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Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Packers

| November 12th, 2017

Chicago came out of the bye flat, acting like nobody actually wanted to play a football game against their biggest rival. Their terrible kicker was good, but nobody else really was. The only thing that kept this game somewhat close was the fact that Green Bay is terrible, but they still won fairly comfortably on the road.

Let’s break down this embarrassing effort.

Offense

  • The first drive was simply awful. After two weeks to prepare, they ran into a loaded box on 1st down and lost a yard. After a nice pass picked up a first down, they again ran into a stacked box and lost a yard. The next play was both an illegal formation and a hold, setting Chicago up in 2nd and 21. At that point, the drive was over thanks to a combination of poor play calling and dumb penalties.
  • Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky actually had a pretty good start to the game. He made good throws and got the ball to players in space. That changed as the game wore on and Green Bay dialed up the pressure. Trubisky got happy feet and starting pulling his eyes down from scanning the field too quickly. He also refused to throw the ball away, making him completely inept under any sort of pressure.
  • Green Bay’s five sacks weren’t all on the offensive line, but they were bad today too. Hroniss Grasu, making a start at center and shifting Cody Whitehair to right guard with Kyle Long out, was routinely pushed back into the backfield. The unit also picked up way too many penalties, with a nice mixture of pre-snap, during the play, and after the play mixed in.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Biggs, Jahns & Moon on Mitch & More!

| October 17th, 2017

BIGGS ON TRUBISKY TOUCHDOWN

It was a terrific play by Trubisky but the rookie QB actually made it more difficult than it needed to be. I noticed this live and Brad Biggs made the sixth of his ten things:

6. Dion Sims’ 27-yard touchdown came on a nice play by Mitch Trubisky, who was getting hit as he delivered the ball and didn’t see the touchdown. Sims was uncovered off the line of scrimmage. The Ravens had some pre-snap confusion and that allowed Sims to release from the line and head downfield with no one on him. Strong safety Tony Jefferson was late arriving and it was a really good play for the Bears. It’s nice to see Sims making some plays downfield and after some dropped passes in previous weeks, he needs to step up with plays like that. Trubisky said he took a while to get to Sims because it wasn’t his first read. I’m interested to see this again on the All-22 tape, but live I thought Sims was open immediately and if that’s the case, the quarterback needs to sense that immediately. Especially in this case as the Bears were facing third-and-7 and the goal was to move the chains and avoid having to attempt a field goal.

It’s all about experience. But it doesn’t necessarily help the rookie’s development when he’s only dropping back to pass on obvious passing downs, twenty times a game.


Jahns on That Very Topic

In the new AJ After Dark piece in the Sun-Times, three things to note.

  • Adam emphasizes this offensive approach is coming from Fox, not Loggains. Independently, I have confirmed that. Because this is not the way Loggains wants to use Trubisky.
  • Jahns argues the Bears need to let the kid do more.
  • Quotes from Bears players re: Trubisky should get every fan excited. Here’s a passage from the piece:

Coach John Fox’s game plan — not offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ — became more apparent with every handoff.

Fox wanted Trubisky to manage his first start on the road. Trubisky, though, did one better — he managed to win it.

When the Bears finally needed Trubisky to be special, he was. On the move, he delivered an 18-yard completion to receiver Kendall Wright over the middle on a third-and-11 play from the Ravens’ 41-yard line in overtime.

Being on the road in overtime — Trubisky called it a “hostile environment” — didn’t overwhelm him. It was a big-time throw from Trubisky after his role was purposely kept small in regulation.

“At the end of the game, we were all dead tired,” guard Kyle Long said. “Mitch is the one picking us up, making sure we get the gusto to finish.”

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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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Data Responds: Bears at Bucs

| September 17th, 2017

Well that was ugly. The Bears turned the ball over 4 times in the first half, trailed 10-0 after one quarter, and 26-0 at halftime en route to a 29-7 final score. I’m going to focus most of my comments on the first half, because that’s all that mattered. The 2nd half was just playing out the string.

