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Justin Fields to Darnell Mooney. Why one ‘routine’ big play from the preseason win gives the Chicago Bears offense confidence.

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Justin Fields To Darnell Mooney. Why One ‘Routine’ Big Play From The Preseason Win Gives The Chicago Bears Offense Confidence.
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On the Chicago Bears’ second offensive series of the preseason, on a third-down play from their 38-yard line, quarterback Justin Fields broke the huddle and set himself in the shotgun with positive vibes.

Fields scanned the Kansas City Chiefs defense, recognized the man coverage he would be facing and identified a matchup he loved with his favorite receiver Darnell Mooney in the slot to the left against cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

“I pretty much knew what was going to happen,” Fields said.

Roll the tape.

With a look he loved and enough protection in front of him, Fields hit the top of his five-step drop and launched — on time and in rhythm. Mooney, with a crisp outside release on a fade route, got a bit of a pick from fellow receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and created separation. Fields’ ball was on Mooney’s back shoulder, requiring a slight adjustment but keeping safety Juan Thornhill at bay.

Mooney twisted, jumped and hauled in the football for a gain of 26 yards.

“I think Darnell knew where I was going to put that ball,” Fields said.

Added Mooney: “I just went and grabbed it. We had an opportunity to make ourselves a play. And it was nice to get that in game-like conditions going against some other guys.”

In terms of yardage gained, that was the Bears’ biggest play from scrimmage in their 19-14 victory at Soldier Field, a 26-yard chunk play that brought the crowd to life — at least for a few moments. An argument could be made that that deep shot was also the team’s biggest play as far as future potential is concerned.

Look, August in the NFL is always a search for promising signs. And that Fields-to-Mooney connection Saturday qualified as one bright spot during an afternoon in which the rebuilding Bears looked very much like a team with a long, long way to go to compete at the highest level.

Still, when the chemistry between the quarterback and the top receiver is evident, it’s at least a little something to feel good about, right?

“I think that was a routine play for us,” Fields said. “It was, of course, a great catch by (Mooney). But we’ve seen that many times. So it was no surprise.”

That’s a significant big-picture goal for Fields and the offense, to more consistently feel like their big plays are routine. And with four weeks left until the regular season begins, the established and still-growing connection between Fields and Mooney remains noteworthy.

“It feels great,” Fields said. “It’s just knowing how he’s going to run the route, how he’s going to work the defender, where he’s going to end up. Just the chemistry between us two and the work put in in the offseason, that shows right there.”

To be clear, the production of the Bears’ first-unit offense Saturday was far from spectacular and barely satisfactory. Fields took 18 snaps over three possessions with the Bears managing all of 78 yards and four first downs.

The drive chart — punt, punt, punt — felt all-too familiar and registers as at least moderately concerning.

From the start of training camp through Saturday’s victory, there has been little evidence to believe that a significant offensive breakthrough is coming anytime soon. But internally, the baby-stepping Bears are eagerly identifying things they can build on.

Coach Matt Eberflus, for one, applauded the way Fields operated, handling the huddle and showing a feel for the game.

Mooney recognized the offense was playing behind a work-in-progress line without the services of receivers Byron Pringle, Velus Jones and N’Keal Harry, who are out with injuries. In addition, starting running back David Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet sat out.

“Definitely a lot of guys missing right now,” Mooney said. “But with the guys who are here, I feel like we executed well. I’m interested to see (on video) how smooth it was.”

If the Bears wanted a glimpse of what they’re one day striving to become, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes happily obliged. Overseeing just one drive Saturday — and really just looking to break a sweat and relax — Mahomes took the Chiefs on an 11-play, 72-yard march into Soldier Field’s north end zone.

Bing, bang, boom.

The 2018 league MVP and Super Bowl LIV champion spread his six completions around to six receivers and finished the series with a 5-yard screen pass to tight end Blake Bell for a touchdown.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Mahomes said.

Perhaps one day, Fields and the Bears will be able to expect similar efficiency and ease in how they carve up opposing defenses. But for now, they’re in a different stage of the grind with a less experienced quarterback learning a new system with so many new faces all around.

To Fields’ credit, his first-blush review of the early offensive output was appropriately subdued.

“I think it went all right,” he said. “There’s always room to improve.”

Fields was asked what he was most looking forward to dialing in on when he had his first chance to review the 18 plays.

“I’ve got to dissect every play,” he said. “Go back to my rules. What am I supposed to do on this play? (Look at) protection and stuff like that. It’s just being process-driven and making sure I did my job.”

For an NFL starting quarterback with the grandest of ambitions, the celebration of 26-yard completions can go only so far when points aren’t added to the scoreboard.

So Fields would be the first to acknowledge that the Bears’ climb barely has gotten started.

He did add another crowd-pleasing completion late in the first quarter, recognizing extra Chiefs pressure coming before the snap, adjusting the protection, then hitting Tajae Sharpe on the right sideline to convert third-and-9.

“Justin did a great job of putting it in a spot where only I could get to it,” Sharpe said.

Much of the Bears fan base reacted similarly.

Hurray! Now … more of that. Much more.

For the record, the Bears scored all 19 of their points after halftime with backup quarterback Trevor Siemian leading two touchdown drives and a short-field field-goal series. Siemian hit rookie Trestan Ebner with a 12-yard touchdown pass over the middle and later connected with Dazz Newsome for a 13-yard score.

Cairo Santos added field goals of 20 and 47 yards to punctuate the victory.

Now the Bears will flip the page with training camp practices Monday and Tuesday followed by a second preseason game Thursday night in Seattle against the Seahawks. At this stage in the growing process, Fields and the offense must take all their victories, however small they might be, and pocket them without apology. But they also must demand more of themselves, striving to produce big plays and bright moments far more frequently.

Said Fields: “We’re just going to keep working, keep stacking days and continue to get better with the small details.”

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Chicago Bears Q&A: Why does OC Luke Getsy have a conservative approach? Why didn’t GM Ryan Poles get another receiver?

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Chicago Bears Q&Amp;A: Why Does Oc Luke Getsy Have A Conservative Approach? Why Didn’t Gm Ryan Poles Get Another Receiver?
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The Chicago Bears take a 2-2 record to Minnesota for Sunday’s NFC North battle with the Vikings. The Tribune’s Brad Biggs answers questions about the conservative offense, the porous run defense, the still-developing offensive line and more in his weekly Bears mailbag.

