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Five Questions as the Bears Begin Training Camp Practices This Weekend

| July 20th, 2018

In this clandestine modern NFL, there’s something to remember: very little NFL teams show the fans or the media, prior to the start of the regular season, is all that valuable. “Open” training camp practices and preseason games exist to drain every possible nickel out of loyal fanbases. Might you catch a glimpse of a gimmick play or two? Sure. But that’s it.

What is valuable is that which is done in the Cone of Silence, behind a shroud of secrecy, in the shadows even Adam Jahns dare not show up with his 4″ x 8″ notebook. And I have questions about what the Bears will be up to in the darkness.


Question #1: Who is where on the interior of the offensive line?

For years, ever since the arrival of Kyle Long, this space has argued against the organization’s lack of consistency when it came to aligning the offensive line. This team, this summer, needs to select positions for Long, Cody Whitehair and rookie James Daniels and leave them there. Daniels will inevitably struggle early no matter where he starts because Daniels is a rookie and rookies struggle. Put em. Leave em.


Question #2: What’s the answer opposite Leonard Floyd?

If you go to the Chicago Bears’ roster page, you’ll get confused when it comes to the linebacker position. Danny Trevathan is correctedly listed at ILB. Roquan Smith is listed at just LB. Nick Kwiatkoski, rumored to be getting run on the outside, is listed at ILB. Aaron Lynch, expected to be a pass rushing option, just LB.

The Bears don’t need a star to emerge opposite Floyd. And based on their current roster, they don’t really have to worry about it. But with opposing offensive coordinators certain to game plan for Floyd’s potential impact, the team must find pass rush production on the other side from a combination of Kwik, Lynch, Sam Acho, Kylie Fitts…etc. Fans should get a good sense in the coming weeks as to where Vic Fangio and his staff are leaning from a personnel perspective.


Question #3: Are there any sneaky positional battles?

Yes, I’m looking at you, Pat O’Donnell. Pitt’s Ryan Winslow is not an elite punting prospect but one hopes the Bears are not going to give P.O.D. the free pass he’s been given in previous summers.

Where else might one’s eyes drift?

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The Most Important Bears: Offense

| July 11th, 2018

Unlike the defense, the Bears offense is going to feature a bunch of new players expected to fill big roles. Nearly half of the club’s Week 17 starters are being replaced, some by high-profile acquisitions. But it’s the returning soldiers who figure to be essential to the team’s success this coming season.

Before getting into the list, the name you won’t see here is Tarik Cohen. Cohen is a very talented player and one they’re sure to use 12-to-15 times a game. He’s going to make big plays but the offense isn’t going to be dependent on his skill set. The guys you will see on this list are guys who are going to be more crucial to the functionality of the offense.


5. Jordan Howard

Johnathan Wood did a great job breaking down the Bears running back duo a couple of weeks ago and two of the biggest takeaways were:

  • Kansas City ran between the tackles a lot more than the Bears did last year.
  • Howard was terrific running between the tackles.

There is a general thought the Bears are going to be more pass-oriented in 2018 and that may very well be true. But they’re also going to have to run the ball effectively. Historically, Andy Reid’s offenses have always struggled when they failed to move the ball on the ground.

The other issue is that the Bears don’t have a true backup for Howard. Cohen is a different kind of player and not one they really want carrying the ball 20 times a game. Benny Cunningham has carried the ball a total of 30 times the last two seasons.

It’s been popular to say Howard is overrated, but before he came into the lineup in 2016, the Bears couldn’t run the ball and there’s no real reason to think they could without him two years later.


4. Trey Burton

Making a player with just 63 career catches one of the five highest-paid tight ends in the league doesn’t make much sense unless the team knows they need his skill set. Matt Nagy made it known the Bears absolutely needed a player like Burton. Now that they have him, they absolutely need him to be good.

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The Positional Quick 3: Offensive Line

| June 13th, 2018

I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.

I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.


