Chicago Bears: Zack Bowman

Bears pick Ka'Deem Carey in 4th

May, 10, 2014
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videoLAKE FOREST, Ill. – The pick: Ka’Deem Carey, running back, Arizona

My take: General manager Phil Emery said before the draft the Bears planned to add more competition at running back behind starter Matt Forte after the team released veteran Michael Bush in March. Carey rushed for 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns over the last two years at Arizona. His 1,885 yards on the ground last season ranked third nationally.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsArizona's Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns over the last two years at Arizona.
Tailbacks in Marc Trestman’s offense must have the ability to catch the football. Carey hauled in 26 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown in 2013.

Carey set the Pac-12 and Arizona single-game record with 366 rushing yards versus Colorado.

This appears to be a sold pick from a production standpoint.

Character concern: Carey reportedly had issues off-the-field in college. The running back was charged with disorderly conduct and assault for allegedly pushing his pregnant ex-girlfriend to the floor and slamming her hand in a door. The charges were eventually dropped. These are serious accusations.

Under Emery, the Bears have not been afraid to draft players with questionable character. The belief is that sufficient leadership and stability exists in the building to handle potential problem players.

Carey will be afforded every opportunity to prove he is not a clone of 2012 fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez, who the Bears released after his rookie year following multiple run-ins with the law. Rodriguez also had problems throughout his college career.

What’s next: Bears next pick is at No. 156 overall in the 5th round. The Bears are a prime example that quality players can be found on the third day of the draft. Chicago struck gold in the fifth round last year when they selected offensive tackle Jordan Mills out of Louisiana Tech. Mills went on to start all 16 games before breaking his foot in pregame warm-ups before the Bears’ Week 17 battle at Soldier Field.

Retired wide receiver Johnny Knox, New York Giants cornerback Zack Bowman and Buffalo Bills cornerback Corey Graham are also former fifth-round picks of the Bears who went on to have productive NFL careers.

The Bears could look to add a linebacker or safety with their next choice. Both remain areas of need.

Bears free agency: good and bad

March, 28, 2014
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Jennings
Good
Tim Jennings
Position: Cornerback
Contract: Third contract with Bears -- four years, $22.4 million
Years of service with Bears: 2010-present

Recap: The Bears viewed Jennings as a placeholder when they initially signed him to a two-year deal in 2010 after he played the first four years of his NFL career in Indianapolis. Three contracts later, Jennings is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and considered one of the defense's top performers. In four years in Chicago, Jennings has 287 tackles, 16 interceptions, 45 pass breakups and five forced fumbles in 58 starts. Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions in 2012, tied for the second most in Bears' single-season history. Not bad for a player that began 2010 as the No. 3 cornerback on the roster behind Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman.

Taylor
Bad
Chester Taylor
Position: Running back
Contract: Four years, $12.5 million
Year of service with Bears: 2010

Recap: Taylor had a successful eight-year run in Baltimore and Minnesota. He even rushed for 1,216 yards in 2006 for the Vikings. But Taylor only averaged 2.4 yards per carry on 112 attempts (267 yards) in 2010. While Matt Forte flourished in the backfield en route to another 1,000 season (1,069 yards), Taylor never seemed to find a groove. Instead of paying Taylor's salary in 2011, the Bears released him. He played one more season for the Arizona Cardinals before leaving the league. Taylor's signing began a steak of bad No. 2 running backs behind Forte on the depth chart.

Bears, McManis agree to one-year deal

March, 19, 2014
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The Bears agreed to terms on a one-year contract Wednesday with standout special-teams cornerback Sherrick McManis.

McManis finished second on the team last year with 15 special-teams tackles.

The 6-foot-1 native of Peoria, Ill., has appeared in 27 games for the Bears over the last two seasons and recorded 25 combined stops on special teams. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 9 of 2012 for blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown.

McManis spent his first two years in the league with the Houston Texans before being traded to the Bears on Aug. 31, 2012, in exchange for fullback Tyler Clutts.

The Texans selected McManis in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft with the 144th overall selection. McManis played collegiately at Northwestern, where he ranked sixth on the Wildcats' career interceptions list with nine and third on the school's pass breakups list with 30.

While McManis is now back in the fold, veteran free-agent cornerback Zack Bowman remains unsigned. Most of the team's second- and third-tier players have agreed to terms on contracts in the offseason that include no guaranteed money. That has resulted in certain players being reluctant to accept new contracts, but options for many are dwindling a week-plus into the free-agency period.

Bowman recorded 49 tackles, three interceptions and one touchdown in seven starts for the Bears last season.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until Mar. 11 at 3 p.m. CST when new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the second part of our week-long series.

Melton
2014 free agent: Henry Melton

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: 3 games (three starts); 5 tackles, two quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $8.45M base salary, $4,725 workout bonus -- $8,454,725 cash value.