Luke Getsy has severely underwhelmed so far as offensive coordinator. Is this level of conservative play-calling what we’re in for during his tenure or are we going to see an evolution of a playbook that eventually leads to more explosive plays? — @hockeyfrank26

There was a handful of questions about that this week, and it was a fair question after the first three games. It was Air Getsy on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and anyone suggesting the Bears were too conservative against the New York Giants probably wasn’t tracking the play distribution.

Quarterback Justin Fields attempted 22 passes, ran the ball seven times and was sacked six times. One of the seven rushing attempts might have come on a run-pass option, although it was designated as a “scramble” in the game book. Let’s call it a designed run play off an RPO. In that case, there were 34 called passing plays and 26 runs (19 handoffs to Khalil Herbert, six to Trestan Ebner and the Fields RPO run). The way the offensive line has been run blocking, that seems like a fairly aggressive game plan.

The issue is the Bears are not executing offensively. The passing game has struggled when Fields has been pressured and when he has had time. He has been very inconsistent operating in the pocket, and until that improves, it will be bumpy. You’re correct that this offense has had a critical lack of explosive plays. But it wasn’t because the Bears were hesitant to use pass plays on the call sheet.

It’s tough for Getsy to expand the playbook, too, when the Bears are struggling to sustain drives. Fields is completing less than 51% of his passes, and I’m not sure the “Let Justin cook” crowd would be real pleased with the results if the Bears started chucking it a lot more. They need to devise game plans that put them in the best position to compete and then execute them. Against the Giants, that led to throwing the ball and the Bears had a couple of nice plays and probably more missed opportunities.

Much has been said about the defense being in need of more playmakers and quality depth. That aside, the most immediate fixes may be in the schemes and individual matchups set up by the defensive coordinator. The Packers and the Giants beat them both physically and with well-designed and executed plays. Now that there are four weeks of film for opponents to study, do you think opposing offensive coordinators have found the weak spots and are exploiting them schematically? Or is it a matter of their guys beating our guys or our linebackers not setting up the alignments correctly, or all of the above? — Chris R., Midlothian

When a defense is being consistently trampled — and that is where the Bears are, allowing a league-high 183.3 rushing yards per game — it is everything. It’s scheme, personnel and execution. The scheme makes the Bears susceptible to the run as they ask the defensive linemen to penetrate first. But the Bears made adjustments against the Giants and were not just sitting in a Tampa-2 shell against an offense that wasn’t going to throw much.

The Bears need to overhaul their personnel on the defensive line, and that’s a point I tried to make after the game. You can’t look at this roster and say the Bears just need to fix the offensive line and get better wide receivers for the quarterback. They need to improve their front seven and get some difference makers. They will have a tough time defending the run all season, and when they encounter teams with good running backs and good passing games, they will be in conflict.

Look at the Minnesota Vikings this week. They have Dalvin Cook in the backfield and arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Justin Jefferson. The defense needs to be better at the point of attack and the linebackers need to play with better eye discipline so they’re not gashed on quarterback bootlegs.

What makes the “play action” part of a play-action passing game so difficult for some QBs? Aaron Rodgers and Daniel Jones (at least on Sunday) did a great job with a fake handoff to freeze the linebackers. Others are awful. Justin Fields’ fake handoff typically is nowhere near the running back and therefore has little to no impact on the D. Thoughts? — Jim A., Plymouth, Minn.

For play action to work at its best, the running game and passing game have to match each other. The beginning of the play needs to look like a run in terms of formation, alignment, down and distance. Play-action passing becomes particularly effective when an offense can break its tendencies. In other words, it gets aggressive throwing the ball on downs that it typically runs. It flips the script and takes a shot when the defense has data and information that suggest a run is coming.

The best play-action throwers, and Rodgers is certainly one of those, are able to anticipate and see windows and throw with location — not accuracy. Accuracy is when you are talking about the pass being completed. Location is ball placement. That’s when a quarterback hits a receiver in stride and a 12-yard dig route can turn into a 25-yard gain because the receiver is immediately in position to get upfield. When Rodgers hits his back foot, the ball is coming out. Timing and rhythm are there.

Jones isn’t a polished play-action thrower, but he’s good with sleight of hand and hiding the ball, and with Saquon Barkley in the backfield, he grabs the eyes of defenders. Linebackers are taking two steps downhill and now they have to backtrack when the quarterback keeps the ball. The problem the Bears had is their edge or force defenders did not play with good eye discipline, and that left them vulnerable to Jones escaping on the edge and really gashing them.

The Bears don’t have great timing and rhythm in their play-action game, and when Fields throws it, too often he’s late in letting the ball rip.

Justin Fields must feel like instead of being drafted in the NFL, he transferred to a Division II school. Is there any offense in the NFL with less proven, less high-profile offensive players than the Bears? Whether you look at O-line (with Cody Whitehair injured), WR, TE or RB, the Bears have to be near the bottom in aggregate starting salary by position group. Fields needs to make lemonade out of lemons in this offense. — Bob B., Chicago

Did you get a good luck at the Giants depth chart on offense Sunday? With the injuries they have at wide receiver, I would take the Bears group. That isn’t saying a whole lot, but you’re not exactly breaking new ground here. The Bears need a lot of new personnel on offense. We knew that when training camp opened, we saw it in the preseason and it’s even more glaring now during the regular season.

It’s well-documented that Justin Fields hangs on to the ball too long. Is this a symptom of the limited offensive skill players and their inability to get open (we don’t get the downfield view on TV) or his ineffectiveness with reads and progressions? — John P.

It’s a function of a lot of things. Fields is still inexperienced with only 14 career starts. The Bears have talent issues at wide receiver and on the offensive line. In a timing-based system — and all passing offenses require excellent timing — it can be problematic when the ball doesn’t come out with rhythm.

Sometimes, though, when Fields holds the ball too long, it leads to big plays. Those are the off-schedule plays that can turn into huge gains. We’ve seen more of those turn into runs, but there was the long touchdown pass to Dante Pettis against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 that was the result of a broken play.

I think we will start to see more explosive plays in the passing game that are a result of Fields holding on to the ball and waiting for something to come open downfield. He needs to keep his eyes up and climb the pocket better. When that happens, the Bears should see improved results.

