Hub Arkush: Bears earned their best grades of the season in three of four phases in Carolina

Posted on October 21, 2020 - 11:43:00

The offense may be a nightmare but 5-1 record is a dream come true

CHICAGO – Although the defense is starting to look extremely dangerous and special teams are among the best in the league, it feels near impossible the Bears can be 5-1 with this offense.

How is this happening? Look around the NFL and find one other team that isn’t flawed in a very real way.

But that’s tomorrow’s column.

No curve for now, let’s just talk about what we’re seeing on the field versus the super team we’d like to see.

Quarterback: Nick Foles was mediocre in Carolina and he continues to save many of his worst throws for third down.

He did make two very nice throws in key spots, 18 yards to Darnell Mooney at the Panthers 12-yard line to set up the first third quarter touchdown of the season, and 23 yards on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter to Allen Robinson.

And in spite of some ugly third down tosses the Bears were 7-for-14 on the day, more than twice as good as the Panthers.

However while Matt Nagy talked his way around expounding on what went wrong with the delay of game penalty out of the wasted timeout just four minutes into the game Foles clearly was at best a piece of the puzzle. Hub’s Grade: C+

Running Backs: Nagy called David Montgomery’s number 19 times on the ground but Cordarrelle Patterson only got one carry, and both continue to get no help whatsoever in front of them.

Montgomery was effective in the passing game again and his one special burst on the ground, 11 yards to the Panthers one came one play after the Foles to Mooney connection. The two are running extremely hard. Hub’s Grade: B

Receivers: As I’ve said, Robinson and Mooney each had one special play and Cole Kmet made a huge play with his first NFL touchdown that he plucked in the end zone with three defenders around him, but Foles isn’t missing a lot of wide-open targets.

Demetrius Harris had a costly drop and Anthony Miller couldn’t seem to make himself available more than three yards off the line of scrimmage. Hub’s Grade: C+

Offensive Line: The coach, Juan Castillo, wasn’t there and they lost James Daniels so Sunday was going to be a challenge, but these guys are just not getting the job done.

Cody Whitehair and Bobby Massie were okay and Germain Ifedi was the next closest but okay obviously isn’t good enough.

When you add to that Rashaad Coward looking lost much of the time at left guard and Charles Leno getting beat regularly these guys continue to be holding back the entire offense. Hub’s Grade: C –

Defensive Front 7: While Carolina’s hadn’t faced any great defenses the Panthers still came in with one of the most efficient offenses in the league and these guys took them apart.

Every starter in this group flashed more than once, Brent Urban, John Jenkins, Barkevious Mingo and James Vaughters all made plays as well and while Danny Trevathan still has room to improve he and Roquan Smith are starting to look like the dangerous duo we expected.

Robert Quinn barely dented the stat sheet but he spent a lot of time in Teddy Bridgewater’s personal space. Hub’s Grade: A –

Secondary: This group played its best game of the season and that is saying something since they had to battle the Panthers and the zebras.

Carolina thought they’d challenge the rookie and they got Jaylon Johnson a couple times, but he made the play on Tashaun Gipson’s pick and gave as good as he got, except on the completely bogus interference call on him in the end zone.

Gipson and Eddie Jackson were lights out and Kyle Fuller keeps making plays I don’t know if any other corner in the league is matching. Hub’s Grade: A –

Special Teams: The only way to stop Patterson is to get all five of your kickoffs out of the end zone and the Panthers did, and it may be time to try Miller or Mooney over Ted Ginn on punts.

But Patrick O’Donnell has actually become a weapon with three of his four punts again downed inside the 20 including one he checked up at the three, and other than letting Pharoh Cooper bring back one kickoff for 35 yards the coverage was excellent.

Cairo Santos is hot and his career long 55-yard field goal appeared to give his teammates some extra juice. Hub’s Grade: B +

Coaching: Man this is tough. The offense is failing and a handful of game management decisions defy conventional wisdom, but the defense is dominating and improving every week, the special teams are really good and most importantly the team is 5-1 and that’s the coaches’ most important measuring stick. Hub’s Grade: B

Bears must gain an offseason edge. Here are 5 bargain free agents worth a look

Posted on February 17, 2020 - 11:51:00

Could Chicago find the next Shaquil Barrett in 2020 free agency bargain bins?

The Bears, like most teams in football, are searching this offseason for the next Shaq Barrett, who slipped through the cracks in 2019 free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year, $4-million contract, only to lead the NFL with 19 ½ sacks.

With only 14 combined sacks in his first five seasons, Barrett became the first defender in 23 years to pace the NFL in that department after switching teams the previous offseason. Although he snapped only a five-year drought of non-first-rounders earning the sack title, Barrett did so as the first former undrafted player in 22 years, following Hall of Famer John Randle.

Frankly, then, the Bears might have better luck attempting to procure Barrett’s services. After all, he’s an impending free agent only approaching his age-27 campaign. Of course, after all those sacks, he’s projected to command an annual salary around $15 million — more than the Bears’ current total cap allowance.

Back to the drawing board it is.

However rare Barrett’s ascension, what clues were there for all to see but only the Bucs to seize that possibly can be gleaned by the Bears as they look to bolster the pass rushing output opposite Pro Bowler Khalil Mack and a unit that sunk from No. 9 in the NFL to 27th?

Barrett became an afterthought following the selection of Bradley Chubb under a lame-duck staff in his final season in Denver despite solid production the season prior. Each of his three productive seasons in the NFL came in new defensive schemes. And his tape has always been better than his testing numbers.

Before we attempt to unearth a few impending free agents who may match this criterion or are otherwise seemingly flying below the radar, a reminder that we highlighted the big-ticket alternatives — including Barrett — before the weekend, when we declared that the Bears’ top offseason priority on ‘D’ is in fact addressing their pass rush.

We mentioned the need for Ryan Pace to strike the proper balance between aggressiveness and creativity in his efforts to supplement if not supplant Leonard Floyd as the team’s strong-side rusher and 1C pressure provider after Mack and Akiem Hicks.

Would one of these players perhaps fill the bill?

Emmanuel Ogbah, Chiefs

Ogbah played slightly more than 37 percent of the total defensive snaps for the Super Bowl champs, clearly behind prize trade acquisition Frank Clark and fellow former second-rounder Tanoh Kpassagnon. Yet he matched a career high with 5 ½ sacks, compared to Floyd’s career-low 3 in more than twice the snaps. Ogbah matches Ryan Pace’s edge profile as a vine-armed rusher with athleticism, though he wins more with power, while Floyd relies on bend and burst.

Jeremiah Attaochu, Broncos

Is Attaochu poised to be the next former Bronco who puts his best foot forward upon leaving Denver? He was decent, posting three sacks as the injury fill-in for Chubb, in his first season with the Broncos, where he worked under defensive mastermind Vic Fangio and alongside stud Von Miller. He’s still only 27, and has always been impressive off the hoof with intriguing pass-rush tools. But it’s worth noting Pace has twice opted in free agency to insure his EDGE stable instead with Aaron Lynch.

Vic Beasley, Falcons

Obviously, he’s the most well-known name on the list, the Clemson Combine destroyer selected one spot after Kevin White became Pace’s first-ever draft pick. He led the NFL with 15 ½ sacks in his second season and posted 8 on the fifth-year team option this past season but has only 14 combined in his other three years, nothing if not enigmatic, even more so than Floyd. What Beasley has never had is a monster across from him like Mack, but we suspect the uber athlete may have a fan in Pace.

Jabaal Sheard, Colts

Approaching his age-31 campaign and a decade in the league, Sheard is the most established player on our list and hardly a spring chicken or unknown quantity. Yet he’s always been an underrated player in our estimation — with ties to Chuck Pagano and Ted Monachino (Colts) and Chris Tabor (Browns). Sheard is a professional pass rusher and solid two-way defender likely to be had on a more reasonable short-term deal than Floyd’s, and his production continues to compare favorably to that of the Bears’ incumbent “Sam” backer.

Vince Biegel, Dolphins

This potential acquisition would require Pace to be quite creative. Biegel is restricted in Miami, where Dolphins GM Chris Grier has no financial restrictions and no additional legitimate pass-rushing prospects. That’s what Biegel came out of nowhere as a former Packers third-rounder to establish himself as with a team-high 9 QB knockdowns and 18 pressures. His best football appears to be in front of him, and Biegel, like Floyd, has a fairly rounded game including tantalizing rush potential.

With or without Floyd, Bears' top offseason priority on 'D' is adding more pass rush

Posted on February 14, 2020 - 16:11:00

As the Bears build their offseason plan in an effort to rediscover the magic of their 99th season and render their centennial follow-up (flop) a distant memory, they have 99 problems to solve but their defense arguably involves only one.

Do they need at least two new starters with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Danny Trevathan impending free agents, and perhaps a third barring a vexing decision on Leonard Floyd’s non-guaranteed $13.2 million price tag? Yep.

Should those first two potential holes be easier to fill than, say, QB2 (with QB1 upside), plug-and-play tight end and at least one new O-lineman? Absolutely.

Not only are strong safety and off-ball linebacker non-premium positions at which rookies and journeymen routinely fill the bill (see: Adrian Amos and Kevin Pierre-Louis, for instance), the Bears already have locked up the ultimate aces in the hole in former All Pro Eddie Jackson and, assuming his personal matters and torn bicep are fully resolved come camp, future Pro Bowler Roquan Smith. They’re the types of talents that can compel Ryan Pace to shop the bargain bin for their sidekicks.

Khalil Mack is obviously that dude, too (and then some), but Pace’s forthcoming OLB moves, while still a “good problem,” are much more complicated. The most expensive defensive player in NFL history, Mack is three years older than Jackson and six years older than Smith, making it more likely his performance pinnacle is upon us, if not already passed.

However, fair or not, another full season with “only” 8.5 sacks and 80 percent of his takeaways coming in the first quarter of the campaign will constitute a disappointment. Frankly, even a statistical repeat of his outrageous 2018 debut with the Bears would be disappointing relative to Mack's immense price tag if it doesn’t culminate in a playoff victory.

Of course, Mack’s somewhat pedestrian second season in Chicago — strictly relative to his own impossible standards — was sabotaged in part by Akiem Hicks’ injury and Floyd’s underwhelming pass rush contributions. Is it Pace’s burden to insulate the team’s best player with a better insurance policy this offseason? Of course it is.

That’s not to say it will be easy.

Imagine being Pace this offseason. He must at least consider pulling the plug on Floyd’s fifth-year 2020 team option and also acquire Mitch Trubisky’s potential successor. Remember, through no fault of his own, Pace already moved on from his first-ever first-round draft choice, injury-riddled former No. 7 overall pick Kevin White. Floyd was Pace’s first foray trading into the top 10 of the draft, and Trubisky’s well-documented draft story includes being Pace’s only selection at the position in five years.

But humility needs to be a prerequisite for a GM before taking the job. If Pace isn’t ready to cut ties with Floyd — and we think that’s probably the most logical course of action — he must be prepared to spend one of his two top-100 draft picks (Nos. 43 and/or 50) on an edge rusher opposite Mack who does more to affect quarterbacks. Even if it means that rookie begins as the Bears’ OLB3, which is currently a vacancy with Aaron Lynch unsigned and unlikely to return.

And if Pace is prepared to move on from Floyd, there are an unusual number of vet alternatives to sign with the recouped cash that have longer track records of pass-rushing success. That shouldn't preclude him from doubling up in the draft. Again, Mack is one week from his 29th birthday and one year from putting a stranglehold on the Bears' cap situation. It's never too early to start thinking about what's next.

Ultimately, the Bears’ precipitous takeaway reduction last season (from 37 to 19) was partially attributable to the decline in havoc created at and behind the line of scrimmage, Mack’s notwithstanding. Chicago plummeted from an 8.1 to 5.6 sack percentage, which illustrates their rarely playing on a lead (unlike in 2018) but also relying too much on the hits of a one-man band in Mack.

The Bears have enviable defensive personnel, including stars at all three levels. But new starter, adding another difference-making edge rusher should be Pace’s top priority — even with a “multiplier” in Mack already here.     

Hub Arkush: Bears can't afford big-name QB with all their additional needs

Posted on February 13, 2020 - 19:38:00

Why is everyone looking in the luxury aisle for a quarterback for the Bears?

Yes, clearly it is the most important position on the football field.

Yes, Mitch Trubisky did disappoint greatly in 2019 after a breakthrough campaign in 2018, his future is in real doubt and the Bears need to add at least two quarterbacks to the roster.

That said, it is quite possible the position isn’t among the top three or four most urgent things to do on Ryan Pace’s list.

The problem with all the gum-flapping over which QBs – Brady, Foles, Newton, Dalton, Bridgewater, Winston, Mariota, etc. – the Bears should be pursuing either via trade or free agency is it seems quite possible they can’t afford any of them.

As of the day before Valentines Day, the team has approximately $13 million in cap space and the ability to fairly easily create another $18-25 million or so by cutting some veterans and/or extending certain contracts.

Of course, it takes two sides to extend deals and make them more cap friendly.

But let’s go all out and say they get to $38 million in available cap space and after then putting $5-7 million aside for rookies and emergency they are ready to shop.

Pace’s reality is that while a backup QB who may be good enough to push Mitch and a youngster to develop – it will be inexcusable if the Bears don’t take a quarterback somewhere in the draft this season – is relatively urgent, he is currently without starters at tight end, inside linebacker and safety, every bit as much in need of an upgrade at left tackle as he is those three starters, possibly without a starter at right guard and if he creates his additional cap space by releasing Leonard Floyd and/or Prince Amukamara, he will need another starting outside linebacker and may need a veteran corner to hedge his bets on Kevin Toliver and the other backups.

Should the Bears trade for Foles, he comes with a 2020 cap hit of approximately $15 million, Newton brings an $18.6 million hit and Dalton $17.7 million.

Newton has been in a downward spiral ever since his 2015 MVP campaign, and Dalton is a barely average QB who’s had only one season in nine better than or as good as Trubisky’s ’18 campaign.

What if one, two or all of them are released and available in free agency?

The Bears could do a somewhat cap-friendly deal for 2020, but the totals of those contracts could become real albatrosses down the road whether Trubisky blooms or not.

And of course to get one of them via trade, the team already without picks in the first and third rounds will almost certainly have to give up at least one if not more of the eight picks (assuming it gets a compensatory fourth for Adrian Amos) it has, making it that much more difficult to address all its needs.

Bridgewater is going to be the most expensive of the bunch, there are a handful of reasons Brady is a bad idea for the Bears and what about Winston – an awful fit for Nagy’s offense – or Mariota, both of whom are going to get short-term, unfriendly cap deals, is more exciting than Trubisky right now?

If the Bears focus their cap resources on the 4-6 starters they need as much or more as a backup QB who may be good enough to start, they’ve already proven they can be a playoff team and even win a playoff game with a better than average kicker and Trubisky under center.

If they go too hard at quarterback and are left without the assets to fill their other needs they will waste even more time than they already wasted last season in their current window to contend.

Hell yeah, quarterback is a need.

