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15 days to Camp: The comings and goings on defense and more

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The biggest moves the Bears made on defense, or at least the ones getting the most attention, were the changes on the coaching staff. Rod Marinelli's addition as the defensive line coach will create some storylines during training camp, and I think a lot of people are interested to watch the drill work he does with his players on the side. Lovie Smith's role as play caller will come more into focus when the season begins.

But we bounced the two biggest personnel changes on defense off Bill Barnwell when we spoke to the managing editor of Football Outsiders about the upcoming season. Their mean projection gives the Bears a 49 percent chance to have 11 or more victories, and that was the highest figure for any NFC club. It can all be found in the Football Outsiders Almanac, which will be available on in a few weeks and can be ordered in PDF format from their Web site.

First, we asked Barnwell about the addition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who is projected to be the starter on the strong side after signing a one-year contract. St. Louis cut the veteran loose after the Rams failed in their bid to trade him. He became the first rookie in Rams' franchise history to lead the defense in tackles when he played the position for Smith and Bob Babich in 2003.

"It really depends on Tinoisamoa and how he fits into their scheme and how quickly he catches up on things,'' Barnwell said. "I understand he's had experience in the system in the past. He was playing for the Rams. The Rams didn't have a great defense last season. You look at his run numbers and they were atrocious. He made a lot of tackles but they were seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage, they were coming well down the field. The defense wasn't good and his numbers were not very good. You have to put the scheme in context. It's not like baseball where if a guy is going to hit 40 home runs in one city he's going to hit 40 home runs in another city. He could be better this season.''

What Football Outsiders does is study each play and they look at a statistic they call the "stop rate" and average yards for running plays when the linebacker was credited with making the tackle. It's not a perfect system but they have other stats, one of which is called "defeats," defined as the total number of plays they stop the offense from gaining first down on third or fourth down, or make a play behind the line of scrimmage or create a turnover.

Tinoisamoa, who played weak side in St. Louis last season, was credited with 48 stops, 32 fewer than Lance Briggs. Tinoisamoa ranked 93rd out of 99 total linebackers vs. the run. But as Barnwell pointed out, these statistics are drawing from small sample sizes and they can change from year to year. Switch teams and defenses and it is not going to be the same. Tinoisamoa will have more talent around him this season and it's reasonable to expect he'll be a different player. Of course, the Bears thought Adam Archuleta was coming to a more talented defense when he left Washington for the Bears. That didn't work out so well for Archuleta or the Bears.

*** Next, I asked Barnwell about the performance of Mike Brown, who departed via free agency after his contract expired. Brown started 15 games last season and had his highest tackle total since 2002. He's moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs where he could very well win the starting strong safety job in training camp.

"I think he was better than what they had in years past,'' Barnwell said. "It's a lot like Brian Dawkins where he's not the player he was before but having a guy who knows the scheme and is a pretty sure tackler, that was the biggest thing he was contributing to the Bears last season."

According to Football Outsiders, the Bears' defense was No. 1 in the league in yards after the catch (3.9), and he credits Brown for much of that saying he was in the right place to prevent the Bears from giving up the deep ball. If he just could have found a way to stop the 115 slant passes the Bears gave up combined vs. Tampa Bay and Tennessee.

"While the Tampa-2 is designed to limit big plays, losing Brown might open up the Bears to a few more of them in 2009,'' Barnwell wrote.

If you were to judge things with how the offseason program ended, Craig Steltz looks to have the edge in the battle to become the free safety. The Bears think he's got the smarts and savvy to be in good position most of the time. If he can accomplish that, perhaps he can hold that job down.