Outlook: Once the negotiating window opens up on Mar. 8, Melton fully expects to start discussing potential deals with other teams. That expectation comes as a result of talks with the Bears that haven’t quite gone the way Melton’s representatives would have hoped, which is understandable considering he’s coming off a torn ACL, and a recent arrest, not to mention concerns about his level of commitment. Bears coach Marc Trestman has raved about Melton’s rehabilitation, and there’s a desire on the team’s part to bring him back for 2014. But with the team tight against the cap, Melton can’t expect to receive a deal anywhere near the $8.45 million franchise tender he signed in 2014, coming off a Pro Bowl season. Melton will have some suitors, and there’s a chance he could come back to Chicago at a reduced rate.

2014 free agent: Zack Bowman

Position: Cornerback

2013 statistics: 16 games (seven starts); 49 tackles, three interceptions (one touchdown), 10 pass breakups, two tackles-for-loss and three special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary, $65,000 signing bonus and $5,245.00 workout bonus -- $785,425 cash value.

Outlook: Bowman is expected to test free agency, but the Bears want him to return. At 29 years old with 23 career starts over six seasons, Bowman will probably generate interest from teams in need of depth at the cornerback position. The Bears were pleased with how Bowman performed when he replaced Charles Tillman in the second half of 2013, although it’s unknown if the club is willing to offer the six-year NFL veteran anything above a league minimum contract. Bowman’s leverage would increase if Tillman leaves the Bears via free agency. Bottom line: the Bears are a better team with Bowman on the roster in 2014. It wouldn’t take much to keep him in Chicago, but he is coming off a productive season. That is an important factor to remember.

Wright
2014 free agent: Major Wright

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 15 games (15 starts); 117 tackles (97 solo), two interceptions, 1 pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

2013 salary: $1.323M base salary and $5,075 workout -- $1,328,075 cash value.

Outlook: After a solid showing in 2012, Wright came into the 2013 season with high expectations, but regressed to the point at which there’s a perceived need at the safety position. While it appears Wright can be salvaged, it’s expected he’ll test the market because the Bears don’t appear inclined to offer anything more than a veteran minimum type of deal. Wright possesses the skillset to be a solid starter for the Bears moving forward. But his lack of consistency has become such a liability the Bears are likely strongly considering replacing him.

Wootton
Wootton
2014 free agent: Corey Wootton

Position: Defensive line

2013 statistics: 16 games (15 starts); 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.

2013 salary: $1.323M base salary and $5,600 signing bonus -- $1,328,600 cash value

Outlook: The Bears talks with Wootton have likely not surpassed the exploratory phase after the versatile defensive lineman underwent hip surgery in the offseason. It’s simply too early to tell when Wootton will be fully recovered from the procedure, although given Wootton’s work ethic and physical fitness level, he could be ready to return to the field in June. Wootton proved in 2013 that he can be both a viable defensive end and tackle. The ability to bounce inside and line up at tackle should aid Wootton (seven sacks in 2012) when he enters free agency. Wootton is a talented player with impressive size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) who is extremely well-liked in the locker room. But the Bears will probably wait to see how they address defensive line in free agency and the draft before they make a final decision on the still recovering Wootton. He could be off the market before the draft concludes in early May, but the Bears don’t seem to be in a rush.

Melton drops weight, Bears want him back

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.

Bears sign CB Derricus Purdy

February, 19, 2014
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The Chicago Bears signed former Texas Southern cornerback Derricus Purdy, according to the NFL transaction wire.

Texas Southern’s official website lists Purdy as having 34 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups for the Tigers in 2012.

The 6-foot, 190 pound cornerback went undrafted in 2013.

Even with a long-term deal in place for Pro Bowler Tim Jennings, the Bears are expected to experience some turnover at the cornerback position with veterans Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman, Sherrick McManis and Kelvin Hayden all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.

Purdy is the third cornerback the Bears have inked to a reserve/futures deal since the end of the regular season, joining C.J. Wilson and Demontre Hurst on the offseason roster.

Bears position outlook: Cornerback

January, 30, 2014
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Free agents: Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman, Sherrick McManis and Kelvin Hayden.

The good: Tim Jennings earned a return trip to the Pro Bowl and a new four-year, $22.4 million contract after he led the defense with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Before he suffered a season-ending triceps injury, Tillman had three picks and three forced fumbles. Bowman, who replaced Tillman in the starting lineup for the final seven weeks, had two interceptions and a pick-six in a pivotal win over the Cleveland Browns. Second-year nickel back Isaiah Frey made 62 tackles despite playing some of the year with a broken hand. The Bears' pass defense was by far the strength of the unit in 2013. McManis was second on the team with 15 special teams tackles.

The bad: Losing a player of Tillman’s caliber would hurt any team. Bowman did an admirable job stepping in for the two-time Pro Bowler, but Tillman is a turnover machine. His playmaking ability was missed. Hayden, who began training camp as the starting nickel back, went on injured reserve during the preseason.