But focusing on quality at tight end, left tackle, safety, inside and outside linebacker, a quality number two running back and the Case Keenums, Matt Moores and Chad Hennes of the world gives the Bears a better shot at being relevant in 2020 — a must right now for Pace and Matt Nagy.

Eyes only for Mitch? Penning pretend Valentines on Bears' behalf to available offseason QBs

Posted on February 13, 2020 - 13:13:00

Imagining Bears' professions of love for some potential Trubisky contingencies, from Dalton to Fromm

How many of us remember making Valentines for classmates in grade school? Reserving a bit of extra TLC for that card or cards addressed to a crush, perhaps? It could be as simple as using your best, biggest and brightest stickers for said card(s) or practicing a bit more patience on the penmanship. The messaging and aesthetics truly mattered — or so we certainly thought at the time — yes?

That brief trip down memory lane leads us to the same place as so many of our early offseason travails: the Bears’ QB dilemma. One low-key issue complicating an already-tricky matter is messaging and aesthetics.

The Bears already reaffirmed their affinity for Trubisky in one of two public opportunities (read: obligations) prior to the new league year opening, with the other less than two weeks from now at the scouting combine. However poorly received by fans, the message from Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy that they expect Trubisky to remain the starter, and QB development isn’t linear was delivered in the only logical way at the time, and we can expect to hear similar on the record comments in Indianapolis.

After all, the Bears must maintain whatever little semblance of leverage they may still have regarding Trubisky’s job status while continuing to manage his, we’ll call it not-overly-fortified psyche.

But rest assured with two vacancies alongside him in the QB room, the Bears have and will continue having far different conversations in private regarding their Trubisky contingencies for what could be a make-or-break 2020 campaign for the regime. Those are the conversations we all wish we were privy to but only precious few will be included when they heat up in Indianapolis in two weeks.

Just remember, as our old colleague Greg Gabriel loves to say, “lying season” is now underway. Even if Pace romanticized Trubisky’s old Toyota and fell in love early in the pre-draft process three years ago, he’s adept at concealing his true feelings — and that won’t change as they relate to the biggest decision of the Bears offseason.

But while Pace’s so-called Valentine, or pitch for Mitch figures to receive the most thought, here are a few others for available quarterbacks that the Bears general manager and head coach Matt Nagy may spend a bit of extra time on.

To Andy Dalton, new OC Bill Lazor’s old pupil and officially on the trade market: Your hair is red, Trubisky’s play has us feeling blue, a championship-caliber defense and bona fide shot to win this job early could finally equal postseason win No. 1 for you. 

To Nick Foles, with whom three Bears coaches (Nagy, Lazor and QB coach John DeFilippo) previously worked: Absence makes the heart grow fonder Big Nick, and your contract with the Jaguars means our absence from each other lasts at least one more year. If Mitch keeps playing the way he did for the first 2.5 quarters against your Eagles in the 2017 wild-card round, a 2021 reunion would be worth the wait.

To Teddy Bridgewater, backup to Pace BFFs Drew Brees and Sean Payton and a (likely expensive) free agent: You had us at Week 7 when Brees and Kamara were down and you stepped up armed with something called an adaptable offense and physical run game. While Sean may have eyes for Taysom, ours are strictly for you … but would you consider a discount?

To Marcus Mariota, whom Pace reportedly coveted in 2015, now the odd man out with Titans: We’re sorry we had to let Mark Helfrich go, but he had such great things to say about working with you at Oregon. Trubisky has never gone on a run like Ryan Tannehill just did.

To Derek Carr, reportedly not happening nor staying in Vegas: We have your best friend Khalil Mack, we don't have your worst nightmare Jon Gruden and we're working on finding your TE lifeline Darren Waller.

To Nate Sudfeld, a free agent who worked with DeFilippo in Philadelphia and shares an agent with Trubisky: Tell Mitch that you’re meeting with us but have been assured you’re strictly an insurance policy. Just know we love your Indiana tape and signed CFL import Tre Roberson, your former Hoosier teammate, as a recruiting tool.

To Jake Fromm, likely Day 2 draft prospect: We absolutely <3 drafting Georgia players and you’re going to <3 reestablishing that 2018 rapport with your leading Bulldog receiver Riley Ridley.

To Anthony Gordon, Day 2-Day 3 draft prospect: Minshew Magic? Pfft. The magic was his coach, not the quarterback you sat behind at WSU, and DeFilippo is with us now.

Hub Arkush: Are answers to Bears' offseason questions hiding in plain sight?

Posted on February 7, 2020 - 21:02:00

Before Ryan Pace determines what exactly he needs, he must be certain on what Bears have

There is little to no debate about what the Bears' greatest needs are in order for them to return to the playoffs in 2020, or even much disagreement about what comes first, second, third or fourth.

If the Bears can fix the tight end, left tackle, safety and right guard positions during the offseason, the only excuse for missing the playoffs again will be poor performance from Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy or both.

Though we realize Trubisky and Nagy are the biggest wild cards, they can’t approach their ceilings until those other four positions are fixed.

With 52 players currently under contract, the Bears will be somewhere between $12.85 million and $13.35 million under the salary cap once Kyle Long’s retirement papers are filed or he is released.

With no cap casualties, they can easily extend or redo a few contracts – Allen Robinson and Leonard Floyd are prime examples – to create at least another $10 million in space, and should players like Prince Amukamara ($9 million) and Taylor Gabriel ($4.5 million) be deemed expendable, the Bears could end up with as much as $35 million-plus to play with.

The point is, the Bears can probably afford one big time free agency deal and three or four mid-level contracts.

Their issues at tight end are at both the "Y" position and the "U."

But the reality is that a healthy Trey Burton — with an $8.5 million cap hit but $7.5 million of it all dead space — isn’t going anywhere, and he was much better than average in 2018.

Jesper Horsted is a proven receiver who can probably learn to block well enough to be a factor in the league.

Then there is Dax Raymond, who spent 2019 on the practice squad but has promise as either a "Y" or a "U" — although more likely as a "Y."

A healthy Hunter Henry or Austin Hooper could be the player whom the Bears invest in as their one big free agent deal, but Henry’s injury history is worrisome.

Reality is the Bears just need one more tight end, but he has to be their No. 1 tight end and there isn’t one in the Draft that screams rookie starter at the "Y."

Conversely, it is a great year to draft offensive lineman and a poor one to look for them in free agency.

Brandon Scherff would be an immediate, huge upgrade to the Bears line, but he is going to be very expensive. The Bears can’t sign Scherff and Henry or Hooper.

Joe Thuney could look good at guard, too, but may not be worth his price tag with the Bears cap situation.

The questions for Pace: is Rashaad Coward or Alex Bars the answer at guard, or should Bars be competing with Charles Leno at left tackle?

With Anthony Castonzo likely to either retire or stay in Indianapolis, Pace isn’t going to find an answer to his tackle dilemma in free agency — short of an ancient Andrew Whitworth or Jason Peters — and a trade for Trent Williams from Washington seems less likely with Ron Rivera now in charge.

Is Coward, Bars or both a quality NFL offensive lineman in waiting?

It seems unlikely the Bears will re-sign Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, which means Eddie Jackson is the only safety left on the roster.

There is talent in the Draft and free agency, but was the seventh-round draft pick last year used on Stephen Denmark, the 6-3, 215-pound WR-CB convert mere folly based on workout numbers, or can the kid play defense?

If I’m Pace, I’m spending all spring and summer finding out if Denmark has an attack mode because he looks a lot more like a safety than a corner to me.

Lastly, while I haven’t mentioned inside linebacker, Roquan Smith is the only one the Bears have left under contract, unless Joel Iyiegbuniwe can play.

We haven’t seen any signs “Iggy” can be a contributor on defense yet, and if he can’t a fair amount of the Bears cap space will have to be allocated at inside linebacker too.

Horsted, Raymond, Coward, Bars, Denmark and Iyiegbuniwe are the young men who just might hold the keys to what the Bears do next.

The question is how much better can they be?

What Bears fans should know about the return of the XFL

Posted on February 7, 2020 - 14:34:00

Our new handy XFL watch guide includes all of the Bears ties worth tracking

Before the XFL officially makes its comeback Saturday with the DC Defenders — led by former Bears QB coach Pep Hamilton and former Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel — hosting the Seattle Seadragons, we're uncovering every Bears connection, and explaining all the biggest rule changes from the NFL, to maximize fans' viewing pleasure.

From head coaches to former starters, the Bears will be represented on at least six of the eight XFL rosters. However, before taking a trip down memory lane — and perhaps foreshadowing future reunions — we must familiarize with the basics of the second iteration of the XFL, once again led by WWE czar Vince McMahon, with former NFL player Oliver Luck presiding as commissioner.

Eight teams comprise the XFL, spanning from Feb. 8 through Championship Sunday on April 26, and will play 10 regular-season games, with the top four clubs qualifying for the postseason. Unlike in its short-lived maiden voyage in 2001, the XFL returns mostly sans gimmicks with a vow to focus first and foremost on quality of play. There still are a number of rule changes, most notably the introduction of two legal forward passes and revised kickoff and punting protocol. As long as the first forward pass is completed behind the line of scrimmage, the ball can once again be advanced via pass. And rather than beginning at the 35, the kickoff now starts at the 30, with the coverage and return teams prohibited from running starts. On punts, touchbacks now are moved to the 35, rather than the 20, an effort to encourage teams to more frequently eschew them and go for it on fourth downs.

The XFL will have a 25-second play clock, compared to the NFL's 40 seconds, and an extra official, whose singular task is spotting the ball, to speed up games. And to spice them up, there are no extra points, rather one-, two- and three-point conversion attempts, beginning at the 2-, 5- and 10-yard lines, respectively. In other words, any single-digit deficit can now potentially be erased with one touchdown.

Point spreads and betting ramifications will now be included in broadcasts and on the television ticker, and the XFL is aiming to remove the ambiguity that's plagued the NFL catch rule by allowing any part of a receiver's body to count as two feet inbounds.

For other notable rule changes, such as no illegal men downfield, a five-round overtime format akin to NHL shootouts and modified clock requirements during the final two minutes of halves now deemed "comeback periods," visit the official XFL rulebook.

With that, let's revisit a few of the more recognizable former Bears who are now players and/or coaches in the XFL, beginning with — :: whispers :: — the 14th head coach in franchise history, Marc Trestman.

The new head coach of the Tampa Vipers brings his version of the West Coast offense to central Florida where he'll team with fellow former NFL head coach, Viper defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville. Their quarterback is ex-Georgia Bulldog star Aaron Murray, and former Bears nickel back Demontre Hurst is a backup safety.

Though Trestman is probably the most famous Bears alum in the new XFL, the largest former Navy and Orange sector arguably resides in our nation's capital with the DC Defenders. In addition to Hamilton and Gabriel overseeing coaching and personnel, respectively, they have former Bears TE Khari Lee and LB Jameer Thurman. Lee's greatest Bears distinction is probably costing Ryan Pace a sixth-round draft pick via trade from the Houston Texans a few months after they signed him as an undrafted free agent. No, he didn't pan out, but Lee's acquisition foreshadowed the issues Pace would have stabilizing the Bears' TE corps.

And no XFL club has a longer list of notable NFL cast-offs than the Defenders, with former first- and second-round defensive backs Matt Elam and Rahim Moore and bazooka-launching quarterbacks in Cardale Jones and Tyree Jackson, among others.

Among those who'll be hunting Jones Saturday: Will Sutton, the former Bears' three-technique whom Trestman and then-GM Phil Emery plucked out of Arizona State in 2014 in Round 3.

After Sutton, the ex-Bear-turned-XFLer with the most extensive NFL starting experience is Harold Jones-Quartey, a backup safety with the St. Louis Battlehawks. HJQ was a decent undrafted find by Pace out of tiny Findlay when the two were rookies in 2015. Another decent Pace find, albeit accentuated by the dearth of other NFL-caliber alternatives in the Bears' position room at the time, WR Tre McBride is on the Los Angeles Wildcats' receiving end of longtime backup QB Josh Johnson.

There are a number of other XFL players who spent time inside Halas Hall scratching and clawing for Bears roster spots, including OL Dejon Allen (Battlehawks) and DB Dowin Jibowu. Their best shot now at returning to the NFL as early as April 27 will be finding ways to show out in the XFL beginning Saturday.

Bears Insider Podcast 186: The offseason is here

Posted on February 6, 2020 - 16:25:45

Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush dive into the offseason and what the Bears will be up to.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

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PFW's final 2019-20 Power Rankings

Posted on February 6, 2020 - 10:22:00

Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date. Rankings will change each week because of personnel changes, injuries and performance, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out. These are PFW’s Power Rankings entering Super Bowl LIV.

Rank / Team / Offseason focus

1. Chiefs (15-4): The Chiefs can save $14M in cap space by cutting Sammy Watkins, who went more than four months between touchdowns and 100-receiving yard games.

2. 49ers (15-4): Sherman will be 32 and in a contract year in 2020 after accounting for nearly half of his secondary's INTs. A ball-hawking DB to maximize that pass rush is priority No. 1.

3. Ravens (14-3): Locking up homegrown studs Matt Judon, an impending free agent, and Ronnie Stanley, who has one year left on his rookie deal, likely head the the to-do list.

4. Saints (13-4): If Taysom, not Teddy, is the reported favorite to be Drew Brees' heir in New Orleans, why did the Saints invest so much in Bridgewater the past two years?

5. Patriots (12-5): All eyes on Tom Brady's impending free agency, but pressure's on Belichick to ensure more voids aren't created with Devin McCourty and Joe Thuney also free.

6. Packers (14-4): Will a legitimate Davante Adams complement help vintage Aaron Rodgers return? That seems unlikely. But defense still remains their biggest concern.

7. Seahawks (12-6): Perhaps less of the focus should be on taking the ball out of Russ' hands with their run game more of it should be on fixing their run defense.

8. Vikings (11-7): Promotion of Gary Kubiak following Kevin Stefanski's departure for Cleveland should ensure continuity on offense, but vast turnover on defense is imminent.

9. Texans (10-7): Is Bill O'Brien going to handle the Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil extensions, too? Who else is left in Houston's front office?

10. Titans (11-8): Jack Conklin seized his opportunity after Titans declined fifth-year option. Now the bill comes due with vexing decisions on Tannehill, Henry also abound.

11. Bills (10-7): Pivotal offseason looming, and it won't be cheap, with screaming needs at premium positions, including receiver and edge rusher.

12. Eagles (9-8): Like Buffalo, the Eagles are looking at the right draft to covet receivers. Unlike the Bills, Philadelphia also needs corners in the worst way.

13. Rams (9-7): Unit to watch closely in 2020: special teams. McVay lost one of NFL's best coordinators in Fassel, and the Rams' extraordinarily top heavy cap compounds depth questions.

14. Falcons (7-9): Speaking of imbalanced cap situations, the Falcons' will be extremely tough to navigate; Mohamed Sanu trade to Patriots for a second-rounder (No. 55) looms very large.

15. Steelers (8-8): They're comfortable with Mason Rudolph backing up Big Ben in 2020. Curious, but in fairness, hard to imagine the offense ravaged by injuries like that again.

