Prediction: Broncos edge Patriots

October, 31, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- I picked the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last year and came away questioning myself afterward for failing to project some of the team’s struggles at the line of scrimmage. Dynamic pass-rushers have hurt the Patriots this season on the edge, and the Broncos have two of them in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. And that doesn't even factor in the presence of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who hurt the Patriots most in the AFC title game. Defensively, the Patriots’ struggles stopping the run in sub are a concern. It should be a great game and I wonder if the Broncos’ reliance on a young kicker might haunt them in the end, but I’ll go with the club that tight end Rob Gronkowski called the best team in the NFL right now and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork called the perfect team.

Prediction: Broncos 30, Patriots 27.

ACCOUNTABILITY CHECK (what we said last week): "I view this as a matchup between a careless team (Chicago Bears) and one that protects the ball with good discipline (New England Patriots). The turnover numbers reflect that -- 13 giveaways for the Bears, just five for the Patriots. If the Patriots can protect Tom Brady, I see opportunities for the offense to move the ball and score points much like Miami did last week when Ryan Tannehill completed his first 14 passes of the game. If Tannehill can do that, I think the chances are good that Brady will exceed it. Prediction: Patriots 34, Bears 28
Still reeling from meeting high expectations coming into the season with a 3-5 mark through the halfway point, the Chicago Bears could find themselves dealing with more than just X's and O's on Monday when they convene at Halas Hall.

Receiver Brandon Marshall believes small pockets of malcontents could be forming in the locker room.

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"I definitely think we’re in a tough spot right now. It hurts to say this, but I’m kind of an expert in this position because I’ve been on a few losing teams," Marshall said Monday during "The Brandon Marshall Show" on ESPN 1000. "But what we can’t [let] happen is let little small groups begin to form in our locker room, because that’s where our biggest battle is. When you’re losing like this, your biggest battle is within; not really the media or the fans or your family members. It’s really like in your heart and also your building. So if we break that up, we may have a chance."

Marshall’s gut feeling stems from his own eight-year career in which the receiver has played eight seasons, making the Pro Bowl on five occasions, but he’s never played for a team that advanced into the postseason.

Does Marshall actually see groups forming in Chicago’s locker room?

"Yeah," Marshall said. "But we have ... man, what Brian Urlacher and those guys were able to create [in terms of a locker room climate], that stuff still resonates in our locker room. So you’re always going to see it. You’re going to see it when you’re winning. Guys aren’t going to be happy. A guy might not be getting the ball. A guy may not be getting sacks. So that stuff begins to form. But you’ve got to punch it out, and that’s what we’ve been able to do. But now, we’re really going to be tested. We’re 3-5, dropped another one the way we did. There may be some bigger groups that may try, but we have the coaches and the players that are going to knock it out immediately."
Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey expressed disappointment Wednesday with the club's 3-5 record during Comcast SportsNet's "Bears Huddle" show, but remains confident in the direction the team is headed under general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman.

Given the team's high expectations headed into the season, McCasey said he's "very disappointed," adding that "Bears fans and everyone in this building expected us to contend for a Super Bowl."

The Bears haven't won back-to-back games since Weeks 2 and 3 of the season, and have dropped four of their last five. Trestman and Emery said the staff will spend the week at Halas Hall meticulously researching and critiquing the first half of the season to determine which the direction the team should take coming out of the bye.

McCaskey is confident in Trestman and Emery's ability to lead that effort.

"I think every team at some point faces a little bit of adversity in the season, and the measure of that team is how they react to that adversity," McCaskey said. "We'll see what these guys are made of. We have every confidence in Phil and Marc and the players to pull us out of this."

McCaskey also said that Bears fans "have every right to be" upset with the way the season has unfolded. McCaskey was responding to a question about Kyle Long's reaction to fans at Soldier Field booing the team as it came off the field down 14 points at halftime of a Oct. 19 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

"We're 3-5, that's a losing record," he said. "We're winless at home, and that doesn't fit the formula for making it to the postseason. You've got to dominate at home. You've got to control your division, and you've got to do pretty well for yourself on the road. We're outside that formula right now, and we need to correct that."

Whether that's possible at this point remains uncertain, but McCaskey remains bullish in his belief the Bears should be competing for championships every year. At this point, to do that, the Bears need to utilize a more narrow focus.

"The goal every year is to win the Super Bowl," McCaskey said. "The long-range goal is to win more championships than any other team. To do that though, you have to win the next one. That's where we're focused on. Right now, we need to put all our focus and all our energies into winning the next game."

