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Week Two Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Bengals

| September 16th, 2021


Two things to note before proceeding here.

(1) This analysis is based on film from one game – the Bengals opener with the Vikings. There is no way to know if the approach and tendencies displayed in that game are prescriptive for the entire season or matchup-specific. It is probably best to assume a bit of both.

(2) This column is not a fantasia. This is not “How the Bears Beat the Bengals if the Bears Had a Different Roster”. The Bears can’t cover the Bengals outside. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are – with Tampa, Dallas and Pittsburgh – among the best wide receiver groups in the sport and the Bears have one corner.

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VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)

52.5%

This game is a relative toss-up, but the Bengals have a slight advantage.

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What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • Involve David Montgomery in the passing game. The Bengals play an aggressive style of defense, often sending more at the quarterback than a standard front four. (And after studying Bears/Rams, they’ll certainly be doing so on early downs to keep Montgomery and the rush attack in check.) If the Bears want to soften that attack, they’ll need to get Montgomery out in space and get the football in his hands, well-beyond his one-catch, ten-yard effort Sunday night.
  • Play action and boots created a TON of space outside the pocket for Kirk Cousins. (If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback, he’d be looking at 75-100 yards on the ground.) The Bears have to move the pocket for Andy Dalton if they want to stretch the field with the passing game. If they keep Dalton in the pocket, this passing attack will be as dinky and dunky as the opener.
    • It should be noted that this space was reduced greatly once the Vikings fell down 24-14. When you’re down double digits in the fourth quarter, defenses attack the quarterback, not the running back.
  • What does Bears/Rams look like if Dalton doesn’t throw the pick in the end zone? It might not have a dramatically impacted the outcome but it certainly would have given the offense a different confidence on subsequent drives. The Vikings lost to the Bengals in overtime for one reason: Dalvin Cook fumbled the football in Cincy territory. When teams are evenly matched – and these teams are – one crucial turnover can be, and usually is, the difference. The Bears can’t commit that turnover.

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What Must the Bears Do on Defense:

  • Manufacture pressure. Bring linebackers. Bring corners. Bring safeties. The front four is not good enough to wreck the game on their own and without significant pressure on Joe Burrow, the Bears secondary will be watching footballs get spiked in the end zone. (The argument against this approach is usually that it leaves corners vulnerable but Chicago’s corners are naturally vulnerable due to their lack of ability.) The Bears don’t have the horses on defense to line up and beat their opponent. They need a schematic advantage. Sean Desai has to bring that advantage Sunday.

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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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Training Camp Diary: Notes, Reflections, Thoughts from Friday and Saturday’s Practices

| August 2nd, 2021


The following are thoughts on the practices Friday and Saturday, and just generally about the Bears to this point.

  • There have been multiple reports about the defense playing with a renewed sense of energy and that’s essential for this group. They certainly lost their swagger in the Chuck Pagano years. Sean Desai’s primary task is restoring it.
    • In the swagger department, Kevin Fishbain, in The Athletic, can tell you about “the takeaway bucket — a blue laundry bin that gets wheeled onto the field for a defensive player to dunk the ball in after he takes it away from the offense.” These things are goofy but players rally around them.
  • Bilal Nichols was arguably the breakout star of the 2020 Chicago Bears but he might be the actual star of this group of the end of 2021. The best part of this for Desai is Nichols’ emergence should allow them to keep Akiem Hicks on a pitch count for most of the season. (His recent foot issues are just another in a series of injuries common for a declining superstar.)
  • Sam Mustipher was asked what he did to put on weight this off-season. His answer? Lou Malnati’s. Sam Mustipher is a smart, smart man. (After the debacle of the last 18 months, Malnati’s will be rejoining DBB as a crucial partner this coming season. More details – and pizza giveaways – to come.)
  • From inside Halas Hall there is serious optimism regarding Kindle Vildor. When I asked what that optimism means I was simply told (via text): “They’re not going to get too excited until they see it on the field. But they’re seeing it in practice.” Corner is going to be a weakness for this group. But if their pass rush delivers as it should, this group may be competent enough to hold up.
  • The quarterback position has been a real strength in these early days. Andy Dalton has been the stable, veteran presence the Bears expected but he’s also had a ton of zip on the fastball. He’s smart enough to know that the only way he remains the starting quarterback is by playing Justin Fields onto the bench. Fields has all the talent in the world – everybody at these practices sees that – and his ascension is only a matter of time.
    • One Tweet from Brad Biggs stood out to me. Justin Fields to Jesse James is a thing that’s starting to happen more often for the #Bears.” In this offense, the tight ends are the QB’s best friends. Fields seems to be learning that quickly.
    • I would have been shocked if Fields out-performed Dalton as this early stage. None of Fields’ athleticism is displayed in these practice sessions. When the pads go on, and Fields is on the move, that’s when Dalton will have to up his game.
  • Cairo Santos has finally solidified the kicker position post-Robbie Gould. I don’t miss writing about kickers in July and August.

