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It Don’t Have To Be Pretty: Bears in First Place After Three Weeks (Rapid Fire)

| September 24th, 2018

The Bears have played three games. So have the Packers, Vikings and Lions. After those three games, the Bears have the best record in the NFC North.

  • Style points don’t matter. The first two months of the season are about accruing wins and positioning yourself for a potential postseason run. The Bears won a football game on a road. This fan base isn’t allowed to use the word “but”. A win is a win is a win.
  • Several times during this game I turned to my buddy Maciej and said, “Why do we have Khalil Mack?” It’s all I can think about during these games. He is a force. The Cardinals were using 2-3 players on him per play and he still ended up with two sacks and a crucial forced fumble. Without Mack, the Bears are 0-3 right now.
  • Sherrick McManis. Bryce Callahan. Bilal Nichols. The Bears aren’t just good on defense. They’re deep.
  • Matt Nagy was lost Sunday. There’s no other way to say it. As a play caller, he had zero feel for the flow of the game and Wilks/Holcomb had the better of him all day long. The Bears have been incoherent on offense through three weeks. There is no discernible system/strategy. The play calls feel random.
  • Trubisky has to be better. It’s hard to evaluate his play without access to the game tape but he seems indecisive and uncomfortable. That’s a lethal combination.
  • Why do all the team’s deep shots have zero chance? Are these being called? Does Trubisky have the option not to throw them? Very difficult to analyze without that information.
  • And stop telling me the Bears are running the Chiefs offense. I watched Chiefs/49ers yesterday. The Chiefs have wide open receivers all over the field. Patrick Mahomes rarely throws a ball into congestion. The Bears never seem to have anyone open. And they never complete a pass to a receiver moving up the field. The receiver’s back is always to the defense, limiting any YAC possibility.
  • Enough with the bubble screens! Seriously! Enough! This isn’t the Pac-12. Those plays might work against Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona but they’re not working against a professional defense.

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The Deal For Khalil: History Shows Pace’s Bold Move Could Change Bears for a Generation

| September 21st, 2018


Reggie White joined the Green Bay Packers as a free agent in 1993, signing a much-ballyhooed 5-year, $17 million contract. (These days that might buy you a blocking tight end. Might.) Prior to his signing, the franchise to the north had only been to the playoffs twice since 1967 and recorded only two winning seasons out of their previous ten. After he signed, the Pack went to the postseason six consecutive years. They won a Super Bowl in 1996. Their next losing season wouldn’t be until 2005. They’ve only had three sub-8 win campaigns since he put his name on that paper.

White did even more than that for the Packers. From a Robert Klemko piece for Sports Illustrated:

“Among players, Green Bay was depicted as some Russian place where you go and no one ever hears from you,” says former NFL tight end Keith Jackson, a first-round draft pick of the Eagles in 1988 who would go on to play for the Dolphins and the Packers.

Then something unprecedented happened. Upon becoming an unrestricted free agent in 1993, a player who had been named to six consecutive All-Pro teams in Philadelphia made a shock decision that would change the course of a franchise and the tenor of a town.

“Before that decision guys would say, ‘If Green Bay drafts me, I don’t want to go.’ It was Siberia,” says Jackson. “But Reggie White saw something different about it.”

Reggie White put Green Bay back on the NFL map.


Drew Brees joined the New Orleans Saints as a free agent in 2006. Over the previous thirteen seasons, the franchise had two winning ones, winning one playoff game in that period. Since Brees signed that contract, the Saints have never won less than seven games in a season. They’ve been to the postseason in six of twelve attempts. They won the Super Bowl in 2009.

And no NFL player is more emblematic of the city he plays for than Brees, who became a civic hero by leading NOLA’s emotional revival in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here’s a wonderful passage from Jillian Eugenios at CNN:

He moved to the city a decade ago, when it was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. It was six months after the storm, and he describes it as a ghost town. There were boats in the middle of the road, and cars upside down in people’s living rooms.

It wasn’t just the city that had to make a comeback.

“A lot of guys came here in 2006, including myself, as somewhat of castaways,” he said. “Many of us did not have many other options.”