Offensive Line

  • Perhaps the most important positional decision in the coming days will be how Nagy and Harry Hiestand situate the middle of their offensive line. (Both Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are listed as simply OL on the team’s roster page.) Whitehair is 25. Daniels is 20. This should be the team’s line leadership for the next five years plus. Getting them in the correct position is essential to that cause.
  • The chances of Bobby Massie being on the Bears roster in 2019 are not particularly good. So this becomes a contract year for the right tackle. Does that mean anything? Not really. But I have to fill three bullet points here.
  • Is this a flawless unit? No. But there are very few, if any, flawless offensive lines in the modern NFL. Is this an offensive line capable of playing into the postseason? Absolutely. Especially if the middle of the line is sorted correctly. This is an offensive line that can protect the quarterback long enough to make plays down the field and an offensive line capable of pushing a defense around 25 times a game to create some space for Jordan Howard. They are a good, not great unit.

Tomorrow: Offensive Coaches

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s Draft Profile, Day 2

| April 10th, 2018

Now that Ryan Pace has been here a while, it’s possible to look at his past drafts to see what lessons can be learned from his approach. This can help us cautiously look ahead to the 2018 draft to see what he might be thinking.

With that goal in mind, I’m going to spend three weeks looking at how Pace has approached the three days of the draft, and then applying that approach to 2018 to see what players are likely being considered for the Bears this year. I looked at day 1 last week, so today will be day 2 (rounds 2-3).


Draft History

2015: Eddie Goldman, DT, 39th pick; Hroniss Grasu, C, 71st pick

2016: Cody Whitehair, OL, 56th pick (after 2 trade downs); Jonathan Bullard, DL, 72nd pick

2017: Adam Shaheen, TE, 45th pick (after trading down)

Trend 1: Trade Down

Ryan Pace has been a big fan of trading down for extra picks in round 2. He did it twice before selecting Cody Whitehair in 2016 and once before taking Adam Shaheen in 2017. Given that the Bears are short a third round pick this year, I think he will be working the phones looking to do that again in round 2.  Read More …

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Data Entry: Random Roster Thoughts

| April 6th, 2018

Note: thanks to Butch for the cool new header picture

Free agency is settling down, so now is a good time to take a look at where the Bears’ roster currently stands. This will give us a better idea of what minor free agency moves should still be made and where the draft attention should focus for the first few rounds.

Let’s start with a rough depth chart, followed by a few quick thoughts. This is just my estimate of what a depth chart could look like, don’t read too much into details like Roy Robertson-Harris being above Jonathan Bullard, or anything like that.

Reflections, in no particular order:

  • The Bears currently have 65 players under contract. They’re scheduled for 7 draft picks, and will likely sign a few more cheap veterans, but there’s going to be plenty of room to fill out the roster with undrafted free agents after the draft. Expect them to bring in at least 15 of them, and thus it’s no surprise that they’ve been meeting with several players projected as possible UDFA targets, including Jonah Trinnaman and Jarvion Franklin.

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Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Packers

| November 12th, 2017

Chicago came out of the bye flat, acting like nobody actually wanted to play a football game against their biggest rival. Their terrible kicker was good, but nobody else really was. The only thing that kept this game somewhat close was the fact that Green Bay is terrible, but they still won fairly comfortably on the road.

Let’s break down this embarrassing effort.

Offense

  • The first drive was simply awful. After two weeks to prepare, they ran into a loaded box on 1st down and lost a yard. After a nice pass picked up a first down, they again ran into a stacked box and lost a yard. The next play was both an illegal formation and a hold, setting Chicago up in 2nd and 21. At that point, the drive was over thanks to a combination of poor play calling and dumb penalties.
  • Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky actually had a pretty good start to the game. He made good throws and got the ball to players in space. That changed as the game wore on and Green Bay dialed up the pressure. Trubisky got happy feet and starting pulling his eyes down from scanning the field too quickly. He also refused to throw the ball away, making him completely inept under any sort of pressure.
  • Green Bay’s five sacks weren’t all on the offensive line, but they were bad today too. Hroniss Grasu, making a start at center and shifting Cody Whitehair to right guard with Kyle Long out, was routinely pushed back into the backfield. The unit also picked up way too many penalties, with a nice mixture of pre-snap, during the play, and after the play mixed in.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Biggs, Jahns & Moon on Mitch & More!

