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Short-Handed Bears Beat Lions, Cement Lead Atop NFC North

| November 23rd, 2018

Not the most compelling game ever played but the kind of result good teams get. The Bears played three division games in twelve days and went 3-0, outscoring the Lions (twice) and Vikings 82-58.

This three-game stretch solidified them as one of the better teams in the NFC and it would now be a terrible disappointment if there was not a football game at Soldier Field in January. 

Rapid fire…


  • Chase Daniel did everything a team can ask from their backup quarterback. He moved the offense. He avoided crippling errors. Was he good? Not really. Even the touchdowns/big plays were not well-thrown balls. But he got the job done. In the modern NFL, teams need a backup QB that can hold down the fort and win some games for 2-3 weeks every season. With Daniel, the Bears have that.
  • 3rd and 1. Early second quarter. Stafford rolled to his left and had about six minutes to find an open receiver to move the chains. Why? Khalil Mack was floating in coverage. (And “floating” is the accurate word.) This is what Fangio’s defense is. Understood. But without a healthy Aaron Lynch, and with Leonard Floyd struggling to get to the quarterback, not allowing the game’s best edge rusher to rush from the edge feels negligent.
  • As Andrew pointed out on Twitter, the Bears were awful on 2nd and long all game, giving up chunk plays in the air and on the ground. This will be a focal point before they head to the Meadowlands.
  • Eddie Jackson has to be in the conversation now for DPOY now. Right now the award is Aaron Donald’s to lose, mostly because of Mack’s earlier injuries, but no defender has made more big plays in 2018 than Jackson.
  • Every week Roquan Smith makes another play. And every week it becomes more apparent Smith is going to be in the middle of the Bears defense for a long, long time.
  • The running game, or lack thereof, will be a major talking point over the next ten days. But look no further than Matt Nagy’s two-point conversion call to understand why that element is struggling. With an inaccurate backup QB, Nagy called a pass. And not just a pass. A quick, bubble screen that required timing and pinpoint ball placement. Despite what the head coach tells reporters, the answer is simple. The Bears don’t run the ball because the Bears don’t want to run the ball.
  • Taquan Mizzell is more valuable to Nagy than Jordan Howard.

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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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ATM: The Bears Don’t Suck

| September 25th, 2018

It’s dangerous to make any grand proclamations three weeks into a season. But the Bears win over the Cardinals was a great indicator that, at the very least, they don’t suck.

Whether they’re actually good or not is still to be decided. While it was widely regarded as a game the Bears should win, winning in the NFL is difficult, especially for a young team flying nearly across the country on a short week. Travel difficulties are very real in the NFL. We see even the best teams struggle with them. This was a schedule test, one the Bears passed.

The offense is horrendous.

There’s no arguing that.

But the defense is incredible.

Khalil Mack isn’t just great, he’s a generational talent. The other big addition, Roquan Smith, flies around and finishes with a boom. They’re fast, they’re physical and, for the first time since Lovie left town, they attack the ball.

Obviously, for the Bears to graduate from a team that merely doesn’t suck to one that is actually good, the offense needs to be better. They do deserve credit for three scoring drives in the second half. And, really, they should’ve had two in the first half, but Cody Parkey missed what should’ve been an easy field goal.

Still, good teams score touchdowns and that’s the next goal for the Bears.

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ATM: Bears Need Roquan Smith On the Field Right Now

| August 15th, 2018

The Bears will need Roquan Smith against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Finally the camp-long nightmare has come to an end. The eighth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft has signed his contract with the Bears after a nearly 30-day holdout. Missing nearly all of training camp would typically be enough to rule out a rookie from making an impact in Week One, but don’t be surprised if that’s not the case on the evening of September 9th. While the situation has been far from ideal, a player of Smith’s caliber and skill set should still figure into the Bears’ immediate plans.

Rodgers’ ability to move and make pinpoint throws in the middle of the field make having an athletic inside linebacker a must. It’s why Rodgers calls Brian Urlacher the best defender he ever faced, it’s why Smith was the pick and it’s why they double-dipped taking Joel Iyiegubuniwe in the fourth round.

