Bears.
“One of the offseason projects is just really working and trying to figure out exactly where to play him and try to get him there,” Smith said. “I’m not running away from the question, but he made progress; did some good things last year. We liked some of the things he was able to do. Chris would be the first one to tell you there were other times when the play wasn’t as good as it needed to be. I’m anxious to see Chris go through an entire season healthy, and hopefully have him in the same spot. That’s the plan.”

Of course as the team continues to demonstrate, that could change based on talent acquisition through the draft and free agency, and whether the Bears can retain their own players. Smith said the team would like to re-sign veteran center Olin Kreutz, an unrestricted free agent, while Angelo seemed a bit non-committal about the notion.

Angelo said Louis and Williams both possessed the skill set to possibly play center, which might mean yet another shot for the duo that seemingly squandered its opportunities in 2010. The team also will need to determine what to do at the tackle spots with right tackle Webb -- who Smith said is talented enough to switch to the left side -- and left tackle Frank Omiyale, an aging veteran who was also inconsistent in 2010.

“I just want to make sure everything plays itself out as we go through these periods of allocating players that we get the five best players on the field,” Angelo said. “Anybody who’s in this business and understands personnel, it’s every bit about the continuity and the five players playing together. It’s as critical as the talent of the five players themselves. I’m not underscoring talent; that’s very important. The goal is to get your five talented players playing at the same time. That’s what we want to do.”

Smith echoed that sentiment, while expressing uncertainty about the look of the 2011 Bears offensive line. All everyone associated with the Bears organization knows is the unit needs to perform much better for Cutler to cash on his immense physical skills to take Mike Martz’s potentially explosive offense to new heights in Year 2 of the team’s foray into the system.

“We don’t know for sure what the group will look like,” Smith said. “If you just say, ‘Hey, you guys went with this group’, but you know, unless you’re talking about [linebacker] Brian Urlacher, Jay Cutler and [defensive end] Julius Peppers, it’s pretty hard for me to tell you exactly, and [have] you hold me to it [about] where they’re gonna play. That’s the exciting part about the offseason: putting those pieces together to get that best group.”

Lovie explains QB depth chart

January, 24, 2011
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Give Lovie Smith credit. He tried his absolute best to defend the indefensible.

During a season-ending press conference at Halas Hall on Monday, the Bears coach had a bizarre and downright comical exchange with reporters over the teams decision to place Todd Collins (No. 2) ahead of Caleb Hanie (No. 3) on the quarterback depth. Keep in mind, offensive coordinator Mike Martz was the person responsible for the depth chart debacle, but since assistant coaches were not available, Smith was forced to try and explain the situation.

Q: Lovie, are you going to revisit how you are going to evaluate and develop your No. 2 quarterback?
Smith: "Now why would we do that?"

Q: Well, it seemed to be a problem.
Smith: "No, I like our evaluation of our quarterbacks. You have a No. 1, if he goes down, you have a No. 2. If that doesn't work, you're able to go to your No. 3. We were able to do that and end up with our No. 3, and he was able to put us in a position to possibly win that game. I like our evaluation of our quarterbacks right now.

Q: Shouldn't Hanie have been the No. 2?
Smith: "No, I think you go to No. 2 next and if No. 2 can't do it, you go to No. 3. Which we did. I like that sequence."

Q: But if No. 2 couldn't do it, doesn't that say No. 3 should have been No. 2?
Smith: "No, that's saying No. 2 didn't do the job [Sunday], and we went to No. 3, and I liked what No. 3 was able to do. I think I answered your question.

Q: How did Todd Collins stay No. 2 after throwing four interceptions in Carolina. That's probably a better question.
Smith: "Because we went through practice and we thought he gave us our best chance. We like a veteran being in that position. No more than that. You never know what your second and your third quarterback can do until they play again. Our guys got a chance to play, and we went through the process again with them. We gave No. 2 an opportunity, he didn't do the job, and we gave No. 3 [a chance], and we were really pleased with what he was able to do."

OK, that's all cleared up.

When questioning Bears, start with QB

January, 23, 2011
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CHICAGO -- “If the Bears win, does Caleb Hanie start in Dallas?”

