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Tice lauds offense’s aggressiveness

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 24, 2012 – 12:41 pm

The offense’s performance in Monday night’s 13-7 win over the Lions wasn’t a thing of beauty, but coordinator Mike Tice was pleased with the unit’s aggressive approach and physical play.

“It’s not always pretty,” Tice said Wednesday. “We’re right now not the prettiest offense in the world, but the way the guys got after the opponent and finished … that’s the way we want to play.

“I feel like the last two weeks, the last three years I’ve been here is the most physical that the offense has been. I didn’t say it was the best, but the most physical.”

After rushing for 114, 94, 103 and 93 yards in their first four games of the season, the Bears have generated 214 and 171 yards in their last two contests against the Jaguars and Lions.

“We identified a couple weeks ago that we were getting in too big a rush to get the guards up to the linebackers and not taking care of the down linemen well enough,” Tice said. “I think the last couple weeks we’ve done a better job of that.”

As the Bears prepare to host the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Tice has targeted two areas to improve: red-zone efficiency and production on first down.

While the Bears are one of only two NFL teams to score on all of their red-zone possessions this season, they rank 25th in the league in touchdown percentage (43.8) with 7 TDs on 16 drives. They’re dead last in the NFL in average gain on first down at 4.11 yards.

“We’re excited that the run game is getting going, but I’d like to see us be a little more efficient,” Tice said. “We have got to do better on first downs and finish drives in the red zone. And we’ll continue to work diligently on that.”

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Bears face ‘heck of a challenge’

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 18, 2012 – 6:11 pm

The Bears offensive line will face a difficult test Monday night against an aggressive Lions defensive line comprised of Cliff Avril, Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

“This will be one heck of a challenge against this front,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. “Anybody that plays against this front and doesn’t account for the fact that they could take over a game would be foolish.

“Hopefully we won’t be foolish and we’ll have answers—as many as we can—for as hard as they play, as dynamic as they play, as aggressive as they play and as long as they play. They play through the whistle. So this will be a great challenge for us.”

With Avril and Vanden Bosch lining up at end and Fairley and Suh at tackle, the Lions boast four dangerous pass rushers who must be accounted for.

“They’re good,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “They get after the quarterback. What they have is not only guys on the outside, but those two inside can get a push. Whenever you feel pressure on the outside and you step up, they’re getting a push in there. There is not a lot of room to operate, so it’s a big challenge for us.”

Avril leads the Lions with 3.5 sacks, while Suh and Vanden Bosch have 2.5 apiece.

“What I’ve seen from their defensive line is a front four that can play the run and that can rush the passer,” said coach Lovie Smith. “They don’t have to blitz an awful lot because of the pressure that they can generate from that four-man rush.”

“They’re real tough, and they give us problems,” Tice said. “We have to compete every play as hard as we can and make sure we’re sound in our schemes, make sure we know where our help is up front in protection, and we have to be able to run the ball too and mix it up.”

Tice acknowledged that the Bears will have to make some adjustments in their game plan.

“There are a number of different types of plays that have to be thrown out,” he said. “Anything where Jay is holding onto the football, we have to be careful how much of those type things we have in. We have to be rhythmic. You can look at the teams that have played Detroit. They’re getting the ball out or they’re blocking a whole heck of a lot of bodies in there. But you have to run the ball too.”

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Bears counting on Hester, Bennett

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 18, 2012 – 3:22 pm

With rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery recovering from a hand injury, veterans Devin Hester and Earl Bennett will both likely help fill the void Monday night against the Lions.

Hester has seven receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown this season. After not catching a pass in back-to-back games against the Packers and Rams, the seven-year veteran had five receptions for 87 yards in wins over the Cowboys and Jaguars.

“We haven’t really used him in some of the areas that we wanted to use him,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. “But we’re only a couple games into this thing. We’ve got a long way to go. So we’re going to try to continue to grow his package. His package is going to grow just by the sheer fact that we lost Alshon this week.”

Bennett is expected to return Monday night after missing two games with a hand injury. He caught six passes for 82 yards in the first three contests of the season. Bennett has been especially effective on third down. In his last 22 games dating back to 2010, he has caught 20 passes on third down, converting 19 of them into first downs.

Jeffery was injured Oct. 7 while catching a 10-yard touchdown pass in the Bears’ 41-3 win over the Jaguars. The second-round pick has 14 receptions for 184 yards and two TDs this season.

“Alshon was coming on,” Tice said. “It’s unfortunate. That’s part of the NFL. We lose a good young player. But getting Earl back is going to be a good boost for us, and hopefully we can get Hester going a little bit. Of course, it’s a little different. Alshon’s a big-body guy and can body-up on people and body-up on smaller corners. But that’s just the NFL, so we have to move forward.”

