Sunday, November 29, 2009

An arse-kicking

Week 12: Vikings 36, Bears 10

Pretty sure either one of these guys could have beaten the Bears.

Well, for the most part, the Bears made Brett Favre beat 'em. And beat 'em he did, like Tiger Woods's wife beats rear windows.

Adrian Peterson did manage 85 yards, but he averaged just 3.4 per carry and his longest run was 15 yards. But three TDs for Brett and nearly 400 yards through the air led to another game for which "beat down" was a better description than "Bear down."

The Vikings put up 537 yards in all, the most for any team against the Bears since 1982. That's the year I was born. We just saw the worst Bears defensive performance since I was born. WOW, this defense is awful. Perhaps that's because Jerry Angelo's first round draft picks since 2001 have looked like this: David Terrell, Marc Columbo, Michael Haynes, Rex Grossman, Tommie Harris, Cedric Benson, Greg Olsen, and Chris Williams. And the other rounds don't look much better. You cannot field a consistently good team with consistently bad draft picks.

But as bad as the defense is, the offense isn't much better. For me, the Bears' offense is like God--it might exist, but I have no proof that it does. Did anyone besides me know for a fact that the Bears were going to have to resort to a field goal after Johnny Knox returned a kickoff to the Vikings' eight yard line? Why must we watch games with such justified pessimism? Why must that be our fate?

If someone would have told you three months ago that at some point this season, there would be a week in which Jay Cutler would be the fourth-best quarterback from the 2006 draft class, you probably would have put them in a headlock. But while Cutler was throwing two more picks and failing to pile up even 150 yards, two other members of the draft class were going toe-to-toe in a great battle as Matt Leinart and Vince Young went at it in a 20-17 thriller won by Tennessee. And on Thursday, Bruce Freakin' Gradkowski didn't play too poorly, either. He was even one of the four nominees for the Turkey Award Thingie. What is this world coming to?

But Cutler is leading the league in something--unfortunately, it's interceptions. You better have 10 fingers and 10 toes if you're trying to keep track of them, cuz he's now up to 20.

That's now four straight losses and six out of seven. But behold: the beauty of a home game against the Rams. Enjoy the next seven days, because there won't be many more weeks when you can look forward to what should be a Bears victory.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The battle of newly acquired quarterbacks

Both the Bears and Vikings acquired new quarterbacks in the offseason, but it's really only worked out for the Bears as Cutler has thrown for 42 more yards than Favre.

Wait, check that. Turns out that's the only statistical advantage Cutler has over The Aged One. Cutler has 15 touchdowns, Favre 21. Cutler has 18 interceptions, Favre just three. Favre has the best QB rating in the NFL, Cutler ranks 24th. I could go on, but if I do I think I'll be sick.

I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. From my blog, May 10:
But here's the long and short of it: Come on back, Brett! Favre led the NFL last year with 29 interceptions, and he's thrown 84 over the last four seasons. He got hurt near the end of last season (hence Minnesota wondering if he needs major surgery) and the Jets fell apart down the stretch, going 1-4 and missing the playoffs. Sure he's a legend, but a 40-year-old interception prone quarterback coming off an injury? If I were allowed to pick a division to put him in, I'd go with the NFC North. Tillman and Vasher, get to work developing your post-interception dances, cuz you're gonna need plenty of them.
I guess being on a team with Adrian Peterson and a top ten defense in points allowed is a slightly better situation than a team with Thomas Jones and a below average defense. But give Brett some credit. He has played exceptionally well and has the Vikings rolling at 9-1.

Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, but we do still have 37% of the season ahead of us. It was the stretch run last year when things went awry for Favre, so it's a little early to crown his ass. But through 10 games, he sure hasn't been who I thought he was.

And that makes me awfully scared of this Sunday's affair. The Vikings have a balanced offense and a stifling defense. They also have yet to lose at home (5-0). The Bears struggle against both the run and the pass, and they're a pathetic 1-4 on the road. This game has been rated "B" for blowout, and may not be suitable for children.


Orlando Pace vs. Jared Allen. Allen is second in the league in sacks, and going up against Pace might be all it takes for him to take the lead. Allen is a crazed, mulleted, real-life Viking while Pace is an aging, overpaid invitation to sack the quarterback. The Bears may want to run some screens his way to help offset the penetration he's likely to get.

Visanthe Shiancoe in the red zone. The tight end is fourth on the team in receiving yards but leads the Vikes with seven touchdowns. Favre loves to look his way near the goal line.

Contain Adrian Peterson. It is possible, though not normally for the Bears. A.P. has averaged 138 yards/game against Chicago in his career, but has been held under four yards per carry four times this season, and has been limited in practice this week due to an ankle injury. Obviously, Favre can do his share of damage as well, but you still have to make him beat you by focusing on Peterson, perhaps the best player in football.

Get Cutler goin'. I have of course been a huge proponent of a balanced offense, keeping Forte in the game plan to keep defenses honest. But Minnesota is third in the NFL in run defense and just 21st in pass defense. Lovie absurdly claimed last week that the Bears are still a running team, but he knows as well as the rest of us that they're not. This is the week for Cutler to get his arm screwed on straight and lead the Bears the way we hoped he would when Angelo traded for him.

Where'd he come from?

QB Brett Favre, Southern Mississippi
RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
WR Greg Lewis, Illinois
WR Sidney Rice, South Carolina
G Steve Hutchinson, Michigan
DE Jared Allen, Idaho State

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving thanks, sports-style

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Do you think the Pilgrims and Indians played a game of pick-up football after their meal? I like to think so.