That’s what an ex-teammate of Jay Cutler’s texted me after Hanie led the Bears’ first scoring drive of the game at the start of the fourth quarter.

Crazy, right? But what does it say about Cutler that an ex-NFL player, one who doesn’t like Cutler but respects his talent, could think Hanie, perhaps the most anonymous backup quarterback in the league, is a better option for the Super Bowl than Cutler and his million-dollar arm?

Exactly what you think it does.

Of course Cutler starts in that fictional reality, if healthy, but you can’t tell me his performance before leaving the game with a vague knee injury augured any hope for his future, or heck, his present.

Read the entire column.

Hanie proved himself a solid backup

January, 23, 2011
1/23/11
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CHICAGO -- Caleb Hanie was diplomatic following the Bears’ 21-14 defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday at Soldier Field.

After serving as the Bears No. 2 quarterback the entire 2009 season, Hanie was demoted to third string by Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz in all but three games. Just like he did against the Carolina Panthers in Week 5, Hanie gave the Bears offense a lift upon replacing veteran backup Todd Collins -- who replaced injured starter Jay Cutler -- late in the third quarter.

Although Hanie had a few rough moments Sunday, he clearly outperformed Collins, which raises questions about the Bears depth chart at quarterback.

“They just liked the way Todd was doing things at that time and felt comfortable with him," Hanie said. "He’s been in the league 16 years and he’s done a great job when he’s been elsewhere and so that’s why they go [that way].”

“I’d like to think that I don’t need that type of motivation, but when you get demoted you always have a little extra fire in you to come back and show that they made the wrong decision. But that’s just the coach’s decision at that time and you can’t argue with a guy with 16 years of experience like Todd has.”

Hanie finished the game 13 of 20 for 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The numbers, however, don't paint the entire picture.

“He went out there and laid it all out on the line," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. "He came in, stepped up and played great. You have to take your hat off to the Green Bay defense. That’s a great team, but you have to tip your cap to Caleb and the whole offensive team effort. Caleb came in and gave us a good spark. We just fell a little short.”

“I thought his play was awesome," fellow cornerback Charles Tillman added. "He came in there and I thought he showed tremendous poise on such short notice. For what they asked him to do, I thought he did a good job.”

Collins upgraded to No. 2 QB

November, 2, 2010
11/02/10
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears have altered the depth chart at quarterback for the second time this season.

Read the entire story.

Streaking/Slumping: Week 5

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
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Forte/CollinsGetty ImagesMatt Forte flourished against the Panthers while Todd Collins was historically bad.
STREAKING
Streaking
Matt Forte
1. Matt Forte, RB: Opening the season against Detroit with a career-high 151 receiving yards, Forte accomplished the same feat on the ground (166 yards and two touchdowns) against the Panthers to make up for inadequate quarterbacking performances. The Bears entered the week of preparation for the Panthers game knowing their best shot at winning would be to get the rushing attack going. Forte rose to the challenge when called upon, averaging 7.5 yards per carry, while showcasing his home-run pedigree with a 68-yard burst. The key moving forward for Forte is to continue producing on the ground, which in turn, will open up the passing attack where he’s also a considerable threat.

Streaking
Danieal Manning
2. Danieal Manning, S, KR: Devin Hester might be just as deserving of this spot, but Manning continues to contribute significantly in multiple phases. Manning took his first two kickoff returns against the Panthers for 62 and 37 yards, respectively, with both leading to Forte touchdowns. On the defensive side, Manning followed up his 11-tackle performance against the Giants with four tackles and broke up what appeared to be a sure touchdown pass in the end zone. Having endured countless criticism throughout his career in Chicago, the safety says he’s taken a more loose approach in games, which appears to be paying off significantly.

Streaking
Israel Idonije
3. Israel Idonije, DE: A classic example of taking advantage of an opportunity, Idonije responded to taking sole possession of the starting left defensive end job by producing the highest sack total (3) of his career while forcing a fumble. The Bears wanted someone to finally step up and exploit the one-on-one matchups created by blocking schemes devoted to neutralizing Julius Peppers, and Idonije did that. More importantly, Idonije didn’t expose some scrub at offensive tackle. The veteran held his own against Jordan Gross, considered one of the NFL's top tackles. Idonije also played a major role in the Bears limiting the Panthers to 85 rushing yards.