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Sean Desai Named Defensive Coordinator: Brandon Robinson Breaks it Down.

| January 25th, 2021


Intro.

Sean Desai  is the only defensive coordinator in the sport with this in his Wikipedia page:

…received his undergraduate degree in philosophy and political science, with a minor in biology, from Boston University in 2004. Desai earned a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education from Columbia University in 2005. Desai earned his doctorate in educational administration in 2008 at Temple University, and was an adjunct professor for two years.

Now, that passage would not exactly qualify him to be the defensive coordinator of a professional football team. But Desai has been praised for his schematic acumen, has earned the love of the guys in the locker room, and comes with a resounding endorsement from Vic Fangio. From a piece quoting Vic in USA Today:

“Right off the bat, his work ethic was really good and he quickly learned our system that we were putting in and grew with it over the four years that I was there,” Fangio said, “and I when I say grew with it, he was there with the logical progression that we went through with the players we had from the start to the players we ended up with… He’s had a good mix of coaching an up-front position and a secondary position which gave him a good understanding and a good overall view of our system and our defense at that time. That should give him a good head start on all that and that is a big part of it. The front has to marry with the back end and vice versa.” 

Analysis.

Brandon Robinson is someone I had never communicated with until very recently but his thread breaking down the Fangio/Brandon Staley defensive concepts – and projecting those concepts for Desai – is about as informative a collection of Tweets as you’ll ever find on that public toilet of a website. I’m stringing out those Tweets here, in column form, and posting video/imagery when necessary. (Thanks to Brandon for approving this and be sure to give him a follow.)
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ATM: Ten Best Fits for Defensive Coordinator

| January 19th, 2021


10. Ed Donatell

Vic Fangio’s defense is well-known because he mixes up coverages so well and Donatell is the guy who has long run his secondary. The Bears had the opportunity to hire him in 2019 but seemingly passed.

After losing out on the Bears’ job, Donatell went to become Fangio’s coordinator, but he doesn’t have full autonomy. If that’s what he wants, Fangio might allow him to leave.


9. Aaron Glenn

The former Pro Bowl cornerback has become a highly thought-of coach, even taking an interview to be the New York Jets head coach before they hired Robert Saleh.

Glenn coached defensive backs with Cleveland, where he helped both Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine have career years in 2014. He moved on to New Orleans, where he has been credited as a major reason the Saints have had one of the best defense in the league the last four years.


8. Mark DeLeone

DeLeone coached with Nagy in Kansas City and was one of Nagy’s first actual defensive hires, with most of the staff being coaches who previously worked with Fangio.

DeLeone’s work as inside linebackers coach has been impressive. In addition to the high level at which he has Roquan Smith playing, he helped get Nick Kwiatkoski paid and got Kevin Pierre-Louis a solid one-year deal.

(He could bring longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with him in an advisory role, as Sutton helped bring DeLone into the NFL with the Jets and then brought him to KC.)


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Audibles: Scheduling, Coaching, Movies & Other Stuff.

| February 14th, 2019


Scheduling Notes

Two things have leaked regarding the 2019 Chicago Bears schedule: (1) Packers are rumored to open the season on Thursday night at Soldier Field. (2) Bears will be in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day…again. What do these two reports mean, if anything?

  • That’s 1/8 of the schedule not being played on Sunday. And with the Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys on the schedule, don’t get used to that Sunday routine. This team is going to be in primetime a lot. And anybody who knows me knows I really, really, really hate it.
  • The league should stop putting games as important as Packers at Bears in Week One. They won’t but they should. What’s becoming obvious is teams are no longer considering the preseason a viable method of preparation and it seems most don’t start playing decent football until midway through October. (The Pats waited until January last season.) I’d like to see the NFL use the first four weeks of the season to play exclusively the non-conference schedule.
  • I know the league’s instincts will be Chiefs at Patriots as the Sunday night opener. But if the league were smart, they’d put the Browns in that spot. Elevate that franchise. Excite a fan base that hasn’t seen a relevant primetime game in years. (And a game as potentially important as Chiefs at Pats should be played on Thanksgiving night.)

Coaching Staff Complete

From Pat Finley in the Sun-Times:

Bears coach Matt Nagy finished up his round of hires Friday, promoting two coaches to finish up the team’s defensive staff.

Sean Desai, a Bears defensive quality control coach for the past six seasons, will serve as the team’s safeties coach. Deshea Townsend, who was hired to coach the Bears’ defensive backs last month, had his title changed to secondary coach. Bill Shuey, who spent last season as a defensive quality control coach, has been named defensive pass analyst/assistant linebackers coach.

I have absolutely nothing to add to these two paragraphs.

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