| October 17th, 2017

BIGGS ON TRUBISKY TOUCHDOWN

It was a terrific play by Trubisky but the rookie QB actually made it more difficult than it needed to be. I noticed this live and Brad Biggs made the sixth of his ten things:

6. Dion Sims’ 27-yard touchdown came on a nice play by Mitch Trubisky, who was getting hit as he delivered the ball and didn’t see the touchdown. Sims was uncovered off the line of scrimmage. The Ravens had some pre-snap confusion and that allowed Sims to release from the line and head downfield with no one on him. Strong safety Tony Jefferson was late arriving and it was a really good play for the Bears. It’s nice to see Sims making some plays downfield and after some dropped passes in previous weeks, he needs to step up with plays like that. Trubisky said he took a while to get to Sims because it wasn’t his first read. I’m interested to see this again on the All-22 tape, but live I thought Sims was open immediately and if that’s the case, the quarterback needs to sense that immediately. Especially in this case as the Bears were facing third-and-7 and the goal was to move the chains and avoid having to attempt a field goal.

It’s all about experience. But it doesn’t necessarily help the rookie’s development when he’s only dropping back to pass on obvious passing downs, twenty times a game.


Jahns on That Very Topic

In the new AJ After Dark piece in the Sun-Times, three things to note.

  • Adam emphasizes this offensive approach is coming from Fox, not Loggains. Independently, I have confirmed that. Because this is not the way Loggains wants to use Trubisky.
  • Jahns argues the Bears need to let the kid do more.
  • Quotes from Bears players re: Trubisky should get every fan excited. Here’s a passage from the piece:

Coach John Fox’s game plan — not offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ — became more apparent with every handoff.

Fox wanted Trubisky to manage his first start on the road. Trubisky, though, did one better — he managed to win it.

When the Bears finally needed Trubisky to be special, he was. On the move, he delivered an 18-yard completion to receiver Kendall Wright over the middle on a third-and-11 play from the Ravens’ 41-yard line in overtime.

Being on the road in overtime — Trubisky called it a “hostile environment” — didn’t overwhelm him. It was a big-time throw from Trubisky after his role was purposely kept small in regulation.

“At the end of the game, we were all dead tired,” guard Kyle Long said. “Mitch is the one picking us up, making sure we get the gusto to finish.”

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Data Responds: Bears at Ravens

| October 15th, 2017

It wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but the Bears got their first road win since 2015 behind an impressive effort by the defense. Baltimore had no business being in the game, but managed to push it to overtime after an impressive series of self-inflicted mistakes by the Bears in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Bears found a way to get Mitchell Trubisky his first career win and improve to 2-4 on the season. Let’s look at some key takeaways from the game.

