First Impressions – Bears @ Titans

| August 29, 2011

One team was a pleasant surprise package in 2010; the other capitulated down the stretch and having been arguably the most stable franchise of the last decade, has seen a mass overhaul.

How do these teams rebound after a long off-season of inactivity? Can the Chicago Bears continue to build on their 2010 regular season and go one step further this season? Will the Tennessee Titans prove the doubters wrong and show themselves able to gel under a new head coach in spite of a lack of time for him to stamp his authority on what was Jeff Fisher’s team for well over a decade?

None of those questions will be answered in pre-seasons but there at least some players & performances we can examine as at least a point of interest for the new season.

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Chicago – Three Things of Note

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●   Gabe Carimi got off to a rather inauspicious start in this game, essentially falling on his backside under the influence of an unconvincing bull rush from Dave Ball, a play on which Jay Cutler was intercepted. Carimi solidified his play as the half progressed and showed some positives in the run game but still raised some question marks as to how well he fits what the Bears try to do on offense with Mike Martz. Carimi is a big unit and who projects to excel in the run game but just how well can a tackle that big pass protect if the Bears put the ball in the air as much as 40 times a game? We’re drawing no conclusions on Carimi just yet, it’s far too early to tell but we will be watching with interest how well he plays. At the absolute worst he should represent an upgrade on last years right tackle J’Marcus Webb, but can he bring more than that? Only time will tell.

●   Matt Toeaina showed on just two plays in the middle of the first quarter the sort of play the Bears are searching for from him. Tommie Harris has now left the Bears (in truth his best form deserted them long before his physical departure) and Toeaina must shoulder more of the load and provide a strong presence inside for the Bears. The former Oregon Duck had a pair of strong games (against Dallas & Seattle) early last season but struggled to consistently deliver strong performances. Chicago will look for Toeaina to step up in his second year as a starter and begin to show not only down to down consistency, but game to game consistency..

●   Things started well for Cutler in this one; a picture perfect pitch and catch on a deep comeback route to Roy Williams down the right sideline on the first play from scrimmage. Williams is back in the offense that saw him produce the best football of his pro career to date and is precisely the type of big bodied receiver the Bears lacked last season. Bad Cutler would re-emerge on only the second play of that series however, forcing a ball into triple coverage and finding Michael Griffin at the back of that trio as Williams was hit by Jason McCourty in the middle of that triple cover situation. In only two plays Bears fans saw a microcosm of the potential for their season; in Williams they have the potential for a No. 1 receiver, the type of receiver Cutler had with Brandon Marshall in his time starting in Denver. If Cutler and Williams can find a rapport without Cutler feeling the need to force throws that aren’t there, could this be the duo that takes the Bears that step further this season?

Tennessee – Three Things of Note.

●   This has been an off-season of change in Tennessee and the heart of the Titans’ defense has not escaped this with Barrett Ruud taking Stephen Tulloch’s place in the middle of the D. Tulloch was outstanding last season but his, at times, one dimensional play and the fact that he wasn’t always a three-down-linebacker meant that he didn’t necessarily receive the kudos he deserved. In Tulloch’s place comes someone on almost completely the other end of the spectrum. Ruud was  overrated during his time in Tampa Bay and never quite excelled to the level that many thought he might do. In this game he demonstrated his short comings that could by mid-season have Titans’ fans pining for the unheralded Tulloch’s return. At times Ruud flashed the ability to fly downhill to the football and make big plays in the running game, but all too often (as with his time in Tampa Bay) he was far too willing to sit & wait on both runs and blockers. Tulloch was outstandingly consistent in his play against the run last season, Ruud may offer the better all-round player but the Titans will surely miss Tulloch’s downhill presence against the run.

●   Jovan Haye has never been able to replicate his best form from Tampa Bay in Tennessee and this game was no different for him. With the Titans moving Jason Jones to defensive end, they are in dire need of a consistent, strong presence at defensive tackle. The burden of seniority sees this fall on the shoulders of Haye and it is a burden he seems ill fit to cope with currently. Shaun Smith provides some of the beef in the heart of the defense, but the Titans will desperately need Haye to re-discover his ability to penetrate the interior of an offensive line. Against an offensive line the calibre of the Bears this should have been an opportunity for Haye to prove he could return to form, but he provided the Titans’ coaching staff with no such re-assurance.

●   Jake Locker entered the game in the 4th quarter as the Titans looked to get Matt Hasselbeck’s timing down in the offense ahead of week one (whether that approach drew any success is up for question). The Titans chose to run the clock out on his second drive but on his first drive he was able to put the ball in the air, but on only two passes and a sack it would be wrong to draw any conclusions. It seems clear from the Titans’ split of playing time that Hasselbeck will start Week 1, unsurprisingly, with that set we may get a longer look at Locker next week when the starters & key backups get thrown in to cotton wool. With a shortened off-season it would be wise to let Locker get some meaningful playing time in the hope of either accelerating his learning, accelerating the team’s learning of where he is at; or better yet for the Titans, a combination of the two.

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A distinct lack of offensive output in this one and that Hasselbeck missed on some deep throws early in the game will be of some concern to the Titans just a fortnight before the season proper gets underway. The Bears offensive line (backups & starters) yielded only one sack all game long against a Titans’ team missing some of their best pass rushers to give Jay Cutler at least some hope of staying upright and healthy this season. It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from even a Week 3 pre-season game, the starters & key depth will now get all but a week off in Week 4, their real work is almost upon them and we can’t wait to start seeing how these teams are really going to size up in 2011.

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