*** Switching gears quickly to some nuggets we found on the Web. Don Banks of lists his top five storylines for all eight divisions, and this isn't new, it came out a week ago. He says the NFC North has the most sizzling stories from top to bottom, ranking it first. That's a good indication you'll see plenty of national media attention in Bourbonnais when training camp opens. Here are his five stories, and it doesn't come as a surprise what is No. 1:

1. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Brett Favre will try to get a ring and a little revenge at the same time. In Minnesota, no less. 2. Cutler gives Chicago a top-notch quarterback for the first time since Sid Luckman retired. 3. Will the Lions ever win another game? It's 17 losses and counting in Detroit, meaning rookie head coach Jim Schwartz can go 1-15 and claim first-year success. 4. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford will start for Detroit this season. The question is: How soon will the Lions throw their No. 1 pick to the, uh ... rest of the league? 5. Once Favre becomes a Viking, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers will be the division's longest-tenured starting quarterback, in terms of continuous service with one team. You can look it up.

How about that? A storyline for each of the division's four quarterbacks.

*** One of the defenses you hear about the Bears' receiving corps is that it will not just be the wide receivers, that Cutler will take full advantage of a couple of pretty good pass-catching tight ends in Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark. Factor them into the equation and the Bears should be fine. Well, Adrian Hasenmayer at breaks down all 32 teams and ranks their wide receiver and tight end packages giving a comprehensive look.

Where do the Bears come in? Try 27th. They rank just ahead of Oakland, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Miami and the Plaxico Burress-less New York Giants.

"The Bears expect much better production from their WR/TE group this season, for no other reason than adding QB Jay Cutler. And they're right, to a point. But they still are banking on a lot of unknowns and youth. The team continues trying to convince everyone that kick return star Devin Hester is ready to be the No. 1 receiver in town and upgrade from his career-high 51 catches last season. But Chicago's current Nos. 2-4 guys combined for as many catches and your un-esteemed author -- nada, zilch, zippo. Still, some of the young kids have promise -- but promise alone is not enough, and why even Jay Cutler has admitted he's up for the Bears trading for his former teammate Brandon Marshall. The real star could be tight end Greg Olsen, who could upgrade from the 50-catch range to the 70 or 80 neighborhood with Cutler aboard."

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Morning Biggs, ok analysis by your anxillaries, but I really believe that Pisa will round out the starting rotation at linebacker quite nicely. We are a team predicated on speed and Pisa will man up on the run moving forward with the rest of the defensive front and get to runners before they pick up a full head of steam and cover the tight end due to the fact that the Bears, unlike the paltry St. Louis Rams, are a fast and forwardly moving defense that gets after the quarterback allowing Pisa to stay in the slower tight end's jersey. We will also return to the days of team tackling this season as we move away from the mug up front, at least mugging by the linebackers. The mugging will continue, but it will be the DB's mugging the wide receivers! Graham looks really nice complimenting Tillman at DB. Biggs what do you think about Vasher covering the slot? I mean we do like to have all our best players on the field and I think this would be an excellent way to settle that piece. Let Vasher earn his dollars at the nickle! You heard it here first. Now let me check the house for stray bullet holes lol, but no kidding. Put the guns down kids and put the pads on! Peace

Ok, lets break down these issues one by one:

It maybe fair game to doubt Pisa's impact given his performance with the Rams. But the fact is each player's performance is linked to the scheme and other players. Take a look at the Bears for example. The drop in production from the LBs is being squarely put on the front 4, the same LBs who have been voted to multiple ProBowls. So considering that Pisa has worked with Lovie before, is surrounded by much better talent compared to the Rams and is presumably hungry nothing can bode better for the LB corps to rebound this season especially when tied with the increase in performance of the front 4, which hopefully Marinelly can elicit as everyone expects.

2. WRs
While I agree that our current crop of WRs are suspect do we really need 80yrd catches all the time to win games? I'd rather take the kind of passes that have been killing our defense as long as we keep the chains moving. That's the goal. Keep the chains moving, not have it on a rocket booster for a 80yrd touchdown pass all the time. Sure the latter would be great but if we cannot have that, go from a 1st and 10 to a 2nd and 3-4 and 1st down again. I am sure nobody will complain. Sure it would look a little ugly but I would take it if it means winning games. With Cutler, Hester, Forte, Olsen and Clark we have the capacity to keep picking up yardage even if it's not chunks at a time.
Predicting performance based on last year's stats is horribly wrong. We have a retooled OL, new QB, new WRs, our rookie RB has had a bit of experience and we may see some new playcalling given our QB. I cannot imagine how all these football gurus predict something when almost all variables have changed.