The Bears face the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 9 at Lambeau Field.
Eight games provide a large enough sample size for even optimists to paint somewhat of a bleak picture of the Chicago Bears going into the bye week.

Still, Bears coach Marc Trestman draws on experience in expressing a belief the 3-5 Bears will “find themselves.”

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“These are things that are correctable,” he added. “Our ability to create some turnovers will help us. Our ability to match up better will help us. Our ability to spend some time this week, and I’ve seen this happen over time after a bye week, where teams can find themselves.”

Asked what evidence he sees to make him think the Bears can turn around their season, starting with the club’s Nov. 9 matchup at Green Bay, Trestman said, “It shows up that we can get it done.”

Regardless of what that means, the Bears need to spend the week off fixing myriad problems in every facet of the game. Offensively, Trestman needs to freshen up the attack to feature more diversity, and the team needs to strike a better balance between running and passing. Defensively, the Bears need to sift through the injuries and come up with a suitable lineup. The defense appears to be struggling down the middle, which in turn leads to problems in the secondary.

On special teams, the Bears feature an athletic lineup of speedy, yet inexperienced, mistake-prone players.

“Last year we were 25th or something in third downs going into the bye week. We came out of it and moved up significantly because we had time to look back, make corrections, as coaches do,” Trestman said. “I feel confident we’re going to find our way through this and get back in a position where we are playing more consistently, to where we are playing the kind of game we played against Atlanta that we played against San Francisco. The team has that in them. We’ve just got to put it all together."
The Chicago Bears discussed potential replacements Monday at left guard for Matt Slauson, who suffered a season-ending torn right pectoral muscle in the team’s loss to New Engalnd, which means the club’s starting offensive line could be reshuffled when it reconvenes next week at Halas Hall for practice.

Mills
"We’ve got a number of guys we can move into that position," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Depending on the moves made, the offensive line could look drastically different than the groups the team utilized over the first eight games of the season. The most interesting possibility involves moving starting right tackle Jordan Mills inside at Slauson’s left guard spot.

If that move took place, it would likely mean Michael Ola would stay at Mills’ starting position at right tackle. Ola filled in for Mills during Chicago’s loss at Green Bay as the latter continues to struggle to recover from an offseason foot surgery.

"We can go with Jordan moving into that [left guard] position. We could go with [veteran] Eben [Britton] moving into that position. We’ve got some young guys we’re developing. We’ll see how that goes along the way. But that will be the starting point," Trestman said.

Offensive tackle is Mills' and Britton's natural position. But the club’s decision to consider Mills for Slauson’s spot isn’t an indictment on the second-year veteran’s performance through the first half of the season. Although it’s also no secret Mills struggled in his past two outings prior to missing Sunday’s game at New England.

Trestman said Mills’ potential move is about versatility.

"I think he could fit into any position, I really do," Trestman said. "We’ve had some discussions about it to see what is going to be best for our line with Matt moving out, and we’ll continue to do that. I’m leaving that open-ended. We’ll see where that goes."
It’s understandable if Chicago fans caught a case of Gronk envy Sunday when watching Rob Gronkowski put on a pass-catching clinic during New England’s 51-23 stomping of the Bears.

It’s probably unavoidable since Chicago’s roster features a player in Martellus Bennett with similar physical attributes to Gronkowski, which is why Bears coach Marc Trestman needs to find fresher ways to feature the tight end more prominently when he breaks down the tape during the bye week to evaluate the first eight games of the season, while devising a plan of attack for the team’s final eight outings.

Brandon Marshall would like to see more of Bennett as well as running back Matt Forte.

“Martellus Bennett’s a beast,” Marshall said Monday during “The Brandon Marshall Show” on ESPN 1000. “I don’t know if you guys have been noticing this kid, but this kid is maturing right before our eyes. This guy is really a beast. I would give it to those two guys, man, and let those guys carry the weight.”

Would Marshall be happy with a Bears attack emphasizing more Bennett and Forte?

“Absolutely not,” Marshall joked. “But it’s all about winning. You can have all the catches you want, but if you’re not winning, you’re probably going to be a sad guy if you really care about the game.”

Bennett led the Bears with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in the team’s loss Sunday at New England. The game marked the first time Bennett caught more than five balls in a game since the club’s Sept. 28 loss to the Green Bay Packers, a game in which the tight end hauled in a season-high nine passes for 134 yards.

Bennett scored four touchdowns and caught 20 passes over the first three games of the season, but has scored just one touchdown over the last five weeks.

