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Monday, May 20

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Bears in Five

Bears Hog-tied
by Sean Cassidy, Herman Coats and Gabe Dixon

One: "Wrecks is our Quarterback"
It didn't take long for Lovie to reaffirm our misery in what must be the most torturous statement to a Chicago sports fan at the moment. All Bears fans want to know is, if last night wasn't enough to cost Rex his job, then what is? Does his handgun per playing child ratio need to improve three fold or more? Hypothetical multiplication or not, It's true that none of the Bears offense played particularly well Sunday night. Blocking was shoddy for both Rex and Benson, the ground game never got going, and dropped passes sabotaged drives.

Still, despite all the issues the Bears were in this game until the 4th quarter. Then following a Benson turnover and the Bears falling behind by more than one score, Rex did what we all expected — self-destructed. Maybe if injuries hadn't derailed his development... maybe if Rex had grown and developed with the rest of this team... maybe then he'd be ready to lead his team like Tony Romo did Sunday night. But one thing that is not a maybe anymore is that Lovie's loyalty is officially costing the Bears games.

Two: Superman Hit by Slyptonite
Of all the things that happened last night in the "What the on the Water," the most shocking has to be the extremely poor play of Devin Hester. After handing the Bears the ball on the 40 yard-line when the initial kickoff went out of bounds, Dallas coaches caved to their players' and Devin Hester's demands and kicked to him. But while Bears fans were continually excited on every punt and kickoff, hoping, waiting for a big play from Hester to get the back in the game, Superman may have done more harm than good. Hester continually had trouble fielding kicks, causing eerie flash backs to last year, and he outright fumbled one kickoff where he was bailed out by Brendon Ayanbadejo. Hester is a big part of what gives the Bears their advantage on special teams and bails out this anemic offense with his heroic efforts. Methinks he had his glasses on under that visor.

Three: Injury Bug Bites Hard
After taking a week off the injury bug came back to bite the Bears against the Cowboys, and it bit in a big way. As mentioned on NBC, the major reason the losing Super Bowl team typically doesn't return to the playoffs the following year is injuries. Go ahead and add Lance Briggs, Nathan Vasher, and Tommy Harris to the list of injured Bears starters. At one point on Sunday the Bears were down six of their Opening Day defensive starters and one offensive lineman. The Bears came into this season as one of the deepest teams in the NFL, but that depth is already being tested by an almost unbelievable string of industries. Adding an inconsistent offense to a depleted defense could spell disaster for the Bears in a division where Green Bay is off to a 3-0 start. But keep this interesting subplot in mind as the Bears handle Briggs' injury. Lance's contract stipulates that he needs to participate in 75 percent of the defensive snaps this year to avoid another franchise tag. Would the Bears risk victories to keep him around another year? Oh yeah, I like the kind of cereal with TWO SCOOPS! Zing.

Four: Cedric "Run 'Till the Count of One and Fall Over" Benson
After the second 100-yard performance of his career against the Chiefs last week, Bears fans had started to gain some measure of confidence in Cedric Benson. But just like his backfield mate Wrecks, the flashes appear to be too good to be true. Benson seems completely unable to get a consistent push and can't make headway without solid blocking. Perhaps it's the "aging" instead of "veteran" offensive line, but the Bears need at least some facet of their offense working to have a chance. I am just wondering, if both Benson and Grossman tank in the same season, what does that say for the job Jerry Angelo has done? Great picks in the 2nd through 7th round will only take you so far. You can't blow every 1st round pick your team has and stay competitive, so unless Benson can get his act together and average more than 3 yards a carry, Angelo will have the chance to screw up another high 1st round pick.

Five: Izzy "The Beast" Idonije
If there was one bright spot in the game — and this may have been the only one — the Bears blocked a field goal for the third consecutive week. And for the second straight week it was the big paw of Israel Idonije that sent the kick off its course. Idonije has been playing at an unbelievable level so far this season, making huge special team plays and being a solid contributor on the defensive line in substitution packages. I'd list him as the early favorite for the special team representative in Hawaii. So maybe that seems like a minor thing to mention, but with my "Idonije" jersey already ordered and mailed I needed to find something positive to say this week. This jersey's so cool it's gonna pay up on all my bills!

Cubs in Five

Go Cubs, Go!
by Jeff Webber

One: The Magic Number Is Four
The Cubs can screw up anything, so you don't want to jinx things. But we like math here at Cubs in Five and as such, we feel compelled to point out that the odds of even the Cubs blowing a three game lead with only six games left are looooooooooong. The magic number is four; any combination of Cubs victories and Brewers losses totaling four and it's playoff time here in Chicago. Even if the slumping Brewers suddenly right their ship and go, say, 4-2 to end the season, the Cubs could still go just 2-4 and win the NL Central anyway. Don't send out invites to your playoff watching party yet, but it wouldn't kill you to think about what kind of snacks you'd like to serve.

Two: Soto-tally Awesome
24-year-old Cubs Minor League Player of the Year Geovany Soto seems like a godsend. Hot off a 26 HR, 109 RBI, 1.076 OPS season in Triple A Iowa, the young catcher has gone 17 for 43 (.395) with three homers since joining the big club. Add in the four runners he's nailed trying to steal (in 12 games; compare that to Jason Kendall's five in 49 games) and it's easy to get excited. Be aware: Soto has never hit this well before and the Iowa Cubs were weirdly bashtacular as a team this year (even Koyie Hill was raking), so it might be like the year Ronny Cedeno seemed a sure thing. For now, let's just enjoy his hot streak as a potential key to Cubs' playoff magic.

