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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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The Most Important Bears: Defense

| July 3rd, 2018


Returning most of their defensive roster, the common thought is the Bears are going to take a big step up next year. That’s only true if their key players stay on the field and improve.

As badly as the Bears were hurt by injury last season, they managed to keep most of their key defensive players on the field. They had injuries to players like Quintin Demps and Jerrell Freeman, but those are two positions at which they proved to have great depth.

Three of their four starters in the secondary played at least 80% of snaps, the fourth was Adrian Amos, who played every snap in eight games. Their best defensive lineman played 85% of snaps. Their best linebacker came in at 67.4%.

The biggest injury loss last year came when Leonard Floyd went down, but they were fortunate it happened toward the end of their schedule when they played several horrendous teams.

A repeat of last year’s success is far from a guarantee, but it’s also possible they take a huge step up. In any event, these five players just might be the most crucial:


5. Bryce Callahan

In the modern NFL, the slot corner is basically a starter. Callahan played just under 50% of the team’s snaps and they missed him when he wasn’t out there.

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The Positional Quick 3: Linebackers

| June 22nd, 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.


Linebackers

  • The Bears are deeper at inside linebacker than anywhere else on the roster. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan will start. Kwik, Timu and Iggy will be right behind. They are young, deep and athletic at the team’s most historically-prolific position. (More on this group in a few moments.)
  • The Bears need two things to happen on the outside: Leonard Floyd has to become a sixteen-game star and they must find some production out of WHOEVER lines up opposite him. The guy I would spend significant time developing on the outside is Jonathan Anderson. But the Bears will inevitably keep sending Acho out there.
  • If I were Ryan Pace, I’d be trying to unload Trevathan now. He’s a terrific player but he was a Fox guy, he’s hurt all the time and he’s clearly not part of their long-term plans. Get something for him now before he’s cut next off-season. There’s got to be a team willing to unload a situational rusher or nickel corner or a fourth-round pick.

Monday: Secondary

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Who Could Be the 2018 Breakout Bears: Defense

| June 20th, 2018

When the Bears officially re-introduced defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he kept telling reporters the most important thing the Bears need to do is get improvement from their returning players. This is something that certainly isn’t a given.

By nearly any measurement, the Bears had a top-15 overall defense last year. They were far from perfect — the inability to take the ball away still being a major issue. But they were more than good enough and are bringing back most of the roster.

Still, the team has some young players who could make a big impact in 2018. Here’s a look at five defenders who just could have breakout seasons like Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos had for the team a year ago.


Deon Bush

It’s hard to expect a lot from a guy who played about 8% more snaps on defense than I did last year, but Bush still has some promise. Fangio singled him out during minicamp practices and there were reports of the young safety showing great range and getting his hands on the ball during those sessions. The reports were enough to reconsider Bush as a possible playmaker.

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Floyd Must Be The Solution to Bears Pass Rush Problem

| May 30th, 2018

Ryan Pace has taken a lot of heat for not adding another pass rusher to complement Leonard Floyd. But if Floyd is who Pace once thought, the Bears will be just fine. The Bears need the Georgia product to realize his potential. In two years Floyd has struggled to stay on the field and has just 11.5 sacks. The bigger problem? He hasn’t been able to get pressure consistently.

Amongst the Bears regular edge rushers, Floyd actually had the one of the worst rates at getting to the quarterback. According to the NFL’s official statistics (NFL GSIS), Floyd managed 12 hits on opposing quarterbacks, the third highest total on the team, but he played significantly more snaps than any of the other edge rushers.

  • Sam Acho was actually second on the team with 18 hits in 251 pass rush snaps (snap counts per Pro Football Focus).
  • Pernell McPhee hit opposing quarterbacks 11 times in 197 snaps.
  • Willie Young had four QB hits in 67 snaps.

Breaking it down further, Floyd hit the quarterback once every 23 snaps, while Acho did so every 14 snaps, Young did every 17 snaps and McPhee did every 18 snaps.

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Data Entry: Establishing Ryan Pace’s draft profile, day 1

| April 3rd, 2018

 

Now that Ryan Pace has been here for a while, we can start to look at his past drafts to see what lessons we can learn 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 the next 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. We’re starting today at the top of the draft. Let’s look first at the history, and then we’ll examine lessons learned.