Brees had been let go by the San Diego Chargers due to a shoulder injury. The Miami Dolphins had been interested in bringing him on, but were counseled against it because of his shoulder.

The New Orleans Saints was the team to put an offer on the table.

“We chose New Orleans because we felt like we could do something special down here,” he said. He moved to New Orleans with his wife Brittany, and he soon developed a close tie to the city.

“We leaned on each other in so many cases,” he said of his fellow New Orleanians. “As people are trying to rebuild their homes, rebuild their lives, they’re still coming to games to cheer on the Saints because it just gives them so much energy and enthusiasm … just this feeling that we’re all in this together.”

Brees is more than the Saints. He is every bit as New Orleans as the fried shrimp po’ boy from Verti Marte on Royal, washed down with an ice cold bottle of Abita Amber.


The Bears don’t need to sell the City of Chicago to free agents or 21 year-old Auburn cornerbacks. Ten minutes of the late night set at The Green Mill or a few pops with an aging scribe at the Old Town Alehouse will get that accomplished. The greatest cities on earth don’t need a tagline.

And hopefully the town won’t have to recover from any natural disasters in the near future. The city has plenty of unnatural disasters – the Tribune is no longer in Tribune Tower for Christ sake – but it seems to be surviving just fine.

What the Bears have needed more than anything is a franchise-altering presence on the field and it seems, through just two games of this season, he hath been delivered. Khalil Mack was traded to the Chicago Bears by Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, September 1st 2018 and it’s starting to feel like a move that has commenced a new era of Chicago Bears football.

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ATM: Bears Need to Keep Letting Trubisky Sling It

| September 19th, 2018

As NFL teams fight battle after battle each Sunday, it’s difficult to keep the war in mind. But Matt Nagy needs to keep thinking about it and let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball.

Some numbers…

  • Trubisky is currently on pace to throw 552 passes, which would’ve been 7th in the league last year.
  • He’s thrown at least 34 passes in both of the Bears games this season; games in which they were leading almost throughout.
  • He reached 34 passes just three times in 12 games last year, despite playing from behind much of the time.

While there’s little question that he’s been a weak link on the team, the Bears can’t take the ball out of his hands until they know he can’t get the job done.

One thing that has become painfully clear early in 2018 is that John Fox was correct in his evaluation that the team’s best chance for winning in 2017 was to limit the rookie quarterback’s exposure. Whether or not that hindered Trubisky’s development is debatable, but it left the Bears without any real indication of whether or not he could get the job done without any handcuffs. Now it’s up to Nagy to figure out if Trubisky can swim and the best way to do that is to throw him into the deep end.

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A Dominant Defense: Bears Beat Seahawks on Monday Night Football

| September 18th, 2018

The offense is a work-in-progress. The defense is the most exciting unit the Bears have fielded since 2006. The Bears evened their season record at 1-1 and quieted some of their Week One demons. Here’s a rapid fire recap of Monday night’s events.

  • Here’s how I’d summarize Mitch Trubisky’s evening: he’s not there yet. He’s not fully comfortable in the offense. He’s not processing his progressions quickly or trusting his protection. He’s also missing a few touch passes down the field. (Basically throwing straight heat.) But these are the trials and tribulations of a young quarterback, especially one that has seen his system flipped on its head from year one to year two.

  • But there are so many promising moments that it’s not hard to be optimistic about his development. The sideline floater to Cohen under duress:


  • The rolling left dart to Miller for a touchdown:

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ATM: The Same Old Bears

| September 11th, 2018

On their way to revolutionizing the way football is played in Chicago and around the world, the Bears hit a speed bump when they actually had to play a game and it revealed that talk his cheap and this team certainly looks to be the same it has been for most of the last 25 years. The hype train spun out of control when the team added Khalil Mack — and he certainly showed why he was worth such hysteria — but lost in all the commotion was that the Bears actually had to put a product on the field and, when they did, it wasn’t good.

The expectation was that this was going to be a different Bears team. They had the talent and the coaching to beat the Packers. Add that Aaron Rodgers missed a chunk of the game as the Bears lead grew from 10 to 20 and it was surely a changing of the guard.

