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ATM: Bears Defense Must Fix Run-Stopping Issues to Meet Expectations

| September 29th, 2020


The Chicago Bear recipe for a successful 2020 season always included one absolute necessity: great defense. Three games into the season, they’ve been far from great.

The rankings? They don’t look that bad.

  • 9th in points allowed.
  • 12th in takeaways.
  • 15th in yardage.
  • Allowed the fewest passing touchdowns: 2. (two)
  • 2nd in opponent passer rating (71.4), despite playing three solid quarterbacks.

The biggest problem is the run defense, as the Bears have allowed a shocking five yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns. And numbers alone don’t tell the story.

The statistics don’t tell you about how in each of the Bears first three games, the other team was missing its best offensive player. They don’t tell you about the dropped touchdown in Detroit or the fourth down failures that allowed the Giants to get within 10 yards of a win. The numbers don’t tell you that Atlanta was without two of its top three wide receivers for the second half and went uber-conservative.

(In fairness, they also don’t tell you about the bad calls that took a pick-six away, or two very iffy roughing the passer penalties — one of which took away a strip sack. But you can bet every team has similar arguments.)

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ATM: Anthony Miller’s No-Show Sunday Proves Bears Need Allen Robinson

| September 22nd, 2020


Last week a strong argument emerged that the Bears might be better off not extending Allen Robinson’s contract, instead relying on Anthony Miller to be the team’s top wide receiver.

That argument died on Sunday.

Calling the two passes Miller didn’t catch drops is disingenuous. Both would’ve required phenomenal moments from the young receiver. But Miller has that ability! What changed from Week One when he made those plays to Week Two when he couldn’t? How can the Bears rely on him when they don’t know what they’re getting from week-to-week?

Dan Pompei was among those who promoted that idea that the Bears could have a number one receiver in Miller. Nobody questions that Miller has the talent to be The Guy, but NFL history is littered with talented wide receivers who never developed the consistency to be The Guy. See: Price, Peerless.


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ATM: Bears Aren’t Good Yet, But That Doesn’t Matter

| September 15th, 2020


The Bears came away with a road divisional win in Week One.

Whether or not they’re a good football right now is irrelevant.

The team struggled on both sides of the ball for much of Sunday’s game, offering some trademarks of bad teams. Thankfully for Matt Nagy and company, the Lions specialize in those trademarks.

But the Bears still showed enough potential to lead us to believe they could, one day, even soon, be a good team.

Defense.

Playoff hopes were based on having a dominant defense. Not the kind of unit that allows 4.8 yards per carry and barely sniffs Matthew Stafford all day, despite a backup right tackle. Not the unit that allowed Danny Amendola and T.J. Hockenson to dominate the middle of the field. (One shudders to think what the passing attack would’ve looked like had Kenny Golladay played.)

They must find a way to be better against the run. Perhaps that answer can come in free agency with Marcell Dareus and Snacks Harrison seemingly available — although the latter may choose to sit out 2020.

The pass rush answers are internal. Khalil Mack will recover from a knee ailment that landed him on the injury report. Robert Quinn will return within the next two weeks. (If not the club would have put him on IR.) Mario Edwards can also give them a boost on passing downs when he’s up to speed.

Offense.

Offensively, it was more of the same for the Bears in that their quarterback spent most of the game looking completely incompetent. Whether he was spinning in the pocket, somehow over-throwing a 6’7” tight end, or missing open targets down the field, Mitch Trubisky looked like the quarterback of last year.

The hope, obviously, is that Trubisky’s slow start was a matter of rust; the residue of having to split reps in training camp. We’ll see. If Trubisky can’t play better than he did for most of Sunday, Nick Foles will be on the field before October.

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Hitting the ATM: The Mitch We Already Know.

| September 1st, 2020

After visible training camp practices concluded Saturday, nearly ever beat reporter had Nick Foles ahead of Mitch Trubisky in the team’s quarterback competition. That tells us all we need to know about Trubisky.

