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Who Could Be the 2018 Breakout Bears: Defense

| June 20th, 2018

When the Bears officially re-introduced defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he kept telling reporters the most important thing the Bears need to do is get improvement from their returning players. This is something that certainly isn’t a given.

By nearly any measurement, the Bears had a top-15 overall defense last year. They were far from perfect — the inability to take the ball away still being a major issue. But they were more than good enough and are bringing back most of the roster.

Still, the team has some young players who could make a big impact in 2018. Here’s a look at five defenders who just could have breakout seasons like Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos had for the team a year ago.


Deon Bush

It’s hard to expect a lot from a guy who played about 8% more snaps on defense than I did last year, but Bush still has some promise. Fangio singled him out during minicamp practices and there were reports of the young safety showing great range and getting his hands on the ball during those sessions. The reports were enough to reconsider Bush as a possible playmaker.

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Forget Patience, Bears Offense Should Be Good

| June 6th, 2018

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a companion piece to yesterday’s Data Entry.]

If Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky are what Ryan Pace thinks they are, there’s no reason to think the Bears offense won’t be good in 2018.

Nagy has stressed patience since he took over. And he should. His complete vision for the offense is going to take years to implement. But there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to score points this year. Generally speaking, teams with good quarterbacks and good coaches score points. Add the fact that the Bears are pretty good at every other offensive position and, there really isn’t a reason to think they won’t score.

And while the offense may take those precious years to implement in-full, Nagy knows as well as anyone that coaches don’t necessarily get the kind of time they’d like to see things to fruition. They have to get results, especially once the quarterback is in place.

We saw two great examples of this last year. The first and most obvious was NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay, whose Rams led the league in scoring and were 10th in yardage. The other is Kyle Shanahan, whose 49ers struggled early before Jimmy Garoppolo took over and led them to an average of 28.8 points and nearly 410 yards per game — including a 15-point effort against the Bears.

(I could also point to Marc Trestman – who had the Bears second in points in his first year – but that would break our longstanding agreement to never discuss him again after what happened in 2014.)

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Floyd Must Be The Solution to Bears Pass Rush Problem

| May 30th, 2018

Ryan Pace has taken a lot of heat for not adding another pass rusher to complement Leonard Floyd. But if Floyd is who Pace once thought, the Bears will be just fine. The Bears need the Georgia product to realize his potential. In two years Floyd has struggled to stay on the field and has just 11.5 sacks. The bigger problem? He hasn’t been able to get pressure consistently.

Amongst the Bears regular edge rushers, Floyd actually had the one of the worst rates at getting to the quarterback. According to the NFL’s official statistics (NFL GSIS), Floyd managed 12 hits on opposing quarterbacks, the third highest total on the team, but he played significantly more snaps than any of the other edge rushers.

  • Sam Acho was actually second on the team with 18 hits in 251 pass rush snaps (snap counts per Pro Football Focus).
  • Pernell McPhee hit opposing quarterbacks 11 times in 197 snaps.
  • Willie Young had four QB hits in 67 snaps.

Breaking it down further, Floyd hit the quarterback once every 23 snaps, while Acho did so every 14 snaps, Young did every 17 snaps and McPhee did every 18 snaps.

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Getting to the Quarterback Key To Goldman’s NFL/Earning Potential

| May 23rd, 2018

Eddie Goldman was one of the first key defensive additions for Ryan Pace and Vic Fangio as they rebuilt the unit. But his staying and earning power could depend upon his ability to get after the quarterback.

First, nobody questions whether or not Goldman is a good player. He is a very, very good player. But the Bears have to decide exactly how much they value a run-stuffing defensive tackle in a passing league. But Goldman, according to media reports, is primed to become one of the league’s higher-paid defensive linemen. In order for that to happen, he’ll have to convince the Bears they don’t need to take him off the field on passing downs.

Goldman has shown the ability to get after the quarterback.

  • As a rookie he managed 4.5 sacks and regularly generated pressure up the middle.
  • In his second season he added 2.5 quarterback take downs in just five games.
  • His total dropped to 1.5 in 2017, despite playing significantly more snaps.