I like the realistic route Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus have taken in inheriting the Ryan Pace roster and financial situation. That said, I struggle to understand how they could’ve taken such an inactive approach to improving the wide receiver position in Year 1. I get that Justin Fields isn’t their guy in that they didn’t draft him. But if you’re kicking the tires on his rookie deal, don’t you get a few people around him who can make plays to see what you’ve walked into? They let Allen Robinson go, fine. But Byron Pringle is just a guy and Velus Jones Jr. was a stretch. Darnell Mooney isn’t a true game-changer. Why wouldn’t the Bears have at least tried to bring in a guy like Christian Kirk or JuJu Smith-Schuster to help Fields develop? It seems like with a few weapons this team could be playoff-caliber. — Jeff G., Palmetto Bay, Fla.

Fair question. The first thing I would say is the list of available free-agent wide receivers back in March wasn’t great. Robinson, who clearly wanted to head elsewhere, was one of the top options. Kirk, whom you referenced, signed a huge deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that was roundly criticized. Just as you submit that Mooney isn’t a game-changer, I don’t think Kirk is either, and $72 million over four years is a huge payday. Kirk has been productive for the Jaguars with 20 receptions for 327 yards and three touchdowns, so maybe that contract doesn’t look quite as bad as some thought at the time.

I would put Smith-Schuster in a similar category as Pringle. I’m not sure they are very different, and Smith-Schuster has been banged up a little in recent years. He’s definitely not a difference-maker. Chris Godwin was destined to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Los Angeles Chargers moved to re-sign Mike Williams. The Dallas Cowboys re-signed Michael Gallup, who was injured, and after that you were looking at guys like D.J. Chark. The big wide receiver moves of the offseason were made in the trade market, and I can understand Poles wanting to have his top draft picks in 2023.

You raise a valid point and it’s a fair criticism of the team’s approach to this season, but you have to consider the reality that there simply wasn’t a big supply of receivers in free agency and definitely not guys I would look at and say, “You sign him and you’re getting a legitimate No. 1.” The Bears have to completely remake this position in the offseason, and it will be interesting to see what moves they make.

What is your opinion on the handling of Teven Jenkins this season? He has appeared to be the best lineman, but this coaching staff seems to treat him more as a stopgap rather than a long-term piece. I’d like to hear your thoughts. — @danheinz3

We are four games into a rebuilding season with a new coaching staff and front office, and while I know people want immediate answers, it’s unusual when you get those in evaluating football players. Jenkins has looked good and has got a chance to get significantly better. I was skeptical if the move to right guard would work, especially considering the time he missed during training camp. I was wrong.

It’s still a new position for Jenkins, and the coaches are setting a standard for practice and games. Matt Eberflus told us Lucas Patrick was moved into the starting role because Jenkins had a poor Wednesday practice, but they didn’t push him to the side. He continued to rotate in every two series with Patrick. Let’s see how last year’s second-round draft pick performs over an entire season. Then we will have a much better idea if he’s part of the future on the line or just a guy who is in there until an upgrade can be acquired.

What wide receiver do you think the Bears will aggressively pursue before the trade deadline? — @chi_773ale

Do you really think a wide receiver who can be a difference-maker for the Bears beyond the second half of this season would be available in a trade? Unless the Bears are in the race for a playoff spot near the end of October, what would be the point of being an aggressive buyer in the trade market? To what end? The Bears would have to spend 2023 draft picks to make a move, and then I would be answering mailbag questions from January through March about why they used draft capital on a position at which they might be better off drafting talent. This is not the season to be an aggressive buyer when it comes to trades. I could see the Bears being an aggressive seller, but I’m not sure who they have to deal. It’s something to keep an eye on the next few weeks.

When will they figure out the O-line? They can’t keep rotating guys in and out, playing different positions. Set the best players in their spots and let’s go. — @jht728

The offensive line had an especially rough game against a Giants defense that can be unpredictable with unscouted looks and different pressures, something defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is known for. I thought the offensive line, relative to how it played last season and the skepticism about the unit during training camp and the preseason, was OK through the first three games. Did the line play great? No. Was it terrible? No. It was improved over last season and better than I expected. Any critique of the offensive line has to point out the team is third in the league in rushing, averaging 177.3 yards per game, and fourth with 5.2 yards per carry.

Just like the Bears are evaluating quarterback Justin Fields to determine how he figures into their future, they are going through the same process with the offensive line. Sure, they would love to feel great about five starters right now, or even four, but you have to understand where they are coming from in installing a new offense. I believe line coach Chris Morgan has done a pretty good job to this point, and there’s reason to believe this unit can get better as the season unfolds.

Will there be more rocky weeks the rest of the way? Probably. It’s unrealistic to think the Bears won’t have issues against some of the top front sevens. Fields was sacked 10 times through the first three games, more than the Bears would like but not an alarming total. Go back and watch those plays, and there was a chance for him to avoid the sack on at least four of them and to do so with a check-down completion on a couple.

The broken right thumb Lucas Patrick suffered at the start of training camp forced the Bears to adjust. That happens. He has rotated with Teven Jenkins at right guard, and with Cody Whitehair likely out for at least a few weeks — Whitehair could land on injured reserve this week — the rotation is done for the time being. I think you will see Patrick at left guard and Jenkins at right guard Sunday in Minnesota. Center Sam Mustipher had a rough game against the Giants. Based on how he played the first three weeks, he should bounce back against the Vikings.

Other than PR/KR, how much do you think Velus Jones Jr. will play next week? — @topofthemorrow

We’ll have to see. Jones didn’t play on offense against the Giants. I imagine he could get a little time against the Vikings, and the Bears would be wise to seek ways to get him the ball in space. I don’t think we will see him play a ton of snaps, though. He has missed a lot of practice time since mid-August with his hamstring injury. But finding packages to use him should be a priority.

The pass rush has been lackluster or nonexistent throughout four games. What’s the problem? Miss Khalil Mack? — @just_acy

The problem is pretty evident. The Bears are not stopping the run. When you don’t defend the run well — the Bears rank last in the NFL — you don’t earn the opportunity to rush the passer. You can complain about the pass rush in the loss to the Giants, but how many legitimate chances were there to get after Daniel Jones or Tyrod Taylor? Five? Six?

The Bears actually rank 13th in the league in sacks per pass attempt at 6.93%. So it’s not nearly as bad as you think. It’s just that they hardly are getting any chances to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback — and they won’t until they do a better job of stopping the run and forcing opponents into second- or third-and-long situations. Of course the Bears would be better with Mack, but this isn’t a woulda, coulda, shoulda world.

