NFL Nation: Mel Tucker

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Although Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman said the staff would take a long look at the depth chart headed into Sunday's game against Minnesota, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Wednesday the club will face the Vikings with the same set of starters on defense it used during last week's loss to the Green Bay Packers.

"There are always things we can change," Tucker said. "There is nothing set in stone on the lineup. The group we're going to put out there we think will give us the best chance to win this game. I will tell you right now, we plan on going in with the group that started the game [last week]. We are going to go in with the group that started that game, and we need to get them better. They need to play better. We need to coach them better. Everything we do this week is to be able to get that done."

The Bears became the first team since 1923 last week to give up 50-plus points in back-to-back contests with their 55-14 loss to the Packers. Tucker said "being embarrassed at this point is not productive" in the club's preparation efforts for Sunday's matchup with the Vikings, and the truth is the roster features few viable options in terms of potential changes in the starting lineup.

In the loss to the Packers, the Bears experienced several breakdowns and errors in communication, with the most pronounced coming on Aaron Rodgers' 73-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson. Rodgers said after the game the Bears were playing multiple coverages in different areas of the field.

It appeared the Bears were playing three different coverages on the play as Tim Jennings -- apparently playing zone -- passed off Nelson to a safety that wasn't there on one side of the field. On the other side of the field, cornerback Kyle Fuller was playing man coverage, while Brock Vereen stood in the deep middle of the field in what appeared to be a single-high safety look.

"When we start talking about individual guys on individual plays, I don't go there because I'm not a guy that's going to throw a guy under the bus," Tucker said. "I don't believe in doing that. Never have, never will. On that particular play, we, as a defense, didn't get the job done in multiple areas. Rush and coverage. That's where it stands."

Linebacker Lance Briggs took responsibility for the error.

"I shouldn't have made the check," said Briggs, who calls the club's defenses. "I saw something, tried to check out of it, and we don't have a check out of that defense. So I put our defense in jeopardy on that play."

Tucker and other staffers on the defense discussed accountability Wednesday during meetings, stressing the need for everyone involved "to do a better job of being accountable to each other in the room," Tucker said.

"We talked about that and we discussed that's what we need to do. There's nothing we're doing that's at a level to say that, 'We've got that,'" Tucker said. "Every element of what we're doing, we need to do a much better job at. That's the atmosphere we have. It could be leadership, it could be accountability, it could be coaching, it could be playing, it could be technique, it could be fundamentals. All those things need to be ramped up, need to be improved."

The last 33 offensive possessions by Chicago's opponents over the past three games have yielded 14 touchdowns and seven field goals as the unit has forced just six punts. Scoring efficiency for the club's past three opponents has been at least 50 percent in each of those contests.

The Bears currently rank last in the NFL in points allowed (30.8 points per game), and apparently spirited discussions inside the locker room and meeting rooms have taken place regarding the defense's struggles and what they need to do to rebound.

"What's been said will stay between us, all the players," defensive end Jared Allen said. "But nothing's going to be said to make somebody play. You're either self-motivated to be the best, you're either embarrassed when you get your butt kick, and you want to go back out and prove yourself or you're not. That's just the bottom line. This game is humbling. This game exposes people and it humbles you. If you're not in it, you'll get exposed. But I think we've got a good team, and obviously I came here for a reason. I still believe in this team and I still believe in what we have. I still believe in what we can accomplish."
No doubt about it, quarterback Jay Cutler needs to play better, as Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman said. But at this point, Cutler isn’t this team’s most significant issue. It’s the defense, which has allowed an average of 443.6 yards over its past three outings.

What’s worse is the way they’ve done it, giving up significant chunks of yardage through miscommunications and breakdowns on the back end on what should be routine coverages.

[+] EnlargeBostick
AP Photo/Mike RoemerAaron Rodgers picked apart the Bears, who have yielded points and yards at an alarming rate.
“I think that with any team throughout the league, there’s going to be coverage breakdowns,” Trestman said. “That’s disappointing, but there are a lot [of calls and checks] that are properly called. Most of them are, and we’re in the right coverage in most cases if not all.”

So if that’s truly the case, what’s the real issue here?

Trestman gave defensive coordinator Mel Tucker a vote of confidence on Monday, saying he believes in the coach because “I watch him work every day. I watch him communicate with these players. I watch him work on the field with these players. To me, he’s doing everything he can under the circumstances to coach, to teach and to lead that side of the ball. He’s got a very good staff with him. They’re great teachers. They’re veteran coaches who have been in a lot of situations, as Mel has. He’s been through these types of things. I feel very confident that he’s doing the things that he can do to help us move forward.”

Fair enough. So at this point, it probably comes to execution and, most importantly, accountability for the players entrusted with the job of, uh, properly executing. Opponents have produced 14 touchdowns and kicked nine field goals in their 33 offensive drives against the Bears over the past three games.

Here’s what Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said about Chicago’s coverage on his 73-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson in the second quarter of Sunday’s 55-14 throttling of the Bears. In that game, Chicago’s defense also surrendered completions of 29, 40 and 56 yards.

"As they do from time to time, they tried to change the coverage up, but not everybody was on the same page," Rodgers said. "So you had Tim [Jennings] playing two-[high coverage] and the safety was playing single-high."

Obviously, the players are coached to properly communicate the calls and checks to everyone on the defense. But something is getting lost, and someone needs to be held accountable.

Bears general manager Phil Emery made the right call in the offseason to make over the front four by adding Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. But from this vantage point, he miscalculated what the staff could get out of the linebacking corps, which is probably the defense’s most glaring weakness at this point, not to mention the secondary, where the club paid Tim Jennings $11.8 million guaranteed and brought back Charles Tillman, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, while signing a litany of no-name safeties in the offseason with Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte emerging as the starters.