  • First, let me just start in general with the coaching. All three phases made huge mistakes in the first half as the entire team looked unprepared, and that is 100% on the coaches. They had key blown assignments, early wasted time outs, too many dumb penalties, and lots of sloppy turnovers. Somehow, Chicago’s coaches need to figure out how to get their team ready to play.
  • Can whoever has a voodoo doll for the entire Bears team stop already? Nick Kwiatkoski, Kendall Wright, and Tom Compton all left in the first half, though at least Wright returned. In the 2nd half, Josh Sitton and Akiem Hicks added to the walking wounded, though Hicks also came back into the game. For those scoring at home, that means the Bears left week 2 without their top 4 WRs, 3 of their top 5 interior OL, and 2 of their top 3 ILBs, plus their top CB has yet to see the field this year. Mark this as the 3rd year in a row where injuries are a defining story of the season, meaning the Bears need to figure something out with their conditioning and training staffs.
  • The coaches also continue to show zero feel for how to manage playing time in a blowout. You think they’d be better at it with all the practice they’ve gotten in the last few years. Somehow Akiem hicks and Josh Sitton were both playing so that they could get hurt in the 4th quarter down 4 scores, and the already overworked Tarik Cohen still saw touches in the 4th quarter as well.  Zach Miller, who might be Chicago’s best healthy pass catcher and is made of glass, made multiple catches on the final drive despite having a rookie drafted in the 2nd round sitting behind him. Why?

Offense

  • I’m starting at quarterback this week, because there’s nowhere else to start. Mike Glennon turned the ball over 3 times in Chicago’s first 3 possessions. He threw two terrible interceptions and showed zero pocket awareness on a fumble. By that point, the game was over at 23-0, and it was yet another terrible day for the former Buc. Glennon was far from the only bad Bear in this game, but he was the worst. His time as Chicago’s starting QB has already gone 2 games longer than it should have, and now it officially needs to be over. Yet with this pathetic coaching staff, I don’t doubt that Glennon will be starting next week, especially after showing “promise” in a meaningless 4th quarter (where he missed several throws and had another INT dropped by not one but two defenders).
  • Glennon was inexplicably not benched at any point during this game, and finished the day 31/45 for 301 yards, for a poor 6.7 yards per attempt. But that doesn’t accurately reflect just how bad he was, even on the non-turnover plays. He hit a bunch of throws underneath that any NFL QB should be able to make, and also forced several incompletions on short passes that went to his targets’ feet and/or behind them. We know what Glennon is, and it’s not good. There’s absolutely nothing he does at an above average level, but many things he’s quite bad at.
  • Tampa Bay came into the game focusing on stopping the run and keying in on Tarik Cohen in the passing game. This should have been predictable to Chicago in their game preparation, as those were basically the only things that worked last week, but they couldn’t come up with anything else effective. The 1st half yielded 16 rushing yards (on 14 attempts), 3 offensive turnovers, and 0 points. The passing game actually got some work going underneath in the passing game, but that approach requires long sustained drives without a mistake, which they are not capable of doing.
  • Speaking of Cohen, he came back down to Earth a good bit in week 2. Tampa Bay unsurprisingly focused on him after his big debut last week, and successfully shut him down. He also had an incredibly stupid punt return where he picked up a ball off the bounce when surrounded by Bucs, was immediately hit, and unsurprisingly fumbled.
  • The coaches needed to anticipate Tampa Bay’s defense would key on Cohen and use him as a decoy in this game. They failed to do that, which led to the offense being too predictable. Those edge runs that Cohen was able to turn into gains in week one were all snuffed out and contained this week. Their touches for Cohen became too predictable, and he continued to get too many (17, when the goal should be 10-12 for a player of his size, like Darren Sproles consistently gets).
  • Kendall Wright was featured more today after being completely ignored until the 4th quarter last week. I’m surprised it took that long for Chicago to realize they should try involving their best WR in the game.
  • In all the OL shuffling as Compton and then Sitton got hurt, 2nd year man Cody Whitehair moved from C to LG to RG. Continually moving one of your best players around seems like a poor strategy to me. Let him get comfortable and dominate at one spot.