SLUMPING
Slumping
Todd Collins
1. Todd Collins, QB: Veteran backup quarterback Collins smartly expects the club to demote him in favor of Caleb Hanie on Wednesday, when it gets to work in preparation for Sunday’s game against Seattle. Collins tossed four interceptions, and completed just 37.5 percent of his passes to finish with an embarrassing 6.2 passer rating. Give Collins credit for stepping up and taking full responsibility for his struggles, calling the performance his worst at any sport and any level. Despite the bad game, Collins can still be a productive backup if the Bears get into a pinch. The question, though, is whether the Bears keep him around now that Jay Cutler is back healthy.

Slumping
Harris
2. Tommie Harris, DT: It’s important to note that Harris didn’t play badly against the Panthers. He just didn’t make much of an impact. A quick scan of the official game book from Sunday’s contest shows the defensive tackle wasn’t even credited with a tackle against the Panthers. Harris’ role is clearly diminishing. The club’s top defensive tackle over the years, Harris has started in just two of the club’s five games and was inactive for another. He’s registered just three tackles and a fumble recovery so far, which is disappointing, considering the club’s lofty expectations for Harris coming into the season, and the fact he’s in the healthiest he has been in recent years.

Slumping
Johnny Knox
3. Johnny Knox, WR: It’s pretty clear that Collins’ inept performance against the Panthers dragged Knox down to this spot. Knox leads the team with six receptions of 20 yards or more (for an average of 34.3 yards on those catches), and appeared to be on pace to become the first 1,000-yard Bears receiver since Marty Booker (2002). But Knox is coming off consecutive one-catch performances, and hasn’t been able to contribute much in the kickoff return game (one return over the past two weeks for 13 yards). Knox won’t be in this spot long, though. With Cutler expected to return for Sunday’s game, look for Knox’s production to rise.

Sources: Hanie expected to be No. 2 QB

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Caleb Hanie's brief appearance against the Carolina Panthers coupled with a horrid outing by veteran Todd Collins provided sufficient evidence to likely make a change on the Chicago Bears' quarterback depth chart.

Read the entire story.

Hanie not jumpy, just staying connected

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
7:48
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[+] EnlargeHanie
AP Photo/Mike McCarnCaleb Hanie got on the field at the end of the third quarter, relieving Todd Collins.
CHARLOTTE -- To the untrained eye, Caleb Hanie looked ready to enter Sunday's game long before the Chicago Bears made the official quarterback switch late in the third quarter.

Normally, a backup quarterback dons a baseball cap on the sidelines, but Hanie opted to wear his helmet whenever the Bears offense, led by Todd Collins, took the field.

"Today, we had only one headset on the sidelines and Jay [Cutler] was wearing it," Hanie said after the Bears' 23-6 victory over the Panthers. "During the game I had my helmet on because I was trying to get the calls through the helmet so I could hear them as well. I was wearing my helmet most of the game because of that. It was just so I could practice hearing the calls the same as if I would if I were on the field."

Although Collins struggled in the first half, the Bears did not approach Hanie at halftime.

"They were with Todd the whole time [at halftime] and didn't say anything about that," Hanie said. "I just knew I had to be ready no matter what, in case he goes down or whatever. I just knew if they needed me, I had to be ready. I didn't need them to do that [talk to me at halftime]. Even if they would have put me in [without a heads up], I would have been fine."

Hanie replaced Collins at the end of the third quarter and completed 2 of 3 passes for 19 yards.

Bears find way to stumble into first

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
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CHARLOTTE -- Break out the bubbly, the Chicago Bears finally won a preseason game!

(Shuffles papers, examines Internet, calls the NFL for clarification)

Wait a second, this was a regular-season game. No wonder we got the "a-win-is-a-win" treatment after the game.

Read the entire column.

