Category Archives: NFL

Earl Bennett Deserves Credit


By: Brady Stiff

Earl Bennett is not a “sexy” receiver. He’s not the biggest, fastest, strongest, or flashiest guy in the NFL. He is, though, ultra-reliable, and the best receiver on the Bears.

Earl Bennett lays out for extra yardage in Week 2 against the Cowboys.

If anyone on the offensive side of the ball from the Bears deserves Pro Bowl consideration, it’s Earl Bennett. Yes, Jay Cutler has played well (most of the time). Sure, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox are speed demons. But there’s no question in my mind that Cutler’s number one target is Bennett. It was demonstrated yesterday against the Lions. Cutler hit him seven times for 104 yards. The one I remember most is when he made the catch, then dragged several Lions for 5-10 more yards.

A quick look at Bennett’s numbers shows 39 catches for 457 yards and three scores. What that stat line doesn’t show, however is the number of third down conversions from Cutler to Bennett. It seems like every time the Bears need to pick up a first down through the air, number 80 is option number one.  During this current five game winning streak, the Bears are 36 of 68, which is just better than 50%.  The top team this year in third down conversions is the Falcons at 48%.  Cutler has thrown to Bennett on third down 14 times, and completed 9 of those throws.  It amy not seem like a lot, but it’s clear Cutler trusts Bennett.  He’s a smart, sure-handed receiver and he hasn’t fumbled all year.

The top receivers in the league this year as far as yards go are Brandon Lloyd (an excellent mid-season fantasy pickup for me I might add), Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson and Terrell Owens. Lloyd, White, and Wayne all have close to three times the amount of receiving yards as Bennett. Dwayne Bowe leads the league with 14 touchdowns this year to Bennett’s three. Three other guys are in double digits.

The point I’m trying to make is that while his numbers don’t stack up with the league leaders, and probably not too many people know his name outside of Chicago, there’s been nobody more valuable to the Bears on offense this season. Bennett won’t win the MVP, and he may not even get a single Pro Bowl vote, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the Bears wouldn’t be 9-3 without the services of Earl Bennett.

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Maybe…


Maybe this team is back to playing good football.  Or, maybe they are who we thought they would be.  Either way, the Bears played a really good football game yesterday.  They beat the Vikings up and down the field, in every aspect of the game.

Devin Hester continues to haunt opponents on special teams.

Maybe the Vikings were just what the Bears needed to wake back up.  Maybe Mike Martz finally found some balance in his offense.  Maybe the fact that the Bears were finally able to run the ball gave Martz the balance he’s been looking for all along.

Maybe Lovie Smith finally came to his senses and put Devin Hester back on kickoff returns.  Maybe he’ll be back there the rest of the season, and he can finally get back to his rookie season ways, returning kicks for touchdowns.

Sensing a theme here?  There’s no doubt that the Bears played a good game yesterday.  Some may even call it great.  I wouldn’t go that far, but the Bears looked like a playoff contender yesterday.  What I’m saying though, is I’m not jumping on the Super Bowl Or Bust bandwagon just yet.

There are just too many questions, too many maybes left for this team to answer.

The three biggest story lines to come out of yesterday’s game are:

1.  Devin Hester’s Special Teams Play

  • Hester returned two punts for 47 yards, and two kickoffs for 100 yards.
  • While he didn’t score, his returns helped the field position game, led to points.

2.  The Running Game

  • Both Matt Forte and Chester Taylor got involved, combining for 104 yards on 32 carries.  It was a much better performance than the 66 yards they put up against the Bills last week.
  • Credit the Bears’ offensive line, which despite more than their fair share of penalties, opened holes as well as kept Jay Cutler upright.

3.  Defense

  • It’s not often that a team can hold Adrian Peterson down.  Especially when that team is the Bears.  Historically, Peterson has always played well against the Bears, but he was held to just 51 yards on 17 carries.
  • Credit the defensive line for constantly getting penetration in the backfield.  Also, the Bears swarmed the ball whenever they had a chance.  Peterson was not allowed to use his strength to break tackles.  It’s a welcome change from the Bears’ normal style of strip the ball first, tackle second.
  • The secondary may have gotten lucky a couple of times with receivers falling down, but hey, we’ll take three picks any time.

