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Around Chicago
by Mike Maloney (Other)
Posted on November 14, 2007, 12:45 PM

I've noticed some stories come to light regarding most of the major sports teams in Chicago over the past week or so, and while none necessarily deserves an entire column devoted to it, I thought it would be beneficial to discuss these topics briefly and just combine them into one Chicago-themed post.

Football

Let's start with the most current team at the moment, the Chicago Bears. It's no secret that this season has been a pretty big disappointment for the Bears, who have gone from NFC Champions just last year to a lackluster 4-5 start, and a 1-3 divisional record, finding themselves 4 games behind the surprising Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, and 2 games back from any kind of Wild Card contention. Really, outside of the sickening abilities of Devin Hester, there have been few bright spots for the Bears this season. The offense has struggled to score points, and the once feared and vaunted defense has been torched on more than one occasion. Defensively, the team has been hurting a lot from injuries, and has not done a good job of adjusting. But the important news this week out of Bears camp surrounds the offense.

Some time today, the Bears are expected to hold a press conference to announce the starting quarterback for this weekend against Seattle. As most people who have been following the NFL season know, Rex Grossman was the starting QB for the Bears at the start of the year. However, after struggling through the first three games of the season, Grossman was benched for Brian Griese, who came in and was 2-3 as the starter before injuring his shoulder last weekend in Oakland. Rex came in and made his first appearance since being benched, and led the Bears to two scoring drives in the 4th quarter and a victory over the Raiders. Now the dilemma facing Coach Lovie Smith is who does he send back out Sunday against the Seahawks?

On one hand, Brian Griese has shown to be the better quarterback. His numbers aren't stellar, with a completion percentage of 61%, and 9 TDs while throwing 10 INTs for a QB rating of 77.1. However, Grossman's numbers are even worse, with a completion percentage of 52%, and only 2 TDs with 6 INTs and a QB rating of 53.9. Griese had a solid come from behind win against Philadelphia with a game winning drive to end the game that stretched most of the field. Griese has also thrown for 1500 yards so far. On the other hand, Brian Griese is old, has not shown to be a reliable long-term solution at quarterback for any team he has been on. Rex Grossman is supposed to be the future of this franchise at QB, and unless that attitude is changed, he should be starting for the Bears. He led the Bears to the Super Bowl last year, throwing for 23 TDs and over 3,000 yards. He wasn't always consistent, but in his good games he really showed everyone how talented he can be.

So where do the Bears go from here? I guess it depends on where they stand in regards to their QB position in the long term. The Bears have been looking for a new franchise quarterback pretty much since Jim McMahon. Since 1991 they have started over 20 quarterbacks. Rex Grossman was supposed to be the end of their search, a franchise QB they could look to for the next ten years. His career was marred by injury to start, and last season marked his first full season as a starter. If this is the guy the Bears want to keep as their franchise quarterback, then he needs to continue to start. Critics like to blame Grossman for the Bears' offensive struggles, but when it comes down to it, Cedric Benson has been awful at running back, the offensive line has not done a good job in either pass protection or providing blocking for the run game, and outside of Bernard Berrian the Bears' wide receivers have been largely ineffective. The offense as a whole is to blame, Grossman is merely a part of that.

Now, if the Bears are giving up on Rex, and are looking to bring in another quarterback, it really doesn't matter who they start, Griese's more experienced and has the better numbers, so they could just leave him in for the rest of the season, and address the need in the offseason. I think it's too early to give up on Grossman, considering he only has one full season starting under his belt, and it's not his fault the rest of the offense is underperforming. Either way, until Cedric Benson learns how to run like an NFL-caliber running back, it's going to most likely be hard times for whoever lines up under center for the rest of the season.

Basketball

The Chicago Bulls were considered to be the preseason favorite out of the Eastern Conference by many, or at the very least in the top three. Instead, the Bulls have fallen out of the gate, starting out at 1-5, including losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, and most recently a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors.

There are a number of reasons that the team is struggling, most of which fall on the offensive side of the ball. Kirk Hinrich, a career 41% FG shooter, is shooting 32%, and 15% from behind the arc (38% career), resulting in only 9.3 points per game, down from a career average of 15. Ben Gordon is shooting 35%, down from a career average of 43%, and 31% from 3-point land, down from 41%. His points are only down slightly, which probably means he's shooting the ball too much. Chris Duhon, the Bulls backup point gaurd, has never been a big scorer, but his numbers are also down (FG: 37% vs. 39% career, 3PT: 29% vs. 36%, PPG: 5.8 vs. 7.2), and Thabo Seflosha, the Bulls backup shooting guard, shot 42% in his rookie year last year, and is now shooting only 21%, to go along with a 25% percentage from behind the arc compared to 36% last year. Ben Wallace, who is reported to be suffering from an ankle injury, has looked absolutely awful, shooting a career low 32% from the field, career low 27% from the free throw line, and averaging 3.5 points per game, his lowest average since his second year in league in 1997-98, when he wasn't even a starter and averaged 3.1 PPG. His rebounding is also plummeted to 4.9 rpg, also the lowest average since his second year in the league.