16. Bears (8-8): Ryan Pace has a habit of overcompensating to correct previous mistakes, part of offseason fascination surrounding his QB room with only Mitch Trubisky under contract.

17. Cowboys (8-8): Doesn't it feel imminent that either Amari Cooper or Byron Jones are playing elsewhere next season? Is keeping Dak and letting Cooper walk too risky?

18. Bucs (7-9): We can certainly understand being done with Jameis, but to replace him with Rivers would be rather odd.

19. Colts (7-9): This would be a far more logical Rivers landing spot. Elite O-line: check. Previous coaching connection: check. Glaring QB need: check. Gobs of cap room: check.

20. Broncos (7-9): Former third-round CB Isaac Yiadom remains an unknown entering Year 3, which puts John Elway in a tough spot with homegrown FA Chris Harris.

21. Raiders (7-9): They can create $16.5 million in cap space by cutting Derek Carr. How sure a bet is Tom Brady at age 43? Vegas should know, right?

22. Jets (7-9): Would the money Robby Anderson is poised to command be better spent along the O-line for Darnold and around Quinnen Williams and Jamal Adams on 'D?'

23. Cardinals (5-10-1): It's not that we don't understand those that are bullish on Cardinals in 2020, but do those prognosticators understand how tough NFC West has become?

24. Chargers (5-11): If this is the end for Rivers and the Bolts, we just wish it didn't have to be so acrimonious. Alas, these are the Chargers.

25. Dolphins (5-11): How does a first-round haul that includes potential franchise quarterback, left (or right?) tackle and game-changing WR1 sound, 'Phins fans? Can all be yours come April.

26. Jaguars (6-10): Is Doug Marrone keeping the seat warm for his new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden? We can think of worse arrangements (if not more awkward).

27. Browns (6-10): After decades of dumb moves, if Browns keep making them, at least they'll come from some of the most educated men in NFL — DePodesta, Berry and Stefanski.

28. Giants (4-12): For all of his inexperience, Joe Judge now has a pair of former NFL head coaches on his new staff — Garrett and Kitchens — and another from the college ranks, Dooley.

29. Panthers (5-11): What happens when you pair a new, analytics-driven management team with Carolina in the first offseason when Christian McCaffrey can sign a new deal? Buckle up.

30. Washington (3-13): Chase Young is going to look exceptional in burgundy and gold helping flank that ex-Bama star-laden D-line.

31. Lions (3-12-1): A cautionary tale: the Lions outspent everyone in the conference last offseason en route to three wins and the No. 3 overall pick.

32. Bengals (2-14): Their affinity for drafting tight ends means the Bengals are reuniting LSU studs Burrow and Moss in the NFL, right?

Hub Arkush: With Chiefs, 49ers as new litmus test, how does Bears roster size up?

Posted on February 3, 2020 - 18:38:00

Bears only lagging at a few positions, but Nagy and Trubisky unsolved puzzles

MIAMI — So just who will the 2020 Chicago Bears be, the 2018 12-4 NFC North champs, better, or the club that moonwalked its way to 8-8, parked dead center in the middle of the NFL road?

Based on what we’ve seen the past two years, just how far are the Bears from the NFL’s elite?

Clearly the measuring sticks are the Chiefs and 49ers, and we know how huge a difference just one offseason done right can make.

QUARTERBACKS: Patrick Mahomes is in a league of his own right now, end of conversation.

However, in Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Jimmy Garoppolo made many of the same mistakes Mitch Trubisky does, and Garoppolo’s been in the league twice as long and is nowhere near the athlete Trubisky is.

I’m not predicting anything here but for at least one more season, Trubisky’s ceiling remains as high or higher than Garoppolo’s.

RUNNING BACKS: The 49ers' ground game is the best in the NFL, but it’s based on scheme and blocking, not its backs — all good but none special.

Though the Chiefs' rushing attack is more explosive than the Bears', it is no more consistent or productive, and it’s quite possible David Montgomery will turn out to be the best NFL back on any of these three teams, and either Tarik Cohen or Cordarrelle Patterson could be the most explosive.

The question: Can Matt Nagy figure out what to do with them?

RECEIVERS: The Chiefs have the best group in the NFL.

San Francisco’s is pedestrian at best— although rookie Deebo Samuel may possess an Allen Robinson-like future.

Robinson is a solid No. 1. If Anthony Miller’s shoulder returns to 100 percent and Taylor Gabriel can stay on the field (assuming he isn’t an offseason cap casualty), with Riley Ridley’s upside the Bears can contend here with most clubs, other than the Chiefs.

TIGHT END: In Travis Kelce and George Kittle, the Chiefs and 49ers have the two best in the game.

The Bears have nothing, and the problem is magnified by the importance of the position in Nagy’s offense.

It’s the one position where the Bears aren’t close to being in the conversation.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The 49ers' Joe Staley is the only better-than-average left tackle on any of these teams, while Kansas City’s Mitchell Schwartz is one of the NFL’s best right tackles and the Niners' Mike McGlinchey is a solid up and comer.

The Bears must upgrade the OT position.

But both Super Bowl teams are pedestrian in the interior from guard-to-guard, and Cody Whitehair and James Daniels may just offer more upside inside than either conference champ.

DEFENSIVE FRONT: You can’t compare defensive lines because the Chiefs and 49ers are built around "40" fronts and the Bears are a 3-4 team.

But as good as Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones and Frank Clark are, we know Akiem Hicks is as good or better, Khalil Mack is better, and Eddie Goldman and Roquan Smith certainly make the Bears front seven the equal of these two, possibly the best with a year under Chuck Pagano’s belt.

SECONDARY: Again, Richard Sherman and Tyrann Mathieu are special, but with Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson, the Bears' DB corps, like Kansas City and San Francisco, includes two former first-team All Pros and is certainly the equal of the three if not the best.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bears have the best return game in the league, and as long as Eddy Pineiro continues to grow they can contend with these guys right now.

COACHES: Andy Reid is in rare air with only Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, and Kyle Shanahan is well ahead of Nagy today.

But who is Nagy really, the 2018 NFL Coach of the Year or the guy who led that ’19 moonwalk?

Focusing on the nucleuses of these three clubs – all have free agent and injury issues to deal with – the only spots where the Bears are significantly deficient are tight end and left tackle, while they obviously have serious riddles to unravel at quarterback and head coach.

No! The Bears are definitely not contenders right now.

But other contenders and even Super Bowl champs have cured a lot more ills in just one offseason than the Bears have to solve to get there.

What Bears can learn from Super Bowl LIV

Posted on February 3, 2020 - 12:46:00

After watching old friends win it all, Matt Nagy's Bears have a need for speed, scrambling and supplemental pass rush

Matt Nagy's mentor, Andy Reid, and former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, are Super Bowl champions at last. Here are 3 things we think the Bears head coach should take away from watching Super Bowl LIV that give him the best chance of coaching in the final game of the 2020-21 season in Tampa a year from now.

1. Mobility matters: The Bears obviously should've drafted Patrick Mahomes, but we're well past that and onto how they must make the best of their current situation.

Mitch Trubisky was one of the league's most lethal running quarterbacks two seasons ago, but ever since suffering his first shoulder injury in Week 11 of the 2018 campaign, he hasn't shown the same willingness to utilize perhaps his best weapon.

Prior to that injury sustained on a late hit by Harrison Smith, Trubisky had 363 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 51 attempts in 10 games under Nagy. In his 18 games since, Trubisky has the same number of carries (51) for 260 yards and 2 TDs.

Again, we're past comparing Mitch and Mahomes as passers, but it seems fair to point out that the Chiefs aren't the champs today without easily Mahomes' best three-game stretch as a pro — as a runner. His 24 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns this postseason amounted to almost half of his average rushing output in his first two full seasons as the starter.

Mahomes' scrambles throughout the playoffs in daunting down-and-distance situations bailed out the Chiefs while breaking defense's backs, not only accentuating another trick in his endless bag but reminding the Bears of a key ingredient in their recipe on offense in 2018 that went missing last season.

The Bears say Trubisky is still their starter, and if that comes to fruition come Week 1, they must hope he reverts back to the pre-injury runner, post-shoulder surgery.

2. Havoc inside and out: Good news here! Akiem Hicks, while hardly as prolific as the Chiefs' Chris Jones purely as a ball swatter at the line of scrimmage, remains one of the more dynamic interior defensive lineman in football and returns fully healthy to provide Khalil Mack the sidekick he sorely lacked last season.

No Chiefs defender was more valuable Sunday than Jones, who almost singlehandedly in the final two drives snuffed out a Niner passing game that makes its money more often than any other in the league between the hashes with 3 (!) passes defensed over the final three possessions. Sure, Dee Ford notched a key fourth-down sack and Steve Spagnuolo was masterful with his timely late pressure calls, but Jones' remarkable penchant for getting his hands up to knock the ball down when he can't get home was the ultimate outside rush supplement.

So what's the lesson here for Nagy? It might be for Ryan Pace, who surely won't get the chance to poach Jones, an impending free agent with vines for arms, from Kansas City but might choose to prioritize interior length and/or find more ways to get Roy Roberson-Harris rushing next to Hicks next season.

And speaking of sidekicks, the Bears' toughest decision this offseason might be what to do with Leonard Floyd, the former first-rounder coming off a career-low 3 sacks and set to earn $13.2 million on the 2020 team option. Nagy and Pace might want to use 49ers DE Arik Armstead as their example of a player who came on like gangbusters with his first double-digit sack season after San Francisco's blind faith to exercise its option.

But that was (A) a lot cheaper for the Niners who (B) didn't have the Bears' cap constraints.

So we'd suggest they more strongly consider at the relatively unconventional methods both Super Bowl participants used to find new sidekicks, the Niners trading for Dee Ford to pair with Nick Bosa and the Chiefs not only trading for Frank Clark to replace Ford but claiming Terrell Suggs off waivers.

Yes, they're unique circumstances, but the Bears must think outside the box to maximize Khalil Mack, not be resigned to paying Floyd.

3. Boom goes the deficit: The Bears certainly know a ton about digging early holes — they were the worst first-quarter scoring team in football — but less about engineering jaw-dropping fourth-quarter comebacks, which naturally require scoring in the fourth quarter, where they also ranked last in the NFL.

The Chiefs overcame multi-score deficits in three consecutive playoff games to win each by multiple scores, the first time ever in NFL postseason history. We've known for two years now that swift, powerful strikes epitomize their offense, but this was just ridiculous.

comp:00005e37ef31:0000000007:5a89 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ChiefsKingdom?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ChiefsKingdom</a> postseason TD drives when trailing:<br>2-42-0:59<br>3-33-0:23<br>3-6-1:25<br>8-90-2:03<br>10-74-5:06<br>5-63-2:36<br>15-75-7:26<br>10-83-2:40<br>7-65-2:26<br><br>Blinking not advised.</p>&mdash; Arthur Arkush (@ArthurArkush) <a href="https://twitter.com/ArthurArkush/status/1224350729726459904?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 3, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 16

We also already knew that the Chiefs are the fastest team in football, with elite YAC weapons everywhere Mahomes looks. But we can use Damien Williams, the other Chiefs' non-QB most deserving of the Super Bowl LIV MVP honors that predictably went to Mahomes, as our example here: He was signed to a two-year, $5.5 million in the spring of 2018 to back up then-rookie revelation Kareem Hunt. That's not unlike the deal Mike Davis inked last spring with the Bears to back up top pick David Montgomery. One key difference: Williams runs 4.45; Davis, 4.61.

Tyreek Hill might be the fastest player in football, if not for teammate Mecole Hardman (speaking of rookie revelations), but what about the receiver whom the Chiefs chose over Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins? He runs 4.43, compared to Robinson's 4.6. If Hill's 44-yard catch wasn't Sunday's chief comeback catalyst, Watkins' 38-yarder minutes later to set up the game-winning touchdown was.

To be clear: Signing Robinson rather than Watkins, first choice or not, clearly was the right decision by Pace. We also love Anthony Miller and David Montgomery and think fellow recent draft picks Riley Ridley and Javon Wims potentially can be useful NFL players. But none of their calling cards is speed.

It might not matter until the Bears have their quarterback who can maximize it, but speed clearly kills in the Reid offense, whereas the lack of it has contributed to the many ills in Nagy's.

Ask Hub: Is Super Bowl contention realistic for 2020 Bears?

Posted on February 3, 2020 - 10:28:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions weekly

Ask Hub

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions in every newsletter:

Hub ... Mitch Trubisky had surgery [last] week on the shoulder (non throwing shoulder) he injured in the Minnesota game in Chicago. Can we say a big reason Mitch wild throws is because he was playing with a "bum" shoulder? I may be reaching here, I just want Mitch to succeed here! Submitted by Tony G.

Tony, my best guess is no, that wasn’t the problem.

The reality is I think Mitch actually played better after a couple weeks back from the injury. Clearly, he was playing with an injury that required surgery and probably experiencing some real discomfort, and I wouldn’t minimize that in any way, but you have to remember it was his non-throwing shoulder this year and after injuring his right shoulder in 2018, he also missed just two games and came back fine.

Trubisky’s problems in 2019 did relate to inaccuracy and bad timing on throws at various points, but his bigger issue was an inability to see the field and read coverages and defenses, and that had nothing to do with his shoulder.

2019 was such a huge disappointment for the Bears, so was 2018 a fluke? What should fans realistically expect from this team in 2020?

No, 2018 was not a fluke. The defense was as good as any we’ve seen this century and it continues to possess All-Pro talent at every level. With a few sharp decisions in free agency this offseason and Chuck Pagano in his second season – remember, 2018 was Vic Fangio’s fourth season building and coaching that group – there is a good chance the 2020 season could be just as good as ’18 on that side of the ball.

There was a bit of “puck luck” getting 27 interceptions and 36 total takeaways in 2018 that we knew wouldn’t be repeated in ’19, and losing Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith all to injuries this past season certainly didn’t help.

The Bears were one of the healthiest teams in the NFL in 2018, much like the Packers were in 2019, but we should have expected that was more luck than anything else and injuries certainly took their toll this past season.

The Bears also played the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2018 and one of the toughest last season.

On offense, clearly trading away a Pro Bowl running back with no answers as to who would replace him was a mistake, and the injury-plagued campaign of Trey Burton exposed the poor evaluations on Adam Shaheen, which were covered up a bit in ’18 when Burton was productive.

David Montgomery looks like he can be the next Jordan Howard, but the Bears badly need a true No. 2 running back – who could be Cordarrelle Patterson, if they’re willing to commit – and upgrades at left tackle and the "Y" tight end.

However, that is not at all too much to get done in one offseason and if Mitch Trubisky just plays back to his 2018 form, the Bears can contend again n 2020.

After Trubisky wins the MVP next season (57 td passes) will the Bears make him the highest paid player in football? Submitted by Ernie McCrackem

No. I’m assuming you’re just being a troll Ernie, but some folks occasionally accuse me of avoiding questions I don’t want to answer or waste time on, so I won’t skip yours, but I also won’t give it any more time than it’s worth.

Again, no!