I get that it was the preseason, but I don’t even see any whiffs of the type of offense we saw in the first half against Cleveland. Where did that game plan go? Were things really that different in the preseason game to throw all that out the window once the games counted? — @mosconml

You also didn’t see any of the Browns’ best defensive players on the field in that first half. Justin Fields and the Bears offense might look like that if teams would sit five of their best defensive players like the Browns did in that game. It was basically a first-team offense against a second-team defense.

If the over/under is 130 on Dalvin Cook’s running yards this week, are you thinking over or under? — @mike__chicago

That’s a really high figure, even against a porous run defense. The Bears have done a nice job against Cook in seven career games. That was under a different scheme with some different personnel. Cook has 130 carries for 480 yards (3.7 per attempt) with two touchdowns against the Bears. He did run for 132 yards on 24 carries on Dec. 20, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium, a game the Bears won 33-27.

Cook has not gone over 100 rushing yards this season and has topped 130 only once in his last 13 starts with a 205-yard effort in a Week 14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. The challenge is keeping Cook from running loose while also not allowing wide receiver Justin Jefferson to beat them over the top. Cook will get his yards, but the Bears need to eliminate explosive runs. I’d go under just because that’s a pretty big number.

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Aaron Judge timeline: From Baby Bomber to Yankees super slugger

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Aaron Judge Timeline: From Baby Bomber To Yankees Super Slugger
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April 26, 1992: Born in Linden, Calif.

June 6, 2013: Drafted by Yankees in first round of MLB Draft (No. 32 overall)

Aug. 13, 2016: Hits first career home run in first MLB at-bat against Rays starter Matt Andriese and goes 2-for-4 on the day.

Sept. 14, 2016: Ruled out for the remainder of the 2016 season due to an oblique injury.

April 2, 2017: Starts in right field on Opening Day against the Rays after winning the job in spring training. Bats eighth and goes 1-for-4 with a double.

May 22, 2017: Yankees debut “Judge’s Chambers” in right field stands at Yankee Stadium against the Kansas City Royals.

July 11, 2017: Named an All-Star starter after hitting .329 with 30 homers and 75 RBI during breakout rookie season. Bats third for the American League.

Sept. 25, 2017: Breaks all-time rookie home run record with No. 50 off of Trevor Cahill in multi-homer game vs. Royals. Ends the season with 52.

Oct. 3, 2017: Hits first career postseason home run off of Jose Berrios in AL Wild Card game against Twins. Judge and his fellow Baby Bombers go on to reach ALCS, losing to Astros in seven games.

Nov. 16, 2017: Finishes second in AL MVP voting behind Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve.

July 17, 2018: Starts second-straight All-Star game. Hits a home run off of Max Scherzer in Nationals Park.

Aug. 28, 2019: Hits 100th career home run against Mariners off of Yusei Kikuchi. Third-fastest player in MLB history to reach 100 home runs.

Sept. 29, 2019: Hits 27th and final home run of the season off of Lance Lynn. Plays just 102 games due to another oblique injury (suffered vs. Royals in April).

2020 Season: Hits just nine home runs in COVID-19 shortened 60-game season. Plays in 28 regular season games due to a calf injury.

July 13, 2021: Named to third career MLB All-Star game, first since 2018. Starts in right field and bats fourth.

Sept. 30, 2021: Hits two homers off of Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray to reach 39 homers for the season. Slashes .287/.373/.544.

April 7, 2022: Judge turns down seven-year, $213.5 million contract extension from Yankees. Set to become a free agent after 2022 season.

June 24, 2022: Judge and the Yankees finally settle on ‘22 contract to avoid arbitration hearing. Judge gets $19 million.

July 19, 2022: Named All-Star starter for the fourth time in his career after slashing .284/.364/.618 and hitting 33 home runs.

July 30, 2022: Hits 200th career home run in 671st career game. Second-fastest player in MLB history to reach 200 home runs.

Sept. 7, 2022: Hits 55th home run of the season breaking Yankees’ all-time home run record for a right-handed hitter.

Sept. 21, 2022: Hits 60th home run of the year tying Babe Ruth for second on the Yankees’ single-season all-time home run list.

Sept. 28, 2022: Hits 61st home run of the season tying Roger Maris for first on the Yankees’ single-season all-time home run list.

Oct. 4, 2022: Hits 62nd home run of the season to set the new Yankees and American League single-season record.

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4 takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ loss in their preseason opener, including Dalen Terry’s spark and Patrick Williams’ question mark

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4 Takeaways From The Chicago Bulls’ Loss In Their Preseason Opener, Including Dalen Terry’s Spark And Patrick Williams’ Question Mark
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Dalen Terry provided a spark of optimism for the Chicago Bulls in their first game of the preseason, but there’s still plenty to fix as they prepare to start the season without point guard Lonzo Ball.

The bench unit led a thunderous second-half comeback, but the Bulls fell 129-125 in their preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night at the united Center. The opening half of the game painted a stark picture of ongoing flaws the Bulls still haven’t fixed after the offseason.

Here are four takeaways from the first Bulls outing of the season.

1. Dalen Terry makes an impression.

The rookie quickly won over Bulls fans in his preseason debut. Terry came off the bench in the second half, scoring 11 points to lead the Bulls to a 23-point comeback to regain the lead with four minutes to spare.

The Bulls ultimately fumbled the lead, but Terry proved his ability to change a game, finishing with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Terry sparked the Bulls in transition through his defensive pressure, stealing the ball and slamming down a dunk in a full-court breakaway in the fourth quarter to push the Bulls ahead by four points.

2. Defense flounders in first outing.

The Bulls defense disintegrated under pressure, allowing the Pelicans to score 40 points in the first quarter and a total of 70 points in the first half.

The Pelicans carved through the Bulls’ nonexistent interior defense, scoring 62 points in the paint despite a strong performance from Nikola Vučević, who registered four blocks.

Zion Williamson overwhelmed the Bulls defense, scoring 13 points before sitting out most of the second half. The Bulls remain an undersized team even with the signing of Andre Drummond in the offseason. As a result, the defense struggled to switch in the pick and roll against Williamson, allowing the center to wreak havoc around the rim.

“We’ve got a long way to go defensively, there’s no question about that,” coach Billy Donovan said after the loss.

3. Starting point guard position remains wide open.

Tuesday’s game didn’t help provide answers to the Bulls’ wide-open race for a starting point guard to replace Ball at the start of the season.

Poor ball security plagued the team throughout the game — the Bulls turned the ball over 26 times while registering 27 assists, stalling in half-court offense throughout the first half.