Defense

  • Another week, another opening scoring drive by Chicago’s opponent. As Andrew Dannehy has been all over, this is a worrying trend for the defense, and one that leads to them losing games. Somehow, the Bears need to figure out how to stop putting themselves in a hole at the start of nearly every game.
  • Two other bad trends for the Bears showed up repeatedly in this game as well: the inability to force turnovers and the inability to get off the field on 3rd down. In the 1st half, Tampa Bay was 4/7 on 3rd down, including 3 3rd down stops negated by penalties.
  • Perhaps more worrying, the Bears failed to force a turnover until after the game was out of reach. They even had a great chance on the 2nd play from scrimmage, when Danny Trevathan tipped a ball up in the air that hung forever. Somebody needs to come up with an interception there, but no defender got even close. Pernell McPhee (it was good to see him for more than 4 snaps this week) finally forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter, which Leonard Floyd picked up.
  • Speaking of Leonard Floyd, the Bears need much more from him. Chicago’s supposed budding superstar has been mostly invisible through the 1st two games, though he finally showed up with a few plays in the 2nd half (after the game was over). They need him to be a difference maker. When that didn’t happen in the first half, the defense got zero pass rush and looked pretty mediocre.
  • Pretty much the only positive from the first half in my book was Kyle Fuller. Tampa Bay’s passing game moved the ball well, but everything went towards Marcus Cooper. By my count, Winston was 0/4 targeting Fuller in the 1st half. Of course, Fuller did drop an easy INT in the end zone in the 4th quarter, so it wasn’t all good.
  • Rookie safety Eddie Jackson had a solid game too. He put in good work in coverage (largely on Fuller’s side, where Winston had much less success) and plenty of sure tackling, including a nice tackle for loss in the run game.

Overall

  • That’s all I have from this nightmare. I feel like I put in more effort than the Bears today.
  • Seriously, we’re two weeks into the season and this team already looks lifeless. They didn’t even get excited after finally forcing a turnover in the 3rd quarter. It feels like the players have prepared themselves for another long, losing season.  Can you blame them?

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Charting The Bears: 2016 In Review

| January 17th, 2017

Before the season began I decided to try to do something a little different by charting some of the things you don’t regularly see in box scores and the end result was some really interesting numbers that may change the way you feel about certain players.

The most time-consuming part of my weekly job on DBB was charting the little things that you don’t see. As most hardcore football fans know, completion percentage doesn’t always tell you if a quarterback is accurate, Pro Bowl voting doesn’t always tell you if an offensive lineman can block, sacks don’t always tell you if a player is getting pressure on the quarterback and interceptions don’t tell you if a guy can cover. There’s more to the game, a lot more and I tried to discover some of that here:

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Three

| August 24th, 2016

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Dennis Green: “Who the hell takes the third game in the preseason like it’s bullshit?”

Me: Raises hand.

I used to believe we could get something meaningful from the third preseason game. There are dozens of reasons why that’s wrong, but the strongest was one I realized just a month ago. It doesn’t mean anything to the players who aren’t fighting for jobs or coaches.

I challenge anyone to watch a regular season game, follow it with the third preseason game and try to tell me there isn’t a significant difference in the product. I did just that a month ago, choosing to re-watch the Bears’ third preseason game against the Bengals last year. It’s just a different game.

This is true for many of the same reasons why none of the preseason games matter. Maybe there’s more game-planning in the third preseason game. Maybe teams do a bit more schematically. Maybe. But it isn’t a lot and whatever it is they do isn’t done with the same urgency as the regular season simply because it doesn’t have to be.

The Bears have most of their starters figured out already. They know what they’re doing schematically. The practice and simulation of a game-like atmosphere should help them. But this is preseason. The coach won’t lose his job, neither will the starters. It’s a practice and should be treated as such.

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Two

| August 17th, 2016

When the Bears were fighting with themselves, I thought it was annoying. Now that we’re seeing them get one of the most disciplined teams in the NFL to lose its cool, I think the Bears just might be developing an identity.

The Bears are going to be scrappy, just like the defenses Fox built in Carolina and Denver. They’re going to push the envelope and they’re going to frustrate their opponents.

And it just might be great.

There is a thin line to walk. The Bears certainly don’t want to be known as a “dirty” team like Jim Schwartz’s Lions were. There certainly is a point where the personal foul penalties get to be too much, but if they can continue to be aggressive and scrappy, they’re going to be the team nobody wants to play. If they keep adding talent, they’re going to be the team hardly anyone can beat.

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Bears Need Improved OL Play to Reach Potential

| July 6th, 2016

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The Bears have plenty of weapons at the skill positions and a terrific quarterback, but their offense won’t take a big step if their offensive line isn’t better than it was a year ago.

On paper, the Bears line should be significantly better. They lost Matt Slauson, but Kyle Long moving back to guard, combined with Cody Whitehair or Ted Larsen have to be better than Vlad Ducasse and whoever else they played last year. At his worst Bobby Massie was as good as Long was at tackle last year and, over the last 10 games last year, he was actually pretty good. Charles Leno Jr. and Hroniss Grasu should be better with experience.

But outside of Long, who should be expected to return to his stellar form at guard, there’s the possibility it all goes the other way.

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