Is the coach who will lead the bears to a SB victory currently on the team? Submitted by Dan Hawker

Dan, it's a fascinating question but obviously one I would need to have at least some powers of extra sensory perception to answer, and I’m afraid I don’t.

For all the haters around Chicago today, Matt Nagy remains a two-year NFL head coach with one Coach of the Year Award and impeccable credentials for what you’re seeking, but it is hard to ignore some of the disappointing things he did in 2019.

Nagy continues to be quite well regarded by executives around the league – bringing them back from 3-5 by winning four of their next five to get back in the playoff hunt impressed a lot of objective non-Bears fans – but it is fair to wonder whether he has enough respect for the run game or the ability to design and use it well enough to balance out his offense at a “winning” level.

I’ve seen enough overall to still believe he gets the problem and has the smarts to fix it.

I just don’t know him well enough yet to know if ego or stubbornness are getting in his way and could keep him from taking the next step. I am impressed enough by the culture he and Ryan Pace have built and how much his players like playing for him to believe that is the big question he has to answer.

Chuck Pagano should get a chance to be a head coach in the NFL again, but if it were with the Bears it would have to be because Nagy failed, and for that to happen there would likely be a fair amount of personnel turnover bringing into question whether or not the Bears would have the talent for a Super Bowl regardless of who the coach is.

But Pagano may be a Super Bowl-type head coach.

Dave Ragone and John DeFilippo are highly thought of young coaches who could eventually have head coaching opportunities ahead of them — it’s just too soon to tell.

Can the Bears win another Super Bowl under the current ownership? Submitted by Chuck Chuckelson

Yes they can Chuck, as long as the family continues to stay completely out of the football side of the operation — as they have ever since George McCaskey took over for Michael — and they hire the right football people.

While they aren’t there at the moment, with no more than 4-6 of the right additional players and continued development of Matt Nagy as a head coach, they could contend as soon as the next year or two

Why are you such a Bears apologist? Submitted by some jerk

Let me ask you a question: While I know it is a minority and probably a small minority of which you are obviously a member, why is it that some Bears fans are ignorant enough to believe that any analyst who insists on being objective and looking at both sides of every issue is a homer or an apologist?

Had you read, watched and listened to all my work, you’d know you couldn’t be further from the truth with your question.

Hub Arkush: As Bears struggle on ground, Chicago's favorite sons key NFC champ 49ers' run game

Posted on February 2, 2020 - 09:40:00

MIAMI — The San Francisco 49ers' connections to Chicago and the Bears run a lot deeper than Robbie Gould, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jimmie Ward.

While Chicago Public League high schools make up one of the great basketball factories in the country, they don’t produce a ton of top football talent— let alone NFL players.

San Francisco’s left guard, Laken Tomlinson grew up in the same Rogers Park neighborhood I did – obviously a few decades earlier – and rode the ‘L’ and busses to Lane Tech in high school.

Tomlinson says he didn’t really realize CPS doesn’t produce a ton of top NFL talent.

“I mean, I can only talk from my experience coming out of Lane Tech, it was me and Louis Trinca-Pasat. He played at Iowa and went on to play for the Rams.

“We have some good players but you’ve got to be successful in college, you have to get good grades and then be fortunate enough to get drafted in the league.

“It’s tough and you know there is a small percentage of players that make it to the league from college alone, not only Chicago.”

Tomlinson was the 28th pick in the first round of the 2015 draft — which took place in Chicago — by the Detroit Lions and was traded to the 49ers in 2017, establishing himself as a key cog in their offensive line and devastating ground game.

“A bunch of my friends still live in Chicago. I try to go back every now and then to visit my mom, of course, and I still have cousins that are there,” Tomlinson says.

“I miss Chicago. I miss family. Chicago’s an awesome place. I have tons of fond memories there.”

Running back Tevin Coleman grew up in Oak Forest and was an All State running back and track star at Oak Forest before going to Indiana.

“Yeah, I definitely grew up a Bears fan watching Devin Hester, you know what I’m saying, do work, and all those other guys,” Coleman told me earlier this week.

While he didn’t seem terribly focused on it, he did tell me when I asked him if the Bears were one of his suitors as a free agent last offseason after spending his first four NFL seasons as a fourth round pick of the Falcons: “I don’t think so, no. The Bears weren’t a team that reached out to me.”

It was a Bears decision that puzzled some after they had just traded Jordan Howard and had yet to draft David Montgomery.

Though Howard and Coleman were never together at Indiana, they do have a strong connection.

“Jordan actually came (to Indiana) right after I left. He came in from Birmingham right after I left, but when he got in the league we got some time to chop it up and he’s a real great dude, good dude and we’ve got the same agent.”

Closing the loop on the 49ers-Bears connections and both team’s RB situations is emerging star Raheem Mostert.

He is actually a Florida kid who played his college ball at Purdue, but after NFL stops in 2015-16with the Eagles, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns and Jets, Mostert became a Bear in Week 2 of the 2016 season.

“I remember walking into that building and it’s an unbelievable organization. I met unbelievable teammates I still talk to this day," Mostert told me.

“They were going through some things on the ground, and actually Jeremy Langford had just gotten hurt and I remember Jordan Howard stepped up and did what he had to do and he did a great job.”

It wasn’t that the Bears missed on Mostert — he was a street free agent while Howard had been drafted in the fifth round and was on his way to an All Rookie Team nod and Pro Bowl selection.

And Mostert certainly holds no ill will toward the Bears.

“We’re all family," he said. "I still follow them to this day and I still talk to those guys on social media and we all still communicate and I tell them how proud I am of them, and I appreciate them for being my friends and being my brothers.”

Hub Arkush: Bears all-time scoring leader Robbie Gould hopes to grasp elusive Super Bowl ring with 49ers

Posted on February 1, 2020 - 14:46:00

But in Gould's heart, he will always be a Chicago Bear

MIAMI — Robbie Gould is one of those rare Chicago Bears who became much more beloved after he left town than he was when he was here.

The former Bears’ placekicker and franchise’s all-time leading scorer was certainly well-liked over his 11 seasons as a Bear, there can be no disputing that.

But there is also no debating that few if any Bears fans raised any kind of a stink when after setting the Bears' all-time scoring record in mid October of 2015, Gould was released following the season by rookie GM Ryan Pace — thanks in large part to a campaign to move on from then-special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and head coach John Fox.

It was actually Gould’s second-most prolific season as a Bear — with 127 points, trailing only the 2006 Super Bowl season when he totaled 143 points — but it was just his seventh most accurate season, connecting on 33-of-39 kicks.

It was also problematic that after starting the season hitting 15 straight field goals — including a 30-yarder in Week 4 to set the franchise record in an 18-17 win at Kansas City — he missed a 51-yard field goal in Week 6 in a 23-20 loss to the Vikings; missed twice the next week against San Diego from 47 and 44 yards in a 22-19 loss; missed twice in Week 12, including a 36-yard attempt with two seconds to play with the game tied at 20-all, sending it to overtime where the Bears lost to the 49ers, of all teams, 26-20; and then a week later he missed a 50-yarder with 1:45 to play in a 24-21 loss to Washington.

Though Gould did finish the season hitting seven straight, including two outside the 50, the dye was cast.

The less-than-fair perception that those missed kicks turned what could have been a 10-6 first season for Fox and Rodgers into a 6-10 campaign – their best with the Bears in three seasons, as it turned out – was enough for Rodgers and Fox to convince Pace it was time to move on.

In response, Gould went on to be the best kicker in the NFL over the next three seasons — Justin Tucker perhaps nonwithstanding — with the Giants in 2016 and 49ers in 2017-18, converting 82-of-85 field goal attempts, including 6-for-6 outside the 50.

Again, while many in Bears Nation questioned the wisdom of moving on from Gould from the jump, the ill-fated steady parade through town of Connor Barth, Mike Nugent, Cairo Santos, Roberto Aguayo and, worst of all, Cody Parkey, his $15 million contract and "Today Show" appearance has been used as a cudgel for Pace detractors to consistently wallop him with as Gould became a beloved folk hero.

The Bears hope they have finally found the answer in Eddy Pineiro, but Gould is still sorely missed.

Catching up with Robbie here in Miami late this week, it was a relief to find the exact same guy I knew over his 11 seasons in Chicago.

He is outgoing, warm, extremely well-liked by his teammates, a veteran leader and if it weren’t for the uniform, I’d have sworn we were still sitting talking at Halas Hall.

Though it appeared he was doing everything in his power to get back to Chicago as a free agent last summer after the massive failure of Parkey, he tells the story a bit differently.

“Well, I’d always wanted to try and get a deal done in San Francisco, and then as negotiations went on obviously we just couldn’t come to a conclusion on what was right for both of us.

“As time kind of moved on, I would never shut down any team in the National Football League, right?

“I think you’re talking about if you want to specifically say a team that you would go to, it’s hard to cut out 31 other teams that you might have the opportunity to play for.

“I love the city of Chicago, I always will. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have played for the Chicago Bears, and one day I’m going to come back and retire as a Bear.

"We’ve lived in Chicago full time so for me, you know I have three boys and them being in school, logistically it would have been for sure easier.

“But I went back and now we’re in the Super Bowl.”

In an unusual twist of fate, this Super Bowl has brought him back to the site of his only other Super Bowl appearance here with the Bears following the 2006 season, but he says it’s a bit different scene now.

“Yeah it’s kind of — the game has grown tremendously in 13 years you know.

“It’s kind of crazy, the ticket prices were $500-600 bucks, now they’re $2,900 and opening night, media night was never as big of a spectacle as it is now.

“It used to be the media and then just the players and picture day . . . but you know I think the uniqueness for me is I have a comfort level because I’ve been here and been through it.

“It brought back really good memories and I’ve had a really great week of practice, and you know I’m excited to get out there and play on Sunday.”

If there was a perceived weakness in Gould’s game early on in Chicago it was that he didn’t have a huge leg, but he has grown into one of the most accurate kickers all time outside the 50-yard line.

“Well I think a lot of it has to do with teams’ philosophies, right?

“Obviously when we were with Lovie we were a heavily defense-oriented team and more often than not if you pass on those 50-plus-yard field goals, even the fringe field goals at 55, 56, we were probably going to score a touchdown or get an easier field goal [gaining field position].

“So I think a lot of it had to do with playing into the analytics of football and how good our defense was.

“I don’t really pay too much attention to what people say. I have a way higher standard for myself and expectation of what I’m supposed to be as a pro, and it’s because of the guys that you’re on the radio with — Olin Kreutz and Patrick — and Roberto Garza, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, you know watching those guys work every day and showing how they prepared and what the standard was to be really good in this league and play for a long time.”

From the outside looking in ,one might think that playing for the offense-minded Kyle Shanahan would be very different than playing for Lovie Smith in his first Super Bowl. But Gould isn’t so sure.

“Well I think they’re a little bit more similar than people would think.

“Kyle is an offensive wizard. I mean, it’s unbelievable to watch him dissect a game from every angle — whether it’s defense, offense or special teams — and tell guys in training camp how it all ties together. I’ve learned a lot of football from Kyle.

“Then you talk about a guy like Lovie, they’re both very loved by players, they treat their players with respect, they treat them like men and you have to earn your respect and earn your keep and you know you definitely saw that out of Lovie. I mean that defense was one of the best, and when Lovie got fired at 10-6, guys were heartbroken because you know we had a lot of respect for him.

“He believed in tough love, and Kyle does the same thing.”

Some Bears fans have tried to blame the McCaskeys for chasing Gould out of town because of a quote attributed to Gould as the Bears' NFLPA representative, when he allegedly responded to a question saying, "people don’t buy tickets to watch Virginia McCaskey," but Robbie bristles at that notion and calls it absurd.

“First of all, that article was taken way out of context!

“I remember that very specifically that was not what [it] was, how it was said or what it was meant to be reported as, but it was.

“I love the McCaskey family. What they’ve been able to do for my family and getting to know them personally.

“This offseason I was at an event for Bryan McCaskey, and he comes and plays at my golf outing.

“I still to this day talk to people through texts and phone calls in the organization and I have no ill will towards anybody.

“I think if anything I have a much better respect for what the organization gave me as a person in one of the greatest sports cities of all time.

“I think people who know me know the way that my tone is and the love and respect that I have for the family and the city of Chicago. It’s pretty deep and it isn’t going away any time soon.”

One of the things that fans seem to struggle with often is where fandom and business intersect in the NFL. The fact is, at the end of the day the league Gould plays in is a multi-billion dollar business first, last and always, and while the players may be idolized and often millionaires, they are still just employees.

Robbie Gould understands that better than most and if there is one message he could send to Bears fans, while it may not be as a player, he will be coming home eventually and he plans to retire as a Bear.

Golden touch: Local product Garoppolo seized every opportunity en route to Super Bowl LIV

Posted on January 31, 2020 - 12:43:00

From Rolling Meadows High to Super Bowl starter, Jimmy G makes even hard times look easy

Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh’s famous rallying cry is “Who’s got it better than us?” to which his players respond, “NOOO-BODY!”

The most recent head coach prior to Kyle Shanahan on Sunday to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl, Harbaugh of course has since taken his tagline to Ann Arbor. But isn’t it apropos that the answer to his question might be a 49er player with whom he shares only one indirect red-and-gold connection?

Who’s got it better than Harbuagh’s Niners? The 2019 Niners, quarterbacked by the pride of Rolling Meadows and Eastern Illinois Jimmy Garoppolo, that’s who.

Sure, Garoppolo’s Super Bowl LIV counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, is the reigning MVP with the most dangerous pass-catching weaponry in the league. However, the old adage is that a quarterback’s best friend is his run game, and nobody’s got one better than Garoppolo’s Niners’, designed by the brilliant Shanahan.

Mahomes also had the luxury of learning behind the scenes as a rookie from consummate professional Alex Smith. But with all due respect to Smith, there’s only one GOAT, and Tom Brady and Garoppolo formed a "Wolfpack" during his apprentice’s first three-plus years in the league.

"He's earned the trust of his teammates and the respect of his teammates and that's all you can ask for as a player," Brady said in 2017 following Garoppolo's trade from the Patriots to the 49ers. "He's put in all the effort. I've watched him for 3½ years and really enjoyed working with him. Hopefully he goes on and does a great job."

Most already know about Garoppolo’s impossibly good looks, his $137.5 million contract and his place on the doorstep of becoming the first quarterback to bring Lombardi back to the Bay since Hall of Famer Steve Young, who of course took the reins from Brady's childhood hero Joe Montana.

What everyone should know is that as great as Garoppolo has it now, as soft of landings as he’s consistently found following hard times, he’s made his own breaks every step of the way.

***

A multi-sport star at Rolling Meadows High, Garoppolo switched from linebacker to quarterback halfway through his career and was lightly recruited before committing to Eastern Illinois. Kyle’s dad, two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan, fellow Super Bowl champion coach Sean Payton and former Pro Bowler-turned-CBS star broadcaster Tony Romo are among the more famous Panthers alumnus, but it’s unlikely to be confused anytime soon for a football factory.

