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Top 10 Moments In Chicago Sports In 2008

Posted by sportsmaven on January 17, 2009

The new year has already started and amidst the resolutions, fresh starts, diets, and new beginnings comes the ever reverent look back at the year that has passed.  The year 2008 was a banner year for Chicago sports, as three teams won their prospective division titles, and one, the Chicago Wolves won a championship.  There was good, bad, ugly, and everything in between for Chicago sports fans.  So, lets take a look back on the Top 10 Moments in Chicago Sports in 2008 (in no particular order):
Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears goal line stand against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 — The Chicago Bears were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20, Eagles had first and goal from the Bears 4, 5:40 left in the game.  Eagles run RB Cornell Buckhalter off right tackle for 3 yards.  Second and goal was a handoff to FB Tony Hunt for no gain.  Third down was back to Buckhalter to the right for no gain.  Eagles call a time out and decide to go for it on 4th down.   Buckhalter again off left tackle, this time, stood up by RE Alex Brown of the Bears for no gain.  Game over.  Bears win.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano throws no-hitter against the Houston Astros on Sept. 14th —  The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros waited two long days to find out where they would be playing their key late season series against each other.  Houston was being devestated by Hurricane Ike and MLB moved the Astros to “neutral” Miller Park in Milwaukee to face the Cubs.  Zambrano brought his “A” game with him to “Wrigley North”, shutting down the powerful Astros lineup, striking out CF Darrin Erstad swinging for the last out of the first Cubs no-hitter in 36 years.

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Cubs win back to back NL Central Division titles — The Cubs began the 2008 season with one of it’s goals to win the 2008 NL Central Division title, as well as seeking their first World Series appearance since 1945 and first World Championship since 1908.  Alas, the Cubs could only slay one 100 year drought, as they won an NL-best 97 games en route to the 2008 NL Central Division title for their  first back to back division titles since 1908.  A quick sweep in the NL Divisional Series by the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers dimmed what was to that point, a most magical season for the North Siders.

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

White Sox win 3 elimination games in a row to win the AL Central title — The Chicago White Sox looked dead in the water, losing  4 of their final 5 games to the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, coughing up a 2.5 game division lead and falling 1/2 game behind the Twins with one game to play.  The final game of the Cleveland series and the regular season was a must win game with Mark Buehrle on the bump, the Sox beat the Indians to force the Monday afternoon post-season makeup game against the Detroit Tigers.  The Sox win the makeup game against the Tigers, forcing a one game playoff game against the Twins for the AL Division title, this time, in Chicago.   The Sox, behind a masterpiece by LHP John Danks, beat the Twins 1-0 and claim the AL Central Division title, winning three elimination games in a row.

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

Chicago Bulls win the 1st pick in the NBA Draft and the right to select PG Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson had to work wonders to undo all the bad karma and decision-making by Bulls brass in the post-Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson era, but by sheer luck,  one of those bouncing ping-pong ball went red, and the Bulls, with a x% chance, landed the #1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.  Around the same time, a young freshman PG from Chicago was leading his one-loss  Memphis Tigers team to the 2008 National Championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks.  The Jayhawks win the title, the young freshman forgoes his eligibility and declares eligible for the NBA Draft and the prodigal son returns a hero.

The City of Chicago becomes a finalist for host city for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games — Chicago survived the US bid process to emerge as the US entry for host of the 2016 Olympics.  Election Night provided the world a glimpse of what Chicago 2016 could be as Grant Park served as the world’s stage for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election night speech.  Chicago is President Obama’s hometown and can be in prime position to be named 2016 host, but it can’t rest on that momentum as concerns about finances, transportation infrastructure, and sports facilities still shroud Chicago’s Olympic bid chances.

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

The arrival of a young and resurgent Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, who finished  the 2007-08 season very strong and opened the 2008-09 season even stronger — the Chicago Blackhawks under owner Bill Wirtz became the city’s red headed stepchild of Chicago professional sports.  Even the minor league AHL hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing the Hawks in attendance.  Things couldn’t have been any lower, and then, Bill Wirtz died.  Bill’s son Rocky took the team over and his first move as team owner was to steal marketing genius John McDonough away from the Cubs, hiring McDonough as his new team president.  A change in coaches (Joel Quenneville in, Denis Savard out), a #1, and #3  draft pick later, youngsters C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane lead a marketing and on-ice resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks.  High point to date, a team best 9 game winning streak leading into the 2009 Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.  The game resulted in a loss for the Blackhawks in the standings, but was a HUGE win for the Hawks in prestige and heritage.  A vintage Original Six team is reborn.