A few sports-related things I'm thankful for:

  • The Brewers, Astros, Reds and Pirates being in the Cubs' division.
  • The God of Schedules, for putting the Rams and Browns on the Bears' schedule, plus the Lions twice. How bad would things be for the Bears if they didn't have the easiest schedule in the league?
  • Trevor Sierra and Brian Brennan, for providing company in my obsession with sports.
  • The fact that you can tell when Halloween has passed each year just by checking to see if Notre Dame has started choking away their season yet.
  • The NFL Red Zone channel.
  • Illinois Wesleyan athletics: women's soccer made it to the second round of the national tournament, the football team is 10-1 and headed to the Round of 16, the women's basketball team is ranked second in the nation, the men's team is 3-1, men's and women's golf are ranked in the top 11, and Kerry Devitt just became the first IWU cross country runner to win the conference meet.
  • ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, on whom I admittedly have a man crush.
  • Gus Johnson calling not just college basketball, but NFL games too.
  • A real, live human being owning the Cubs.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hendry gets started

I suppose I'm happy the Cubs re-signed John Grabow. I mean, it's nice to have a solid lefty in the 'pen, but I'm less than ebullient because it's hard to justify $7.5 million over two years for a solid lefty out of the 'pen. He had a good year with both the Pirates and Cubs, his second good year in a row. But the four years prior to that were less than stellar--his ERA was over 4.50 three of those four years.

On the bright side, Hendry did a nice job getting anything at all for Aaron Heilman. Trading for him last offseason was clearly a gamble; after all, he sported a 5.21 ERA in 2008. And he proved to be a disposable commodity in 2009, even though he did finish strong. So to get any kind of return on him (lefty Scott Maine and 1B Ryne White) is a win. Plus, one of the prospects' names is Ryne, like Ryne Sandberg. So he must be good.

Titans avenge only loss in last 34 games

In college basketball, revenge is a dish best served in March. For the IWU women's basketball team, November will have to do for now.

After being eliminated by Washington University in last year's Elite Eight, the Titans had an early opportunity to exact some revenge, and they did just that with a 58-53 home victory. The Bears were ranked #1 in the nation heading into the game, so the 3-0 Titans will look to move up from their #6 ranking when the new poll comes out today.

With Claire Sheehan and Mallory Heydorn having graduated, Coach Mia Smith's team is filled with young talent. Several freshmen--including Melissa Gardner and Haley Kitchell--are seeing significant playing time, and sophomores Brittany Hasselbring and Kylie Castans are starters. The team will look to seniors Christina Solari and Carrie Williams for some veteran leadership.

By the way, I saw something I don't think I've ever seen before in that game against Wash U: a jump ball on the jump ball. The jump ball to open the game was fumbled around and fought for and eventually tied up. Since the possession arrow goes to the team who loses the opening tipoff, and no team actually won the opening tipoff, they had to do another jump ball. More proof that there's always a chance you'll see something you've never seen before when you take in a sporting event.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bears can't quite take flight against Eagles

Week 11: Eagles 24, Bears 20

The Bears actually showed somethin' on Sunday night. Showed a few things, even. For example:
  • A pass rush. Three sacks and consistent pressure on McNabb. Kudos to Alex Brown who, though he didn't record a sack, made Jason Peters give some early thanks for the fact that he won't have to face Brown again this season.
  • A little fight. The Bears trailed 10-0 early on, Cutler looked terrible, a few boo birds were out while many more were peeking out of their nests. But with their backs against the wall, the Bears found a way get the Soldier Field crowd cheering again and found a way to make a game of it.
  • It is in fact possible for Cutler to enter the red zone and not s**t his pants. While the Bears were limited to two field goals in their first two trips inside the 20, Cutler threw a beautiful pass to Kellen Davis for a big TD in the third quarter. And even when they had to resort to Robbie Gould, at least Cutler gave him the opportunity to put three points on the board instead of turning it over.
  • Speaking of turnovers, the Bears were +2 in that category. Since they came into the game at -5, that was really nice to see. And it's all that kept the Bears in the game.
Unfortunately, the biggest thing the Bears showed was an ability to find a way to lose. They put up a fight, they came back, they made it a game. But all for naught, as they allowed the Eagles to charge down the field late in the fourth and then blew opportunities to win the game as Cutler missed a wide open receiver on one drive and threw an ill-advised pass for an interception to end it.

Have I mentioned in the past that Cutler is overrated? Because Cutler is overrated. Can bears not see well at night? Is that a thing? Because though Cutler not only threw another interception on the heels of his five-interception game, he was also just 24/43 for 171 yards. And most importantly, he missed wide open receivers on three different occasions. Is he allergic to touchdowns? Morally opposed to points? A conscientious objector to the concept of big plays?

Cutler has talent, and he will get better. But you can pretty easily argue that he has cost them victories in each of the last two games. Instead of 6-4 and in the thick of the Wild Card race, it's 4-6 and see you in 2010. But not until the third round of the draft.

Something else we saw last night: there is no limit to the number of Bears running backs who can average more yards per carry than Matt Forte. Kahlil Bell, an undrafted rookie free agent who was signed Friday, had four carries for 72 yards. Forte, on the other hand, averaged under three yards per carry. The sophomore slump extends.

