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ATM: If Leonard Can’t, Roquan Can.

| August 21st, 2019

Much has been written about the Bears needing one Georgia product — Leonard Floyd — to break out and complement Khalil Mack in the pass rush department. But if that doesn’t happen, perhaps Roquan Smith can ease the pain. While nothing of actual substance can be gained by watching preseason games, seeing Roquan burst through the line faster than anybody could react for a sack two weeks ago was a nice reminder of what the second-year linebacker is capable of when he’s sent after the quarterback.

Floyd’s lack of pass rush has been disappointing. But his ability to drop back in coverage and move in space is extremely rare for players at his position. His exceptional coverage skills will allow new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to do what he does best: design creative blitz packages. And Roquan has already proven to be exceptional at finding his way to the quarterback. Smith’s very first NFL play was a sack and he followed with four more, many looking similar to his sack in the preseason against Carolina.

Pagano never had a plethora of great pass rushers in Indianapolis, so he had to get creative. One year Jerrell Freeman had a career-high 5.5 sacks. The next year it was D’Qwell Jackson with four. Smith is a lot better than both of them and had five last year despite a coordinator who has been more conservative upfront than Pagano.

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ATM: Bears Need More From Floyd

| July 9th, 2019

When Khalil Mack wasn’t on the field, the Bears had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. That is a direct reflection on former first-rounder Leonard Floyd.

Perhaps the biggest argument for Mack’s Defensive POY candidacy last year was how much the Bears struggled to get after the quarterback when he was limited or not on the field at all. In the four games Mack was playing hurt or not playing at all, the Bears managed a combined 24 quarterback sacks and hits, applying such pressure on just 14.6% of the drop backs (not counting quarterback runs which are often the result of good coverage). That rate would’ve been the second worst in the entire league, ahead of only — surprise, surprise — Oakland.

In all, the Bears pass rush wasn’t bad last year. When Mack was on the field, they hit opposing quarterbacks at the fifth-highest rate and finished 15th overall. Floyd was third on the team in both sacks and hits, but spent too much time doing his best Sam Wheat impression.

Nine times last year, Floyd didn’t even touch the opposing quarterback. Some of those struggles can be contributed to a preseason hand injury — he didn’t record a QB hit or sack in six of the team’s first seven games. But he still had three such games in the team’s final seven and half of his sacks came in one game — both largely the result of pressures by Mack.

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Commentary on & Criticism of the Year-End Pace/Nagy Press Conference

| January 14th, 2019

Thoughts Before the Press Conference

  • Nobody should expect to hear Pace or Nagy address Cody Parkey’s future or the Today Show appearance. But both questions must be asked. What absolutely cannot be said today is “Parkey is our kicker next season.” This organization can no longer show blind, ignorant loyalty to an inadequate player.
  • It’ll be interesting to hear how each man discusses Chuck Pagano’s addition. I suspect neither was thrilled with the game Vic Fangio called against the Eagles so it won’t be surprising for them to signal what Pagano will change on that side of the ball.
  • The Kareem Hunt conversation is going to get started soon enough. Wonder if it is today. Reclamation projects are very possible in this league (See: Hill, Tyreek) and it is unlikely Hunt won’t be in the NFL next season. Unlike Ray Rice – whose career was already essentially over at the time of his incident – Hunt will only be 25 years old when the 2019 season kicks off.

Thoughts During & After

  • The tone was established with Pace’s opening remarks. “Proud of what we accomplished but not satisfied” and “stay on the right track” were clearly what the GM wanted to communicate.
  • Pagano. Pace made it clear the hiring was made by Nagy, not him. Nagy used the two words I expected to here: attacking and aggressive.
  • Parkey was brought up almost immediately. Two things: (1) Pace sounded like Parkey was going somewhere else. (2) Nagy said Parkey didn’t mention Today Show appearance in their exit interview, and seemed displeased with the whole ordeal. He made it clear it was a “me” gesture not a “we” one. Parkey is gone.