The money (2014 salary cap figures): Jennings is scheduled to count $7.5 million against the cap next year, per the terms of his new deal. Frey, a 2012 sixth-round draft choice, will eat up only $495,000 worth of space in 2014. It’s unclear what the Bears plan to offer Tillman in free agency, but it will likely be far less than the $8,001,575 he made last season.

Draft priority: The Bears do have a couple of young cornerbacks on their offseason roster (C.J. Wilson and Demontre Hurst), but with Tillman, Bowman, McManis and Hayden all in-line to test the market, general manager Phil Emery would be justified in selecting a cornerback in the draft. Bowman is another versatile veteran who can be re-signed for close to the league minimum.

Stock Watch: Forte on verge of career year

December, 17, 2013
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Matt Forte Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesWith another 39 yards rushing, Matt Forte will have a new career high.

RISING

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Matt Forte
1. Matt Forte, RB: Forte has done some of his best work of the season in the month of December. Sunday's 127-yard rushing effort against the Cleveland Browns marked the third straight week Forte topped 100 yards on the ground. Through 14 games, Forte has rushed for 1,200 yards, and is just 38 yards shy of the career-best 1,238 yards he ran for as a rookie in 2008. One of the best all-around tailbacks in the NFL, Forte has accumulated a career-high 1,722 yards from scrimmage, the highest total of any player in franchise history other than Walter Payton. While the Bears' quarterback position is receiving the bulk of the attention, the ground game led by Forte is stronger than ever.

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James Anderson
2. James Anderson, LB: The veteran strongside linebacker recorded a team-high and season-best 14 tackles in the win against the Browns. Anderson, along with rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic (eight tackles), were around the football much of the afternoon. The past couple of months have not been easy for Anderson. With veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams unavailable because of injuries, Anderson was thrust into the leadership role at linebacker, playing alongside rookies Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

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Zack Bowman
3. Zack Bowman, CB: Bowman had perhaps the finest game of his six-year NFL career against the Browns when he intercepted two passes, returning the second one 43 yards for a touchdown. Although cornerback Charles Tillman is a two-time Pro Bowler and the greatest defensive back in team history, it's not as if the Bears have fallen off a cliff with Bowman in the starting lineup the past five weeks. Bowman recorded eight or more tackles in three of the four games prior to the Browns victory, and is now tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He is a relative bargain at a combined $785,425 salary in 2013.

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Alshon Jeffery
4. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery receives a weekly mention in the stock report. His remarkable 45-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter over two Browns defenders swung the momentum in the Bears' favor for good. Jeffery has caught four touchdowns in the past three weeks, and is on pace to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl with 80 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. Jeffery joked after the game Sunday that his teammates called him a "human highlight reel." With apologies to basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, that nickname is very appropriate for Jeffery.

FALLING

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Stephen Paea
1. Stephen Paea, DT: Paea's problematic toe limited the nose tackle to 15 snaps in the win against Cleveland. Injuries are part of the game, but unfortunately for Paea, veteran Jeremiah Ratliff has emerged in his absence. Ratliff was on the field for 44 of the Bears' 58 defensive snaps, recording three tackles, one tackle-for-loss and three quarterback hits, according to the coaches review of the film. If Ratliff continues to produce at that level, it could make it difficult for Paea to be on the field as much as he would like in the final two regular season games.

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Shea McClellin
2. Shea McClellin, DE: McClellin played 46 snaps in Week 15 and registered zero tackles and two quarterback pressures. That means McClellin has a combined four tackles in the past four games since returning from a hamstring injury. McClellin hasn't recorded a sack since he had the hat trick (three sacks) against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4 en route to winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week. His hit on Aaron Rodgers altered the NFC North race, but that occurred more than a month ago. It would be great for the Bears' defense -- and for McClellin's confidence -- if the former first-round pick can finish out the regular season on a high note. Pressuring the quarterback is important. McClellin can do that. But can he begin to sack the quarterback on a regular basis? That remains to be seen, as McClellin has six sacks in 26 career games.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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CLEVELAND -- An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns:

Cutler’s rust: It would be unrealistic to believe that Jay Cutler could knock off all the rust from a month away from the game in just one outing. So you can expect to see the quarterback exhibit a little rust at times next week at Philadelphia. That’s normal.

Cutler
“I had some throws that were high,” Cutler said of his two interceptions in the first half.

Cutler will be able to work out the kinks much faster over the next couple of weeks, but he’ll really help himself at practice by taking on tons of repetitions to improve his comfort level. Cutler knows that when the Bears face Philadelphia, he can’t put together a start like he did against Cleveland and think he’ll be able to bounce back easily.

