Chicago Sun-Times

Keys to game: Bears know the significance of not starting 0-2

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The 2009 NFL schedule was released April 14, 12 days after the Bears completed their trade with the Denver Broncos to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler, a move that sparked tremendous expectations for the team.

The season opener at Green Bay followed by the home opener this afternoon with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers looked like a formidable start for all those not sipping the Kool Aid. Now, after a rough loss at Lambeau Field that has the Bears making four changes in the starting lineup on defense, two necessitated by injuries, the Bears know how important it is to avoid an 0-2 start. A loss to the Steelers could put the Bears two behind the Packers and fellow NFC North foe Minnesota. Green Bay hosts Cincinnati (0-1) and the Vikings, which also won their opener, are at Detroit (0-1) where the Lions will try to avoid their 19th straight defeat.

The statistics are daunting as well. Three of the 10 teams that started 0-2 last season--Miami, Minnesota and San Diego--reached the playoffs. But that kind of success is rare. Since 2000, nine of the 78 teams that started 0-2 reached the postseason (11.5 percent). Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 30 teams that have started 0-2 made the playoffs, including three Super Bowl winners (1993 Dallas, 2001 New England and 2007 New York Giants). That's one a year. Finally, the Bears, the cornerstone franchise of the league, have never made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Add in the fact that next week's game is at Seattle where the Bears are 1-4 all-time with their last win coming in 1976, the first year of existence for the expansion Seahawks, and this game takes on an added significance if you believe in looking ahead.

Enough with the numbers. Let's get to it. What are keys for the Bears to be successful?

1. The Steelers have been getting some heat for some time. Why don't they run the football more? What happened to the fullback? The fact is, Bruce Arians runs a passing offense that suits his personnel. But after failing to generate any kind of ground game in the opener, the Steelers are going to try to establish success early vs. the Bears. They flat ran over them the last time the teams played in 2005. That was a different offensive line with a different back running behind it in Jerome Bettis. This line outweighs the Bears' front by an average of 47 pounds. The Bears have to stop the run because if Pittsburgh is two-dimensional, Ben Roethlisberger will be very difficult to stop.

2. Be like Hunter. It will be interesting to see if there are subtle differences in the scheme with Hunter Hillenmeyer replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. He knows he can't try to be like Brian. He's not that player. I detailed here for the National Football Post how the change could affect the Bears when it comes to the blitz. The good news for the Bears is Hillenmeyer is probably a better middle linebacker than he is a strong-side linebacker, the position he started at for most of four seasons. The blitz will be key because the Steelers use a spread attack that forces the linemen to play in space. There will be opportunities to pressure Roethlisberger.

3. Safety dance. Lovie Smith was itching to get Danieal Manning in at free safety before training camp started. A pulled hamstring delayed that move. Now, Manning is in position. It's the 18th change in starting free safeties since Smith came on board in 2004. There have been 15 changes at strong safety. Hey, the Bears finally found a position to switch more often than starting quarterback. There is a chart of all the turnover during Smith's era here. Manning needs to curtail some of the glaring assignment errors that have marked his time at the position in the past. The wide open touchdown by Andre Johnson in the season finale last year at Houston comes to mind. The issue here is the team didn't use him at safety once during the offseason. He missed significant time in training camp with a pulled hamstring and he'll be going off classroom instruction more than anything else.

4. Give the man a nickname. Nathan Vasher became known as the Interceptor early in his career as he picked off 13 passes in his first 30 games. If Zack Bowman can make plays like he has in practice, he'll need his own name. He gets his first career start and surely will be tested early by Roethlisberger. What will Smith call Bowman? The Playmaker? Surely, there's a better or more original name than that.

5. Pacing himself. Left tackle Orlando Pace faces a challenge from Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, the reigning defensive player of the year. Pace is a massive man but he needs to get his hands on Harrison, who has a potent combination of speed and power moves. The Bears can't fixate on helping just one side though as LaMarr Woodley is nearly as dangerous on the right side. Cutler will need to turn to running back Matt Forte as a check-down target, something he was reluctant to do last week.

6. Balance. I detailed it in my preview in the print/online edition this morning that the Bears have to turn to Forte and the running game early. Cutler was terrible in the first half vs. the Packers and the play calling by offensive coordinator Ron Turner didn't do much to calm him down. When Turner ran the ball in the second half, the Bears put together some drives even if Forte was limited in his success. The same thing will likely hold true here. The Steelers are as good of a run defense as the Bears will encounter this season. They're not likely to have a big day with Forte, but Turner needs to stick with it.

