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Across The Middle — It’s Finally Over

| January 5th, 2017

After the worst season in terms of total losses in franchise history, the Bears should have one mission this offseason: find a quarterback.

Two weeks ago, I cited John Fox’s record without Peyton Manning as a reason to fire him. Here’s the counter argument: Fox won almost 80 percent of games when he did have a franchise quarterback. I don’t know how much credit Fox deserves for his time with Manning (a former Broncos player once told me Manning ran the whole show), but I do know that a great quarterback changes everything.

Guys like Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey have job security solely because their teams have good, young quarterbacks. The Cowboys went from 4-12 to 13-3 largely because they upgraded from the likes of Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel to Dak Prescott. Mike McCarthy was getting fired two months ago but he’s now preparing for a playoff game because Aaron Rodgers put his team on his back.

It takes more than a great quarterback. The Colts continue to prove that. But the Bears have a good system in place and the kind of supporting cast that would be favorable for any quarterback to step into.

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“This Won’t Happen Again”: Pace & Fox Address Media

| January 4th, 2017

Ryan Pace and John Fox addressed the media today. The following are my thoughts:

  • Both Pace and Fox set the perfect tone for a 3-13 press conference. They acknowledged the injuries but made clear the results of the season were unacceptable.
  • Pace sure sounded like a GM zeroing on the quarterback position this offseason. Made very clear that his decisions at that position this offseason will greatly impact the future of the organization. As Pace said, “Everything is on the table”.
  • Bears only have 19 players on the roster from previous regime. That’s kind of amazing.
  • Alshon Jeffery discussion was tepid. Pace did not sound like a GM willing to commit major resources to a player whose production – though excusable – has plummeted.
  • “Ball security is critical” -John Fox. It was obvious from the head coach’s comments that he does not want a QB who throws the ball to the other team.
  • Pace was on the money with his evaluation of the Bears secondary. They need to add playmakers with better ball skills.
  • Pace is “not giving up on Kyle Fuller”. His commentary on Fuller was some of his most passionate. Fuller will be given every opportunity to compete for this team in 2017.
  • Fox’s way of saying injuries cracked me up: “consistency of games available”.
  • Pace believes Jonathan Bullard needed this year to learn to play defense a different way. He expects a leap next year.
  • Both coordinators are staying.

I really like Ryan Pace. But this is a massive offseason for the young GM.

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Five Things We Learned From the 2016 Season

| January 2nd, 2017

It’s so easy to look at the record, 3-13, and pronounce the Bears an awful team with no hope. But that simply isn’t what took place this season. The Bears were in year two of a rebuild, lost $60M worth of players to IR and played 6 of their 16 games with Matt Barkley at quarterback. Bill Belichick wasn’t getting this group to the postseason.

So what did we learn from this difficult campaign?

  • The Bears found their offensive identity. The 2017 Bears will be defined on offense by a bully interior of their offensive line and the best power back they’ve had in recent memory, Jordan Howard. Expect every decision made on that side of the ball this offseason to complement this approach. And don’t be surprised if the Bears look to add another back to the rotation who can provide more than a spell for their workhorse.
  • The team does not have one reliable player in their secondary. The Bears won’t come into next season with seven new guys in their secondary. They’ll continue to develop players like LeBlanc, Hall, Callahan, Amos and maybe even Bush and HJQ. But the team must make secondary the primary focus of the spring and add several – not one or two but several – valuable assets to this unit.
  • Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. Leonard Floyd looks the part. Pernell McPhee should be healthy come September. But the Bears must add to their pass rush. Whether that means finding rushers for the defensive line or zeroing in on a top edge guy in the draft, the only way for this team to increase their turnover total is to increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
  • Ryan Pace deserves our faith. Look at Pace’s additions this offseason: Sitton, Whitehair, Howard, Floyd, Freeman, Trevathan, Hicks, Massie. Every one of them a significant improvement. Hell, even Hoyer and Barkley kept the Bears competitive as backups. The Bears had their best offseason in terms of personnel additions in years. Now they face two huge questions this time around. Is Alshon going to be brought back? Who is playing quarterback? Pace deserves a chance to answer both.
  • John Fox may not. Fox will get 2017. But he will get no more excuses.

The arrow is pointed decidedly up. But just as one great offseason can move the organization in the right direction, a bad offseason can derail the train as quickly. The next five years of Bears football will be defined by what Ryan Pace does between now and Bourbonnais.

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John Fox Will Return, or Bears at Vikings Game Thread

| January 1st, 2017

From Rap at NFL Network:

The second-year turnaround did not happen for John Fox. The Bears coach, who twice in his career has turned in triumphant rebuilds in his second season, will try to win just his fourth game today against the Vikings.

But, according to those who know him well, Fox will have the opportunity to make his mark in the third season. In addition, much of his staff is slated to return, as well.

The losses have collected for Chicago, a frustrating two seasons. The result is not what anyone has wanted. But in making the decision to stay the course, the Bears appear to be looking at more than box scores.

The Bears have hung tough with teams in playoff contention, such as the GiantsLions, and Packers. They’ve done so with their fourth quarterback of the year, Matt Barkley who likely would be out of the league if the Bears hadn’t put him on their practice squad to start the season.

They have a whopping 19 players on Injured Reserve, including many, many starters.

In addition, their 2016 draft class will be the foundation of the rebuild, a class that has drawn praise from opposing executives.