Offense

  • The Bears continually put their offense in position to fail. There’s no other way for me to say this. They continually run the ball with predictable plays against 8-9 man boxes, which is why their running backs averaged less than 3.5 yards per rush.
  • This led to a number of 3rd and long situations, which was about the only time they actually let quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throw. It seems to me like 3rd and long pass attempts is not a great way to build your rookie quarterback’s confidence and get him into a rhythm.
  • The offense continues to be far too predictable. 1st and 2nd down are almost always runs, regardless of the defensive look. They never run out of shotgun, and rarely pass out of heavy sets. 90% of Tarik Cohen’s carries come to the outside. That leads to a lot of plays where the defense knows exactly what to expect, which is a death knell in the NFL.
  • With that said, credit offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for a beautiful trick play that led to the first offensive touchdown. Tarik Cohen took a pitch, stopped, and heaved a 21 yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach miller, who was wide open in the end zone. That’s the second week in a row the offense pulled off a successful trick play. Now if only the other 99% of his play calls weren’t terrible.
  • Chicago’s personnel usage continues to be baffling. Their best pass catchers are Kendall Wright and Zach Miller, but both are playing limited snaps. The reason they’re not playing is that there are better run-blocking options, but sooner or later you need to give your quarterback somebody to throw to.
  • Given all of this, it’s difficult to evaluate Mitchell Trubisky’s play at quarterback. The coaches are basically not letting him play the position, and are putting him in position to fail when he does. He only had 16 pass attempts, plus 4 sacks and 4 scrambles for a total of 24 plays where he was asked to do anything other than hand off. Several of those were screens, which are basically extended handoffs, and Trubisky had to throw it away several more times.
  • You saw Trubisky’s physical skills with some nice throws down the field, including a pressured bomb on the run to Dion Sims for a touchdown, and some impressive scrambles. He also saved a Baltimore touchdown by corralling a bad Cody Whitehair snap in the end zone, breaking a tackle, and throwing the ball away. You also saw the inexperience as he had trouble from inside the pocket. Trubisky’s only turnover on the day was a fumble when he was hit from the blind side after somebody whiffed on a block. I don’t think you can pin much of that on the quarterback.
  • I had all that about Trubisky written up before OT. Now I have to add a separate point for the outstanding pass he made to Kendall Wright to put Chicago in FG range in overtime. He was forced to throw on 3rd and long after two stuffed runs (surprise surprise), and Baltimore brought the heat. Trubisky avoided the first rusher and made a beautiful pass to Wright for the first down. That is a big-time play that not very many NFL quarterbacks can make.
  • A game plan like this does very little to develop your rookie quarterback. It feels like the Bears need to take the shackles off and let him make mistakes and grow, but a win is a win.
  • Speaking of bad Cody Whitehair snaps, what gives there? He had several more today, continuing a season-long sophomore slump. At first, he had the excuse of bouncing around between guard and center, but he’s been squarely at center now for 3-4 weeks in a row and has no excuse left.
  • Jordan Howard had an outstanding day, with 36 carries for 167 yards. He was able to pick up some yards despite consistently pounding into a stacked box, showing his trademark patience and vision and running through tackles. He also put the team on his back in OT with a 53 yard burst after breaking a few tackles near the line of scrimmage. I can’t help but imagine what he could do if the defense respected the Chicago passing game.
  • Of course, Howard did have a boneheaded play at the end of the 4th quarter, where he ran out of bounds on 3rd and 20 to stop the clock and force Chicago to punt instead of letting the clock run out. It was shades of Marion Barber from 2011, but thankfully the miscue didn’t hurt the Bears this time.
  • Let’s also give a special incompetent shout-out to Chicago’s 2 minute offense at the end of both halves. In the 1st half, they had 1st and 10 at the 35 with 2:07 to go and two time outs left. Predictable run, predictable screen (which Trubisky had to ground since Baltimore was so ready or it), sack, and the Bears had to punt after -9 yards in only 27 seconds. That left Baltimore enough time to get points before the half. Then in the 4th quarter, they got the ball with a tie game at the 25 yard line, 1:37 and two time outs left. The first play was a running back screen to the middle of the field, then a bad snap, then a sack, then a run out of bounds instead of running out the clock. That’s poor coaching and poor execution, a killer 1-2 punch.

