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Rounding Up the Division Rivals (And Looking Slightly Into Their Futures)

| October 4th, 2018

Four games in the books, which means we’re a quarter of the way through the regular season, and it’s time for the first edition of “Rivals Round Up”. This is a new feature wherein I’ll take a look at how things stand in the NFC North.

And we’ll start at the top.


Chicago Bears, 3-1

Almost a week later, and last week’s win still feels every bit as good as it did on Sunday. (If you’re a Cubs fan like me, the Bears’ early season success might be the only thing getting you through this first week of October.) Chicago leads the division for the first time in years. They’ve won three games in a row for the first time, again, in years. And Mitch Trubisky’s offense took a hugely positive step forward with a dominant performance over Tampa Bay.

Oh, and that Khalil Mack guy? He’s pretty good, too.

Next Opponent: Miami Dolphins.

I don’t love that Chicago’s bye week comes so early this year, and after last week I’m antsy see them play again. But I expect the Bears to stay focused, keep learning, and go into Miami next week without missing a beat.

The Dolphins crashed back down to earth last week after a 3-0 start, getting pummeled by the Patriots 38-7. They play the 3-1 Bengals in Cincinnati this Sunday. Ryan Tannehill is having a nice season and seems to function well in Adam Gase’s system.

However, their offensive line is shaky and I fully expect the Bears to put pressure on him the entire day. On the defensive side, the Dolphin’s secondary will definitely be a step up from what Trubisky faced against Tampa. They’ve managed a league-leading nine interceptions in four games, so Mitch will have to play smart and stay accurate to keep from making costly mistakes.

Game Prediction: It won’t be another Bears blowout, but I think they earn their fourth straight win in Miami: Bears 24, Dolphins 17

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Data Entry: Breaking Down Trubisky’s Interceptions

| January 23rd, 2018

In his rookie season, Mitch Trubisky got to play 12 games and throw the ball 330 times. In those 330 attempts, he threw 7 interceptions, which is actually pretty good. That rate – an interception on 2.1% of his throws – was 12th best in the NFL among qualified passers, ahead of established veterans like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers.

As that list above shows, there’s more to being a good quarterback than simply not throwing interceptions. But avoiding interceptions is an important part of a quarterback’s job; in no small part because they can be game-changing plays that make it a lot harder to win.

But not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:

  1. Bad decision. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 8 years from balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
  2. Bad throw. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
  3. Miscommunication. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
  4. Receiver error. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.

The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.

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Data Responds: Bears at Vikings

| December 31st, 2017

Sorry for the break the last few weeks. I haven’t been able to watch games live due to various holiday scheduling hijinks. Darn that real life for getting in the way!

Before we get into today’s game specifically, reports are that John Fox will be fired today. I won’t miss you as Chicago’s head coach.

In general, this game looked very much like a disinterested team playing out the string on the road for a soon-to-be-fired coaching staff against a hungry opponent playing to lock up a first round bye.

Offense

  • The Bears got the ball to start and opened with a heavy set Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for no gain. On their 2nd drive, they followed that up with a Jordan Howard run into a stacked box for -4 yards. Shockingly, both drives ended in 3 and outs. Oh how I am not going to miss that.
  • On Chicago’s 3rd drive, they threw the ball on 1st down! You’ll be surprised to find out that not being incredibly predictable actually worked. Of course, the Bears followed that up with a FB dive into a 9 man box on 3rd and 1 (why is Michael Burton still a thing?), which lost yardage and forced a punt. Before they could get the punt off, the Bears took a delay of game penalty, because of course.
  • Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky had a bad rookie moment that resulted in a safety. Under pressure, he kept backing up until he was in the end zone, which was the mistake. He then threw the ball away to pick up an intentional grounding penalty, which is a safety in the end zone. My complaint is not with the grounding, but with the fact that he backed up into the end zone first. He could have taken the sack at the 3 yard line, and needs to know the field position situation there.
  • Trubisky also had a terrible throw in the fourth quarter where he missed a wide-open Dontrelle Inman because his feet were not properly set. Despite a clean pocket, he did something weird where he torqued his upper body, which caused him to put the ball far too wide and out of bounds. Those mechanical issues, and the corresponding accuracy concerns, have been a repeated problem this offseason, and are the #1 thing Trubisky needs to work on this offseason.

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If Bears Want to Be Taken Seriously in Rodgersless NFC North, They Must Win Sunday

| October 16th, 2017

For five minutes, our eyes left the corner. That same corner where television after television has exclusively shown Bears games at Josie Woods Pub for the last seventeen years. Our eyes didn’t go far, just about six feet west to a second, smaller television above the bottles of Boodles gin. Churchill’s gin. My gin until I woke up on an  subway train at Coney Island at five in the morning.

Aaron Rodgers was down. Last time it was Shea McClellin, in navy. This time it was Anthony Barr, in purple. Different first-round edge rushers. Same bone.



Rodgers knew the second he hit the ground. A bunch of lubricated Bears fans in an underground Village bar knew it too. Rodgers isn’t playing football again this season. And while that is terrible news for a league losing too many star players each week, there won’t be many sympathetic hearts at Halas Hall or Eden Prairie or wherever the hell the Lions’ offices are.