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Bears hammer Indianapolis Colts on national TV in the season opener, marking the coming out party for Bears RB Matt Forte and ruining the home opening of the Colts new Lucas Oil Stadium — The Chicago Bears were playing on national television.  They were also playing the mighty Indianapolis Colts on the road in the Colts brand spanking new stadium.  The Bears have traditionally been nothing short of horrible in nationally televised night games and this was Sunday Night Football on NBC.  And QB Peyton Manning, coming off a knee injury, was planning on starting this game. The Bears were doomed, but fate forgot to mention that to this Bears team, lead by a resurgent defense and the nimble running of rookie RB Matt Forte, the only Bear to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his first ever game (123 yards), the Bears down the mighty Colts 29-13.

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

The University of Illinois football team plays in it’s first Rose Bowl since 1984 — In 2001, the University of Illinois football program was reaching it’s pinnacle capped by a Big Ten Conference Championship and an appearance in the 2002 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  Two short years later, the Illini hit rock bottom, going 1-11, eventually firing coach Ron Turner and hiring master recruiter Ron Zook as his replacement.  In year 3 of the rebuilding process, the Illini found themselves with a 9-4 record, stunning #1 Ohio State on the road in a 28-21 victory that propelled the team to it’s first Rose Bowl in 24 years.

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship, bringing a hockey title back to Chicago — The Chicago Wolves AHL hockey team beats the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 bringing the Calder Cup back to Chicago.  It is the 4th title for the Wolves in their 14-year history.  Soon after, Wolves Coach John Anderson is promoted to coach the parent team, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves dip into a famous Chicago hockey family, tapping Don Granato as their new head coach.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Fighting Illini | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Top 5 Reasons Why The Chicago Bears Lose Football Games

Posted by sportsmaven on September 22, 2008

The Chicago Bears have lost yet another game in this young season that they should have won.  Today’s loss makes two in a row, where the Bears have enjoyed statistical dominance, only to be trounced by late and furious comebacks by teams that are arguably average teams from the NFC South, in a weak National Football Conference.  Why are the Bears losing games to average teams that they should have closed out and put away?  There are 5 main reasons to explain the malaise this Bears team is facing after a very solid opening performance against the Indianapolis Colts to start the season:

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

1. Bears team unable to close out games – two weeks in a row, the Bears have lead games going into the second half.  Two weeks in a row, the Bears offense has chances to extend drives to put games away and don’t execute.  Two weeks in a row, the Bears defense has let teams come back to score the points that cost the Bears victories.  The 4th and 1 play against the Carolina Panthers last week, the 3rd and 2 play in today’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both situations and lack of execution on those plays highlight the Bears inability to close out games.  Then the tired Bears defense gets steamrolled by comebacks two weeks in a row.

The Bears need to develop some killer instinct and execution to put teams away, especially at the end of games.  The Bears should be 3-0 after this week, but instead they are 1-2 and play a very tough Philadelphia Eagles team this coming Sunday night.

2.  Too many mistakes and execution errors/lack of discipline – 22 penalties for 166 yards (average of 7 penalties for 55 yards per game), 4 key turnovers in the last two games.  Missed blocks, missed tackles, untimely penalties wiping out big offensive gains.  CB Charles Tillman’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the OT was a gamebreaker today.  In today’s game, LB Hunter Hillenmeyer makes a key mistake on the TD by Bucs TE Jerramy Stevens by not taking away the inside route.  The same mistake was made on the TD pass to WR Ike Hilliard earlier in the game.  TE Greg Olsen fumbling the only 2 balls he touches in the Carolina game, both because he failed to tuck the ball properly after making the reception.  These mistakes were minimized or hardly apparent in the opener against the Colts, but have been glaring the last two games, costing the Bears two victories against key NFC opponents.

