Tag:Israel Idonije
Posted on: September 6, 2011 11:35 am
 

My Key's to the 2011 Season

I guess before I begin, it makes sense to define what successful is to me. Last year, I would have said a winning record would be successful and a playoff spot would have been icing on the cake. If you would have told me that the Bears would finish second overall in the NFC, and win the division, and be playing for the NFC Championship, I probably would have told you to take a reality pill or 2 and call me in the morning.


It goes to show you anything can happen in the NFL. A few years back, the Bengals, like the Bears were picked to finish last in the division. They surprised everyone. Last year, the Cowboys were supposed to easily cruise to the NFCE division title. They finished last. Last year the Packers were supposed to easily win the division. Yet, they barely lucked into the playoffs with help from other teams losing and an untimely Mike Martz heave-a-thon.


So this year, I would say 10 wins for this team would be successful. Anything less is just hitting around expectations. Most analysts have them finishing at or below .500. Most have them finishing behind the Lions. Clark Judge (who picked them to finish last in the division in 2010) has them finishing behind the Lions as well. So I’m saying 10 and 6 would be a good season. Of course, a SB win would be incredible...


In no particular order:


#1 – Stay healthy.

The Bears did have some injuries last year. But most were short term and low impact. Cutler, Briggs, Pisa, Wright, and Chris Williams all missed games. The key was that the injuries were relatively spread out, and only the Briggs injury seemed to impact the team as a whole.

#2 – Red Zone offense success

In a word, we were pathetic. Especially in goal line situations. In fact, we went 0-12 in goal line situations to start the season. We've looked less than stellar so far in pre-season. But, we’ve kept a full back on the roster and added Speath. We've also grown on the line (averaging about 20 lbs per player more). But the biggest add is Barber. I think Martz needs to mix it up from the 20, but when we get to the goal we need to punch the defense in the face.


#3 - Rookies, rejects and Free Agent’s step up…

If you haven’t been keeping up to date on the Bears roster moves, get ready for a new-look team. Gone are some of the perennial players like Olin Kreutz, Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison, Pisa Tinoisomoa, Rashied Davis, Garrett Wolfe, Brad Maynard, and Danieal Manning. In their place, we have 19 new faces… Nineteen! That’s turnover of 36% of our 53 man roster in one year.

Some guys are expected to be special teamers. Some are expected to compete for starting positions. Some are expected to see a ton of playing time, in critical situations. All are expected to contribute immediately.

Here are your new Chicago Bears:


  1. Gabe Carimi – OT – 1st draft pick. Our new starting RT. He’s looked very impressive in pre-season.
  2. Kyle Adams – TE – Probably won’t see much time other than special teams
  3. Mario Addison – DE - I really like this kid. So does Lovie…
  4. Marion Barber – RB – Expected to immediately solve short yardage. I think he can do way more.
  5. Chris Conte – S- Rookie safety. He’ll see lots of time on special teams.
  6. Roy Williams – WR – Our new #1… ugh…
  7. Winston Venable – S – No one can deny that this kid can hit… Will see a lot of time on ST’s.
  8. Chris Spencer – C – playing the role of back-up for now. Most think he will be starting in a few weeks.
  9. Matt Spaeth – TE - I believe he has potential to be out biggest pick-up. He is (so far) everything we hoped Manu would be.
  10. Adam Podlesh – P -I wasn’t super impressed with his leg in pre-season. But, he can’t be weaker than Maynard, can he?
  11. Nick Reed – DE - A guy with a non-stop motor. I really liked this kid. Probably gets moved to the practice squad when Corey Wootton comes back though.
  12. Stephen Paea – DT – Our #2 draft pick. Adds depth at this point, but still haven’t seen much from him.
  13. Amobi Okoye DT – One of my favorite pickups. I may be wrong, but I think he has ALL of the Bears pre-season sacks…
  14. Brandon Meriweather – S – A back-to-back pro-bowler. I hope he lives up to where he was drafted. If he does, what an awesome steal.
  15. Sam Hurd – WR – Big tall targte. Looked good out there. Will play a lot of special teams.
  16. Nathan Enderle – QB – 5th round draft. If he is on the field, we are in serious trouble…
  17. Dom DeCicco – LB – Played Safety in college. Can he really bulk up and make an impact at MLB?
  18. Dane Sanzenbacher - WR - Outshined pretty much all receivers in pre-season.
  19. Will Ta’ufo’ou – FB – Was on the practice squad last year so not new to team. But not only is he new to 53 man roster, he also brings back a position we did not have last year.



