WCC Notebook: Bears rout Bills, Blackhawks struggle on road trip, Bulls rookies playing well, and more

By Thomas Gibbons

It was a big weekend for Chicago sports. The Bears remain in first place in the NFC North with a 41-9 win in Buffalo on Sunday. The Cubs picked up the team options on relief pitcher Pedro Strop and starter Cole Hamels. Also, Anthony Rizzo earned a gold glove award. As for the teams that share the United Center, the Blackhawks went winless on their Canada road trip and the Bulls fell apart on Saturday in the second half at home to the Rockets and have now dropped five straight. It could have been a better weekend but the Bears staying atop the NFC North is a win-win.

Bears rout Bills 41-9

The Bears won so that’s the big takeaway. The Bills have a stout defense but their offense is not good at all. Led by Kyle Fuller’s big performance on Sunday, the Bears defense scored two defensive touchdowns in their 41-9 win. Eddie Jackson scooped and scored on a 66-yard return and Leonard Floyd had an interception return for a touchdown caused by Fuller’s break on the ball. Their performance in Buffalo continued the narrative that the Bears have one of the best defenses in football.

Let’s get into a few takeaways I have from Sunday’s domination in Buffalo. 

Led by Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears have scored 40 or more points twice in 8 games this season. They failed to reach that mark in three years under John Fox.

This is a prime example that the Bears are turning the corner. With a brilliant offensive mind in Matt Nagy, an improving quarterback in Trubiksy, and an abundance of weapons on offense, the Bears offense is something we have not seen in years. Everyone is getting touches and making plays and it’s quite something. The season is nowhere near over yet, but if the Bears can keep this up, they could find themselves coming away with the division crown.

This was the expectation when Ryan Pace hired Nagy. The defense was where it needed to be. A top 10 unit last season was ready to move into elite status even before the addition of Khalil Mack. But he put Vic Fangio’s unit over the top. Back to the offense, the Bears spent money surrounding Trubisky with weapons so they could one of the top scoring offenses in the league. They currently sit 5th in the NFL in total points. So far the money spent is paying off. And that bolds well for Pace because he has spent a good deal of money on players who have not panned out in Chicago. You know the list. We do not need to re-visit the dark times.

The Bears defense ranks 2nd in the NFL in interceptions and forced fumbles and first in the league in defensive touchdowns with three. The Monster of the Midway are alive and well on the lakefront.

Jackson and Floyd returned scores to the house on Sunday. It was Jackson’s third touchdown of his career, two coming last year in Chicago vs. Carolina. And Floyd, who has yet to record a sack this season, caught a tipped ball and took it to the house.

The Bears have 14 interceptions this season, four coming from Kyle Fuller. The previous three seasons…the Bears only had 8 each year. It is a credit to the defensive line pressuring the quarterback every week forcing tough throws. And the Bears defense is all about takeaways too.

Jordan Howard found the end zone twice on Sunday, one, in particular, is a powerful 18-yard run.

This season has not gone how Howard would have expected it. The narrative at the start of the season was that Howard was really not going to fit in Nagy’s scheme. He’s not particularly fast and is not a threat in the passing game. Then, he was a possible trade target for some teams around the deadline. The Beard fielded calls but apparently, no deals motivated Pace enough to move him.

Since a poor showing in Miami, in which Howard fumbled on the one-yard line, he has four touchdowns in three games. Nagy is giving him touches and he’s taking advantage. Inside and outside zone is where he makes his money and that can easily be built into the gameplan. Detroit’s run defense ranks toward the bottom of the league. It could be a big day for Howard and Cohen on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Blackhawks have lost five straight. 

After a strong start to the season, it’s time to pump the breaks on the Blackhawks for now. In their recent road trip up to our neighbors in Canada, the Blackhawks gave up the lead in Vancouver and Calgary and got blown out in Edmonton 4-0.

There are a lot of factors to the five-game skid, but the main one is giveaways. The Blackhawks are not taking care of the puck like they should and it’s leading to chances for their opponents. The defense has to be better and the answers are going to have to come from within. Their defensive group is hardly an average one and when you do not have Duncan Keith in the lineup, got ejected on Saturday, it is not going to look pretty.

Keith and rookie Henri Jokihrju have played pretty well together and you can say those are the best two Blackhawks defenseman right now. Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustaffson have played fine together, but both are not really top four material. Both would be a lot better as a third defensive pairing but that is all the Blackhawks got right now. As for the rest of the group, Jan Rutta, Brandon Manning, and Brandon Davidson have been rotating on the third pairing. Each of them has had bright spots but too many bad moments. I would think Gustav Forsling will be brought up soon and another option for Joel Quenneville.

As for the offense, the Blackhawks need more from their bottom six. Johnathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, and Alex DeBrincat cannot do it all. Nick Schmaltz has only one goal this season and saw a healthy scratch last week. Dominik Kahun needs to get going if he wants to keep his top line spot and other such as Alexandre Fortin and Luke Johnson are fighting to play in the lineup and lighting the lamp will help their case.

One way the Blackhawks can even out the lines and get some production from the bottom six is calling up Dylan Sikura. Sikura, who has started the year in Rockford, has four goals in twelve games. He’s a natural for finding the back of the net and I think it’s just what the Blackhawks need to add some energy into the lineup.

The Blackhawks have a few days off until they host the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night in Chicago.

The Chicago Bulls are 2-8 and it’s not going to get any easier. 

If Fred Hoiberg had Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, Lauri Markkanen, and Denzel Valentine healthy, they could have blown out the Rockets on Saturday and could be sitting with a better record than 2-8.

Year two of the rebuild was off to a poor start in the training camp after Markkanen sprained his elbow, sidelining him until late November. Then Valentine sprained his ankle in camp and Dunn, Portis suffered sprained MCL’s not even five games into the season. What was supposed to be exciting basketball in Chicago has turned into a pretty long injury report.

One big positive through ten games has been Zach LaVine. The 23-year-old has scored 20 or more points in each contest. I like his aggressiveness and not settling for jumpers as well as his will to get to the free throw line. He currently ranks 9th in free throw attempts per game in the NBA. He’s adding another element to his game and it’s a positive.

The main story though through the first few weeks of the season may be the play of Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. Both players are getting big minutes due to injuries and are thriving. Carter Jr logged 14 points, 13 boards, 4 blocks, and 3 steals in Saturday’s loss to Houston. In addition, Hutchison added 12 points off the bench on 5-8 shooting.

Carter Jr. is already focusing on defense first and once Markkanen comes back, they are going to compliment each other very well. As for Hutchison, he could grow into a nice piece for this Bulls team. He’s more athletic than Valentine and while Valentine is a solid shooter, Hutchison is that and then some. I like what I see from him offensively so far, especially when he decides to be more of a slashing forward than a shooter. It’s still too early to say it, but the Bulls could have struck gold with their two first round picks this year.

Next five games for the Bulls: 11/5 @ Knicks, 11/7 @ Pelicans, 11/10 vs Cavs 11/12 vs Mavs 11/14 @ Celtics

The Bears will wear their orange jerseys Week 11 when they host the Vikings.

Originally slated for a noon kickoff, the NFL has flexed the Bears-Vikings game at Soldier Field to primetime on November 18th.

MLB Free Agency is open and the Cubs should be major players for at least one big name on the market: Bryce Harper. 

The GM Meetings, which are Tuesday through Thursday this week, will be the first big event of the MLB offseason. Harper and Manny Machado are the big names on the market this offseason and the Cubs will be connected to both. It is obvious the Cubs could use some more bullpen help, but adding a guy like Harper would make this lineup one of the best in baseball.

 

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