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Marshall, Johnson on collision course

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 18, 2012 – 2:05 pm

Tied for ninth in the NFL with 35 receptions, game-breaking receivers Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson will battle for bragging rights Monday night when the Bears host the Lions.

“Two No. 1 receivers you’re going to see on the field Monday night, they’re about as good as you’re going to see in the league this year,” said coach Lovie Smith. “That should be worth coming to the game just to watch the two of these guys play.”

In his last two games, Marshall has caught 19 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first Bears receiver to top 100 yards in back-to-back contests since 1999. He’s not, however, viewing Monday night’s game as a one-on-one battle with Johnson.

“I just have to be the best wide receiver for the Chicago Bears and play my role,” Marshall said. “If it’s catching 10 balls one week of if it’s two or three the next week and blocking in the run game, it’s the same for me.”

Johnson has compiled 558 yards in five games this season, but has scored only one touchdown. Last year the Lions star had 96 receptions for a NFL-high 1,681 yards and 16 TDs.

“He’s as advertised,” Marshall said. “On my iPad I have probably the top 10 receivers. I won’t mention who’s in my top 10, but he’s definitely one of them. I really like what he’s doing. I really like where his career’s headed. He had an amazing year last year, so a lot of guys are trying to keep up with the pace that he set.”

In the Bears’ 37-13 win over the Lions last Nov. 13 at Soldier Field, Johnson was targeted 19 times but had just seven receptions for 81 yards. Cornerback Charles Tillman did an excellent job containing him, breaking up two passes and returning an interception 44 yards for a touchdown.

“We’ll have to be able to slow him down a little bit,” Smith said. “We’ll have to in order to be able to win the football game. This isn’t a new team we’re playing. They have great talent over there, but we played them before, so we feel pretty good about our chances just like they do.”

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Cutler making plays out of pocket

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 5, 2012 – 4:01 pm

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler learned how to throw accurately on the run out of necessity.

“In college we really didn’t block that well,” said Cutler, who played for Vanderbilt in the rugged SEC. “I was always on the run, so I got a lot of practice.”

That practice is paying off in the NFL. Since Cutler was sacked seven times in a loss to the Packers, he has excelled at executing some designed rollouts called by first-year coordinator Mike Tice.

“He can throw the ball on the run with the best of them,” Tice said. “Changing that launch point for us is really good because having a guy sitting back there as a sitting target, i.e. the Green Bay game, is not a great thing against real good pass rush teams.

“Moving him around is really good for the pocket and changing the launch point. It’s also good for your run game too because it slows down that backside pursuit.”

How often Tice calls those types of plays in the future depends on how defenses play the Bears.

“It’s just game-by-game,” Cutler said. “It depends if the ends are getting up field. Mike’s definitely aware of that and wants to get out more and more. It helps the offensive line getting that passing target off me and kind of moving the pocket. It’s a point of emphasis. We’ll see how it goes.”

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Gould giving Bears leg to stand on

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 5, 2012 – 3:01 pm

The Bears continue to rely on the strong right leg of kicker Robbie Gould.

The eight-year veteran has made all eight field goals he has attempted this season, including a 54-yarder, and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 16 touchbacks on kickoffs.

Gould has connected on nine straight field goal tries from 50 yards and beyond since 2010. He is 12 of 14 from that distance the past four seasons after going 0 of 2 in his first four campaigns.

“Technically, he’s really good, but we didn’t give him a lot of opportunities [early in his career],” said special teams coordinator Dave Toub. “I think he always had the ability to do it. We kind of held him back a little bit. We were kind of playing field position a little bit more.”

After recording 43 touchbacks last season, Gould is on pace for 64 this year.

“He’s really in a groove right now,” Toub said. “He’s hitting it well. The trajectory of his ball right now, it’s going out of the back of the end zone at a 3.7. As the weather gets colder, he’s going to have to try to get a little bit more hang time because he won’t be able to drive the ball as far. But right now he’s in a groove and we want to keep it going.”

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Podlesh excited to face former team

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 5, 2012 – 1:07 pm

In his second year with the Bears after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Jaguars, punter Adam Podlesh is eager to return to Jacksonville for Sunday’s game against his former team.

“I’m excited. It’s going to be good to be back there,” Podlesh said. “I have a lot of friends and family there. Unfortunately, my wife’s not going to be able to come because she’s about [to give birth to] our first kid. But regardless, it’ll be a good time down memory lane.”

