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Chicago Wins Ugly Affair in Charm City (Rapid Fire)

| October 16th, 2017

Tommy Gilligan – USA TODAY Sports

Listen, it was an ugly affair at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The Ravens offense isn’t capable of playing a pretty game. The Bears coaching staff had no interest in one. Thus you get a game like that. Thoughts…

  • Bears ran the ball 54 times, with 50 called runs. I won’t reiterate what Data wrote well post-game regarding the predictability of their rushing attack. I will just say this: the Bears have to stop coaching like Mike Glennon is under center. Their offense seems to be a combination of 1943 and gimmicks. Take the cuffs off Trubisky and let him play football.
  • Someone told you the punt game would play a pivotal role in this game. Who was that again?
  • Jordan Howard, prior to his 53-yard run in OT, was averaging just 3.25 yards per carry. Completely a product of play-calling. Running on obvious running downs and throwing on obvious passing downs won’t beat a team with a competent offense.
  • Kendall Wright is the Bears best receiver. Why can’t the coaching staff see that?
  • Trubisky’s big mistakes in his first start were trying to do too much when the play broke down. Love that he showed growth in his second start and didn’t hesitate to fling it out of bounds.
  • Also loved Trubisky’s slide technique. Don’t take hits you don’t have to, kid. Just look around the league. Quarterbacks are falling Antietam. (Too soon?)
  • Down around the goal line, Loggains has to let Trubisky’s legs be a weapon. These quick, one-read calls have to go.
  • Adrian Amos played his best game as a Bear but my game ball would go to Kyle Fuller. The former first-round pick looked like a complete, shut down corner. Why did Flacco keep throwing at him?
  • Good to see Pernell McPhee flying around. Looked like a different player from the guy on Monday night’s tape.
  • Akiem Hicks has the same number of sacks as Von Miller. He has more than Khalil Mack and Geno Atkins. It’s early in the season but Hicks is starting to put himself in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. That’s how good he’s been.

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Data Responds: Bears at Ravens

| October 15th, 2017

It wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but the Bears got their first road win since 2015 behind an impressive effort by the defense. Baltimore had no business being in the game, but managed to push it to overtime after an impressive series of self-inflicted mistakes by the Bears in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Bears found a way to get Mitchell Trubisky his first career win and improve to 2-4 on the season. Let’s look at some key takeaways from the game.

