By Jeff Joniak
It’s not quite the Manning Bowl, but the McCown brothers are on opposite sidelines Sunday at Soldier Field. Josh and Luke are the No. 2’s behind the starters, Jay Cutler and Drew Brees, respectively, for the Bears and Saints.
“It’s special for us,” Josh McCown said.
You’ve seen the Manning home videos when Peyton and Eli were growing up in Louisiana, and McCown said he’s sure there’s something similar floating around in East Texas, where the brothers grew up playing football in the backyard with Dallas Cowboys gear. For Josh and Luke, the offenses they’ve learned in Chicago and New Orleans are quite similar in terms of language, scheme and style. It makes the matchup even more fun for the brothers.
Josh thinks the reps the Bears defense have had against the Bears offense should benefit them on Sunday when they try to slow down the Saints. He said the extra study time and work invested in the spring and in camp and as an offense was done to shorten the curve on learning the system, so it doesn’t take three years.
“We see what they’re doing in New Orleans. We see how well they’re playing because they’ve been together and that’s fun football. That’s next-level football, and that’s where we want to get to. I think we’ve seen glimpses of it these first four games, for sure,” he says.
How crazy is the NFL? Think about it. Tampa Bay released quarterback Josh Freeman Thursday, despite the fact he threw for more than 4,000 yards last season with 27 touchdown throws. That’s Jay Cutler’s career high in touchdowns set in his first season with the Bears in 2009.
It can change in a hurry. I went back to look at the Week 2 tape of Tampa’s near-upset of New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium. Freeman was inaccurate completing just nine passes with a touchdown and one pick. His touchdown pass was to Kevin Olgetree, who was just signed by the Lions. However, Freeman did look good handing the ball off to Doug Martin. His 29 carries against the Saints defense produced 144 yards. His longest run was 28 yards, and he averaged 5.0 yards per carry. It’s the type of production out of the backfield the Bears need to have Sunday against the Saints.
Owning the tempo and the timing of the game is very important. New Orleans needed a game-winning field goal to win 16-14 after the Bucs sacked Drew Brees four times and picked him twice. I’m just saying it would be awful nice to see Matt Forte and Michael Bush by land and by air do some time-crunching damage to the Saints on Sunday. New Orleans is giving up a league worst 5.5 yards per carry.
Defending tight ends gets progressively difficult in today’s NFL. They are bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic than ever before. The Bears have done a very good job handling size at receiver over the years, thanks in part to the length and strength of cornerback Charles Tillman. From his rookie season frustrating Randy Moss of the Vikings to the last four meetings with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Tillman is an ideal “size” defender.
Jimmy Graham of the Saints runs like a wide receiver, jumps like a wide receiver, and has the hands of a wide receiver. Several players and coaches have described him as a matchup nightmare, and that’s exactly what he is. Tight ends are power forwards with hands and speed these days, and they are difficult to defend. The Bears have already dealt with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert from the Bengals, Kyle Rudolph of the Vikings, Heath Miller of the Steelers and Brandon Pettigrew from the Lions.
Combined this season, tight ends have caught 28 passes, for 299 yards but only one touchdown. Graham by himself this season already has 27 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns and three straight 100-yard games. Controlling the ball and ending drives with touchdowns will be a huge key for the Bears in this game. They have to own the clock and the scoreboard.
4th and Short
Fendi Onobun and Jimmy Graham both were in the 2010 draft, and both played college basketball. Graham played at Miami(FL) before playing one year of football, while Onobun played basketball at Arizona. When Onobun considered making the switch to football, he transferred to the University of Houston instead of staying put in Tucson because the Wildcats already had Rob Gronkowski. Interesting that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has helped the transition of two former college basketball players into Pro Bowl NFL players — Graham and Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who was a star basketball player at Kent State. Graham ran a 4.53 forty at 6’6” and 260 pounds with a 38.5” vertical jump and 10’00” broad jump at the 2010 Scouting Combine. Onobun ran a 4.48 forty at 6’6” 260 pounds with a 37.5” vertical jump and 11’1” broad jump and with change of direction numbers than Graham. Catching the football is the key to bringing all of this elite athleticism together, but you can see why Onobun remains an intriguing prospect.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.