The run defense looked better: But we’ve got to keep it in proper perspective because the Bears were facing a 28th-ranked Cleveland rushing attack that featured players such as Fozzy Whittaker, Edwin Baker and Chris Ogbonnaya. (Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of any of them.) What’s encouraging, however, is the Bears are definitely starting to build some chemistry along the front four, and that’s because the club is finally able to use the same lineup for multiple games. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff continues to grow with each game after missing more than a year of football, and middle linebacker Jon Bostic is starting to fly around and make plays. Let’s also remember that there’s a good chance Lance Briggs will return to the lineup to face the Eagles.

Corners shining: Tim Jennings essentially shut down Dez Bryant and Josh Gordon in back-to-back outings. Sure, both players caught touchdown passes. But neither had a huge impact on the game; Jennings limited them to a total of 79 yards on five receptions. That’s what we call balling. On the other side, Zack Bowman, filling in for an injured Charles Tillman, picked off two passes against the Browns and returned one for a touchdown.

Now the Bears need to get their safeties to play at a higher level.

Forte quietly destroying opponents: Matt Forte has rushed for 100 yards or more in three consecutive games, carrying the ball 20 times or more each time. Forte is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt over the past three games and needs just 38 yards over the next two contests to match his career high for rushing yards (1,238). Cutler has said that Forte is the glue that holds together the entire offense. That’s absolutely true.
CLEVELAND -- Naturally, nobody on the Chicago Bears defense walked away from Sunday's 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns totally satisfied with the way they performed.

But for once, they weren't answering questions about the defense giving away games.

[+] EnlargeZack Bowman
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsZack Bowman had two picks and a score in Chicago's win over Cleveland.
"It feels good, actually," said cornerback Zack Bowman, who finished with two interceptions, including one he returned 43 yards for a touchdown. "Obviously there are things we've got to do better. But after the game, nobody was talking about it. We got the win."

The defense also accomplished some of the objectives outlined during the week at practices and meetings.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker set goals for the defense to hold the Browns to fewer than 100 yards rushing (they finished with 93), 17 points or fewer, and generate takeaways.

"I think we hit two of those," defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff said. "It's a good start. Not to try to take away from the effort, but we need to win the turnover battle."

The Bears definitely won the matchup against Browns receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon had racked up 774 yards receiving in the four games prior to Sunday's, but with Tim Jennings as the primary man in coverage, the receiver caught just three passes (despite being targeted 10 times) for 67 yards and a touchdown. The majority of Gordon's receiving yardage came on a 43-yard score in trash time.

Cameron, meanwhile, was coming off a game against the New England Patriots last week in which he produced a career-high 121 yards receiving, which marked his second 100-yard game of the season. Against the Bears, however, Cameron caught three passes for 23 yards.

For two weeks in a row, Jennings has drawn the likes of Dez Bryant and Gordon and has limited them to a total of 79 yards on six receptions, with each scoring only one touchdown.

"It's unbelievable. This is two weeks in a row," Bowman said. "He had Dez last week, and he had Gordon this week. I'm just speechless, man. He's one of the best corners in the NFL."

The job Jennings did on Gordon played a significant role in Chicago's success against the Browns. Gordon didn't catch a pass until the first play of the second half.

"Just to try to limit those guys from making the big plays was huge. Coach has done a good job of mixing it up, giving a Cover-2 look, Cover-3 look, man-to-man look. So anytime we can mix it up to try to take those guys out of the game, we've got a good chance to try to win," Jennings said. "Our D-line and the guys are starting to click. We're putting some pressure on the quarterback and making him get the ball out quicker. So we're able to take those big-play receivers out of the game a little bit."

The Bears failed to sack Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, but the forced him to throw faster than he wanted, resulting in errant passes picked off by Bowman.

Bowman's 43-yard interception return for a touchdown with 13:48 left in the third quarter marked the sixth time the Bears scored a touchdown on defense. The club has now won 12 consecutive outings in which they've scored on defense. The Bears are now 26-2 since 2005 in games they score a defensive touchdown.

Bowman's first pick of the game came on a pass intended for Cameron.

"When we score on defense, we win games," Bowman said.

Chicago also snuffed out the run, which is an accomplishment for the NFL's 32nd-ranked rush defense facing a Cleveland rushing attack that ranked No. 27. The Bears prevented a team from finishing with a 100-yard rusher on Sunday for the first time since Oct. 20, when they limited Alfred Morris to 95 yards.

The game also marked the first time since Oct. 6 the Bears kept a team to fewer than 100 total rushing yards.

Linebacker James Anderson was credited with a team-high 11 tackles, to go with a quarterback hit and a pass breakup.

"It was definitely good," defensive end Corey Wootton said. "A big point of emphasis was keeping them under 100 yards. I thought for the most part, except for a play here or there, we played pretty good run defense. It was good to have Rat[liff] in there. He made some really good plays. It was definitely a good performance stopping the run."