One point that definitely belongs in the top three storylines of the game is the Bears’ third down efficiency.  I’m just too lazy to go back and change things around, but it worked out because this deserves a paragraph of its own.  It’s no secret that the Bears have struggled on third down this year, and it’s hard not to when you’re constantly in 3rd and 10 or longer because of sacks.  The Bears went 11-for-19 on 3rd down, good for 57%.  The icing on the cake came on 3rd and short midway through the 4th quarter.  The Bears easily could have run it, and probably picked up the first down, but they went with a play action pass for an easy touchdown to Kellen Davis.  It was the kind of inventive play call that Bears fans have been waiting for.

It’s nice to have a lead and to be able to afford to risk passing on 3rd and short, right?

I’ve been reluctant to give Lovie Smith any credit this season, because I’m so sick of his act (and I truly believe it’s an act).  But him and his staff deserve high marks for their game plan against the Vikings.  Like I said, this win could be misleading because of the state of the Vikings, but a win is a win.

Despite themselves, the Bears now sit at 6-3, tied atop the NFC North.  The real test for the Bears’ coaching staff comes with a short week.  The Dolphins always present a tough matchup, but I believe Thursday’s game is winnable because of the turmoil the Dolphins have at quarterback.  The Bears should be able to handle Miami’s wildcat package, but they run it better than anyone.

Could the Bears find themselves in an unfamiliar situation after 10 games?  Only time will tell, but the momentum gained from Sunday’s good effort should help.

 

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Lovie’s Act Getting Old


I think most Bears’ fans would agree that Lovie Smith is not the long-term solution for the Bears in the head coach’s office.

I think we’ve known this for a long time, but Lovie’s press conferences are getting to be insulting.  The Bears have been around for a long time, and they have one of the biggest fan bases in the  NFL.  Maybe it’s just Lovie’s personality, but I think a lot of Bears fans are ready to storm Halas Hall with pitchforks and torches.

Lovie Smith's deadpan personality is painful to listen to.

His decision to not challenge when Jay Cutler “fumbled” early in the second half on Sunday is one moment that Bears fans will remember for a long time coming.  Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with the challenge on the previous play, when Earl Bennett was tackled at the one yard line.  Considering the Bears’ track record with first and goal from the one this season (0-for-10 now I think), I thought it was a no-brainer challenge.  I can somewhat understand Lovie’s trepidation to use two challenges on two consecutive plays, especially early in the second half in a close game.

That being said, the replays were pretty darn conclusive that Jay Cutler reached the ball over the goal line, and Lovie admitted yesterday that he should have challenged the play.  What we don’t know, is whether or not the people upstairs told him to challenge.  Maybe they did, and maybe he just ignored them.

The fact remains, Lovie sucks at challenging.  I’m not sure what his record is, but it just seems like he hardly ever wins challenges.  Anyways…

This season especially, I’ve noticed that Lovie has tried to take some accountability for the team’s struggles.  Great, but I’m not sure how effective it is to admit that you’re not doing your job as well as you could.  Frankly, it’s time for him to stop apologizing for himself, and start doing something to fix what’s wrong.  The offensive line’s struggles are well-publicized, Jay Cutler looked like the 2009 edition on Sunday, and Johnny Knox really struggled.

What can Lovie do to fix all those things?  Well, it’s his job as head coach to figure it out.

Despite themselves, the Bears sit atop the NFC North.  The Packers have injury problems, and the Vikings future is uncertain as Brett Favre has a legitimate injury.  That all being said, I think the Bears still miss the playoffs.

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Lovie Had Better Grow Some Hair…


…on his face.

What's wrong with this picture?

The Bears are 3-0, the only NFC team that can say that.  There’s only two other teams in the entire league that can say that.  Say what you want about the Chiefs, but the Steelers certainly are legit, and they don’t even have their quarterback yet.

The key to the Bears’ season, whether they make a deep playoff run or not, has nothing to do with the Tampa 2, Jay Cutler, or Juilus Peppers.