3.  Questionable play calling and coaching – when Special Teams coordinator Dave Toub is calling more effective plays than your offensive coordinator, that could be a  sign that your team could be in trouble.  When Toub bailed out Ron Turner on yet another failed 3rd and 1 call this afternoon with the fake punt, 38 yard run by RB Garrett Wolfe, he did two things that Turner has yet to master this season: he called a play to pick up the yard, and he figured out a way to get Garrett Wolfe into the game.   RB Matt Forte is quickly emerging as a star.  Forte touched the ball on 46% of the offensive plays in the Buccaneers game, but on a crucial 3rd down and 2, he was nowhere to be found.  San Diego puts the ball in RB LaDanian Tomlinson’s hands in that position.  Minnesota gives it to RB Adrian Peterson when they absolutely need 1 yard to extend an offensive series.  Ten times out of ten, Turner needs to put the ball in Forte’s hands in that position.  Two weeks in a row, he has failed to make the correct call.

Lovie Smith failed to challenge the Darrell McClover strip in the Tampa Bay game.  Smith has had difficulties managing the challenge process and today was a glaring example of that difficulty.  Defensive coordinator Bob Babich made virtually no adjustments at halftime, particularly in stopping the Tampa Bay slant plays.  Buccaneers QB Brian Griese threw that slant for at least 15 completions today, mostly on 3rd and long situations.  The Bears have yet to stop that play.  The high marks the Bears staff received in preparation for the Colts game has been virtually wiped out by the Bears performance the last two weeks.  Of course, it is way easier to be prepared with you have six weeks to prepare for that first game.

4.  Inability to get key playmakers more touches – The Bears have 3 playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, WR Devin Hester, Forte and now WR Brandon LloydQB Kyle Orton may or may not be a playmaker, but that can’t be determined because the play calling has yet to establish Orton as a playmaker.  Until the second half of today’s game against the Buccaneers, the Bears have done a poor job of getting Lloyd more touches.  The Bears have also neglected to get Forte into more touches in key moments of the games, moments that would put games away.  Hester has yet to be a significant part of the weekly offensive gameplan and now he is injured.  Again, Turner has weapons that can be devastating with a little applied creativity.  Hester should get about 15-20 touches a game, and not just as an outside receiver.  The Bears need to use Hester like they use Forte – lineup in the backfield, receiver screen, slot receiver, on the end of the line at TE.  They need to make defenses have to game plan to stop the perception that Hester might be used.  This is a HUGE missed opportunity that needs to be exploited more going forward for the Bears offense to have any chance of winning.  Turner needs to unleash Orton more often.  The interception that Orton threw in the end zone of today’s game was actually not bad; it was nice to see Orton actually throw the ball down field.  Turner needs to move Orton around, roll him out a bit more, get the moving pocket working.  Orton took three sacks today, standing up as a statue in the pocket.  His best moments were in the 3 and 5 step drops where he can move the ball quickly.  The Green Bay Packers move QB Aaron Rodgers around all the time, with great success so far.  Give Orton a chance to make some plays.  I hate that the Bears set him up to “manage” football games.  That has to change if the Bears are going to move the offense to the next level.

5.  Lack of a NFL caliber offense – this is perhaps the biggest reason of all reasons that the Chicago Bears lose football games.  The offense is too bland, too conservative when it needs to be more dynamic.  The lack of playmakers is evident in the skill positions.  The most dynamic WR on the team is Hester, who also is the WR with the least amount of touches.  The most dynamic playmaker on the offense is Forte, but the Turner fails to get Forte the ball in key short yardage situations and on the goal line in consecutive weeks. The defense put the offense in great position on the first two series of the game, only for the offense to crawl into it’s conservative shell of bland, uninspiring playcalling, settling for two field goals when we really needed touchdowns, particularly on that first possession.  Comcast Sports Chicago pulled an interesting statistic today regarding the TD reception by Forte.  It was the first receiving touchdown the Bears have intentionally thrown to a RB in the last 116 games!  Turner has proven to be conservative to a fault precisely at the times where more dynamic touch is necessary. The Bears offense seems very predictable, with virtually no deep game to keep defenses honest.  This allows defenses to pick up tendencies before they happen, and with no deep game, defenses stack the line and box, forcing the Bears offense to work much harder for lesser output.  This explains how the Bears are so challenged at times to gain a yard on 4th and 1 situations.