Can it continue? It's not likely against a red-hot Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack led by LeSean McCoy. But the Bears feel like they've at least now set a standard, according to Ratliff, who was credited with two tackles, including one for lost yardage and three quarterback hits.

"We know we can get three-and-outs and hold a team to under 100, and hold them to 17 points or less," Ratliff said. "So now, it's a standard now. That's something we're expecting out of ourselves. If we want to be the defense we really want to be, there's some things we need to get done. That's holding a team to under 100 yards rushing, holding a team to 17 points or less, and of course winning the turnover battle."

Five things we learned vs. Browns

December, 15, 2013
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CLEVELAND -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns:

1. Marc Trestman can exhale: The reaction in Chicago if the Bears had lost to Cleveland after Trestman decided to start Jay Cutler over Josh McCown would have been ugly. Trestman left himself open to tons of criticism by sitting the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week in favor of Cutler, but in the end, Cutler responded in the second half to finish with 265 yards and three touchdowns to go along with two first-half interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He didn’t play his best game of the season, but Cutler shook off the rust of sitting out the past four weeks with a high-ankle sprain to make enough plays to defeat the pesky Browns. Now that Cutler is back in the win column for the first time since Oct. 10, he clearly gives the Bears the best shot to win at the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday night in a game many expect to be a shootout.

2. Cutler handled national reports in stride: Cutler didn’t appear rattled when confronted with the information that two national reports surfaced prior to the game that questioned the level of commitment to the quarterback inside Halas Hall. Cutler described how he received reassurances from the offensive line that he “was the guy” despite McCown’s success running the offense the past four weeks. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of either report, but the notion of a mutiny in Lake Forest, Ill., seems unlikely now that Cutler won a game for the Bears on the road. Winning cures everything in the NFL. Players might still prefer McCown to Cutler, but the decision is set in stone: Cutler is the Bears’ quarterback for the rest of 2013, and perhaps beyond.

3. Career season for Matt Forte: Amid all the attention paid to the quarterback position, Forte is quietly having his best professional season. Already with a career-high 66 receptions, Forte’s 127 rushing yards against the Browns give the tailback 1,200 for the season. Forte is just 38 rushing yards shy of his career-best mark, 1,238, that he tallied his rookie season of 2008. With the effort in Cleveland, Forte has four 100-yard rushing games on the season and appears to be hitting his stride right in time for the Bears’ playoff push. For all the talk about running backs falling of a cliff in terms of production when they reach a certain age, Forte, 28, looks to be getting stronger.

4. Zack Bowman in the 2014 mix? With the Pro Bowl cornerback duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman set to be free agents in the offseason, Bowman, who’s contract also expires after the season, could be a candidate to return next season and compete for a starting spot in the event Tillman or Jennings signs with another team. Bowman’s best game of the season came Sunday, when he intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown, but the veteran has done a serviceable job since replacing Tillman in the starting lineup on Nov. 17 versus the Baltimore Ravens. Bowman’s size and speed, 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, lends itself to playing both zone and man coverage, depending on what style of defense the Bears ultimately run in 2014.

5. Alshon Jeffery deserves to be a Pro Bowler: No disrespect to Brandon Marshall (90 catches for 1,185 yards and 10 touchdowns), but Jeffery is the Bears' most dangerous weapon in the passing game. Jeffery’s catch radius is off the charts. The latest in Jeffery’s long list of highlight-reel receptions occurred in the fourth quarter Sunday, when he somehow managed to haul in a Cutler Hail Mary pass in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown. In the past three weeks, Jeffery has a combined 23 catches for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Three of the touchdowns were worthy of NFL play of the week honors. The upside for Jeffery appears to be limitless. He now has 80 receptions for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. If the Pro Bowl is designed to showcase the very best the league has to offer, then Jeffery ought to be included.

Trestman thinks run D is fixable

November, 26, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Taking an admitted “glass half-full” look at Chicago’s recent struggles stopping the run, Bears coach Marc Trestman said Monday “there’s still time to get it done,” in that area if the defense finds a way to overcome inconsistency.

“I don’t know that I’ve been in quite this situation that we’re in here in the five years I was up north [in Canada],” Trestman said. “But I will say that there’s evidence if we do it right, we can get it done.”

Yet in the court of weekly statistics, the Bears haven’t provided enough proof to warrant Trestman’s confidence.

The Bears remained off balance for the majority of Sunday’s game because of St. Louis’ ability to run the ball virtually at will. The Rams racked up 258 yards on the ground, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt; a number that would have been higher had the team not downed the ball on for 1-yard losses on three consecutive snaps to end the game.

St. Louis ball carriers Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacy and Tavon Austin averaged 8.4, 7.3 and 65 yards respectively on 26 attempts, with each reeling off at least one run of 27 yards or more. The Bears gave up eight runs for gains of 10 yards or more to run up their grand total on the season to 48, including 10 attempts for gains of 25 yards or more.