(In fairness, those on the Bears beat are hardly experts when it comes to judging quarterbacks and nobody has any actual idea what the Bears are looking for. But all reports have indicated that Trubisky has yet to grow out of the maddening inconsistencies that led to Foles being acquired in the first place.)

Whether it’s running out of bounds for a two-yard loss instead of throwing the ball away, making questionable decisions or throwing scattershot incompletions and interceptions, Trubisky has seemingly looked exactly like the player he has been throughout his career.

That might be surprising to some because there was at least a portion of the fan base that thought Trubisky’s faults weren’t actually his in the first place and blamed his shoulder injury, which came after he already had three mostly bad showings, as well as his offensive and his skill players and the moon and the stars. Even for the more realistic fans, there was at least some hope that Trubisky would be more motivated this year. In a contract year, with a challenger looking him in the face, how could Trubisky not be at his best?

Well maybe we’ve already seen his best.

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Ranking The Bears: The Stars (10-1)

| August 25th, 2020

If the 2020 Chicago Bears are going to return to the playoffs, there’s a good chance that the players on this list are going to be the ones who lead them there. They have three players among the top three at their positions and a handful more who are near the top. Four of the top 10 players earned All Pro honors in 2018 and should be back to that level in 2020. Another one of the players is consistently underrated, despite being pretty much perfect.

The Bears top 10 players just might stack up with anybody else in the league.

10. Tarik Cohen, RB/Specialist

Coming off a horrendously inefficient season, there’s plenty of reason to think Cohen will play more like the 2017 and 2018 versions of himself. What we learned in 2019 is that Cohen can’t be the star of the offense. He a gimmick, someone who needs others to open the field for him. Once it’s open, he’s still dangerous.

9. Danny Trevathan, ILB

Trevathan was having a career year before injuries hit. In nine games he had 50 solo tackles and seemed to be all over the field, every single week. The 30-year-old is the leader of the defense.

8. Roquan Smith, ILB

Smith gets too much grief for his 2019 campaign. Despite inconsistent play early in the season, he finished with 101 tackles (five behind the line of scrimmage) and two sacks in 12 games. Before he was injured late in the season, Smith was playing the position better than anyone else the Bears had last year. If he played 16 games like he played his last eight last year, he’s going to be known as one of the premier defensive players in the league.

7. Kyle Fuller, CB

He has mostly escaped criticism, but 2019 was as rough for Kyle Fuller as it was for anyone else on the defense. Fuller allowed a passer rating of 102 and missed 12 tackles — an astronomical 12.8 percent of his attempts. He still had some ball production with three interceptions and 12 PBUs, but he didn’t play at the level the Bears expect. That said, he’s still a really good player and he can’t take all the blame as a dormant pass rush can make life difficult for any defensive back.

6. Robert Quinn, Edge

Re-emerging on the scene after a handful of so-so years, Quinn could be the key to the Bears defense going to the next level. After collecting 40 sacks in three years, Quinn struggled with injuries with the Rams, but was still productive on a per-game basis. Even in Quinn’s worst year — 2018 — he had more pressures and sacks than Leonard Floyd managed in either of the last two years. Those numbers figure to go up as Quinn plays opposite Khalil Mack. For his career, Quinn has averaged more sacks per game than Julius Peppers.

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Ranking the Bears: The Contributors (39-11)

| August 19th, 2020

There’s almost a certain point where you can see where the talent on the Bears roster breaks.

The bottom of this list is utterly unimpressive; late-round rookies and NFL journeymen. The top ten: a handful of established NFL players, some who have been stars and some who can be stars going forward.

The word potential could be used for so many of these players and what happens in 2020 could depend on how many of them touch their ceilings.

39. Barkevious Mingo, Edge

While he’s certainly a draft bust, Mingo deserves credit for sticking around. While the 2019 season was a wash as he played just 73 snaps for Houston, he was a pretty regular contributor to Seattle’s solid defense in 2018 and started six games for Chuck Pagano’s Colts in 2017. Doesn’t provide much for pass rush, but is a good special teams player and certainly better than the edges the Bears had beyond their starters last year.