Oh man, another Adam Archuleta aka Pisa.

On the WR rankings. What are the Packers, Vikings, and Lions?

Forecasting places undue influence on the immediately preceding year; ignoring yr-to-yr change in the NFL. For instance, as I recall, the Bears SB year was preceeded by a very poor, and injury plagued, season. It certainly wasn't predicted.

I'd also like a better appreciation for how these rankings are normalized for QB rankings. e.g. does Olsen's ranking reflect Olsen on the Bears with Orton (and his injury driven 2nd half) or Olsen with Cutler. I suspect these rankings reflect the former more than the later.

You can really only evaluate Pisa Tinoisamoa based on his front 4 last year I would think. If the DT's were getting pushed around and allowing the guards etc to get to the 2nd level then the fact that he was making tackles on running plays down the field means he is probably a really good linebacker and very productive based on his tackle numbers.

The Archuleta experience bothers me too, but the situation is not the same. Archuleta was a free agent they went after to solve a real problem in the roster. I don't think they were really looking at the SAM position in free agency. Tinoisamoa just fell into their lap and they saw it as an opportunity. They have a viable plan B if Pisa flops. They didn't with Archuleta.

My eyes are already starting to glaze over when I read or hear the word combination: "Bear's Wide Receivers". It's going to be brutal until the regular season finally arrives.

Is there no way to get people to just chill? It's going to be OK.

DougR, I completely agree with you. All the forecasting geniuses look at the previous year without accounting for changes in personnel, schedule, injuries, etc., which is impossible to do accurately anyway. However, the season before the Bears SB they finished 11-5, won the division, Urlacher got Defensive Player of the Year, Lovie got Coach of the Year, and then they promptly lost to Carolina in the first round.

Time for a trade to obtain a WR. Hillenmeyer, Garza, McKie to name a few but really don't know if this group could pull much in WR quality. At some point Urlacher and Vasher may be trade bait, with Briggs a candidate for the middle and Williams or the rookie LB as weakside and Vasher being replaced by the rookie CB may be the ticket down the road as well.

The Bears need to find one proven WR that can help move the chains. Maybe the donkeys in Denver would like to improve their pathetic D and send disgruntled Marshall to the Bears for any or a number of the above players and some cash but no more picks.

I know it is a pipe dream, but would it not be sweet to have Marshall and Hester on each side of the offense for Cutler with Bennett in the slot?

"But Chicago's current Nos. 2-4 guys combined for as many catches and your un-esteemed author -- nada, zilch, zippo."

Adrian Hasenmayer from Fox Sports is dead wrong. Rashied Davis anyone? Had 35 catches for 445 yds and 2 TDs? Remember? This proves once again that some of these "experts" wouldn't know the difference between a football and their a$$. The fans on this blog have better knowledge than these guys who get paid to know these things.

You look at [Pisa's] run numbers and they were atrocious. He made a lot of tackles but they were seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage, they were coming well down the field.

Wow. This could be Adam Fart-uleta all over again. Let's hope not.

Interesting stats regarding Pisa however, much like the Bears being No. 1 in YAC, stats can be misleading depending on the defensive package they play in. In the Bears pkg. the SLB plays a third less plays, primarily on running situations, so whoever wins this job best be the best tackler after Urlacher and Briggs.

"But Chicago's current Nos. 2-4 guys combined for as many catches and your un-esteemed author -- nada, zilch, zippo."

perhaps he assumed that Davis isn't even better then a #5 on the Bears roster full of

Go Bears !!