Offense

  • The Bears continually put their offense in position to fail. There’s no other way for me to say this. They continually run the ball with predictable plays against 8-9 man boxes, which is why their running backs averaged less than 3.5 yards per rush.
  • This led to a number of 3rd and long situations, which was about the only time they actually let quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throw. It seems to me like 3rd and long pass attempts is not a great way to build your rookie quarterback’s confidence and get him into a rhythm.
  • The offense continues to be far too predictable. 1st and 2nd down are almost always runs, regardless of the defensive look. They never run out of shotgun, and rarely pass out of heavy sets. 90% of Tarik Cohen’s carries come to the outside. That leads to a lot of plays where the defense knows exactly what to expect, which is a death knell in the NFL.
  • With that said, credit offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for a beautiful trick play that led to the first offensive touchdown. Tarik Cohen took a pitch, stopped, and heaved a 21 yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach miller, who was wide open in the end zone. That’s the second week in a row the offense pulled off a successful trick play. Now if only the other 99% of his play calls weren’t terrible.
  • Chicago’s personnel usage continues to be baffling. Their best pass catchers are Kendall Wright and Zach Miller, but both are playing limited snaps. The reason they’re not playing is that there are better run-blocking options, but sooner or later you need to give your quarterback somebody to throw to.
  • Given all of this, it’s difficult to evaluate Mitchell Trubisky’s play at quarterback. The coaches are basically not letting him play the position, and are putting him in position to fail when he does. He only had 16 pass attempts, plus 4 sacks and 4 scrambles for a total of 24 plays where he was asked to do anything other than hand off. Several of those were screens, which are basically extended handoffs, and Trubisky had to throw it away several more times.
  • You saw Trubisky’s physical skills with some nice throws down the field, including a pressured bomb on the run to Dion Sims for a touchdown, and some impressive scrambles. He also saved a Baltimore touchdown by corralling a bad Cody Whitehair snap in the end zone, breaking a tackle, and throwing the ball away. You also saw the inexperience as he had trouble from inside the pocket. Trubisky’s only turnover on the day was a fumble when he was hit from the blind side after somebody whiffed on a block. I don’t think you can pin much of that on the quarterback.
  • I had all that about Trubisky written up before OT. Now I have to add a separate point for the outstanding pass he made to Kendall Wright to put Chicago in FG range in overtime. He was forced to throw on 3rd and long after two stuffed runs (surprise surprise), and Baltimore brought the heat. Trubisky avoided the first rusher and made a beautiful pass to Wright for the first down. That is a big-time play that not very many NFL quarterbacks can make.
  • A game plan like this does very little to develop your rookie quarterback. It feels like the Bears need to take the shackles off and let him make mistakes and grow, but a win is a win.
  • Speaking of bad Cody Whitehair snaps, what gives there? He had several more today, continuing a season-long sophomore slump. At first, he had the excuse of bouncing around between guard and center, but he’s been squarely at center now for 3-4 weeks in a row and has no excuse left.
  • Jordan Howard had an outstanding day, with 36 carries for 167 yards. He was able to pick up some yards despite consistently pounding into a stacked box, showing his trademark patience and vision and running through tackles. He also put the team on his back in OT with a 53 yard burst after breaking a few tackles near the line of scrimmage. I can’t help but imagine what he could do if the defense respected the Chicago passing game.
  • Of course, Howard did have a boneheaded play at the end of the 4th quarter, where he ran out of bounds on 3rd and 20 to stop the clock and force Chicago to punt instead of letting the clock run out. It was shades of Marion Barber from 2011, but thankfully the miscue didn’t hurt the Bears this time.
  • Let’s also give a special incompetent shout-out to Chicago’s 2 minute offense at the end of both halves. In the 1st half, they had 1st and 10 at the 35 with 2:07 to go and two time outs left. Predictable run, predictable screen (which Trubisky had to ground since Baltimore was so ready or it), sack, and the Bears had to punt after -9 yards in only 27 seconds. That left Baltimore enough time to get points before the half. Then in the 4th quarter, they got the ball with a tie game at the 25 yard line, 1:37 and two time outs left. The first play was a running back screen to the middle of the field, then a bad snap, then a sack, then a run out of bounds instead of running out the clock. That’s poor coaching and poor execution, a killer 1-2 punch.

Defense

  • Chicago’s defense didn’t give up any points (or even a first down) on the first drive today. That makes the second fast start for the defense in a row, which has been a consistent problem for them under this regime. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been able to stay competitive in both games.
  • Another consistent problem for Chicago’s defense under these coaches has been an inability to force turnovers, but that was not an issue today either as they took the ball away from Baltimore three times. On the first, linebacker Christian Jones caused a fumble, which Danny Trevathan recovered. On the 2nd, safety Eddie Jackson forced a drop with a hard hit, and Bryce Callahan was able to come down with the interception. The third and final turnover was forced by a Kyle Fuller deflection; safety Adrian Amos took advantage with the easy interception, which he returned for what seemed like a game-clinching touchdown. With an offense that struggles to score points, the defense needs to make big plays like that week in and week out.
  • DE Akiem Hicks continued his monster season with several big run stops and a sack. He’s now up to 5 sacks on the season, and is on pace to hit double digits, an impressive feat for a 3-4 defensive lineman. Hicks didn’t get enough national recognition for his breakout season last year, but he absolutely should be in the Pro Bowl (and possibly an All Pro) if he keeps this up.
  • Rookie safety Eddie Jackson had another solid game, but he did have one horrible angle that allowed Baltimore to break off a 30 yard run. Still, he broke up a few passes and had solid tackling in other situations. Jackson has already established himself as Chicago’s best safety.
  • Cornerback Kyle Fuller also continued his bounce-back season with an outstanding game. He provided solid coverage throughout the game, including three straight targets in the end zone that Baltimore was unable to complete, and laid out several defenders with big hits. Fuller was also consistently around the ball, logging 3 passes defensed and tipping a ball to Adrian Amos for an interception.
  • 2nd year safety DeAndre Houston-Carson got a few defensive snaps today as a 3rd safety. I’m surprised that came ahead of Deon Bush, and will be something to watch going forward.