Bears general manager Phil Emery on Monday discussed the need for the team to put “our best players in better matchup situations.” By not featuring Bennett more, the club isn’t doing that, as the tight end is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties.

“We’ve got to do a better job with our matchups,” Trestman said, “finding the right matchups, offensively, in terms of getting all of our players the opportunity to get the football in the manner that we would want them to.”

Henry Melton coming off his best game

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton enters Sunday's game against Arizona coming off one of his best games of the season.

Melton had two sacks, three tackles for loss and was credited with two quarterback hurries in Monday's overtime loss to Washington. Melton, who plays defensive tackle, was moved to defensive end on several plays against the Redskins to create some mismatches.

Melton
"It felt pretty good and I was moving around a little bit to trying to give me better looks and I was in position to make some plays," Melton said. "It felt good. It was something we looked at and said we were going to try and do in the game. I did it in practice a little bit and it transferred a little bit to the game."

This isn't the first time Melton was moved to end during a game. When Melton played for the Chicago Bears, then-defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, moved him around the defensive line to maximize his potential.

Melton was signed to become a starter at defensive tackle, but he's coming off the bench behind Tyrone Crawford. Melton was coming along slowly after his recovery from a torn ACL yet he's generating more pressures the past few weeks.

In addition to his two sacks, the first multi-sack game since the 2012 season opener, Melton has five quarterback pressures the last three weeks. If his health continues to improve the Cowboys expect him to have a bigger impact.

"It's an ongoing process," Melton said. "We'll see keeping my reps up and still working through it week-to-week. It felt pretty good."

Bears not viewing bye week as vacation

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discusses the effects of losing four of their last five games.

Face To Face: Alshon Jeffery

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Bears WR Alshon Jeffery shows off his high school basketball skills and sits courtside at a Chicago Bulls game with Hannah Storm.

The Film Don't Lie: Bears

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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A weekly look at what the Chicago Bears must fix:

Bears coach Marc Trestman discussed the need to find some balance offensively. In its loss to New England, Chicago called runs on five consecutive plays to start the game, but finished the contest with 25 runs and 35 passes because the Patriots built a 38-7 halftime lead, which forced the Bears to abandon the run. Moving forward, look for the Bears to work harder to establish Matt Forte and the run game, which will enable them to keep opponents off balance in third-and-short situations. Trestman also said the Bears plan to study ways to put their players in more advantageous matchups against opponents.

The Bears are on a bye this week, but they should be able to focus on the run on Nov. 9 in Green Bay as the Packers are allowing a league-worst 153.5 rushing yards per game.

One way the Bears can achieve balance is to utilize the pass-catchers on the team not named Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery. Against the Patriots, Cutler completed 3 of 9 passes for 35 yards and his lone interception while targeting Marshall, while hitting 17 of 21 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns throwing to the club's other targets. Cutler threw to Marshall and Jeffery 18 times, while targeting the other receivers a total of 17 times. What's the use in lining up in multiple-receiver sets if the opponent knows the quarterback will look only at Marshall and Jeffery?

Stock Watch: Forte continues to shine

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Matt ForteAP Photo/Elise AmendolaMatt Forte is an undeniable threat rushing and receiving. Will he get more touches going forward?

RISING

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1. Matt Forte: Forte touched the ball 25 times Sunday (19 carries for 114 yards, six receptions for 54) for 168 all-purpose yards, and scored the Chicago Bears' only non-garbage-time touchdown on a 25-yard catch in the second quarter. To label Forte as one of the lone bright spots in the humiliating 51-23 defeat at New England is an understatement. Forte has been the Bears’ best offensive player in the season's first half, period. The versatile tailback leads the team with 58 receptions, 562 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Forte has already topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage (1,052) and, with 490 receiving yards, is on pace to better the career high of 594 he set last season. He is the key to a second-half comeback, if one is possible. Give Forte to ball 30 times per game over the final eight weeks. Why not?

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2. Martellus Bennett: Bennett’s 20-yard touchdown reception in Sunday's third quarter is highlight-reel material. Seriously, it's a candidate for catch of the year, although it occurred when the Bears trailed 45-7. Bennett is an interesting guy to cover. He often comes across as petulant and immature, but his on-field talent is undeniable. It takes an army to tackle Bennett in the open field. He is tied for the Bears lead with five touchdown receptions and is second in receptions (47) and receiving yards (517). This will be the most productive season in Bennett’s seven-year NFL career, barring injury.

