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Across The Middle: The Bears, John Fox & a Baby’s Molars

| September 26th, 2017

Teething is a bitch.

My one-year-old son already has seven teeth, all of which he toughed his way through with little complaint, but now he has molars coming in and it has been a struggle.

He has one big, dull tooth bulging into into the back of each side of his mouth. It’s created all kinds of problems. He’s had ear infections, boogers all over his face and just doesn’t seem to want to eat sometimes. The most puzzling part is when he fusses for no apparent reason.

But there is going to be an end to this. He’s going to have all of his teeth and proceed through his life like a normal, growing boy.

In a lot of ways, this Bears season has reminded me of my son’s teething. It’s been painful, but there are signs that things are going to turn around. Whether or not they’re able to finish the job is another story.

Last week was a big win. Things didn’t go their way with the officials, a defensive back made a stupid blunder and they got nothing from their quarterback. But they won. They won because they have a pretty good defense that took a significant step against a pretty good offense. They won because they have two studs in the backfield and a coach who is creative enough to know how to use them.

It was the first September win of the Fox regime. They showed there are things they can do well. The next step is consistency. I don’t know what this Bears season will end up being, and I don’t know what the Fox regime will be, but this was a step.

Now let’s see if we can get another tooth to pop through.

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Across The Middle: Coaching Collision Course?

| September 20th, 2017

Whether this is just a rumor or if it actually happened is anybody’s guess.

The story goes that before the Bears Week 17 game in 2014, Ted Phillips and George McCaskey brought Phil Emery into the principal’s office and asked him what his plan was. Firing Marc Trestman was a no-brainer but the Bears needed to know Emery had a solid plan to replace him. Emery’s response was a guy he had worked with before: Mike Smith.

Smith had success in the past. The Falcons won at least nine games in his first five years, but they’d gone just 10-22 since then. He wasn’t sexy and wasn’t someone any other team was going to consider. Emery liked him because he knew him and he felt Smith did a good job in helping turn the Falcons around. The Bears brass never really responded to Emery. They watched the Week 17 game together and the next time they spoke was the last. Emery was fired the next morning.

If things keep going the way they’re going, Ted and George are going to have the same talk with Ryan Pace. And, like Emery, there’s a good chance Pace is going to be able to mention a familiar name. Only this time, that name will have a Super Bowl ring.

But is Sean Payton the answer?

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Across The Middle: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

| September 13th, 2017

If the Chicago Bears want to sell their fans on the current regime leading the team back to glory, they better start making progress. Because last Sunday was decisively not progress. It was more of the same.

With their top two receivers out and the decision to play a terrible quarterback made, the defense has to be the center of John Fox’s sales pitch to stay in the job. What I saw last Sunday was pretty much the same thing we’ve been seeing for the last two years.

  • They can’t get turnovers.
  • They can’t get off the field on third down.
  • They start slowly.

The third bullet point is the most frustrating.

We are now 33 games into the Fox/Fangio defense. Some facts:

  • 21 times they’ve given up scores on the first two possessions.
  • 16 of those have been touchdowns!
  • In 14 of those games, they gave up scores on the first possession itself.
  • 11 of those were touchdowns!

Those rates are absolutely insane. For two defensive minds as accomplished as Fox and Fangio, how is it possible that their teams are never prepared to start games? Here’s the kicker: in games they managed to fight off their opponents until the third offensive possession, the Bears are 6-6. That’s six of the nine wins of the Fox regime.

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Five Reasons to be Excited about the 2017 Bears

| September 6th, 2017

The official start of the season should be an exciting time for NFL fans all over the country, but Bears fans are almost unanimously unexcited.

The reason for this is pretty clear. With their present quarterbacking situation, the starting of Mike Glennon, they’ll need perfection from pretty much everyone else on the roster. Have teams done it? Sure. But most teams in this situation end up picking in the top 10 of the draft.

That said, the Bears do have more going for them than a standard three-win team and there are a few reasons to be excited.

Here are five:

5. Return of Dominant Defense

It’s been a minute since the Bears have had even an adequate defense. Under Lovie Smith, they ranked in the top half of the league in scoring defense eight times in nine seasons and in the top five four times.