Trestman mentioned on Monday that the club will take a hard look at the depth chart, which means changes could be on the horizon.

“We're going to talk, we're certainly going to talk personnel as I said,” Trestman said. “The guys are getting in late, they're still looking at the tape. I haven't had a chance to even engage them because things have moved so quickly this morning. But we will, we certainly have to. We're going to look at everything as a starting point moving into Wednesday.”

Bears Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
4:45
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Pop-pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop. That’s what you hear every day after practice. The players resemble Kung-Fu fighters in football pads as they work hand-fighting drills with martial arts expert Joe Kim, who was brought on by the Bears as a consultant to work on skill development. Cornerback Charles Tillman took part in the drills one-on-one with Kim on Sunday and said afterward he’s expecting the hand-fighting drills to help him improve at jamming receivers and getting off blocks better.
  • While we’re on the subject of hand-fighting drills, Kim joined the team mostly to work with the defensive line, because under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the scheme is changing drastically this season. Last year, the Bears employed Lovie Smith’s system, which emphasized penetration along the defensive line. The players were used to simply shooting the gaps to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. That’s all changing in 2014. The coaching staff wants Chicago’s defensive linemen to be technicians with their hands so they can engage opposing offensive linemen, stack them at the line, shed, and run to the ball. In the previous scheme, Chicago’s defensive linemen simply didn’t know how to use their hands effectively. Many times when they penetrated, they overran the ball because more and more now, teams are employing zone schemes that allow backs to pick their holes instead of the old-school leads, counters, and powers. By becoming better at using their hands, the D-line can also keep opposing offensive linemen off the club’s rangy linebackers, which in turn allows them to run around and make plays. In fact, Tucker recently turned on film of Chicago’s defensive line during a meeting, and many of the players on the roster that were a part of last year’s team were shocked at how badly the group played. What Tucker pointed out, according to one player in that meeting, was that last year, the group didn’t know how to use its hands. The joke among defenders now is that if one of the team’s linebackers has scratches or paint from the opponent’s helmets on their own, the defensive line isn’t sufficiently doing its job to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. The Bears are expecting higher tackle totals this year among the linebackers, and the defensive line will be largely responsible for that.
  • It’s no real secret, but a couple of players to watch on special teams are linebacker Jordan Senn and safety Danny McCray. The staff believes Senn is a better special teams player than former Bear Blake Costanzo. McCray, meanwhile, was the best player on special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis’ units with the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The workout Sunday marked the team’s first in full pads. Coming off a torn ACL in 2013, fifth-year veteran Nate Collins produced the best performance among the defensive linemen in one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen. “You watch the practice tape, he's running full speed all over the field and finishing,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller continues to impress, and appeared to get the best of Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery during one-on-one drills. Jeffery caught an extremely limited number of passes in the drill against Fuller, and one of those completions likely would’ve resulted in offensive pass interference as the receiver slapped the defender in the head and pushed off to get open.
  • Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) returned to practice, but pulled himself out of action after the first play in one-on-one drills because the leg “didn’t feel right,” according to Trestman. He’s still day to day. Defensive end Willie Young (quadriceps) returned to practice, but receiver Terrence Toliver (toe) was held out of the workout along with safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). It’s believed the bulked-up Conte will return to practice in the next week or two after missing the entire offseason conditioning program and the early part of camp because of shoulder surgery. Even if Conte returns soon, he's not expected to play in the first preseason game.
Jared AllenAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJared Allen was acquired to bring additional toughness to the Chicago defense.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At the newly renovated Halas Hall, which now teems with security, coach Marc Trestman often invites visitors to speak to his players about what they should already know.

Mike Singletary told them. Mike Ditka did, too. Otis Wilson and Gale Sayers also spoke to Trestman’s club about what it means to be a Chicago Bear.

“The one thing we’ve done this year, we’ve tried to bring, tried to do a little bit more -- because we’ve got so many new faces -- [is to bring in former players to explain] what being a Bear is all about, you know?” Trestman said. “Being a Bear starts on the defensive side of the ball, and with the mentality of what a Bears defense plays like. We just want to reinforce that. We’ve got a lot of new guys and understanding what it is to play for the Bears means play[ing] tough defense.”

For a variety reasons during Trestman’s first year with the club, the Bears drifted away from that. During former coach Lovie Smith’s tenure (2004-2012), the Bears ranked in the top three in 10 -- yes, 10 -- statistical categories. First in takeaways (310), second in interceptions (181), first in fumble recoveries (129), three-and-outs forced (485), third-down conversion percentage (34.1) and opponent red zone scoring efficiency (79.3 percent).

It all vanished when the organization ushered Smith out the door and hired Trestman.

In Trestman’s first season, the Bears allowed the most points (478) in franchise history, the most total yards (6,313) and rushing yards. But injuries did cost the defense a total of 55 games last season, and that’s not taking into account losing defensive lineman Turk McBride to a ruptured Achilles and Sedrick Ellis, who retired on the eve of training camp.

No Bears opponent scored less than 20 points last season. But injuries, inexperienced backups and ineffective coaching at some positions played a role, as did other factors such as limited practice repetitions for the defense. According to multiple sources, Chicago’s defensive players over the course of a week of preparation for an opponent typically received approximately half the practice repetitions they had normally taken under Smith’s staff as offensive preparation had become a premium with the new regime.

After last year’s 8-8 season, general manager Phil Emery, Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker huddled to look at possible solutions. By March at the NFL combine, Trestman and Emery -- in discussing the team’s plans for free agency and the draft -- were already starting to use the word “tough” to describe the types of players they wanted to add on defense. In fact, for some in the organization, toughness trumped star power.