Zach LaVine contributed four of those turnovers and Goran Dragić provided three more. Alex Caruso provided the most consistent hand bringing up the ball with no turnovers and one assist, but still went 0-for-2 from 3-point range.

Coby White suffered a left thigh contusion less than three minutes into his entrance to the game and remained sidelined for the rest of the night despite requesting to return in the second half.

Donovan still hasn’t committed to a starting point guard for the regular season and before the game, he emphasized the fluidity of the role for the Bulls while Ball remains sidelined.

“I’m not that wrapped up in who’s starting or not,” Donovan said. “The combination of players and how those guys all gel and mesh and function together would be more important with where we are at that spot.”

4. Jury out on Patrick Williams.

Williams knew the challenge when he entered the preseason — prove he can compete with the aggression required of an NBA starter.

But Williams remained timid against the Pelicans, getting outmuscled repeatedly at the rim by Williamson and only collecting five rebounds. The forward pulled the trigger with slightly more confidence than last season, but his finishing wasn’t clean enough to make an impact.

Williamson finished 2-for-7 shooting, making a lone 3-pointer in the third quarter.

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Chicago Bears Q&A: What’s with Luke Getsy’s conservative approach? Why didn’t Ryan Poles get a receiver in free agency?

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Chicago Bears Q&Amp;A: What’s With Luke Getsy’s Conservative Approach? Why Didn’t Ryan Poles Get A Receiver In Free Agency?
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The Chicago Bears take a 2-2 record to Minnesota for Sunday’s NFC North battle with the Vikings. The Tribune’s Brad Biggs answers questions about the conservative offense, the porous run defense, the still-developing offensive line and more in his weekly Bears mailbag.

Luke Getsy has severely underwhelmed so far as offensive coordinator. Is this level of conservative play-calling what we’re in for during his tenure or are we going to see an evolution of a playbook that eventually leads to more explosive plays? — @hockeyfrank26

There was a handful of questions about that this week, and it was a fair question after the first three games. It was Air Getsy on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and anyone suggesting the Bears were too conservative against the New York Giants probably wasn’t tracking the play distribution.

Quarterback Justin Fields attempted 22 passes, ran the ball seven times and was sacked six times. One of the seven rushing attempts might have come on a run-pass option, although it was designated as a “scramble” in the game book. Let’s call it a designed run play off an RPO. In that case, there were 34 called passing plays and 26 runs (19 handoffs to Khalil Herbert, six to Trestan Ebner and the Fields RPO run). The way the offensive line has been run blocking, that seems like a fairly aggressive game plan.

The issue is the Bears are not executing offensively. The passing game has struggled when Fields has been pressured and when he has had time. He has been very inconsistent operating in the pocket, and until that improves, it will be bumpy. You’re correct that this offense has had a critical lack of explosive plays. But it wasn’t because the Bears were hesitant to use pass plays on the call sheet.

It’s tough for Getsy to expand the playbook, too, when the Bears are struggling to sustain drives. Fields is completing less than 51% of his passes, and I’m not sure the “Let Justin cook” crowd would be real pleased with the results if the Bears started chucking it a lot more. They need to devise game plans that put them in the best position to compete and then execute them. Against the Giants, that led to throwing the ball and the Bears had a couple of nice plays and probably more missed opportunities.

Much has been said about the defense being in need of more playmakers and quality depth. That aside, the most immediate fixes may be in the schemes and individual matchups set up by the defensive coordinator. The Packers and the Giants beat them both physically and with well-designed and executed plays. Now that there are four weeks of film for opponents to study, do you think opposing offensive coordinators have found the weak spots and are exploiting them schematically? Or is it a matter of their guys beating our guys or our linebackers not setting up the alignments correctly, or all of the above? — Chris R., Midlothian

When a defense is being consistently trampled — and that is where the Bears are, allowing a league-high 183.3 rushing yards per game — it is everything. It’s scheme, personnel and execution. The scheme makes the Bears susceptible to the run as they ask the defensive linemen to penetrate first. But the Bears made adjustments against the Giants and were not just sitting in a Tampa-2 shell against an offense that wasn’t going to throw much.

The Bears need to overhaul their personnel on the defensive line, and that’s a point I tried to make after the game. You can’t look at this roster and say the Bears just need to fix the offensive line and get better wide receivers for the quarterback. They need to improve their front seven and get some difference makers. They will have a tough time defending the run all season, and when they encounter teams with good running backs and good passing games, they will be in conflict.

Look at the Minnesota Vikings this week. They have Dalvin Cook in the backfield and arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Justin Jefferson. The defense needs to be better at the point of attack and the linebackers need to play with better eye discipline so they’re not gashed on quarterback bootlegs.

What makes the “play action” part of a play-action passing game so difficult for some QBs? Aaron Rodgers and Daniel Jones (at least on Sunday) did a great job with a fake handoff to freeze the linebackers. Others are awful. Justin Fields’ fake handoff typically is nowhere near the running back and therefore has little to no impact on the D. Thoughts? — Jim A., Plymouth, Minn.

For play action to work at its best, the running game and passing game have to match each other. The beginning of the play needs to look like a run in terms of formation, alignment, down and distance. Play-action passing becomes particularly effective when an offense can break its tendencies. In other words, it gets aggressive throwing the ball on downs that it typically runs. It flips the script and takes a shot when the defense has data and information that suggest a run is coming.

The best play-action throwers, and Rodgers is certainly one of those, are able to anticipate and see windows and throw with location — not accuracy. Accuracy is when you are talking about the pass being completed. Location is ball placement. That’s when a quarterback hits a receiver in stride and a 12-yard dig route can turn into a 25-yard gain because the receiver is immediately in position to get upfield. When Rodgers hits his back foot, the ball is coming out. Timing and rhythm are there.

Jones isn’t a polished play-action thrower, but he’s good with sleight of hand and hiding the ball, and with Saquon Barkley in the backfield, he grabs the eyes of defenders. Linebackers are taking two steps downhill and now they have to backtrack when the quarterback keeps the ball. The problem the Bears had is their edge or force defenders did not play with good eye discipline, and that left them vulnerable to Jones escaping on the edge and really gashing them.

The Bears don’t have great timing and rhythm in their play-action game, and when Fields throws it, too often he’s late in letting the ball rip.