5 things we learned: Bears-Panthers

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
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CHARLOTTE -- Here are five things we learned following the Bears' 23-6 victory over the Panthers.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Bob Donnan/US PresswireJulius Peppers made a big impact in his return to Charlotte with an interception.
1. This meant a ton to Julius Peppers: The normally laid-back Peppers tried to downplay his return to Carolina leading up to the game, but the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end showed his true feelings by celebrating after a first-quarter interception. Peppers put his finger up to his lips to silence the crowd, a gesture he repeated later in the game following a pressure on Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen. A grinning Peppers said the move "spoke for itself" when questioned about it in a postgame press conference. The only time a dead Charlotte crowd made any noise was to boo after Peppers' name was announced after a tackle. Peppers got the last laugh, in more ways than one.

2. Israel Idonije responded: The Bears desperately needed another defensive end to step up in the wake of Mark Anderson being released, and Idonije delivered. Not only did Idonije tie for the team lead with seven tackles according to NFL statistics handed out in the press box, but the defensive end also registered a career-high three sacks. It was curious for the Bears to sit Charles Grant -- why sign a guy and not play him? -- but Idonije more than made up for it. If the Bears can consistently get pressure from the other end spot, Peppers becomes that much more dangerous.

3. The Bears can still win with defense and special teams: Lovie Smith called it "old school Bears ball." With the starting quarterback on the bench, the Bears turned back the clock to 2005, leaning on their defense and special teams to finish off the Panthers. After an early wake-up call, the Bears' defense shut down Carolina's anemic attack and limited the Panthers to only 147 net yards. Big returns by Danieal Manning and Devin Hester also gave the Bears great field position. This style of play probably won't work anymore against good teams, but for one day, they jumped into the time machine.

4. Caleb Hanie should be the No. 2: Todd Collins has the experience, but Hanie has the talent. Mike Martz predictably and incorrectly opted to start the experienced Collins over Hanie -- after all, Martz was the guy who pushed so hard for a veteran backup -- but the Bears were able to overcome the poor decision basically because Carolina is awful. At this point, it would be a little surprising if Jay Cutler sat out next week against the Seahawks, but if he does, there is no question Hanie gives the Bears the best chance to win. Hanie has stepped in twice this year and made plays. Collins turned the ball over four times. What else is there to debate?

5. Good things happen when Forte and Taylor touch the ball: It's unclear why Matt Forte and Chester Taylor saw their roles in the offense diminish after Week 1, but after combining for 218 yards on the ground, there is absolutely no reason why the duo's workload should ease up once Cutler returns. Forte and Taylor are two of the best players on the offensive side of the ball, and they both need touches. Every week. It was encouraging to see a little improvement from the offensive line with the insertion of J'Marcus Webb and Edwin Williams in the starting lineup. Hopefully, that unit can start to build some continuity after Chris Williams officially comes back, and the run game can become a consistent theme of the offense, not just a one-time freak occurrence because Cutler was out.

Collins: One of worst games I've had

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
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CHARLOTTE -- Chicago Bears quarterback Todd Collins offered up a candid assessment of his own play following the Bears' 23-6 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Read the entire story.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 23, Panthers 6

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
2:13
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CHARLOTTE -- Missing injured quarterback Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears leaned on a combination of the ground game led by Matt Forte and electric outings on special teams from Danieal Manning and Devin Hester to topple the Carolina Panthers 23-6.

The contest answered major questions about whether the Bears could finally get the ground game going, but several issues remained unresolved. We’ll take a look at some of them here.

What it means: The Bears maintained their division lead, and captured a much-needed road victory with Jay Cutler out of action. Most importantly though, Chicago seizes momentum for two consecutive home games against the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins leading into its bye. The Bears have a perfect opportunity to build their record to 6-1 headed into the bye.

Peppers disruptive in return: Playing in his home state against the team that originally drafted him, Julius Peppers put on a show in his homecoming to make one of the most exciting plays of the day.

Coming off the left end, Peppers batted a Jimmy Clausen pass and patiently watched from his knees as the ball floated into his arms for an interception. Peppers contributed four tackles through the first three quarters while pressuring Clausen on several occasions.

All the attention given to Peppers by Carolina’s offensive line also allowed Israel Idonije to post three sacks for the first time in his career.

Re-thinking Collins: Perhaps Todd Collins shouldn’t remain the Bears’ primary backup behind starter Jay Cutler. It appears time has passed Collins by.