3. Kyle Fuller: Fuller never returned after leaving the game in the opening half, but at least he tried to gut it out. The rookie cornerback was active despite a broken right hand and a painful hip-pointer injury. That says a lot about Fuller's willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

4. Rob Gronkowski's dehydration: The Bears owe a debt of gratitude to whomever is responsible for the lack of fluids for Gronkowski (nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns). The Patriots probably score 70 points if the star tight end stays in the game.

FALLING

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1. Marc Trestman: Trestman acts professionally at all times. Some of his players, however, need to take a cue from the head coach. The Bears are inconsistent, undisciplined and occasionally downright petty. Instead of being so worried about fan behavior and media stories, how about the players focus on winning some football games? Trestman and the rest of his coaching staff work long hours. The Bears are not 3-5 due to a lack of effort. Trestman is always focused on the task at hand, sometimes to a fault. So where is the disconnect? The whole situation is troubling. The head coach needs a better handle on the locker room. My unsolicited advice is for Trestman to lean on some the true professionals on the roster -- Jermon Bushrod, Roberto Garza, Jared Allen, Willie Young, Ryan Mundy, Robbie Gould, etc. -- to figure out how to sharpen the club’s focus. The Bears have eight games to get it right. How many more will Trestman have after this season if the Bears once again fail to reach the postseason? It’s a fair question to ask in the cruel NFL landscape.

2. The entire defense: What a complete abomination the defense was on Sunday. Tom Brady completed 30 of 35 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns (zero interceptions) without being sacked a single time. Zero sacks and zero turnovers when it mattered. New England had 22 first downs and 298 total net yards in the first half alone. Gronkowski is still wide open. Not exactly sure I buy the theory that the Bears had “tight coverage” on Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell. It certainly looked as if multiple Patriots receivers were given free releases off the line of scrimmage for much of the game. We knew going into Sunday that the Bears' defense was overmatched. However, we all expected the unit to offer up more resistance, no?

3. Lamarr Houston: Come on, dude. Seriously?

4. Brandon Marshall: Marshall (10 targets, three catches for 35 yards in Week 8) is on pace for 68 catches for 768 yards. What is going on here? Marshall and Jay Cutler need to get on the same page, pronto.

Bears Stuck With Cutler?

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
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John Clayton breaks down why the Bears have no choice but to support Jay Cutler as their starting quarterback.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery responded on Monday to Brian Urlacher's refusal to label Jay Cutler as an elite quarterback by saying Urlacher enjoyed a mutually beneficial on-field relationship with Cutler for better parts of five seasons.

"No, it didn't bother me. Everybody is entitled to their thoughts and opinions," Emery said. "It did hit a research project for me, so I went back and looked at their time together on the field at the same time starting the game healthy, they played 38 games together and during those games, they were 26-12. So, they definitely won together. When Jay was off the field and Brian started, they were 1-6. When Jay was on the field without Brian, they were 9-12. So the only thing that I can get from all that is they were really good for each other. They're both fine football players, lead in their own way and are both great for the organization. So, no, it didn't bother me."

Urlacher
Urlacher questioned the validity of including Cutler in the conversation of elite NFL quarterbacks during an interview last week with 87.7 The Game in Chicago.

"Financially, he is one of the elite guys in the NFL. ...He just hasn't produced like an elite quarterback," Urlacher said.

"You look at the Bradys, the Mannings, the Rodgers, the Brees, those guys win every year, even with no one around them. Rodgers has no offensive line. He wins. [Tom] Brady has no receivers. He wins.

Cutler
"And you look at Jay. He's got Brandon [Marshall], Alshon [Jeffery], Matt [Forte], this great offensive line, Martellus Bennett, and they can't seem to put it together, for some reason. I'm not sure if that's his fault, but for some reason, they just can't figure it out."

Cutler has a base salary of $22.5 million this season ($5 million was converted into a signing bonus in March) as part of a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension he signed earlier this year, putting him at the top of the list of quarterback salaries in 2014.

Despite committing 12 turnovers (eight interceptions and four lost fumbles) in eight games, Bears coach Marc Trestman praised Cutler’s worth ethic and leadership on Monday. Cutler has completed 197-of-293 pass attempts (67.2 completion percentage) for 2,093 yards, 17 touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 95.8.

"His leadership has been at a premium through all of this on a consistent basis throughout the season," Trestman said. "We have to help him more in terms of playing better complementary football, giving him more of a run game and that goes to complementary football again. And that means everybody working together to get that done. But I think there's a lot of positives here and we're going to work to try and negate some of the negatives that we do see, that we want him to get better at."

Fantasy: Ask The Insiders

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
4:23
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Matthew Berry discusses wide receivers to buy and sell this week.

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