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ATM: New Coaches Could Help Bears Solve Pettine Riddle

| July 15th, 2020

It doesn’t seem to matter how bad the Green Bay Packer defense is, the Chicago Bears can’t score on them.

That was supposed to change with Matt Nagy taking over, but it hasn’t.

In four games against Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the Bears have averaged a pathetic 14 offensive points and 324 yards per game — the latter being a total that was inflated when the team fell behind big in the most recent match-up. Considering Pettine nearly lost his job at the end of last season as his team has allowed 22.7 points and 354 yards per game since he took over, the Bears inability to score is downright confusing.

Yes, we know the Bears generally haven’t been a good offensive team for most of any of our lives, including the last two years. But they’ve done much better against the rest of the division. Mike Zimmer has had two top-10 units since Nagy came to the Bears, but the Bears have scored 19.5 offensive points and averaged 312 yards per game, both slightly better than the Vikings have allowed on average. Same goes for their performances against Detroit. (Also consider that the Bears have gone nearly full games against both Detroit and Minnesota with Chase Daniel.)

Whether it’s Nagy, Trubisky or somebody else, the Bears just can’t seem to solve Pettine and the Packers. But they may have hired the answers this off-season.

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ATM: Lack of Preseason Doesn’t Necessarily Hurt Trubisky

| July 10th, 2020

While many think a lack of a game action prior to the regular season would benefit Nick Foles in the competition to be the starting quarterback of the 2020 Chicago Bears, Mitch Trubisky still has the inside track. As of last week, the preseason slate was cut down to two and it doesn’t seem that anybody actually expects either of those games to be played. That leaves the Bears with only practice settings to determine their QB and Trubisky shouldn’t be ruled out.

When it comes to running plays correctly, adjusting protections and making accurate passes, there’s no question that Foles is superior to Trubisky. It’s the ability to run and make something out of broken plays that is supposed to even the playing field. The problem is, camp practice won’t allow that. When a play breaks down in practice, it is whistled dead and they move on to the next one.

But the Bears have to be absolutely certain he can’t play before moving on to Foles. And it’s unlikely Trubisky will clearly display that inability to play on the practice field. (He hasn’t in summers gone by.) The team does not want a situation where the second overall pick becomes someone else’s franchise quarterback. If the two quarterbacks are even close to equal in practices, Trubisky is going to get the chance to show that he is willing to use those legs and has made the necessary strides to be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL.

Matt Nagy has said he made a mistake not playing Trubisky and other starters in the 2019 preseason. The team assumed their young quarterback would make plays with his legs. (How could they know he’d suddenly stop running?) Even before he injured his shoulder, Trubisky only had five rushing attempts in three games. The UNC product did begin running again late in the season with 22 rushes over the final month of the season, so there is reason to believe he will again in 2020. Did running equal some magic formula for Trubisky? Hardly. In those four games he had four touchdown passes and three interceptions. Nobody is arguing that he doesn’t need to improve as a passer, but that’s something he can show — at least somewhat — in practice.

With or without preseason games, the ball is firmly in Trubisky’s court. If he shows improvement as a passer, and a firmer handle on the playbook, in whatever form of training camp the team ends up having, he could get to start the regular season.

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Should Pace Get Another Shot at QB? History Shows Patience with Young GM Has Value.

| June 30th, 2020

As the fate of the Bears franchise rests on their ability to find a franchise quarterback, it is easy to question a general manager who has missed at the position so often. But history suggests Ryan Pace has as good a shot at finding the team’s first franchise quarterback in more than 50 years as anyone else does. Because if there is one thing that can be gleaned from studying how some of the best franchises in the NFL have obtained their leading signal callers, it’s simply that finding quarterbacks is an inexact science that can have many misses before a big hit.

The gold standard team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. They built their dynasty on the back of a sixth-round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady. But, before we give them too much credit for some secret they knew but the rest of the world didn’t, we should probably ask why they didn’t take Brady earlier.

The Patriots have more hits than Brady. They took Matt Cassel in the seventh, Jimmy Garoppolo in the second and Jacoby Brissett in the third. All three eventually became valuable trade pieces. But there’s also Zac Robinson in the seventh in 2010, Ryan Mallett in the third in 2011 and, if they really had that much faith in 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, they wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton on Sunday. Because they hit on Brady, they have had the benefit of letting other players develop and play in a consistent offensive scheme while they have continued to win games. It’s easy to develop talent at a position when those players never have to contribute.