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Bears Take Care of Business, Throttle Undermanned Bills

| November 5th, 2018

Strange game. From the moment Eddie Jackson returned a Roquan Smith-forced fumble for a touchdown with 7:07 remaining in the first half, the entire building knew the game was over. Here are six specific, in-building thoughts from Bears 41, Bills 9.


(1) That was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever heard to start the game. The crowd noise was absolutely deafening when the Bears had the ball for the first quarter plus. The false starts upfront were completely understandable. Offensive line miscommunication should have been expected. (I could barely hear a friend two seats away from me.) There is no chance a Soldier Field crowd, with the team at 2-6 and starting a dead weight quarterback, would be anywhere near that enthused at kickoff. Impressive showing from Bills fans, in and around the ballpark.


(2) Good to see Jordan Howard running with some anger. Again, don’t look at the overall numbers. They’re mostly meaningless in a game like this. But Matt Nagy is finally starting to understand how to use Howard, especially down in the red zone. The Andy Reid offense like to throw to score. The Bears are built to ride Howard into the end zone.


(3) Two defenders stood out to me: Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson. Smith is going to be a star in the league for a long, long time but that is expected from a top draft pick. Jackson is an incredible player. He closes on the football as good as any Bears safety since Mike Brown. He’s the rare back end guy comfortable with the football in the air and tackling in the open field. He’s got great, natural instincts.


(4) The Bears were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of running Mitch Trubisky did against the Jets last week because there were times Sunday Trubisky had acres of space in front of him. If this WAS a coaching decision, I applaud it. Trubisky knows he can run. That’ll be there as long as his legs are. But this season has to be more about processing information, stepping into the pocket and delivering the football. And in a game like Sunday’s there’s no reason for the young quarterback to take any unnecessary punishment.

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When Needed Most, Leonard Floyd Has Been Missing in Action. But There’s Still Time.

| October 23rd, 2018

If ever there was a time the Bears needed Leonard Floyd to prove he was worth the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft, it is right now.

With yet another ghosting Sunday, Floyd is working his way to becoming the worst draft pick of Ryan Pace’s relatively short career (Kevin White got hurt, we can’t blame Pace for that). Floyd has shown plenty of flashes in his career, but injuries – he was hurt a lot in college so we can blame Pace for that – and otherwise subpar play has landed Floyd’s career at a crossroads.

There’s no other way to say it: through six games, Floyd has been downright bad.

The Georgia product has zero sacks this season and has managed to hit an opposing quarterback just once, according to NFLGSIS. The third-year pass rusher has been excused because of the way Vic Fangio uses him, but that’s mostly bull. According to Pro Football Focus, Floyd has had 134 chances to chase opposing quarterbacks. Aaron Lynch has had 90 pass-rush opportunities and has managed seven quarterback hits — including two sacks.

Lynch is a $5 million journeyman. Floyd is a top-10 pick.

It isn’t just a lack of pass rush either. His defenders like to say Floyd is great in coverage, but the Bears don’t ever ask their linebackers to do much beyond defending the flat. Sunday, Floyd was beaten soundly in that area.

There’s no question that the hand injury has hurt Floyd’s production. But plenty of players have been able to have an impact with casts. Floyd hasn’t done anything. If he was going to be this ineffective while one-handed, why play him at all?

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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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Four Bold Predictions for the 2018 Chicago Bears: Prediction Three

| September 1st, 2018

They can’t all be positive. Three of the four will be, but not this one.


Prediction Three

The Bears will have ten less sacks in 2018 than 2017.


Why?

  • The 2018 Chicago Bears roster has a glaring hole: edge rusher. The best player at the position is Leonard Floyd and he’s coming off a season where he played 10 games and registered only 4.5 sacks. Couple those stats with the fact that he’s already broken his hand this summer and it’s hard to imagine Floyd having enough impact/consistency to elevate this short-handed group.
  • Bears got 10 sacks last season from the combination of Willie Young, Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston. All three of those guys are on the flip sides of their careers but they are bonafide, professional pass rushers. They know how to get to the quarterback and finish. Where are they making up for those numbers? Aaron Lynch? Nope.
  • Bears were ranked T-7 in sacks in 2017. Sacking the QB ten fewer times will land them in the bottom third of the league. It just feels like that’s where this unit is heading.