“We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons,” Trestman said. “We want to accentuate it this year.”

To do that, the Bears brought in reputed tough guys such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to add to the defensive line, in addition to re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff. They fired three defensive coaches and brought in another trio with reputations for being hard-nosed personalities with the ability to teach.

“We’re a team that wants to play -- even offensively -- with a defensive mentality,” Trestman said. “There’s a way to play football in Chicago, and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We’ve got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be. We’re not there yet. We know that. We’re trying to get there because that’s the way every team plays in the National Football League. The best defenses play tough and physical. There’s a lot of different ways to win, but you seldom win a game [in which] you don’t win the line of scrimmage. There’s seldom a game you win where you can’t at least somewhat run the ball effectively and stop the run.”

Trestman pointed out that the whole “toughness” storyline can be overblown, correctly stating that the attribute is a prerequisite for any player or team in the NFL. “So to start writing stories, I think is just over-exaggerating,” Trestman said.

It is. But breaking down the importance of knowing what it takes to play Chicago’s brand of football is not. Of Chicago’s league-high 27 Hall of Famers, nine of them played defense. Since the first Bears players started earning Pro Bowl recognition in 1951, 119 of the club’s 226 selections have been defenders.

The Monsters of the Midway nickname came about due to dominant teams from the ’40s, which featured rough and tumble defenses. In Chicago, its defenses have always maintained a certain identity.

So while it’s certainly refreshing to see Chicago’s offense finally blossom under Trestman, the coach is correct in his attempt to make sure the club doesn’t stray from its roots.

“We need to be tough in our front, in our front seven and throughout our football team, throughout our defense,” Tucker said. “We preach that every day and they seem to want to be like that.”

Whether they will be, we’ll soon know.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith helped the club achieve sustained success over the years on defense with his Tampa-2 scheme, but it appears that system will undergo significant alterations in 2014.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker admitted as much Friday at the conclusion of Day 1 of the team's three-day rookie minicamp at Halas Hall.

[+] EnlargeEgo Ferguson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBears second-round pick Ego Ferguson, an LSU product, is adjusting to the NFL's pace at this weekend's minicamp.
"There are some significant changes in terms of techniques that we're going to play; how we're going to fit the run, some of our alignments," Tucker said. "We'll have some alternative fronts that we'll play. I'm not sure how much of a difference you'll see during the OTAs and things like that because we're going to work to lay the foundation on our base principles and techniques, which will allow us to do pretty much anything we want down the road."

While that doesn't necessarily mean the Bears plan to play multiple fronts or an exotic defense, the changes in scheme, not to mention the defensive coaching staff with the additions of defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, certainly give Chicago the flexibility to do so.

Tucker, Pasqualoni and Herring possess backgrounds in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. During Tucker's time in Jacksonville, the Jaguars played a 4-3 front. But many of the techniques used in Jacksonville's system during Tucker's time there employed principles of 3-4 defense, especially with regard to how the Jaguars were coached to fit the run.

Apparently, those principles now make their way to Chicago.

"There are some changes. Some of the stuff that we have is going to be based upon personnel," Tucker explained. "A lot of the packages you have, you want to build them around the guys that you have and what they do well. We have it all on paper and we just have to wait and see which ones we're going to use based on what we see guys do on the field."

The rookie minicamp, which kicked off Friday with two new defensive tackles in second-round pick Ego Ferguson and third rounder Will Sutton, provide the opportunity for the coaching staff to do that.

"It was new to me. Just like I told people, it's like the first day of high school," Ferguson said. "First day is rough but you learn. Just like in college. So it's a new beginning for me. Can't wait for tomorrow. It's definitely unreal right now. I still wake up every morning thinking this is a dream, but at the end of the day, I'm here man. And I'm happy to be here."

According to Pasqualoni, Ferguson and Sutton are learning multiple positions for a variety of reasons. The plan is to cross train all of the defensive linemen for flexibility within the scheme based on several factors ranging from opponent, to how the opposition has schemed to handle the Bears in any given week.

"The benefit of that is that if you get into the season and there is a reason why they have to play another technique, if the offense shifts the formation, or if they scheme you and they catch you on a player where now, they've got you left-handed, there won't be a such thing as left-handed," Pasqualoni explained. "We're going to be able to handle both and handle both efficiently. And we did that today. There were situations that came up today, and they had to adjust and they had to play. I'm going to go up and watch the film, and I'm going to grade the film. But from what I saw on the field, it was encouraging."

Bears coach Marc Trestman said the main objective for Day 1 at minicamp was to get the rookies accustomed to practicing at a high tempo, as opposed to learning the intricacies of the schemes on offense and defense.

"All they asked was for us to go out there and give it our best," Sutton said, "and that's what we did today. Now we've got to do better tomorrow."

Defensively, the Bears need to be better in 2014 than they did last season. With injuries playing a significant role in the club's downfall, the Bears allowed the most points (478) in franchise history as well as total yards (6,313), and rushing yards (2,583).

Injuries cost the Bears a combined 55 games from key players last season, as they failed to hold an opponent to fewer than 20 points in all of 2013.

One component of the Bears deciding to switch gears on the defensive scheme was the departure of several veteran players.

"There was a significant amount of guys who were here that were good and productive players, who knew the system and what we do," Tucker said. "We knew moving forward we were going to have a lot of new faces. I think we can be better. We need to be better. We've done a lot of work in the out-of-season, in free agency and the draft. I feel good about the direction we're going. I'm very, very encouraged. It was really good to see the rookies out there today. Those guys flew around, they gave us great effort. It was a very productive day. I'm very encouraged about the direction of our defense with the personnel moves that we've made, the overall attitude of where we're headed."
Mel TuckerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears and Mel Tucker might be looking for young, tough players to develop rather than spend in free agency.
Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker tried in 2013 to run the same defense as former head coach Lovie Smith, and even assimilated to teaching the same language from the scheme.

