ATM: Regardless of QB, Bears Need Better Running Game

| June 22nd, 2021

Whether it’s Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback, the Bears are going to have to help them out by running the ball.

The Bears found success at the end of last year. David Montgomery ran for 598 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s final six games. Over a full season, that would’ve been monstrous production, but the first nine games happened too. In those, Montgomery failed to reach 90 yards and only averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry twice.

That’s not necessarily Montgomery’s fault. Injuries and inconsistencies along the offensive line are largely what put the Bears in the Nick Foles-era tailspin. The Bears have been aggressive in fixing issues with depth and top-line talent, but there’s still a matter of actually being productive in the rushing attack over a full, 16-game season.

It may have been unrealistic to expect Juan Castillo to fix the running game out of the gates, considering they didn’t have an offseason program or a traditional training camp. By the end of the season, it was clear that the coach’s message was getting through and he had nearly every player competing at a level they had not yet reached in their careers. The Bears emphasized a bigger, more physical style of player at the line of scrimmage, with the idea that Castillo can coach them up. With a projected rookie starter at left tackle and questions on the right side of the line, he’ll have to do just that.

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Chicago Bears Classic: Bears Beat Jags 30-27 (1995)

| June 21st, 2021

1995 is a seasonal beacon for the Chicago Bears organization. It is the oasis in the desert of poor quarterback play, with Erik Kramer delivering the best positional performance in franchise history. They won three straight games in October, scoring 31, 30 and 35 points. (They would lose two later scoring 34 and 28.) They finished 9-7, missed the playoffs, and wouldn’t record another winning season until the ridiculous, fluky magic of 2001.

What does this game have?

  • One of Curtis Conway’s finest afternoons with the Bears. I put this game right up there with Marty Booker’s 2001 performance against the Bucs and Brandon Marshall’s 2012 game in Tennessee. (I’m probably forgetting a few.)
  • Rookie Rashaan Salaam. I remember being at Gunnell Oval in Kearny, NJ – dressed in my Kearny Florist Little League pinstripes – high fiving John Cali when we found out the Bears took Salaam. (The tragic fall of Salaam was detailed in this terrifically sad piece by Tim Rohan for SI.)
  • What amazes me about NFL highlights from the 90s is just how slow the game looks. There is no way Mark Brunell would be as productive in this current NFL with that arm. The delivery takes forever and the balls travels through the air in slow motion.
  • Where did I watch this game, you ask? There used to be a bar in Rutherford, NJ called the Jersey Sports Cafe and it was owned by a family friend. The guy was a huge Cubs fan so he had a satellite the size of a Buick on his roof pulling in the Chicago TV feed. From the ages of about 12 to 15, my dad would take me here and let me watch the Bears play. I was not legally allowed to sit at the physical bar so we took a a barstool and slid it about 3 feet away. Was it a great viewing experience? No. Was it my only option? Yep.

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Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

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Chicago Bears (Personal) Classic: Bears Lose 2000 Season Opener to Vikings, But…

| June 17th, 2021

2000 was one of the more forgettable seasons in Bears history. They lost their first five games. They went into the bye 1-7. They scored more than 16 points only twice in those games.

But this game was memorable to me for a few reasons.

  • This was the first fall of my collegiate life and I watched this game at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. (Which, as far as theme restaurants go, was the best in NYC.) I had been watching Bears games, until that point, alone, in tiny sports bars in New Jersey, with illegal satellites picking up Chicago sports. Now the Bears were in front of me on a massive screen and there were Bears fans EVERYWHERE around me.
  • It was impossible to watch this game and not think the Bears had a quarterback. Cade McNown was electric. Big arm. Accurate. And he used his legs to keep drives going and put points on the board. His final stat line 27-41, 290, 2 TDs, 0 INTs. Passer rating of 102.7. Two months later he was inactive. Four months later his career was over.
  • It is still amazing to remember what Randy Moss did to the Bears consistently before the arrival of Charles Tillman. It’s item 1A when it comes to the Tillman Hall of Fame argument. (Item 1 is the punch.)

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Wednesday Lynx Package (6/16/21)

| June 16th, 2021

There are very few points on the calendar where the NFL is at rest and this period – between the draft and camp – is the the league at its most restful. That’s why the “Justin Fields Makes Us Happy” and “Classic Game” posts have dominated the site. There’s no point in writing opinion pieces when there’s nothing on which to actually opine. So here are some damn links.

  • Lindsay Jones at The Athletic has an interesting piece, breaking down the slow pace of vaccinations for NFL players. These guys should look no further than Jon Rahm on the PGA Tour, and understand vaccinations as a business decision. Rahm cost himself $1.6 million plus by delaying his jab and being removed from the field with a positive test at The Memorial. Testing positive will still take players off the field. And the only players getting tested will be the unvaccinated. Why risk it?
  • Not a big Jason La Canfora fan when it comes to his often erroneous news breaks. But this piece for CBS absolutely skewers the Packers and their handling of the Aaron Rodgers situation. What the Packers are currently doing makes zero sense. Why take shots at Rodgers in the press? If you are willing to move on, and start the Jordan Love era, why not just do that and accumulate a million assets from Denver? The Packers are operating as if they have leverage. That leverage doesn’t exist. And Rodgers knows it.
  • Where is Deshaun Watson going to play in 2021? My eyes are still fixed on Carolina, a quarterback-needy club that hasn’t addressed the position in a significant way. (Sam Darnold ain’t it.) The Cat Crave blog has a nice breakdown of what the Panthers might need to give up to bring Watson back to the Carolinas. If Watson ends up a Panther, it would be hard to make them a favorite in the NFC.

Also, it is June 15th and we have no idea where two of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL will be playing in September. That’s wild.