The Bears have lots of work to do to reverse the disturbing trends of the last two weeks.  The big fear the Bears faced was losing the hard earned respect by the league that was garnered by the Colts win.  The Bears could either prove they were for real with a 3-0 record, but with every loss, the Colts victory becomes more of a fluke rather than the decisive victory that signaled that the Monsters of the Midway are back.

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What Will The Chicago Bears Do In The 2008 NFL Draft?

Posted by sportsmaven on April 26, 2008

There have been countless mock drafts, endless expert analysis and general watercooler, beer garden, happy hour sports conversations on what exactly the Chicago Bears will do with their draft picks in today’s NFL Draft. The consensus? Nobody knows exactly what the Bears will do…..and that’s exactly the way that Bears GM Jerry Angelo likes it.

ESPN’s expert NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper thinks the Bears will go with a offensive lineman, specifically Vanderbilt OT Chris Williams. Todd McShay from Scouts, Inc is going with Boise State OT Ryan Clady (personally, I think he’ll be long gone by pick 14). Fox Sports analyst Jay Glazer has the Bears picking Illinois standout RB Rashard Mendenhall. And finally, the guru of all mock draft analysts, the most accurate mock draft expert, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning Star has the Bears choosing Virginia OG/OT Branden Albert. Other late circulating rumors have the Bears entertaining trade offers and the possibility of moving down in the draft (which is real, since Jerry Angelo seems to prefer that strategy over all others.)

One thing is certain about this draft: This is a make or break draft for Jerry Angelo. He has to hit big in this draft and he has to hit big with picks on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears have many holes to fill: OT, OG, WR, RB, possibly QB. The Bears need at least 2 starter grade picks out of this draft and and probably 4-5 major contributors in order to compete in the NFC this coming season.

The NFC will be a vastly improved conference this coming season, and in particular, the NFC North Division. The Minnesota Vikings look drastically improved with the addition of WR Bernard Berrian to strengthen the offense and DE Jared Allen to a underrated defense, the Detroit Lions look to make a step up from last season if they play their draft cards correctly and the Green Bay Packers are the reigning division champions, who many feel will drop off after the retirement of QB Brett Farve. (I believe the Packers will be in contention for the division title all season long.) In addition, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Seattle Seahawks are bulking up to compete for the NFC crown.

The Bears hold 11 draft picks and 4 of the first 100 picks. The Chicago Tribune ranked the top GM’s in the NFL in terms of draft picks that went on to become starters in the league. The top GM was, surprisingly Arizona Cardinals GM (and former Bears Director of Pro Personnel) Rod Graves. The Bears Jerry Angelo made it into the top 10 at #10, mostly on the strength of his defensive picks. Offense has not been good to Jerry Angelo draft picks, which puts even more pressure on hitting this draft big. The Bears need playmakers, explosive players, football players, not combine gym rat types. Jerry Angelo stated this week that this was a 10 man draft at the top, which is not good if you hold the 14th pick. While I don’t envision Angelo trading up, it wouldn’t surprise me if he traded down. The OL pick in the first round seems to be the majority opinion in mock drafts and analyst opinions. Which means that it’s most likely Chris Williams. 2nd round RB and third round WR/OL. After that, it’s more of a crapshoot, which makes predictions a waste of good time. Good luck, Jerry Angelo……you’re going to need a lot of it.

By the way, some of the players I like in this year’s draft that I would be thrilled to see the Bears pick:

RB – Rashard Mendenhall, James Stewart, Ray Rice, Matt Forte

WR – Mario Manningham, Malcolm Kelly, Eddie Royal, James Hardy, Jordy Nelson

OL – Ryan Clady, Branden Albert, Chilo Rachal, Duane Brown, Anthony Collins, Chris Williams

QB – Chad Henne, Joe Flacco, Dennis Dixon

Safety – Tom Zbikowski

DT – Marcus Harrison, Pat Sims

LB – Jordon Dizon, Xavier Adibi

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Top 5 Issues for Chicago Bears Success This Season

Posted by sportsmaven on August 6, 2007

The Chicago Bears have what seems to be a very interesting problem:  too much depth.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, how can a team have too much depth?  But that’s what the Bears have, so much so that they have traded last year’s starting SS Chris Harris to the Carolina Panthers and are looking to move another, reserve CB and special teams standout Dante Wesley.  I will be the first to admit that I was very hard on Bears GM Jerry Angelo in the early days, but the last 3 years, he has proven that he has not only grown into the job, but has been one of the most shrewdest GM’s in the game in that period.