But it didn't work for several reasons, with injuries to key players and a general lack of depth chief among them. Tucker appears to now have autonomy to shape the defense how he sees fit.

"I think he's always had the autonomy to do things within parameters," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

With most of the parameters seemingly off now, it begs the question of what Tucker actually plans to do with the defense in 2014. Trestman said, "It's wide open." But it'll be interesting to see how much Tucker and the rest of the defensive coaching staff take full advantage of what would likely turn into carte blanche, provided they're successful.

"Everything's on the table this year in terms of where we're going defensively," Trestman said. "Right now these coaches are getting in position to learn more about each other. They're meeting to learn more about their styles and the pre-existing defense and where we can go with our existing players, knowing that there's going to be a lot of change. The most important thing right now is our system of football. The language is wide open."

No knock on former Bears defensive coaches Tim Tibesar, Mike Phair and Michael Sinclair. But the reality is none of them had ever worked in the past with Tucker, who basically inherited two coaches (Tibesar and Sinclair) that worked with Trestman in Montreal, and one of two holdovers from Smith's staff in Phair.

When the Bears brought in new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, the brass made sure to add what one NFL source called "two damned good ones" before adding "Mel loves them both." General manager Phil Emery played a major role in that because he wanted to help Tucker find a way to do his job better.

Will that translate to success on the field? It's certainly not guaranteed.

Pasqualoni and Herring come to the staff with reputations for being two of the league's better teachers, but more importantly, they're considered "tough guys," according to the source.

So it wasn't a surprise to hear general manager Phil Emery discuss that attribute last week a couple of times at the NFL combine. When the team starts acquiring players in free agency and the draft, look for toughness to be among the chief attributes of the new additions.

"We need tough, physical players," Emery said. "Mel has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it that generally the toughness of the team shows up at corner. That's what we want: tough, physical athletes."

They don't have to be big-name players, either. Tucker generally prefers those "tough, physical athletes" that Emery mentioned, who are coachable, up-and-comers over the name players.

So if the Bears hit free agency in the coming days, and don't sign a bunch of household names on defense, it wouldn't be a surprise. In fact, I'd think in some ways it would be by design.

"We went through an evaluation process, which is never easy, of moving forward with our staff and bringing in a couple guys we felt not only had the experience to develop young players -- because we know we're going to have new players and we're going to be young -- but also work daily with the veteran element on our football team as well. We felt Mel was the guy to lead the way in that regard," Trestman said. "We hired Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring. These guys have 3-4 backgrounds. We think we've put together a staff of guys who can really incorporate and be flexible with the players we're going to have going through this process. We're going start from the 4-3, but we've got to be flexible in our scheme to move people around and have the ability to get it done, and not just do it because we see other teams doing it; but doing it because we have the skill set and experience to be able to do it."
Chicago plans to stick to its base 4-3 defense, according to a story posted on the team’s official website, and that falls in line with what league sources have said all along about the team’s future, despite recent additions of coaches with 3-4 backgrounds.

At the conclusion of the regular season, rampant speculation circulated about the possibility of the team moving to a 3-4 front after the Bears put up historically horrid numbers during a 2013 season in which they surrendered the most yards (6,313), points (478), and rushing yards in franchise history and rushing yards (2,583). But the club refused to tip its hand as to plans for the 2014 season.

“I can say this: We know we have the coaching ability to move scheme,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said when asked specifically about a potential switch to a 3-4. “We have that kind of intellect in this building. I've said this early on: We're not looking to put a square peg in a round hole. [General manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can to give us the best possible players. I don’t know. Everything is on the table in terms of a discussion. Once we get an evaluation from inside-out of what our players can do, then we’ll move forward with what we can do with them schematically. Part of our decisions and how we move forward schematically will be based on the players that are in our locker room.”

Trestman’s last remark explains why the Bears plan to stick to a 4-3 front: those types of players are what the team has in terms of personnel. Switching over to a 3-4 front would require the Bears to spend at least one entire offseason bringing aboard players that fit that scheme.

The club’s acquisition of former Jaguar Austen Lane on Tuesday provided further evidence of the team’s plans to stick to a 4-3. That’s not to say the Bears won’t experiment. The addition of defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring gives the Bears flexibility if they decide to try different looks based on their backgrounds in 3-4 defenses.

“It’s a matter of being to utilize the people that we have and be ready to do whatever it’s going to take with a system that’s flexible enough to do it,” Trestman told the team’s official website. “It’s making sure we have a scheme that can utilize our players and bring the best out of them.”

Obviously one component of that might involve the Bears veering away some from the defense brought to the team by former coach Lovie Smith. So while it’s likely Chicago will continue to run some elements of Smith’s system, it’s also expected that the Bears will become more multiple to prevent opponents from catching on to what they’re doing on a game-by-game basis.

“We want to be very stout and physical in the run game and then in the passing game be able to pressure with four guys,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told ChicagoBears.com. “Our pressure packages will fit our personnel and be dynamic enough where we can play to guys’ strengths and be unpredictable.”

NFL Week 17 Studs and Duds

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:00
PM ET
Phew.

That's all I can say.

Phew.

It has been a while -- if ever -- that we have had such a dramatic final day of a regular season. I could go on forever about the decisions, the turnarounds, the final plays and the reported comings and goings. But, alas: We must narrow down our final list of regular-season Studs and Duds to a manageable number.