“I’ve watched tape from practice where we fit the run exactly against the runs we’re going to see,” Trestman said. “Yesterday, I saw us fit the runs exactly the way we saw them in practice, and then I saw other times that we didn’t, and that’s the accountability side of it. We’ve got to do a better job. That starts with us, but also on our players to make sure they’re doing exactly what we’re asking them to do. We’ve got some young guys, some guys working at newer positions. But that’s everybody. All 11 guys have to do it. So yes there has been inconsistency in fitting the runs. They’re runs that we have practiced. They show up in games. We fit them properly. It’s a two-to-three-yard gain. We don’t spill it or we don’t fit it right, it becomes a bigger gain and we have not been able to do it on a consistent basis. We’re going to continue to work at it. We’re not going to give up on it. We’re going to continue to press the issue.”

But will that be enough? For most coaches, it’s more acceptable for a player to be flat-out beaten physically than it is for the player to bust an assignment. The Bears consider their issues to be more about improper fits than opponents blocking the defenders out of the gaps. It appears to be a combination of both.

“It’s just fitting the run right. That’s all it is,” safety Chris Conte said. “It’s a fixable thing.”

But the Bears haven’t given much of an indication to encourage any optimism about the issues getting corrected as the team moves into matchups against NFC opponents Minnesota on Sunday, followed by the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson produced his first 100-yard outing Sunday against Green Bay since a 140-yard outing on Nov. 3 at Dallas. When Peterson pops on the tape of Chicago’s performance against the Rams, he’ll see “that he can have a big day against us,” according to Bears cornerback Zack Bowman.

“They’re gonna go back and watch the Rams game,” Bowman said, adding that “obviously, they want to try to get him going.”

Interestingly, the Bears own a 5-4 record in the nine games they’ve allowed a 100-yard rusher. Believe it or not, if Chicago continues its current level of production or lack of against the run, the team still won’t finish among the three worst performances in that category in franchise history.

But that’s little consolation for a Bears team fighting to keep alive its postseason aspirations.

“We’re not in any different position in this division than we were a week ago,” Trestman said. “Our guys know that. Our guys I think are excited about the challenge. They’re willing to go back to work at it. We have to get better. There’s no other way to say it.”

Bears guilty of season-high 13 penalties

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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CHICAGO – Had the outcome been different Sunday, the Chicago Bears’ season-high 13 penalties would have been a central storyline, instead of a footnote.

Before the 23-20 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the Bears had committed just 40 penalties this season, with the previous game high of six occurring in the club’s Week 5 loss to New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeZack Bowman and Torrey Smith
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastZack Bowman's horse-collar tackle on Torrey Smith extended the Ravens' game-tying drive.
Cornerback Zack Bowman had the most difficult time with the officials on Sunday, flagged a total of five times (one of the penalties was declined). The most costly of Bowman’s infractions came on the Ravens’ final drive of regulation, when the cornerback – starting in place of the injured Charles Tillman – was called for a horse-collar penalty while tackling receiver Torrey Smith after a 6-yard completion on third-and-10. Bowman’s mistake gave Baltimore 15 yards and a fresh set of downs, and the Ravens ultimately drove down the field and kicked a game-tying field goal with three seconds left on the clock.

“After the play [Smith] popped up and told me that I had his jersey [and that it wasn’t a horse collar],” Bowman said. “But hey, it is what it is. You just have to move on to the next play and keep going. It’s a close call and you just can’t worry if they make the call or don’t make the call. You just have to move on to the next play.

“Look, Tim Jennings told me to keep playing aggressive. He told me that he’d rather see me play aggressive then not play aggressive. I just kept playing. I wasn’t [going to] worry about the officials; I wasn’t worrying about the calls. If they throw the flag, they throw it; if they don’t, they don’t. I can’t worry about what the officials do; I can just focus on what I need to do.”

Bears coach Marc Trestman expressed his unhappiness with the club’s lack of discipline at the very beginning of his postgame news conference.

"We had too many penalties," Trestman said. "Too many pre-snap penalties today that really inhibited our ability to function as well as we’d like to."

The Bears’ players made no excuses for the overwhelming number of miscues, but it is likely the weather conditions Sunday played a role in the amount of infractions committed by both teams. Baltimore was flagged five times for 46 yards.

The penalties are “obviously something we need to work on,” Bears right guard Kyle Long explained. “When the wind is howling in and out of your helmet you can’t hear anything. Also, your vision is all messed up [with the moisture], so you have to take that all into consideration. But at the end of the day we just need to move forward.”

Defensive end Corey Wootton added: “It was tough. We can’t make any excuses, but sometimes different people get fooled by the center movement and all the head-bobs. But really, we just have to stay poised. And the most important thing is that we need to stay onside.”

