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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 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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Three Thoughts To Get the Ball Rolling

| August 8th, 2016

Today, unofficially, begins the 2016 season. There is a “game” this week. Big injuries have already altered the game plan. August feels like it just got started and will end any day now.

Three thoughts to start things…

SLAUSON SHOULD BE HERE

I tweeted about it this weekend while on mini-vacation and incessantly when the move initially happened. Matt Slauson being let out the door was one of the most foolish moves of the Ryan Pace/John Fox era. Why?

  • Slauson was cheap.
  • Slauson covered three positions.
  • Slauson was a leader and great locker room guy.
  • Injuries are too commonplace, especially along the offensive line. In a league of teams STARVING for quality depth, the Bears essentially passed on having a tremendous depth on one of their most problematic units.

Now that Grasu is done, the Bears have a question mark at center. And I keep arguing, for years at this point, center is the most underrated position on the entire roster.

I LIKE THE FIGHTING

If you think teams fighting in training camp is an issue, I get it. But since the Bears are only a season removed from the 2014’s heartless, soulless, gutless, passionless, lifeless performance…I’m willing to say punch away.

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Pace Has Magical Opening Week of Free Agency

| March 13th, 2016

Free agency success does not often equate to the field. Frequently the team making the largest cash splash in March lands with a deadened thump come September and beyond. But what Bears GM Ryan Pace has achieved in the first week of free agency is nothing short of a miracle.

Go through the league. Every team. And find the most improved position groups. Outside of the Giants defensive line, whose makeover cost about three hundred zillion dollars, one could argue the two most significantly upgraded positions in the NFL are on the Chicago Bears roster at inside linebacker and right guard.

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Five Thoughts on Free Agency, Day One

| March 10th, 2016

It was an exciting opening of the league year for the Chicago Bears. And one thing is absolutely certain: they got better. Five thoughts…

  • The signings of Danny Trevathan and Bobby Massie mean the 2016 Bears will open the season significantly better at inside linebacker and right tackle. It also means they will see their most significant upgrade at right guard. Vlad Ducasse is horrible. Kyle Long is one of the best guards in the game.
  • There will be a lot of chatter about the money given to Tracy Porter but it won’t come from me. Porter is not a shut down corner but he had a solid 2015 and the Bears didn’t need to create another hole in a secondary full of them.

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Bears Sign Danny Trevathan

| March 9th, 2016

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports UPDATE 1. Adam Schefter broke the news of the signing on Twitter. Trevathan was the most logical free agency target for the Bears as they faced a glaring need in the middle of their defense. Is Trevathan great? Not really. But he improves a unit in desperate need of improvement.

UPDATE 2.

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Dannehy’s Free Agency Tiers: Potential Building Blocks

| February 11th, 2016

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Building Blocks

These are the guys to watch. In his postseason presser, Ryan Pace said the team wasn’t going to spent big on one guy, instead spreading their money out. That could mean multiple players from this tier.

Malik Jackson, DL, Denver

Pros: He gained much more recognition in the playoffs as one of the best pass rushing and run-stopping defensive linemen in the league. Jackson constantly drew double teams, freeing others up for sacks.

Cons: The draft figures to be strong along the defensive line this year and Jackson is likely looking for a big pay day — which could explain why the Broncos extended Derek Wolfe instead. With Eddie Golman already in place, the Bears could sign a significantly cheaper veteran and develop linemen behind him.

Jaye Howard, DL, Kansas City

Pros: A good athlete who is really tough against the run. Showed some pass-rush ability. Dominated Vlad Ducasse and Hroniss Grasu. Would immediately be the team’s second best defensive lineman.

Cons: Kind of a one-year wonder. Played less than half of his team’s snaps every other year. Kansas City usually took him off the field in passing situations. Committed eight penalties last year. If Jackson and Wilkerson get huge contracts, Howard’s price could be driven up. The question needs to be asked again: Do you pay for a player, or draft and develop behind him?

Danny Trevathan, LB, Denver

Pros: Instinctive and rangy, Trevathan has been a key to the Broncos defense this year after missing most of the 2014 season. He has excelled in coverage and shows really good instincts. Rated by Pro Football Focus as one of the best tacklers in the league.

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