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Everything Wrong With the NFL, In One Play

| November 3rd, 2017

There were audible screams in the basement bar on Waverly Place. Zach Miller had caught a perfect Trubisky toss in the end zone but nobody seemed to notice anything but his leg. My God, his leg. On replay it was even worse. Maybe it was shown a third time on television, maybe it wasn’t. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t watching. I went to the toilet, disgusted.

When I came out of the bathroom, Miller’s season was over and somehow the NFL had determined they had enough visual data to overturn the touchdown. Not sure which of the two sickened me more.



The Zach Miller Touchdown illuminated everything currently dragging down this great sport and formerly great league.

Forget about anthem protests. They’ll be a thing of memory in a few months. Forget about declining ratings. Television ratings are plummeting everywhere, and will continue to as cable companies lose their monopolistic grip on home entertainment. Forget about head injuries and CTE. People will always play this game and people will always watch.

What will bring the league down?


Injuries & Greed

Aaron Rodgers. Andrew Luck. Deshaun Watson. David Johnson. Dalvin Cook. Odell Beckham Jr. Julian Edelman. Joe Thomas. Jason Peters. JJ Watt. Eric Berry.

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Data Responds: Bears at Saints

| October 29th, 2017

The Bears played pretty evenly with the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints on the road, but a series of missed opportunities (helped by one atrocious call by the officials) cost them the chance to enter the bye at 4-4.

Perhaps most important to Chicago going forward, the loss was a costly one for the Bears. Four starters left the game with injuries and did not return, including guard Kyle Long (hand), center Cody Whitehair (arm), cornerback Bryce Callahan (knee), and tight end Zach Miller (leg). We’ll wait to see how serious the injuries are, though I can say fairly confidently that Miller’s gruesome leg injury means his season (and likely his career) is finished.

Still, the best news to me from the game was that they kept fighting. When they went down 17-6 early in the 4th quarter, I expected them to roll over and quit, but from that point on the defense forced two turnovers, the offense scored a touchdown, and the special teams picked up a big return to keep Chicago in the game. The attitude on the team is changing, and the importance of that can’t be overstated.

Offense

  • The Bears were forced to ask for a bit more from rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this week, and we saw some of both good and bad, as should be expected from a young quarterback. We saw the talent leading to some big plays, and we saw the rookie mistakes leading to missed opportunities and/or negative plays. The overall stat line (14/32, 164 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 46.9 rating) looks ugly, but his performance was not that bad. Notably, Trubisky threw 2 touchdowns, but one of them was taken away by a terrible officiating call and one of them was inexplicably dropped by a wide open Jordan Howard.

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Data Responds: Bears at Packers

| September 29th, 2017

Two road games, two blowout losses for the 2017 Bears. Green Bay won the first quarter 14-0 after a great opening drive, followed by a 3-yard touchdown after Mike Glennon turned it over on Chicago’s first offensive snap. Things stayed quiet until the end of the first quarter, when a 47 minute lightning delay led to what felt like the start of another game.

Of course, the Bears still had Mike Glennon in at quarterback, so nothing changed. He turned the ball over 3 more times and shut down the entire offense with his incompetence before racking up just enough garbage time stats to make his performance somewhat defensible if you squint (stop me if you’ve heard that before).

Coaching

  • We’re starting here tonight, beginning with the continued ineptitude making appropriate personnel decisions late in a blowout. With all the practice the Bears’ coaches have gotten in these situations in the last few years, you’d think they would be great at it by now, but they’re not. Down 28 points in the 4th quarter, the Bears rode Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, their two best offensive players, to a meaningless late touchdown. Zach Miller, their best tight end who has made a career out of going to IR, played while rookie Adam Shaheen sat on the bench. Why? This is literally a fireable offense if the team’s management cares about their personnel at all.

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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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Suddenly, Tight End Looks to Be a Position of Strength for the Bears

| June 1st, 2017

Zach Miller got injured in 2016. Because if it’s a year, and Zach Miller is playing football during it, he’s going to get hurt. His injury left the Chicago Bears with a crop of tight ends that could be described as…”Who?”

Logan Paulsen was supposed to be a blocking option but caught three passes (and dropped around three hundred). Harvard UDFA Ben Braunecker wasn’t supposed to see the field. Four catches. Daniel Brown showed up out of nowhere and caught a touchdown pass. I still don’t know who MyCole Pruitt is.

The Bears established an offensive identity last season. Tough, physical offensive line anchoring a power run game on the back of Jordan Howard. But that identity lacked a crucial component once Miller was admitted into the infirmary: a tight end that could both be a force at the point of attack and a threat through the middle of the defense.

Outside of quarterback, where his aggressiveness will define his general management tenure, no position was attacked with more fervor this off-season than tight end by Ryan Pace.

  • Dion Sims only has 74 receptions in four seasons but the Bears (a) signed him primarily for his physicality/blocking ability and (b) believe he’s capable of far more productivity if given the opportunity.
  • Adam Shaheen may have been a surprise second-round selection but early reports – from Adam Jahns and many others – are that Shaheen has been the early star of rookie camp/OTAs. He’s a massive human being with great hands, a perfect complement to what Sims provides.
  • Zach Miller is still here! And Zach Miller is still a very good player. But one should not expect Miller to contribute more than 8-10 games of healthy football.

And in case you were missing the Follies of ’16, worry not! Brown, Braunecker and Pruitt are all slated to be in Bourbonnais next month.