Sorry, but one final piece of bad news: next up is a road game against the Vikings. Uh-oh.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bears hoping recent history repeats itself

The Bears and Eagles have quite the history. Did you know that they've faced each other in 10 different stadiums? List:

The Baker Bowl
Municipal Stadium
Wrigley Field
Shibe Park
Forbes Field
Franklin Field, U-Penn.
Dyche Stadium, Northwestern
Veterans Stadium
Soldier Field
Memorial Stadium

And they have some recent history as well:

2008: Bears stop the Eagles four times from the one-yard line, win 24-20. (Can you imagine them doing that this year?)

2007: Brian Griese leads game-winning 97-yard drive, Bears win 19-16.

Prior to 2008, the Eagles had defeated the Bears five straight times--including a playoff victory in 2002--going back to 1995.

I know, I know, I need to get to this Sunday's match-up already. But can you blame me for living in the past? The Bears' season has fallen apart faster than a diversity workshop at Michael Richards's house, and the Eagles aren't looking so hot either--they've lost three of their last five and need a win to stay above .500.

Plus, Jay Cutler is more averse to playing under the lights than a gremlin (I think I may have used that joke before, but I don't care, I like it). Back-to-back weeks with a prime time match-up of less than stellar teams; NFL Network couldn't do anything about it, but I'm surprised NBC didn't "flex" this game.


Red zone opportunities. This goes for both teams. We know the Bears have struggled mightily inside the 20, but the Eagles got inside the 15 three times last week against the Chargers and got just three points each time. They did manage to score a couple TDs later in the game. If one of these teams can overcome their fear of the red zone, they'll probably walk away with a win.

DeSean "Big Play" Jackson. I don't think anyone actually calls him that, but they should. He has six touchdowns of 50 yards or more on the season (four receiving, one punt return, one rushing), and one more would set the NFL record held by, among others, Devin Hester (hat tip: UPI). The man's got wings, and the Bears will have to do what they can to try to contain him.

Inter ... Intercep ... I can't even say it. Whenever I'm about to say it I start having flashbacks and I come entirely too close to blacking out. But obviously this is a key to the game. Cutler can't throw any ... of those things. It's kind of shocking the Eagles have just one more victory than the Bears given their +10 turnover ratio compared to the Bears' -5.

Where'd he come from?

QB Donovan McNabb, Syracuse
WR DeSean Jackson, California
WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
WR Jason Avant, Michigan
LB Akeem Jordan, James Madison
CB Asante Samuel, Central Florida

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The coaching carousel is now open

Coaches often get too much blame when their teams struggle, but now it's gone too far. I mean, if Dick Jauron can get fired, is no one safe? Is nothing sacred? What has he ever done to deserve the axe?

What's that? He had just one winning season in nine tries? He made it to just one playoff game and his team got crushed? He was just 60-82 in his coaching career?

Oh. I see.

By all accounts, Jauron is a great guy. But I don't think we'll see him roaming the sidelines as an NFL head coach ever again.

A win for stats other than the "win"

Kudos to the Baseball Writers Association of America for finally scrolling past the "Wins" category on their computers as they cast their ballots for the AL Cy Young Award.

Wins and losses are the most overrated statistics in baseball, so I was glad to see Zack Greinke earn the award despite having 16 wins, which tied him for the seventh-most in the league. It's hard to pile up victories when you play for the Royals (their .401 winning percentage was easily the worst ever by an AL team with a Cy Young winner), and there's nothing he could do about that. But what he could do was mow down opposing hitters, and that he did consistently.

According to ESPN, his 2.16 ERA was the lowest in the AL since Pedro Martinez in 2000, his 242 strikeouts ranked second behind Justin Verlander (who finished third in the Cy Young voting), and he allowed just 11 home runs all year.

But here's the biggest reason his win total was rightfully overlooked:
Kansas City, which tied for last place in the AL Central at 65-97, scored just 13 runs in his eight losses and 21 runs in his nine no-decisions. He failed to get a victory in six starts in which he allowed one run or none.
Sure, every pitcher gets screwed now and then. It's part of the game. But those numbers are just stupid.

And not that this is why he deserved to win, but it's a great story as well. Greinke led the AL in losses in 2005 and quit baseball for six weeks in 2006 after being diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder (the Sports Illustrated article from May of this year is definitely worth a read). For him to come back and have such a dominant year with such a terrible team is pretty impressive.

There have been years in which the BBWAA has cared about nothing but "W"s. But this year, the writers did their job and did it well.

On the other hand ...

How the hell did Bud Black get two votes for NL Manager of the Year? Jim Tracy of the Rockies rightfully won the award in a landslide, but did you see that Padres manager Bud Black was listed in the "others receiving votes" category? What the f**k? I could see him getting one vote. You know, some guy or gal clicking the wrong button by accident (assuming you vote for Manager of the Year by clicking a button). But two??

The Padres finished 75-87, 20 games out of first, 11th in the NL in wins, and they scored 131 fewer runs than their opponents, third worst in the league. How on Earth do you read all that and think, "Bud Black really came into his own this year. Really got his guys to believe in themselves. No better skipper out there than Bud Black if you ask me. To take a rag tag bunch like that and take 'em right to the precipice of greatness, just 13 games out of third place in their division ... I don't know how he does it."

Baseball Writers of America, you did a good job. But the two of you, whoever you are, you did a bad thing. BAD two Baseball Writers of America!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Football coach hoping to get his team noticed through inappropriate press conferences outbursts

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

DENTON, Tex.--University of North Texas head football coach Todd Dodge has gone on tirade after tirade over the last few months in an attempt to get on SportsCenter and get his team noticed, but he just can't seem to get the attention he so desperately craves.