Nope, it has nothing to do with Devin Hester returning punts, Tommie Harris being inactive, or Mike Martz’s 400-page playbook. Continue reading

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Inside the Film Room–Week 2


It’s time to get back into the film room to go over the Bears’ impressive win over the Cowboys.  Say what you want about how bad the Cowboys are this season, it’s still a game that the Bears were an underdog for, so to be 2-0 is a great thing.

OFFENSE

Jay Cutler had the kind of game Bears fans envisioned when he signed with Chicago.

Quarterback

Jay Cutler was as impressive in this game as he’s been in his entire Bears’ career.  His line: 21/29, 277 yards, 3 TD’s, ZERO INTERCEPTIONS.  Any Bears fan knows exactly why I CAPS LOCKED the ZERO INTERCEPTIONS.  The Cowboys blitzed him often and early, and while early on it looked like he was going to have a long day, Cutler adjusted by keeping plays alive and finding hot reads on several occasions, once even leading to a touchdown.   Continue reading

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NFL Week 2 Picks


So, not a lot went my way in Week 1, as I only picked six winners in the 14 games.  Brutal.  Let’s try to get better in Week 2…

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) at Tennessee Titans (1-0)

The Steelers needed overtime to beat the Falcons, though they should take that as a positive, seeing as they beat a good team without Ben Roethlisberger.  The Titans beat up on a supposedly improved Raiders team.  I think the Titans carry the momentum and beat the Steelers, but Pittsburgh keeps it close.

Titans 20, Steelers 17

Can Arian Foster repeat his monster performance from Week 1?

Miami Dolphins (1-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-1)

The Dolphins were able to grind out a victory against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.  It’s probably not how they envisioned it, but a win is a win.  The Vikings lost a tough game to the Saints in Week 1, and many have since questioned Brett Favre’s ability to repeat last season’s magic.  The Vikings are still a better team, but something about the Dophins intrigues me.  I’m taking the Vikings, but wouldn’t be surprised if I’m wrong.

Vikings 24, Dolphins 17

Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-1)

The Falcons dropped an overtime decision to the Steelers last week, so they’ll be looking for redemption in their home opener.  The Cardinals’ Derek Anderson threw for just under 300 yards, but they needed a fourth quarter touchdown from Larry Fitzgerald to beat the Rams.

Falcons 21, Cardinals 14

Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

The Bengals continue the tough start to their schedule as they now welcome the Ravens to town.  The Ravens showed they haven’t lost a step on defense when they held the Jets to just nine points.  Joe Flacco likes his new toy in Anquan Boldin, as he caught seven balls for 110 yards.  The Bengals defense didn’t play well against the Patriots, and the Ravens are just as good, if not better than the Pats.

Ravens 30, Bengals 17

Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-1)

So much for the Chiefs being a pushover on Monday night against the Chargers.  Their defense showed up in a big way and probably aren’t a bad fantasy pickup for this week.  The Browns lost to the Bucs in Week 1, and Eric Mangini’s seat is getting hotter.

Chiefs 14, Browns 3

Chicago Bears (1-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-1)

The Bears head to Dallas lucky to be 1-0.  They needed a flukey rule interpretation to beat the Lions, and Detroit was playing without Matthew Stafford for half the game.  That being said, Jay Cutler threw for 376 yards, and the run Bears’ run defense was very good.  If the Bears are going to send the Cowboys to 0-2, they’re going to need to take advantage of the Cowboys’ offensive line.  If they succeed at getting to Tony Romo, they’ve got a chance.

Cowboys 34, Bears 21

Philadelphia Eagles (0-1) at Detroit Lions (0-1)

The Lions are coming off of that tough-luck loss in Chicago, and they’ll be without Matthew Stafford for a full game this time.  Michael Vick looked a lot like his old self filling in for the concussed Kevin Kolb.  The Eagles already have a diverse offense, so adding Vick will only make it more difficult for Detroit.