Except it wasn’t.

The loss couldn’t have been any more typical Bears. The offense scored on the first two possessions, then failed to make any adjustments. When is the last time the Bears had a coaching staff that was good at making adjustments? It appears that is a trend that will continue.

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ATM: Bears Need To Beat The Packers

| September 5th, 2018

The start of the regular season is usually the worst thing that can happen to the teams that win the offseason and the Bears can’t let that be the case as they open in Green Bay this Sunday.

It isn’t a stretch to say that losing to Green Bay has cost every coach the Bears have had since Mike Ditka their jobs. The likes of Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox have compiled a 13-38 record against the Packers since 1993.

Smith was the toast of the town when he won six of his first eight meetings with the Packers. He then he lost nine of his last eleven. Outside of that four-year period in which Lovie had success, the Bears have gone 7-36 against the team to the north.  Trestman and Fox both scored prime time victories in Green Bay in their first seasons but it was all downhill after that.

The Packers aren’t just another team. They’re not viewed that way by most fans and they certainly aren’t viewed that way in the big offices at Halas Hall. If Matt Nagy is going to be separated from the poop platter that the team has had since Ditka, he has to beat the Packers.

He has to do it on Sunday.

He has to do it consistently.

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Establishing New Expectations for Khalil Mack & the 2018 Chicago Bears

| September 4th, 2018

I thought I was done writing about the Bears until the bye week, but then they went and traded for Khalil Mack. That warrants an article. I had written pretty clearly about my expectations for the 2018 Bears, expecting them to be better but end up around .500 and short of the playoffs. Adding a player of Mack’s caliber warrants a re-examination of that prediction.

In fact, I think that this trade makes it pretty likely the Bears will make the playoffs in 2018. Here’s why.


Non-Trubisky Upgrades

Let’s start by comparing the 2018 roster to the 2017 version, which went 5-11. I’m going to look at everything outside of Trubisky first, and then consider Trubisky in a moment.

Defense

On defense, the Bears return pretty much everybody who contributed, with a few exceptions:

  • DL Mitch Unrein has been replaced by 5th round pick Bilal Nichols. This is probably a minor downgrade for 2018, but the hope is that it will be offset by the growth of 3rd year defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard.
  • OLB Pernell McPhee has been replaced by Khalil Mack (Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are both gone too, but neither actually played much last year). You really can’t overstate how big of an upgrade this is.
  • ILB Christian Jones has been replaced by 8th overall pick Roquan Smith (Jerrell Freeman only played 1 game, so they didn’t really lose him). This should also be a substantial upgrade, as Smith was widely viewed as the best defender in the draft.

So the defense added two guys who should be high impact players and treaded water pretty much everywhere else. Thanks to Mack and Smith, this unit should be significantly improved from last year’s version, which was already solidly around the top ten in the league.

Offense

Now let’s look at offensive improvements (again, ignoring Trubisky). There was much more changeover on this side of the ball.

  • Guard Josh Sitton was replaced by 2nd round pick James Daniels. This is a downgrade for 2018, but the Bears hope it offsets by having Kyle Long back and looking like himself for the first time since 2015.
  • Tight end Zach Miller was replaced by Trey Burton. This is probably a wash, but Burton doesn’t have Miller’s history of being constantly injured.
  • The wide receiver upgrades really can’t be overstated. The Bears replaced a cast of scrubs who were all fighting for end-of-roster spots around the league this year with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller. The Bears’ worst position group (and possibly the worst in the whole NFL) in 2017 now appears to be quite good.

Coaching

And now we move to the coaching staff, which returns virtually intact on defense but massively upgraded on offense. New head coach Matt Nagy brings with him the Andy Reid offense from Kansas City, modernizing what was possibly the worst offensive scheme in the NFL from 2017 with one that matches the Bears’ personnel quite well. Add in a quality offensive staff, highlighted by the outstanding Harry Heistand on the offensive line, and it’s fair to say the offense should be better coached than it has been in a while.

Health

Health is another key area where the Bears should be improved in 2018 (and already are from a comparable point in 2017). They were the 2nd most injured team in the league last year according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost, and the odds are they will be healthier than that this year. As I wrote in May, better health typically translates to better teams that win more games.