Having seen Mike Gundy, Dennis Green, Jim Mora and others get plenty of TV time by lashing out during press conferences, Dodge decided early in the season to do the same thing in the hopes of putting the Mean Greens on the map.

"I'm not sure what else I can do," Dodge said. "I called our quarterback a pansy-ass pansy after one game and threw a microphone at a reporter after another. After we lost 50-26 to Troy, I brought a 40 (ounce beer) to the press conference and poured it out, saying our season had died and I was pourin' one out in remembrance of it. No one seemed to care. The custodian at Troy yelled at me on my way out, but no SportsCenter, no YouTube, nothin'."

One problem is the dearth of reporters at Dodge's press conferences. Often there are just one or two reporters: Judy Caldwell from the Denton Record-Chronicle is often there and Maurice Marks of the North Texas Daily has attended most of the home press conferences. Coaching outbursts just aren't as effective when they occur in front of so few people, as evidenced by the time Dodge tried to get violent, saying, "Who wants to fight me? Which one of you question-asking punks want to take me on?! Who wants to challenge the Meanest Mean Green of all?!"

Caldwell was the only reporter in attendance that day. She calmly took notes and waited for the outburst to end. Dodge looked around awkwardly, walked slowly back to the podium and said, "Next question."

Said Dodge about his antics: "I just don't understand why people wouldn't want to watch this stuff. The press conference I did with no shirt on? The time I addressed all the questions while sitting in Maurice's lap? Or the time I came up with politically incorrect and arguably racist nicknames for all the other team's players and coaches? How is that not all over the Internet?"

Dodge wouldn't reveal what he had planned for this Saturday's press conference, but a bow and arrow was spotted in his office.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Top billing

Is there a better rivalry in sports than Patriots-Colts? Maybe Red Sox-Yankees, maybe Lakers-Celtics. But pretty much every year, you can count on a big-time battle between two teams vying for home field in the playoffs, and that game is likely to be decided in the final two minutes. And many years, you can look forward to an even more exciting postseason match-up. (Despite a formulaic regular season scheduling process, the two teams have played every year since 2003, and also met in the postseason in '04, '05 and '07.)

Four Super Bowl trophies between them in this decade. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Two high-octane offenses. The white collar, dome-homed Colts. The blue-collar Pats in the Foxborough snow. Belichick and Dungy (and now Caldwell).

And it was Belichick who added the newest layer of drama to this rivalry already thick with exciting chapter after exciting chapter. Going for it on 4th-and-2 from their own 28 with just over two minutes to go and a six-point lead?


Methinks Bill's hoodie was blocking his view of the scoreboard. Yes, there's a good chance that Manning marches the Colts down the field even if they start at their own 20 or 30. But you have to make him score the touchdown, not let him. Manning doesn't even need to put his cleats on to go 28 yards. Twenty-eight yards for him is taking candy from a baby. Seventy-five yards is at least candy from a teenager, or a remarkably strong and determined baby.

And for the defense to stop Manning from going down the field certainly wasn't out of the question given that he threw two interceptions in the second half and the Pats defense forced five first half punts by the Colts.

But despite all that, I can't help but appreciate the balls and bravado behind that call. Who else does that? He's gone for it on fourth down 16 times against the Colts, and that was only the fourth time they've failed to convert. It was the wrong call, but it was as gutsy as it gets. And there's something cool about that. Unless, of course, you're on the Patriots side of this great rivalry.

The beauty of the bye week

What's going on with bye weeks this year? Apparently the best thing you can do in the NFL is take Sunday off.

Week 6: Cowboys get a bye while the Eagles, Giants and Redskins lose.

Week 9: Vikings are off while the Bears, Packers and Lions stumble.

Week 10: The Giants, who have lost four in a row, finally get a break from losing thanks to their bye week. And the teams they're chasing--the Cowboys and Eagles--allow them right back into the thick of the NFC East race with road losses.

Do the Bears get another bye?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Worse sophomore slump: Geovany Soto or Matt Forte?

As both a Cubs and Bears fan, this is not a fun debate to propose. But I recently got to wondering: whose sophomore slump has been worse, Geovany Soto's or Matt Forte's?

Let's start with Soto since his second season is already in the books. He burst onto the major league scene in 2008 with a .285 average, 23 home runs, and 86 RBI. He was a huge part of a Cubs offense that led the league in runs, and he was honored for his success with a Rookie of the Year Award.

The story was slightly (read: extremely and horrendously) different in 2009. His average fell off the table as he finished at .218. Here's a sampling of the PITCHERS who had a higher average than Soto:

Ubaldo Jimenez
Derek Lowe
Max Scherzer
Dan Haren

Gimme one second while I clean the vomit off my keyboard.


Okay, I'm back. On top of that, Soto's power numbers essentially got chopped in half--he had just 11 home runs and 47 RBI in '09. In fairness, he played 28 percent fewer games than in '08. But that's another reason his sophomore season was so bad--he missed about a third of the season due to injury/getting benched.

And to add insult to injury, Soto had to deal with an off-the-field issue as it was revealed that he tested positive for marijuana during the World Baseball Classic.


In the other corner, we have Matt Forte. Drafted in the second round out of Tulane, Forte busted out of the gate with 123 yards in his first ever NFL game, a win over the Colts. He got nearly 100 yards in each of the next two games as well, and broke the 100-yard barrier two more times during the season.