Justin Fields must feel like instead of being drafted in the NFL, he transferred to a Division II school. Is there any offense in the NFL with less proven, less high-profile offensive players than the Bears? Whether you look at O-line (with Cody Whitehair injured), WR, TE or RB, the Bears have to be near the bottom in aggregate starting salary by position group. Fields needs to make lemonade out of lemons in this offense. — Bob B., Chicago

Did you get a good luck at the Giants depth chart on offense Sunday? With the injuries they have at wide receiver, I would take the Bears group. That isn’t saying a whole lot, but you’re not exactly breaking new ground here. The Bears need a lot of new personnel on offense. We knew that when training camp opened, we saw it in the preseason and it’s even more glaring now during the regular season.

It’s well-documented that Justin Fields hangs on to the ball too long. Is this a symptom of the limited offensive skill players and their inability to get open (we don’t get the downfield view on TV) or his ineffectiveness with reads and progressions? — John P.

It’s a function of a lot of things. Fields is still inexperienced with only 14 career starts. The Bears have talent issues at wide receiver and on the offensive line. In a timing-based system — and all passing offenses require excellent timing — it can be problematic when the ball doesn’t come out with rhythm.

Sometimes, though, when Fields holds the ball too long, it leads to big plays. Those are the off-schedule plays that can turn into huge gains. We’ve seen more of those turn into runs, but there was the long touchdown pass to Dante Pettis against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 that was the result of a broken play.

I think we will start to see more explosive plays in the passing game that are a result of Fields holding on to the ball and waiting for something to come open downfield. He needs to keep his eyes up and climb the pocket better. When that happens, the Bears should see improved results.

I like the realistic route Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus have taken in inheriting the Ryan Pace roster and financial situation. That said, I struggle to understand how they could’ve taken such an inactive approach to improving the wide receiver position in Year 1. I get that Justin Fields isn’t their guy in that they didn’t draft him. But if you’re kicking the tires on his rookie deal, don’t you get a few people around him who can make plays to see what you’ve walked into? They let Allen Robinson go, fine. But Byron Pringle is just a guy and Velus Jones Jr. was a stretch. Darnell Mooney isn’t a true game-changer. Why wouldn’t the Bears have at least tried to bring in a guy like Christian Kirk or JuJu Smith-Schuster to help Fields develop? It seems like with a few weapons this team could be playoff-caliber. — Jeff G., Palmetto Bay, Fla.

Fair question. The first thing I would say is the list of available free-agent wide receivers back in March wasn’t great. Robinson, who clearly wanted to head elsewhere, was one of the top options. Kirk, whom you referenced, signed a huge deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that was roundly criticized. Just as you submit that Mooney isn’t a game-changer, I don’t think Kirk is either, and $72 million over four years is a huge payday. Kirk has been productive for the Jaguars with 20 receptions for 327 yards and three touchdowns, so maybe that contract doesn’t look quite as bad as some thought at the time.

I would put Smith-Schuster in a similar category as Pringle. I’m not sure they are very different, and Smith-Schuster has been banged up a little in recent years. He’s definitely not a difference-maker. Chris Godwin was destined to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Los Angeles Chargers moved to re-sign Mike Williams. The Dallas Cowboys re-signed Michael Gallup, who was injured, and after that you were looking at guys like D.J. Chark. The big wide receiver moves of the offseason were made in the trade market, and I can understand Poles wanting to have his top draft picks in 2023.

You raise a valid point and it’s a fair criticism of the team’s approach to this season, but you have to consider the reality that there simply wasn’t a big supply of receivers in free agency and definitely not guys I would look at and say, “You sign him and you’re getting a legitimate No. 1.” The Bears have to completely remake this position in the offseason, and it will be interesting to see what moves they make.

What is your opinion on the handling of Teven Jenkins this season? He has appeared to be the best lineman, but this coaching staff seems to treat him more as a stopgap rather than a long-term piece. I’d like to hear your thoughts. — @danheinz3

We are four games into a rebuilding season with a new coaching staff and front office, and while I know people want immediate answers, it’s unusual when you get those in evaluating football players. Jenkins has looked good and has got a chance to get significantly better. I was skeptical if the move to right guard would work, especially considering the time he missed during training camp. I was wrong.

It’s still a new position for Jenkins, and the coaches are setting a standard for practice and games. Matt Eberflus told us Lucas Patrick was moved into the starting role because Jenkins had a poor Wednesday practice, but they didn’t push him to the side. He continued to rotate in every two series with Patrick. Let’s see how last year’s second-round draft pick performs over an entire season. Then we will have a much better idea if he’s part of the future on the line or just a guy who is in there until an upgrade can be acquired.

What wide receiver do you think the Bears will aggressively pursue before the trade deadline? — @chi_773ale

Do you really think a wide receiver who can be a difference-maker for the Bears beyond the second half of this season would be available in a trade? Unless the Bears are in the race for a playoff spot near the end of October, what would be the point of being an aggressive buyer in the trade market? To what end? The Bears would have to spend 2023 draft picks to make a move, and then I would be answering mailbag questions from January through March about why they used draft capital on a position at which they might be better off drafting talent. This is not the season to be an aggressive buyer when it comes to trades. I could see the Bears being an aggressive seller, but I’m not sure who they have to deal. It’s something to keep an eye on the next few weeks.

When will they figure out the O-line? They can’t keep rotating guys in and out, playing different positions. Set the best players in their spots and let’s go. — @jht728

The offensive line had an especially rough game against a Giants defense that can be unpredictable with unscouted looks and different pressures, something defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is known for. I thought the offensive line, relative to how it played last season and the skepticism about the unit during training camp and the preseason, was OK through the first three games. Did the line play great? No. Was it terrible? No. It was improved over last season and better than I expected. Any critique of the offensive line has to point out the team is third in the league in rushing, averaging 177.3 yards per game, and fourth with 5.2 yards per carry.

Just like the Bears are evaluating quarterback Justin Fields to determine how he figures into their future, they are going through the same process with the offensive line. Sure, they would love to feel great about five starters right now, or even four, but you have to understand where they are coming from in installing a new offense. I believe line coach Chris Morgan has done a pretty good job to this point, and there’s reason to believe this unit can get better as the season unfolds.

Will there be more rocky weeks the rest of the way? Probably. It’s unrealistic to think the Bears won’t have issues against some of the top front sevens. Fields was sacked 10 times through the first three games, more than the Bears would like but not an alarming total. Go back and watch those plays, and there was a chance for him to avoid the sack on at least four of them and to do so with a check-down completion on a couple.