Let's get to it.

STUDS

Manning
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: What do you want your quarterback to do when a victory means a top seed in the playoffs? Pretty much exactly what Manning did Sunday for the Broncos: Complete 25 of his first 28 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns. That was enough for a 31-0 halftime lead over the Oakland Raiders; backup Brock Osweiler took over to start the third quarter of an eventual 34-14 victory. Manning was so sharp that none of this three incompletions were judged to be over- or underthrown in video analysis by ESPN Stats & Information. Against the Raiders this season, Manning threw seven touchdown passes and eight incompletions. And oh, by the way, Manning finished with new single-season NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55).

Patterson
2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings receiver: Patterson capped a fierce end to his rookie season with a two-touchdown game in a 14-13 victory over the Detroit Lions. The first came on a 50-yard running play, an improvisation originally designed to be a pass to receiver Greg Jennings, and the other was the winning eight-yard reception. Patterson scored a total of six touchdowns in December and became the only wide receiver since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to score three rushing touchdowns in one season. Meanwhile, Patterson's 32.4.-yard kickoff return was the NFL's third-best (minimum 20 returns) since the merger. Patterson is a unique player who proved every bit as versatile and instinctive as the one he was drafted to replace: Percy Harvin.

Williams
Blount
3. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots tailback: One of the cool things about watching the Patriots is seeing how they match their personnel to game plans and circumstance, sometimes in wildly varying ways from week to week. Blount has had less than 10 rushes in half of the Patriots' games this season, but on a rainy field Sunday, the Patriots gave him the all 24 times. He responded with a career-high 189 yards in a game that locked up the AFC's No. 2 seed for the Patriots. Weather conditions convinced the Patriots they needed to utilize a physical runner, and Blount excelled even when the Buffalo Bills stacked the line with eight or more runners (113 yards on 10 carries), according to ESPN Stats & Information. How do the Patriots keep winning with so many key players on injured reserve? Their use of Blount on Sunday is a prime example.

DUDS

1. Cleveland Browns: Plenty of people thought the Browns whiffed last winter by hiring Rob Chudzinski as their head coach. Chudzinski was clearly a fallback choice after negotiations fell through with Chip Kelly, Bill O'Brien and others. And it now appears the Browns agreed. Chudzinski, fired Sunday, can now be viewed as the longest-tenured interim coach in NFL history. How else to explain firing a coach after one season? Yes, the Browns lost 10 of their final 11 games and finished 4-12, and nothing Chudzinski did or said suggested he was the next Vince Lombardi. But there were plenty of mitigating circumstances, including the Browns' lack of a franchise quarterback and an early-season trade of tailback Trent Richardson. The Browns owed it to the notion of franchise stability, if nothing else, to give Chudzinski an honest commitment. If you were a head coaching candidate with options, how likely would you be to consider the Browns' opening? Some might think that the Browns were smart, if unconventional, to cut ties quickly with a coach who wasn't taking them anywhere. But whatever pain Chudzinski would have put the Browns through next season will at least be equaled by the long-term damage to the franchise of this 12-month charade.

2. Defense, Chicago Bears: NFL franchises are notorious for ping-ponging philosophy, so it was no surprise that the Bears sought a head coach with an offensive background to replace the defensive-minded Lovie Smith last winter. On cue, new coach Marc Trestman installed a dynamic offense that entered Week 17 averaging the third-most points per game (27.8) in the NFL. But it was his defense, coordinated by veteran coach Mel Tucker, that is to blame for the Bears' failure to win the NFC North. Given two opportunities to clinch the division, the Bears allowed a total of 87 points in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. I realize the Bears were crushed by injuries at various points this season, but that shouldn't excuse Sunday's botched coverage on the Packers' final chance to make up a 28-27 deficit. The Bears blitzed seven, and the four remaining men allowed receiver Randall Cobb to run straight down the field uncovered to catch a 48-yard touchdown on fourth-down-and-eight. A year after firing Smith for his unbalanced teams, the Bears are no closer to center.

3. Bill Leavy, NFL referee: In an earlier post, I relieved Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid of responsibility for denying the Pittsburgh Steelers a playoff spot. And I can't really take San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy to task for a fake punt deep in his territory during overtime that, by all accounts, was the independent idea of upback Eric Weddle. What we can do, however, is decry the multiple instances of questionable decisions by Leavy and his crew that corrupted the final minutes of the game. First, Leavy ruled that Weddle's forward progress had stopped before he had the ball ripped out of his hands by Chiefs defender Sean Smith. A review of the play confirms Weddle was still moving forward when Smith had the ball. Meanwhile, on the penultimate play of regulation, the Chargers lined up in an illegal defensive formation, as former NFL officiating vice president Mike Pereira pointed out. Had the penalty been called, Chiefs place-kicker Ryan Succop would have gotten another attempt after missing from 41 yards out. Officiating mistakes are to be expected, as I've written many times, but these were season-changing plays that impacted the fortunes of two franchises.
CHICAGO -- The Green Bay Packers took a 10-7 lead over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field under a freakish set of circumstances. But ultimately, the play came as the result of failure by the home team to play heads-up football.

With 3:28 left in the opening half, Julius Peppers sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind as Rodgers attempted to throw the ball. The ball came loose and hit the cold, damp turf at Soldier Field. Players from both teams froze, but officials never blew the play dead.

As the players watched, Rodgers appeared to scream out to Jarrett Boykin to scoop up the ball, which he alertly did, before romping 15 yards for a touchdown.