Cedric Benson at Bears training camp

(Tribune photo by Scott Strazzante)

Angelo has wisely locked up core young talent early at a lesser price then they would have commanded in the open market, has drafted very wisely (has any GM drafted better from rounds 4-7?  If so, I want to know who that person is) and has built a roster that is arguably the strongest in the NFC from top to bottom.

The Bears are trying to defy recent history by returning to the Super Bowl a year after losing the Big Game, only a return is not the goal.  Winning the Super Bowl is the goal and it seems as though Bears head coach Lovie Smith has every man clearly focused on that goal once again.  For the Bears, 5 things have to happen in order to have a chance at returning to the Big Game:

1.  Avoid injuries at all cost — having the best bench depth in the NFC (and maybe in the league, west of New England) is definitely an asset, but you need your best players playing in top form all season.  If LB Brian Urlacher, QB Rex Grossman, RB Cedric Benson, WR Bernard Berrian, KR/PR/WR Devin Hester, DT Tommie Harris, or any one of the starting OL goes down, the next line of talent is thin at these positions.

2.  Offense has to make another leap in performance — The surprise of last season’s team was definitely the performance of the offense.  Nobody on the planet thought the Bears would be #2 in the NFL in scoring nor that Rex Grossman would throw 20 TD passes and over 3000 yards passing.  For the Bears to jump to the next level, Grossman must improve his completion rate.  Last season, he was at 54.6%.  This season, he has to eclipse 60% and limit his interceptions from 20 to single digits.  RB Cedric Benson is on the spot now, and must rush for at least 1,200 yards and 10 TD’s.  WR Mark Bradley must avoid the injury bug and establish himself as the #2 receiver, and WR Bernard Berrian must prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.

3.  KR/PR/WR Devin Hester must emerge as a multiple options threat — this is probably the most tenuous of all the options.  I can’t recall a return man who has excelled on the offensive side of the ball in recent history.  The Kansas City Chiefs tried KR Dante Hall at WR and that didn’t work.  Devin Hester could be one of the best open field players in NFL history, but not after one record setting season as a KR/PR.  Hester must prove that he is a threat regardless of position.  He didn’t stand out as a DB.  The offensive side of the ball is where he belongs, but yet again, he is very raw and unproven there….

4.  Defense can’t have another late season drop off — It was clear that the defense dropped off significantly in the second half of last season.  It was still a very good defense, but a dominant defense wins Super Bowl XLI and that wasn’t the case for the Bears.  The Indianapolis Colts rushed for 191 yards in the Super Bowl against a defense missing DL Tommie Harris and SS Mike Brown.  That defense stepped up against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, but the time for the defense to shine is in December and January.  New defensive coordinator Bob Babich must bring more energy to the table then his predecessor, Ron Rivera, otherwise the change may be for naught.

5. Young players must perform well — Of any reason listed above, the performance of young players have been one of the biggest contributors to the recent success the Bears have experienced.  KR/PR Devin Hester, SS Danieal Manning, WR Mark Bradley, when healthy, DE Mark Anderson, departed SS Chris Harris, K Robbie Gould are all young players that really turned their games on in their rookie or second years, pushing for playing time and putting high priced veterans on the bubble.  The pressure will be on this year’s draft class, particularly TE Greg Olsen, RB Garrett Wolfe, and CB Trumaine McBride to fill key roles.  If these rookies shine, expect the Bears to be even more potent.

Opening day in San Diego is right around the corner.  The time to play the Chargers might be early in the season, but this is a tough opener.  The non-division schedule is tough, with games against the San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Seattle Seahawks, but to be the best, you have to go through the best.  The Bears will definitely have that to deal with this championship season….

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