Considering that the Bulls strongest offensive assets over the past few years have been in the backcourt, the fact that all four of their primary guards are struggling to make shots is a huge reason why the team as a whole is playing poorly. Instead, it's the Bulls frontcourt that has been carrying the team so far, save for Wallace. Luol Deng struggled a bit in his first few games, but has found his rhythm, shooting 19-for-41 in his last three games, and averaging 15 points per game. Andres Nocioni has shot 43% from the field and added 12 points per game, although his 3-point shooting has been terrible so far, only shooting 23% so far through the season. Tyrus Thomas has been one of the big positives for the Bulls, averaging over 9 points per game, shooting 46% and pulling in 7 rebounds a game in only 26 minutes a game. Newcomer Joe Smith has probably been the most consistent player for the Bulls, coming off the bench and averaging 20 minutes, but scoring 9 points a game and 5 rebounds, and shooting 45% from the field with a stellar 94% FT percentage. Joakim Noah has struggled on offense, and has not yet made a basket in his three games so far with the team, although he has gotten to the line a few times. Aaron Gray hasn't played enough to have made any kind of impact so far.

This is not a bad Bulls team, and while everyone seems to be clamoring for Kobe Bryant just because the team is struggling, the fact of the matter is most of the issues with this team isn't indicative of the teams' weaknesses. As I said, none of the guards are shooting well, and all are well below their career averages in shooting percentages and points per game. This is something you would expect to improve as the season goes on, as there is no logical explanation why Kirk Hinrich is all of a sudden playing bad basketball. Ben Wallace is an issue, and as long as he keeps playing 27 minutes a game and isn't healthy, he's going to be a liability to this team, both on offense and defense. He's being dominated by other centers when on defense, and can't make a shot or pull down a rebound on offense. It's really in the team's best interest to bench him until he's healthy, or at least limit his playing time and give Smith, Noah, and Gray more of his minutes. There is a rumor that Skiles may stick Gordon back on the bench for the time being, which could benefit the Bulls, as he is taking significantly more shots than everyone else on the team, which is just hurting the offense. Gordon has his limits, and while he is known around the league as a clutch shooter, he is not someone that has the ability to carry this team offensively. Kirk Hinrich needs to step up and play up to his abilities. Until that happens, this team is going to struggle. Hinrich and Deng are the two most important players on the team, and there needs to be consistency from them for the Bulls to find their way.

Baseball

Just a quick Cubs note, the team dealt center fielder Jacque Jones to the Detroit Tigers for infielder Omar Infante, and have sent outfield Craig Monroe to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later (Probably a minor league prospect). The Jones deal is interesting, although not terribly surprising. Jones came on strong in the second half of last season, and helped the team out during their divisional run; however, overall his performance with the Cubs was not up to par. He has speed in the outfield, but really lacks a strong throwing arm. He is an aggressive hitter, but frequently strikes out or swings at bad pitches. Felix Pie is waiting in the wings to take over the center field position, although he has struggled a bit with major league pitching, despite crushing the ball in the minors. The whole vibe from this trade is that management (Lou Piniella) wanted Jones out more so than they wanted to make room for Pie (Who is probably not 100% ready for the majors just yet). The Monroe deal is largely irrelevant, as he was brought in late last year to try and help the Cubs' offense against left-handed pitching. He only hit about .200 in his time with Chicago, and really wasn't as effective as the Cubs had hoped he would be.

Hockey

I know, I can't believe I'm actually writing about hockey!

It's no secret that Bill Wirtz, longtime owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, decided at some point in time during the 1990s to completely ruin one of the more historic teams in the NHL, trading away his best players (Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Ed Belfour, Tony Amonte), not putting any money into the team, and blacking out home games, to entice fans to go to the games instead, even when NHL attendance overall was dwindling.

Well, to the obvious sadness of the Wirtz family, Bill died earlier this year from cancer at the age of 77. However, rising to power in his place is his son, Rockwell, or "Rocky". It's clear already that Rocky has very different views on what's in the best interest of the team and the fans. From SI.com:

Blackhawks to change 2007-2008 home TV schedule

"CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Blackhawks announced Monday they will broadcast seven home games this season, changing the policy of longtime owner William Wirtz, who died in September...

... All the games will be available in high-definition on Comcast SportsNet, which the team partially owns. The first game is Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Rocky Wirtz said it was possible that more home games could make it to the air this season and next season.

"If this is a success and we're doing well and bringing people out, we would be crazy not to televise more games," he said."


There's more to the article, good quotes from Rocky. I have heard rumors that the team is working with Comcast Sports Net to air 70 'Hawks games for next season. Outstanding work done so far by the new owner to get the team some exposure to the city of Chicago and hopefully build fan interest. Obviously it's working as I'm actually discussing the Blackhawks without using any words of disdain.

It seems pretty clear from hearing Rocky speak that Chicago is in for a different Blackhawks team going forward, and I hope to see more changes made to the team going forward.

Well, that's all I've got for now. I hope that I'm able to do these every once in a while in the future when there are several current Chicago sports issues out in the news. Thanks for reading.



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