#4 - Time for this offense to click.

Pre-season records are meaningless. But the pre-season eye test and stats are not. Coaches are looking at everything and just about every stat other than W/L in preseason. Cutler has played about 4 quarters this pre-season. All came against our opponents first team defenses. I'd give Cutler an A. He has put up 350 yards averaging 8 yards per pass. He’s looked poised, quick, and confident in this offense.

As important, the offense as a whole has done very well overall. We have owned the TOP in all 4 games (averaging almost 34 minutes). This success is directly linked to our ability to covert 3rd downs (40%) and in general, keep the ball moving – with 93 first downs total. And before you start in on the “it’s just pre-season” noise, know we held opponents to just 55 total first downs on about 33%.

The point is, this offense is showing signs of maturing. It could really click. And if it does, it’s going to be a fun ride.


#5 – Offensive line MUST play better than 2010.

Quite possibly the most important key... But, let’s not beat this dead horse to death. I'll be quick. We sucked in 2010. 53 sacks. The line is probably the main reason we did not go to the SB. We’re much bigger up front, but younger. I keep saying, if we can average 2 or less sacks per game, we will be in playoffs. One thing is for sure, we look like we have a pretty solid short yardage group here.


#6 – Vets have to play like Vets.

We have a lot of new talent. But the Vets are going to be expected to shine. Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Israel Idonije, Earl Bennett. We need these guys to play like they can and not the way the “experts” think they will. Lovie needs to keep this team motivated and hungry. Last year, we beat the Packers, Cowboys and Lions to start the season. If we can start the season out the way we did last year, (We have the Falcons, Saints and Packers) look for the Bears bandwagon to fill up quickly again.

Thoughts, questions, corrections, bitching, etc.. are all welcome.

Go Bears!
Posted on: March 24, 2010 4:34 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 11:44 am
 

Bears Defense 2006 vs 2009 - Outlook 2010

As many of you know, I am not only an avid Bears fan, I am also a defensive scheme junkie. Last year, during the season, I was often spouting off and criticizing the Bears defensive schemes. Even during the game, I was calling out mismatches pre-snap and I was often right (Annoyingly so to those sitting near me in the stands)

With the season over, I’d like to identify and illustrate exactly what I believe went wrong in 2009.

First, let’s look at some stats: For the sake of comparison, I will use 2006, a year in which the Bears were dominant. I will refer to these stats later.

Defense 2006:
Yds / Gm:
                    294.1, Rank – 5th
Yds / Play:                  4.6, Rank –2nd (tied)
3rd down  %:               31%, Rank 2nd
TOP:                           29.47, Rank 12th
Points Allowed / Gm:    15.9, Rank 3rd
Sacks:                         40, Rank 8th (tied)
Turnovers caused:        44, Rank – 1st

Overall Defensive Ranking based on an average of all key Defensive statistics: 2nd

Defense 2009:
Yds / Gm:                     337.8, Rank – 17th
Yds / Play:                    5.2, Rank – 18th
3rd down  %:                 41%, Rank 27th
TOP:                             31.45, Rank 12th
Points Allowed / Gm:      23.4, Rank 25th
Sacks:                           35, Rank 13th (tied)
Turnovers caused:          28, Rank – 17th

Overall Defensive Ranking based on an average of all key Defensive statistics: 19th


* Stats by NFL.Com

Since Lovie Smith took over in 2004, he has utilized the Cover 2 as his primary defense. For those not familiar with the Cover 2, it is essentially a 4-3 zone defense that lines up with 4 Linemen (DE, DT, DT, DE) at the Line of Scrimmage, 3 Linebackers behind the Line (Strong, Middle, Weak) , 2 Corner backs, and 2 Safeties (Strong Side Safety, and Free Safety).

The defense itself can be an extremely effective defense as one its primary function is to force long yardage on 3rd downs and force a team into an obvious pass situation. It does this by allowing the LB’s to move up and play a gap on 1st and 2nd downs (essentially stacking the box with 7) to cancel the rush.

On 3rd down and long situations, the Strong side Linebacker can be replaced by a “Nickel Back” who is essentially another safety, the other 2 Linebackers can play back also essentially having 7 pass defenders.

