LAKE FOREST – I’m not saying that Jeff Fisher’s teams tend to play dirty, but…
Hippos’ feet are cleaner.
Hotel jacuzzis are cleaner.
George Carlin’s jokes are cleaner.
For proof, watch Sunday’s game when the Bears visit the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
It doesn’t take a behavioral specialist to recognize that the Rams – particularly on defense – have trouble keeping their hands to themselves. Fisher’s group has racked up 83 penalties in 10 games this season, and the violations read like a grocery list of bad decisions.
You want unnecessary roughness? You got it.
Taunting? Sure thing.
Fifteen-yard facemasks? No problem.
Even Rams defensive end Chris Long, co-star of the feel-good story of the week, was kicked out of a game after a midseason melee with the Carolina Panthers.
The ringleader of the Yellow Flag Boys is veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who played for Fisher with the Tennessee Titans before following his coach to St. Louis. Finnegan (5-foot-10, 188 pounds) is an undersized player with an oversized mouth and a penchant for pushing buttons, but he is listed as doubtful to play this week because of an eye injury.
If Finnegan is unable to play, Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery should be able to avoid headaches from all of the defender’s incessant yapping.
During the 2010 season, when Finnegan was in Tennessee, he instigated a fight against Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. Both players traded punches. Both players’ helmets came off.
In hockey, both would have served a 5-minute penalty.
In football, both were ejected and fined $25,000.
Two seasons later, in Finnegan’s first year in St. Louis, he proved to be successful in getting Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan to lose his cool. Late in the game, an angry Morgan heaved a ball at Finnegan, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that moved the Redskins out of field-goal range when they could have tied the game. They lost by 3.
Morgan offered his thoughts on Finnegan during a 2012 interview with USA Today.
“Just a lot of dirty and unnecessary stuff,” Morgan told the paper. “He’ll tackle you when you’re in a crowd. Try to twist your leg or break your leg. Punch you in the [gestures low] … you know. Poke you in your eyeball as you’re getting up. All the Dennis Rodman type stuff.
“That’s the best comparison: Dennis Rodman. He’s the Dennis Rodman of the NFL.”
By comparison, the Bears have been pretty well behaved this season. Only three players (Eric Weems, Khaseem Greene and Julius Peppers) have been whistled for unnecessary roughness, and Peppers’ penalty was the result of a muddy field that prevented him from stopping his slide into the quarterback.
The Bears also avoided a glut of mental mistakes, at least until last week, when they committed 13 penalties including a pair of false starts and a pair of neutral-zone infractions.
Perhaps the Bears were jinxed by all of the talk about their pre-snap discipline last week.
“Yeah, please don’t ask,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said with a half-grin, half-grimace. “Please don’t ask.”
Fortunately, Bears wide receiver Marquess Wilson had no problem being asked about playing against antagonists. The best defense against pests, Wilson learned during his playing days at Washington State, was to flash his pearly whites.
“There were a few [antagonists],” Wilson said. “I didn’t wear a mouthpiece, so I just smiled and laughed. It made them mad. I just kept playing.”
The next challenge is clear for the Bears.
Keep your cool, and you might keep smiling all the way home.
Lose your cool, and you might lose the game.