  • A serious x-factor for the Bears this season will be running back Damien Williams, a Covid opt-out in 2020. (Colleen Kane has a nice profile of his return in the Trib.) Williams’ versatility will be a major asset for the offense, as he’ll be able to spell both David Montgomery AND Tarik Cohen; capable of both a 20-carry game and a 10-catch one. Nagy never had Williams in Kansas City but no doubt he received serious recommendations from the men there who did.
  • ACTUAL BEAR NEWS. Two sleeping campers were attacked by bears in Alaska. Two thoughts. (1) If I come home from a night out, and someone I don’t know is sleeping in my apartment, and I throw them out violently, that’s not “an attack”! This is where the bears live. By sleeping there, the campers take on the risk. (2) The story says they had “bear deterrent”. Well, guess what? If you’re doing something that requires you have bear deterrent on you, you deserve to get attacked by bears. I have no sympathy for folks this stupid.
  • Registration is now open for the Chicago Bears-led virtual 5K and Kids Dash. Last year the event raised $60,000 for local Covid-related causes in Chicago. This year they expect to do even better. From the release: “Registered participants will have the opportunity to run the 5K (3.1 miles) and Kids Dash 1K (.62 miles) any time from June 14 through July 31. Walkers are welcome, as there are no pace restrictions. All paid registered 5K runners will be mailed an official race shirt, commemorative Bears finisher medal, Bears/PNC-branded gaiter and Bears/PNC-branded fanny pack (for the first 250 registrants), while supplies last. Kids registered for the Kids Dash will be mailed a finisher medal, Bears/PNC-branded gaiter and tie headband from the Chicago Bears Kids Club brought to you by Jewel-Osco, while supplies last.”

Six links. And not one mention of Justin Fields. Not bad.

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ATM: Fields & Mahomes Situations Not Comparable

| June 15th, 2021

As tempting as it may be, Chicago Bears fans should resist comparing the team’s current situation at quarterback with past examples from around the league, especially what transpired in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes. Justin Fields is neither Mahomes, nor Mitch Trubisky. Andy Dalton neither Alex Smith, nor Mike Glennon. The situations are simply not comparable.

First, the veterans.

When Mahomes was drafted Smith had been the starting quarterback in KC for four years, leading the team to the playoffs three times. He had the locker room’s respect and knew the playbook cold. The Chiefs were HIS team, and he’d earned that. But Smith had physical limitations. Hence, Mahomes was drafted.

Glennon came to the Bears with 30 career touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. He had a career rating of 84.6 in 18 starts. He was no Smith. Dalton is more Smith, coming to Chicago with 142 starts under his belt and leading numerous playoff teams. Dalton, like Smith, has success when everything around him is perfect. But their situations are completely different. The Bears are not Dalton’s team. He’s been slightly longer than his surefire replacement, Justin Fields.

Then there are the contracts.

The Chiefs hoped Smith would play well and they could trade him for draft capital. It worked.

The Bears had hoped the same for Glennon. It did not.

No matter what Dalton does in 2021, he will be a free agent in 2022. (The Bears could, in theory, tag and trade him if he balls out, but let’s not cross that bridge until it comes.) There was significant prospective value in playing Smith and Glennon. There is little-to-none when it comes to Dalton.

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Chicago Bears Classic: RW, Kordell, Edinger Beat AFC Champion Raiders (2003)

| June 11th, 2021

2003 is one of those Bears seasons I barely remember. I watched every game at Josie Woods but most of them were through the haze of a hangover, with this being my first fall in NYC at 21 years old. The team wasn’t even particularly bad. They finished 7-9. But they just created very few memorable moments.

This game, with highlights provided by the great NFL Primetime, provides more of those fun elements that seemed to define the era.

  • Big plays from R.W. McQuarters! (A note on Twitter from Reverend Dave about this is what directed me to this game.)
  • Edinger making ANOTHER big kick.
  • Kordell Stewart showing just enough to make people think he could be the answer at quarterback.
  • Marty Booker. Oh, how I miss Marty Booker. (Booker’s game against the Bucs in 2001 is still the best game I’ve seen from a Bears wide receiver.)
  • Another Bear who had vacated my memory banks: Stanley Pritchett.

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ATM: In Case It Doesn’t Work Out At Head Coach

| June 10th, 2021

Matt Nagy enters the 2021 season with a 28-20 record and two playoff appearances in three years, but his job very much could – and certainly should – be on the line. While there is a lot of good that Nagy brings to the Bears, his inability to field even an adequate offense is puzzling. Because even when they don’t have good quarterbacks, good offensive minds typically find a way to move the ball. The Bears have been in the bottom 12 in yardage all three seasons and the bottom six in net yards per passing attempt the last two years.

Maybe it’s Mitch’s fault. Maybe they need better offensive line play. Maybe it’s both. (It probably is.) But the truth is this: the Bears need to score points.

If the Bears do replace him, and this unlikely with his hand-selected rookie QB, I’d look for an offensive mind to pair with that QB. I put priority on coaches who not only call plays, but have designed offenses. Here is a short list of coaches who could get the job:

10. Shane Steichen, Eagles Offensive Coordinator

The offensive coordinator for a team that had a rookie quarterback (Justin Herbert) throw 31 touchdown passes would typically be a hot commodity. But Anthony Lynn was such a bad head coach, nobody cared to look at his assistants. When Steichen replaced Ken Whisenhunt during the 2019 season, the improvement was immediate.

9. Nathaniel Hackett, Packers Offensive Coordinator

Forget what he has done with the Packers, Hackett had a top-five scoring offense with Blake Bortles. He was fired the next year because a scapegoat was needed after the Jaguars couldn’t repeat that success, but he quickly signed on with the Packers, learning a different offense under Matt LaFleur.

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