All in all, Forte piled up 1,238 rushing yards in 2008, good for 7th in the NFL. He added 477 receiving yards, the third most by any running back in the league. And he scored 12 TDs, eight of them on the ground.

In terms of both rushing yards and rushing + receiving yards, Forte's rookie season eclipsed those of both Walter Payton and Gale Sayers. Stats:

Player--------Rushing Yards---------Receiving Yards--------Total Yards

Forte accounted for 36 percent of the Bears' total offense in 2008. From a team standpoint, it's not good to be so dependent on one player. But it shows how versatile and capable Forte was as a rookie. It's hard to imagine what their 9-7 record would have looked like without him.

Actually, it's not that hard, because the 2009 Bears are essentially playing without him. He's rushed for 100 yards or more just once, and has broken the 50-yard barrier in less than half of the Bears' games. He's on pace for 860 rushing yards (17th in the NFL), 677 receiving yards (2nd among RBs), a lowly 3.4 average (39th of 46 qualifying RBs), and just five total touchdowns.

He has been a mere shadow of the 2008 Matt Forte, and his struggles have turned the Bears into not just a pass-first team, but a pass-only team. Forte is on pace for just 80 percent of the carries he had last year, and just half the number of first downs. The Bears have had to rely entirely on the passing game in order to move the chains, and that's never a good thing.


So what do you think? Personally, I think Soto's statistical drop-off has been worse than Forte's. Soto barely contributed at all, while Forte is at least producing as a receiver and has never been replaced as the Bears' primary tailback.

However, because Soto is essentially one of five or six hitters that the Cubs were expecting to carry their offense, whereas Forte is THE running back, one of the two most important players on the offensive side of the ball, I think Forte's diminished performance has affected the Bears more negatively than did Soto's for the Cubs. Of course, the offensive line undoubtedly deserves part of the blame for the lack of success in the running game.

So what do you think: whose sophomore slump is the worst, Geovany Soto's or Matt Forte's?

Friday, November 13, 2009


Week 10: 49ers 10, Bears 6

The Bears brought in Jay Cutler so he could fling the ball around and do things we're not used to seeing Bears quarterbacks do.

He did just that on Thursday, but not in the way Jerry Angelo had hoped. Five interceptions, including two in the red zone and one with a chance to win the game. A 33.6 QB rating. He was King Midas's evil twin--everything he touched turned to s**t.

We just turned the clocks back, but the Bears are turning them forward--as far as they're concerned, it's 2010. If you lose to the Bengals and Cardinals by a combined score of 86-31 and can't score a touchdown against the 49ers, your season is over. Many people aren't aware of that rule, but it's a rule.

Remember a few years ago when it was the Bears who would win the coin toss and defer so that their defense could go to work? Thursday it was the Niners deferring so they could get an early start on eating Jay Cutler for dinner. They hit him six times and had him running frantically from the pocket all night.

And why not come after him? Forte had another forgettable performance with 41 yards on 20 carries. The only glimmer of hope on the ground was early in the second quarter when the Bears had a 2nd-and-10. Forte hit a hole (he had a hole?!) and then bounced off a tackler (he bounced off a tackler?!) and then made a move (he made a ... a move?! like a ... like a juke?!) to pick up 16 yards (sixteen yards?!). We've seen that far too rarely this season. The next play looked more familiar: he went up the middle and got swallowed up for no gain.

And he repeated that play time and time again, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry and having essentially no impact on the game.

But I haven't even mentioned the most frustrating thing of all: penalties. The Bears came into last night's game averaging 54 penalty yards per game, which ranks 25th in the NFL. They're not even as disciplined as the Raiders. The Raiders pretty much always play like a prison intramural team, and yet the Bears have significantly more penalty yards than they do.

And that was before the Bears racked up 77 yards of additional flaggage last night. Lovie's got some 'splainin' to do, because a lack of focus and a lack of discipline are unacceptable. This team appears to have very little interest in winning football games. The good news is that they have seven more games to figure out how to change that before the 2010 season begins.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bears will try to keep Niners at bay

The 49ers were an up-and-coming bunch just a few weeks ago. They won five of their last seven games last year with new coach Mike Singletary at the helm, giving them some momentum heading into the offseason. Then they started the season with two wins, both against NFC West rivals. Word out of Candlestick was that Singletary hadn't taken off his pants once! Not once!

But now, San Fran is ... down-and-going? I'm pretty sure that's not the opposite of up-and-coming, but we'll go with it. Frank Gore missed three games with an injury. Singletary made a quarterback change, with Alex Smith replacing Shaun Hill. They lost five of six since that 2-0 start to fall to 3-5. In fact, the only game they won in that stretch was against the lowly Rams.

With the Bears struggling on a weekly basis to stay within 20 points of their opponents, Thursday night's affair isn't exactly a clash of the titans. More of a battle of badness. Probably not what NFL Network had in mind when they made this their first Thursday Night Football game of the year.

With that said, there is some level of drama in this affair: one team will leave the field with very little hope for any sort of real success this season, while the other will keep themselves alive in either the Wild Card (Bears) or divisional race (49ers).

This will also mark the first time that Singletary, a Bears linebacker from 1981-92, has faced his former team as a head coach.


Containing Frank Gore. It's nearly impossible to stop him completely (though he's not having anywhere near the year that he did last year), but the Bears need to keep him from running wild. There's no doubt that he's the star of their offense; force Alex Smith to beat you, and you should win. Gore has averaged 83 yards in his two games against the Bears, and didn't find the end zone in either contest.

