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Across The Middle: Bears Receiver Depth Should Be A Concern

| April 9th, 2019

The Bears seem to like their wide receivers right now, but that shouldn’t stop them from looking hard at the position in the draft later this month.

The top three of Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel appear to be set, but there are a bunch of question marks after that, for both 2019 and the future. Assuming Robinson is better another year removed from knee surgery and Miller takes a step as second-year receivers tend to do, the team’s top three receivers are really quite good. Unless, of course, someone were to get injured, which tends to happen in the NFL.

Both Robinson and Miller missed some time last year and the result was Josh Bellamy playing 321 snaps and Kevin White getting an additional 170. While White’s snaps and position are going to be easily replaced by free agent signee Cordarrelle Patterson, fans shouldn’t underestimate the loss of Bellamy.

Ideally, Bellamy would be replaced by Javon Wims, but Wims is anything but proven.

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ATM: Nagy’s “Vision” Could Look to Supersize What Was Mizzell’s Role

| April 2nd, 2019

While maddening in 2018, Matt Nagy’s insistence on using Taquan Mizzell was a sign of what he envisions the Bears offense becoming.

Mizzell wasn’t used as often as it seemed in 2018. He played just 70 snaps, with nine rushes and ten targets in the passing game. That’s attempting to get him the ball every 3.7 snaps. That rate isn’t as high as Tarik Cohen’s (once every 2.6 snaps), but not all of Cohen’s touches were plays drawn up for him. The Bears seemed to see Mizzell as a weapon.

He wasn’t.

This is something Nagy should’ve known since he was comfortable cutting “Smoke” out of training camp last year before putting him on the practice squad and later back on the active roster. But just because Mizzell couldn’t do it, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a job out there for the right player. That job could prove to be vital to the offense.

On a basic level, Mizzell had value as a backup to Cohen. He’s quick and can do some good things in the receiving game. He just isn’t anywhere near as good at those things as Cohen. But, what if, in theory, the Bears were able to add a player who could do some of the same things at a very high level? There are quite a few options in this draft.

It seems highly unlikely that the Bears will be able to get their version of Kareem Hunt. Yes, running backs drop in the draft, but the success rate of running backs taken later still isn’t as great as fans tend to think. In this specific draft, there just aren’t that many dual-threat backs. Typically, at least five running backs are drafted before the 87th pick in the draft. This year that list likely includes Josh Jones, Damien Harris, David Montgomery, Darrell Henderson and Miles Sanders. Outside of those five, there aren’t very many who seem capable of filling the kind of every down role Hunt filled for the Chiefs.

While it’s difficult to find every down backs in this draft, there are a handful of players who could fill and expand Mizzell’s role. Players like Justice Hill, Tony Pollard and James Williams. Then there is the option of players like Trayveon Williams, Travis Homer, Karan Higdon and Mike Weber, who might not be big enough to handle an every down load, but could bring more explosiveness to the offense.

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ATM: Opener is Time for Bears to Retake Control of Rivalry

| March 26th, 2019

What better time for the Chicago Bears to reestablish their dominance with their oldest rivals than the opener of the 2019 season?

On Monday, the NFL officially announced the opening of the 2019 season, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the league with the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears have a target on their backs throughout the 2019 offseason and the Packers are making the biggest surge. With a spending spree that included two pass rushers, a new starting guard and, of course, Adrian Amos, the Packers have already attacked some of their biggest weaknesses. With two first round picks and 10 selections overall in the draft next month, it isn’t hard to see a scenario in which their roster looks almost nothing like the sorry group they trotted out last year. All of that, of course, will go around quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers are trying to do what the Bears just did and the Rams did two years ago by winning their division in the first year of a new regime.

The Bears simply can’t let that happen.

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ATM: Safety Swap Should Help Keep Bears On Top

| March 19th, 2019

When the Bears signed HaHa Clinton-Dix for roughly a third of what the Packers paid Adrian Amos, it was a great example of how teams on top stay on top.

Amos’ biggest fans have been the folks at Pro Football Focus. Through their various platforms, PFF raved about the Packers signing Amos and making him one of the ten highest-paid safeties in the league. But even they would have to admit there isn’t a very big difference between Amos and Clinton-Dix. The latter finished eighth in their silly ranking system last year and was their third-highest-ranked safety available in free agency.

While it’s safe to say nobody likes Amos more than PFF, it’s also safe to say they also quite like HHCD.

PFF doesn’t actually know how to grade safety play — or any other position, for that matter —  so those grades are worthless. But, if they — the group that likes Amos more than anyone — think paying $9 million per year for him was a great move, what do they think of the Bears paying a player who is only slightly weaker $3.5 million?

We’d know, but PFF has been oddly quiet about the HHCD signing.

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ATM: In Early Free Agency, the Bears Have Given Themselves Options at Running Back

| March 15th, 2019

Under Ryan Pace, the Bears have always tried to give themselves multiple options on draft weekend by filling roster holes in free agency. That approach held true earlier this week as the team signed two veteran options at running back. Mike Davis isn’t a household name. Most probably wouldn’t consider Cordarrelle Patterson a running back. But the two men give the Bears needed flexibility at a pivotal position.