Do the Bears have a star tight end? It’s certainly possible if Shaheen becomes the player the Bears expect him to be. But one thing is certain: one of the biggest roster weaknesses in 2016 looks to be a major position of strength in 2017.

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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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Turn the Beat Around: Words of Wisdom From the Hired Hands

| June 20th, 2016

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ADAM L. JAHNS (THE L IS SILENT) ON KEVIN WHITE

From his piece in the Sun-Times:

How does Kevin White look?

Like a work in progress. His physical gifts are apparent. He’s fast and imposing. But his drops stood out, especially when Jeffery was out of town. White is under pressure to be a difference-maker and is clearly learning the finer points of being an NFL receiver. But I’ll say this: when Jeffery did return for minicamp, White’s play seemingly improved.

Many have larger expectations for White in what will be his rookie campaign. None of those expectations are possible if he doesn’t catch the ball. Whilst other writers – including one for this site – have been leading the White Hype Train, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

BIGGS (TOM) CALLAHAN

From his piece in the Tribune:

Cornerback Bryce Callahan, defensive end Akiem Hicks and, not surprisingly, wide receiver Kevin White consistently flashed during the spring. Callahan is the leading candidate to be the nickel cornerback, a position he played last season. He took advantage of ample time working outside while an undisclosed injury sidelined Kyle Fuller. Callahan led all defensive backs with four interceptions in the offseason, a statistic kept on the wall of their meeting room.

“That’s one of the main things Vic (Fangio) was preaching,” Callahan said. “We need more takeaways and more interceptions.”

Callahan has added nearly 10 pounds of muscle to his upper body, getting to him 193 pounds. He felt being under 185 might have led to getting dinged last season. While he’s not tall at 5-foot-10, he has a 41-inch vertical jump and is fluid in the middle of the field.

Callahan’s emergence would greatly improved the backend of the Bears secondary, still the team’s least talented meeting room.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Martellus Moves to Boston & New Long Snapper Alert!

| March 16th, 2016

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Few things of note worth weighing in on.

  • Martellus Bennett is now a Patriot. This should thrill a player who cares about one thing: money. Ryan Pace doesn’t hesitate to dump players who don’t fit the culture. But I will reiterate what I’ve said for months. Bears should have spent entire offseason convincing Marty to buy-in. They’re worse without him.
  • Bears signed former Broncos snapper Aaron Brewer to a one-year deal. Most interesting thought on the signing comes from the Twitter feed of former Bears scout Greg Gabriel: “Don’t think for a minute the Bears signing a new snapper wasn’t all about Gould’s misses last year. That’s ALL it was about.” Do I buy the snapper being to blame for Robbie blowing games? No. Do I doubt the team considers it a factor? No.
  • Per Jimmy Shapiro at Bovada the Besrs have gone from 50/1 to 40/1 to win the Super Bowl this year. Have to say that’s a substantial jump considering the lack of sexiness surrounding their free agent haul. Vegas clearly understands the Bears are better today than they were ten days ago.
  • Based on CJ Anderson’s comments (re: chasing more money to Chicago) one has to assume the Bears had interest in the Broncos back. My only question is…why?  Anderson is an okay back but can’t you find a bunch of him in the middle of the draft? And why would the Bears want to put money into a position there they could potentially have a young star at cost?
  • Zach Miller was always coming back to Chicago, barring a huge divide in compensation. I don’t play the source game but here’s something I know: Cutler lobbied Miller aggressively to return. Don’t be surprised if Miller isn’t rewarded on the stat sheet next season.

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Postseason Positional Analysis Part IV: Tight Ends

| January 13th, 2016

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Right now the Bears have three tight ends on the roster worth discussing. Without further adieu, the least exciting of our postseason positional analysis columns.

KHARI LEE

The strangest move of the Ryan Pace era was dealing a sixth-round pick to the Texans for Lee, a tight end who is an exclusive blocker. (His attempts to catch Cutler passes have been comical.) If you’re looking for cutting edge analysis of Lee’s work as an additional member of the offensive line, you might want to look elsewhere. In the meantime, let’s assume Lee will be back in 2016 to validate surrendering the draft pick for the acquisition.

ZACH MILLER

34 catches, 439 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Miller has been one of the best stories of the season and from the way both he and the Bears have spoken it would be a surprise to not see him back in 2016. The only question now is how the Bears create a fair contract to compensate Miller for his production while considering his injury history. 2 years, $6-8M.

MARTELLUS BENNETT

53 catches, 439 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Everyone has heard the talk and Ryan Pace’s silence all-but cemented the fact that Bennett has worn out his welcome in the Bears locker room. Pace and Fox are trying to establish a culture and Bennett clearly does not fit within that culture.

You know what? I don’t care.

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Across The Middle With Andrew Dannehy

| December 16th, 2015

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  • Once again, I’m not upset with the fact that the Bears lost, but how they lost. The Redskins have talent, probably as much or more than the Bears, but they were coming off of a short week and they can’t win on the road. Meanwhile, the Bears were coming off a disappointing loss and questions about why they can’t win at home. You’d think the Bears would be motivated, right? Nope. They came out flat again. Six flat quarters against the 49ers and Redskins very well could’ve cost them a spot in the playoffs. That isn’t acceptable. They looked like a Trestman-coached team for six straight quarters before turning it around in the second half.
  • In defense of the coaching staff, I don’t think they’re particularly worried about wins and losses right now. They’ve been coaching for the future for about 10 weeks.
  • My guess on the Kevin White situation: The Bears players and coaches fully expected him to be available, but Ryan Pace made the call.

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