The broken right thumb Lucas Patrick suffered at the start of training camp forced the Bears to adjust. That happens. He has rotated with Teven Jenkins at right guard, and with Cody Whitehair likely out for at least a few weeks — Whitehair could land on injured reserve this week — the rotation is done for the time being. I think you will see Patrick at left guard and Jenkins at right guard Sunday in Minnesota. Center Sam Mustipher had a rough game against the Giants. Based on how he played the first three weeks, he should bounce back against the Vikings.

Other than PR/KR, how much do you think Velus Jones Jr. will play next week? — @topofthemorrow

We’ll have to see. Jones didn’t play on offense against the Giants. I imagine he could get a little time against the Vikings, and the Bears would be wise to seek ways to get him the ball in space. I don’t think we will see him play a ton of snaps, though. He has missed a lot of practice time since mid-August with his hamstring injury. But finding packages to use him should be a priority.

The pass rush has been lackluster or nonexistent throughout four games. What’s the problem? Miss Khalil Mack? — @just_acy

The problem is pretty evident. The Bears are not stopping the run. When you don’t defend the run well — the Bears rank last in the NFL — you don’t earn the opportunity to rush the passer. You can complain about the pass rush in the loss to the Giants, but how many legitimate chances were there to get after Daniel Jones or Tyrod Taylor? Five? Six?

The Bears actually rank 13th in the league in sacks per pass attempt at 6.93%. So it’s not nearly as bad as you think. It’s just that they hardly are getting any chances to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback — and they won’t until they do a better job of stopping the run and forcing opponents into second- or third-and-long situations. Of course the Bears would be better with Mack, but this isn’t a woulda, coulda, shoulda world.

I get that it was the preseason, but I don’t even see any whiffs of the type of offense we saw in the first half against Cleveland. Where did that game plan go? Were things really that different in the preseason game to throw all that out the window once the games counted? — @mosconml

You also didn’t see any of the Browns’ best defensive players on the field in that first half. Justin Fields and the Bears offense might look like that if teams would sit five of their best defensive players like the Browns did in that game. It was basically a first-team offense against a second-team defense.

If the over/under is 130 on Dalvin Cook’s running yards this week, are you thinking over or under? — @mike__chicago

That’s a really high figure, even against a porous run defense. The Bears have done a nice job against Cook in seven career games. That was under a different scheme with some different personnel. Cook has 130 carries for 480 yards (3.7 per attempt) with two touchdowns against the Bears. He did run for 132 yards on 24 carries on Dec. 20, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium, a game the Bears won 33-27.

Cook has not gone over 100 rushing yards this season and has topped 130 only once in his last 13 starts with a 205-yard effort in a Week 14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. The challenge is keeping Cook from running loose while also not allowing wide receiver Justin Jefferson to beat them over the top. Cook will get his yards, but the Bears need to eliminate explosive runs. I’d go under just because that’s a pretty big number.

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ASK IRA: Do Heat have any wiggle room in competitive NBA East?

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Ask Ira: Do Heat Have Any Wiggle Room In Competitive Nba East?
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Q: Last season the Celtics were 16-19 in December and ended up in the NBA Finals. The Heat have the vets that have been to the Finals. Why not experiment during the first three months of the season? – Stuart.

A: Because with so much quality at the top of the Eastern Conference, I’m not sure that even the slightest blip during the season can be overcome in time to avoid traveling for the first round of the playoffs Look at last season’s standings, with the Heat finishing atop the East by two games, and the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks all tied for second. Now factor in what the Nets might be with Kyrie Irving available for the full season and Ben Simmons injected into the mix with his defense, and it is possible that a solid record still leaves you on the road for a daunting No. 4-vs.-No. 5 opening-round series. Last season, Heat-Celtics came in the East finals. This season, there is potential for such a series in the first round. Such tests are best avoided. And that means experimentation might be best avoided, as well. Getting a top-three seed could prove worth the effort of such a chase.

Q: Always enjoy reading your take. Here’s my question, now that the Heat have extended Tyler Herro and locked what looks like a core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Herro, why not go all in even into the tax and bring in a power forward to make this team a monster? You would have a heck of a bench with Victor Olidapo and Caleb Martin coming in to spell the starters. P.J. Tucker was a nice complimentary piece, but was almost like a Lego piece where it’s plug and play. Kelly Olynyk or Jae Crowder look like they could provide a serviceable two years until Nikola Jovic is ready for his role. Taxes be darned. – Mike, Pembroke Pines.

A: Of course, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Foremost, the Heat seemingly do not have the matching salaries to work a deal, at the moment, for Jae Crowder or Kelly Olynyk. But, yes, those would be worthwhile expenditures. The Tyler Herro extension did not upgrade the current roster, but merely protected the future. There still has yet to be a win-now upgrade this offseason.

Q: Every year is the same story, never picked as favorite to win the conference or NBA championship, but end up proving them wrong, again and again. – Ernesto.

A: Which is why I’m sure the Heat’s executive offices and coaching suite hardly are upset about the league’s annual survey of general managers forecasting them for a fifth-place finish this season. The Heat seemingly love nothing more than carrying a chip on their shoulders.

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Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag: Answering questions about the defense, John Harbaugh and more | COMMENTARY

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Ravens Q&Amp;A: Olb Daelin Hayes On Learning From A Frustrating Rookie Season, Reuniting With Kyle Hamilton, The Importance Of Community Service And More
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Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. Fresh off Baltimore’s 23-20 Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills, plenty of questions remain with the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals coming to town for a “Sunday Night Football” showdown.

Here’s Preston’s take:

(Editor’s note: Questions have been edited for length and clarity)

Mike, please tell me the qualifications Mike MacDonald has for being the defensive coordinator besides being a gift to the Ravens from John Harbaugh’s brother. The defense seems to be worse than ever. Based on Harbaugh’s decision to go for a touchdown on fourth down rather than a field goal, it shows he has no confidence in his defense to hold the Bills’ offense. Martindale must be laughing in New York since he is the one who took the fall after last season for the poor defense due to all the defensive injuries.

Bob Kronberg

Mike Preston: If there is one thing I have learned from former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome since covering this team in 1996, it’s patience. Newsome was always willing to give his assistant coaches, front office staff and players time to improve and develop. Before training camp started, I wrote that because of some newly hired coaches and players returning from major injuries, it would take three or four games to figure out where this team is headed.

Right now, the Ravens are in the same situation as most teams in the NFL. Few teams are playing at a consistently high level.