Collins, 38, tossed four interceptions in producing a largely ineffective performance that included a 6.3 passer rating passer, and an average of just 2 yards per completion. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz indicated last week that he felt more comfortable with Collins because of the veteran’s experience and background in the scheme.

But the intangibles couldn’t make up for the quarterback’s physical shortcomings. So the club pulled Collins with 2:06 left in the third quarter to bring in inexperienced reserve Caleb Hanie.

Although the staff expects Cutler to return next week, it can’t ignore Collins’ struggles and might need to consider elevating Hanie to the No. 2 spot permanently. Hanie performed well during brief action in the preseason, and is clearly a more mobile option for Chicago, which is important considering the shaky state of the team’s offensive line.

Line changes: The Bears made a couple of moves along the offensive line prior to Sunday’s contest, forcing two starters from last week’s game against the Giants (Lance Louis and Kevin Shaffer) to the sidelines. The club started Edwin Williams at right guard in place of Louis and rookie J’Marcus Webb replaced Shaffer at right tackle.

Williams filled in last week for Louis, who suffered a knee injury, while Webb shared snaps with Shaffer during the Giants game. The Bears announced just before Sunday’s outing they would start Webb and Williams, and the duo took all the snaps without any real shuffling along the line.

Although the offensive line didn’t give a repeat performance of the 10 sacks it gave up against the Giants, it’s difficult to say whether the most recent moves up front made much of a difference. The Panthers sacked Collins twice and Hanie once, in addition to recording three official quarterback hits.

Goal-line blues: Bears running back Matt Forte rushed for 166 yards and a pair of touchdowns in helping the club run for the most yards in one half (168) since Dec. 20, 1998 (James Allen ran for 135 yards against the Baltimore Ravens) but the club continues to struggle at punching it in from the goal line.

After failing to punch it in from the Carolina 1-yard line on two attempts Sunday, the Bears are now 0 for 9 on the season from an opponent’s 1.

That’s got to be a major concern moving forward for this team.

What’s next: Bears host a well-rested, yet up and down Seattle (2-2) team coming off its bye.

Second-quarter wrap: Bears 17, Panthers 3

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
12:49
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BearsGeoff Burke/Getty ImagesMatt Forte has taken some pressure off Todd Collins, but the Bears quarterback has still thrown three interceptions.
CHARLOTTE -- After a fast-start, the Bears' offense struggled in the second quarter behind starting quarterback Todd Collins and lead the Carolina Panthers 17-3 at halftime.

Collins tossed a pair of second quarter interceptions (three total picks in the first half) and finished the half with a quarterback rating of 12.9. The Bears failed to score in the second-quarter despite a consistently successful run game led by Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, and excellent field position.

The Bears converted only 1 of 6 third-down attempts.

On the other hand, the Bears' defense dominated Carolina's offense, limiting the Panthers to only three first downs in the opening half. Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen was just as ineffective as Collins, completing only three passes for 20 yards.

Nuts and Bolts: Bears vs. Panthers

October, 9, 2010
10/09/10
6:24
PM ET
THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Bears need to put pressure on Panthers' rookie QB Jimmy Clausen by stopping the running game.
Help Collins by running

The Bears can’t afford to let Carolina exploit Todd Collins’ lack of mobility. So the worst thing that could happen would be for Chicago to become one-dimensional due to an inability to run the ball. The Bears need to run effectively to take the Panthers out of attack mode, which would also buy Collins some time on play action. To gain large chunks of yardage, running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor need to make Carolina’s athletic linebackers miss at the second level. However, if the offensive line continues to sputter, and fails to open up the rush lanes, the Bears could be in for another long day.

Stuff the ground game

The Bears know they need to find a way to make Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen beat them. The best way to do that is to take an early lead, and stuff running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to put the Panthers in pass mode. That could open up the door for turnovers, and possibly defensive touchdowns as well. The Bears should be leery of Williams’ and Stewart’s ability as cutback runners. Cutback runs gave the Bears fits last week against the Giants, and it’s a given the Panthers will look to go the same route. Sure tackling from the backside defenders will be key in neutralizing the cutback runs.

