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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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Five Final Thoughts For Bears at Packers

| September 28th, 2017

(1) The Bears have to attack this banged up offensive line tonight, especially with both starting tackles unlikely to play. Unleash Leonard Floyd to make Aaron Rodgers wildly uncomfortable in the pocket. Rodgers will still complete the short stuff but the Bears secondary is keeping the game in front of them and, more importantly, tackling well. Quick releases mean fewer big plays. Quick releases require pressure.

(2) Tarik Cohen had 12 carries and 4 catches Sunday. That feels right. Cohen needs to touch the ball at least 15 times a game. He’s the most explosive Bears player since Devin Hester.

(3) Pat O’Donnell needs to improve upon his terrific punting performance at Soldier Field Sunday. The longer the field for Rodgers, the more likely we’ll see an offensive line breakdown from that beleaguered unit.

(4) Green Bay is bottom third of the league against the run and one of the worst rushing teams. Bears have to run it and run it and run it. And when the running game doesn’t work, run it some more.

(5) Reiterate what I yelled yesterday. With Glennon, Bears have to be perfect to win at home. What the hell do they have to do on the road, at Lambeau, in primetime?

(Bonus) Adam Jahns reported yesterday that ownership will not stand by and watch this franchise continue to lose. I was told the switch to Trubisky is coming and coming soon. One wonders if tonight is not truthfully Glennon’s last stand.

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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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Ten Thoughts on Chicago’s 2016 Draft & Aftermath

| May 1st, 2016

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(1) The Leonard Floyd pick will be the most heavily scrutinized moving forward but he will actually have little pressure on him in 2016. With Houston, Young and McPhee already situated at OLB, Floyd will be able to assimilate into Vic Fangio’s defense by doing what he does best: getting after the quarterback.

(2) Cody Whitehair is ready to play right now and the Bears should start him at left guard immediately. What does this mean? It means the team should follow the old offensive line maxim and play their best five. Leno. Whitehair. Slauson at center. Long. Massie.

(3) No, I’m not confident Hroniss Grasu is the future at center for the Bears. And that’s fine. You’re allowed to swing and miss in the name of athleticism. Giving him another season to develop, with Slauson at center, is probably the best thing for him.

(4) I like Pat O’Donnell. I really do. But North Dakota State’s Ben LeCompte – who accepted the Bears invite to camp – is a special player and a special kid. Don’t be surprised to see an actual competition emerge this summer. (The Bears didn’t go out and invite the best punter in the land to camp for no reason.) Read this piece on one of the best punting performances I’ve ever seen.

(5) I won’t be surprised to see Jonathan Bullard have a more productive Bears career thanFloyd and that’s not knocking Floyd. Bullard is a grinder. Staying away from all the draftspeak, Bullard just made life horrible for offensive linemen and he went up against some terrific ones in the SEC.

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Bears Beat Bucs, Put Sixth in Win Column (Rapid Fire)

| December 28th, 2015

Bears won their sixth game. Is it the biggest win in franchise history? Of course not. But a glance at their sideline as the clock wound down Sunday proved how important this win was for them. Loss after loss was tiring a staff and roster that knew they were improving but needed some tangible evidence. Rapid fire…

  • Adam Gase has a bully offensive line and a trio of talented running backs. Why does it seem like he runs the ball against his will? It sure seems like he’d prefer to throw those awful bubble screens on first down instead of pounding Langford behind Kyle Long.
  • My lord is Kyle Long something in short yardage. When is the last time the Bears had an offensive lineman who could move multiple defenders at the goal line?
  • John Timu, still making plays.
  • Pernell McPhee wants it. I get that. But why the hell are Pace and Fox marching him out there? Rich Campbell pointed out to me on Twitter that doctors have assured the Bears McPhee can’t do more damage to his knee but what about the rest of his body? He’s running at 8% speed! (He’s also a substantial financial investment. Why not protect it?)
  • If Kevin White turns out to be a star the Bears grabbed two first round picks in the 2015 draft. Eddie Goldman is that good.

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Position-by-Position at the Bye: Special Teams

| October 31st, 2014

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The following is part of a series of position-by-position breakdowns at the halftime point of the 2014 season.

Special teams must be taken element for element…

  • Robbie Gould has been steady.
  • Pat O’Donnell has shown flashes of being a superior punter. He’s a rookie so growing pains are expected and he needs to develop his short-punting game. But that leg, especially late in the year at Soldier Field, will be a weapon for this organization.
  • Mistakes have been rampant and mistakes, like it or not, get pinned on the coaching staff. In the case of the Bears, mistakes are far more the product of a constantly, in-flux bottom of the roster. No play summarized the error-prone ways of these Joe D units more than the brilliant P.O.D. punt covered about three seconds too early and subsequently returned for a touchdown in Carolina. It was a flash of brilliance, a terrible mistake and ultimately a lack of attention to detail causing the club six points.
  • At some point is the coaching staff going to convince the kick returners to stop taking the ball out of the end zone? I would hazard a guess this season’s collection of useless kick return men have cost the Bears upwards of a 100 yards of field position.
  • Santonio Holmes’ greatest contribution to the season has been not fumbling punts.
  • Strangely enough the Bears kickoff return against average is top ten in the league. Their punt return against average is bottom ten.

Grade: C

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Most Important Special Teams Player of 2014: Pat O’Donnell, Rookie Punter

| September 2nd, 2014

From 2006 to 2013 one could argue the three most stable roster positions on the Chicago Bears were kick returner, kicker and long snapper as each were manned by players ranking as the franchise’s best ever at the spot. Special teams, especially in the Dave Toub era, were the frothy foam head at the top of a perfect pint of Guinness.

Since Jerry Angelo decided to make Adam Podlesh one of the best paid punters in the history of the sport, that position has been infamously (at least around here) unstable. Podlesh capped off his Bears career with a dreadful 2013 performance, ranking dead last in almost every important statistical category. Their worst-ever defense was hamstrung by more than injuries and poor play. They were hamstrung with short fields to defend due to Podlesh. They had no shot.

Phil Emery sent Podlesh packing and drafted Miami’s Pat O’Donnell in the sixth round. O’Donnell, as a rookie, is the Bears most important special teams player in 2014.

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Collection of Thoughts on Last Night’s Snoozefest Second Preseason Game

| August 15th, 2014

Here are some thoughts on last night’s “game”.

  • Starting with the pregame interview, it isn’t easy to adapt to Jared Allen in a Chicago Bears uniform.
  • I think we saw a few clues last night as to how Shea McClellin is going to be deployed. DJ and Lance will be behind the defensive line and Shea will be sent at the quarterback.
  • Both McClellin and Bostic made excellent pursuit tackles. Good to see them showing instincts for the position.
  • If Chris Williams is going to be the starting kick returner against Buffalo, great. In the meantime the Bears need to be giving someone other than Eric Weems a look back there. I don’t know what Weems does well but I haven’t seen it.

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