The plan was for Smith to start Week One. That should still be in play but it’s hard to see the team giving the rookie the nod over Nick Kwiatkoski after the third-year linebacker has, by most accounts, played well in camp. It was to the point that the Bears didn’t even play Kwiatkoski in the first preseason game and he saw very limited action in the second. A bigger issue is that they can’t sell the first few weeks of camp as actually being important if a guy who has never played in the NFL doesn’t need them to be ready to face Rodgers.

Regardless of how well he has played in practice, Kwiatkoski has significant flaws. While many have pointed to his training camp interceptions, anyone who has spent too much time watching camp clips on Twitter has also seen several times in which the Bears got the better of Kwiatkoski. They’ve attacked him in practice, just as opposing teams did in games last year. The Bears actually took him off the field on passing downs in favor of Christian Jones late in the season. Maybe Kwiatkoski has improved in coverage, but it’s unlikely he’s going to cease being a liability there and Roquan figures to be among the elite coverage backers in the entire league.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Miller & Hicks Shining This Summer, HoF Commentary, Kitties & More!

| August 7th, 2018

Three Quick Thoughts

  • This entire training camp is becoming about Anthony Miller. The Bears have not had an offensive rookie create this kind of summer buzz, around the entire league, in modern history. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, well, it’s not. When the Bears drafted Miller, a high-ranking personnel man in the league texted me one word: “Fuck.” In Trubisky-to-Miller, the Bears have an opportunity to develop one of those great quarterback/receiver combos all those other teams seem to routinely showcase.
  • Roquan Smith has not yet arrived in Illinois and yet inside linebacker has been one of the team’s strengths thus far due to the emergence of Nick Kwiatkoski as a viable option. But make no mistake about it. Kwik is not Roquan. They are not comparable athletes. And if Kwik is out there trying to cover in Green Bay Week 1, Aaron Rodgers will get Jimmy Graham lined up over him and pick him apart. At some point, the Bears and Roquan just need to suck it up and get this deal done.
  • One player who shouldn’t see a snap this entire preseason: Akiem Hicks. Simply put, he is the most important player on this defensive roster and his health is paramount to their success. And from all reports, he has been a dominant force in Bourbonnais. Why risk his health for the sake of reps he doesn’t need? Hicks was burnt out by the end of 2017 due to overuse and the defense reflected that. Without proven pass rushers on the edge, the Bears should value Hicks every bit as much as they do their young QB. Because he’s that important.

Urlacher Hall of Fame Speech

  • Thought Urlacher did a wonderful job on stage, especially with his lack of comfort when it comes to public speaking. Considering he had to share the stage with Ray Lewis, the Human Bullshit Machine, it was a refreshing to experience actual humility and grace.
  • I’ve never been an Urlacher devotee but I freely admit he’s the finest cover-2 middle linebacker in history and belongs in the Hall. And when I say I’m not a devotee, it doesn’t mean I don’t consider him a great player. I do. But from the Lovie Smith era, I still have him behind Peanut Tillman and Devin Hester.

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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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Roquan Smith To the Starting Lineup!

| May 31st, 2018


Three quick thoughts on this inevitable development:

  • There is a belief in some older-school league coaching circles that somehow young players benefit from starting as third-stringers and working their way into the starting lineup over the laborious period of training camp. When Parcells and Walsh were on the sideline, sure, I’d buy it. But now? Coaches are too limited in the amount of time they can put their hands on players. They get so little actual field time with their starters, never mind the rookies. The smart staffs recognize talent and insert that talent into the starting lineup immediately. Let the kids play themselves out of that spot.
  • This should have happened last season with Mitch Trubisky but the Fox coaching staff was gutless. Because they did not recognize the MASSIVE talent gap between their starter and third-stringer, they botched what could have been a terrific year of development for the kid. (It could be argued the Bears simply waited a year too long to follow the Eagles model.)
  • Am I getting excited about Matt Nagy? Yep. I’m trying not to, because most of this stuff doesn’t matter, but I just like everything happening around the 2018 Chicago Bears right now.

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The 2018 Chicago Bears Draft Class

| April 28th, 2018

Come back Monday morning to read big-picture analysis of the front office’s approach to these three days. For now, here are the newest members of the Chicago Bears with a quick blurb from yours truly.


