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ATM: Signing Hunt to Bolster Rush Attack the Clearest Path to Super Bowl

| February 5th, 2019

Sometimes the best moves are the most difficult.

The biggest no-brainer of this 2019 NFL offseason is for the Bears to sign Kareem Hunt. From a strictly football standpoint, Hunt must be their top target. But, of course, it’s about more than strictly football. Those arguments were made by Jeff here and Emily here.

What we learned from the 2019 NFL playoffs is that running the ball is still really important:

  • The team that won the rushing battle went 9-2. The two exceptions of course were the Chicago Cody Parkeys losing to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Chargers beating the Baltimore Ravens, despite losing the rushing battle by a single yard.
  • Teams that ran for 100 yards went 8-1. The only team that lost was Houston, which gave up 200 to Indianapolis in the Wild Card round.

Television networks and league executives want the NFL to be a passing league, but it’s tried and true that running the ball is important and the Bears just weren’t good enough at it. Despite being 11th in rushing yardage, the Bears struggled to move the ball on the ground consistently throughout the year. They were 27th in yards per carry and all of their rushing totals were inflated by having a quarterback who could routinely run for 15 yards on 3rd-and-10.

Perhaps what’s most troubling about the Bears lack of run production is that, unlike 2017, opponents weren’t trying to stop the run. Jordan Howard faced a stacked box (eight or more defenders) on just 14% of his carries, according to NFL NextGen Stats. That’s the 13th-lowest mark in the league. The player who had a stacked box the least was Tarik Cohen, coming in at 5.05%, well below Wendell Smallwood’s 6.9% rate.

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ATM: All About Matt and Mitch

| January 29th, 2019

As the New England Patriots prepare to play in their 79th Super Bowl of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era, they serve as the sport’s finest example of what the Bears – and every other organization – are trying to accomplish.

We can talk about Chuck Pagano, Khalil Mack, future first-round picks, draft steals and everything else, but what this era of Bears football becomes depends almost entirely on the quality of the head coach and the quarterback. And the first year got off to an adequate start for Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky.

The Bears were a top ten offense in both points per drive and DVOA until the QB was injured. Then they slid back. They struggled for most of the playoff game, but the quarterback made enough big plays to give them a chance to win.

Then Ray Finkle blew it.



Despite what Lt. Lois Einhorn did with those uprights, the Bears coach and QB gave us hope for the future. Hope that this thing could be special.

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ATM: Bears Must Follow the Rams Model & Stay Aggressive Off the Field

| January 22nd, 2019

If the 2019 Chicago Bears plan on making the same kind of jump the 2018 Los Angeles Rams did, they must find ways to add high-caliber players, just as the Rams did. They simply can’t sit back and let the rest of the division catch up to them.

The Rams went into the 2018 offseason with a goal to get better and did they ever. They traded for Marcus Peters, Brandin Cooks and Aqib Talib. They signed Ndamukong Suh. Once the season started, they traded for Dante Fowler and signed C.J. Anderson. All six of these players were essential to their reaching Super Bowl LIII.

At every turn, the Rams had an eye toward making their roster better. Talib and Suh were both veterans whose previous teams decided to move on. Peters and Cooks were young players who most figured would be re-upping with their former teams. But, alas, the Rams saw opportunities and made moves.

The Bears need to do the same. Who they can get remains to be seen.

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ATM: Pagano Hire Solidifies Bears As Nagy’s Team

| January 15th, 2019

The hiring of Chuck Pagano to replace Vic Fangio confirmed one thing: this is Matt Nagy’s team.

The Bears won in 2018 because of their defense, first and foremost. It was a defense and coordinator Nagy inherited. When Fangio left, it would’ve been easy to go with the continuity candidate Ed Donatell. But Nagy took a chance, bringing in someone from the outside, someone who more represents Nagy’s style.

There is no measure that tells us if being aggressive is better than being conservative defensively, but there’s no question that Fangio was on the conservative end and Pagano fits Nagy’s aggressive mentality.

During the end of the season presser, Nagy described Pagano as having an “attacking style” before saying again that Pagano is aggressive.

Pagano’s lone season as a defensive coordinator, in 2011 with the Baltimore Ravens, represents that. Pagano’s Ravens sacked opposing quarterbacks on 8.2 percent of their drop backs, even better than the 2018 Bears’ rate of 7.5. Opposing quarterbacks finished with a passer rating of 68.8, throwing for just 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, all numbers comparable to the 2018 Bears.

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ATM: Pace Deserves Blame

| January 8th, 2019

Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one and Super Bowl contenders don’t come around often, especially in Chicago. And the Bears are home because Ryan Pace ignored what everyone else knew was a fatal flaw and kept Cody Parkey at kicker.

The fact that the last second kick was officially changed to a block doesn’t really matter. That tells us Parkey didn’t get enough air on what should’ve been an easy kick. A 43-yard kick shouldn’t have to be a line drive and it shouldn’t be blocked at the line of scrimmage. That’s just as bad as missing it outright.

Blame Parkey all you want, but did anybody think he was going to make it? If you let a toddler poor milk into his cereal, he’s going to spill the milk. If a cat sees a pen on the counter, he’s going to knock that fucking pen OFF THE COUNTER. If a bad kicker has a shot at a big kick, he’s going to miss.

These are commonly known facts. Why didn’t Pace know them?