Podlesh excelled in his first season with the Bears last year, setting a franchise record with a 40.4-yard net punting average while establishing career highs in punts (89), yards (3,902) and gross average (43.9). He also landed 21 punts inside-the-20 with only four touchbacks.

Podlesh stays in contact with several former teammates who still play for the Jaguars.

“I keep in touch with a good handful of the players,” Podlesh said. “[Kicker] Josh Scobee was a groomsman in my wedding, and I talk to [long-snapper] Jeremy Cain. The three of us used to hang out a decent amount before I departed for Chicago, so it’ll be good seeing them again.”

After missing the final two preseason games with a hip flexor injury, Podlesh has recorded gross and net averages of 43.0 and 38.1 yards, respectively, so far this season.

“Coming off the injury, he’s getting better each week,” said special teams coordinator Dave Toub. “I have seen signs in practice. He’s starting to bang the ball with a little bit more power. We’re looking for a good week from him.”

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Winning trumps everything for Marshall

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 4, 2012 – 4:45 pm

In seven NFL seasons, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has smashed records and been voted to three Pro Bowls. But for someone who has never been part of a team that has qualified for the playoffs, winning trumps all individual accomplishments.

“I want the ball all the time,” Marshall said. “I want the ball every single play. But I’m wiser now. I know there are going to be weeks where a team is just going to take me out of the game. There may be weeks where Alshon [Jeffery] may be hot. There may be one-on-one coverage all around the board, but it may be Alshon’s day or Devin [Hester's] day.

“As long as we’re winning games, I’m happy. I have a nice contract. I’m on a nice team. I’m pretty secure. The only thing I don’t have is wins. That’s what checks my ego at the door is being in this position and knowing that we have a chance to win and do big things.

“At the end of the day, whether I put up 100 catches or 80, as long as we’re winning that’s all that matters. Now I do know the NFL is all about production-what have you done for me lately-so I’ve got to keep myself in position to make those plays when it comes to me.”

With 23 receptions for 352 yards through four games, Marshall is on pace for 1,408 yards, which would eclipse Marcus Robinson’s Bears record of 1,400 yards set in 1999.

While Marshall understands that quarterback Jay Cutler isn’t going to regularly throw the ball into double and triple coverage, the 6-4, 230-pound receiver is confident that he can consistently win one-on-one battles with cornerbacks.

Marshall has done just that in the last two games, snatching jump balls away from the Rams’ Cortland Finnegan and the Cowboys’ Brandon Carr for receptions of 34 and 30 yards, respectively.

“God blessed me with a big frame,” Marshall said. “Since I’ve been in the league I’ve never been a guy who has three and four yards separation. That’s not my game.

“My game is putting myself in position where I’m between the ball and the defensive back so when a ball is in the air I pride myself on just making that play almost like a rebounder on the basketball court. I don’t expect to get huge separation. I’m not Devin Hester. I’m not fast. But I do try to take advantage of what I do have, and that’s my size.”

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Peppers, Urlacher sit out practice

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 4, 2012 – 3:13 pm

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (ankle), middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (coach’s decision) and rookie fullback Evan Rodriguez (knee) did not practice Thursday in advance of Sunday’s road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Receiver Earl Bennett (hand) and running back Matt Forte (ankle) were limited.

For the Jaguars, receiver Laurent Robinson (concussion) and linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) did not practice; and defensive end George Selvie (knee) was limited.

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Spaeth doesn’t get credit he deserves

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 4, 2012 – 2:42 pm

Matt Spaeth doesn’t garner the same amount of attention as stars Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. But that doesn’t mean the tight end isn’t a valuable member of the Bears offense.

“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Cutler said. “Week-in and week-out he’s a guy you can count on no matter what we ask him to do. He’s a grinder. He’s a hard worker and I really appreciate what he does out there for us.”

A sixth-year pro who spent four seasons with the Steelers before joining the Bears in 2011, Spaeth is an accomplished blocker. In Monday night’s win over the Cowboys, his pass-blocking helped render Cowboys Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware a virtual non-factor.

“Matt is a role tight end, similar to what I was when I played,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. “He’s never going to go out and catch 12 balls. But he’s going to have a very important part in our run game, a very important part in our protection game.

“Every once in a while he’ll catch a crumb, and that’s just his role. But he’s very important in what we’re doing. We’re running the ball a lot with him in there. We’re play-actioning a lot with him in there, and then we utilized him a bunch in the chip game.

“His technique was better all week in practice last week. I thought he had his best practice, and he is one of the players that carried that over to the game, so we were pleased with his performance.”

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