One of the key reasons teams like to use the Cover 2 as a primary is it’s very easily adaptable pre-snap without changing personnel. There is a negative; when Tampa began using their variation of the Cover 2 (AKA Tampa 2), the defense seemed impenetrable at first. However,  coaches were quickly able to exploit “weaknesses” in the zone. The Cover 2 leaves 3 primary weak or soft spots:

   1) Deep middle (between) the Free and Strong Safety.
   2) Behind the CB on the right
   3) Behind the CB on the left.


The positive to these soft spots are that they are all between 10 and 15 yards down field. However, this positive is also a negative as if they are exploited successfully, it is almost always a first down.

To better protect the soft spots, there are 3 extremely critical keys that a defense must have:

1) An extremely strong MLB who also is extremely fast.
2) Above-average speed and smart Safeties who can also hit hard.
3) An extremely quick pass rush.


Let’s look at how each helps.


MLB:
 
When looking up the definition of a MLB in a Cover 2 in the dictionary, Brian Urlacher’s picture should be next to the word. His Size to Speed ratio is a perfect match. A MLB must be able to do 3 things well:

1) Identify and annouce the offensive set and line up the D accordingly
2) Plug the open “A” gap on a rush up the middle, as well as work side line to side line on rushes off tackle.
3) Line up close to the line every down, but be able retreat back into the secondary and plug the soft spot on pass plays.

Urlacher’s  speed at linebacker gives him the unique ability to move up to the line, sometimes pretending to bite on a hard count to fake the blitz, and then retreating into pass coverage in the deep middle. 

In 2006, Urlacher was not only considered the best MLB, he was also coming off a 2005 year where he was considered the best overall defender in the game.

Many will say Urlacher has lost a step, but the truth is, in 2007 Brian Urlacher was playing hurt, with an injured neck/back. While many “glass half empty” people will say, it’s no big deal to play with a bad back, Steve McMichael (of ’85 Bears fame), is quoted as saying, that “With the way linebackers have to fight off Linemen, Tight Ends, and tackle big Running backs, a linebacker with a bad back can never be expected to play better than 40-50 %.”

In 2008, he missed pre-season conditioning, OTA’s and went easy in training camp recovering from off-season neck surgery and was nowhere near 100%. In 2009, Urlacher reported to camp in shape, injury free and ready to regain his title as best MLB in football. That all came crashing down on a freak, season ending,  wrist injury in week 1 against the Packers. My son, a big Urlacher fan, asked me how bad it is to the Bears defense losing #54. My response “The only thing worse to the team would be losing Jay Cutler”. I actually think I was wrong. Losing Urlacher for the season was worse.

The most obvious stat to prove this is going from 31% and 2nd overall on 3rd downs in 2006 to 41% and ranked 27th in 2009. Hunter Hillenmeyer lacked the speed to get back into middle-deep pass coverage on 3rd down, and we were repeatedly torched.

Many will argue that his neck surgeries and back issues are just an excuse. To those who say that, I counter with a very small stat: Greenbay was held scoreless and with no first downs in the first quarter prior to Urlacher going down. After, as one fan noted:  ”It was night and day. As soon as Urlacher left the game last night, the middle opened up on both running and pass plays. He was playing like he did during his perennial Pro Bowl years. Depth at linebacker, yes, but replacing one of the best in the league doesn't happen. We've taken a big hit here “.



Safeties:

In a Cover 2 system the safeties are responsible for about 25-30 yards of field deep and half the field across. The Strong Safety will line up on the strong side (Side with the Tight End), and the free will cover the other half.  The Free Safety also acts as the second in command on the field. Helping to position the defenders.

The key for the safeties is that they must be fast enough to cover a large portion of the field, all while being able to come up and act as the last line of defense if a run gets through the line and LB’s.  And… If a WR gets behind a CB on a sideline deep or middle slant pattern – the other soft spots,  their job is to keep that WR in front of them and prevent the big TD play. And… if that WR should happen to catch a pass there, deliver a crushing blow to make him regret doing so, and not want to do it again. Having a strong set of safeties allows your CB’s to take risks, and go for INT’s and strips. Note the 2006 Bears lead the league in combined fumble recoveries and INT’s. The 2009 Bears, not so much…

The Bears have not had an efficient Free Safety since Mike Brown went down and then was traded. Brown was in for a big chunk of the 2006 season.  Brian Urlacher often referred to him as the "actual leader of the defense." He was most certainly missed in the Super bowl when Danieal  Manning was beat deep by Reggie Wayne on a blown coverage for the Colts first TD.