Draft History

2015: Kevin White, WR, 7th overall

2016: Leonard Floyd, OLB, 9th overall (trade up from 11)

2017: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, 2nd overall (trade up from 3)

Trend 1: Go get your guy

The first thing we should observe is that Ryan Pace is not shy about trading up in round 1 to get the player he has identified as his main target. So keep that in mind as we look at mock drafts with players who might be good fits for the Bears but are projected to go higher than #8.

It’s worth noting that these have all been relatively minor trades just moving up a few spots, which keeps the cost down. Despite reportedly exploring moving up to the top of the draft for Marcus Mariota in 2015, Pace has not been willing to give up multiple high picks in these moves.

Trading up becomes a bit more difficult this year because the Bears are already without a third round pick due to trading up for Trubisky last year, but they do have an extra fourth round pick they could use.

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Bisky Sour: Six Thoughts on Falling to 3-7

| November 20th, 2017


(1) Mitch Trubisky is starting to show signs that he’s going to be a very good quarterback in this league for a long time. Improving weekly. Learning from mistakes. Scrambling in key spots. Throwing receivers open. Leading. But I thought his comment post-game was so telling.

How many quarterbacks have to say something like “what coach Fox is allowing us to do on offense”? Get the feeling Trubisky won’t be heartbroken when Fox is let go.


(2) Connor Barth is terrible. He’s not shaky or inconsistent. He is legitimately the worst kicker in the league. And for a team with such a small margin for error to employ him is inexcusable. If he’s on the roster Tuesday, fans should boycott the team next weekend. Read More …

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Data Responds: Lions at Bears

| November 19th, 2017

Chicago’s offense had their best game of the year, but their defense played possibly their worst game of the year. All in all, that evened out, but the Bears ended up falling to 3-7 because their kicker is terrible.

Offense

  • Now that’s more like it. The offense was finally run like an NFL offense, mixing things up and keeping the defense off its feet, and unsurprisingly it led to good things happening. Chicago stayed run-heavy in the game, but mixed up how they were running instead of making it so predictable, and thus the run game really took off. As a result, the offense scored more than 17 points in regulation for the 1st time all year.
  • This also helped the passing game open up a bit as well, since the Bears didn’t routinely end up in 3rd and long. This was a nice change from how their offense has functioned most of the year.
  • Another nice wrinkle we saw on offense was a number of read-option looks for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He kept it several times (though there was at least one more where he should have) and made Detroit’s defense pay for crashing down on the running backs.
  • After ignoring Tarik Cohen on offense for several weeks, the Bears made a point of getting him involved early and often. He had 8 carries and 3 pass targets in the 1st half alone after getting 8 total touches in the previous 3 games.
  • Another nice wrinkle was lining Jordan Howard up as a fullback, with Tarik Cohen at tailback. This set Howard up with a few nice runs as he could spring through the line quickly and the linebackers had to worry about Cohen.

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Data Responds: Bears at Saints

| October 29th, 2017

The Bears played pretty evenly with the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints on the road, but a series of missed opportunities (helped by one atrocious call by the officials) cost them the chance to enter the bye at 4-4.

Perhaps most important to Chicago going forward, the loss was a costly one for the Bears. Four starters left the game with injuries and did not return, including guard Kyle Long (hand), center Cody Whitehair (arm), cornerback Bryce Callahan (knee), and tight end Zach Miller (leg). We’ll wait to see how serious the injuries are, though I can say fairly confidently that Miller’s gruesome leg injury means his season (and likely his career) is finished.

Still, the best news to me from the game was that they kept fighting. When they went down 17-6 early in the 4th quarter, I expected them to roll over and quit, but from that point on the defense forced two turnovers, the offense scored a touchdown, and the special teams picked up a big return to keep Chicago in the game. The attitude on the team is changing, and the importance of that can’t be overstated.

Offense

  • The Bears were forced to ask for a bit more from rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this week, and we saw some of both good and bad, as should be expected from a young quarterback. We saw the talent leading to some big plays, and we saw the rookie mistakes leading to missed opportunities and/or negative plays. The overall stat line (14/32, 164 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 46.9 rating) looks ugly, but his performance was not that bad. Notably, Trubisky threw 2 touchdowns, but one of them was taken away by a terrible officiating call and one of them was inexplicably dropped by a wide open Jordan Howard.

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