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ATM: Trubisky Can Lead Bears to Something Special

| January 1st, 2019

“BOOM!

One more!

BOOM!

And another!

BOOM!

And now it gets real.”

That was the message from Matt Nagy after thoroughly kicking the butt of a team that fully expected to be contending for the Super Bowl this season. The Bears didn’t just knock the Vikings out of the playoffs. They offered a glimpse of how talented they actually are.

It’s been convenient to say the Vikings weren’t good or that they lost before the game even started. But that ignores the primary storyline heading into the game: the Vikings were “fixed.” They fired Flip and found Stefanski! Their offense had been corrected and they were the team nobody wanted to play.

Then the Bears broke them…again.

The Bears didn’t do anything flashy. The offensive game plan was vanilla. They did what they do defensively. They won that game simply because they were too good to lose it. They were that much better than a team that had a Super Bowl-worthy roster.

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ATM: Mitch Trubisky, Warden of the North

| December 18th, 2018

When the Bears needed life Sunday, second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky stepped in.

The strengths of the team were flailing. The defense was mid-collapse. The coach made numerous bone-headed calls. Throughout the third and early fourth quarters the Packers had all the momentum. They were going to steal the game. Everyone knew it.

After a strange fake punt allowed the Packers to drive 50 yards for a touchdown and the game-tying two-point conversion, the Bears looked dead. They got the ball back.

First down: incomplete to Burton.

Second down: incomplete to Burton.

Third down: Trubisky takes off for 14.

Later in the drive, Trubisky made a sharp throw to Gabriel for 14 on second-and-13. Then he hit Adam Shaheen for 16 yards on second-and-eight after scrambling to his left.

Then Matt Nagy took the ball out of his hands, calling a Wildcat run in which Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard botched the exchange on third-and-one and the Packers recovered.

That was supposed to be the time Aaron Rodgers took control of the game. Everyone with a working knowledge of the game of football expected it.

Sack.

Incomplete.

Incomplete.

Enter Mitch

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ATM: Defensive Performance Makes Championship Dreams Valid

| December 11th, 2018

After holding one of the ten best offenses in the history of the league to just one legitimate scoring drive, Super Bowl dreams no longer seem far-fetched for the 2018 Chicago Bears.

Yes, they have to take care of business the rest of the season and any playoff run is going to require Mitch Trubisky to be infinitely better than he was Sunday night. But now that we’ve seen the defense be that good, there’s no reason to put a cap on what the Bears can accomplish this season.

Say what positive you will about the Bears teams of the early-to-mid 2000s, but they never faced — much less beat — an offense like the 2018 Bears just did.

  • 2005 Bears held a Carolina team that averaged more than 24 per game to just three but then got smoked in the playoffs by a legendary Steve Smith performance.
  • 2006 Bears limited the fifth-ranked Saints to 14 points, but that’s still not really comparable as indoor Saints and outdoor Saints are very different things.
  • 2010 Bears played two top-three offenses and gave up 26 and 36 points in those games respectively.

While the defense’s performance Sunday makes the games against Brock Osweiler, Eli Manning and gimpy Aaron Rodgers even more confusing, it also gave validity to their claim as a potentially historic defense. If they can do THAT to the Rams, they can beat anybody — especially when you consider the defensive issues the other top scoring teams have.

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ATM: Reason to Distrust the Defense

| December 4th, 2018

The Bears had the Giants in a third-and-23. Even a 20-yard run means New York is punting and the Bears are either going to block it, return it or sit on it and go into halftime with a touchdown lead. Matt Nagy called timeout. It was the kind of aggressive decision we’ve longed for Bears coaches to make.

It didn’t work. Because Nagy learned something we all learned: this defense can’t be trusted.

The vaunted unit folded on the next two plays and then continuously throughout the second half. If it felt like we were watching a re-run it’s because we were. This is the third time the defense — which is supposed to carry the team — absolutely crumbled.

At their best, the Bears defense is legitimately great. But they still might be underachieving. Performances like Sunday (and Miami, and Green Bay) just can’t happen if the Bears are going to be truly relevant this year.

The Bears had a top ten defensive unit last year before adding a top ten draft pick and one of the three best defensive players in the history of the universe. They’ve made a jump, but there are these weird games that are just indefensible and one has to wonder what will happen when the Bears go up against one of the league’s great offenses.

Make no mistake, the Bears can stop the Rams, Saints or Chiefs. They absolutely have the talent to get the job done. But that doesn’t mean they will. And it’s hard to pinpoint what the exact problem is.

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ATM: Maybe the 2018 Chicago Bears are Not “A Year Away”

| November 27th, 2018

The excuses were there and would have been valid.

  • No team had played a game on less rest.
  • They started a backup QB who hadn’t played extensively in five years.
  • They were coming off one of their more emotional wins in recent memory.

But none of that mattered.


I started this season writing about how the Bears looked like the same old Bears and that’s because they did. Blowing a huge fourth quarter lead to the Packers on opening night was very on-brand.

But on Thanksgiving Day, the 2018 Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions despite all the excuses. In doing so, they proved they are a different team. Comparing this year’s Bears to versions of the team under Marc Trestman and John Fox is just ridiculous at this point. This was even a game the Lovie Smith Bears would’ve lost.

This team didn’t. They didn’t need excuses. They just went out and won. Somewhere along the line, the team changed. Somewhere they found their swagger and turned 2018 into something with the makings of a special season.

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