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Some Football Implications of the Khalil Mack Trade

| September 2nd, 2018

Khalil Mack is a Chicago Bear and much of yesterday was spent dissecting the context of the move: what the trade meant. But there are major football implications associated with this acquisition as well, especially for this defense as they are currently constructed. In other words, this is what the trade does.

  • The biggest beneficiaries of Mack’s acquisition are Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks. Throw on some Mack tape and you’ll see an endless array of double teams. (More often than not, he beats them too.) Mack will be Focal Point #1 for every opposing offensive coordinator because Mack is capable of ruining games. With all that attention on the newest Bear, expect Floyd and Hicks to see a lot of refreshing singles and subsequently expect a lot of production from both.
  • Mack had 79 QB pressures last season. The Bears team had 100. Total. For Mack, that’s five a game. That’s five times a game Aaron Rodgers or Matt Stafford don’t get to sit in a clean pocket and pick apart the Bears secondary. Expect more rushed throws and thus more opportunities for the Bears secondary to turn opposing QBs over.
  • It’s not easy to double team edge guys. It often requires keeping tight ends and backs out of the passing game. And in this modern NFL, tight ends and backs are wildcard weapons, keeping defensive coordinators on their heels, forcing guys with less speed to cover in space. When Mack gets disruptive it’ll force offenses to stay in a more conventional approach.
  • With all the focus on the edge, Vic Fangio will be able to drop Mack and Floyd into coverage and send Roquan and Trevathan at the quarterback. Vic will able to crash Mack inside and send Bryce Callahan on a slot corner blitz. Vic will be able to do whatever the hell he wants because that is what having an elite pass rusher affords you.

Mack makes every single player on the defense more dangerous. He is among the two or three best defenders in the entire league. And the Bears defense should be expected to rank in the top five across the board because of him.

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The Message of the Mack Trade

| September 1st, 2018

It’s on.

The time for patience has passed. The time for “Ryan Pace is building something interesting” has come and gone. The time for taking an emotionally balanced approach to this Chicago Bears campaign has boarded the 8:30 AM bus to, I don’t know, like three hours ago! (Forgive the shitty writing there but I’m pretty damn excited and I can’t wrap my head around all of this yet.)

It is on.

Does this move to acquire Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders mean they are a contender for the Super Bowl this season? I’d love to write a definitive NO. I’d love to echo Data’s contention that teams don’t go from crap to contender overnight. I’d love to write about the young, developing quarterback and the new coach/system and the quality opponents in the division and the blah blah blabbedy blah.

Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t want to write about any of those things. Because, as you might have noticed, it is definitively on.

In giving up multiple first-round selections for Mack, Pace is announcing that his team as presently built is ready to win far more games than they lose. In paying Mack a pile of money for his services, Pace is announcing that he’s ready to strike Super Bowl gold while his chosen quarterback is still operating on his rookie contract. Fans no longer have reason to be patient because today the Chicago Bears made the most thrillingly impatient move in the history of the franchise.

This wasn’t Jerry Angelo making the move for Jay Cutler. Sure, that was exciting but it was also bringing in a quarterback to a franchise that had never really had one. You can’t win consistently without a quarterback and Angelo understood that.

This move for Mack is about fortification. It is about fixing the only true hole in the defensive dam. It is a clear statement to the fan base that the Bears are not content with being one of the best defenses in the league. They want to be THE BEST. And with Mack added to this unit, they now have every opportunity to be just that.

Isn’t this what we always wanted? Weren’t we all tired of constantly settling for less-than-elite talent at positions across the field? This was the crux of The Great Cutler Debate (“not good enough to win championships”). This has been the crux of the Adrian Amos/PFF nonsense (“he’s a good player, stop believing he’s one of the league’s best”). Bears fans have grown accustomed to a roster of good players who struggle mightily when they square off with great ones, i.e. the fella playing quarterback up in Green Bay.

Today, Ryan Pace got a great one. That’s what Mack is. A great player at one of the most important positions in the sport. With great players come great expectations. Those expectations exist in Chicago, right now.

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