All of which makes for an interesting evaluation of Fox, his staff, and the year: They’ve been forced to play young players and watch them develop. The culture, despite the losses, is a positive one. And they believe the future is bright. Could they follow in the footsteps of the Raiders … or Cubs?

It’s not perfect, of course. There could be some position coach changes, and they need a quarterback. But it will likely be Fox at the helm when it happens.

Completely unsurprising. And fair. But Fox will have to win games in 2017.

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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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Across The Middle — Week 17

| December 28th, 2016

After two seasons and a combined eight wins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked out for the best interest of their franchise and the development of quarterback Jameis Winston by firing Lovie Smith and replacing him with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. A year later, the Bears are in a similar position as the most important thing going forward is the ability to find and develop their next quarterback.

I made the case against John Fox last week. Even without looking at his win-loss record without Peyton Manning the last eight years, it’s hard to trust him to develop whoever the next QB is going to be. Dowell Loggains is a good offensive coordinator, who could easily succeed with a rookie quarterback. But, if he does the Bears will lose him to another franchise. While Fox has hired a number of good offensive coaches, he’s never been a part of a team that developed a quarterback.

But, who else are you going to get? As simple as my criteria may be, it isn’t so easy to fill.

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Is Anything Worth Watching Sunday?

| December 26th, 2016

While the nation’s drinking amateurs battle their New Year’s Eve hangovers, many of us with saddle up our favorite barstool to watch the last Chicago Bears game of this depressing, injury-plagued 2016 campaign. But is the experience anything more than a mere formality?

Many will argue no. They will say nothing happening on the field in Minnesota will have any bearing on the future of this football team. And, honestly, it’s a point well-taken. But my job is to find meaning. So I’m doing my job. Here’s three things worth paying attention to when it comes to the finale.

The Barkley Rebound

#Barkleytime is coming off his first clunker of 2016 and it would be easy for fans to expect the sailing passes and poor decision making from his effort against Washington to continue. Sunday’s Barkley was the one many us expected and were shocked not to see through his first four starts.

Another dud and the bloom comes entirely off the rose. But a solid, mistake-free start could make it easy for Ryan Pace to keep Barkley in the fold moving forward. He’s shown tremendous rebound within game, often shaking off a poor three quarters to deliver a brilliant fourth. Can he rebound with a week of negativity between starts?

The Run Defense

A coach once told me “run defense is all about want to”. If that’s true the Bears haven’t wanted to in a fortnight.

Both Green Bay and Washington out-muscled the the middle of the Bears defense and took advantage of their lack of discipline on the outside. Yes, there are injuries playing a role in these struggles. But injuries don’t excuse McPhee letting Cousins around the edge, Amos taking bad angles or Hicks disappearing after a dominant period mid-season.

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Got A Christmas Present? Better Unwrappid Fire!

| December 25th, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to you all. Thanks for another wonderful year at DBB. I hope I can keep improving this place for years to come.


Bad game yesterday. Very bad. Here are some quick thoughts.

  • That was a full meltdown from Matt Barkley and quite frankly, I half expected it. I knew yesterday was not going to be an “on the bubble” performance. It was going to be definitive. How Barkley responds next week, on the road, at a division rival, will have a huge say in his role with the organization moving forward.
  • Bombs to Josh Bellamy when he’s triple covered?
  • Would I pay Alshon Jeffery $17 million a year? No. will anybody in the league pay him that? I don’t think so. Bears need to get a deal done, even if they slightly overpay this guy. Jeffery may not be a weekly ten-catch guy but he is always capable of the spectacular and there’s distinct value to that.
  • Cam Meredith is going to be the third receiver next season.
  • Don’t want to get ahead of myself here but Jordan Howard is starting to look like one of the best Bears draft picks ever. If they held the 2016 draft today, Howard is going in the middle of the first round.

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Across The Middle — Week 16

| December 21st, 2016

It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed the Bears to piss me off as much as they did on Sunday, but there I was angry as hell and less confident in the direction the team is headed than I’ve ever been. I don’t think John Fox is a bad coach. But if the Bears are ever going to compete in a division with Aaron Rodgers, they need more than a coach who isn’t bad.

I understand the limitations Fox has with this roster. The Bears have more players on injured reserve than any other team. They were without their starting nose tackle, both starting inside linebackers and were down to their fifth cornerback. And that’s just the defense. (But Fox also brought in his own training staff, one he insisted limit the soft-tissue injuries.)

They have been in every game — which absolutely is a credit to Fox — but they are not able to win because of the same mental mistakes every week. At a certain point you have to wonder how much of it is an issue with the players and how much is an issue with preparation.

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Across The Middle — Week 13

| November 30th, 2016

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The fall guy for the 2016 Chicago Bears is most likely going to be Dowell Loggains and really, it’s too bad.

The Bears are 11 games into a miserable season and next-to-last in points per game, which could tell you the Bears have a terrible offensive coordinator. But I am just not sure that is true. The Bears should’ve won and should’ve scored at least 34 points last week with their JV offense.

This is a results-based industry, I get it. But isn’t there something to be said about having the Bears in the middle of the pack in yards with the majority of their snaps being taken by Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer? No, they didn’t score with Jay Cutler either. But Cutler has been hurt all season. And, come to think of it, the only coaches who have scored a lot of points with Cutler are Mike Martz and Marc Trestman. Even the great Mike Shanahan never finished better than 16th in scoring with Cutler has his quarterback.

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