Bob, if you thought Macdonald was going to walk in and wave a magic wand to make things significantly better, then you were way off base. Back in 1996, it took then-coordinator Marvin Lewis two or three years to straighten out his defense because they were used to playing the style taught to them by former Cleveland coach Bill Belichick.

I don’t know all of Macdonald’s pedigree, but he spent seven years in Baltimore as an assistant before going to Michigan, which means he spent a lot of time working in basically the same pressure system instituted by Lewis and other former coordinators such as Rex Ryan and Martindale. I expected to see communication problems, especially on the back end, because most of the starters were held out of preseason games and every coordinator wants to put his signature on his defense. The Ravens haven’t disappointed because they look as unorganized as the old Keystone Cops.

Well, let’s see if that changes.

Macdonald can’t be blamed for some of the team’s other defensive shortcomings. Both inside and outside linebacker play has been poor, so much so that outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul played all but nine snaps against the Bills despite not having a full week of practice. That’s an indictment in itself.

The Ravens play tight coverage for nearly a half, but then lose focus once the other teams adjust. The pass rush has been poor for about four years now, and yes, I would have gambled on selecting a pass rusher in the first round instead of taking Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.

With all that said, the Ravens had the worst pass defense in the NFL last year, and they rank last again so far this season. This isn’t Major League Baseball, where you can bring up some minor league prospect to help. This staff has to work through it and find the strengths and weaknesses of its players. We can point fingers at what went wrong and who was to blame at the end of the season. All you can do now is just hope and wait.

In the 2012 season, it was reported Harbaugh almost lost the locker room. Any chance of that happening here? I know it’s football and emotions are high, but you don’t see these sideline blowups between coach and player from the Ravens.

Jay Parker

Preston: Oh, I’ve seen blowups before between assistant coaches and a player, but never a head coach and a player. Assistant or position coaches are usually the buffer and liaison between the head coach and the respective players, which is why cornerback Marcus Peters’ blow-up on the sideline Sunday with Harbaugh was so strange. I understand the emotions and tempers flaring but attempting to get in the face of a head coach is a major no-no in the NFL.

I never thought Harbaugh was close to losing his locker room in 2012. Harbaugh is an old-school coach who believes in hard work, team and discipline. He was hired by owner Steve Bisciotti to restore a much-needed work ethic because the Ravens had gotten away from that under Harbaugh’s predecessor, Brian Billick. But in 2012, the Ravens had some veterans — linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Bernard Pollard — who were used to doing it their own way. It was natural for them to “bump heads” with Harbaugh but they put their differences aside because they wanted to win a Super Bowl.

After that happened, it was time for the great departure of those alpha males.

In the case of Peters, it was nice to see a player show some emotion and care because clearly Harbaugh has no faith in his defense, which is why he gambled on that fourth-down call late in the game. Harbaugh has to be careful not to let this situation fester because Peters is respected in the locker room and can influence young players.

Harbaugh is smart enough to figure that out and the two will come to some type of resolution. If not, that could become a major problem in the months ahead.

Mike, since Lamar Jackson entered the league, the teams you need to beat to get to the Super Bowl in the AFC are the Bills, Titans, and Chiefs. Include the Steelers because they are the Ravens’ archrival. Lamar’s in his fifth year and he’s only beaten those teams one time each. Is it time to start asking the question (or past the time) if he can win the big games on the biggest stage?

Jason in Federal Hill

Preston: I’ve been asking two similar questions for two years now. One, can Jackson take the Ravens deep into the postseason? And two, can he win a Super Bowl? He has done just about everything else as far as training, conditioning and film study to improve his overall game, but there is still doubt about him being able to win big games in crunch time with his arm. Jackson wants a new contract but for the kind of money he is demanding, he needs to show he can win big in the postseason. Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco did in 2012, and then the Ravens made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

To me, if you want to get paid big then you have to deliver big, even though I’m still not sure I would give Jackson a fully guaranteed contract.

Why is it that my family and I can easily predict if the Ravens are running or throwing based on their offensive formation? If we can see it, I assume a trained NFL eye can easily predict what they are doing. How is Greg Roman regarded among his peers? Are most teams with an electric running and throwing quarterback running double tights and incorporating a fullback into their attack?

Jesse Walker

Preston: I have had some problems with Greg Roman’s offenses in the past but not this year. Right now, the Ravens are averaging 359.3 yards per game — 217.3 passing and 142 rushing. They are also averaging 29.8 points.

What’s not to like?

I’m not ecstatic about some of Roman’s calls on short-yardage situations and would prefer he run 300-pound fullback Patrick Ricard up the gut for a yard or two or put Jackson out on the edge more in some run-pass-option plays. Overall, though, the Ravens have been successful.

As far as the double tights and incorporating a fullback, most offenses should be able to muscle up and succeed in short-yardage situations. I like the Ravens’ offense being multi-dimensional.

But if this offense is going to take another major step, Jackson has to learn to be able to read and throw to the outside areas of the field.

In hindsight, do you think a defensive end like George Karlaftis should have been one of the two first-round picks this year? I’ll admit he didn’t wow me coming out of Purdue, but watching him with the Chiefs, he seems pretty relentless out there. So far, seems like Kyle Hamilton’s presence has been more of a luxury than need, especially in light that we never ended up trading Chuck Clark, and Hamilton’s snap count seems to have gone down since the Dolphins game.

Paul from Orlando

Preston: As stated above, I would have taken a pass rusher. One of the keys to having a great defense is being able to get pressure with the front four so a defense can drop seven players into coverage. Regardless, the Ravens became enamored with Hamilton, even though they already have Chuck Clark and Marcus Williams on the roster. They also selected cornerbacks Jayln Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams in the fourth round. But the problem is that defensive backs will get exposed if quarterbacks are given time to throw.

The Ravens stuck with their mantra of taking the best player available, but in this situation, it would’ve been good to “reach” on a pass rusher.

Mike, what is the status of tight end Nick Boyle? He is not even sniffing the field these days. Is it physical or is he in the coach’s doghouse?

Dan in Elkton

Preston: Dan, to be honest, I think Boyle is one of Harbaugh’s favorite players, and the team is rewarding him for coming back from major knee surgery after his November 2020 injury. The guy has worked hard to return, but I saw him struggling to catch the ball and limping after major cuts during training camp. He has done nothing wrong to be put in Harbaugh’s doghouse.

Have a question for Mike Preston? Email [email protected] with “Ravens mailbag” in the subject line and it could be answered in The Baltimore Sun.

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