The Rodgers injury swings the NFC North door open but will it open wide enough for the Bears – currently two games back of the lead – to find their way through? It’s still premature for this 2017 group to consider the playoffs a possibility but the Rodgers injury likely means the division will be won with ten victories instead of twelve.

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Across The Middle: Fox & Co. Officially on the Hot Seat

| October 11th, 2017

Forget, if you can, the clown show on first quarter fourth down in which the Bears were going for it, then they weren’t, then they did, only to have a delay of game. After another game with so many of the same mistakes, it’s hard to have confidence that John Fox is the guy to get the Bears back on track.

Fox’s teams are often ill-prepared and rarely disciplined. That has been a constant since late in the coach’s tenure with the Panthers. His teams commit back-breaking penalties and awful turnovers. Game after game. They never get it right. But even with these fatal flaws, Fox has still won a lot of games. Primarily because he is very good at building talented rosters.

What is truly disheartening is what we saw from Dowell Loggains.

I’ve praised the Bears offensive coordinator’s work with the likes of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. The game he called Monday night with Trubisky was predictable and displayed a lack of understanding his opponent.

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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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Three Final Thoughts for Vikings at Bears

| October 9th, 2017

(1) There’s no reason to downplay the historic nature of tonight’s game. The Bears intend for Mitch Trubisky to be their starting quarterback for the next decade plus and tonight he will take his first snaps in a Bears uniform. At home. In front of the entire country. While I will urge fans to be patient with the results, especially over these first twelve games, I don’t begrudge anyone’s giddiness tonight. Tonight is what’s fun about loving a team.


(2) My fiercest criticism of Vic Fangio through four weeks is his use of Leonard Floyd. I understand the schematic rationale for dropping him into coverage at the rate the Bears do but they’re getting very little rush off the edge. Floyd is their best edge rusher and if the Bears don’t make Sam Bradford uncomfortable tonight, he’ll have no problem stockpiling yardage to this terrific receiving corps.


(3) Markus Wheaton might be the most interesting player to watch tonight not named Trubisky. The Bears signed him for his speed, explosiveness and big play ability. When they signed him they believed they stole a player with tremendous upside. Now they’re giving him an accurate, strong-armed quarterback who can take advantage of his skills. Let’s hope this week was enough time for the two to get on the same page. (Prediction: Trubisky takes a shot to Wheaton deep…early.)


 

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Camp Opens, McPhee Hurt, Vikings Thoughts & More!

| July 28th, 2017

Camp!

Pernell McPheeling The Pain

From Patrick Finley in the Sun-Times:

By 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, the team had announced that linebacker Pernell McPhee would start the season on the physically unable to perform list. By noon Thursday, coach John Fox was back in familiar waters, trying to explain an injury — and its consequences — on the first day of training camp.

McPhee hadn’t made it through his physical on Wednesday, complaining of knee pain. Fox said team doctors “found a little irregularity” in his right knee, which is not the same knee that caused McPhee to start last year’s training camp on the PUP list.

A few thoughts:

  • The link to the full Finley article is provided above but don’t click it. The Sun-Times Bears coverage is, in my estimation, superior to what’s being produced at the Trib. But their website, especially on mobile devices, is unusable.
  • It’s starting to feel like whatever the Bears get out of the rest of this McPhee contract will be a bonus. It’s only a “little” irregularity when it’s not your knee. Do I think McPhee can still put together a productive 2017 campaign? Sure. But that productivity is more likely to come over an 8-10 game stretch than a full 16.

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John Fox Will Return, or Bears at Vikings Game Thread

| January 1st, 2017

From Rap at NFL Network:

The second-year turnaround did not happen for John Fox. The Bears coach, who twice in his career has turned in triumphant rebuilds in his second season, will try to win just his fourth game today against the Vikings.

But, according to those who know him well, Fox will have the opportunity to make his mark in the third season. In addition, much of his staff is slated to return, as well.

The losses have collected for Chicago, a frustrating two seasons. The result is not what anyone has wanted. But in making the decision to stay the course, the Bears appear to be looking at more than box scores.

The Bears have hung tough with teams in playoff contention, such as the GiantsLions, and Packers. They’ve done so with their fourth quarterback of the year, Matt Barkley who likely would be out of the league if the Bears hadn’t put him on their practice squad to start the season.

They have a whopping 19 players on Injured Reserve, including many, many starters.

In addition, their 2016 draft class will be the foundation of the rebuild, a class that has drawn praise from opposing executives.

All of which makes for an interesting evaluation of Fox, his staff, and the year: They’ve been forced to play young players and watch them develop. The culture, despite the losses, is a positive one. And they believe the future is bright. Could they follow in the footsteps of the Raiders … or Cubs?

It’s not perfect, of course. There could be some position coach changes, and they need a quarterback. But it will likely be Fox at the helm when it happens.

Completely unsurprising. And fair. But Fox will have to win games in 2017.

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