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Bears at Bucs Game Preview: Covid, Cale, Cover.

| October 22nd, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears this Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

But let’s be honest: it’s quite difficult to like the Bears in this spot. The Bucs are inevitably going to score a bunch of points and the way to beat them is to score more. Does anybody believe a Matt Nagy offense can win a shootout, even with a rookie quarterback who looks like he’d thrive in that situation?

The Bucs are scoring 32.5 points per game. A great Bears defensive effort should be able to keep them in the 24-8 range. So the Bears will need 30. Do they have it? Doubtful.


HughesReviews: The Velvet Underground

I’ve always thought the great documentaries fall into two categories. The content docs captivate you with information. Alex Gibney is the master of this form (Enron, Client 9, Going Clear, etc.), but the binge-worthy, true crime doc drug – of which I must admit an addiction – has elevated the medium from high art, coffee shop conversation to pop culture phenomena. (Tiger King felt like the most talked about documentary in the history of the country.)

The form docs are a trickier enterprise. Whether it’s Errol Morris’ interrotron locking into the eyes of Robert McNamara or DA Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall witnessing Elaine Stritch’s cast recording breakdown or Barbara Kopple’s penetrating look at the coal miners of Harlan County, the form docs seem to change the way we look at the world by changing the way that world is framed for us, the viewer. (Great recent examples are 2019’s American Factory and Minding the Gap.)

The great music docs almost exclusively fall into this latter group. Sure, The Sparks Brothers was an intriguing look at an intriguing band, and History of The Eagles was endlessly entertaining, but ultimately those films are limited by how much the viewer actually cares about the work the band produced. (In both the aforementioned cases, my level is somewhere near zero.) The great music docs – The Last Waltz, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Stop Making Sense – captivate you with the originality of their storytelling.

What is so stunning about Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground is how intimate the experience feels. (It definitely helps that I saw it in a theater and not on my couch, with the ability to pause and take piss breaks.) The filmmaker’s decision to rest the faces of his subjects on screen for extended periods of time had a near-hypnotic effect. You find yourself studying Lou Reed and John Cale as younger men. You find yourself searching their faces for clues to a puzzle that’s never been solved. And all the while they are mapping out their journeys to the band. It’s thrilling.

I’ll write more about this film in the year-end piece. But I want to use this space to encourage you to see the film. (It is on Apple+ if you can’t find it in a theater near you.) Whether you like the band or not – and I do not – it’s one of the more remarkable documentaries every produced.

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Thoughts on Falling to 3-3 After Another Loss to the Green Bay Packers

| October 18th, 2021


It wasn’t a particularly unique affair. The Bears have lost this game to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers plenty of times. If you need additional details beyond which is provided below, search the archives and find all the recaps of those games.

  • Justin Fields continues to show signs, and that’s all you are asking for each week from a rookie quarterback. The touchdown drive he led in the fourth quarter, that could easily have been derailed by a nonsense holding penalty on Sam Mustipher, was a thing of beauty.
    • The Bears have to open up this offense for Fields moving forward and that should start Sunday against Tampa. The Bucs have a terrible secondary but are impossible to run against.
    • The clock still has to speed up for Fields. Sunday, his “run clock” was there. When he saw the space, he took it. But he’s still struggling to recognize how fast these pass rushers are. He ain’t playing Rutgers anymore. Once he starts to feel it, and it’ll be soon, he’ll stop taking unnecessary sacks.
  • The refs were not to blame for this Bears loss. But they were dreadful.
    • Has an offsides ever been missed before? There are officials literally staring down the line of scrimmage pre-snap.
    • The hold on Mustipher and pass interference on Jaylon Johnson were both nonsense.
    • I still don’t understand the OPI on Green Bay, or how that touchdown catch was originally ruled incomplete. Neither were close calls.
    • Why was Justin Fields’ timeout attempt rejected? I have never seen that before.
  • Aaron Rodgers was the best player on the field. Again. And it’s not surprising when the best player on the field wins, especially when that player is a quarterback. That’s the goal for the Justin Fields Chicago Bears. They have to get there.

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The Reemergence of Robert Quinn

| October 5th, 2021


Myles Garrett.

Chandler Jones.

Danielle Hunter.

Justin Hargrave.

TJ Watt.

Those are the only five players with more sacks on this early season than Robert Quinn, the early frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL. (Being that he “played” most of 2020, he’s probably not even eligible for the award but symbolically the point is made.) A second look at the players above Quinn reveals an even more significant truth.