Since Smith was fired, they haven’t cracked the top twenty and finished in the bottom ten three times.

This year should be different.

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Punting on 2017 a Tough Sell for Fox

| August 30th, 2017

There is no question that John Fox actually believes he can win with Mike Glennon. That’s Fox’s reality. But in actual reality, even when Glennon is at his best, he will limit what the team can do offensively. The coaches know it, the fans know it and — worse yet — the players know it. If the Bears struggle with Glennon, Fox could lose the locker room. Once that happens, he’s gone.

Glennon deserves credit. It looked as if he needed to play well to keep his job and he did. But Glennon playing well still only gave the offense 10 points against an awful defense. It would’ve been 14, but he missed an easy throw for a touchdown.  Glennon is always going to miss throws. His ball placement is terrible. At his best, he’s just a guy who won’t kill you. He’s never going to make the kinds of plays that win games.

The rest of the Bears are good enough that they’ll win seven games that way if they stay completely healthy. They’ve already lost their top receiver and have a quarterback who can’t use either Kevin White or Markus Wheaton on anything aside from bubble screens and quick slants. More realistically, the Bears will end up with five or six wins if Glennon starts all 16 games. Fox probably isn’t keeping his job if they only win five or six games and he sure as hell isn’t keeping it if he loses the locker room along the way.

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Dowell Loggains Needs To Be Creative with Bears Backfield Duo

| August 23rd, 2017

Tarik Cohen takes a handoff, runs right and immediately sees three defenders in his path. Instead of going down easily and waiting for his next opportunity, Cohen manages to freeze all three, and sprint by for a nine-yard gain.

Nobody can really explain how Cohen managed that run in the first quarter against Arizona. It doesn’t make sense. He should’ve been stopped for a loss. And that wasn’t the first time he’s had an improbable run this preseason. He’s already made a habit of it, just as he did in college and it’s becoming very clear that the Bears have a special player to complement their already special back, Jordan Howard.

But how they’ll manage to get the most out of both remains to be seen.

Howard didn’t play against the Cardinals and Cohen only got one carry in the first two drives before Howard exited the Bears preseason game against Denver. If the Bears are going to maximize their offensive potential this season, they’ll need to be able to use both players together.

It’s not as easy as you might think.

The player Cohen is most often compared to is Darren Sproles, who didn’t have more than 200 yards from scrimmage until his third season. Sproles entered the league with Marty Schottenheimer as his coach but one of the greatest play callers of all time, Norv Turner, took over in 2007. In their first season together, Sproles — used primarily as a return man — managed just 195 yards from scrimmage.

As great as he was, Turner never did figure out a way to get his two special backs involved simultaneously. It wasn’t until 2008 when LaDainian Tomlinson started slowing down that Turner started to use Sproles more. That season he had 672 yards from scrimmage and six touchdown. The next year, he nearly equaled Tomlinson’s production, but LT was 30 and on his way out.

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Pace Wins Training Camp, Glennon is Glennon & Jaye Howard’s Poor Debut

| August 16th, 2017

Remember when people were calling for Ryan Pace to be fired?

Sure you do, it wasn’t that long ago.

He was stupid for taking a quarterback with just 13 collegiate starts, a D-II tight end, a safety with a rod in his leg and a tiny and a small running back from a small school. Guys like Matt Miller and Jason La Canfora quoted made-up sources saying Pace was SURELY going to be fired.

It’s early, of course, but two weeks into preseason, Pace is the unquestioned winner of Bears training camp.

Adam Hoge and Adam Jahns brought the topic up on their podcast last week. Who is the winner of training camp? Jahns named UDFA and 2017 Joe Anderson Boner Award winner Tanner Gentry. Hoge raved about rookies such as Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson and, of course, Mitch Trubisky. Neither Hoge nor Jahns was wrong. Those guys all look legitimate. But one guy is responsible for all those individuals being in camp, in Bears uniforms. That’s Pace.

It’s funny how much a narrative can change once football players, you know, play football.

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The Wright Stuff: Veteran Receiver Could Have Big Impact

| August 9th, 2017

It was only one day at camp, but Kendall Wright was running circles around the Bears’ defensive backs.