Special Teams

  • It was an ugly day for the special teams, as they gave up not one but two touchdowns. The first came after Chicago had just scored to go up 17-3, and Ravens return man Bobby Rainey hit the ground after being tripped up by his own blocker. All the Bears stopped, assuming he was down, but Rainey got up and ran for an easy touchdown to get Baltimore back in the game. Then they gave up a long punt return touchdown where nobody even got close to return man Michael Campanaro. That’s just inexcusable incompetence.
  • Punter Pat O’Donnell had himself quite the game, at least in regulation. He repeatedly pinned Baltimore inside their own 20 when given the chance, and flipped field position in the 2nd half with a booming 67 yard punt.  he then shanked a 33 yard punt in OT, giving Baltimore excellent field position.
  • Special teams ace Sherrick McManis got injured early in the game and did not return. The Bears said it was a hamstring injury, and we can only hope it’s not serious. Running back/special teamer Benny Cunningham also left the game with a hamstring issue.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Vikings

| October 10th, 2017

In rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s debut, the Bears got the ball to start, and marched right down the field. Trubisky looked sharp on several impressive throws, including one huge third down completion to Tre McBride that set Chicago up on Minnesota’s 9 yard line.

Except a holding penalty by center Cody Whitehair brought the Bears back to 3rd and 20 out of field goal range. One screen pass later, they punted, costing themselves at least three points.

That would lay the foundation for a frustrating first half of missed opportunities, when a long list of penalties (some more dubious than others) led to Chicago getting no offensive points despite passing midfield on four drives.

Unsurprisingly, those missed opportunities came back to haunt them in the second half, as a late Minnesota field goal led to a 20-17 win.

Coaching

  • They get their own section again, which usually means bad things. And we’re starting here, because it was terrible.
  • John Fox took too long to decide whether to go for it on 4th and 2 in the first quarter, which forced the Bears to call a time out. Out of the time out, they took too long to get the play in, resulting in a delay of game and punt. That was an ugly sequence that was 100% the fault of the coaches. Then in the 2nd half, they had to burn a time out when the Vikings had 1st and 19 due to confusion with defensive play calls.
  • The Bears were also incredibly sloppy early on, with several early penalties negating big plays and/or putting them behind the chains. Some of the calls didn’t seem particularly great by the officials, but overall they need to get out of their own way and stop beating themselves. That’s the mark of a poorly coached team.
  • Dowell Loggains also had a terrible game. He fell into predictable patterns we’ve seen through four games, with obvious runs on 1st down and too many horizontal passes. They ran out of heavy sets and threw out of shotgun, with not enough variability mixed into those sets. This routinely set the Bears up in 3rd and long situations, which is not where you want a rookie quarterback (or any offense, really) to be. To his credit, Loggains did have a beautiful play call on a game-tying 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter, but overall he had a rough night.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Five Guys In Need of a Solid Sunday

| December 29th, 2016

In only four days, it ends.

WHO COULD USE A SOLID SUNDAY?

