NFL Nation: Jeff Dickerson

Folks bill the upcoming matchup between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football" as the Underachiever Bowl, and receiver Brandon Marshall doesn't disagree with that description of these two disappointing clubs.

In fact, Marshall believes the Bears and Saints don't deserve the national stage of ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

Marshall
"Yeah, they should take us both off 'Monday Night Football' right now," Marshall said Monday during "The Brandon Marshall Show" on ESPN 1000.

Both teams enter the upcoming clash at Soldier Field with 5-8 records. The only difference is the Saints are still vying for a postseason spot, while the Bears were officially eliminated from contention on Sunday by virtue of Detroit's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It does shock me, but this story is old," Marshall said. "We've been dealing with this story for weeks now."

Here's today's spin around the Chicago Bears beat:

-- ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson brings us his stock report. In it, he's got the stock of Bears ownership falling.
Dickerson writes: The Bears have now missed the playoffs seven times in the past eight seasons. When a charter franchise of the National Football League reaches the postseason as infrequently as teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars (also one postseason berth in eight years), the problems run deep. Since the Bears fired [Mike] Ditka as coach at the end of the 1992 season, the club that resides in the NFL's second largest media market has qualified for the playoffs a grand total of five times. And people wonder why the 1985 Bears are treated like rock stars to this day. At this rate, Chicago will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl XX before the Vince Lombardi Trophy returns to Halas Hall. The Bears are going backward. This is easily the worst season of Bears football since Lovie Smith's first year in 2004 (5-11). The difference is Smith's team 10 years ago had zero expectations. The 2014 Bears were supposed to be contenders. Instead, fans are forced to watch the club simply play out the string. Blame whomever you want, but the real problems originate at the very top. What else needs to be said?

Can't say I disagree one bit with Dickerson's assessment here. Chicago's fans deserve better.

-- Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune writes that Bears coach Marc Trestman remained firm in his support of quarterback Jay Cutler. With three games remaining, it will be difficult for the Bears to maintain a working environment conducive to success given all the criticism and speculation.

-- Shuffling along the offensive line continues. Ryan Groy is expected to start at left guard against the Saints.

-- Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times leads off his notebook with a nice item about recently-signed kicker Jay Feely.

-- Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times wants fans to adopt Cleveland's quarterback Johnny Manziel as an escape from the disappointment of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Morrissey writes: I'm not suggesting that the Bears trade for Manziel. Johnny Football and George "What's a Football?" McCaskey together in marriage? It would never happen. What I am suggesting is that we here in Chicago adopt the Cleveland Browns quarterback, purely for escape purposes.

Thirteen games into a miserable Bears season and six seasons into Cutler's erratic career in Chicago, the mind looks for ways to stop the pain. Mine has landed on Manziel, the athletic, hard-partying, polarizing rookie whose career probably will end in a spectacular ball of flame. That's pain-killing entertainment, folks.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Finally, it’s time for the Bears to kick off the regular season Sunday, when they host the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field.

Let’s take a look at five things to keep an eye on in this matchup:

Rookies on right side of OL: The debuts of rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills at right guard and right tackle, respectively, seems to have been one of the most widely debated topics all offseason. Well, now it becomes real.

Long is set to be the first rookie to start at right guard for the Bears in the Super Bowl era. In fact, the Bears haven’t started multiple rookies on opening day since 1998.

“That’s a cool trivia question,” Long joked. “I try not to focus on that type of stuff. It’s a good tidbit to know. But right now, I’m so focused on who to block on inside zone right and that kind of stuff. That stuff is far more important to me at this point.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesProtecting Jay Cutler remains a top priority for Chicago's offensive line.
It definitely should be. Long and Mills face a Bengals defensive line that accounted for 43 of the team’s record 51 sacks in 2012, and led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who led all NFL interior linemen last season with 12 sacks.

“Just having another rookie [in Long] to go through it with you is priceless,” Mills said. “They have a great front seven with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Rey Maualuga and the rest of the guys. But we’re trying to be a great offense. We’re going to come in there with a great game plan and we’re going to be fine.”

