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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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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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