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If Bears Want an Elite Defense in 2018, They Will Need Multiple Rookies to Contribute

| May 16th, 2018

The Bears did not invest many high draft picks on the defensive side of the ball last month, outside of top selection Roquan Smith. But there’s a good chance the team will need multiple rookie defensive players – all acquired day three or later – to play prominent roles in they want to be an elite unit in 2018.

  • Smith is a given. His ability to cover all parts of the field is something the Bears haven’t had since Brian Urlacher and, like Urlacher, the general expectation is that Smith will be one of the top rookies in the league.
  • Kylie Fitts is going to have the easiest path to the starting lineup. Sam Acho and Aaron Lynch have proven to be nothing more than journeymen and Fitts has the ability to be a top-tier pass rusher. If not for a series of injuries in college, he would’ve been selected significantly higher in the draft. While much of the focus is on pass rush, Bears scout David Williams said the team thinks Fitts can play the run from Day One and has upside as a pass rusher.
  • Another Bears scout, Chris Prescott, was confident in Bilal Nichols:“You’re talking about a guy you expect year one to come in and probably immediately backup at all three positions,” Prescott told the team website. “I think this is a guy who can come in and help you right away.” Nichols has the size and strength to take on blocks in the NFL and combines that with rare athleticism for the position. Nichols is bigger than current projected starting defensive end Jonathan Bullard and nearly as athletic. With Roy Robertson-Harris being smaller and not likely able to take on blocks in the team’s base defense, Nichols could be Bullard’s primary competition for a starting job. Even if he doesn’t start, Nichols will probably take the role Bullard had last year, playing 25 to 50 percent of the snaps weekly.

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Will Adam Shaheen Have a Role in the Matt Nagy Offense?

| May 9th, 2018

John Fox’s coaching staff was bashed for not getting the ball to rookie tight end Adam Shaheen enough, but that doesn’t figure on changing much under Matt Nagy. Shaheen played just over 24% of the snaps last year. That number should increase in 2018, provided he can beat out Dion Sims as the starting in-line tight end. But if the moves this team has recently made turn out the way they think, it’s hard to see Shaheen catching a lot of passes in 2018.

Trey Burton & Friends

He’s not much of a blocker, but the Bears signed Burton to be their top tight end. The Bears made him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league. That’s not happening if they don’t expect him to play nearly every snap. 

Burton’s signing alone didn’t indicate a smaller role for Shaheen. The club also invested heavily at receiver by paying Allen Robinson star money, Taylor Gabriel starter money and trading a 2019 second rounder to draft Anthony Miller with the 51st pick. Not only did the Bears spend a high pick on Miller, but they reportedly tried to move back up into the end of the first round to draft Calvin Ridley.

Their aggressiveness at the position is a strong indication that they’re going to have three receivers on the field quite a bit. Not a surprise. In his time in Kansas City, Matt Nagy’s offenses rarely utilized the second tight end. Over the past five years, KC’s second tight end averaged just 5.6% of the team’s targets — 29 per season. This is about the same as the fourth wide receiver. The third receivers came in at 9.2%.

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Across The Middle: Don’t Sleep on Kevin White

| May 2nd, 2018

Understandably, fans don’t want to hear about how good Kevin White can be or how big an impact he can have. Not when he’s had so much trouble simply staying on the field. But while I don’t think anybody is still projecting White to be a star, it would be foolish to rule him out. The Bears clearly have a plan for White and how much of an impact he makes in 2018 will be up to him…and his fragile body.

Ryan Pace invested quite a bit in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and second-round pick Anthony Miller. They are going to play. That doesn’t mean White isn’t. Matt Nagy’s offense has four wide receiver positions: X, Y, Z and Zebra.

Nagy has said Gabriel will be the Zebra and Miller will be the Z (playing in the slot). With every offense being slightly different, Robinson will either be the X or the Y. That leaves a “starting” position in this offense for White to earn in Bourbonnais.

And by all accounts, White looked exceptionally fast at the team’s minicamp two weeks ago. He showed deep speed last year as well, but they had Mike Glennon at quarterback so it didn’t really matter. If you watch the All-22 footage, you can see White regularly out-racing corners and threatening Atlanta’s defense deep. That’s exactly what the Bears are going to ask him to do, playing the same role Chris Conley did for Kansas City.