And, of course, we can look at Green Bay.

Can you imagine the outrage we’d see today if a team traded a current first round pick for a player who was drafted in the second round and barely made the roster the year before? That’s how Ron Wolf grabbed Brett Favre. And he deserves credit for finds like Mark Brunell in the fifth, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth and Aaron Brooks in the fourth — although that one is debatable. Wolf also drafted guys you’ve never heard of like Jay Barker and Kyle Wachholtz.

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Despite National Negativity, Bears Outlook Not that Bleak

| June 23rd, 2020

National pundits be damned, the outlook for the Chicago Bears in 2020 and beyond isn’t nearly as bleak as some have made it out to be.

In a column published last week, supposed Bears fan-turned-national-football-writer Robert Mays essentially wrote that the Bears are stuck in mediocrity, with no way out. Most of his points ranged from “off the mark” to “WHAT?!”

Mays posits the absurd argument that even if Nick Foles plays at his Super Bowl MVP level the Bears have no shot at winning a Super Bowl. He determines the Bears would lose on the road to the Saints, a team that just lost a home playoff game to Kirk Cousins. But his general point is one with which most would agree. The Bears are more likely going to finish somewhere in the 7-11 wins range in the coming season. It’s what Mays extrapolates from that potential win total that seems out of touch, lacking historical backing. He believes it is “no man’s land”. It’s not.

The Kansas City Chiefs were in no-man’s-land not all that long ago, with a quarterback who could consistently get them 10 wins but never make noise in the playoffs. One could argue that the Bears are actually better off than Kansas City was then because they have a quarterback they know can win a Super Bowl. Realistically, Nick Foles isn’t the long-term answer. Mitch Trubisky probably isn’t either. But that doesn’t mean the Bears have to fold as a franchise.

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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Special Teams

| June 16th, 2020

The all-important third phase has mixed reviews for the Bears.

There is no question the Bears are the worst in the division when it comes to kickers, but they’re among the best when it comes to return men and punters, the latter not having much competition.

With an offense still expected to struggle, the Bears will desperately need this third phase to be productive.


Kicker

1. Detroit

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Chicago

While he’s 35 and coming off of a bit of an off year, Matt Prater’s ability to make kicks from basically anywhere puts him atop this list. Mason Crosby is coming off of a career year, but entered the season fighting for his job. His made field goal percentage seems likely to dip back down into the low-80s Dan Bailey also had to earn his job in camp, but he did so and missed just two kicks. He was three-for-three on 50-plus yarders.

The Bears still need to keep an eye out for a replacement for Eddy Pineiro, who not only had the worst field goal percentage in the division last year, but had maybe the easiest job with just nine field goals beyond 40 yards. He missed four of them.


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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Defense

| June 10th, 2020

If the Chicago Bears are going to be relevant in the NFC North in 2020, it’s going to be because of their defense.

Last week I published a ranking of the teams in the NFC North positions on offense and the Bears didn’t fair well. They were ranked last in two positions — including the most important in the sport — and weren’t first in any. While the hope and expectation is that the Bears climb out of the bottom-10 when it comes to offensive efficiency, the reality is that expectations going into 2020 should be that the team will still have its struggles and will very likely be the worst offense in the division.

But the defense is a very different story.


Edge

1. Chicago

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Detroit

Not only are the Bears first in the most important defensive position, it isn’t really all that close. That isn’t to throw shade at Green Bay’s duo of Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but breakout seasons don’t necessarily put them ahead of two guys who have actual Hall of Fame credentials.

We need to start talking more about the Robert Quinn addition.

While it’s easy to focus on his down year with Miami, Quinn has 80.5 career sacks in 106 starts and has added 25 forced fumbles and 20 passes defensed. He averages more sacks per game than Julius Peppers did in his career.

What Quinn should do is take pressure off of Khalil Mack, who became the only front-seven defender offenses had to worry about last year after Akiem Hicks went down. Mack is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and should be expected to return to that form. Even in a down year, he was among the league leaders in pressures.

There’s no question Za’Darius Smith is a star, his combined 35.5 quarterback sacks and knockdowns are incredible. There should be some question about if Preston Smith can repeat his 2019 season in which he got nearly a third of his career sacks.

The Vikings have some questions opposite Danielle Hunter. Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks last year, but those are all he has for his career. The Lions paid Trey Flowers to get to the quarterback, but he has never had more than 7.5 sacks in a season and he’s their best pass rusher.

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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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