Officials immediately reviewed the play and determined that Rodgers fumbled as opposed to throwing incomplete, and confirmed the original call of a Boykin touchdown.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take some heat for the club’s defense not being more alert and not following the tenet of playing until the whistle is blown, something that is taught to players at every level, all the way down to the youth leagues. Surely, some will question whether a defense coached by Lovie Smith would have let such a play occur.

Given what’s on the line -- the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs -- all those criticisms would be legitimate, even though I tend toward placing the blame on the players in this instance.

Either way, the Bears need to find a way to bounce back.

At intermission, the Bears trail 13-7, and the Packers get the ball to start the second half.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker faced a bevy of difficult questions Monday after his group gave up 514 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 54-11 thumping, but displayed confidence when asked if he worried about job security.

“No, I don’t,” Tucker said. “I just stay focused on the task at hand and working to teach, motivate and develop, and work with these guys and get them ready for the next outing. That’s really my main focus.”

In addition to giving up 21 points in both the first and fourth quarters, the Bears allowed LeSean McCoy to run for 133 of Philadelphia’s 291 rushing yards. Chicago allowed two 100-yard rushers in that outing, and on the season they’ve surrendered at least one 100-yard rusher in 10 games.

[+] EnlargeMel Tucker
AP Photo/Scott BoehmChicago's defense, led by coordinator Mel Tucker, hasn't held an opponent to under 20 points this season.
In the latest setback, Philadelphia reeled off 10 plays for gains of 16 yards or more, with three coming on Nick Foles completions. The Eagles also converted 56 percent of their third-down attempts, and scored touchdowns on five trips into the red zone.

The seven touchdowns scored by the Eagles were the most the Bears have allowed in franchise history (although one of the TDs was on an interception return). The 54 points rank as the second most allowed by the Bears in franchise history.

Earlier in the season, however, Bears head coach Marc Trestman expressed confidence in Tucker’s ability to lead a defense that has been ravaged by a plethora of injuries. Trestman was asked again on Monday about that assessment.

“At the end of the day, and I said this throughout the last two weeks, we did see some work moving forward, and the guys took a step backward [at Philadelphia],” Trestman said. “The only way I can evaluate it is presently. Two weeks of getting a little better at what we were doing, not where we want to be, and a week where we took a step back.”

Is Tucker to blame? Absolutely not. Tucker isn’t missing tackles, busting assignments, not leveraging blocks correctly or just flat out being handled physically by the opponent. And for those who argue that Tucker should be teaching the Bears how to perform fundamentals such as tackling and getting off blocks, you have to realize these guys are NFL players, which means they’ve learned and worked exhaustively on these elements of the game their whole lives.

After all, what team drafts a guy into the NFL that doesn’t know how to tackle?

Tucker’s job is to put the players in the best position to succeed through schemes and game planning. He's done that. But once they’re in position, it’s up to them to make the plays. If the Bears did decide to part ways with Tucker, it would be a major mistake. He's a head coach basically in waiting, and several folks around the league would agree with that assessment.

The Bears won’t use excuses. But injuries are a major part of the defense’s decline, as is the fact the club likely overestimated the type of production they’d get in 2013 from some of their aging veterans, while several of the team's younger players didn't build on what they had done in 2012. The defense has definitely fallen off in 2013, but the truth is the unit started showing signs of decline last season.

Chicago hasn’t held an opponent to fewer than 20 points all season, but in 2012 a mostly healthy Bears defense failed to accomplish that feat in seven of the last 10 games, while also allowing four 100-yard rushing performances.

“Sometimes we’re in the right place, but we’re just not winning the one-on-ones or you missed a tackle. That’s a big part of it,” Tucker said. “Like I said the past couple weeks, it’s not so much now knowing where to fit, it’s when you get there, are you able to shed the block? Are you able to finish on the ball, are you able to make the tackle, are you able to get there quickly enough? That’s part of it, too. We have to eliminate the hesitation, and continue to coach through and work through that as players. That’s pretty much what it is.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon makes a run at the NFL record books, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker expects his group to face a tall order containing him Sunday on the road.

Chicago held down Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown) on Monday night with Tim Jennings as the primary man in coverage, but Gordon presents perhaps a more formidable challenge.

Tucker sees big-play ability as Gordon’s most significant attribute.

“He has a large catch radius. He’s fast. He can take a 5-yard slant and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown,” Tucker said. “Really, he’s playing with a lot of confidence. The quarterbacks have confidence in him to go up and make plays. He can catch the ball in a crowd and win the contested one-on-one battle.”

Gordon’s eye-popping statistics over the past four games certainly support that. Suspended for the first two games, Gordon leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,400) and has racked up 774 yards over the past four games.

He currently averages 127.3 yards per game, and the NFL record for single-season average per game is 129 yards.

Browns quarterback Jason Campbell believes Gordon has hit his comfort zone.

“Coming into the season, I know there was a lot of trade talk and a lot of trade rumors. And with him missing the first two games of the season, I think he had a chance to really sit back and just look at things on the outside of what a great opportunity he has and what a great opportunity he’s missing out on when he wasn’t playing,” Campbell said. “When he came back, he had a totally different mindset about playing in the NFL, a totally different mindset about his ability to make plays, and I think a lot of it is, once the trade rumor was also over with, I think he was able to relax and just start to play the game.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson declined to make predictions about what he might do to Chicago’s 32nd-ranked run defense Sunday at the Metrodome.

But if someone as innocuous as St. Louis’ Benny Cunningham could rip the Bears for 109 yards last week, Peterson could be in for a field day against a Bears defense allowing an average of 145.2 yards per game.

