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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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ATM: Does Foles Trade Put Nagy on the Hot Seat?

| March 31st, 2020

When the Chicago Bears traded for Nick Foles, they finally acquired a quarterback who can run their offense. Now, we should get answers about the man coaching it.

Because Foles knows exactly how this offense is supposed to operate.

Prior to the 2019 season, his last 18 games had come with either Andy Reid or Doug Pedersen calling the shots. In the 14 games in which he threw more than 15 passes, he completed nearly 68 percent of them for 3,661 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.

Those aren’t regular season MVP numbers, but with the Bears defense, they’d get the job done.

(And it shouldn’t be forgotten that five of those games came in the playoffs, including two against what were considered to be the league’s top defenses in those given seasons.)

Much has been said and written about what Foles did in Philadelphia, but it sure appears as if the Chiefs debated a quarterback change a year earlier. When Alex Smith was injured, Foles came in and threw two touchdowns off the bench to lead the team to a win. Reid wasted no time in naming Foles the starter for the following week and Foles put together an efficient outing for another win. The Chiefs ultimately stuck with their starter, however, as Smith returned and led them to the playoffs again.

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ATM: Don’t Sleep on Jimmy Graham Signing

| March 24th, 2020

Although the Chicago Bears signing Jimmy Graham was largely seen as one of the strangest free agent signings of the early period, don’t be surprised if he makes a big impact. Too many are judging the big tight end on his raw stat line in 2019, without looking at context. Even more people are using lazy narratives. Yes, Graham’s statistics were down. The 38 catches and 447 yards he had in 2019 were both the second-lowest totals of his career. But Graham’s decreased production was more about a lack of opportunity.

Outside of maybe quarterback, no position was more impacted by the scheme change the Packers underwent last year than tight end. TEs have certainly had success in the style of offense Matt LaFleur runs but they’re also asked to block more. If there is one knock on Graham that has followed him his whole career it’s that he’s a horrendous blocker. As a result, he went from playing 74 percent of the snaps in 2018 to 58 percent in 2019. Blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis saw an increase from 18 percent to 45.

Graham caught 63.3 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2019, which is in line with his career average, as was his 11.8 yards per catch.

The narrative that has been spun is that Graham can no longer run.  While he’s certainly not as fast as he was when the New Orleans Saints essentially used him as a wide receiver, he can still get down the field. According to Sharp Football, the Packers had 12 explosive plays from the tight end position, accomplishing them at the eighth-best rate in the league (the Bears were 32nd with one explosive play from the tight end position). Of those 12, Graham had nine and had the ninth-best rate at the position.

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ATM: Bears Picked the Right Linebacker

| March 17th, 2020

It was a simple play.

On third-and-four, Dallas had running back Jamize Olawale sneak out of the backfield. He was open for a first down, very possibly a touchdown. Dak Prescott threw it but Olawale never looked. The play almost worked because Nick Kwiatkoski was late in coverage.

Andy Reid saw that play.

The Chiefs offensive guru ran something very similar two weeks later. On third-and-eight he swung a pass out to Damien Williams. Kwiatkoski late again. Touchdown.

As well as Kwiatkoski played last year, he was always going to have a fatal flaw and good offensive coaches were always going to attack him. That’s why Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears made the right call in keeping Danny Trevathan instead.

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ATM: Bears 2020 Quarterback Power Rankings

| March 10th, 2020

With the off-season set to begin, and the Chicago Bears seeking veteran competition, here is a ranking of the realistic options. For the sake of this argument, we’re assuming Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton and Phil Rivers get starting gigs elsewhere.


1. Derek Carr, Raiders

Likely price: 2020 second round pick, three years of $20 million cap hits.

Carr is the best option. It isn’t even close.

While the Raiders haven’t won a lot of games in Carr’s time as the quarterback, they have regularly been in the top half of the league in passing yardage and touchdowns. Carr isn’t Patrick Mahomes, but he’s a good quarterback who may only become available because Jon Gruden’s favorite quarterback is always the one he doesn’t have on the roster.

The Raiders will likely only trade Carr if they’re able to sign someone to replace him.


2. Nick Foles, Jaguars

Likely price: cap hits of $16-$22 million for three years.

There are three very huge selling points with Foles.

  • We know he can win a Super Bowl.
  • He knows the offense and the coaches.
  • Trading for him might bring an asset back.

There is a general thought that if the Jaguars want to trade Foles, they’re going to have to sweeten the pot with a day two draft pick. The downside, of course, is that he’s going to get paid like a starter for at least one year with $12.5 million dead cap after 2020, should the team move on.

Foles’ other big downside is that he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. He’s definitely better suited to be a high-end backup than a 16-game starter. If he wins the job, could the Bears be confident turning back to Trubisky should Foles be injured?

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ATM: Is Ryan Pace’s Former Crush Marcus Mariota the Right Target?

| March 3rd, 2020

Ryan Pace’s first draft quarterback crush could be the guy who saves his job.

The young GM had been on the job for just a few months and the rumor mill was swirling. The thought was that he wanted to package Jay Cutler with the seventh overall pick for the second pick and the chance to select Marcus Mariota. When asked about the possible trade, Pace didn’t say much. He also didn’t deny it.

The Titans balked and took Mariota. The Bears stayed at seven, took Kevin White and stuck with Cutler for two more years. It’s safe to say they might both have been worse off than if they had just done the deal.

On the surface Mariota doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade over Trubisky.

  • Mariota has a career passer rating of 89.6, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt and throws touchdowns on 4.4 percent of his attempts.
  • Trubisky’s rating sits at 85.8 with 6.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 3.8.
  • The Titans have gone 29-32 in Mariota’s starts and their offense exploded in 2019 after he was benched and another former first round disappointment Ryan Tannehill led them to the AFC Championship game.
  • The Bears have gone 23-18 with Trubisky.

But the raw numbers don’t really tell the story of Mariota. Or Trubisky, for that matter.

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