38. Darnell Mooney, WR

Given the odd off-season and the team’s signing of an established veteran to do, essentially, the same job, it might be difficult for Mooney to find the field in 2020. But the Bears need speed and speed is among the traits the rookie receiver offers. A four-year player at Tulane, Mooney is also considered a polished route-runner. It’ll just be a matter of getting the details down.

37. Sherrick McManis, ST

McManis is always tough to rank simply because none of the coaches ever seem to trust him on defense, even though he has always seemed to play well. As it is, he’s among the best special teams player in the league.

36. Kevin Toliver II, CB

Expect Toliver to start the season opposite Kyle Fuller, which may not be a good thing. Toliver has certainly had his struggles in coverage/tackling when playing but those spurts have been too few and far between to get much of a feel for if he can actually play.

35. J.P. Holtz, FB

The Bears are going to try to be a more powerful running team in 2020 and Holtz could factor into that. There’s little doubt that the player none of us had ever previously heard of gave the Bears a little bit of a spark last year.

34. Trevis Gipson, Edge

Gipson might have a learning curve, going from a defensive lineman in college to an edge player in the NFL, but he certainly has the skill set. A long and physical player, Gipson will be raw, but the Bears don’t need him to be great just yet.

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Ranking the Bears: The Relevant Non-Starters (57-40)

| August 11th, 2020

When you get to the bottom of the Bears roster, you see a lot of familiar names who, for one reason or another, have never stuck as starters in the league. Many of the players in this grouping have stuck on as specialists but some are late-round draft picks who just haven’t had a chance to prove themselves yet.

57. Tyler Bray, QB

There isn’t a lot to say about Bray at this point. He won’t get any significant reps and is just about a lock for the practice squad. As far as emergency quarterbacks go, though, it could be a lot worse. Bray knows the offense and played well in the fourth preseason game last year. I’m still not convinced he isn’t better than Chase Daniel.

56. Abdullah Anderson, DL

If you’re looking for a candidate to be this year’s Nick Williams, Anderson might be a good bet. The former UDFA has impressed during camp and preseason and could be ready to crack the rotation. Appeared in six games for the Bears and got one sack.

55.DeAndre Houston-Carson, Safety

DHC doesn’t have the speed to ever be an effective safety, but he has been a regular contributor on special teams since his rookie season.

54. Eddy Pineiro, Kicker

The Bears obviously didn’t trust their rookie kicker in 2019 and he didn’t give them much reason to. He started strong and finished strong, but can he regularly make kicks beyond 40 yards? Can they even fathom 50-yarders? He has to prove it.

53. Patrick Scales, Long snapper

He’s a long snapper.

52. Lachavious Simmons, OL

His nickname “Pig” was almost enough to get him higher on the list. A big, raw athletic guard who might be able to play right tackle.

51. Arlington Hambright, OL

Hambright’s athleticism and college experience make him interesting. He fell off the radar more than anybody who played left tackle in college and showed a good athletic profile should. As of now, the Bears aren’t giving Simmons or Hambright a shot to compete at right guard, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if either ended up starting there in the near future.

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Ranking the Bears: Long and Longish Shots (85-60)

| August 4th, 2020


The Bears reported to training camp last week with a large number of guys you probably don’t need to know.

This is my fifth year ranking the entire roster and the bottom of the roster is as much of a guess as it’s ever been. There are a few names on this list that fans know, but none who can be relied upon in 2020. What you can tell by looking at the list is that GM Ryan Pace values physical talent at the bottom of the roster. It’s unlikely that any of these players will make an impact in the NFL, but they’re in Chicago for a reason.

85. LaCale London, DL

A local product from Peoria and Western Illinois. Has great size (6’5”, 280), but wasn’t really exceptional, even as the small college level.