5 things to watch: Ravens at Bears

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here's a look at five things to watch for Sunday when the Chicago Bears host the Baltimore Ravens:

How Josh McCown handles second start: Opponents now can peruse seven quarters of game tape to try to figure out a way to defend McCown, who has completed 60 percent of his passes in relief of Jay Cutler for four touchdowns and no interceptions with a passer rating of 103.2.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Josh McCown
AP Photo/Nick WassQuarterback Josh McCown will need to utilize his mobility against a stout Ravens defense that ranks No. 3 in sacks through 10 weeks.
"You watch [Cutler and McCown] play and they look the same when they play as far as success," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They've got go-to guys down the field. Intermediate, short, they've got a running back that can take, anytime he touches the ball, he can take it all the way. So they have very special weapons and they're using them very well."

The Ravens rank No. 3 in sacks, so McCown should see plenty of pressure when he drops back to pass. Composure and patience from McCown will be important. He's got to take care of the ball and remain composed during Baltimore's initial surge because it could take some time for the offensive line to adjust to the rush.

Zack Bowman filling in for Charles Tillman: Having played in 135 snaps, Bowman has been targeted by opposing quarterbacks 18 times in coverage for 12 completions for 164 yards and no touchdowns. So Bowman should be able to hold his own against Baltimore's receivers as the fill-in for Tillman, a two-time Pro Bowler, who is out for the remainder of the regular season.

Bowman has broken up three passes, and he picked off a pass in his only start against the New York Giants on Oct. 10.

"The thing I learned about Peanut is to just go out there and play football and have fun," Bowman said. "Obviously [I] just [have] to go out there and do my job. That's all I can do for our defense. [The Ravens are a] fast, fast team. They have a good back. They have a good quarterback. So we've got our hands full this week on defense."

Rookie linebackers: Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene continue to show improvement, but they're still not exactly where the team would like for them to be at this point. Bostic struggled in his first two starts, but has picked up his play over the past two weeks.

In 205 snaps, Bostic has posted 25 combined tackles, including 1.5 for lost yardage. But he's also missed three tackles. Greene has participated in 41 snaps, and comes out of the game when the Bears go into nickel personnel. He's posted seven tackles over the last two weeks.

"They are improving and they're getting more experience. Each and every day, they get a little better," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "That's what you want to see and not just with the young guys, but with all of the players. You have to work to improve and we just need to find a way to make more plays."

Run blocking: Chicago's offensive line struggled tremendously in the loss to Detroit in the run-blockng department, with the team finishing the game averaging a season-low 1.9 yards per attempt. If the Bears can't run the ball consistently, it makes them one-dimensional, thus predictable.

Bears coach Marc Trestman needs to see better results this week against another solid defense.

"When you lose a game, it's just a little bit more magnified that there's a lot of ifs involved, if we would have run inside instead of outside, if we would have been a little bit tighter, the little details that go with any aspect of the game, and the running game is inclusive of that," Trestman said. "If you're not detailed and one guy is doing it just a little bit differently and we're not in coordination with the other guys, that's what happens. I really can't be any more specific than that."

Pass rush: After a five-sack outing against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears failed to get to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who passed for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Pressuring Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco will be critically important, and the Bears should be able to have some success. Flacco has been sacked 30 times this season, and the quarterback has a tendency to hold onto the ball waiting for routes to develop.

"He's big. He's a lot more mobile than people expect," said defensive end/tackle Corey Wootton. "He can get outside the pocket. So contain is a big issue. He's holding the ball a little longer than most teams. So we ought to definitely be able to get after him."

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is another quarterback known to hold onto the ball, and the Bears managed to sack him three times during a Week 3 win.
James Ihedigbo and Brandon Marshall USA TODAY SportsJames Ihedigbo and the Ravens' secondary face a challenge in Bears receiver Brandon Marshall.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- If the playoffs started today, the Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens would be out. There are still seven games left in the season, but none of them can be squandered, so this matchup Sunday will see both teams fighting to get into contention in their respective conferences.

The Bears enter the contest without quarterback Jay Cutler and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, while the Ravens are coming off their first victory in more than a month. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley break down the matchup.

Michael C. Wright: Last weekend, Baltimore snapped a three-game losing streak. Does the win restore any faith in the defending Super Bowl champions' ability to return to the playoffs?

Jamison Hensley: The Ravens believe Sunday’s overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals was a good start to getting back to the postseason for a sixth straight year. Even though the Ravens knocked off the AFC North leaders, no one is boasting that this is a playoff team because it was far from a statement game. The Ravens' offense can’t run the ball, and the defense can’t get opponents off the field late in the fourth quarter. The defending Super Bowl champions definitely have some serious flaws this season.