Over the last few seasons, the Bears have had nothing short of a revolving door at Free Safety.  Kevin Payne began the 2009 season at free and was replaced quickly by Al Afalava, then by Danieal Manning. Then By Craig Steltz. Then by Josh Bullocks.  Lovie was constantly putting the guy he thought would best fit each game. This, in my opinion was a huge mistake and essentially crippled the second most important defensive position on the field. This while having a middle tier MLB in for the season was enough to destroy the Bears defense.

 

Pass Rush.

While the Bears 2009 versus Bears 2006 defenses were only 5 sacks less, what was missing was something that was obvious while watching the games. The Bears lacked consistent pressure, especially when rushing only 4.

Keep in mind the Bears Nickel package (3rd downs) is completely based on dropping 7 defenders back, but mandating that you still get pressure with your front 4. Early in the season, Tommie Harris looked slow and hapless. Alex Brown and Adawale Ogunlea looked good early, but faded near the end.

By season’s end, almost  1/3 of the Bears sacks were caused by a LB or DB.
While it’s fun to watch a safety or linebacker blitz and sack, it leaves an already shaky defensive backfield even more vulnerable - especially against quick armed smart QB's.  The other thing that was very frustrating, sacks aside, was seeing QB’s have 5-7 seconds in the pocket to throw. Not only were our front 4 not sacking, we also were not getting decent pressure for most of the season.

In a Cover 2, it takes a receiver between 3 and 4 seconds to hit the soft spot in the zone. With no pass rush, a QB can wait for the receiver to make his move to the weak spot and launch.  With a shaky safety, and a slow MLB the Bears were no match for experienced QB’s. Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, etc.. all had field days beating up our Cover 2.


The Bears need to generate 30-35 sacks and constant pressure, especially on 3rd down with their front 4. Doing so will cause disruption, hurries, INT’s, loss of yardage, free their LB's to focus on their intended objectives, and ultimately put the ball back in Jay Cutlers hands.

 

Outlook for 2010:

MLB:
Brian Urlacher is reportedly already near 100%. His wrist injury, although season ending in 2009, was not like blowing out a knee or ankle. He has been bench pressing for over a month now showing confidence in the wrist. He will be back and he will be a force. Additionally, we now have a lot more experience at MLB and I feel that Hunter can come in on certain situations and play the Mike if needed. This will help prolong Urlacher’s season, keep him rested and ready to play 100% right till the last tick of the clock.

Safety:
We still do not have an answer here, but Lovie Smith, and Jerry Angelo know it’s an issue that they plan to focus on. The Bears may be targeting Oshiomogho Atogwe (currently with the Rams). If they land him, they are set. If not, my hope is they pick a dedicated Free Safety and stick with him from training camp on. Do not make this a revolving door position.  Regardless of the path, the position will be much more experienced and much better in 2010.

Pass Rush:
First, two words: Julius Peppers. I look not only for Peppers to get 10-12 Sacks in 2010, I also look for him to cause constant pressure.  I also look for teams to be confused as to where to play their TE. If they go strong on Peppers side, look for Alex Brown to improve his 7.5 sack total from a year ago. 

Second, Tommie Harris looked good in spurts last year, but near the end of the year began looking like the 2006 Harris. He looked dominant.  Coming off a pre-season knee surgery, Harris came into camp out of shape (endurance wise).  I look for him to be in condition and a force from day 1.

Lastly, I really  like the combination of Israel Idonije and Mark Anderson at the other DT position. (Not sure the Bears agree as they might want them as back-up DE's....) Last year they combined for 5 sacks. I feel 2010 could see this number jump to 7-9 total. If we can get 30-35 sacks from these 5 guys alone, we could start hearing a lot of ’85 Bears analogies…


The stars don’t really have to align. This isn’t magic. We just need Urlacher, Atogwe (or whoever the FS is), Harris and Peppers to play big and the rest of the guys to play to their potential. If they do, look for a top 3-5 defense from Chicago in 2010.

Go Bears!!!

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com