Still, Garoppolo rewrote many of the EIU records previously held by Romo and Payton en route to receiving the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given to the top FCS performer. But he faced the usual questions during the pre-draft process for players attempting to make the jump from FCS to NFL:

How will he fare against far greater competition and more complex defenses?

Can he transition from a college, spread-style offense?

Why didn’t he dominate the pre-draft All-Star games?

Because Eastern Illinois didn’t host NFL clubs at a pro day, Garoppolo participated in Northwestern’s in Evanston in 2014, where Harbaugh was preparing for what ultimately would be his final Niners draft and sought out the quarterback for a relatively private 45-minute throwing session away from most onlookers.

“It went real well,” Garoppolo, whom Texans coach Bill O'Brien also worked out privately that day, told reporters at the time. “We were back there slinging it around. I mean, [Harbaugh] can still throw it pretty well for being an ex-quarterback and all. I learned a lot from him. He was teaching me little things here and there. I learned a lot. It was fun.”

Mind you, Harbaugh was fresh off guiding the Niners to consecutive NFC title games and helping consummate the trade that would send Alex Smith to Kansas City and initially vault Colin Kaepernick as his unquestioned starter. Arguably no coach, save of course for Bill Belichick and perhaps Harbaugh’s NFC West rival Pete Carroll of the Seahawks, was hotter at the time.

But the 49ers wound up drafting Garoppolo’s fellow Illinois collegiate star Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois in Round 1, following up that pick with Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde in Round 2, where Garoppolo was scooped up by Belichick and Brady’s Patriots.

So much for becoming an early NFL starter.

***

Being drafted by the Patriots turned into one of the many blessings in disguise for Garoppolo, who built a reputation in Foxborough for being as hardworking and prepared as any backup in football, albeit one who’d attempt only 97 passes in four years.  

When Brady’s Deflategate suspension finally opened the starting door for the first four games of the 2016 season, Garoppolo was marvelous in three halves as the starter before suffering a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. And with Patriots’ third-stringer, then-rookie Jacoby Brissett, replacing Garoppolo and enjoying his own success, it begged the question: should their results be attributed to the Patriots backup signal callers or "The Patriot Way?"

Clearly, Kyle Shanahan and 49ers GM John Lynch thought it was the former, striking a deal a little more than a year later to acquire Garoppolo in exchange for merely a second-round pick. Garoppolo was going from the greatest coach in NFL history to an up-and-comer in his first stint in charge in Shanahan, who guided Matt Ryan to league MVP and Robert Griffin III to Offensive Rookie of the Year in his previous two stops as offensive coordinator. It was a perfect match, one carefully cultivated by Belichick. Reports suggest that he dealt Garoppolo begrudgingly, and for a pittance, but PFW has confirmed he made the initial inquiry to Shanahan and was determined to choose a strong landing spot for the quarterback.

Belichick shared at the time his "tremendous respect" for Garoppolo, a "great teammate" whom he said the Patriots simply ran out of options with as Brady remained entrenched. Dating back to the time of Garoppolo's selection in the 2014 draft, Belichick lauded his smarts, arm talent and production among the "qualities that we admire in a quarterback."

All Garoppolo did was promptly lead the left-for-dead Niners to five consecutive wins to close out the season, breathing energy back into a fan base and team brass to eschew the franchise tag and make him at the time the highest-paid quarterback in the league, despite having a total of NFL seven starts.

Opening the 2018 campaign, finally, as a full-time starter for the first time, Garoppolo tossed three picks in a miserable home loss to a hungry Vikings club fresh off its NFC title game dismantling. He steadied over the next two games, with 4 touchdowns and zero picks, beginning to rediscover the form he flashed briefly in the previous two starting stints, when his knee buckled awkwardly on a fourth-quarter scramble at Arrowhead against the Chiefs, of all teams. Surely, the season-ending ACL tear less than 200 snaps into the season Garoppolo spent more than four years preparing for wasn’t another blessing in disguise?

***

Mahomes is the most electrifying young player in football, but no defender in his early NFL infancy — if not at any career juncture — is more explosive than 49ers Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa. He and venerable Richard Sherman were the two key catalysts as the Niners leapt 21 spots (!) in Football Outsiders defensive DVOA (No. 2 overall) and went from generating the fewest takeaways in NFL history (7) in 2018 to 32 (including postseason), ranked fifth in the NFL this season.

Suffice to say, Bosa, the best overall prospect in last year’s draft, isn’t a 49er right now if not for Garoppolo’s knee injury.

"Things have a way of working out," Garoppolo recently told reporters. "I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL. We got (Nick) Bosa out of it. That's a pretty good trade-off, I guess. But yeah, things have a way of working out I guess. This ride is crazy."

And also suffice to say, the Niners don’t cruise to the Super Bowl if Garoppolo doesn’t come back from his knee surgery with vengeance. Among his more impressive numbers in, officially, his first full season as an NFL starter: 8.4 yards per attempt (No. 3 in NFL), 69.1 completion percentage (tied for 4th), 5 game-winning drives (tied for 4th), 27 touchdowns (tied for 5th) and a 102.0 rating (8th).

Garoppolo was nearly perfect in NFL Game No. 256, the NFC West title bout in primetime to culminate the regular season, leading the Niners to their first win in Seattle in eight years and the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed.

Yet a postseason in which he’s completed only 17 combined passes in two games — including only 6-of-8 to beat the Packers and advanced to Super Bowl LIV — Garoppolo still has plenty of detractors.

Does Shanahan truly trust him?

Is he more than a game manager?

Are his stats inflated by the system?

Rest assured, those questions aren’t coming from Garoppolo’s coaches and teammates. They rave about his toughness, his consistency and perhaps above all else his selflessness.

“There's lots of games this year that we haven't been able to run the ball and we've had to win it by passing. That's what I'm proud of with Jimmy and proud of our team, that you can't really say that we have to win a game a certain way," Shanahan said. "... I know Jimmy doesn't care how we win it, whether we're running it, throwing it, whether we’ve got to do it on defense and protect the ball, or whether we’ve got to air it out and get some points. A lot of guys say that it doesn't bother them, but I promise it doesn't bother [Garoppolo]. I've never had to call him in and talk to him about it, he's so locked into whatever the plan is or whatever we're doing, and he's just trying to distribute the ball.”

***

For the 49ers to upset the Chiefs, currently listed as 1½-point favorites Sunday, dominant defense and run game or not, it'll likely require Garoppolo distributing the football more than six times.

Rest assured he'll be ready, just as he was in December, when he led the Niners in their signature win past Drew Brees' Saints in the Superdome by tossing four touchdowns and accounting for 350 yards of offense.

“The thing that impressed me the most was just how he handled the noise. I’ve been in that stadium a lot, but it was louder than usual to me," Shanahan said. "You never can hear at the line, but it was very hard for him to hear in the huddle. ... That stuff was happening a lot and for him to just still keep his poise and try to fix things a lot in the game, he kept our guys pretty cool throughout the whole time.”

Sounds pretty familiar, yes?

“I think just how calm [Brady] was, everyone says you’ve got to treat it like another game, just the way he actually he did it," Garoppolo said of the benefits of watching Brady in two Super Bowls. "I was up close and personal, picking up everything I could, seeing how he went about his business and everything. And obviously it worked out the two times that I was there with him. Try to transfer that over to my game.”

In his rapid ascension from Rolling Meadows High to FCS star to the world's biggest stage Sunday, Garoppolo has made the best of every situation he's encountered. And if nobody's got it better than him, it's because no one did more to earn it.

Not household names, but Niemann, Allegretti among local products playing key roles for Chiefs

Posted on January 30, 2020 - 16:13:00

MIAMI — The connections between Super Bowl LIV and the Chicago Bears are actually pretty minimal, but the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers both have multiple ties to the Chicagoland area.

Kansas City’s backup linebacker and special teams demon, Ben Niemann is a minor cult hero in Missouri and Kansas, thanks in part to his Cinderella story just making the team in 2018 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Iowa, and more so thanks to his nickname, “Steaming Niemann,” hung on him by fellow inside ‘backer Reggie Ragland.

However, Niemann is a major celebrity right now in the Sycamore/DeKalb area after a starring role at Sycamore High School led him to the Big 10.

Niemann’s dad Jay is a longtime high school and college coach and Ben is a typical coach’s son, steeped in knowledge of the game and willing to do anything to contribute to the team.

Following Niemann’s first NFL start as a rookie in ’18 due to an injury to Anthony Hitchens, Ragland said, “Steaming Niemann was the truth.”

“I love Ben. He’s one of those Iowa guys who is real smart. My [former] position coach [Mark DeLeone] is from Iowa. My linebacker next to me, Hitch, is from Iowa. I guess it’s the Iowa thing they got going on.

“Steaming Niemann, Ben, is very smart and physical too. I’m very happy for him.”

DeLeone became the Bears inside linebackers coach this past season.

“Back then I was just trying to make the team,” Niemann says.

“So I’m definitely happy to be in this position, and there was a lot that went into getting this far. I’m happy to be here.”

Nick Allegretti grew up in Frankfort, Illinois, and was the Chiefs' seventh-round pick out of the University of Illinois last spring.

Now he’s the sixth offensive lineman, first guy off the bench at any position.

But even while he was being drafted, Allegretti wasn’t sure if he’d be a Chief or not.
“Brett Veach (Chiefs G.M.), the first thing he said was, ‘Pretty cool you’re blocking for Patrick Mahomes, huh?’”

“He didn’t say, ‘We’re about to draft you.’ All he said was that.”

Allegretti thought it might be Veach’s way of pitching the Illinois offensive lineman to join Kansas City as an undrafted free agent, but draft him the Chiefs did.

In part it was because of his great versatility and character, playing four years under Lovie Smith at Illinois, where he eventually became a team captain.

Allegretti told the Chiefs in house web site, “I don’t remember the exact words, but [Coach Smith] said something like, ‘Nick, you’re gonna have a real shot to play this game for a long time.’

“That sunk in,” says Allegretti.

“I was a Bears fan growing up—sorry, I’ve changed that now—but that was the guy I watched on the sidelines for most of my childhood. So to have that guy now be my coach and tell me I can play for a long time was a very cool experience and gave me confidence. It was awesome.”

Chiefs DT Khalen Saunders is actually from Missouri but played his college ball at Western Illinois, becoming the first Leatherneck ever invited to the Senior Bowl in 2019, where he gained some notoriety for having an excellent week of practice, running home for the birth of his daughter and then returning to notch the first sack of the game.

Lastly and perhaps most interestingly to Bears fans is Chiefs QBs coach and St. Rita High School and Northwestern University alum Mike Kafka.

Just 32 years old, Kafka was mentored by on the Chiefs staff.

Following a six-year journeyman NFL career in which he was with seven teams, Kafka joined Andy Reid’s staff as a quality control coach in Nagy’s last year as the offensive coordinator before coming to the Bears, and took over the quarterbacks job when Nagy left.

The Eagles coveted Kafka for their offensive coordinator job, as did the Bears earlier this month, but Reid convinced him to stay with the Chiefs.

He is being watched closely as perhaps the next in a growing line of extremely successful NFL wunderkind young coaches.

Super Bowl XX Bears considered to be the greatest team of all time

Posted on January 30, 2020 - 12:36:00

Certainly it was the most dominant and first to make NFL a pop culture phenom

MIAMI – At least three generations have now grown up cherishing, reveling and idolizing the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team that won a Super Bowl before they were born and that they never saw play.

The ’85 Bears featured six Hall of Famers, including Walter Payton, Jimbo Covert, Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and “Da Coach,” Mike Ditka – although Ditka was voted into the Hall as a player, not a coach.

That club featured nine Pro Bowlers with Jay Hilgenberg, Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson and Dave Duerson, and Wilber Marshall and Steve McMichael would also go to the Pro Bowl the following season.

Covert, Payton, Singletary, Dent and McMichael were all first team All Pros that year, and Hampton, Wilson and Gary Fencik were second team All Pros.

Their 46-10 victory in Super Bowl XX brought their record to 18-1 on the season.

Sixty-four was a big number for them as they forced a mind boggling 64 turnovers – four or more in eight different games – and notched 64 QB sacks, second only to the NFL record 72 they totaled in 1984 with much of the same cast.

In 10 home games, the Bears defense gave up an average of 7.4 points/game, they allowed 10 points or less in 14 of their 19 games, gave up 12.4 points/game on average for the season, they allowed just 10 points total in three playoff games, shutting out the Giants in the divisional playoff and Rams in the NFC title game and they outscored three playoff opponents, 91-10.

Not to be outdone, the offense led the NFL in rushing, Payton averaged 4.8 a pop at the age of 31 and Willie Gault averaged 21.3 per reception and Dennis McKinnon 17.9.

They were a juggernaut the likes of which the NFL had never seen.

How much does anyone remember about the actual game in the New Orleans Superdome?

I certainly remember the pep rally in New Orleans the afternoon before, when an estimated 50,000 Bears fans lined the river walk along the “Mighty Mississippi River” and Wayne Larrivee, Chuck Swirsky and I emceed from the stage of our radio station’s mobile production studio welcoming luminaries – including Mayor Harold Washington – to the delight of the “Hurricane”-lubricated crowd.

While the halftime show was memorable for being dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., coming just six days after the first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance, it was perhaps the only thing about the game that wasn’t truly super with the entertainment coming from “Up With People.”

The game actually threatened to be competitive early after Payton fumbled a handoff from McMahon on the second play of the game at the Bears’ 19, and after a three-and-out the Patriots kicked a field goal just 1:19 into the game setting a Super Bowl record for fastest score ever. It stood for 20 years until Devin Hester broke that record returning the opening kick 20 years later in XLI 92 yards to the house.

The Bears responded with a seven-play, 59-yard drive, ignited by a 43-yard hookup from McMahon to Gault setting up a Kevin Butler field goal to tie it, the Pats and Bears traded punts and then the rout was on.

Hampton recovered a fumble at the Patriots’ 13, but the Bears had to settle for a chip shot field goal after William “Refrigerator” Perry was stuffed inside the three and then sacked trying to throw a halfback option pass.

Singletary recovered another fumble at the New England 13 next, and Matt Suhey took it in for the score from the 11 to make it 13-3 and the Bears never looked back. They led 23-3 at the half and 44-3 to start the fourth quarter.

The Bears outgained the Patriots, 408-123, forced six turnovers and had an 18-and-a-half-minute time-of-possession advantage.

The only negative came with 3:22 to play in the third quarter, when Ditka elected to give the ball to Perry for a 1-yard touchdown run making it 44-3, and denying Payton the Super Bowl touchdown he coveted.

Super Bowl XX was more than just a moment in time for the Bears, it was one of the greatest 60 minute performances by any team ever in the history of the game.

LIV channels memories – good and bad – of Bears’ most recent Super Bowl

Posted on January 30, 2020 - 12:35:00

Thirteen years ago, catalyzed by the NFL’s most opportunistic defense and a home-run hitting rookie returner the likes of which we had never seen before and very well may never see again, the Bears stormed into South Beach on a mission two decades in the making.

