Tommie Harris' left hand was wrapped tightly as he stood Thursday in front of his locker, arousing curiosity. The truth is Harris slightly injured the hand against Arizona last month and has been wrapping it since as a precaution. But the story he was trying to sell piqued more interest.
"I was just in there boxing,'' Harris claimed, kidding.
He only felt like hitting something.
His frustration has been mounting since Harris' last sack eons ago Oct. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. That was his fifth in four games and he talked afterward of getting 10.
Funny thing about high standards: The higher you set them, the harder they are to meet.
"I'd be disappointed if I don't get 10,'' Harris said. "I don't want to be selfish, but this is the NFL and the NFL is a business and in this business you've got to [have sacks].''
Harris made five tackles against the Giants, a season-high six a week earlier against Miami and returned a fumble against San Francisco. Yet the findings of his own informal Harris poll reveal a player in the midst of a slump.
"Two plus two is not equaling four right now,'' Harris said. "I don't know why.''
Part of it can be attributed to his own complacency Harris alluded to after the Dolphins loss. But most of it involves the way teams began to assign two blockers to him after the first month of the season when Harris was the NFL's most dominant defensive lineman.
Of the 56 Giants offensive plays, for example, Harris said they blocked him one-on-one only three times.
"But those three times I didn't beat it,'' he said.
Harris wonders if there will ever be a time when it won't matter how many linemen block him.
Here are some questions easier to answer.
A recent Jets-Bears game preview in Sporting News said Grossman can read only half the field, locks on his primary receiver and that Miami figured out that Jones tips the plays by lining up six yards deep on pass plays and seven or more on runs and blitzed according to this alignment. What is your comment? --Vic Feibig, Springfield, Va.
Many theories abounded after Grossman laid eggs against Arizona and Miami and his field vision came under more scrutiny. Yet in the games he has excelled -- the Giants game marking the fifth time in nine games Grossman has exceeded a passer rating of 100 -- his accuracy and command illustrate that he sees the field with clarity. Grossman touched on the fickle nature of fans and media the other day, and he had a valid point. He's shorter than many NFL quarterbacks but when given time takes advantage and has no problem finding his primary and secondary receivers.
All quarterbacks who struggle as badly as Grossman did against the Dolphins and Cardinals can be accused of locking in too much on his No. 1 option, but that has been the exception and not the rule. If not, the Bears would not be 8-1 and Grossman would not have more TD passes (17) than interceptions (11).
As for Jones tipping off passes and runs, if a Dolphin coach or player noticed that and reacted that way then it's likely something the Bears have addressed. Nobody on the Bears or any other team would acknowledge such a tendency but it will bear watching Jones' depth on the first third-and-long situation Sunday against the Jets. Every game there will be subtle signs that help defensive coordinators make adjustments, which is part of the reason they sit high atop the field in the coaching booth. If there was nothing to gain from that vantage point, they'd all call defenses from the sideline.
David, it seemed when the coaching staff realized how much pressure the Giants line was getting on Rex Grossman, they switched to more two tight-end sets that were effective. Do you see the Bears continuing this trend, and if so, what combination of TEs, given Clark's lack of blocking ability and Gabe Reid and John Gilmore's ability to block? --Jon Lucci, Lower Merion, Penn.
First, Clark often gets unfairly labeled as a poor blocker. If he were as bad as he is often perceived, no way could the Bears afford to keep him on the field as a starter. While Clark might not match Gilmore's blocking skills, he gets the job done more often than not. Reid has a longer way to go as a blocker but his strength is good hands and instincts getting open. If you are advocating taking Clark off the field for any number of snaps, it's a bad idea. He is in the midst of a career year and gives the Bears a missing element to the passing game. The two-tight end set makes sense in the red zone, on short-yardage downs and for the occasional play-action pass but does not threaten a defense vertically in the passing game as much as a three-wide receiver set would.
Who deserves credit for neutralizing Jeremy Shockey in the Giants game? --Bill Fitzgibbon, Roanoke, Va.
How about Tom Coughlin? The Bears deserve credit for taking Shockey out of the game but the Giants didn't try very hard to force the issue. Even quarterback Eli Manning acknowledged after the loss that the Giants needed to find ways to get Shockey more involved. The Bears linebacker trio did a nice job of dropping into their zones quickly enough to make Manning look elsewhere. Safety Todd Johnson also held his own a couple times matched up opposite the All-Pro tight end in one-on-one situations. "We didn't do anything specifically for him,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said Thursday.
David, the Bears were criticized by most "experts" for their "poor" draft this past year. Now how does the draft look? --Mike Wisdom, La Grande, Ore.
As a man of Wisdom, you already know the answer. Jerry Angelo looks pretty smart now for taking defensive players with the first five picks of the draft with his fan base clamoring for a tight end or wide receiver. Even the offensive players taken in the later rounds, fullback J.D. Runnels and guard Tyler Reed raised a few eyebrows but Angelo stuck to a philosophy of "keeping strengths strengths.'' He explained this earlier this season when asked to reflect on the success of a draft that has produced three high-impact rookies: Devin Hester, Danieal Manning and Mark Anderson. Tackle Dusty Dvoracek was on pace to make significant contributions to the defensive line too before getting injured and placed on injured reserve near the end of preseason. The Saints also have several rookies contributing to their surprising success but it would be hard to find three non-first round draft picks on the same team making as big of a difference as Hester, Manning and Anderson have for the Bears. How good is this batch of Bears rookies? "As good as any since my rookie year [in 2000],'' Urlacher kidded. That class, drafted by the late Mark Hatley, included Urlacher, Mike Brown, Dez White, Dustin Lyman, Reggie Austin, Frank Murphy, Paul Edinger, James Cotton and Mike Green.
