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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Offense

| June 3rd, 2020


It could be argued that no NFC North team improved as much as the Chicago Bears this off-season. Whether they can reclaim their spot on top of the NFC North is still a major question.

Starting today with the offense, here is how the Bears stack up with the rest of the division.


Quarterback

1. Minnesota

2. Green Bay

3. Detroit

4. Chicago

Analysis: It is impossible to rank Chicago’s quarterback — whether it be Trubisky or Foles — ahead of the others in the NFC North.

The big knock on Cousins has been his performance in big games, but he seemed to disprove that last year with a road playoff win over New Orleans. Rodgers is coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career and is 36 years old. He hasn’t sniffed his career passer rating of 102.4 in three years and has finished with passer ratings below 98 in four of the last five years. (While many have blamed his relative lack of production on a poor supporting cast, Green Bay’s front office clearly doesn’t agree as the only position they invested a major asset into this off-season was quarterback.) And despite Detroit’s constant attempts to ruin him, Stafford is right there with the other two, although a back injury makes him a bit of a question mark heading into the 2020 season.

Bears don’t have quarterbacks of this caliber.


Running Back

1. Minnesota

2. Green Bay

3. Chicago

4. Detroit

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New Coach, New Players, New Mentality for the Bears Rushing Attack

| May 27th, 2020

Juan Castillo.

The question was finally asked.

During Matt Nagy’s presser two weeks ago, Brad Biggs asked it bluntly.

“What makes Juan Castillo better than Harry Hiestand?”

As delicately as the head coach tried to answer, the truth was just as blunt.

“Juan’s biggest strength is his ability to teach and reach his players,” Nagy said. “There’s going to be times when he chews their tails out and there’s going to be other times when he’s giving them nothing but love.”

Castillo has a long history of developing late-round picks in need of polish. Hiestand, while having a long history of taking four/five-star recruits and making them into terrific NFL prospects, never successfully developed a player once they were in the NFL. That lack of developmental prowess stood out particularly with James Daniels in 2019, a high second-round pick who could’ve been a first rounder if the draft weren’t stacked at the position in 2018. He’s long, athletic and, by all accounts, smart. Yet, hasn’t been improving.

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Will Bears Continue to Suffer “Death By Inches”?

| May 19th, 2020

Matt Nagy went on a media tour last week. But perhaps the biggest takeaway came yesterday.

Nagy and the Bears were featured by Albert Breer in the weekly Monday Morning Quarterback spot. The interview was as in-depth as any we’ve seen regarding the changes to the team’s coaching staff and touched on working through the virtual off-season program. The most telling comment from Nagy was more of an almost throwaway line. Breer wrote:

“And it motivates Nagy himself to do better for the players. So just as he asked his coaches, and his players to be on the details that slipped last year, he’s putting just as much pressure on himself to be all over those—whether it’s staying on the details of what’s happening in the offensive meeting rooms, so he can be a better play-caller, or setting the standard for everyone as the head coach.

“That can be in a meeting, if we say guys can’t have phones in a meeting, it means they don’t have phones in a meeting,” Nagy said. “It doesn’t mean in Week 8 they start bringing them in. It means they never have them in the meeting. If they show up 9:00 or 9:01, they’re walking in as I’m walking in—no, get there early. It’s just a lot of different things. For me, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Now, for me to do that, I have to have really, really great support from the rest of our coaches, and have that trickle down to players.

“That’s what I’m excited about, getting to see that happen.”

So much of what is said during the off-season is about what’s not said. When the Bears talk about Jimmy Graham’s ability to run, they don’t have to mention it’s something they didn’t have last year. When they say Robert Quinn will improve their defense because he gets to the quarterback, they don’t have to say Leonard Floyd didn’t do it well enough. When Matt Nagy says his team is going to be more detailed and disciplined, he doesn’t have to say they weren’t a year ago.

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Deshaun Watson’s Performance in Chicago, in December, Will Be Pace Referendum

| May 12th, 2020


Ryan Pace had no interest in drafting Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who played in two National Championship games, leading Clemson to the title in 2016. The quarterback who chucked 90 touchdowns to 32 interceptions in collage and ran for another 26 more touchdowns. No interest. This wasn’t the case of Patrick Mahomes, who tore up horrendous defenses playing for a bad team. This was a guy at the next-highest level dominating great defenses.

Watson was a stud, but Pace had no interest. He’ll surely never tell us why.

It’s not fair or accurate to say Pace didn’t scout Watson. The two actually met and spoke at the Combine. The scouting is what led him to conclude he didn’t want to draft the most prolific QB in college football. It was either something medical or a flaw Pace saw on tape. The medical questions were legitimate. Watson suffered a knee injury at Clemson and another as a rookie with Houston. He has a slender frame and tends to take a lot of hits as he plays off schedule. He has been banged up quite a bit in his NFL career. But, if it were injury-related, Pace or someone within the Bears medical staff almost certainly would’ve made that known by now.

