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Camp Battle to Watch: Carey v. Langford

| July 12th, 2017

Forgotten since the emergence of Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey could be battling for an important roster spot.

As great as Jordan Howard was last year, he had to leave a number of games with various bumps and bruises. He also missed a lot of time in his one season at Indiana. Neither of these things are surprising when you consider his violent running style. The Bears need a backup who can fill in for a series. They need a backup who can fill in for a game. I’m not sure they have one who can do both.

That’s where this dilemma begins.

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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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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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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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Seven Quick Thoughts on Bears Loss to Packers

| December 19th, 2016

Travel day. Not a lot of time to write. But here are my quick thoughts.

  • Matt Barkley looks every bit an NFL quarterback. And this makes 3 of his 4 starts where he took the team down the field with the game on the line and made plays to win or tie em. If Barkley’s teammates were better, he’d be a main story in Chicago.
  • Guy in Billy Goat yesterday: “Barkley’a good but he can’t throw the long ball.” Amazing what people believe despite their own eyes.
  • Bears secondary never had a chance against Aaron Rodgers but – on the final play – why does a safety even have a decision to make? There should be two guys standing 25 yards off the line of scrimmage.
  • Packers had a massive third quarter because of Bears mistakes. Bears had a massive fourth quarter because they dominated the line of scrimmage.
  • Jordan Howard is a star.
  • Love Alshon Jeffery’a post game passion,  expressed in this column by Adam Jahns. This is what the team needs: desire to win. They are fighters. What separates fighters from winners? Talent.

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Bears Thump Niners & There’s Plenty To Feel Good About

| December 5th, 2016

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You will hear it across Chicago today: “…but the Niners suck.” And there’s no denying that fact. The Niners do, in fact, suck. They are probably the league’s worst team. (I don’t consider Cleveland a team.) But good teams beat sucky teams convincingly. Good teams play meaningless fourth quarters against sucky teams. And the Bears, with their third or fourth-string quarterback, looked an awful lot like a good team yesterday.

Rapid fire…

  • I’ve been using #barkleytime as something of a joke but, you know, I’m starting to think it might not be. As impressive as Barkley was against the Titans a week ago, he was ten times more impressive in the conditions at Soldier Field yesterday. And if het got a little more help from his receivers, he might have been staring down a gaudy stat line. Nevertheless, a near-100 quarterback rating in the slush when the opposing quarterbacks looked like Abbot & Costello Meet the Snow, is exemplary. (More on Barkley coming later today/tomorrow.)
  • I can’t remember seeing a two-win team play with the emotion the Bears played with yesterday. Defensively, offensively, everything. They were fired up from the opening whistle. Seeing that makes me want to slap all the “they should lose” people across their faces.
  • Jordan Howard. That is all. No, that’s not all. His five-yard touchdown run may be my favorite play of the season. The Niners weren’t keeping him out of the end zone with 18 defenders.
  • Say this about Josh Bellamy: he gets open! And I give the Bears coaching staff/QB credit for sticking with him after the second big drop. I would have sat him on the bench and left him there. They didn’t and they were handsomely rewarded for it.
  • Noah Spence is having a terrific year in Tampa and Joey Bosa is terrific but Leonard Floyd may now be the front-runner (as predicted here) for defensive rookie of the year. If Floyd can get his sack total into double digits, I’m not sure they can keep the award away from him.

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Across The Middle — Week 12

| November 23rd, 2016

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So, now what?

Over the last two weeks the Bears have lost 10 starters to injury or suspension, including six on offense. Some of them will come back, but the starting quarterback won’t and his backup is already gone. Matt Barkley is going to make it next to impossible for the Bears to win or evaluate any of the other offensive players. So the Bears have six games left in which they can’t accomplish anything.

I know some fans are happy that the Bears will “tank” and end up with a high draft pick, but this won’t be any fun. I would love for every game to be meaningful, instead we’re wasting six weeks of our NFL fan lives, which will make the wait for next year even more excruciating.

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Across The Middle — Week 11

| November 16th, 2016

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The excuses are gone, but the results remain mostly the same.

As his career drags on the question of if Jay Cutler is the answer to the Bears century-long QB crisis appears to be getting answered and Sunday gave Ryan Pace enough ammunition to move on if he wants to.

This isn’t about one game, but holy shit was that a bad game. It wasn’t just the four lazy, careless turnovers the dude flat out could not make a throw. I charted him with 11 inaccurate passes — nearly 37 percent — including two horrendous interceptions.

I’ve always been willing to live with Cutler’s turnovers because they were offset by big plays. That hasn’t been the case this year. Cutler has twice as many turnovers as he does touchdowns. What’s worse is that he’s being beaten statistically by Brian Hoyer nearly across the board.

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Match-Up That Matters: Bears at Bucs

| November 10th, 2016

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The Bears travel to Tampa for a match-up of two pretty evenly-matched teams. What will tell the tale?

Bears Rushing Attack

vs.

Tampa’s Poor Rush Defense

Three thoughts:

  • The Bears ran the ball with toughness and determination against a terrific Vikings defense with backup guards. From all reports, Josh Sitton and Kyle Long will return to the lineup Sunday. Long and Sitton aren’t just their two best offensive linemen. They are two of the best players on the team and leaders on the field. Their return should be worth 25+ additional yards.
  • Bucs are allowing more than 117 yards per game on the ground at 4.1 yards per carry. If Bears stay committed to the run,  and we know they will, they should have tremendous success on the ground.
  • Only one back in the league has a better yards per carry than Jordan Howard. (That would be the revelation that is Jay Ajayi in Miami. Reason #31 you don’t break the bank for CJ Anderson.) Howard isn’t going to beat a healthy Ezekiel Elliot for Rookie of the Year but I expect him to make a formidable argument over the second half of the season. That starts in Tampa.

If the Bears run it well, they win. I think they will…and do.

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Across The Middle — Week Nine

| November 2nd, 2016

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There were a lot of reasons why the Bears beat the Vikings. The biggest is the simplest: the Bears had a QB who could make plays under duress and the Vikings didn’t.

That’s right, Jay Cutler is back and he reminded us all why the talk of moving on from him is premature (and probably stupid).

Everyone wants to talk about the arm but the arm isn’t what makes Cutler so good. Against arguably the best defense in the NFL, without his two best offensive linemen and two of his three or four best receivers, Cutler was in complete control. After a shaky start, he threw strike after strike, converting third down after third down, time after time.

When the shit hit the fan — and it did quite often — Cutler stayed cool and made the throws he needed to make. The Bears came into the game as one of the worst third-down offenses in the league. Thry were 7-for-14 against the Vikings.

This came days after a report that John Fox was “done” with Cutler. The report clearly got to the quarterback, who showed as much emotion as he ever has, including an somewhat teary embrace with QB Coach Dave Ragone after the Bears clinched the win.

I don’t know if these last eight games will be Cutler’s last with the team. I don’t think anybody really knows. But Cutler has the ability to control his own destiny. And regardless of what anyone in the front office thinks, it has been made crystal clear that the guys in the locker room love him.

If Cutler keeps playing like he did Monday night and like he has for most of the last two seasons, the Bears would be crazy to move on for an unknown.

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