“Two years ago… both backs had 1,100 yards; first time in the history of the league,” Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “They know how to run the football, and they’ve got really good backs. We’ve got to gear up and do our jobs.”

Harass Clausen

Clausen has shown improvement in each of the past two weeks, but let’s not forget he’s a rookie quarterback susceptible to the mistakes that come with inexperience. With Julius Peppers returning to his home state to play against the team that originally drafted him, Chicago needs to take advantage of the added intensity the defensive end will bring by winning the one-on-one matchups he’ll create. The front seven can also help themselves before the snap by disguising fronts to confuse Clausen. The Bears don’t typically do it, but they should be able to manufacture some pressure with linebackers on occasion. The secondary could add to the harassment with tight coverage. In addition to a rookie quarterback, the Panthers are starting two rookie receivers.

“He is a rookie, and we realize that,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Clausen. “But [he’s] a rookie with a lot of talent. It’s not like it’s his first game.”


THREE KEYS FOR THE PANTHERS

[+] EnlargeJ'Marcus Webb
Richard A. Brightly/Icon SMIThe Panthers may test Bears rookie tackle J'Marcus Webb.
Find the cutback lanes

After giving up 189 rushing yards last week, mainly due to missed tackles on cutback runs, the Bears will look to force Williams and Stewart to the outside edges, which would buy time for defenders to get to the ball and neutralize the running backs’ ability to cut against the grain. Carolina’s running backs can’t allow that to happen, and need to utilize their vision to attack even the slightest of backside holes. By hitting big runs, Carolina’s backs would also take some of the pressure off Clausen, and the club’s inexperienced receiving corps.

Attack interior and right side of line

The interior and right sides of Chicago’s offensive line have proven to be the best route to getting to the club’s quarterback. Of the Bears’ 18 sacks, 12 have come from those areas. So it’s important to attack there, which would also prompt Chicago’s coaching staff to disrupt cohesiveness by playing musical chairs with personnel up front. There’s a good chance the Bears will start rookie J’Marcus Webb at right tackle. Carolina needs to test him early with twists and blitzes that could cause the rookie to blow an assignment. Carolina should also test the mobility of Bears guards Lance Louis and Roberto Garza, who have been hobbled by knee injuries.

Avoid turnovers

The Panthers have turned over the ball 13 times through four games, with seven coming on fumbles. Interestingly, the Bears rank second in the league with 11 takeaways. The Bears have recovered seven fumbles this season, with Peppers and safety Chris Harris forcing three of them and Brian Urlacher forcing another two. Williams, Stewart and Clausen, especially, need to make sure to hold onto the ball because the Bears will definitely be looking to strip it. Carolina’s rookie receivers need to be on the lookout too, because cornerback Charles Tillman has proven to be the club’s best at stripping the football.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Evan PinkusBears defensive end Julius Peppers will take on former Panthers teammate Jordan Gross on Sunday.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: JULIUS PEPPERS VS. JORDAN GROSS

Peppers and Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross lined up across from one another at practice for several years, which makes this matchup one of the game’s most interesting.

The Bears will line up Peppers on both sides throughout the contest, but when he and Gross clash it’s worth watching because the left tackle says he’s never been more familiar with an opponent. Peppers says basically the same thing about Gross.

Interestingly, Peppers claims to have developed a few pass-rushing moves since his departure from Carolina that Gross and the Panthers haven’t seen.


STREAKS

  • Tight end Greg Olsen has scored four touchdowns in Chicago’s six last regular season games, dating back to last season.

  • Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Olsen and Forte have caught a pass in every game this season. With 258 yards through the first four games, Knox is on pace to finish with the season with 1,032 yards, which would make him the club’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2002 (Marty Booker).

  • The Panthers won their last two outings against the Bears, including a 29-21 win in the 2005 playoffs.

    BY THE NUMBERS

    7: Average margin of victory in the five-game series between the Panthers and Bears

    32: Where the Panthers, which average 11.5 points per game, rank in points scored this season.

    9: Career takeaways for Zack Bowman, who has played in 21 games for the Bears.

    392: Punts landed inside an opponent’s 20 by Brad Maynard, which ranks as third in the league since 1976.

    .500: Chicago’s road record against NFC opponents since 2004 (19-19).
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