Garrett has 6 sacks, but recorded 4.5 in a single game, against the Chicago Bears. Jones has 5 sacks, all coming in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Hunter had 3 of his 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Only Hargrave, Watt, and Robert Quinn have delivered as pass rushers in each of the first four games of the 2021 season. They have been the most consistent performers off the edge, with Quinn’s teammate Khalil Mack a half-sack behind and right there in the same conversation. But Quinn’s appearance on this list is something of a revelation, and a shocking revelation at that. Let’s follow the timeline.

  • March 2020. Bears sign Quinn to a 5-year, $70 million contract. After years of Leonard Floyd failing to fulfill his pass rush promise, the Bears had seemingly solved the issue opposite Mack.
  • May 2020. Quinn is already dealing with injury issues. (Folks forget how early the injury word began trickling out of Halas Hall.) Was it his back? His hip? Why wouldn’t anyone say definitively?
  • Camp 2020. Quinn is nowhere to be found. He never practiced, never appeared in the preseason and things seemed to be pointing in consistently bad directions for his season.
  • Season 2020. Useless, and it is coupled with that fact that Leonard Floyd’s 9-sack performance in Los Angeles. Ryan Pace takes the majority of the criticism.
  • December 2020. Brad Biggs cracks the code, finally reporting that Quinn is suffering from something called “drop foot”. The article landed me on the Mayo Clinic’s website, learning that “Foot drop, sometimes called drop foot, is a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk..”

Now, through four games of the 2021 season, Quinn has 4.5 sacks and could easily have 2-3 more. He’s well on his way to the double-digit sack campaign the Bears paid him to reach. But from a gameday perspective, Quinn’s reemergence is going to allow the Bears to stay competitive in at least 75% of the games they play this season. With a secondary comprised of Jaylon Johnson, a mediocre Eddie Jackson and a bunch of street guys, the only hope for this defense is a multidimensional pass rush and Quinn is finally providing that needed second dimension opposite Mack.

This will also allow the Bears to start Justin Fields without him needing to throw 50 passes a game to stay competitive; a completely untenable situation with the offensive line as currently composed.

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Week Three Game Preview, Volume II: First Fields Start (Of Many), Bears Win?!?

| September 24th, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

And the Justin Fields era is here!


Let’s Talk About Fields.

There will be two distinct camps emerging on social media over the coming days. Camp one will be the ecstatic, “Fields is gonna light up the league” types. Camp two will be the reserved, “all rookie quarterbacks struggle” types. While I firmly reside in the latter camp, I understand the emotions of the former. Most living Bears fans have only seen quarterback play ranging from mediocre to unprofessional. Pleading for patience may be prudent, but it’s also easy to understand any fan who says, “Screw patience, I want a star quarterback!”

But Sunday is not about Fields’ long-term future in Chicago. This Sunday is about next Sunday and the Sunday after that. Matt Nagy and the Bears need Fields to deliver the kind of performance that closes the book on the Andy Dalton era. That doesn’t mean some splashy statistical affair. It just means a performance wherein the kid displays that he’s got things under control.

It’s not an easy task. This is a good Cleveland defense in a hostile building. Fields will see coverages and pressures the Browns have never put on tape, and likely that he’s never seen before. But he’ll need to handle all of it and leave no doubt as to who is the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.


Stats of the Week

  • Won through the air? Through two games, the Bears and Browns are two of the top nine rushing defenses in the league, coming in fourth and ninth respectively. With Cleveland’s injuries at receiver and Chicago starting a rookie QB, it’s unlikely either team will abandon the run, successful or not. (The teams rank eighth and third in rushing offense.)
  • Only eight players in the league have more sacks than the 2.5 Robert Quinn currently has.
  • Baker Mayfield is completing 81.6% of his passes. That’s just a gaudy number. There will be a ton of stress on the secondary Sunday to make tackles and limit YAC. Can they hold up?

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2021’s Ten Most Important Bears (Other Than Justin Fields)

| September 8th, 2021

The 2021 season probably won’t be one the Bears highlight, but it could be important for determining the future of the franchise. They have an odd mix of veterans and young players, all needing to prove themselves. They have key positions that didn’t have battles, but also don’t have sure things locked in.

We know Justin Fields is ultimately going to be the straw that stirs the drink, hopefully for the next two decades. But the Bears need to determine two things: (a) who will be surrounding Fields and (b) how will they make life easier for the quarterback.

With that, here are the ten most important Bears of 2021, other than Fields, of course.


10. Akiem Hicks

Hicks flashed greatness last year, then seemed to run out of gas.

His job was different last year without Eddie Goldman; teams were able to focus more on him in the running game. But then you’d see the spurt; he’d throw a guard three yards back and take out a running back in the backfield.