Admittedly, this is not a great group of corners and safeties, but still one could see the talent that made Wright the 20th pick in the 2012 draft. And it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Bears use him a lot more than Tennessee did in recent seasons.

Part of the reason why Wright is with the Bears is because of his history with Dowell Loggains. Loggains was promoted to offensive coordinator in Tennessee late in the 2012 season. In his first game, Wright had 10 targets, then 9 the following week. The next season, the Titans made an active attempt to get Wright the ball and he racked up 140 targets, catching 94 for 1,079 yards.

(Mike Munchak’s staff — including Loggains — was fired after the 2013 season. Wright had 93 targets with Ken Whisenhunt in 2014, but that total dropped by 32 in 2015 and by 18 more in 2016.)

But there’s reason to believe Loggains will get him back on the right track.

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Trubisky And Other Impressions From A Day At Practice

| August 2nd, 2017

“Wow! Who threw that?” Is the question my wife asked in our first real exposure to Mitch Trubisky at Saturday’s training camp practice.

It was a day in which everyone wanted to talk about the fumbled snaps but even a football novice like my wife could see that there was a definite difference in what Trubisky had to offer versus that of Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez.

I don’t mean to minimize the snap issue. If a team can’t complete the snap, they can’t run a play. But there hasn’t been a quarterback in the history of the league who hasn’t figured out how to take a snap from the center. Let’s repeat that. There hasn’t been a quarterback in the history of the league who hasn’t figured out how to take a snap from the center.

The rest of that practice should have Bears fans excited.

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Ranking the Bears: The Best They Have to Offer

| July 27th, 2017

Every list has to have an end. For the Bears, this is a pretty good ending because the top of their roster is actually pretty good.

Last year I ranked Jay Cutler as the best player on the team largely because there weren’t many options. Who was their franchise player? A guard who just struggled at tackle? A wide receiver who couldn’t stay on the field? A pass rusher who began the year on the PUP list? No. No. And No. They didn’t have a player to build around. They didn’t have anyone who ranked among the truly elite at their position.

That isn’t the case anymore. I finished the list by ranking the top 10 players on the team and I think it can be argued that the top four are among the very best at what they do.

10. Cam Meredith, WR. There may not have been a more underrated player on the team last year. A superb athlete who keeps improving. Statistics may not be as great next year because the team likely won’t throw as often, but he’s shown the ability to consistently get open and make plays with the ball in his hands. Also threw a touchdown pass. So there’s that.

(Jeff’s Note: Watching Cam Meredith develop in 2017 is one of the things I’m most excited about. I think the kid has star potential.)

9. Eddie Goldman, DL. Missed most of last season because of injuries, but still had 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles in just 198 snaps. Not bad for a guy who many thought was just a lane clogger. Powerful and athletic, Goldman allows the Bears to play small with just two down linemen. Really could be a cornerstone of their defense going forward.

8. Cody Whitehair, C. A key to the team’s future as the anchor of their line. He isn’t the top-ranked offensive lineman but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being their best this year. Struggled with consistency early last year, especially with his run blocking, but improved as the season went along and was downright dominant at times. Leader.

(Jeff’s Note: When Andrew makes this list next year, I’ll be surprised if Cody Whitehair isn’t 1 or 2. I think he’s that talented and that important.)

7. Leonard Floyd, Edge. Two concussions in one year are certainly concerning, but there were times when Floyd was just ruining game plans. Watch what he did against the Packers. Or the Lions. They just couldn’t keep up with him. He did it using mostly athleticism, if he can learn a few more moves he could be unstoppable.

6. Pernell McPhee, Edge. Despite playing just 25 percent of the team’s snaps last year, McPhee was fourth on the team with four sacks and first with eight other QB hits. Given his knee issues, I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the every down dominant force we saw early in his first year with the team, but he might be even more dangerous in spot duty. I’d like to see the team use him the way Baltimore did. Regardless, once he got right last year, he got after quarterbacks.

(Jeff’s Note: Pernell McPhee is, in my mind, no longer expected to produce at a high level for this organization. Starting camp on PUP has solidified that for me.)

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