191 Comments

Training Camp Diary: As Players Report, CB Position Battles Pivotal

| July 27th, 2021


With two of the team’s three starting cornerback positions up for grabs, this summer’s positional battles could be crucial for the immediate and long-term future of the team.

There is little question that the Bears prefer for Kindle Vildor and Thomas Graham Jr. to win the starting jobs because while the competition features some interesting names, the options themselves are relatively unappealing.

Early reports from the offseason program have indicated Vildor played well, though it’s way too early to know what that means. He figures to be battling Artie Burns and Desmond Trufant for the job opposite Jaylon Johnson but could also compete with Graham and Duke Shelley at the starting slot spot. Vildor struggled as a rookie, allowing completions on 12 of the 17 passes thrown his way in the regular season, but that is to be expected from a raw fifth-rounder.

If he stays healthy, Trufant could be interesting. He has five interceptions in 15 games the past two seasons, but has also surrendered passer ratings higher than 100. He hasn’t been in good situations, playing with teams that haven’t had much for pass rush and Detroit liked putting cornerbacks on an island. It’s possible that Trufant has enough to give the Bears a good season, but that would do nothing to answer the long-term question.

If Burns win the job, the Bears will be in big trouble. The former first round pick has never played like a starting-caliber cornerback.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,

88 Comments

ATM: Don’t Sleep on Mooney

| July 21st, 2021

As the deadline to extend tagged players with the Bears and Allen Robinson failing to reach an agreement, fans began to panic about the future of the team’s wide receiver position. But with Darnell Mooney, it seems to be in good shape.

When projecting future depth charts, fans often forget what front offices can’t: improvement often comes from within. Nobody should expect Mooney to be better than Robinson in 2021, but it isn’t a stretch that he could become one of the 20 best receivers in the league by 2022. Who knows what could come after that?

Mooney was in the top-10 amongst rookies in receptions (fifth), yards (sixth) and touchdowns (eighth) and most of those ahead of him benefited from more functional offenses — specifically at the quarterback position. He out-produced multiple first-round picks and most of the other players drafted ahead of him.

At roughly 5’11” and with legitimate 4.3-speed, Mooney showed the ability to run past defenders and make catches on 50/50 balls.  His 3.2 yards of separation per target were the second-best on the team — behind Cole Kmet’s 3.6 — per NextGen Stats. His statistics would be significantly better if the team had a quarterback who could hit him in stride regularly.

Nearly every report from Bears offseason practices has indicated that Mooney has stood out again, looking even stronger and faster than he was a year ago.

The Bears stopped short of betting on Mooney, but they have put him in an ideal situation to prove himself. By using the franchise tag on Robinson, the Bears bought themselves another year to see what Mooney is. If he doesn’t take another step forward, the Bears could certainly tag Robinson again next offseason. Per Albert Breer, tagging Robinson in 2022 would cost the team $21.6 million — probably less than if they had agreed to his terms for an extension. The team absolutely should already be planning on tagging Robinson for that price, even if it’s just to trade him.

Extending Robinson’s contract is still the most ideal way for the Bears to go from here. That seems like a long shot at this point, but that doesn’t mean the future of the position is doomed. The college game is producing high-level wide receivers at an incredible rate, the Bears seem to have found one in Mooney and we shouldn’t dismiss what he can become.

Tagged: ,

111 Comments

ATM: Rodgers Question Lingers Over NFC North

| July 13th, 2021

“I never said I’m unhappy with my boss,” Aaron Rodgers replied to a jab made by Tom Brady in a video that was released last week. The video was mocking a game of Jeopardy between the two star quarterbacks, Rodgers the 2020 NFL MVP and Brady the Super Bowl winner. The answer was “He’s an NBA owner, a self-taught guitarist and has guest-starred on both The Office and Game of Thrones” to which Brady added “He’s unhappy with his boss and has no options. Who is Aaron Rodgers?”

But Rodgers had the response ready and it seems to be a safe bet that he’s going to use that line again.

Rodgers has said a lot since the end of the 2020 season that would lead one to believe he wanted some sort of commitment from the Green Bay Packers. He didn’t get it and the day of the NFL Draft there were reports that he wouldn’t play for the team again. But, as Rodgers was quick to say: he never said that.

As training camp nears, the question of “will he” or “won’t he” lingers over the entire league, especially the NFC North, where Rodgers playing could have a very direct impact on what kind of season the Bears have.

Should Rodgers play, we’re probably penciling the Bears in for two losses. If he doesn’t, two wins or a split at worst. That one game could be the difference between the Bears making the playoffs or missing out. With seven teams making the cut, it isn’t hard to see how the Bears could once again be in contention for that final spot.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

141 Comments

ATM: Fields Pick Changes Math On Allen Robinson Extension

| July 6th, 2021

By drafting Justin Fields the Bears not only changed the direction of the franchise — possibly saving the jobs of everyone from the team president to the coaching staff — the selection also reshaped the direction the team should go with star wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Paying Robinson big money without knowing the long-term answer at quarterback would’ve been questionable. Fields is that answer, and the Bears have until next week to lock Robinson down and make sure Fields knows who his primary target is going to be.