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Notes on the Broncos Practice Game

| August 19th, 2018

Photo by Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports


  • This entire game comes down to the medical status of Adam Shaheen (pictured above) and Leonard Floyd. If Shaheen is significantly hurt, the Bears will be devastated. For weeks I’ve been writing and Tweeting about the big tight end because I’ve been told no player has more excited the coaching staff with his potential. If Floyd is significantly hurt, well, that Kahlil Mack stuff is about to get serious because the Bears are lightest on the edge.
  • Back when I used to play fantasy football (my running backs were Marshall Faulk and Shaun Alexander) a game like this would have changed my entire draft approach. Why? Because it’s clear Mitch Trubisky and Trey Burton have a thing going and last night’s practice game was an opportunity for them to play pitch-and-catch against an actual opponent.
  • Why give Jordan Howard nine carries in a practice game? The numbers are definitive. These star running backs have a limited number of carries/years in their bodies. They hit a career wall at thirty years old. I’d put Howard in an ice bath until after Labor Day.
  • The interior of the Bears offensive line got pushed around a bit. But these guys are impossible to evaluate without scheme being involved. (And I don’t think this is their best five but that’s another issue entirely.)
  • Both Isaac Yiadom & Kyle Fuller were called for the “lowering the head” penalty. In neither case was the call accurate. It was obvious during the Hall of Fame Game and it’s becoming more obvious as days go by. If the NFL doesn’t suspend this rule before the season opens and revisit it, they’re making a terrible mistake. The product has suffered terribly over the last few seasons because of decisions by the front office. This will continue that trend.

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Five Bears Thoughts for Your Weekend Pleasure

| August 11th, 2018

As we get deeper into August, here’s what is happening in and around the Bears.

  • Kevin White’s performance against Cincinnati wasn’t an isolated performance. I’m told by heavily reliable folks that White has struggled mightily in the practices not open to the public and the coaching staff is beginning to lose some patience with him. (They’ve also been very impressed with the work ethic and determination of Javon Wims.) Does that mean he won’t be on the roster come September? I still think he’ll be there. But I was far more certain in that assessment a few weeks back.
  • Interesting tidbit. A well-respected, accomplished NFL coach – who employs a friend of mine – has a collection of what he calls “preseason plays”. These are plays that don’t appear in the regular season playbook but are merely meant to provide players the opportunity to win one-on-one battles. I asked if that’s commonplace around the league and the sense I got is that yes, it is. So while you can’t evaluate any particular unit in the preseason due to a lack of game-planning,  you can evaluate performances on an individual, one-on-one level. Especially later in these games.
  • The one position I believe can be evaluated in the preseason is back-up and third-string QBs. And if this preseason has been any indication, Mitch Trubisky better stay healthy. Chase Daniel looks comfortable in the offense, specifically to his first read. But he throws about half of his passes directly to defenders. (Maybe half is unfair but it sure as shit feels like that.) As for Tyler Bray, what can you say? If Tyler Bray is playing in an NFL football game this season, the team he’s playing for is going to lose.
  • Various outlets have predicted Leonard Floyd to have a breakout season for the Bears and the talent is certainly there. But in this league, it is not difficult to scheme against an elite pass rusher when there’s no complementary weapon the other side. Lynch is never healthy. Acho ain’t the guy. Fitts hasn’t even looked like a pro football player to this point. As much as this has been an area of focus for fans, we should all come to terms with a basic fact: Ryan Pace isn’t going to be able to fix this issue until 2019.
  • The Bears have the opportunity to sport one of the deepest and most versatile collections of tight ends in the league. They’re fully expecting Trey Burton to be a star. Adam Shaheen is a match-up nightmare in the red zone. Dion Sims has been a source of consternation for fans but he’ll be far better utilized in 2018. The guy who could be a real player in this league if given that chance is Daniel Brown. Brown feels like he’s been around forever but he’s only 26 years old. He’s one of this club’s best depth pieces.

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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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