What's up with Nathan Vasher? He has only one interception this season after eight last year and five as a rookie. Please don't tell me opponents are throwing at him less "out of respect." He's around the ball as much this year as he was last year, as evidenced by his tackle totals (48 last year, 26 through nine this year). Was Plaxico right? Is Vasher overrated? --John Krupa, Fayetteville, Ark.
Vasher made the Pro Bowl last season, and players and coaches vote on that honor, so overrated tag does not apply. But it's fair to suggest that Vasher has not played at the same level he did during 2005, when many factors conspired to help him have one of those magical years. Quarterbacks probably have avoided Vasher more this year because of his reputation and that has reduced his opportunities. That's not an excuse, it's a fact. More obvious have been Vasher's deficiencies supporting the run, which have been exposed in safety Mike Brown's absence. Defenses do not count on their cornerbacks to be good tacklers but it helps, and Vasher must improve in this area. Given the solid year Charles Tillman is enjoying, the Bears will face a decision as early as this off-season on which cornerback to give the big money. Both Vasher and Tillman enter the final years of their contracts next season and, given nickel back Ricky Manning Jr.'s $21 million deal last off-season, it's unlikely the Bears can afford all three at top dollar.
I thought Chris Harris' celebration after his interception Sunday night was absolutely ridiculous. The Bears had only an 11-point lead with 11 minutes remaining in the game -- plenty of time remaining for the Giants to come back. Without the dance and the resulting unsportsmanlike penalty called on Harris, the Bears would have immediately been in field goal position to potentially make it a two-touchdown game. Fortunately the Bears prevailed on the drive despite the penalty. Do the Bears have any type of disciplinary action that they give out for idiotic penalties such as this? --Dan M., Eastampon, N.J.
Yeah, Harris is no Emmitt Smith as a dancer, is he? If Harris was disciplined for the over-the-top celebration -- and it was over the top -- then nobody was saying. He got carried away in his first action in a month and after his first interception of the season. Nobody wants to squelch enthusiasm but it did seem a little early to bust a move after a pretty ordinary interception.
Three games without Mike Brown and three 100-yard rushers. Will Chris Harris replacing Todd Johnson shore that up? --Nelson McElmurry, San Jose, Calif.
Imagine Harris' celebratory dance if that were the case. But as good as Harris can be against the run, he has not shown yet to be markedly better to Johnson enough to suggest he alone could make the difference in holding a runner under 100 yards. Tommie Harris explained the trend this way Thursday in the Bears locker room. "How many weeks has Mike Brown been out?'' Harris asked, knowing the answer. "And how many 100-yard runners in a row? OK?''
Tuesday night, I was listening to the Barber Shop on Sirius Radio. Both Tiki and Ronde Barber mentioned how the Giants dominated the Bears for the entire game. And the Giants gave the game away. At first I thought they were being facetious, except they kept referring to the NFC as wide open and implying that the Bears are not a good team. Now I would agree the Giants O-line and D-line were in control of the game through the first 26-28 minutes. However, looking at the game as a whole, every stat line is overwhelming in the Bears favor except rushing yards, which is in the Giants favor by only 32 yards. Is there something that I am missing watching the game on TV? Do you think the Giants dominated the Bears for 60 minutes and the Bears were just lucky to escape with an 18-point win? Or are Ronde and Tiki Barber just imagining something? --Ronald Gubrud, Dallas
The Barbers apparently just finished reading "Football For Dummies: Dennis Green's Rules For the Game,'' that states NFL games are only 30 minutes long. Under those rules, the Bears indeed would be 5-4 and not 8-1. But over the course of a 60-minute game, the Bears dominated the Giants as the 18-point differential on the scoreboard indicates. It's becoming a tired lament both to hear and write about. Either before or after teams play the Bears, comments emerge from opponents stating they weren't that good or haven't played anybody. Some skepticism is healthy but denial is for losers. The Bears cannot do anything about their schedule and it's not like the NFC is loaded with teams they don't play who look Super Bowl-worthy. As for the teams and players who claim the Bears aren't as good as advertised, here's an idea: Do what the Dolphins did and prove it on the field.
I was at the game in NY -- a great time and a great result. I wish to note how average Lance Briggs looked. With Urlacher hurting you'd think a "great" player would step up. Few players play great every game but it is noteworthy that with Urlacher somewhat injured the level of Briggs' play fell off. Do you agree? Have you noticed this in other games? Cheers. --Rupert Chambers, Washington D.C.
We agree in that Briggs has not jumped off the screen in the past couple games making big plays as he did at times earlier this season. But to call the second-leading tackler on the NFL's No. 1 defense "average'' exaggerates what you consider a decline. Briggs made 11 tackles against the Giants - three more than Urlacher, by the way - so that qualifies him for more praise than criticism. Occasionally, Briggs gets himself out of position by over-pursuing the football due to his unusual quickness. It's his biggest strength, and in those instances it becomes his biggest weakness. The Bears are not complaining about Briggs specifically but would like to see him and the rest of his defensive teammates pursue the football with more discipline to stop the run better than they have in the past three games.
What's it going to take for the Bears O-Lineman to stop getting false start penalties? --Walter Brzeski, Chicago
Fred Miller started to answer that question but his tongue got ahead of his brain and it ruined everything. Just kidding. But you raise a valid concern. Miller was flagged three times against the Giants for false starts and John Tait once and four is a high number for two offensive tackles with 19 combined seasons' experience. Two of the flags fell before plays in the shot-gun formation but that wasn't it. It might have been a combination of the swirling winds, a hostile crowd and a confusing Giants front seven. But the veterans would tell you those are no excuses, and they're right.