In an ideal world, the Bears would’ve replaced Jordan Howard and Taquan Mizzell with one player – an all-purpose back who can pound between the tackles and beat linebackers in the passing game. They still might find that guy in the draft, but now, with these acquisitions, they don’t have to.

Davis is a stocky runner with a low center of gravity. He can work between the tackles and bounce runs outside, a trait that makes him a much better fit for this running scheme than Howard. Davis also is a capable receiver, which could help him stay on the field.



But Davis didn’t sign a contract that guaranteed he’d be the starter or even get a majority of the snaps. He signed a contract to compete. Who he’s competing with remains to be seen.

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ATM: Bears Should Target Spencer Ware

| March 5th, 2019

A 230-pound back with 4.6 speed isn’t what most fans are dreaming of this offseason. But Spencer Ware, a sixth-round pick by Seattle in 2013, could be the perfect fit for the 2019 Chicago Bears.

At this point in his career, Ware is known as a backup, but he once earned Kansas City’s starting job by rushing for 403 yards  — 5.6 per carry — and six touchdowns in 2015. He held the starting job in 2016, making 14 starts and totaling 1,368 yards from scrimmage; more than Jordan Howard has managed each of the last two years. He was poised to start for the Chiefs again in 2017 before a preseason injury knocked him out and Kareem Hunt exploded. Ware reemerged late last season, rushing for 122 yards in two starts before another injury knocked him out until the playoffs.

With Damien Williams performing well in the playoffs, Ware will likely be looking elsewhere for a chance to compete for a starting gig. Where better than Chicago? On paper, he may not seem like an upgrade over Howard, and he may not be a better overall runner, but Ware can simply do things that Howard can’t. These are the things the Bears need their running backs to be able to do.



Howard excelled early in his career at running outside zone plays, cutting up the field, against the grain. With Nagy’s inside zone scheme, the Bears are asking Howard to do the opposite, to be able to take inside runs outside and he simply hasn’t done it effectively.

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ATM: As the Combine Begins, Some Players & Positions to Watch

| February 26th, 2019

Here are a few players and positions to watch at the 2019 NFL combine, which begins today in Indianapolis:

Players

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

The popular comparison for Montgomery has been Kareem Hunt, but there’s one major issue when I watch Montgomery: speed.

Montgomery backers are quick to point out that Hunt only ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, but I’ve never watched Hunt and thought he looked slow whereas Montgomery’s lack of burst is clear. He’s even gotten caught from behind a few times.

The Iowa State star’s game is breaking tackles, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to break tackles in the Big 12 than in the NFL. If he’s clocking in the 4.7s in the 40-yard dash and his vertical jump is in the low-30s, it’s a clear sign that he doesn’t just look slow, he is slow.

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Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

Anderson tore his ACL early in the season so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to do all of the drills.

Even if he isn’t, Bears fans should keep an ear (or eye) for reports on his medical condition. Anderson has had several major injuries in college but is clearly a Round 1 talent. Although they’re different positions, Anderson’s story isn’t unlike  that of Eddie Jackson.


Positions

Tight Ends

Because of where the Bears picks are, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact prospect here.

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ATM: Bears Need More at the Tight End Position

| February 19th, 2019

It was a simple play. But the fact that the Eagles were able to pull it off was telling.

Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert easily beat PFF-favorite Adrian Amos for one of the only touchdowns in the game, a home playoff loss for the upstart Bears to the reigning champions. The play proved to be significant in the low-scoring game, but even more significantly it illuminated what the Bears are trying to do as compared to what the Eagles have already accomplished.

The beauty of what Doug Pederson and company have built in Philadelphia is they have a passing game capable of hurting teams any which way they choose. Matt Nagy’s Bears just aren’t there yet and a lack of firepower at the tight end position is a big reason why.

TE has always been an important part of the offense the Bears are running. That’s why the Eagles spent a second round pick on Goedert despite already having Zach Ertz. They knew once Trey Burton went to the Bears, they’d be in trouble without Ertz. Ironically the Bears didn’t have Burton against the Eagles and it killed their game plan.

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ATM: Out of the Hunt. So Now What?

| February 13th, 2019

The Chicago Bears won’t be signing Kareem Hunt. The great debate ended before the offseason officially began, as the former Kansas City Chiefs running back, facing disciplinary action from the league for a history of violent behavior, signed with the Browns. Time will tell if he’s worth the trouble for Cleveland, but the Bears still need to add some explosiveness to their backfield if they hope to improve their run game.

Because while Jordan Howard is a good player, the Bears simply need more. Forget for a second his sub-4.0 yards per carry number. The Bears offense just didn’t function well with him on the field.

  • According to NFGSIS, the team averaged 4.78 yards per play in the five most frequently used lineups in which Howard was used.
  • In the five most-used lineups that didn’t include Howard, they averaged 6.8 yards per play.
  • The big difference came in the passing game, where they averaged 7 yards per pass play without Howard and 4.92 with him.

Matt Nagy seems to know it too. In the playoff game he used a formation with three wide receivers, one tight end and Cohen over Howard 21 times. Their next most-used formation was used five times, that also didn’t have Howard in it. Howard played just 22 snaps — 34% of the team’s total — against the Eagles. From a football perspective, signing Hunt would’ve been the easy move, but not one the Bears could make without knowing his availability. Now, they have to figure out something else.

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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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