84. Reggie Davis, WR

The former Georgia product clocked a 4.31 40-yard dash time ahead of the 2017 NFL draft, but has never produced on the field. He caught just three passes in preseason last year and never had more than 12 in college. He did have a punt return for a touchdown at Georgia, but had otherwise pedestrian numbers as a return man.

83. Dieter Eiselen, OL

A 2019 first-team All-Ivy Leaguer from South Africa. Probably a long shot, but certainly sounds like a good story.

82. Darion Clark, TE

Yet another tight end. Clark is a 26-year-old former college basketball player from USC. He’s 6’7” and 220 pounds, but seems like a long shot to make the roster.

81. Dino Boyd, OL

A UDFA in 2019, Boyd spent time on the Chiefs, Bengals and Bears practice squads last season. He’s short (6’3”), but had nearly 35-inch arms.

80. Trevon McSwain, DL

Great size (6’6”, 285), but little production at Duke. Finished his career with 7.5 sacks and 12 QB pressures. Did have five forced fumbles.

79. Ramix Ahmed, K

The Bears latest attempt to find a kicker from nowhere led them to the 25-year-old who played at Nevada. He has a shot to beat out Piniero, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s good.

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ATM: Before Worrying About the 2021 Bears, Maybe Let’s See How 2020 Plays Out

| July 29th, 2020

The voices clamoring to replace Ryan Pace have grown louder this off-season, but the simple truth is this: we have to see what 2020 brings before making any determination on whether or not the GM should be employed beyond this season. Some of Pace’s recent moves haven’t been popular and some of his past moves simply haven’t worked out. But the criticism of the Bears has gotten out of control, especially considering they are coming off their best two-year stretch since Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were in their primes.

Like pretty much every Bears GM since the beginning of time, Pace missed at quarterback. Those who believe Pace should be fired for drafting Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes won’t be dissuaded. It is harsh but not entirely unfair.

Where the anti-Pace argument gets out of control is when he gets criticized for what most would consider good moves. Roquan Smith is a very good linebacker. Drafting him ninth wasn’t a bad move. Pace deserves credit for pulling the trigger on the Khalil Mack trade and for building one of the elite defenses in the league. (Especially considering he inherited the worst defense in franchise history.) While drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round was bad, getting something for a player who had no shot to make the roster was a good move.

Pace has found good players late in the draft and as bargains in free agency.  He has made many good moves, enough that the team has won 20 games the past two seasons and has a roster that should contend for a division title in 2020.

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ATM: Signs Point to Nagy Returning to Kansas City Roots

| July 21st, 2020

In a recent interview on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy, Louis Riddick, pal of Matt Nagy, indicated the team will be returning to the approach Nagy (and Andy Reid) had taken in Kansas City. That doesn’t mean what most fans think. While Nagy was hired in Chicago under the guise of being a quarterback whisperer who would finally modernize the team’s offense, the truth is somewhere in between. Yes, Nagy runs a modern offense with a modern passing game, but he got this gig by running the ball. That is exactly what he is going to try to return to.

Riddick worked with Nagy in Philadelphia and the ESPN analyst has maintained a close relationship with the Bears head coach. Riddick rarely indicates that what he’s saying comes from conversations with Nagy, but when he speaks confidently about the Bears approach, it’s a good bet that it comes with inside knowledge. He shared a number of nuggets in that radio spot last week, none more noteworthy then when he spoke about the Bears newfound commitment to running the ball.

“There’s going to be a marked difference in how that team is going to come off the ball running the football,” he said. Later in the interview, Riddick was more specific saying the Bears are going to be a “more physical running football team.”

That fits with what Nagy did with the Chiefs. In the five years Nagy was with Kansas City, they never ranked in the top half of the league in passing attempts. When Nagy took over play calling duties from Andy Reid in 2017, one of the big changes was feeding the ball to Kareem Hunt — the league’s leading rusher that year. After Nagy gave Hunt just nine carries in his first start – it should be noted they still scored 31 points as Alex Smith threw for four touchdowns — Hunt had 78 carries in the next three games before sitting out most of their Week 17 game.

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