Round 1 – Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia

Honestly, ten years from now, fans should be debating where Smith ranks among the great middle linebackers in Bears history. That’s what an organization should expect when drafting a player at this position this high. Ryan Pace needs this to be Roquan’s defense for the next decade plus.


Round 2 – James Daniels, C/G, Iowa

Immediate starter. The Bears now have one of the league’s best interior o-lines (Daniels-Whitehair-Long) and one of the league’s three finest offensive line coaches. If he stays healthy, Jordan Howard may find himself in the MVP conversation this season.


Round 2 – Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

A text from a friend in the league: “He was the highest wide receiver on our board.” The Bears gave up a lot to get Miller and will put a lot on his shoulders quickly. Expect him to start in the slot in the opener against Green Bay.


Round 4 – Joel Iyegbuniwe, ILB, Western Kentucky

This most interesting pick of the week for Pace. If the Bears intend to play him inside, he’ll have a near-impossible time getting on the field. But he profiles similarly to Brendon Ayanbadejo – a solid defensive depth piece who excels on special teams. (If he sticks I’m sure I’ll need to Google the spelling of his name just as many times as I did Ayanbadejo’s in his career.)


Round 5 – Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware

Akiem Hicks wore down in 2017. Eddie Goldman has an injury history. Nichols is being drafted to work steadily into the rotation and give these two great players a breather. In 2017 he simply devoured blockers in the middle of a 3-4 line. In 2016, according to Mike Mayock, he showed burst and acceleration getting to the quarterback. Rarely should one have expectations for a fifth-round pick. In this case, have some.


Round 6 – Kylie Fitts, Edge, Utah

Worth the risk for an athlete this impressive at a need position off the edge. Fitts has a terrific chance to be a real contributor to this Bears defense if he stays healthy. The problem? He’s rarely healthy. But it’s the sixth round. Why not? 


Round 7 – Javon Wims, WR, Georgia

A big dude who consistently makes highlight reel catches. Can he separate from pro corners? Doubtful. But with his size and speed, it’s impossible to rule him out of having a plausible chance to make some kind of impact in 2018.

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Thoughts on the Roquan Smith Selection From Around the League

| April 27th, 2018

Selecting Roquan Smith with the eighth pick of the first round was an absolute no-brainer for Ryan Pace. Taking my favorite player in the draft? Icing on the cake.

What did others have to say about the pick? It’s being universally praised. Two things I have heard from a source inside the Bears.

(1) The team was genuinely surprised Roquan became available. There was an assumption by Pace & Co. that Smith wasn’t going to make it by Indianapolis and the team had begun zeroing in on playmaking DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.

(2) Last three first round picks? Georgia. North Carolina. Georgia. The Bears lean heavily on their southeastern scouts and we should all take note.


From the illustrious Adam Jahns:

“I know Vic and his staff will maximize this player, and that’s what’s exciting about it,” Pace said after the first round concluded. “Vic’s been around a lot of good linebacker play, and this just adds to the great linebacker play the Bears have had as well.”

Pace called Fangio’s input “very important” on Smith.

“This is obviously one of Vic’s top players, [and] one of Matt’s top players, my top player,” Pace said. “We might have 10, 12, 15 grades on a guy, and it’s so comforting for me when I can look at that bandwidth of grades and they’re all right next to each other.

“That’s definitely how Roquan was, so it makes the pick really easy when we’re all unified like that.”

Smith fits Fangio’s mold for inside linebackers. At 6-1, 236 pounds, he’s built similarly to former 49ers star Patrick Willis (6-1, 240). And that’s just the start.

Smith’s instincts, range, speed and tenacity, and his take-charge demeanor off the field, also fuel comparisons to Willis, who was a tone-setting, five-time All-Pro in the middle of Fangio’s elite 49ers defenses. Pace said the Smith has “outstanding intangibles.”


From my two high-profile league sources:

  • A current league GM: “The perfect Bear middle linebacker.”
  • Former NFC personnel man, freelancing for an AFC team this off-season: “Told you several times over the last few weeks. This is my favorite defensive player in the draft. He’s a sure thing.” (He’s not lying. This individual’s praise is the primary reason Roquan became my favorite player in this draft.)

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