It is not unprecedented for Kansas City’s style of offense to use all four receiver positions. In 2016, the Chiefs had four guys on the outside get at least 50 targets and likely would’ve gotten close to that again in 2017 if Conley hadn’t gotten injured in the team’s fifth game. The opportunities will be there for White, if he earns them.

Of course, the Bears aren’t handing anything to White either.

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Across The Middle: 2018 NFL Mock Draft

| April 25th, 2018

I don’t remember ever being so confused before a draft.

It used to be — back when men were men and beat writers smoked four packs a day — that we’d have some sort of idea at least how the top five would go. We’d have a few surprises but they’d be minor. This year, the Cleveland Browns could blow everything up by taking the quarterback nobody thinks they should. If that happens, the Giants could take another quarterback, then the Jets another and, who knows what could happen with the fourth pick?

The only thing we do know is to expect the unexpected. Everything is on the table. Here’s how I think it might play out, Warning: I didn’t spend too much time on it.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB,  USC

I think Darnold has been the guy for months, but the NFL wants them to keep everyone guessing up until draft day.

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St.

Pretty much every old school scout says Barkley is the best player in the draft. The Giants are run by an old school scout. I think they’d take Darnold if he were available but aren’t enamored with the rest of the quarterbacks.

3. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

This has been the buzz for about a month. In my opinion, Mayfield is the best quarterback in the draft this year and they’ll sell him as the second coming of Broadway Joe.

4. Cleveland Browns: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St.

The first big surprise, I guess, but their interest in Ward was rumored a couple of months ago before everything went quiet. Ward really is a top-level cornerback prospect and those guys tend to go very high.

5. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, Edge, NC State

Chubb is going to be a good player from Day One. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a premier pass rusher, but I do think he’s going to be terrific against the run and at least adequate at taking down quarterbacks. Don’t be surprised if the Bears moved up to this spot if the draft falls this way.

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

There is a lot of buzz about Roquan Smith being the pick here, but I think that’s Chris Ballard intentionally leaking information. I think Nelson is their guy but they don’t want to risk a team moving ahead of them to take him. They have to protect Andrew Luck at some point, right?

7. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

I think this is the first prime trade-up spot for teams. The Bills can move from 12 to 7 without giving up their second first round pick. The other teams possibly pondering a quarterback would have a hard time getting the ammunition to move much higher than this.

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Across The Middle: Bears Big Board 2.0

| April 18th, 2018

I consider myself the top Ryan Paceologist on the Bears writer landscape. My resume:

Trying to figure out who they’re targeting in the 2018 draft has me stumped. I came to the three conclusions above by looking at all of the evidence I could find and asking what made the most sense.

Picking eighth, the Bears surely aren’t going to be able to get the player they surely want and need most, edge Bradley Chubb. One must also operate under the assumption that running back Saquon Barkley will be gone.

There seems to be a good chance that four quarterbacks go within the first seven picks, but if they don’t, the top guys on this list might be gone. It’s also possible that the Bears trade back, which is why the list is more than eight players deep.

There are some good players that are going to be available. The problem I’m having is that I can construct a really strong argument against all of the top candidates. Still, one sticks out as the most likely simply because it makes the most sense.

The list:

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Across The Middle: Be Prepared To Be Surprised (With an Emphasis on Denzel Ward)

| April 11th, 2018

In 2016, outside linebacker was considered a strength for the Bears after Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Pernell McPhee combined for 20.5 sacks. Ryan Pace drafted Leonard Floyd in the first round.

In 2017, the Bears overpaid Mike Glennon and raved about his upside (“fired up”). They signed Mark Sanchez as a competent backup. Ryan Pace drafted Mitch Trubisky.

Those moves weren’t about value dropping to them. They weren’t about “best player available”. In both instances, Pace traded up for the player and surprised many by drafting what wasn’t considered a need.

The lesson is clear. How the Bears identify their needs is not necessarily how the media and fans identify them. And it isn’t just the first round.

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