  • Matt Barkley. #Barkleytime has something. Call it moxie. Call it guts. Call it chutzpah. Does he have the physical tools of an Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler? No. But he’s certainly shown over his first five starts that he has enough to make it as a quarterback in the NFL. Barkley can go a long way towards cementing his inarguably successful 2016 by rebounding from his poor performance a week ago. And it would be hard to see him not playing a prominent role in Bourbonnais if he played well Sunday in Minnesota.
  • John Fox. Don’t think there’s any chance of his being fired because injuries (especially at QB) and suspensions (to 2 of the Bears 5 best players) will give him a free pass into 2017. But neither Fox nor Ryan Pace want to see the head coach finish this season being walloped twice. While not winning, the Bears fought almost every single week and kept most games close. Fox needs to show his team still, even as the season concludes, wants to fight for him.
  • Jonathan Bullard. Let’s be honest, Bullard has had a nothing rookie season. When the coaching staff is playing Mitch Unrein instead of you, it probably means you’re Mitch Ungood. But Bullard flashed against Washington – his first flashes all year – and a second consecutive decent performance could help the rookie’s confidence as he heads into a pivotal offseason for his development.
  • Charles Leno. The Bears starting left tackle received a glowing endorsement from Pace last offseason and has performed well overall in 2016. But he had unquestionably his worst performance of the season against Washington, allowing Preston Smith to walk around him as he carved the man’s bust for Canton. If Leno wants to hold onto his starting role in 2017 he might not want to leave Pace with the taste of two howlers to close out the campaign.
  • Adrian Amos. Injuries have been the biggest disappointment of 2016. Amos is the runner-up. The safety was never expected to display dominant ball skills but his struggles in run support (poor angling, inefficient tackling…etc.) have left many believing the Bears need two new players at the position in 2017 to become an elite defensive unit.

Enjoy!

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Bears Secondary: A Perceived Weakness May Be a Blossoming Strength

| June 22nd, 2016

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One position group quite a few people wished the Bears did a better job addressing this offseason was the secondary. But, despite not having any household names, they’re better back there than most think.

In 2015 the Bears defense ranked fourth in passing yardage allowed. But that’s not the eye-opening statistic. The thing that jumps out is a new metric Football Outsiders started using last year called ALEX, named after everyone’s favorite Checkdown Charlie, Alex Smith. The number ranks how often defenses forced quarterbacks to throw short of the first down marker — a clear sign of good coverage.

The Bears were the best in the sport.

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Postseason Positional Analysis Part VIII: Secondary

| January 20th, 2016

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Here are a few sentences I never thought I’d write, or think, in 2015:

  • The Bears really struggled covering the slot without Bryce Callahan.
  • Tracy Porter is playing like a corner who wants a contract extension.
  • The secondary has been the best level of the Bears defense several games this season.

My predictions were (1) the Bears would field the worst secondary in the league and (2) perhaps one of the worst secondaries in the organization’s history. Neither of those predictions were accurate. Neither was even close.

WHO IS BACK

Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos both had up-and-down 2015s but both will be prominent members of the Bears secondary next season.

Tracy Porter isn’t a top tier corner but his ability to close on the football is somewhat astounding. If Calvin Johnson does actually retire this offseason, does Porter’s value increase?

Antrel Rolle doesn’t actually cost the Bears much in 2016 so it wouldn’t make sense for them to cut bait before Bourbonnais. Even if the Bears target safety in free agency or the draft, Rolle could provide cheap depth off the bench.

Bryce Callahan was arguably the defense’s most pleasant surprise and a player the Bears coaching staff will surely want to continue developing.

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FrontRowTickets.com Game Preview: Bears Try to End the Losing in Minnesota

| December 18th, 2015

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Sell Chicago Bears Tickets

8-8 is still on the table. 3-3 in the division is still on the table. Neither remains there if the Bears lose in Minnesota Sunday. I don’t think a John Fox team ever lacks for motivation and this one has no reason to.

THE GAME POEM

“Shall fair ladies never learn that I,
from blows me shielding, backward turned me;
nor shall ever Ingibiorg taunt me,
in Sigtuna sitting, that from sword-blows I fled.”