It took all of Super Bowl XLI’s first 13 seconds – the time Devin Hester needed to receive Adam Vinatieri’s kickoff, hit his hole up the middle, burst to the right sideline, flip on the afterburners and leave the Indianapolis Colts in 92 yards of dust en route to the record books – for a 7-0 Bears advantage over the NFL’s most prolific offense, led by the legendary Peyton Manning.

The Bears’ thieving stop-unit created another jolt of electricity less than two minutes later, with their NFC-leading 27th interception (only the ravens had more with 30), Chris Harris halting the Colts’ opening drive before it infiltrated enemy territory.

Make room on the Chicago sports pantheon, ’85 Bears? After all, Hollywood couldn’t have crafted a more fitting opening game script for Lovie Smith’s squad.

Not so fast.

After climbing the pocket and escaping the grasp of Tank Johnson on third-and-long, Manning’s next deep shot on the Colts’ second series found Reggie Wayne behind a busted coverage for a 53-yard touchdown. The two teams then quickly exchanged fumbles – Gabe Reid’s on the ensuing kickoff and Manning’s on the next play on a botched center-QB exchange – before the Bears struck again, with a short touchdown from Rex Grossman-to-Muhsin Muhammad, set up by the longest run of Thomas Jones’ season, a 52-yard gallop.

It would mark the last time in the past 13 years that the Bears would play, much less lead in a Super Bowl.

Of course, more drama would unfold that Sunday at Dolphin Stadium, since renovated and renamed Hard Rock Stadium and the site of this Sunday’s battleground for the 49ers and Chiefs in only the second South Florida Super Bowl since XLI.

Still trailing by only one score early in the fourth quarter thanks to their star-studded bend-but-don’t-break “D,” as well as some atypical errors by Manning and fellow future Hall of Famer Vinatieri, Bears QB Rex Grossman looked to retake the lead on a deep ball to Muhammad. The problem: Illini product and Chicago’s own Kelvin Hayden didn’t even consider biting on Muhammad’s double move. Instead, the Colts second-year corner camped under the ill-fated throw and, sticking close to the left sideline, weaved in and out of traffic for the game-sealing 56-yard pick-six.

Grossman tossed his 23rd interception of the season on the next possession, and minutes later, Manning and Tony Dungy’s Colts celebrated as the Bears commiserating commenced.

If only Bears fans knew then that the commiserating would still be continuing 13 years later. It’s a span over which Manning became the first quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl with two different teams; Brian Urlacher and Marvin Harrison were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Wayne perhaps, Manning assuredly and Hester deservedly will be welcomed when they’re first eligible this year and over the next two, respectively; the Bears fired not only Smith but also his two successors; and Chicago has won only two division titles and one playoff game.

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Fittingly, ex-Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub is shepherding another first-team All Pro rookie return maven, Mecole Hardman, with the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV – like XLI, pitting the irresistible force against the immovable object.

But all is not lost for the Bears. The memories of that ’06-07 club, like the immortal ’85 Bears, will live forever and Chicago is still just one season removed from stirring the ghosts of ’06, if not ’85. And all the makings of those elite takeaway defenses and explosive return games remain in the picture.

Of course there is also still the specter of a first-round quarterback leading an offense still struggling to find their way, hoping to avoid squandering a super defense.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, indeed.

Hub Arkush: Why does Goodell even bother with season-end news conference when he says nothing?

Posted on January 29, 2020 - 20:12:00

Never has one man said so little about so much as Goodell in Super Bowl LIV week

MIAMI— Wednesday at Super Bowl LIV featured one of the Super Bowl’s oldest traditions, the annual commissioner’s press conference.

Unfortunately what used to be known as the annual “State of the League” address from Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell, and was often one of the most meaningful and important events of Super Bowl week has been tinkered with and minimized in recent seasons to what might be more accurately described now as the “State of Denial” address.

Over six decades the presser was held mid-day on Friday, after all the other pre-game hype had wrapped up to shine a light on anything and everything relevant to the success and enjoyment of the game, and to assure the entire media could be available to attend.

But three years ago in Houston the league quietly moved the presser to Wednesday early afternoon at a location away from the central media gathering place and a time when most of the media was still knee deep in covering the teams and other events.

It’s remained that way since in a real disservice to both the media and fans.

Goodell took a total of 20 questions, the majority from media pursuing local concerns about future games and franchises in London, Mexico City and Toronto, and stadium concerns in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Buffalo that were really a waste of time for this particular event.

Stunningly not one of the questions was about officiating although a number of us did have hands up trying to get the microphone for additional questions when the event was surprisingly cut short.

In fairness to Goodell, it’s certainly not his fault none of the 20 questions he did get were about one of the most important topics facing the game today.

The first question was about player safety and the commissioner replied, “Safety has been at the forefront and our number one priority for our players. Over the last 10 to 15 years in particular we’ve made over 50 rules changes to make our game safer.

“We’ve made changes in equipment, particularly the helmet. We have six new models coming out this year, all of which will raise innovation and frankly the quality of the helmets our players wear.

“In addition, obviously we’re working on research, which techniques should be taken out of the game. So, that’s how we change our rules.

“So, with all of those changes, we have made our game safer.

“You mentioned that concussions were up but they’re up only slightly and statistically insignificant after a record decline last year of close to 30 percent.”

I have no doubt Goodell has real concern for players’ safety, but I’m not sure calling even one additional concussion insignificant was the smartest way to go?

I’m also positive Goodell is deeply concerned about domestic violence, about which he said in part, “I believe there is a need for us to be incredibly responsive, I believe we’ve made changes that I would call productive in trying to make sure that some of these things don’t occur.

“But what we have to do is continually stay ahead of our policies and try and do everything possible to prevent these terrible situations from occurring.”

The problem is in reality the league continues to chase its tail on this one.

The lack of minority coaches and front office folks appears to be a burgeoning issue — and Goodell didn’t try to hide from it.

“Yeah, clearly we are not where we want to be on this subject. You know we have a lot of work to do on our policies overall, it’s clear they need change and we need something better. There’s no reason to expect things will be better next year without this type of change.

“We’re trying to figure out what we can do next and we have to make those changes.”

You won’t find an answer there either.

Realistically the biggest issue facing the NFL today is an expiring collective bargaining agreement after the 2020 season.

“As I’ve said before that’s not something we’re going to negotiate in a press conference.

“We have been having incredibly positive dialogue in conversations and we’ve made a lot of progress the last seven or eight months since we began those discussions more importantly.

“The process will move forward and when all of our comfortable we can reach an agreement, we will. I don’t know when that will be, but I think it’s more important to get it right.”

In other words, whatever the commissioner knows, he’s not going to share it with us.

Listen, Goodell has an incredibly difficult job. Really, I mean that.

But at $30 million-to-$40 million a year in comp, what would you expect?

It was hard coming away from today’s presser without wondering, if he’s not going to tell us anything that actually matters, why hold the press conference at all?

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky underwent recent left shoulder surgery

Posted on January 29, 2020 - 16:48:00

The biggest offseason to date in the young career of Bears QB Mitch Trubisky began with rehabilitation following surgery to repair the partially torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, ESPN's Jeff Dickerson reported Wednesday.

Bears GM Ryan Pace left open the possibility at his season-ending news conference of Trubisky requiring surgery for the injury he suffered vs. the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29 when the quarterback attempted to escape the pocket but was quickly collapsed on by star DE Danielle Hunter.

Trubisky, whose play declined precipitously this season following a 24-passing TD, 12-INT, 95.8-rated 2018 in his debut campaign in Matt Nagy's offense, missed only one start with the injury, which he suffered on the Bears' first possession of the Week 4 win over the rival Vikings. Coincidentally, Trubisky injured his right shoulder two seasons ago vs. the Vikings on a late hit by Pro Bowl S Harrison Smith and missed the following two games.

The average recovery period for Trubisky's procedure, which is considered minor, as noted by ESPN, is a couple months. The question yet to be answered is how major the effect it had on Trubisky's play last season, when among the starkest areas of decline was his rushing production (career-low 3.2 carries per game for an average of 12.9 yards, down from 4.9 and 30.1, respectively, two seasons ago).

Although Pace indicated on Dec. 31 that the Bears expect Trubisky to be their starter next season, he'll face competition likely from at least two newcomers in the QB corps and undoubtedly will be on a short leash.

The Bears must decide in early May whether to exercise their fifth-year option on Trubisky in 2021 at a price tag guaranteed north of $25 million, which is guaranteed for injury only. The Bears could theoretically exercise the option but cut Trubisky prior to the 2021 league year and not be on the hook for anything.

Pace infamously traded up to draft Trubisky with the second overall pick three years ago, when reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson remained on the board. What he does next at the position is the biggest question mark of the Bears offseason. Meantime, Trubisky will enter his fourth season coming off his first known surgery with the Bears.

Retired Bears Pro Bowl OG Kyle Long: 'You'll never see me wear another jersey'

Posted on January 29, 2020 - 16:19:00

Kyle Long intends on living his best life now that he's retired from football, and it's unlikely that will include a return to the gridiron.

The former Bears three-time Pro Bowl right guard, who announced his retirement on Twitter earlier this month after seven seasons, said this week in Miami on Super Bowl LIV radio row that he'll only don the navy and orange as an NFL player, a sign of gratitude for the franchise that drafted him and stuck by him through the ups and downs.

"I just found that it was time for me to amicably figure out a way to end it with the Bears. I thought that they did right by me for so many years — by drafting me, by re-signing me, by keeping me around," Long said Wednesday on WSCR-670-AM. "They saw what I saw. The writing was on the wall. We found a way to do it the right way. That's why you'll never see me wear another jersey."

Long, 30, rose meteorically from a one-year starter at Oregon to the 20th overall pick in the 2013 draft to starting 47-of-48 games in his first three seasons with the Bears, all ending with Pro Bowl honors. He was a mauling tone-setter at right guard for the Bears O-line, one of the more physically gifted players in the NFL and as colorful a character as there was inside Halas Hall.

Then, injuries began to take their toll. First, a torn shoulder labrum that he put off having surgery on and played through in 2016. Two grueling ankle injuries. Two offseasons ago, Long underwent separate surgeries on his neck, shoulder and elbow.

Long continued to battle, enjoying in 2019 his first operation-free offseason in two years and saying it was the best he'd felt — physically and mentally — since after his rookie season. However, it became apparent early on last season that Long still wasn't right physically, and he was abruptly sent to season-ending injured reserve with a rather mysterious hip injury in Week 7 after playing every snap of his final game.

"Unfortunately to me, being on injured reserve is not something I'm new to," said Long, who missed 34 combined games with injuries over his final four seasons. "Being on it previous years, it gave me an understanding of how lonely it can be and how tough it can be as a football player," he said. "When you're healthy in the NFL, there's not much better. And when you're not healthy, there's not much worse."

And when Long was at his best, few in the NFL were better. But he told NFL Media's Ian Rapoport a few weeks ago that retiring was "the easiest decision of my life" because "I didn't recognize the player I saw on film."

Long, a prolific figure on social media, has posted photos of his various adventures in recent weeks, from tropical vacations to motor racing. It's clear he's dropped a ton of weight but otherwise the vibrant ex-Bear couldn't be more recognizable.

"I could take a year off, get healthy and go back into football, but I have no intention of doing that," he said. "It's time to live life. It's like I just got out of college and I got to figure out what the heck to do with my life."

Hub Arkush: Jimmy Garoppolo never really imagined playing quarterback for the Bears

Posted on January 29, 2020 - 08:24:00

But Rolling Meadows native and 49ers QB always knew he wanted to be where he is now — preparing to start in the Super Bowl

MIAMI— You know if the football pride and joy of Illinois isn’t exactly the Chicago Bears right now, it is most likely Arlington Heights’ and Rolling Meadows High School’s very own Jimmy Garoppolo.

Visiting with the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Tuesday morning in Miami, you would have found him all smiles and soaking up everything making it to his profession’s highest mountain top is meant to be.

I asked him if there was ever a time back on the practice fields in Rolling Meadows that he envisioned being here today?

“Yeah I think as a kid I always tried to, I think every athlete just tries to envision being in that moment and how it’s going to play out, but it’s always a little different when you get here.

“Just, I don’t know, you never think it’s actually going to be you in that moment and you in that situation but it’s ... I’m very thankful to be here.”

Did he ever imagine he’d enjoy a moment like this with his hometown Chicago Bears?

“They (Bears) definitely saw some dark years for their quarterbacks but yeah, I honestly grew up running back, safety so I didn’t look at the quarterbacks so much until about high school, really.

“I loved Mike Vick, Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, all those guys.”

Was Garoppolo ever really close to being a Bear?

Some assume that because he and Ryan Pace are both Eastern Illinois alum, there must have been a chance.

Remember though when the Patriots drafted Garoppolo with the 62nd pick in 2014, Pace was still in New Orleans and Jay Cutler was still the Bears quarterback.

When Pace sent shock waves through the 2017 draft and selected Mitch Trubisky, Bill Belichick was still telling all comers Garoppolo was a Patriot and not available.

It was six months later that Jimmy G. became a 49er.

With Belichick seeing free agency around the corner for Garoppolo, and then realizing that Tom Brady wasn’t going anywhere for a while, there are multiple reports that he reached out to Kyle Shanahan in a desire to send Garoppolo somewhere he could flourish — in the NFC.

Garoppolo didn’t know a lot about the 49ers but he remembered Shanahan.

The 49ers head coach was hired as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland following the 2013 season and during the ’14 pre-draft process, he and rookie head coach Mike Pettine went to the pro day at Northwestern where Garoppolo was anxious to show his wares.

As Jimmy G. remembers it, “Yeah, I didn’t have any receivers to throw to, so I was throwing to just about whoever would catch for me.

“I remember it was a good workout, they worked me pretty good, put me through the gauntlet and everything, and Kyle (Shanahan), he was snagging passes, no gloves needed so it was pretty impressive, bringing him back to his receiver days.”

Garoppolo was a rock star at Eastern, completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 13,156 yards, 118 touchdowns, 51 picks and a 146.3 passer rating.

But Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater went ahead of him in the first round and Derek Carr was the 36th pick of Round 2, where Garoppolo was selected No. 62 overall.

As Garoppolo remembers it, “Coming out of college I always tried to put my finger on it, why was I getting overlooked and why were these guys ranked ahead of me, things like that, but thankfully I got to go to the All Star games, the East-West, the Senior Bowl and those really helped.

“Everyone thinks that at 1AA, the level of competition is way worse. It’s different but it’s still college football.”

Obviously, EIU was good enough and Garoppolo will tell you spending a few years behind Tom Brady didn’t hurt either, and they’ve stayed in touch.

“He ... just a little good luck text and things like that, nothing crazy.

“Tom’s always been great to me whether I had a question, whatever it is, he’s always right there to answer and he’s very honest with me.”

Bears fans will spend some of this week thinking about what might have been but for Garoppolo, right now he feels like things couldn’t have worked out better.

“This is a big part of it, all the media and everything.

“I’ve heard it from Tom, I’ve heard it from other people, you’ve got to have fun with it. It’s, you know you can’t let this stress you out and overwhelm you or anything like that.

“It’s a part of the Super Bowl, it’s a good problem to have.”