Scoring more points than they do. I know, you're probably thinking, "But that's the essence of every head-to-head competition! What a stupid key!" But I say to you: "I know, but I just wanted to include this key so that I could point out this statistical oddity: halfway through the season, the 49ers have scored precisely the same number of points as they've allowed (174). Even weirder is that the team they're tied with, Seattle, has done the same thing (167)! Weird!" So there.

Finding a linebacker who can keep from getting hurt for at least 12 seconds and can cover Vernon Davis. Davis, a 4th year tight end, completely dominates the receiving statistics for San Francisco: he's caught more than twice as many passes as any Niner receiver, and has seven TDs while Jason Hill has the next-most with two. Somebody's gotta get a body on Davis, especially in the red zone.

Some semblance of balance. Who would have ever thought the Bears would have a game in which they threw the ball 47 times and ran it only 12? I realize the Cardinals built up a big lead and the Bears had little choice but to go to the air, but their first seven plays from scrimmage were passes. They can't continue to ask Jay Cutler to be Peyton Manning. They have to at least make opponents think they might--just might--run the ball every once in a while.

Where'd he come from?

QB Alex Smith, Utah
RB Frank Gore, Miami
WR Arnaz Battle, Notre Dame
WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
TE Vernon Davis, Maryland
LB Patrick Willis, Mississippi
OT Tony Pashos, Illinois
G David Baas, Michigan

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Area man can't stop having fantasies about his fantasy team

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa--According to family, friends and co-workers, Joe Harrison just can't seem to stop fantasizing about his fantasy football team. At home, at work, at the store, "any place you can think of," he's drifted off into fantasy land while there.

"He's always just staring off into space, saying the names of NFL players under his breath," said co-worker April Brandt. "You'll look over during a meeting and he'll be staring into the distance with his eyes only half-open, going, 'Manning ... Johnson ... Gostkowski ...' real quietly. It's really inappropriate."

Harrison's wife Marsha said they've had two near-death experiences as Harrison has nearly driven into oncoming traffic while thinking about an upcoming Monday Night Football game that had huge implications for his fantasy week.

"This week it was because I knew I could beat my buddy Sam if Rashard Mendenhall could just get me eight points," Harrison said. "I was driving along, and I started thinking about him taking one to the end zone. Maybe right up the middle from the goal line. Or busting one outside from 30 or 40 yards out. Or perhaps ..." Harrison trailed off and looked off into the distance.

Ironically, Harrison's inability to focus on the task at hand has even affected his fantasy team in a negative fashion. In Week 5, he failed to replace receiver Marques Colston (whose team had a bye) in his lineup because while sitting at his computer preparing to switch him out for Nate Burleson, he began fantasizing about the points Burleson would rack up against the Jaguars' defense. Harrison was still fantasizing when the clock switched to noon and the rosters were locked. Burleson scored two touchdowns; Harrison's fantasy team lost by 11.

He later added: "No (awkward laugh), of course I don't fantasize about my fantasy football team while making love to my wife. (Awkward laugh.) No way. I would never do that ..."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The good, bad and ugly of the Cubs' offseason thus far

The good:

It's good to know they can share a mic, since they'll now be sharing a professional sports franchise. And it's interesting to note that even when viewed in a still, photographic format, Todd looks like a douche.

The transition of team ownership into the hands of its eighth owner, the Ricketts family. There's something soothing about real, live human beings sitting there and talking about the team. Something comforting about the fact that the owners don't have an opening and a closing price.

The new owners pretty much said all the things you'd expect at their opening press conference (save one super awkward moment when Tom's brother Todd said Jim Hendry "knows way better than" to eat part of Milton Bradley's contract. He then winked (seriously), cementing his status as The Really Creepy Brother Who Will Keep Trying to Share His Ideas with the Other Siblings but They'll Just Nod and Not Really Pay Any Attention to Him, Which They've Probably Been Doing for Twenty Years Because, as Was Just Explained, He's Creepy. And Weird.).

And while growing up watching and rooting for a team does not by any means guarantee that you will be successful as an owner of that team, it is really nice that Tom used to live just beyond the Wrigley walls and spent many a summer day in the bleachers. I have no doubt that he'll treat the Cubs as a business, because he has to. But I also have no doubt that part of him will treat the Cubs as his favorite team, a team that he desperately wants to win the World Series. And that's a very good thing.

Also a good thing is that according to the Windy City Times, Tom's sister Laura Ricketts is the first openly gay owner in all of American professional sports. I think that's a pretty neat "first" for the Cubs to be a part of.

The bad:

The decisions by Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan to return to their perches at Busch Stadium for 2010. These guys continually enable the Cardinals to get way more bang than should be humanly possible for that much buck (2009: 17th highest payroll, 92 wins), and unfortunately there was never much more than a fleeting glimmer of hope that the two wouldn't return for next year.

Question now is, will the Cards pony up the BIG bucks for Matt Holliday? His agent, Scott Boras, has made a point of comparing him to Mark Teixeira, whom the Yankees gave eight years and $180 million last year.

The ugly:

Since when did Ted Lilly need shoulder surgery? That came as a bit of a surprise. Back by April, they say.