-From the Old Norse poem, Hialmar’s Death Song

3 THOUGHTS ON THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS

  • Blaine Gabbert, Kirk Cousins and now Teddy Bridgewater. The Bears are facing three very similar quarterbacks in a row and Bridgewater might be the most limited of the bunch. As a quarterback he does two things I don’t like consistently: (a) he doesn’t create plays with his legs when he feels pressure in the pocket and (b) he doesn’t stretch defenses with his arm. He’s a quick read/quick toss dink-and-dunker. If the Bears play soft on the outside, they deserve to have the ball moved on them.
  • Hard to evaluate the Vikings defense in recent weeks as arguably their three best defenders have been on the bench. But Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith returned to the practice field this week and there’s a very slight (very) chance Anthony Barr will give it a go Sunday. It shouldn’t be expected that any of them are 100% but their presence in the lineup can only be positive.
  • Minnesota is arguably the best kick return team in the league. (They already did some damage against the Bears this season.) The Bears coverage units can’t allow the Vikings to score on specials or play on short fields. Although, with the way the football is leaving Robbie’s foot these days, I’d expect the Vikings to have several shots to make a game-changing play on specials.

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FrontRowTickets.com Game Preview: And So Begins the Final Four…

| December 11th, 2015

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Chicago Bears Schedule

(Battling a demon virus this week so the game preview is abbreviated.)

Robbie Gould let the wind out of the sails of Bears fans last Sunday, shanking a game-winning chip shot worse than early 2015 Tiger Woods. But I’d expect the crowd to be fired up for the Redskins Sunday – a team that desperately needs the game.

THE GAME POEM

On the last bar stool to the left he sat,

For fifteen years in an orange and blue hat

A power lifter and reverend to his right,

And an endless amount of draught Coors Light

Fifteen years goes by in a blink

With the same stool, same people, same drink

Yesterday it was a title he’d choose

Now he’d like em to win as many as they lose

THOUGHTS ON THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS

  • Washington is every bit as bad a road team as San Francisco, losing all five of their road games by a combined 162-86.
  • Injuries across the defensive front (Stephen Paea, Jason Hatcher…etc) have severely limited the Redskins pass rush. On Monday night against the wretched Matt Cassel the ‘Skins managed just a single sack and (by my count) no additional hits. If they couldn’t muster a rush in that must-win, prime time affair, you’d have to be surprised to see them come after Cutler consistently Sunday.
  • Kirk Cousins at home and Kirk Cousins on the road are vastly different individuals.

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A THOUGHT ON THE NAME “REDSKINS”

It’s a football team. Why not just change it? Seriously, who gives a shit? I find the whole idea of these teams having mascots at all ridiculous. Oh, it’s the Chicago BEARS! They’re a bunch of a guys. Why are they bears?

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Across the Middle With Andrew Dannehy

| November 18th, 2015

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• I honestly don’t know what to make of the Bears win over the Rams. I want to feel great about it, but I’m scared. Are we sure the Rams aren’t just terrible? It reminds me of last year when the Bears beat Atlanta 27-13, largely because Atlanta’s receivers couldn’t catch. This time it was largely a matter of the Rams quarterback not being able to throw. The Bears deserve credit because they were supposed to be among the worst teams in the league and they’re clearly not. But we won’t really know if this team is good until after Thanksgiving.

• The Bears defensive line hasn’t gotten enough credit for keeping Todd Gurley in check. I found it interesting that they played Jarvis Jenkins almost strictly as a pass-rusher – only eight snaps against the run, He was replaced by Mitch Urein and Bruce Gaston.

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Across the Middle With Andrew Dannehy

| November 11th, 2015

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• Upon further review, I have changed my mind about the biggest thing to come out of this game. Immediately after the game, I thought it was about their defense finally getting a stop and Jeremy Langford. Now, I think it was about Alshon Jeffery. He was awful at the start of the game, with a dropped touchdown, another dropped pass on third down and a pick-six that he should’ve prevented. He put the team in a big hole. In the past, we’ve seen Alshon disappear after those moments. Then something happened. It’s as if he grew up before our eyes. He was different. We saw him pounding his chest and talking after the play. He was pissed off and he was going to dominate. Maybe it doesn’t happen that way if Jason Verrett doesn’t hurt his hamstring, but I’m not sure that mattered. He just may have taken the step the Bears dared him to take by not extending his contract before the season.

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