Bears sign CFL standout CB Roberson

Posted on January 28, 2020 - 21:00:00

Ex-ISU Redbird lands biggest deal for CFLer since Cameron Wake

The Bears officially signed CB Tre Roberson, formerly of the Calgary Stampeders, to a two-year contract, they announced Wednesday, one day after ESPN's Adam Schefter that Roberson will earn the biggest NFL contract for a CFL import since Cameron Wake arrived with the Miami Dolphins 11 years ago.

Roberson confirmed the news on his Twitter account, writing, "So blessed to be @ChicagoBears thank you for the opportunity in allowing me to help this organization get to the goal of winning a Super Bowl. Thank you to my agent for fighting hard for me through this whole process."

An Indianapolis native, Roberson, 27, was a dual-threat college quarterback who began his career with the Hoosiers before transferring to Illinois State and throwing to ex-Bears WR Cameron Meredith. Roberson accounted for 20 touchdowns and 1,128 passing yards (83-of-138) in his final season at IU before being named a Missouri Valley Conference first-team QB in back-to-back years (2014-15) with the Redbirds.

After going undrafted, Roberson was signed by the Vikings following a rookie minicamp tryout, where he worked out at corner. The 6-0, 200-pound corner played the past two seasons in the CFL, where he was the league's co-leader in interceptions (7) and an All Star last season and won the Grey Cup two years ago.

The Dolphins signed Wake in 2009 to a deal that included $1 million guaranteed. Roberson likely earned as much if not more, signaling the Bears might already have a vision for him on their 2020 depth chart, which could include a starting vacancy opposite LCB Kyle Fuller. Prince Amukamara has no remaining guaranteed money approaching his age-31 contract season after taking a step back like most of his Bears teammates last season.

The 27-year-old Roberson (6-0, 200) was a Missouri Valley Conference first-team selection as a dual-threat quarterback in back-to-back years (2014-15) for the Redbirds after transferring from Indiana.

We'll see whether the rival Vikings were among the nine clubs in addition to the Bears that offered Roberson a contract. Two of their three starters, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, are free agents, while 29-year-old Pro Bowler Xavier Rhodes is a potential cap casualty coming off his worst season in years.

The Bears, like the Vikings, are near the bottom of the league in cap space, in search of potential bargains to supplement an increasingly expensive star-studded defense that was still quite good but not overly dynamic last season.

NIU product Jimmie Ward shares an unusual connection with 49ers teammate

Posted on January 28, 2020 - 19:07:00

MIAMI — Unlike his celebrated teammate on the other side of the ball, San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward isn’t really a Chicago area kid.

He was born in Racine, Wisconsin, before moving to Mobile, Ala., where James Neko Suave Ward had a very good but not great high school career at Davidson high school, making him a 2-star recruit.

That’s how he ended up in the Chicago area at Northern Illinois University in 2010, the same year the Garoppolo kid from Arlington Heights ended up at Eastern Illinois.

However, Ward would go on to an outstanding career in DeKalb, becoming only the second player in school history to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

In the 2014 draft — in which Garoppolo went 62nd to the Patriots — Ward went 30th to the 49ers.

Larry English was the other Huskie first-round pick, going to the Chargers 16th overall in 2009.

Today, Ward is basking in the glow of his first Super Bowl, and I asked him Tuesday morning what he remembers about his time at Northern that prepared him for this moment?

“Ah just, man, just everything that I had to do” Ward said.

“Like I had to do a lot.

“When you come from a smaller conference, you really have to do a lot to get drafted in the first round or even for somebody to consider you one of the top players.

"Just because you’re at the smaller school, they may feel like you’re not playing against the best competition.

“We didn’t even have an indoor facility at NIU when I was there my first three years, so I had to practice in the cold, just getting my body through that was a very tough situation.

“But I ended up playing great in the cold and it’s just some adversity that I had to persevere through.”

Remember, the winters in Mobile are nothing like Chicago, and the folks at Northern had never seen anything quite like the Husky team Ward helped lead to the Orange Bowl his junior year.

Ward says one of the things he’s proudest of in his football career is what his class did for his school and his part in getting the facilities they have now.

“Oh yeah, I know my senior year we ended up building the indoor, and they’re still building on the whole college. So it’s nice.

“Now we’re getting more recruits now, and that’s cool that I was one of the people that was on that team that helped change things around.”

Ward's early years in San Francisco weren’t as rewarding until Garoppolo arrived, with the club going 15-33 from 2014-16.

But according to Ward, he knew what Jimmy G. could do for his team.

“He’s had a very big impact and the crazy thing about it is, like after my first year of having to lose the season I was saying like man, ‘cause I used to see Jimmy Garoppolo sitting behind Tom Brady, I was like ‘Man ‘if we could get Jimmy Garoppolo, somebody could just get Jimmy Garoppolo over here we’d have a quarterback.

“I used to think that the whole time.

“Then I know Kyle (Shanahan) came over here with a bunch of stuff about Kirk Cousins and this and that, but I just always knew who Jimmy Garoppolo was because I played against him when I was at NIU and he was at EIU so I knew what type of quarterback he was.”

Do Ward and Garoppolo still relive their glory days in college?

“I talk crap about him and he talks crap back to me, and I tell him, 'I picked you off and this and that.'

“... I picked him off one time, he was throwing like a seam route and I ended up ... I think I had a broken hand so I had a cast on it. I actually had a lot of picks that year with the cast on.”

There is one other thing Bears fans may be interested to know about this quasi Chicago-area kid: following the Super Bowl, Ward is slated to become a free agent, and last I checked the Bears only have one starter at that position under contract.

Bears Insider Podcast 185: Local angles everywhere in Super Bowl LIV

Posted on January 27, 2020 - 10:39:53

Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush share some thoughts as we transition in the offseason for the Bears and, with one game to go, the rest of the NFL.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

comp:00005e2eb4b8:000000000c:235d 4 <a class="spreaker-player" href="https://www.spreaker.com/episode/22125876" data-resource="episode_id=22125876" data-width="100%" data-height="200px" data-theme="light" data-playlist="false" data-playlist-continuous="false" data-autoplay="false" data-live-autoplay="false" data-chapters-image="true" data-episode-image-position="right" data-hide-logo="false" data-hide-likes="false" data-hide-comments="false" data-hide-sharing="false" data-hide-download="true">Listen to "Bears Insider Podcast 185: Offseason and Senior Bowl thoughts" on Spreaker.</a> <script async src="https://widget.spreaker.com/widgets.js"></script> xl left 2
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Bears 2020 vision: Safety dance? If they want to, they can leave their friends behind

Posted on January 27, 2020 - 09:18:00

If everything went right for the Bears in 2018, their subsequent handling of the safety position epitomizes how even their most celebrated moves last season went awry.

The signing of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a one-year, $3 million deal to replace the far more expensive Adrian Amos and reunite All Pro Eddie Jackson with his ex-Alabama teammate appeared on the surface a master stroke by Ryan Pace.

Instead, pairing two natural free safeties prevented either from fulfilling their playmaking potential, essentially the theme for the entire defense under Chuck Pagano in Year 1, when the Bears remained darn good but weren't nearly as dynamic.

Jackson and Clinton-Dix still had fine seasons. The home-grown star parlayed his into the largest safety contract in NFL history in terms of annual average salary, and the former Packers first-rounder almost certainly won't be resigned to signing another one-year prove-it deal when he returns to the open market in March.

But if the Bears are to return to an elite playmaking unit again next season, it'll be in part because Jackson is again freed up to roam and ball hawk in space, likely with a new running mate.

2019 Matter of Fact: Thanks in large part to their last line of defense, the Bears ceded fewer explosive pass plays (47) than all but three other NFL clubs. They also notched fewer interceptions (7) than all but four clubs, which of course was the calling card not only of Jackson and Clinton-Dix but also Pagano and new secondary coach Deshea Townsend.

Jackson and Clinton-Dix each contributed only two interceptions, with both of Clinton-Dix's coming in Week 3 and Jackson picking his in the final five games, both off desperation heaves to seal victories. But both were strong in coverage, where Clinton-Dix lowered his yards per target allowed by two points — from 8.5 two seasons ago to 6.5 yards last year), and Jackson allowed only 5.4 yards/target en route to logging the lowest completion percentage over expectation and fewest completed air yards over expectation of any NFL defender, according to ESPN.

Jackson's coverage ability was obvious coming off his first-team All-Pro nod in 2018. Where he surprised most pleasantly was as a tackler, which he was asked to do a lot more of — and closer to the line —opposite Clinton-Dix this season, when his missed tackle percentage reduced by more than two percentage points, from 17.7 to 15.5, per Pro Football Reference. Clinton-Dix's number went up, from 8.8 to 10.3, but he finished third on the team in tackles (78) and broke up the same number of passes (5) as Jackson.

Cap Commitment: They have only 2.35 percent of the total projected cap allocated to safety, but the Bears have only one starter and two players currently signed. Jackson's extension includes $33 million guaranteed but a manageable $3.7-plus million of it counts toward this year's cap.

Level of Need (Lowest 1, Highest 5): The Bears obviously need more than recent futures signee Kentrell Brice in the room alongside Jackson, so we'll call this a 3.5. Why not higher? Like Clinton-Fix, Deon Bush is an impending free agent, but he should be easy enough to re-sign if the Bears choose — and we think it'd be wise because of his untapped upside and decent run as an interim starter in limited chances. He's more natural than Clinton-Dix playing an enforcer role near the box, which could help accentuate Jackson's superb range, ball skills and instincts, and was one of the stars of last offseason before playing sporadically on defense.

If the Bears opt not to re-sign Bush, it might be because they're betting on Jackson providing enough flexibility that Pagano can plug in a rookie and just ask him to play physical and hard-nosed ball while covering limited ground.

Available prospects to watch: We don't expect it, but what if they could follow last year's formula — signing a former first-round cast-off on the cheap — and add ex-Raider Karl Joseph? His rugged style would complement Jackson well, but it has led to durability questions, unlike with Clinton-Dix.

More likely, the Bears will look for value at the position on Day 3 of the draft, where Kam Chancellor clone Jeremy Chinn of Southern Illinois could fit wonderfully. Day 2 too rich for safety? If not, in light of Ryan Pace's affinity for small school prospects with big-time traits, we'd be remiss not mentioning fellow Senior Bowl attendee Kyle Duggar of Lenoir-Rhyne.

Bears' Twitter account has apparently been hacked again

Posted on January 26, 2020 - 09:45:05

The hackers, OurMine, initially tweeted that a Saudi Advisor bought the Bears

The Bears' Twitter account @ChicagoBears, with more than 1.8 million followers, was briefly compromised Sunday ... and it appears hackers could be back again.

comp:00005e2eb4b8:0000000024:235d 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">15 NFL team twitter accounts appear to have been hacked (all are missing profile pictures): <a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DallasCowboys</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Broncos?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Broncos</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Colts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Colts</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/HoustonTexans?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HoustonTexans</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/packers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Packers</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/BuffaloBills?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BuffaloBills</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Giants?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Giants</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Eagles?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Eagles</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Buccaneers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Buccaneers</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Chargers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Chargers</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/ChicagoBears?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChicagoBears</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Chiefs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Chiefs</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/49ers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@49ers</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Browns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Browns</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/AZCardinals?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AZCardinals</a>.</p>&mdash; NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) <a href="https://twitter.com/MySportsUpdate/status/1221884404584394753?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 27, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 1

The first tweet indicated the team had been purchased by Saudi advisor Turki Alalshikh. That tweet was quickly deleted and replaced with two tweets announcing the hackers, OurMine, and sharing their email and website information.

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The hackers then replied to a tweet from Detroit lions fan account @PrideofDetroit, which responded to one of their tweets asking if new ownership would trade Khalil Mack to the rivals.

comp:00005e257a35:0000000019:058e /__uuid/5a05ddac-b05d-41c7-bfb0-ddbcbb536365/Screen-Shot-2020-01-26-at-9.39.04-AM.png xl left 3

Coming off one of their most disappointing seasons ever, as you might imagine, the Bears, err OurMine, are receiving some pretty funny tweet replies. One mentioned that the Bears probably shouldn't use 1985Bears as their password, while another had an alternate suggestion for the hackers and how they could really rile up the fan base and move the needle — by tweeting that the team was cutting Mitch Trubisky.

comp:00005e257a35:000000002e:058e /__uuid/4980124d-e9b3-4622-a349-7314e0cfde51/Screen-Shot-2020-01-26-at-9.40.18-AM.png xl left 4

It's worth noting this is not a funny situation, of course, but it does appear the hackers' intent was marketing-driven.

The NFL's charter franchise just celebrated its 100th year and remains under the ownership of Virginia McCaskey, the daughter of team founder George Halas.

 

Ask Hub: Is 2020 a make-or-break year for Bears GM Ryan Pace?

Posted on January 25, 2020 - 08:45:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions every week

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears questions weekly:

Will they try the draft to upgrade both their tackle spots. No one is going to let go of decent tackles. Submitted by Daniel Bartos

What, in your opinion, do the Bears do at left tackle? Submitted by Hadji

Daniel and Hadji, part of the problem with answering your questions is as obvious as it is to me the Bears need to get better at left tackle – I’m fine with Massie on the right side and hope they will re-sign Cornelius Lucas as a solid swing tackle option – it’s not at all clear that Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy agree with us and I haven’t had the opportunity to talk with Juan Castillo since he was hired.

Two of the best left tackles in the game, Andrew Whitworth and Jason Peters, are free agents, but they are 39 and 38 years old so awfully unlikely candidates for the Bears to pursue.

Anthony Costanzo is the only other instant upgrade on the left side in free agency, and he is 32, talking retirement and if he plays a again, likely re-signs in Indianapolis.

Jack Conklin is probably the best young tackle in the market, but he’s played on the right side in the NFL to date.

The best option would be if the Bears could swing a trade with Washington for Trent Williams, but now that Ron Rivera is there and Bruce Allen isn't, it seems likely Rivera will do all he can to convince Williams to stay in Washington.

All that leaves is the Draft and it is a very good – really solid at the top – and deep year at tackle. My hope is the Bears will use one of their second-round picks and one of their fives on tackles, assuming the right guys are there at the time.

Was Jimi Hendrix the best guitarist ever? Submitted by Black Bridge

Wow, I don’t know, it’s kind of like asking is Walter Payton the greatest running back of all time? I think so but can I really leave out Jim Brown and Barry Sanders?

Hendrix is on my extremely short list and four days out of seven I’d probably have him at number one, but then I’d take a step back and ask myself what about Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Mike McCready and a few others.

In the end I always struggle between Hendrix and Clapton, but I sure wouldn’t argue if Hendrix is your choice.

I’d give anything if he’d been able to stick around longer for us to really get to know him better.

If you had one place to eat at for the rest of your life between these two? Arby's or Burger King? Which one? Btw, do the local Chicago Bears target A.J. Green in F.A? Submitted by Kevin Piccirilli

Kevin, I am not a vegetarian by any stretch but I rarely eat red meat – literally maybe half a dozen cheeseburgers a year and skirt steak on the barbeque is it, so I’d be in big trouble at either spot. I do like the chicken sandwiches at the King, and I am curious about the “Impossible Burger” – the concept makes me queasy to be honest but I’ve heard they’re pretty good and need to try one — so I guess if I was stuck it’d be Burger King.