Baltimore’s attitude would change if they can win in Chicago. The schedule suggests that this is a pivotal game. If the Ravens can change their fortunes on the road and beat the Bears, they will be at .500 entering a stretch of three straight home games against the Jets, Steelers and Vikings. The Ravens have had great success under head coach John Harbaugh in November and December, and things are set up for them to do it again this year. That is, if the Ravens can get the franchise’s first victory in Chicago.

Speaking of attitude, how are the Bears dealing with losing Cutler again?

Wright: Well, after all the second-guessing about when head coach Marc Trestman should’ve pulled Cutler or about whether the quarterback should have played in the first place, I’d say there’s a fair amount of confidence in backup Josh McCown. Before being thrust into action on Oct. 20 at Washington when Cutler tore a muscle in his groin, McCown was already one of the favorites in the locker room. General manager Phil Emery has called McCown a “glue guy,” and other players consider the 34-year-old quarterback a father figure.

In three games filling in for Cutler, McCown has completed 42 of 70 passes for 538 yards and four touchdowns, with no turnovers and a passer rating of 103.1. Obviously, in his first full start, McCown played a major role as the Bears upset the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. He has demonstrated mastery of Trestman’s offense, and the quarterback attributes that to the fact he learned the scheme from the ground up, and actually had some input in the implementation of it.

Joe Flacco received the huge contract, but clearly hasn’t been playing like a $120.6 million quarterback. What has been his biggest issue, and do you see him turning things around this season?

Hensley: Flacco takes a lot of heat because he hasn’t put up the expected numbers after signing one of the richest contracts in NFL history. But he is in a tough situation. He lost his two favorite targets when Anquan Boldin was traded and Dennis Pitta went down with a dislocated hip. Flacco has been sacked 30 times (only Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger have been sacked more). Harbaugh applauded Flacco for making plays while scrambling. But Flacco is really running for his life.

While Flacco hasn’t had the strongest supporting cast, he also hasn’t been the same quarterback he was during the Ravens’ championship run. The biggest change is his inability to connect deep. On Sunday, Flacco was 0-for-7 with an interception on throws at least 15 yards downfield, which qualifies as the most deep attempts without a completion he has had in his career. With all of the problems on offense, the Ravens desperately need more big plays out of Flacco.

What’s the biggest concern for the Bears’ pass defense?

Wright: Where would you like to start? There are several. But the most significant right now is how the Bears will perform without one of their best players in Tillman, who on Monday was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list. Tillman, with three interceptions and three forced fumbles, was one of the main reasons the Bears are tied for fifth in the league with 20 takeaways. Since coming into the league in 2003, Tillman ranks in the NFL’s top 10 in interceptions (36), interception-return yards (675), defensive touchdowns (nine), forced fumbles (42) and passes defended (133). That level of production is difficult to replace. But the Bears are confident in backup Zack Bowman’s ability to get the job done. Bowman started 12 games in 2009 and led the team with six interceptions. When Bowman has played this season, he has been adequate (one INT). He has size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) similar to Tillman, which allows him to match up well with bigger receivers.

The Bears have struggled against the run, and you’d think they could be in for a long game against someone such as Ray Rice. But from what I’ve seen so far, he hasn’t been the Rice I remember from last season. What’s the deal with him?

Hensley: Rice injured his hip in Week 2 and hasn’t been the same since. He insists he’s at full strength, but the numbers say otherwise. Rice’s average of 2.5 yards per carry is worst among qualified running backs. But you can’t put all of the blame for the NFL’s 30th-ranked rushing attack on Rice. The Ravens’ offensive line has struggled to open holes, and because Flacco can’t throw the ball deep, defenses are stacking the box with eight players.

Getting some semblance of a running game is key to turning around the season, which is why the Ravens need to commit to the ground game against Chicago. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 45-12 when they gain more than 100 yards rushing. That’s the fifth-best mark in the NFL, which shows how important a running game is to the Ravens.

Baltimore has been up and down in terms of run defense. In their five losses, the Ravens have given up an average of 124.4 yards rushing. The Bears’ Matt Forte had good back-to-back games before he was shut down against the Lions. What’s the key to him rebounding against the Ravens?

Wright: The No. 1 key would be better blocking from the offensive line. For the first time all season, the Bears on Sunday probably lost the battle at the line of scrimmage on offense. At best, Trestman said he would call it a draw. The Bears know it’s unacceptable for Forte to average 1.9 yards per carry on 17 attempts, and Trestman said one of the major contributors to the performance against the Lions was that several players missed assignments on key plays. Going into that game, the Bears knew they wouldn’t put together a strong rushing game, but thought they’d have a chance to pop three or four explosive runs against Detroit’s dominant front. Obviously that didn’t happen. But if the Bears clean up some of the execution issues up front, Forte should be able to rebound. Going into Sunday’s game, he was averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He’ll have to get back on track if Chicago expects the offense to run smoothly because it is by establishing Forte that the Bears set up their play-action passing game.

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