“I don’t know,” Peterson said, laughing. “I don’t really want to sit here and make any predictions. I just want to contribute and do whatever it takes to help my team win. So if that’s 300 yards, perfect. If that’s 150, perfect; 50, with 100-something receiving, any way I can help my team get this “W” this weekend, that’s pretty much all I’m worried about. I’m just going to go out there and play ball and let the chips fall where they may.”

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson has averaged 107.7 yards per game in his career against the Bears.
Peterson produced his first 100-yard game since Nov. 3 last week against the Green Bay Packers, and even Bears players such as cornerback Zack Bowman admitted that once the running back sees tape of Chicago’s performance against the Rams, he’ll see “that he can have a big day against us.”

“They’re going to go back and watch the Rams game,” Bowman said.

Why wouldn’t they? After all, the Bears surrendered 258 yards on the ground against the Rams, which averaged 8.9 yards per attempt. Cunningham, Zac Stacy, and Tavon Austin averaged 8.4, 7.3 and 65 yards, respectively, on 26 attempts, with each breaking loose for gains of 27 yards or more.

Against the Rams, the Bears allowed eight runs for gains of 10 yards or more. On the season, the Bears have given up 48 such runs, including 10 for gains of 25 yards or more.

“[We’re] looking to rebound from a very disappointing outing, especially in the run game on Sunday,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “In order to play great defense, especially run defense, everyone needs to be exactly where they need to be on every play. It only takes one breakdown to cause a big play. We really don’t have margin for error, especially when you’re playing good teams with good talent. Everyone has to be on point.”

That especially holds true for Sunday’s matchup against Peterson, who gained 100 yards against a healthy Chicago defense in the first meeting between the teams before injuries decimated the unit.

Peterson has hit the century mark in four games this season, and his 98.5 yards per game over his seven seasons rank as No. 3 in league history for players participating in a minimum of 100 games. Peterson admits to taking some pride in maintaining such productivity against defenses loading the box seemingly every week to stop him.

“It feels good, but then it feels like just another play because I’ve been dealing with it for so long,” Peterson said. “For seven years, every time we play, guys are in there to stop the run. So it’s become a norm.”

It’s also becoming fairly common for Chicago’s defense to surrender yardage in chunks on the ground. But Peterson refuses to underestimate the Bears. Peterson said the Bears are “not the defense we played earlier this season,” with the unit “going through a little funk right now.”

But the running back isn’t quite on the same tear as he was in 2012 when he finished the season with 2,097 yards. With 997 yards so far, Peterson needs 154 yards against the Bears on Sunday to become just the fifth player in league history to hit 10,000 yards or more rushing in their first seven seasons.

Given Chicago’s epic struggles against the run, Peterson was asked if he predicted a 300-yard outing against the Bears.

“Don’t make that the headline,” he said, laughing.

Peterson may be able to do that himself.

“Well, we take a lot of pride in being able to run the ball,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We go into every ballgame with the intent of being able to run the ball. We feel like we’ve got the best running back in the NFL on our team. So we’re going to try to play to our strength.”

In 11 career games against Chicago, Peterson has averaged 107.7 yards, which ranks as the most by any player all-time against the Bears. Peterson gained more than 120 yards in four of those contests, including a 224-yard explosion during the running back’s rookie year.

“His will and determination is so apparent on every single run,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s his will, his determination, the things that go beyond his ability that really stand out to me. Certainly, there are guys who do just as much, but nobody more than Adrian Peterson. We’ve seen a lot of running backs come and go. He’s certainly one of the greatest to ever play the game. Some of us have seen a lot of running backs over the last 50 years in the National Football League, and he has to be one of the best.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knows help isn’t on the way for his injury-stricken defense, but he remains confident the group can do its job efficiently because the deficiencies he sees on tape can be fixed.

Having been in dire situations in the past with the Jacksonville Jaguars, whether brought on by injury or a lack of talent, Tucker sees his 20th-ranked defense improving.

“What gives me confidence is I know we haven’t played as well as we can play yet with the guys we have in there. I know that,” Tucker told ESPN.com. “I know the areas where we need improvement, I see where it’s correctable, and it’s not necessarily ability [holding back the defense]. Everything that we’ve seen that we can do better on tape, we feel like we can correct it through coaching, teaching, motivation, drill work and things like that [that] we can take and practice fast and take into games. That’s what we feel about this group.”

The Bears rank 23rd against the pass, but are tied for third in the NFL with a plus-seven turnover ratio. Still, the defense hasn’t yet held an opponent to fewer than 21 points through the first six games. Through the first six games of 2012, the Bears held opponents to fewer than 21 points on four occasions.

Obviously, at this point in 2012 the Bears hadn’t lost three starters -- four if nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden is included -- as they have this season: franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton, Nate Collins and middle linebacker D.J. Williams. To compensate for the losses up front, the Bears are rotating in players such as recent signees Landon Cohen and Christian Tupou, along with unheralded contributors such as Zach Minter and David Bass.

Although the Bears started two games in nickel defense, the club has played the first six games with five different starting lineups along the defensive line.

Nose tackle Stephen Paea admitted that all the change affects chemistry. Through the first six games of last season, the Bears had collected 21 sacks. So far this season: eight.

“Last week, we had David Bass coming in,” Paea said. “We had Zach Minter. It was those guys playing with [defensive end Julius] Peppers in there -- Peppers looking over there giving signals, like something he always does to me or Melton. Those guys don’t even know. [They’re like], ‘What is that?’ [It could be] like a signal [where Peppers is saying], ‘I’m coming in, and you’re coming out. I do this, you do that.’ So when we get that chemistry down and people have that trust, [we’ll] feel comfortable in there. It’s getting there, but we have new guys coming in. It’s like having new classmates every day.”

Still, Tucker remains confident in his ability to reach all the new pupils.