7. Lend a friend a hand. Tight end Greg Olsen has been expected to break out this season and now he will carry an added burden with fellow tight end Desmond Clark sidelined with a fractured rib. Olsen had a drop against the Packers and he needs to deliver against the Steelers, who will not have strong safety Troy Polamalu to shadow him. It's evident in practice that Olsen is Cutler's preferred target. He needs to deliver, especially on third down.

8. Takeaway. Smith preaches turnovers like every other coach at every level of football, but the Bears are difficult to beat when they come out on top in the takeaway department. Consider with Cutler's four interceptions last week, they still had an opportunity to win the game. Under Smith, the Bears are 25-6 in games in which they have a positive turnover ratio. That, as much as anything else, could be the key to not starting 0-2.

I'm headed to Soldier Field in a couple hours. I'll have updates from there, mostly on Twitter where you can follow me at BradBiggs.

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8 Comments

Brad:

All great points, except making the main point that Cutler will probably have to make good decisions this week and win the game through the air as the run may not be quite so easy this week as you mention. The wide receiver group is key to keeping the chains moving and time of possession, which will keep the D off of the field which will indeed help the D's chances of stopping the Steelers.

Also how about some smart coaching play calls, a half time adjustment or two that works and smart challenges?

Go BEARS can't wait to see the game.

You got a little carried away with the stats, Brad. As they say, on any given day you can throw them out the window, not only because that's the nature of the game, but because too many intangibles, independent variables,enter in, like Polamalou and Urlacher both being out. I like your points and agree that Pace will have his hands full (hopefuully not with holding penalties attached ) and Olsen busting loose would be great, but I do not think that will happen much this game. I do think Forte might have a number of receptions, and downfield passes are good possibilities if Cutler can avoid the rush a few times or gets some good protection. I would love to see Pace pick up his pace and be the protecter he once was.

Don't forget Creighton. Today's the big day. Remember your bold promise...

By Creighton on March 25, 2009 11:48 PM

"In fact I am so sure that Angelo will not get him [Cutler] that if he does, I will be outside Soilder Field in a hot pink panties that say spank me, singing the Crackers Happy birthday to me while holding up a sign that reads Brando rules and I suck...First home game and I will also paint myself Orange and Blue and get a tattoo thats says Angelo is the man on my forehead."

http://blogs.suntimes.com/bears/2009/03/rocky_mountain_high_bears_repo.html

See you out there Creighton, and just be careful. Ben Roethlisberger might be tempted to rape you. Hahaha!

Orlando Pace worries me, it was one thing for him to struggle in the pre-season vs Denver's Elvis Dumervil, you figure, ah...it's the pre-season, no big deal right? But then comes the game vs the Pack, Chicago can't have poor play from Pace again this week going against a player like James Harrison. Pace simply needs to step up his play. I was never big on the Pace signing from the get-go, I would have went with Chris Williams on the left side, Kevin Shaffer on the right, and use Frank Omiyale as the swing tackle, not as a guard [buts thats another story]. But, it is what it is. Hopefully Pace and Omiyale can both prove me wrong, starting today, I want them to. Pace needs to step up, or a change is needed. GO BEARS!!

I expect this game to be a copy of what happened at Green Bay. This is probably as close to playing in a Superbowl as the Bears will get this season.

This may be the game where Jay Cutler gets hurt. From the Green Bay game, you see what bad O-line play will do to you. Cutler was running for his life, throwing INT's and the run game went nowhere.

The Bears thought they were going to "win now", so they neglected to start developing an "Elite" O-line by making trades to move up in the draft to get the rare Blue-chip O-linemen available in this years draft.

They had all pre-season to get ready for Green Bay and start the march to the Superbowl. Yet Cutler says the team is still learning!

The only good thing to come out of this season may be the continued development of the WR's for next season.

But even that probably won't happen if Cutler is out for the season with an injury due to the bad O-line. Can Hanie develop those WR's???

If Cutler does get hurt I expect it to probably be a sprain or cracked ribs. Worst case scenario is he blows out his knee. Bad things tend to happen when you force your QB to run.

I hope you enjoy today's Superbowl!

GO BEARS!!