The other reason is physical.

Watson is certainly big enough and fast enough, but there were concerns coming out about whether or not he had enough of an arm. The only modern quarterback who has had any somewhat consistent success in Chicago had a cannon. Green Bay’s nearly 30-year run of success at the position has come with guys with huge arms, and they spent a first round pick on another who qualifies.

It isn’t that Watson has a weak arm, but whether it can cut through the Chicago wind in January is another story.

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Interview: Ted Ginn Expects Perfect Pairing with Nagy

| May 7th, 2020

Ted Ginn Jr. didn’t need to be reminded of details.

“I knew I needed to attack the safety in front of me,” Ginn said in an interview. “I knew that I had to beat him and once I saw that safety drop from the back side that would’ve taken away my angle, I knew I had green grass in front of me.”

The play was a 45-yard reception against the very team Ginn signed with last week. It was the longest play of the season for the speedy wideout and one of just seven 40-plus yard completions the Chicago Bears allowed in 2019. The play was a simple combination of talent and scheme.

“Different coverages can be created by the way you line up, a lot of different things come from different alignments,” Ginn said. “Within that play, we were in a run set type of alignment where I’m usually not in. For me it was kind of a big splash play were able to get it off.”

In his official return to the Midwest, Ginn hopes to have plenty more splash plays and he knows he signed with a coach and an offense that can offer a mutually beneficial relationship.

“(Matt Nagy) has been trying to get that type of threat in me or Tyreek Hill or DeSean Jackson, guys that we have seen prevail in this offense,” Ginn said. “I can bring my talent with (Nagy’s) knowledge and it should be a hand-in-hand type of deal. We should be able to take over.”


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2020 Defense Can Be Better Than 2018.

| May 5th, 2020


Considering how good the defense was in 2018, believing the 2020 vintage will be better might seem like crazy talk. But the Bears have more talent (and more depth) on the unit than they did two seasons ago.

The biggest difference comes at edge where Robert Quinn has made a career out of sacking quarterbacks. Leonard Floyd made a career out of everyone wondering when he was going to start sacking quarterbacks. Floyd has his strengths and there’s a reason he ended up signing a decent contract elsewhere, but too often teams were able to get away with leaving subpar tackles on an island with a top-ten pick. The addition of Quinn makes the Bears starting third down defense basically unblockable, and he also should make it easier for Akiem Hicks to take snaps off because they’ll still be able to generate pass rush without him.

While seen as a letdown nationally, what the 2019 Bears team accomplished defensively was actually impressive, considering Hicks missed most of the season. They still finished in the top 10 in DVOA and yards allowed and top five in points allowed — just about one point per game more than they allowed in 2018. When you add in the complete failure of the offense to give them any help, the drop was not that far.

May signings are hardly ever big splashes, but the Bears ability to add Tashaun Gipson to the secondary could go down as one of the most important moves of the offseason. The Bears viewed Deon Bush and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as similar players last year, to the point where Bush was stealing snaps from Clinton-Dix. But Gipson is a step up and a pretty sizable one at that.

While there are some injury concerns with Gipson, there’s no doubting his ability in coverage. The eight-year pro has 23 interceptions and 47 passes breakups. In Houston last year, he allowed an opponent passer rating of 55. That isn’t just better than what Bush and Clinton-Dix allowed in 2019, it’s significantly better than the 73 Adrian Amos allowed in 2018. Gipson was able to do this despite not having anywhere near the kind of supporting cast he’ll have in 2020.

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While the League Zigs, the Bears Will Zag in 2020

| April 28th, 2020

“When They Zig, You Zag”

-Siimon Reynolds


The Zag.

As the rest of the National Football League tries to get faster, the Chicago Bears added a 260-pound tight end with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Then they raved about his potential as a blocker.

The Bears are doing something very different in 2020.

According to Sharp Football, the Bears ran ’12’ personnel – one RB, two TEs and WRs – on just 13 percent of their snaps in 2019 and 17 percent in 2018. The drafting of Cole Kmet with the 43rd pick was a clear indication that the Bears are going to use the second tight end more. Way more.

After making the pick, GM Ryan Pace raved about Kmet’s all-around ability. He spoke about his size, hands and ability to “post up” and get position. But where Pace really got excited was talking about run blocking. “He’s got the frame and the size, the temperament and the demeanor where we think he’s going to get a lot better as a blocker,” Pace said.

In many ways, the drafting of Kmet was a commitment to a different style of offense, one that will surely feature running back David Montgomery more.

Playing Big.