Eagles 41, Lions 14

Buffalo Bills (0-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-0)

The Packers enter off a seven point win over the Eagles, in which Aaron Rodgers threw for just 188 yards.  They also lost Ryan Grant for the season with an ankle injury.

Packers 35, Bills 7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-1)

The Bucs come in after beating the Browns in Week 1, and the Panthers come in after getting beat up by the New York Football Giants.  Josh Freeman played pretty well for Tampa, and Matt Moore will try to come back from a concussion.  If he can’t go, we’ll see Jimmy Claussen.

Panthers 21, Buccaneers 10

Seattle Seahawks (1-0) at Denver Broncos (0-1)

Coming into this week, I thought both these teams’ records would be reversed.  The Seahawks, however, blew out the NFC West favorite 49ers, and the Broncos lost to Jacksonville.  This week we get to see just how good the Seahawks are.  Can Matt Hasselbeck continue to play well?

Broncos 24, Seahawks 21

St. Louis Rams (0-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-1)

Both teams have an upgrade at the quarterback position this year.  I’ve always thought Jason Campbell has a ton of talent, and I think Sam Bradford will be a star.  I think this will be a good week for Bradford to get comfortable, and he leads the Rams to victory.

Rams 21, Raiders 10

Houston Texans (1-0) at Washington Redskins (1-0)

Whose letdown will be bigger?  Sports theory suggests that the game after a big win, there could be a letdown.  Both these teams are coming off of big, upset wins in Week 1.  The Texans finally got over the hump against the Colts, as Arian Foster lit up the fantasy scoreboards.  The Redskins were able to outlast the Cowboys in their home opener, but can the defense stop both Foster and Andre Johnson?

Texans 30, Redskins 20

New England Patriots at New York Jets

Ah, the Jets.  They lost in the season opener to the Ravens by one point.  Now they have to deal with the Patriots.  While the Pats defense wasn’t spectacular, it will be interesting to see how the Jets attack it.  Mark Sanchez was disappointing in the opener, but he does have plenty of weapons.  The Patriots offense was clicking on all cylinders, but faces a much tougher task in Rex Ryan’s defense.

Patriots 14, Jets 13

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-1)

The Chargers will look to regroup quickly as they welcome the Jaguars to the West coast.  Their game against the Chiefs was vastly disappointing, maybe they were looking past KC?  How will Maurice Jones-Drew handle the Chiefs’ defense?  How will the Jags fare after traveling West?

Jaguars 21, Chiefs 14

New York Giants (1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

Ah, the Manning Bowl.  Peyton won round one four years ago, is tonight Eli’s turn?  No doubt the Colts will take the field hungry after their Week 1 loss to Houston.  While they’re mostly one-dimensional on offense, Peyton Manning is the best at what he does.  How will the Giants take advantage of the Colts’ D without Bob Sanders?  Consensus is the Colts won’t miss a beat because having him in the lineup is a rare luxury.  Peyton shows why he’s the better player tonight.

Colts 45, Giants 30

New Orleans Saints (1-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-1)

If the Niners can’t stop the Seahawks, then how are they supposed to even come close to stopping the  Saints?  The Niners are supposed to be the ones to win the West, but they’ve got a great shot to go 0-2, and I think Drew Brees and company send Mike Singletary back to the drawing board.

Saints 28, Niners 7

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Inside the Film Room–Week 1


Each week, I’ll take a closer look at the Bears game, after the fact, and try to figure out why they won or lost.  We’ll start with the nearly disastrous win over the Detroit Lions.  While the Bears have a 1-0 record according to the standings, many (including me) feel that the Bears should be 0-1.  We’ll talk about that controversial play a little bit later, but we’ll start with the…

OFFENSE

Quarterback–Jay Cutler

Was this a touchdown? By rule no, but I say the Bears should be 0-1

When you look at Cutler’s numbers after the game, you’d probably think they were pretty impressive.  He was 23-of-35 for 372 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.  Not a bad display for the first real game in Mike Martz’s new offense.  A guy like Cutler should thrive in a system like this, though we’ll see just how much he’s thriving when he plays against a real defense next week.  His QB rating of 108.3 is well above his career average. Continue reading

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