Hicks is in a contract year and the Bears have to know what he has left before deciding what to do.


9. Sam Mustipher

Mustipher was a legitimately good center last year and could be a building block going forward. The team didn’t consider replacing him. He needs to reward that confidence.


8. Darnell Mooney

If teams are going to take Allen Robinson away, Mooney needs to make them pay. The wide receiver needs to take a significant step in his sophomore season.

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Predictions & Projections for the 2021 Chicago Bears

| September 7th, 2021


No reason to bury the lede.

If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.

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What Would Starting Fields Do?

This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.

With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.

Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.

And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.

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Training Camp Diary: Quinn Hurt (Again), Practice Intensity, Players Meet Media

| July 29th, 2021


Today, brief thoughts.

  • Robert Quinn was limited for the first practice with back issues. There is, of course, no reason to overreact to a knock in July but Quinn has not had a single healthy day as a member of the Chicago Bears. The man is paid a fortune at one of the sport’s premier positions. The roster construction doesn’t work on defense if the team gets no production from him again in 2021.
  • Nagy on Wednesday reiterated that practice will be of a higher intensity this summer and that players will see extended action in preseason games. The Bears lacked fire at times in 2020. This seems to be a cosmetic, if meaningful solution. (The easiest solution is just having a professional at the quarterback position.)
  • Khalil Mack is not blaming injuries for his lack of sack production recently. (But injuries are 100% to blame for his lack of sack production recently.)
  • Sadly, it seems Jake Butt has retired. His chances of making the Bears were greatly diminished by the arrival of “The Outlaw” Jesse James.
  • Eddie Goldman is back. And he missed football, per this report from Adam Hoge.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

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Can a Veteran Defense Make 2021 a Playoff Season?

| June 18th, 2021


Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

Justin Fields.

There, it’s out of my system. We can move on.

2021 is very unlikely to be a championship-caliber campaign for the Chicago Bears. Andy Dalton doesn’t win Super Bowls. Rookie quarterbacks don’t either. But that doesn’t mean the whole of Chicago needs to resign themselves to a middling, meaningless 17 games of football. Because while all the excitement around this franchise seems centered on one side of the ball – and more specifically one position – the Bears are still paying an awful lot of men and awful lot of money, to stop the other team from scoring.

So what if Khalil Mack does more than generate pressures and receive analytical praise? What if he actually buries a dozen quarterbacks this season?

What if Robert Quinn looks like the Robert Quinn that played in the NFL for all those years previous to landing at O’Hare and trying his first Portillo’s hot dog?

What if adding Eddie Goldman back into the mix does what it should: devours opposing internal linemen, freeing Roquan and Trevathan to shut down rushing attacks?

What if Eddie Jackson doesn’t get multiple pick sixes called back for penalties this season?

What if Akiem Hicks has one more year in those legs?

What if Sean Desai is the next great defensive coordinator for an organization that’s had a bunch of them?

One might read that list of questions and think, “Well that’s a lot of what ifs, isn’t it?” And maybe it is. But all of these individuals have set precedents for success. They have all done the things in the league they are being paid to do in 2021. It’s not unfair to ask them to be the players they are being paid to be.

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Bears at Vikings Game Preview Volume II: The Stakehouse.

| December 18th, 2020


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and after a few weeks in the darkness of Quitsville, I’m back!


The Stakes

The Bears are 6-7. And this might be the most important game ever played by a 6-7 team.

If the Bears win Sunday, they’ll be 7-7, with Jacksonville on deck. (8-7) That’ll bring the Packers to town, with Tim Boyle likely starting, and a playoff spot likely on the line. If the Bears win Sunday they will be playing meaningful football for 17 weeks at a minimum. That’s how the late Giants owner Wellington Mara defined a successful season. And knew a bit about football.

But winning, especially with another superior offensive effort, would also continue to change the narrative around the head coach. Nobody is firing a head coach who is eight games over (minimum) in his first three years. And if the quarterback pitches another triple-digit quarterback rating? How could the narrative around him not alter slightly as well? Wouldn’t the Bears have to start considering a 2021 prove it deal?

Now if the Bears lose Sunday, their season ends. If they lose Sunday and deliver another lackluster offensive effort against the Vikings, Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky go back under the bright interrogative lamps of media and fans. (Hard to imagine Ted Phillips and Ryan Pace won’t be there regardless of these final games.) A loss flips the fourteen-day hourglass and the sand shuffles through on January 4th. That’s when we’ll find out who among the leadership is coming back in 2021.

It’s all at stake Sunday.

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