The Bears didn’t play big in 2019 because they couldn’t succeed that way.

They didn’t have a single, good tight end.

The team passer rating in ’12’ personnel was below 70 and they averaged fewer than four yards per carry. The hope is that Kmet’s ability as a blocker and a receiver makes ’12’ personnel package dangerous.

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ATM: Mocking the 2020 Bears Draft

| April 22nd, 2020

Ryan Pace is in a difficult position as he enters the 2020 NFL draft.

Not because he’ll be making the picks in his pajamas, but because the team has several directions it could go and he can’t afford to get it wrong. This is make-or-break for Pace. He has built 90% of a Super Bowl roster, but has to overcome his biggest miss, the quarterback. After a disappointing 8-8 season in 2019, the Bears have plugged some holes, but simply need more actual difference makers.

With that in mind, the focus of the draft has to be finding impact players. While drafting for the future is a nice luxury, Pace can’t afford to worry about 2021 until it comes. He has to win in 2020 or the picks he makes for the future won’t matter.

With that thought, I put myself in Pace’s shoes. Having two top-50 picks gives the team ammunition to add two impact players. The problem, of course, is that they aren’t scheduled to pick again until the fifth round. They have serious needs at cornerback, wide receiver, right guard and safety. (One could add quarterback to that too, but the Bears seem intent on riding with the winner of the competition between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky.)

Ideally, the Bears would get two sure starters — or favorites to start — and a third player who is at least in competition for a starting job. In the later rounds, they can look for depth and fill holes at offensive tackle, tight end, defensive line and elsewhere.

In order to more accurately file a mock draft for the Bears, I used the help of the mock draft simulator from Pro Football Focus. I went into the second round targeting a pool of players with the hopes that I could move back and come away with three of them.

That group included:

WR: Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims, Jalen Reagor and KJ Hamler

OL: Josh Jones, Isaiah Wilson, Robert Hunt and Lloyd Cushenberry

CB: Trevon Diggs, Jaylon Johnson, A.J. Terrell and Reggie Robinson

S: Jeremy Chinn, Kyle Dugger, Grant Delpit or Antoine Winfield.

Here is how it played out:


Pick 43: Trade with Tampa Bay

Bears receive Picks 45 and 117

Bucs receive: Picks 43 and 196

Note: By moving back, however, the Bears missed top remaining cornerback prospect Jaylon Johnson, Utah. 

Pick 45: K.J. Hamler, WR, Penn State

Hamler was one of the few remaining players out of my initial pool that was still available. With sub-4.3 speed, he’ll immediately move into the role previously played by Taylor Gabriel. Hands are the question with Hamler, which have some comparing him to Tedd Ginn Jr., not Tyreek Hill like the Bears would hope. But, his speed is so rare, the big plays will make up for the drops.

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ATM: Draft Moves Bears Should Make (But Won’t)

| April 15th, 2020

When it comes to predicting what will happen in the NFL draft, nobody should ever speak (or write) in certainties. Crazy stuff happens. That said, there are a few moves the Bears should definitely consider, but very likely will not.

The reasoning varies from move-to-move, but one thing we have learned in free agency is that the Bears fully intend on winning a lot of games in 2020-21. Publicly, they’ll say their intent is to win a Super Bowl – and there surely is some truth to that – but the reality is Ryan Pace needs to put a winner on the field to keep his job.

The draft is typically used for future needs and Pace has often talked about taking the best player available – even if his practice in doing so is a little hit and miss.

With two second round picks, the Bears are in a position to do some interesting things, it just seems unlikely that they’ll pull the trigger.


Draft Akiem Hicks’ eventual replacement

Why they should: We saw last year how much the Bears struggled in all areas up front once Hicks was injured and, unfortunately, there is no guarantee that Hicks is going to be the player we’re used to seeing.

Forget about the elbow injury that cost Hicks most of the 2019 season. Before that ever happened he missed a game because of a knee ailment. He didn’t suffer a specific injury to his knee, and Matt Nagy described it as wear and tear. It doesn’t take a doctor to tell you that a soon-to-be 31-year-old who is having to miss time due to wear and tear is concerning.

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ATM: Trubisky’s Development Still Important

| April 8th, 2020

We’ve all seen the flashes from Trubisky.

The arm strength, the mobility.

But there is a mental block preventing him from becoming the quarterback Ryan Pace thought he drafted. At this point, it certainly seems like that mental block will keep Mitch from being the guy who ends the franchise’s historical quarterback drought. But crazier things have happened, haven’t they?

Because while the trade for Nick Foles means the Super Bowl window should be open for the 2020 Chicago Bears, the club’s best chance at keeping it open longer is still dependent on Trubisky’s development, barring the team selecting a new “quarterback of the future” in the second round of the upcoming draft.

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