Hmmmm! Interesting analysis and interesting responses.I suspect we really are expecting too much of Cutler in assuming he'll make all the receivers better, but I still believe the team is solidly improved in almost every respect. A quarterback cannot do much about receivers dropping pefectly thrown passes, even if the passer has a good line protecting him and allowing time for receivers to open a step from defenders.Maybe the year's experience and the newcomers in the receiving corps will all have great hands and prove the experts dissing them as all wrong. One can only hope that that will prove the case. I can't wait for the season to start!

Love my fellow Bears fans but I think there's a bit too much Koolaide drinking..

Brad & the league's assessment of our receiving corps is spot on if not generous.

A)Our #1 wideout Devin Hester is a #3 wideout on any Superbowl caliber team period. While talented he's got to show much improvement vs bump & run / press coverage if the bears plan on anything more than a Wildcard birth.

B)Our #2 wideout Earl Bennett was so talented he couldn't break the field in 2008. Think about that for a second... he couldn't beat out Booker or Lloyd at any point last year. The burden of proof is on these guys to perform not the league giving them the benefit of the doubt. Sorry that's how it works in the NFL.

C)As of 7/16/09 Our most reliable receiver is Matt Forte a running back...Not good

D) While talented Greg Olsen has to show more constancy in blocking & yards after the catch. Defensive coordinators neutralized him second half of 2008 by putting nicklebacks on him. He's also got to become more physical to be a top 10 TE. No way should a 6'5, 4'5 speed TE be a one man tackle. He was last year.

No doubt the addition of Cutler will take our receiving corps from laughable to serviceable. However it's up to them to grow as receivers. Cutler can put it on the money but they have to get to the right spots and catch it. Make no mistake we're at a disadvantage by any objective standards.

We'll soon see if Hester & Olsen have grown.

With regard to the WR rankings article, anybody who has any reservations about how much the writer of this article knows about the NFL should take a look at the comment about the Lions players. He writes, This is a group on the climb. Bryant Johnson is one of the best young receivers in football

Bryant Johnson.

The guy doesn't even know the name of possibly the best receiver in the NFL and the second pick in the whole draft. I know the Lions are bad but how can you not know which player is Bryant Johnson and which is Calvin Johnson?

Honestly guys stats and all this crap doesnt mean anything. Look at what Pisa did last year. He was the leading tackler on a horrible team. In other words he was the only bright spot while the rest of the Rams defense stunk. I dont know why people compare this to Archuleta. He was coming off the worst year of his career while being paid like an elite player plus he was demoted to Special Teams. Totally different circumstances and now Pisa has Urlacher and Briggs next to him. I truely believe that our LB corps will be one of, if not the best group in the NFL. Have a little faith guys :)

Go Bears!!

The analysis reports make for fun reading however numbers don't tell the entire story. You can't compare the Pisa situation with Archuleta. By the time the Bears got Archuleta, he was unfortunately finished. Pisa is the product of a poor Ram team that had for the most part given up. Pisa should flourish in this system and if not Roach is right there. Also, it sounds like the attitude amongst the Bears is about as good as it gets, that alone can create success. I'm on record with a belief that a veteran receiver would be a good thing, but more and more am being convinced that going it with the guys the Bears have, would be ok too. All I know is I get a kick out of this great site and reading the responses all the bloggers have. Everybody provides great insight with a varied range of response. Can't wait for the season!! Go Bears!

i think pisas gonna be ok.. hes on a short leash with a 1 year deal and has a lot to prove if he wants to continue playing in the league.. also being arond urlacher, briggs, lovie, marinelli, ought to jump start his motor.. is it me or does he not remind you a bit of Jr Seau? despite being both samoan..


This is just more overanalyzing with meaningless stats. Tinoisamoa has been a very good weak side LB and will hopefully be an improvement on the strong side. The issue with Tinoisamoa is whether he can play strong side, where he'll be undersized. Comparisons to Archuleta are ridiculous. Archuleta had slowed down the year before and was benched by Washington. Tinoisamoa has not had this problem.