Most pitchers get a month of spring training to work their way up to regular action. So Lilly may not be at full strength until mid- or late May. Not a great development to begin the offseason, especially since Lilly was clearly the ace of the staff in 2009. If the season started tomorrow (and, of course, it doesn't, and things will likely change), the Cubs would come out of the gates with Zambrano, Dempster, Wells, Marshall and Gorzelanny. Does this mean Hendry will need to seriously consider trying to re-sign Harden? Hurry back, Ted ...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bradley drawing more interest

While there hasn't been much evidence that the Cubs will be able to trade Milton Bradley without eating a huge portion of the $21 million remaining on his contract, I continue to be surprised by the apparent level of interest in him around baseball. According to Gordon Wittenmyer at the Sun-Times, at least three more teams have contacted Jim Hendry in the last week or so.

With the GM meetings taking place today through Wednesday, Hendry will surely be kicking tires and stoking flames over the next few days.

Bears down

Week 9: Cardinals 41, Bears 21

There's one word for what happened at Soldier Field on Sunday: embarrassing.

Exactly how many guys were the Bears playing defense with? Seven? Five? Or was it 11 guys moving in slow motion? It was one of the two. Had to be.

The Bears were starting a three-game stretch that would determine whether their game in Minnesota (Week 12) would truly matter from an NFC North standpoint. It won't.

In fact, the Vikings may have had one of the best weeks of any team, and they didn't even play. But the two teams chasing them--the Packers and Bears--lost. One to a previously winless team, and another in humiliating fashion.

What are Bears fans supposed to look to to make themselves feel good? The running game? No, it's nonexistent.

The offensive line? They wouldn't be able to keep The Hulk from getting sacked.

The secondary? Pathetic.

The ability to rush the passer? They can barely touch QBs, let alone tackle them.

Cutler and the passing attack? Not really.

Cutler's 80.8 QB rating ranks 20th in the NFL. His +3 TD/Int differential is worse than the likes of Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, and Kyle Orton. Cutler's a solid quarterback, and I'm glad they have him for the next few years. But you can't pretend that he's anything like Tom Brady. Or Aaron Rodgers. Even Tony Romo's numbers are significantly better than Cutler's.

And where are Bears fans supposed to look for wins? Are you confident they'll beat the Niners in San Francisco this Thursday, in prime time? Do you think they'll beat the Eagles? They do have the Rams and Lions remaining on their schedule, but brace yourself because the second half of the season might be paved with frustration and failure.

Speaking of frustration, what the hell was Tommie Harris doing on the boneheaded play that earned him an ejection? He was benched earlier in the year, and apparently he thinks that's where he serves this team best. Or maybe he knew what was about to take place and wanted no part of it.

I guess the fact that they have to turn around and play in three days could either be great or terrible. Terrible because they need three months to analyze all their problems, not three days. But great because at least they don't have to spend a full week digesting that pile of you-know-what. And fortunately, neither do we.

See you Friday, hopefully with something better to say.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Bears took down the Super Bowl champs, now look to defeat the runners-up

I propose that you may recall the last time the Bears faced the Cardinals. Think about it ...

Think about it ...

Did you get it?

October 16, 2006. Monday night game. Bears trailed 20-0 at halftime, many people changed the channel or went to sleep. But the Bears engaged their fans in the second half, roaring back for a 24-23 victory, taking them to 6-0 on the season. It was the "They are who we THOUGHT they were!" Game, one of the more exciting Bears games that I can recall.

But as schizophrenic as Arizona was in that game, they've been just as unpredictable this season. They lost to a Niners team that doesn't appear to be all that great. They beat a solid Texans squad and also the Giants in prime time. Then they got pasted by a bad Panthers team. So, to boil it down: It's hard to tell if they are who we think they are, because we don't really know who they are.

And really, you can take this schizophrenia theme back to last year. I mean, how was it that they made it to the Super Bowl again? They went 9-7, and that "7" included a loss to the Redskins, a game in which they allowed B-B-B-Bretty and the Jets to put up 56 points, and a stretch near the end of the season in which they lost four out of five.

Here's another wacky Cardinals stat, and not a good one: they're 1-2 at home and 3-0 on the road this year. But the Bears counter with a 3-0 record at home, so here's hoping they'll be the ones taking a knee as the clock winds down.


A good start. This is a problem the Bears haven't yet fixed. I used this same "key" for the Falcons game, and it was a 0-0 game after one quarter in that one. Which isn't all that terrible, but not exactly Call Your Friends to Make Sure They're Watching the Game type stuff. They trailed 14-0 after one period against the Bengals, and could only manage a 6-0 lead against the Browns. It'd be nice to be feeling GOOD after 15 minutes of a Bears game.

Protection. This is a DUH key to the game, because protecting the quarterback is always important. But after allowing four sacks to the Browns (and at least one in every game this year), it seems to be getting worse. The line needs to step it up and build a pocket (a ring, if you will) around Cutler.

Anquan Boldin. Will he play? He racked up 136 receiving yards in that 2006 game, but his right ankle might keep him out.

Where'd he come from?

QB Kurt Warner, Northern Iowa
RB Beanie Wells, Ohio State
WR Steve Breaston, Michigan
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh
LB Will Davis, Illinois
K Neil Rackers, Illinois

***The theme of this week's preview was: Wedding Proposal. This is in honor of Trevor Sierra and Becky Krause, who got engaged Thursday evening. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Steve Stone predicts Cubs offseason moves, 2010 World Series, 2047 Academy Award winners

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

PHOENIX--In the most amazing use of his ESP to date, baseball analyst Steve Stone has predicted not only what moves the Chicago Cubs will make this offseason, but also next year's World Series results and, "just for shits and giggles" (Stone's words), the winners of the Academy Awards in 2047.