The new offense: In terms of diversity with formations and play calling, this will be the most extensive look at the Bears' offense we’ve seen since the Aug. 23 preseason game at Oakland. Look for tons of shifts, formations and plays that get the ball out of Jay Cutler’s hands quickly, not to mention some plays designed to move the pocket.

“The game plan is put together relative to how much we get practiced, how we want to spread the ball around,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Certainly it all starts with how we want to attack running and throwing the football. It’s just a process you go through every Monday and Tuesday so to speak, during the course of a normal week; who you want to feature, how you want to use personnel groupings, how you want to use formations to be able to create advantages and working toward the strengths and weaknesses of the teams you’ll be playing.”

Trestman sounds as if Chicago’s playbook is much deeper than what the team will select to execute against the Bengals. That’s definitely a positive the Bears haven’t had in the years before Trestman.

D.J. Williams at middle linebacker: Trestman said Williams will play, but wouldn’t give an indication of what degree, whether he’ll be starting or how much he’ll contribute. It’s expected that Williams will start in the middle alongside Lance Briggs and James Anderson. But when you consider how much time Williams missed (virtually the entire training camp and preseason), it’s reasonable to question whether the linebacker’s conditioning level will be up to par to where he can play an entire four quarters.

It’s also worth noting that Williams has missed the preseason the past two years, which means Sunday might not be as difficult for him as we think.

“I don’t what to say I’m used to it, but I’ve been through this before,” Williams said. “Being a veteran guy, you kind of know what you need to do to get yourself prepared for the game. I know coming into the first game there’s going to be a little gas, a little winded. But the first game of the season, everybody is going to be kind of like that.”

If Williams can’t play the entire game, the Bears are confident they can go to Jonathan Bostic, who put together a strong enough preseason to inspire confidence in his ability to be a starter.

“I’m preparing like I’m a starter,” Bostic said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Julius Peppers vs. Anthony Collins: The Bengals might be thinking “uh-oh” when looking at this matchup on paper. Cincinnati Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth is listed as doubtful heading into the game, which means the Bengals will line up Collins at the position, where he’ll take on Peppers.

Look for the Bears to try to exploit the loss of Whitworth with Peppers, who is coming off a 2012 campaign in which he posted 11.5 sacks.

Former Bengals offensive lineman Dave Lapham, who is not a radio analyst told ESPN 1000’s “Chicago Gamenight” on Thursday how he expected Cincinnati to handle Peppers without Whitworth in the fold.

ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson takes you deeper.

“I don’t think he’ll have movement issues with respect to Julius Peppers, but Peppers can bull rush you now, too,” Lapham said. “He’s a strong dude. So I’ll be interested to see if Collins can hang in there against that bull rush that Peppers can employ to complement that quickness that he’s got.”

Devin Hester exclusively as a return man: Hester worked all offseason exclusively as a return man, with the team stripping away his duties as a receiver. Now it’s time to see if the extra focus on returns will pay off for Hester, who didn’t receive much action in the preseason. Hester took part in just five returns (three kickoffs and two punts) and gained a combined 94 yards, with his longest runback being a 45-yard kickoff return.

Given that Hester is in a contract year, expect him to put together one of the best return seasons of his career. Hester needs only one more return touchdown to tie Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for the most career return touchdowns. My guess is Hester winds up breaking the record by Week 9.
CHICAGO -- The scene in the locker room minutes after the Bears concluded the preseason finale against Cleveland included several handshakes, pats on the back and man hugs saying goodbye.

Apparently the Bears don’t plan to waste time in cutting the 22 players needed to get down to the mandatory 53-man roster limit before Saturday’s 3 p.m. CST deadline.

“We’ll be at it bright and early tomorrow,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “(General manager) Phil (Emery) and I will sit down early in the morning, (and make decisions) based on the information we gathered from the tape and from the other coaches. It will be a collective process to make those decisions that work out to be the final 53.”