“We haven’t hit our ceiling with any of the guys we have now. We feel like we should get better day in and day out, and carry it over into the game,” Tucker said. “We feel like we have a good group. We feel like we can do what we need to do to perform and play winning football. In terms of the challenge, every day is a challenge regardless of the situation. That’s why we play this game. That’s part of it.”
CHICAGO -- For two weeks in a row as the Chicago Bears prepared to take the field, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told quarterback Jay Cutler, “We’ve got your back,” and in the end, the unit did despite a sometimes shaky performance Sunday during a 31-30 comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings.

“When it comes time for the defense to make a stop or the defense to get a turnover, they do,” Cutler said.

Still, the defense isn't performing at a level it wants to be, but what it did against Minnesota was actually better than things looked. Although the Vikings scored 21 points in the first half, Chicago’s defense was responsible for only one touchdown -- a 20-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder to Kyle Rudolph -- because the other two touchdowns came on special teams (a Cordarrelle Patterson kickoff return) and Brian Robison's return of a Cutler fumble.

In the second half, the Bears allowed just nine points on three consecutive possessions, with all three field goals coming from 28 yards out or nearer, meaning the defense tightened up in the red zone.

[+] EnlargeTim Jennings
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports"I don't care how we win them," said Tim Jennings, who returned an interception of Vikings QB Christian Ponder 44 yards for a score. "It still counts as a win."
“I don’t care how we win them,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “It still counts as a win, and I’m very appreciative of that. It was a pound-for-pound, blow-for-blow heavyweight battle. They had some plays. We had some plans, and the momentum kept shifting back and forth.”

The defense bailed out Cutler when he threw an interception in the end zone during the second quarter with a Tim Jennings 44-yard interception return for a touchdown. The defense saved the offense again in the fourth quarter with the Bears trailing 27-24, when Matt Forte was stripped by Letroy Guion.

“On the pick [I threw] in the end zone, they turn around and pick-six [by Jennings],” Cutler said. “Then at the end, whenever we fumbled, they got a stop down at the goal line.”

Instead of allowing Minnesota to score a touchdown to put away the game by making the score 34-24 with approximately three minutes remaining, the Bears surrendered just two yards on three plays run from their 6 to force the Vikings to settle for a Blair Walsh 22-yard field goal, which made the score 30-24 with 3:17 left to play.

“That right there was what hurt the most,” Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. “Being in the red zone and having to settle for three. In those situations offensively, we have to come through and make a big play. We weren’t able to do that today. We do that, we win.”

They didn’t, and lost. Chicago’s defense definitely played a role in that.

Peterson rushed for 100 yards on 26 attempts, but if you subtract the 36-yard run he broke in the second quarter, the running back averaged 2.5 yards on the other 25 carries.

“I think anytime you came out of a game with a win, you did good enough,” middle linebacker James Anderson said. “I don’t think we played it perfect. We’ve got some things we’ve got to correct. We’re improving. We had a good start last week. This week, we took some steps.”

The defense needs to take more. Minnesota converted 44 percent of third downs, and finished 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions. Although Chicago’s front seven pressured the quarterback at times, it dropped Ponder just once, and he was still able to make several plays with his feet.

“We’re still trying to figure it out. It’s a long year. It’s still early,” Jennings said. “Of course I hate that it seems that we keep letting them (score) 30 points, whatever we gave up last week. It’s too many points. We can just go out there and create the turnovers that we’re able to create, give our offense back the ball, and try to go out each and every week during the week of practice getting better. We’re still trying to figure it out.”

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 1

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Bears’ 24-21 win over the Bengals:

No pressure from the defensive line: Let’s not get too worried about it now because Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton let the ball fly quickly at the end of his drops. Cincinnati’s game plan was to get rid of the ball quickly and take what the defense was giving it. That meant lots of dink-and-dunk football.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler and the Bears' offense got off to a slow start, but rallied in the second half to beat Cincinnati.
“There were times we were getting frustrated,” Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton said. “You couldn’t really even get into your pass-rushing moves because the ball was already coming out. They were playing small ball.”

Defensive end Shea McClellin posted the lone sack, but that play came in a timely fashion considering it was Cincinnati’s final drive. Again, this isn’t something to be concerned with. Also, after one game, I’m not buying the theory that defensive end Julius Peppers has all of the sudden lost it. Trust me, he hasn’t.

Slow start on offense: Left tackle Jermon Bushrod said if there was anything he thought the Bears could’ve done better Sunday, it would have been getting out to a faster start.

The Bears converted on just 2 of 8 third downs in the first half, while generating 97 yards of offense, compared to Cincinnati’s 245. The 10 points Chicago scored in the first half came as a result of prime field position from a Charles Tillman interception and a 15-yard personal-foul penalty by Dre Kirkpatrick, which gave the Bears possession at the Bengals' 44.

“We could always start faster,” Bushrod said.

Missed tackles: Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker thought the defense performed well, but admitted the unit missed too many tackles while squandering opportunities to get off the field on third down -- issues that seem to go hand in hand.

In the first half, the Bengals converted on 71 percent of their third downs.

“It wasn’t like it was third-and-short. It was third-and-10, third-and-11,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Those are defensive-heavy, winning-percentage downs. That’s stuff we have to correct. I missed a lot of tackles today.”

No running game: Matt Forte averaged 2.6 yards on 19 attempts, which is a little low. But it’s to be expected considering the caliber of competition the Bears faced Sunday against Cincinnati’s dynamic front seven.

What’s important is Forte was able to gain 8 yards on a crucial fourth-and-1 with the game on the line.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 11/20
Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24
WEEKLY LEADERS