Thoughts for the Week of December 27th
The Bears played a smart, efficient game while defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-21 on Sunday. Jay Cutler played the way he has most of the season; finding quick reads, moving around in the pocket, and not throwing the ball to fat guys too often (sans the called back interception return for a touchdown).
The offensive line played well. The Bears used a trio of gallopers to hold the Bucs on edge, and even used a key Cutler scramble to seal the victory. Defensively, the Bears secondary broke up some key throws from Jameis Winston, and were able to get some decent consistency with their pass rush.
Yet, some Bears fans found the result cringe-worthy because their precious draft positioning has been tampered. We've stated on this site before that this is hogwash. Any novice football fan knows the draft to have a significant drop-off in talent once you get past those first five picks. You can still find game-changing talents that fall between 7-20.
The key lies here: The Bears have so many different needs that is virtually impossible for them to lose a key draftee before their first pick. Those keys, as specified in an earlier post, range from offensive line, defensive line, middle linebacker, and probably some help with wide receiver and the defensive backfield.
If you're bothered by the victory, I'd take a quick perusal at any NFL mock draft board. The Bears will have somebody available that will significantly upgrade any area of their team. That's where the Bears are. Years upon years upon years of poor drafting and free agent signings have put the Bears in this position. There is literally no way a Bears victory can hurt this team.
Keep this in mind while rooting for the Bears to trounce Detroit on Sunday...win or lose, it doesn't really matter.
The Chicago media, myself included, can be guilty of slamming Derrick Rose for his numerous odd ramblings and his continuing defiance of Bulls management. We might want to curb our critiques because there's a new idiot on the block. His name is Jimmy Butler.
We all love Jimmy. Butler has worked his way from being a bench player to an NBA All-Star. He seems gracious on the court and off the court. However, his odd denouncing of Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has put many people on notice.
The Bulls are a dumpster fire, sitting at 16-12 just one half game in front of the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference. The struggles seemed to weigh on Butler who lashed out at Hoiberg after the Bulls were railroaded by the Knicks nine days ago. While we've been focusing on Rose's clueless play at times, Butler has alienated his coach and players on his team. It's clear that Jimmy wanted to take the helm as 'the man of the team' since Rose has missed so much time due to injury...but comments like this aren't going to garner much favor.
Let's be honest, the Bulls' woes can't be placed on Butler, who has played well: Gasol has made it clear he doesn't want to be on the team next year. Joakim Noah can barely walk, yet alone run. Mirotic has had a horrendous shooting season. Plus, Hoiberg can't really run this team with the personnel he has on the roster; Fred wants to run, and...well...this team can't run.
For Butler to be a leader, he needs to shut up and talk with Hoiberg behind closed doors. He's also got to shove down that ego. The Bulls need to figure out how to play, and fast...with an improved Eastern Conference, the Bulls might be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Something is broken with the Blackhawks, and it's tough putting a finger on it. The Hawks are still in good shape at 20-13-4; a solid eight points up on the 3rd wild card slot. That still doesn't keep Hawks fans from wondering why they've struggled being consistent. The latest Hawks scoring slumber has produced one goal in 120 minutes of play.
We know that Joel Quenneville and management have no put a high price on their lower defensive pairings; the roster has reflected such for years. Quenneville, a former defenseman himself, has always adored veteran defensemen who can't skate, shoot, or defend. He believes that he can take veteran 'stay-at-home defensemen' and utilize their strengths in tight playoff series' where offense isn't as open. Find 'Q' an old man willing to step in front of a shot from the point, and he's got his man.
So, we'll keep this away from the putrid lower D-pairings. We can focus on the cavalcade of fun, or lack thereof, being produced by Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger: 65 games played. 2 combined points. -15 overall. Think about that. The Hawks have had to overcome some of the worst forward play in the NHL with a Herculean effort from Kane, measured by the nice development of Panarin and Teravainen. Without Kane, the Hawks would surely be clinging for their playoff lives.
And while Jonathan Toews is still Jonathan Toews, the Hawks are going to need him to start playing a more active role offensively if they wanted to contend for a title. Corey Crawford has played very well during this lackluster first half, as well, but it unfortunately feels like it's being wasted.
What can the Hawks do? Unless the third and fourth lines start progressing, not much. If you look back at the Blackhawks Stanley Cup winners in 2010, 2013, and 2015 you will find a source of their success: depth, forechecking, production from bottom lines.
That just simply does not exist this year.
In order to survive the playoffs, you have to be fresh...you have to be able to roll those four lines, hell, maybe just a solid three to have a shot. The Hawks don't have it, and haven't shown at any point this year.
more on College Hoops tomorrow!