There is little question that Robinson wants to be among the top-five paid players at his position. The price tag will rise if Davante Adams re-signs with the Green Bay Packers before the start of the season. The Bears have until July 15 to negotiate a contract with Robinson or settle on the fact that they’ll almost certainly lose him in 2022.

Robinson and the Bears have something in common in that we don’t know what either are with an actual quarterback.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

292 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: ,

137 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , , , ,

110 Comments

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.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,

118 Comments

Tribune Sinks Deeper Into Irrelevance with OTA Coverage.

| June 4th, 2021

If ever wondered how the Chicago Tribune dropped to the worst coverage of the Chicago Bears in town, their reaction to the team’s first open Organized Team Activity is the answer.

If fans cared about anything from that practice it was the performance of Justin Fields vs. Andy Dalton. The Tribune‘s writers knew that, which is why they titled their 16-minute recap video “Justin Fields vs. Andy Dalton”. Then they spent the first six minutes spewing hot garbage about defensive players not showing up to the OTA practice. So much of what was said was complete and utter garbage, it’s hard to know where to start, but when they determined that this was evidence of some sort of horrendous team culture, it just was too much.

Early in the discussion, Dan Wiederer said the players not being there was “obviously an NFLPA-driven pushback on the addition of the 17th game on the schedule.”

Both noted that the Bears have typically had close to 100% attendance, but then Wiederer went into one of the worst rants you’ll ever hear.

“I just have a difficult time buying in to the notion that this is an organization filled with championship culture when the trophy case is void of championship trophies and there aren’t enough guys out there to justify this talk of championship-winning culture,” Wiederer said. “They can change our minds over time. But look, you are a football team that went 8-8 over the last two years.”

This would be the place for the facepalm emoji.

Read More …

Tagged: ,

177 Comments

ATM: In Case It Doesn’t Work Out at GM: Part I

| June 2nd, 2021

The mood around the Chicago Bears has completely flipped since draft night, but we all know it can flip back rather quickly when the games begin. While it is common to say that drafting a quarterback gives a regime more time, recent history suggests that is no longer true. The Bears still need to show they’re heading in the right direction if Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are going to keep their jobs.

As of last week, Nagy still had the third-highest odds of not only being fired, but being the first coach fired. It is possible that Nagy would be fired and Pace would retain his job. (The LA Chargers have allowed Tom Telesco to hire his third coach and Rick Spielman is on his third with the Vikings. One drafted what seems like a star QB. The other gave a mediocrity millions.) But there has been some indication that Pace is no longer the top guy in the organization, with the Fields pick seeming to belong to Nagy. If you listen to Louis Riddick – and there is reason to do so – the coach and GM are at least on the same footing. That almost certainly means that if one is fired, they both are.

I’ve already written about replacing Pace but that was a lifetime ago. At that point, the primary focus was finding a quarterback. Assuming they have, the focus now shifts to building around Fields and learning to adjust.

With that, here are a ten of the top candidates to replace Pace should the Bears go that route. You’ll get five today. Five tomorrow. If you have better options, share them in the comments section below. 

Adam Peters, 49ers Assistant GM

Peters has been a top guy for three teams that have played in the Super Bowl; two in Denver and one in San Francisco. He was also an assistant with two Super Bowl champions in New England. At a certain point, you can’t ignore it when success follows someone.

What we saw in Denver and San Francisco were systems that put the quarterback in position to succeed. In Chicago he could have a franchise quarterback which would make life that much easier.

He’d likely want to bring in a coach from the Shanahan tree, since that’s where he has had success. If that’s true, we could see Mike McDaniel or Mike LaFleur be candidates.


Ed Dodds, Colts Assistant GM

Dodds might really be the brains behind the Colts operation and there’s reason to believe he was for the Seahawks previously. Perhaps the best help the Bears could give a true franchise quarterback is an elite defense and Dodds has done that in two separate spots.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,

87 Comments

ATM: Fields Should Have To Earn Starting Job

| May 25th, 2021

While many fans don’t want to hear it, Matt Nagy’s response when questioned on if Justin Fields could win the starting quarterback position in training camp was spot on. Nagy was asked by ESPN 1000s David Kaplan if Fields could win the job with an exceptional training camp performance and Nagy responded by pointing out that Andy Dalton is also competing for the same position.

It’s reasonable, beyond reasonable, to say Fields should have to be the better quarterback to win the starting job and it’s certainly possible that is exactly what will happen. The Bears certainly aren’t ruling that out publicly, which might tell you what their expectations are privately. But Fields should still have to earn the job.

The Patrick Mahomes Example has been brought up numerous times because Nagy was in Kansas City when Mahomes wasn’t able to wrestle the starting job away from Alex Smith. While unlikely, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Dalton has a season similar to Smith’s, and we’ve never seen a rookie match that level of success.

Dalton is pretty close to what Smith was prior to the 2017 season. Smith has a slight statistical edge, but that can be explained by the supporting cast with which each had played. Smith wasn’t the 2017 version of himself until that year and it had been six years since he had a passer rating above 100. (This is somewhat ironic because Dalton had a passer rating of 106.2 six years ago.)

Cincinnati became a bad situation quickly for Dalton and, like Smith, he’s not the kind who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Dalton performed reasonably well for the Cowboys last year despite playing behind a horrendous offensive line. We saw Smith drop back down to earth right after he left KC.

Read More …

Tagged: ,