This is big news, given that Stone has never made an incorrect prediction (except for one time in 1997 when he blew everyone's mind by predicting that he would make an incorrect prediction, which he then did). As a television announcer for the Cubs from 1983 - 2004, Stone would wow the audience by accurately predicting what pitches would be thrown, where balls would be hit, game results, etc. In recent years, as a White Sox announcer and contributor to TBS and the radio station WSCR, he has expanded his prediction repertoire to include other baseball teams.

But today he ventured into uncharted territory. After informing everyone as to how General Manager Jim Hendry will tweak the Cubs' roster this offseason, Stone added that the Cubs will beat the Angels in next year's World Series, four games to two, and then proceeded to rattle off a list of who will win Oscars in the year 2047. Here is a partial listing:

Best Actor: Aidan Lester
Best Actress: Jillian Thomassen
Best Costume Design: Chloe Wolska
Best Animated Short Film: "The Sky is the Limit"

Refusing to be outdone on the prediction front, noted weather genius Tom Skilling shared his no-doubt accurate prediction of the weather forecast for the evening of the Academy Awards ceremony in 2047: "55 degrees, clear skies, humidity 60%, slightly breezy, dew point 40 degrees. Eat it, Stoney."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Are you really allowed to dump the water cooler on your coach when you're 1-7?

"Win #1! Win #1!"

All the Rams needed to do to get their first win in over a year was do what everyone else does--play the Lions!

Maybe it's mean of me, but with the Rams falling just two losses shy of tying the Lions' streak of 19 straight, I'm actually sad that they'll never get credit for having been so God-awful over the last couple years. Only the Lions' simultaneous suckiness and the fact that the Rams' streak covered two seasons (as opposed to going 0-16 in a single season) allowed them to fly under the media's Repulsiveness Radar.

Fish Fun

I don't know about you, but I'm having a lot of fun watching the Dolphins this year. Sure, they're only 3-4, but they've won three of their last four and also gave the Saints their only real scare to this point in the season.

When the year began, I thought the Wildcat offense was lame and shortsighted. Sure, you might catch someone off guard with it, but is that really your plan for the whole season? Really?

Really. The Dolphins rush for 170 yards a game. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both rank in the top 20 in the league in rushing yards. And Coach Tony Sparano has added plenty of wrinkles to the Wildcat to keep opposing coaches on their toes.

This week's game against the Patriots will likely reveal whether Miami has any staying power whatsoever, but either way, I think they're one of the more enjoyable teams to watch on Sundays.

7th Heaven

But no team is more entertaining than the 7-0 New Orleans Saints. They lead the league with 427 yards/game, which has helped them put up Arena Football-like scores of 48, 48, 46, 45, and 35. In their other two games, they put up measly totals of 27 and 24. How about this--they lead the NFL in points despite the fact that eight of the thirty-two teams have played one more game than they have.

Packer backer?

No, I'm certainly not a Green Bay supporter, but I almost feel a little bad for their fans. I mean, Favre has ripped their collective heart out, thrown it to the ground and stomped all over it (while wearing spikes). For all you mid-90s Bulls fans out there, can you imagine if Michael Jordan had retired, come back to play for the Pistons, and then proceeded to juke, dunk and defend his way to crushing victories over the Bulls, all while jumping around with his hands in the air like a happy little schoolgirl? It's almost too painful to even let the image float through your mind, but Packers fans have had to watch it in real life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What can the Browns do for you? Provide a tuneup.

Week 8: Bears 30, Browns 6

Watching the Bears play the Browns is sort of like being handed a cheat sheet of mathematical equations as you prepare for an English exam--you don't learn a whole lot from it. It was something of a no-win situation for the Bears, playing a team they were supposed to beat by two touchdowns. But they got a win nonetheless.

They certainly didn't look very good doing it. Or at least, the offense didn't. The Bears continued to confuse the red zone for a red light. Does Jay Cutler have Robbie Gould on his fantasy team or something?

Cutler seems to be throwing the ball with his eyes closed. Granted he was running for his life for much of the game, but even when he had time to throw, he looked like his radar was jammed. Did the ball not have enough air in it? Too much air? Did it not have laces on it? He's now thrown as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns this season. He was also sacked four times by a bad Browns defense, partly because the offensive line didn't ... whattaya call it ... block anyone, and partly because he refused to get rid of the ball when he was pressured.

The biggest bright spot for me was Devin Hester. He had 81 yards receiving and continues to develop as a legitimate threat at the wide receiver position. I still don't think he's a #1 type receiver, but it's nice to see him coming along.

On the other side of the ball, the defense was dominant. Granted, it was against a team that practically sends Evites to upcoming opponents, subject line "Would you like to be dominant this Sunday?" I mentioned in the preview that the Bears needed to keep Derek Anderson to a QB rating below 80 just to save face. Mission accomplished--he finished with a rating of 10.5 and was so bad that he was replaced by Brady Quinn.

The "D" also forced five turnovers, putting the Bears at -1 in turnovers this year. That statistic will need to keep trending in a positive direction if the Bears are going to keep winning.

It wasn't the prettiest win the Bears have ever had, but it was a 24-point thrashing nonetheless. A solid practice game as the Bears prepare for a real match-up against the Cardinals, who, like the Bears, are 4-3. Though Arizona leads the NFC West for the time being, this Sunday's game could have Wild Card implications when all is said and done. (I'm not giving up on the division, especially with two games remaining against the Vikings, but it's worth looking at the Wild Card after Minnesota picked up their seventh victory yesterday.)