"Our #2 wideout Earl Bennett was so talented he couldn't break the field in 2008."

Um, in a word, NO. The reason Bennett didn't get on the field was because the Bear coaches, in all their great wisdom, decided to that Bennett should learn all the receiver positions at once, and it took him almost the whole season to do it.

The addition of Pisa Tinoisamoa means, we got a starter and leading tackler from another team to come and compete with our own starters from last year; there's no possible down-side to that story.

Safety is a different story. We released a very good veteran player in Mike Brown, brought in two free agents who have all but disappeared from our radar, attempted to convert our cornerbacks because we were so unsure of the lot we had at safety, and now we are touting a second-year backup as the heir. Could there possibly an up-side to this story? I read somewhere that the Bears only allowed 3 pass plays of 40 yards or more (including that 99 yarder) last year. I expect that total to go up, as well as the YAC stat.

If you look at the total passing attack package, including the QB and the pass-catching RBs, the TEs and the pass protection provided by the rebuilt offensive line, as well as the WRs, you'd say "not bad." If you just looked at the WRs, you'd say "not good." Other than the two converted defensive backs (Hester, Davis), none of us really know what they can do. Offensively, we'll be fine. WR-wise, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

This season is a win-win for the fans.
If all works out(we find a #1 and #2 wide out this year and lovie figures out whats wrong with the defense and fixes it), we are in the playoffs.
If they don't, lovie and babich will be looking for a new job.
If that happens, say welcome to Ron Rivera, the new head coach.
And a strong possibility of back to the superbowl we go.

My personal opinion is that Lovie will not be able to fix the defense as long as he plays the cover-2 (that some call the prevent defense). This scheme will continue to tire out the defense by the 4th quarter just when you need them the most. We went to the superbowl a couple of years ago because ron rivera was defensive coordinator and played the defense for its strengths and of course ...a little of the 46.
Lovie didn't like that and fired him.
The defense has never been the same since.
So what does this tell you? Should we continue to believe lovie in his annual excuses for why the defense didn't perform or should we call it like it is?

val you dont know what you are talking about. cover 2 is not called prevent.prevent is when the saf. get deeper down the field then any offen. player. cover 2 is when the saf. role out to provide over the top coverage for the db. Plus the bears only play cov. 2 maybe 30% of the time. And playing the 46 will get the D. killed. Dont run your mouth about what the bears should do unless you really know what you are talking about. The same goes for all those idiots who think #54 b.lac should be traded he had one bad season the year before he had 5 picks and 5 sacks. Plus he is pretty much the face of the franchise you cant just trade him. He will retire as a bear like he should. Just because people play madden football they suddenly think they can be the coach or gm. Theres more to to it then just saying trade this guy or trade that guy there is the money side of it to and tradeing b lac. does not make sense.


Urlacher is on the down side of his career, like Joe Montana was and Ronnie Lott was and many other greats that have been traded at this point in their career. Why do you think that the 49ers in the 80's made a run of three Superbowls? Because the niners like other teams that continued to be great for a period of time (in the 80's) traded players like Montana when they still had value. Urlacher still has value and the Bears have someone that can replace him with Briggs and Williams or the rookied may have the talent to play the weak side.

The Bears have a real problem in that they do not have a NFL proven receiver group. If there is any chance to get a player like Marshall who would be a perfect complement to Hester, they would have to give someone up with talent and Urlacher still probably has 2-3 years left at above average talent, plus another one or two players or even a draft pick.

Mat, just because people differ with you in opinion about the Bears does not make them idiots, on the contrary, there just might be some validity to the suggestions to get the most out of Urlacher while he still has value.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 16, 2009 5:22 AM.

16 days to Camp: Briggs, Urlacher constants for Bears at linebacker was the previous entry in this blog.

Packers' Driver disses Bears' wide receivers and he's got a point is the next entry in this blog.

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