Very good point Kevin, (5) I was thinking the exact same thing, Orlando did not look good last week, nor did Omiyale, but to me we can fix Omiyale with Beekman but Orlando? Thats a different story, here's hopin he picks it up this week. That is a key.
Fact is our Oline was pretty bad against GB. That to me is the key of this game. Cutler can run to the right away from the left but I am not sure he can run backwards. :)
We got changes in the D - some good some bad, (2) HH needs to show he is not a backup, not much faith in that one, but I really like the Vasher change. (3)

I must be too much a lifer as I am homin on this game, I musta lost my mind but I feel we have a shot! but if we lose - we have the next 4 games to regroup, still early and these are easily losses considering the calibre of teams we are playing. But I feel the season is not lost unless we really stink on offense again.

Protect the QB,

You are - hands down - the dumbest motherfarker I have read on this board and that's saying something (see Brando, Crap-ton, NeckBeardSucks, Da Cult of Da Clown, etc.) ... Let's see your "fix" for the Bears that you posted ad nauseum during the draft:

PTQB: "Which is why we need to get C/OG Alex Mack (one person called him the best Center to come out of the draft in 25 years!), OT Andre Smith (Nick Sabin, his coach, just said yesterday nothing is wrong with Smith, he's a great player), and OG Duke Robinson."

Let's see Andre Smith who was drafted WELL ahead of anywhere Chicago could have picked. What's he done so far? Oh yeah came to the combine out of shape. Got rewarded with a high draft pick. Held out. Finally signed and then showed up out of shape. He's currently INACTIVE today against the Packers. HE'S INACTIVE FOR THE FARKING BUNGLES!!!

Alex Mack is starting for the Cleveland Browns after being picked up at #21 overall. That means Chicago would have had to mortgage the next 3 years of drafting to move up to pick Mack and Smith. That's some smart GM'ing there boy-o!

Duke Robinson was so highly sought after he only made it to the 163rd pick overall in the draft. For those of you counting at home ... that's the 5th round which Chicago could have swung possibly by trading a 1st round pick from 2013 after trading to get Mack and Smith. Btw, Robinson is inactive today for the Panthers.

PTQB your plan was GALACTICALLY STUPID and now you're preaching to everyone about how crappy the Bears line is and how we're idiots. It's like listening to Sarah Palin tell us abstinence only birth control works or like you telling us that your mom isn't a slut she's just popular.

Give it up you clueless d-bag.

Hey Da Church,
I understand that you don't like it when other people come into your little "Blog Kingdom" and express ideas beyond your limited comprehension.

I know it hurts you when you try to use your brain. You just don't get it and you most likely never will.

Smith, Mack, and Robinson will all go on to be great players, if they don't get injured. And being together as a group would have made them even better.

But that's past now. The Bears are going to have to struggle to win now for years to come.

Don't be fooled by today's game. The Bears didn't win it so much as Pittsburgh lost it. Just like the Bears should have beat Green Bay but didn't.

The Bears got lucky. They didn't dominate. Pittsburgh played sloppy and lacked intensity. The Bears showed improvement but still should have lost.

The NFL is very mediocre. You may stack up wins but they don't matter when all you end up doing is losing in the first round of the playoffs.

For the Bears to win the way they want to do things, they need to be like Pittsburgh. Pitt has had a poor O-line but a great Defense and a great clutch QB.

Jay Cutler has the talent. But it's asking for quite a lot to expect the Bears to be able to pull off what Pitt has done. Is Jay Cutler as tough or lucky as Ben Roethlisberger? Everybody is just waiting for Big Ben to suffer a major injury the way he plays. Will Cutler be as lucky? I say the odds are very much against it.

The Bears are doing things the hard way. They may get lucky, but that's all it will be; luck. Hoping for miracles in order to win isn't a likely way to win three Superbowls.

In the end I suspect that my critics really don't care if the Bears win the Superbowl. I don't know why they prefer doing things the hard way and staying losers. Low self-esteem I imagine.

That's why they have their "Blog Kingdom" where they are "King". How dare I post in their "Kingdom"! Only their opinion is "worthy" of being posted.

I suggest they get some kind of therapy to work out their insecurities and low self-esteem issues. But if you can't afford therapy or are afraid of it, try reading the four Gospels in the Bible. Do what Jesus says and your life will improve. You may even want the Bears to really win!

GO BEARS!!

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on September 20, 2009 9:06 AM.

Safety shuffle: Manning moved into starting lineup was the previous entry in this blog.

New sod at Soldier Field looks spotty for regular-season opener is the next entry in this blog.

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