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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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Across The Middle: Fox & Co. Officially on the Hot Seat

| October 11th, 2017

Forget, if you can, the clown show on first quarter fourth down in which the Bears were going for it, then they weren’t, then they did, only to have a delay of game. After another game with so many of the same mistakes, it’s hard to have confidence that John Fox is the guy to get the Bears back on track.

Fox’s teams are often ill-prepared and rarely disciplined. That has been a constant since late in the coach’s tenure with the Panthers. His teams commit back-breaking penalties and awful turnovers. Game after game. They never get it right. But even with these fatal flaws, Fox has still won a lot of games. Primarily because he is very good at building talented rosters.

What is truly disheartening is what we saw from Dowell Loggains.

I’ve praised the Bears offensive coordinator’s work with the likes of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. The game he called Monday night with Trubisky was predictable and displayed a lack of understanding his opponent.

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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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Across The Middle: Bears, Back to Life

| October 4th, 2017

I grew up on Bears vs. Packers.

As most DBB readers already know, I grew up in Wisconsin, right near the Minnesota border, and had to sit on the sidelines while Packers and Vikings fans battled it out. But the two times a year the Bears played the Packers were the best two weeks of the season. They were my Super Bowl simply because I knew the Bears had no shot of getting to the actual Super Bowl.

I’ll admit there were times when I cried after the Bears lost to the Packers. One of the happiest days of my life was the Walter Payton game. The 2010 NFC Championship was one of the worst. The Bears beating the Packers meant everything to me.

Last Thursday’s game meant nothing. I didn’t have any hope. Something wasn’t right in my Bearsmosphere and I’m damn glad they fixed it.

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2018 Bears Head Coach Power Rankings

| October 2nd, 2017

The Bears might have a new coach next year. Or they might not. Who the heck knows, but it’s never too early to start looking at some of the candidates.

At this point, I’m assuming Ryan Pace will still be the GM. If that’s the case, I don’t see either Josh McDaniels or Jim Harbaugh being an option. And, truth is, I’m not sure either is that great of an option, anyway. McDaniels didn’t just fail in Denver, he completely flamed out. I question Harbaugh’s sanity and if he’s actually a good offensive coach.

Editor’s Note: I think Andrew is nuts and also think Harbaugh is the second best football coach in the country.

I didn’t include college coaches because they almost all just leverage the NFL to get pay raises. The ones who do ultimately come to the league typically aren’t any good.

It’s entirely possible Fox will be back for the last year of his contract, so he’s included in this list. So are many of the usual suspects. As many would guess, I gave preference to offensive coaches because I want no part of a defensive coach handling Mitch Trubisky unless he has a proven offensive coordinator coming with him. I had a hard time pairing the top defensive coordinators with offensive guys who fit that description.

Here’s the list:

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Data Responds: Bears at Packers

| September 29th, 2017

Two road games, two blowout losses for the 2017 Bears. Green Bay won the first quarter 14-0 after a great opening drive, followed by a 3-yard touchdown after Mike Glennon turned it over on Chicago’s first offensive snap. Things stayed quiet until the end of the first quarter, when a 47 minute lightning delay led to what felt like the start of another game.

Of course, the Bears still had Mike Glennon in at quarterback, so nothing changed. He turned the ball over 3 more times and shut down the entire offense with his incompetence before racking up just enough garbage time stats to make his performance somewhat defensible if you squint (stop me if you’ve heard that before).

Coaching

  • We’re starting here tonight, beginning with the continued ineptitude making appropriate personnel decisions late in a blowout. With all the practice the Bears’ coaches have gotten in these situations in the last few years, you’d think they would be great at it by now, but they’re not. Down 28 points in the 4th quarter, the Bears rode Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, their two best offensive players, to a meaningless late touchdown. Zach Miller, their best tight end who has made a career out of going to IR, played while rookie Adam Shaheen sat on the bench. Why? This is literally a fireable offense if the team’s management cares about their personnel at all.

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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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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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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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