Several players made strong cases during Thursday night’s 18-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Others only reinforced decisions the club had already planned on making. Trestman mentioned that he didn’t think “anyone played themselves out of the roster tonight,” but the truth is quite a few didn’t exactly play themselves onto it, either. Over the next several hours, there’s a good chance the team will start bringing players into Halas Hall to begin cuts.

Here’s a sampling of what some of the on-the-bubble players had to say in pleading their respective cases.

RB Armando Allen: “To me, the reality is you don’t have control over the decision being made. So for me, it’s just I’ve just got to stay positive and keep my mind focused and in the right mindset for whatever comes next. Did I feel like I did enough? I’m probably one of my biggest critics. I feel like there’s a lot of things that I could have done better. If I was pitching myself, for me, it’s just simple. I come to work hard every day; great individual. I know the plays, (and) I’m a great special teams player. So, that’s about all I can say. My work speaks for itself.”

RB Michael Ford: “You can’t get into the coaches' head. You’ve got to let the coaches coach and do what they do. The only thing we can go out there and do is play and play hard. I gave it my all. I went into practice and gave it my all, and went into the games and gave it my all. I really can’t worry about it. When you give it your all and did everything you could, you can’t worry about it, because you know you gave 100 percent at what you did.”

WR Joe Anderson: “I’ve always felt confident. I believe in myself regardless of who else does. When you believe in yourself, you win. I believe in me. If you ask me, I believe I made this team. But you never know what someone else is thinking. So I just come to work every day and do my job. I control what I can control, (and) that’s what I do on the field. So upstairs, that’s their job. I’m gonna let them do their job, and I’ll do my job.”

OL Eben Britton: “I feel good about it. I feel really good about it. Yeah, I feel like (I made this team). I’m not the type of guy to beat my chest too much, but I was really proud of myself just about how I approached the whole camp, and what I got out of it. I feel the best I’ve felt in years. It was a great training camp for me, and I feel really good about the future. Now, I feel like I do things without even thinking about it anymore. It’s just starting to become natural because that’s what (offensive coordinator Aaron) Kromer has taught us every day. Even since back in April, I just kept working on the techniques we were taught in the run game and the pass game, stayed focused, and I just feel really good about how far I’ve come since getting here.”
  • Considering the limited prep time given recently signed quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards, the duo performed fairly well against Cleveland, especially Palmer. He completed 11 of 17 for 11 yards and a touchdown to finish with a passer rating of 102.8.“I’ve prepared for this game as much as I’ve ever prepared for a game,” Palmer said. “It was a lot of fun to go out there, and I feel like we moved the ball and did some good things.”Trestman has said his preference is to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. So if that holds true over the next two days, ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson says it would be hard to imagine the Bears cutting ties with Palmer.
  • Rookie cornerback Demontre Hurst didn’t hurt his cause, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Hurst probably didn’t help it much, either. Last year, former seventh-round pick Greg McCoy ran back an interception for a touchdown in the preseason finale at Cleveland, but still wound up among the final cuts. But to Hurst’s credit, his preseason was better than McCoy’s in 2012. In addition to the interception, Hurst posted five tackles in addition to forcing Brian Hoyer into an intentional grounding penalty.
  • Brad Biggs says the Bears are interested in quarterbacks who have practice squad eligibility remaining, and one of them is former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay signal caller Aaron Rodgers.
  • Inconsistency has been the story of training camp for tight end Fendi Onobun. The Bears have a difficult decision to make here, and it will likely take place Friday.Trestman explained that “when the light switch goes on” for Onobun, “he’s got a chance to be a very good player. We have some tough decisions to make, and certainly Fendi is going to be in the mix when we make these decisions because of what he showed tonight again, and what he’s shown in practice.”What I saw was merely another up-and-down performance.
  • Here's my take on J'Marcus Webb from Thursday night's game. Not good, not bad, just mediocre, which likely won't be good enough for him to make this team. Obviously, everyone wanted to speak with Webb after the game. But once officials opened the locker room, Webb was already gone, his locker cleaned out.

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