Defense

  • Chicago’s defense didn’t give up any points (or even a first down) on the first drive today. That makes the second fast start for the defense in a row, which has been a consistent problem for them under this regime. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been able to stay competitive in both games.
  • Another consistent problem for Chicago’s defense under these coaches has been an inability to force turnovers, but that was not an issue today either as they took the ball away from Baltimore three times. On the first, linebacker Christian Jones caused a fumble, which Danny Trevathan recovered. On the 2nd, safety Eddie Jackson forced a drop with a hard hit, and Bryce Callahan was able to come down with the interception. The third and final turnover was forced by a Kyle Fuller deflection; safety Adrian Amos took advantage with the easy interception, which he returned for what seemed like a game-clinching touchdown. With an offense that struggles to score points, the defense needs to make big plays like that week in and week out.
  • DE Akiem Hicks continued his monster season with several big run stops and a sack. He’s now up to 5 sacks on the season, and is on pace to hit double digits, an impressive feat for a 3-4 defensive lineman. Hicks didn’t get enough national recognition for his breakout season last year, but he absolutely should be in the Pro Bowl (and possibly an All Pro) if he keeps this up.
  • Rookie safety Eddie Jackson had another solid game, but he did have one horrible angle that allowed Baltimore to break off a 30 yard run. Still, he broke up a few passes and had solid tackling in other situations. Jackson has already established himself as Chicago’s best safety.
  • Cornerback Kyle Fuller also continued his bounce-back season with an outstanding game. He provided solid coverage throughout the game, including three straight targets in the end zone that Baltimore was unable to complete, and laid out several defenders with big hits. Fuller was also consistently around the ball, logging 3 passes defensed and tipping a ball to Adrian Amos for an interception.
  • 2nd year safety DeAndre Houston-Carson got a few defensive snaps today as a 3rd safety. I’m surprised that came ahead of Deon Bush, and will be something to watch going forward.

Special Teams

  • It was an ugly day for the special teams, as they gave up not one but two touchdowns. The first came after Chicago had just scored to go up 17-3, and Ravens return man Bobby Rainey hit the ground after being tripped up by his own blocker. All the Bears stopped, assuming he was down, but Rainey got up and ran for an easy touchdown to get Baltimore back in the game. Then they gave up a long punt return touchdown where nobody even got close to return man Michael Campanaro. That’s just inexcusable incompetence.
  • Punter Pat O’Donnell had himself quite the game, at least in regulation. He repeatedly pinned Baltimore inside their own 20 when given the chance, and flipped field position in the 2nd half with a booming 67 yard punt.  he then shanked a 33 yard punt in OT, giving Baltimore excellent field position.
  • Special teams ace Sherrick McManis got injured early in the game and did not return. The Bears said it was a hamstring injury, and we can only hope it’s not serious. Running back/special teamer Benny Cunningham also left the game with a hamstring issue.

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Data Responds: Bears vs. Vikings

| October 10th, 2017

In rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s debut, the Bears got the ball to start, and marched right down the field. Trubisky looked sharp on several impressive throws, including one huge third down completion to Tre McBride that set Chicago up on Minnesota’s 9 yard line.

Except a holding penalty by center Cody Whitehair brought the Bears back to 3rd and 20 out of field goal range. One screen pass later, they punted, costing themselves at least three points.

That would lay the foundation for a frustrating first half of missed opportunities, when a long list of penalties (some more dubious than others) led to Chicago getting no offensive points despite passing midfield on four drives.

Unsurprisingly, those missed opportunities came back to haunt them in the second half, as a late Minnesota field goal led to a 20-17 win.

Coaching

  • They get their own section again, which usually means bad things. And we’re starting here, because it was terrible.
  • John Fox took too long to decide whether to go for it on 4th and 2 in the first quarter, which forced the Bears to call a time out. Out of the time out, they took too long to get the play in, resulting in a delay of game and punt. That was an ugly sequence that was 100% the fault of the coaches. Then in the 2nd half, they had to burn a time out when the Vikings had 1st and 19 due to confusion with defensive play calls.
  • The Bears were also incredibly sloppy early on, with several early penalties negating big plays and/or putting them behind the chains. Some of the calls didn’t seem particularly great by the officials, but overall they need to get out of their own way and stop beating themselves. That’s the mark of a poorly coached team.
  • Dowell Loggains also had a terrible game. He fell into predictable patterns we’ve seen through four games, with obvious runs on 1st down and too many horizontal passes. They ran out of heavy sets and threw out of shotgun, with not enough variability mixed into those sets. This routinely set the Bears up in 3rd and long situations, which is not where you want a rookie quarterback (or any offense, really) to be. To his credit, Loggains did have a beautiful play call on a game-tying 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter, but overall he had a rough night.

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