Three: Pitching Helps Our Odds
What a great time for Carlos Zambrano to start pitching like, well... Carlos Zambrano. Six strikeouts and no runs on Sunday? More of that, please. With baseball's playoffs usually decided by pitching, the Cubs trio of Z, Lilly and Hill is going to be tough for any team in the league to match up against. San Diego's trio of Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Greg Maddux could hold strong, ditto New York's John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Tom Glavine. But Arizona and Philly are both heavily outgunned. We'll see what Vegas has to say once the series opponents are set, but I like our odds.

Four: Reasons to Still Be Afraid
Let's say you read number one and your wounded, bitter, permanently disappointment-scarred inner Cub fan shriveled up in fear, just knowing the Cubs would find a way to screw things up. What way would that be? In all likelihood, it'd Wednesday and Thursday's starter's Jason Marquis and Steve Trachsel.

Five: That Damned Go Cubs Go Song
Yeah, it's probably time you learned the words to that cheeseball country-rock "Go Cubs, Go!" song. Did you know it was written by Steve Goodman, the same guy whow wrote "You Never Even Called Me By Name?" Anyway, if you're going to ride the bandwagon this postseason, you really ought to learn to sing the song. Here's a YouTube clip.

Sox in Five

by Steve Gozdecki

...is "pulling a Buehrle" and taking the week off. Stay tuned next week for our big 2007 season in review and early distant 2008 season preview!

Fire in Five

How to Turn Six Points Into Two
by Steve Gillies

One: Snatching A Draw From the Jaws of Victory
Thursday night: It's injury time in a hard fought match in Dallas. The Fire holds a 1-0 lead. ESPN2 commentator Eric Wynalda is talking about what a solid performance it's been from the Fire and how they deserve to pick up their first win from Dallas in something like eight games. Then, a bit of ball watching from a usually reliable defense and the most hate-able player on Dallas' team, Carlos Ruiz, sneaks in to tie it with the last kick of the game.

Sunday afternoon: The Fire is entertaining a sold out crowd by toying with league leading DC United. Sure, the score is only 1-0, but with the Fire creating chances practically at will, that second goal will come. Only it doesn't. And then in the 86th minute, the usually reliable goalkeeper, Matt Pickens, watches a mis-hit cross he thinks is going out of bounds go into the back of the net. It's been as bad a week for the Fire as possible without actually losing a game.

Two: The Problem With Our Defense Is Our Offense
The natural tendency when you give up late goals is to point fingers at defenders and the goalkeeper. And certainly mistakes were made, you don't need to tell Matt Pickens that. But the most worrying trend is the inability of the Fire's strikers to do what it takes to close a game out. In Dallas, Calen Carr and Paulo Wanchope had plenty of opportunities to either score the insurance goal or hold the ball to kill time. They managed to do neither. Against DC, Chad Barrett (who did manage to finish one of his chances), Calen Carr and Cuahtemoc Blanco were all guilty of missing opportunities in what could have been a rout. The team has made remarkable progress over the past two months. The way the team's playing now, all they need is a striker with a killer instinct, a guy that will score well into the double figures a year, and they'll be competitive with the best teams in the league. But right now, it doesn't matter how well you play if you can't put teams away.

Three: The Playoff Picture
After the results of this weekend, we're currently tied for the last playoff spot with the Columbus Crew. The Colorado Rapids are two points behind us, and have the easiest remaining schedule, with games against bottom feeders Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake. The Fire's run-in is formidable, with Chivas USA away, New England at home, DC away, and then LA at home. The recent performances have been good enough to beat any of those teams, but that doesn't matter. What really matters though is how they bounce back from blowing two leads and how they deal with the pressure of playing in must-win games. Matt Pickens, in particular, looked inconsolable after his mistake, and this will be a huge test for his character.

Four: Blanco and the Art of Diving
I'm probably the only soccer fan I know that thinks the backlash against diving has gone too far. I've always viewed diving as much a part of the game as late tackles, stomping on people's toes in the box before a corner kick, or moving the ball on a set play a few yards forward when the ref isn't looking. None of these are pretty, but it's what competitors do to get an edge. And allowing refs to card players when they think they dove just gives them the opportunity to turn one mistake into two. Having said that, Blanco is taking diving to comical extremes. On Sunday he went to the ground every time he lost the ball. It mostly drew laughter from the hometown crowd, but antics like that will make him very unpopular with other teams fans. Oh, wait. That's not a bad thing at all. What is bad though is that Blanco is furthering the reputation he came into the league with. And all it's going to take is one Brian Hall-type ref to get Blanco in serious card trouble.

Five: But Let's Talk About Something Good
It hasn't been all bad news. The Fire played as well as they have all season for 178 out of 180 minutes. And not only did Chris Rolfe score his first goal since coming back from the ankle injury, it was the kind of goal that made me terrify the neighbors and almost break my couch in celebration. Check it out on the Fire's video page. If he could only get a full season under his belt, that striker problem might become a thing of the past.

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About the Author(s)

Sean Cassidy, Herman Coats and Gabe Dixon are the hosts of Bearscast.com, the best and brightest Bears podcast, part of the Chicago Sportscast Network. Now with perfect pronunciation of "Adewale Ogunleye"...by one of the hosts anyway. Go listen. Send comments to hosts@bearscast.com.

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gillies has been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to fire@gapersblock.com.

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