Green is a potential Hall of Famer and still productive at 32, but he’s been banged up a lot in recent years, is highly unlikely to take a reasonable one-year prove-it deal, and with the Bears' cap situation and needs in other areas, I’d say no.

He is also literally the same receiver as a much younger Allen Robinson style-wise and while two of those guys wouldn’t be bad, it’s just not a need.

Any wideouts the Bears do add need to be all about speed at this point, and that’s not Green.

Will the Bears add a pass rusher in free agency.? Who is a possibility? Submitted by Pat Gallagher

Pat, I’m glad you asked me this because it’s been an interesting topic of debate between Arthur and me the past few days and weeks.

I would like to see the Bears go at least one more year with Leonard Floyd because I think he’s become a quality, “complete” outside linebacker.

But they can’t pay him the $13.2 million they’re locked in for this year with his limited pass rush production.

Ideally, I think they should try and extend him something like two years at another $12 to $13 million total, allowing them to lower the cap hit this year to a more palatable $8.5 million or so. I don’t know if he’d take that deal but based on his performance to date he’d be well served if he did, and then the Bears could use the money saved to bring in another young pass rush specialist, or maybe even a proven veteran like a Mario Addison.

The hope has always been that Aaron Lynch could be that third guy with Mack and Floyd, but neither Floyd nor Lynch have consistently provided enough pressure.

There is outstanding talent available, including Jadeveon Clowney, Dante Fowler Jr., Shaq Barrett, Arik Armstead, Bud Dupree, Markus Golden and a few more, but based on what the Bears already have invested in Mack, Hicks, Goldman, Fuller and Jackson, and bigger needs on offense, I just don’t see how they can shop at that market.

In addition to Addison, Robert Quinn could be interesting too.

Hub, What’s your opinion on Ryan Pace? How does Pace stack rank to his GM peers with similar tenure? Submitted by Ryan Dufern

What grade would you give Ryan Pace so far as Bears GM?!? Submitted by Sean Rogers

Does Ryan Pace get fired if the Bears go below 500 next year? Submitted by Andy Armstrong

Okay guys, let me see what I can do for all of you with one answer.

Pace inherited one of the worst rosters in the NFL five seasons ago and one of the worst locker rooms/cultures in the NFL.

He was forced to spend his first three years with John Fox fixing the culture and building infrastructure.

Over the past two seasons with Matt Nagy, his club is 20-13. Only seven other clubs – New England, Kansas City, New Orleans, L.A. Rams, Baltimore, Houston and Seattle – have done as well. The only G.M.’s in that group with similar tenure are Brett Veach in K.C. and Eric DeCosta in Baltimore, both of whom are more recent than he is, and DeCosta’s just in his first year without Ozzie Newsome.

Obviously, Veach has the Chiefs in a better spot than the Bears, but other than that Pace actually ranks highly against 4-6 season general managers based on the Bears last two seasons.

He probably deserves a high grade but the best I can give him is a B because of the continued uncertainty around the future of Mitch Trubisky and more immediate successes of Mahomes and Watson.

But while he will forever be linked to these three quarterbacks, and quite justifiably, you can’t objectively grade a GM on one decision.

Is Adam Shaheen a bad miss? Yes. But does Pace get a spot in the G.M. Hall of Fame for finding Jordan Howard, Bilal Nichols and Adrian Amos in the 5th round, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Nick Kwiatkoski in the fourth?

The rampant criticism of Pace and Nagy today isn’t because they’ve done a bad job, although both have clearly made mistakes.

It’s because of the out-sized hype and expectations coming into the 100th season, and the play of Mahomes in K.C.

Does he get fired if the Bears don’t have a .500 season in 2020? What if they go 7-9 or 6-10 with eight or nine starters on injured reserve, including Trubisky after he plays really well the first four, five or six weeks.

I can tell you neither Pace nor Nagy is in any trouble with ownership right now, nor are they anywhere near the “bubble.” But answering Andy’s question without context is impossible.

Given potential system fit, limited cap space for FA + limited draft capital, who is the vet QB competition for Mitch? Submitted by Matt White

Is Teddy Bridgewater being considered by the front office ? Submitted by C.L.

Hub: If you were the #Bears GM, who would be your first through third preferred options for a free agent QB to either compete with or supplant Trubisky?

Matt, that is the question of the hour and I don’t have the answer as to who will be the choice, but the best options seem pretty obvious.

It is most likely Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles. All three are almost certain to hit the market while others could either get tagged or will certainly be too expensive for the Bears.

Teddy Bridgewater is the most likely young free agent to have a chance to become a franchise guy, but he’s not a great scheme fit, he is going to get paid a ton by someone and he may still eventually prove to be more game manager than stud.

Keenum and Mariota are the best scheme fits for the Bears, and while Bortles isn’t the athlete the other two are he can do a lot of damage with his legs.

Based on his 2017 campaign in Minnesota, Keenum is obviously the most ready to win now if the Bears can significantly upgrade their ground game, but he is unlikely to be the future.

If you’re looking for competition and upside, Mariota and Bortles are your guys because they will be reasonably priced early on and have shown enough to suggest in the right scheme, with the right coaching and the right weapons, one of them could be your quarterback for today and the future if it turns out Trubisky isn’t.

What happened to all of Matt Nagy’s fancy plays this year ie. Santa’s Sleigh, Willy Wonka, etc? Did he suddenly get insecure about his play calling? Submitted by Canuck Boy

Nagy talked about that exact question around Week 13 or 14, explaining when you’re not winning its not the best time to be rolling that stuff out.

What some fans have failed to understand is those plays from Nagy are as much about culture as they are about scheme or offense.

He has explained often he believes one of the most important things he has to see to is that his players are always having fun if they’re going to be successful, and a lot of those plays, while designed to work and be effective, are put into the game plan to find the right moment to create momentum, excitement and reward certain players who are rarely in the spotlight.

The problem is when you run them and you don’t work, and you’re already being roasted on a daily if not hourly basis for your play-calling, that’s a great way to make things worse rather than better.

I’m quite sure if the Bears start winning in 2020, you’ll see a lot more of the gadgetry again.

Why is it Hub you basically call Mitch dumb/mental midget which many would agree but you kind of recant and say you’re not calling him dumb. Why the need to recant? Submitted by Martin Dekelai

Deep down do you think Mitch can be a really good QB. Submitted by Steve Roberts

Marty, either you’re hearing things or you’re just projecting what you’d like me to say because you’ve never heard me say a single word questioning Trubisky’s intelligence or I.Q., and in four-plus decades on the beat I never have and never would lower myself to name-calling or insulting players for what they do on the field.

I have absolutely no reason whatsoever to question Mitch’s intelligence, nor have I, so I’ve never had anything to recant.

I have on a number of occasions questioned his maturity, how he reacts to certain situations and how advanced he is at this time reading NFL defenses and seeing the field, but none of that has anything to do with his intelligence.

I have explained that I think those are the issues that are holding him back right now but that I refuse to write him off or say he can’t still be a very good quarterback because of the flashes of some special skills we have seen, so if that’s what you’re calling recanting I guess I get it. But you really should listen better and keep a dictionary close.

Steve, deep down I do believe Trubisky can be very good. He has a lot of the traits we look for in winning quarterbacks capable of making plays on their own when their teams need them most.

But I’ve seen a lot of other kids with those same traits who’ve never become great or very good. I believe only some of what it takes to play quarterback can be taught, some you have to be born with.

To me it gets back to the question of maturity and when he will be ready to reach his full capacity or ceiling, if you will, or if he ever gets there.

Do I think he can be very good? Yes. Do I believe he will be? I have serious doubts based on where he was at at the end of the ’19 season.

I think the Bears are absolutely correct to invest one more season in trying to be sure what that ceiling is and if Mitch can get there, but if we get to May or June without solid plans B and C in place, then shame on Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.

Bears announce average season ticket price increase of 3.9 percent in 2020

Posted on January 24, 2020 - 14:53:00

In a letter sent this week to season ticket holders, Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips wrote that after no increases in three of the past five years, the price of season tickets across all sections of Soldier Field will rise in 2020.

Price increases will range from 1.6-5.3 percent, with an overall average increase in 2020 of 3.9 percent. Non-club seats will undergo an average spike of 4.3 percent, while club seating rises an average of 3.3 percent.

Phillips opens the letter expressing gratitude to fans for helping celebrate the franchise's centennial season, citing the Bears100 convention, unveiling of the Walter Payton and George Halas statues outside of Soldier Field and cutting the ribbon of the team's fitness complex in Vernon Hills as "three examples of fan-centric celebrations to show our appreciation for your continued support and passion throughout the entire year."

The letter continues with Phillips expressing disappointment that the on-field product "failed to meet everyone's expectations," adding that it is "imperative to thoroughly analyze what went wrong" in order to make corrections and move closer to the Bears' contined goal to "bring a World Championship back to Chicago."

As far as the higher season ticket invoices that will be sent out in the coming weeks, Phillips acknowledges the "options you have for spending your discretionary income, and we hope you have seen value in your commitment to us. We promise to work hard to bring you a product you are proud of both on and off the field and will not waiver from our pursuit of providing you a premium year-round experience."

The Bears finished coach Matt Nagy's second season 8-8, after winning the NFC North for the first time since 2010, the year of their most recent playoff victory.

Bears 2020 vision: Cornerbacks are as solid as any unit on depth chart

Posted on January 24, 2020 - 09:57:00

But needs elsewhere and cap concerns could cause a shakeup

In the National Football League, teams can never have enough cornerbacks.

Even with what appears to be a new trend in the league this season back toward dominant ground games, a number of the most prolific quarterbacks and pass offenses in NFL history are active right now.

It is also a golden era at the WR position, with Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill — to name only a few setting new records every Sunday.

Fortunately for the Bears, they are in relatively good shape at the position ... but you never have too many good cornerbacks.

Kyle Fuller is one of the best corners in the game right now, a first-team All Pro in 2018 who returned to the Pro Bowl this season.

His interceptions were down, but there are very few guys playing as physically and confidently as Fuller, who literally single handedly saved victories in Denver and Detroit.

Prince Amukamara continues to play some of the best football of his career, and is good enough that teams are forced to try Fuller on occasion — even if they’d rather not.

Buster Skrine had a really solid season in the slot, his first with the Bears, and it was primarily the play of those three that allowed the defense to finish 9th vs. the pass and 8th in average gain per pass allowed.

Kevin Toliver appears ready to push Amukamara for his job, while the Bears are still intrigued by second-year backup Michael Joseph, and rookies Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark are stuck buried behind the talent in front of them.

Every one of them is under contract for 2020.

2019 Matter of Fact: The biggest drop-off the Bears faced on either side of the ball from a 12-4 2018 to this season's 8-8 campaign was in takeaways, and more specifically, interceptions, slipping from 27 in ’18 to only 10 this past season.

Bears corners had 12 of the 27 picks in 2018, when Fuller led the team – and shared the league lead – with seven, Amukamara had three and departed nickel Bryce Callahan had the other two.

In 2019, Bears corners combined for only three interceptions, all of them coming from Fuller.

The fact that the drop-off at the safety position was almost as steep – from eight interceptions in 2019 to four last season – suggests the issues were as much about pressure/pass rush as cornerback play. After notching 50 sacks in 2018, the Bears managed only 32 last season, and not playing on the lead nearly as often was a big problem.

Cap Commitment: The Bears currently have $35.5 million committed to the secondary for 2020, 16.45 percent of their total cap, which ranks 6th in the NFL.

However, that is skewed by the new contract just awarded to Eddie Jackson, making him the highest-paid safety in the league.

Still, at an average of $13.5 million/year, Fuller is the eighth-highest-paid corner in the league, at $9 million Amukamara is 18th and at $5.5 million Skrine is 34th, giving the Bears one of the most expensive CB rooms in the NFL.

With needs elsewhere something may have to give, and with Toliver appearing ready to take on more, in spite of his great presence in the locker rroom and leadership, Amukamara is a potential cap casualty ahead of his age-31 contract season.

Offseason Need (1 Lowest, 5 Highest): The Bears' need at cornerback is a 2 at the moment, but it becomes a 3 if they move on from Amukamara.

Available prospects to watch: It is not a good year to be looking for promising young corners in free agency, and if Amukamara is a cap casualty, that’s the only kind the Bears could afford.

If he isn’t, they won’t be looking.

Day 3 of the draft is where the Bears would be most likely to shop for corners, and Troy Pride Jr. (Notre Dame), Lamar Jackson (Nebraska), Lavert Hill (Michigan), Jaron Bryant (Fresno State), A.J. Green (Oklahoma State) and Tariq Castro-Fields (Penn State) are just a few names to keep an eye on.

Schofield's Senior Bowl 'Winners and Workers'

Posted on January 23, 2020 - 21:39:00

Plus, practice notes on EDGE and S standouts

MOBILE, Ala. — With the week of practices coming to a close, it is time to try and put a bow on everything that took place down in Mobile over the past few days. In the final Senior Bowl Notebook we’ll review some of the potential EDGE defenders the Chicago Bears could consider in this draft, discuss some potential safety help, then round things out with some Winners, some Workers and a bit of scuttlebutt or more.

EDGE Defenders

Jonathan Greenard, Florida

Florida EDGE defender Jonathan Greenard turned in a solid week of work down in Mobile. He showed some great technical proficiency as a pass rusher to follow up on a solid set of measurables that he posted Tuesday morning. Among his reps from that stand out was a pass rush he showed starting out from a four point stance against Oregon LT Calvin Throckmorton that included a very athletic swipe and rip move. Good jump off the snap, presses the upfield shoulder and then cuts inside him toward the quarterback with a great rip move. Greenard also displayed some power this week, for example on a rep against OT Alex Taylor from South Carolina State, getting into Taylor’s chest after a late jump and driving him back into the pocket. Taylor was never able to reset or anchor his feet, showing Greenard’s power and strength. 

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State

The Michigan State product was one of a few EDGE rushers on the North roster who turned in a very good week of work. Willekes displayed the ability to string together a varied set of pass rushing moves along with the knack for using some well-timed counters when he loses initially at the point of contact. On one example against OT Josh Jones from Houston (who has also had a solid week of work), Willekes tried to beat Jones to the outside with speed, and when Jones matched his quickness with solid lateral movement, Willekes hit him with a well-timed spin move back to the inside to get past him. He then used a similar move against UNC OT Charlie Heck, pressing his outside shoulder before knifing inside him to attack the pocket. His strength seems to be that type of move, pressing the outside shoulder before attacking inside, as it seems when he tries to run the arc to the outside he can get swallowed up a bit by more talented tackles. 

Joshua Uche, Michigan

The descriptive term “tweener” often scares NFL coaches when talking EDGE players, because that might mean someone without the ability to set the edge against the run and a limited skill set to bring to a defense. But in a league dominated by passing, there is always room for a player who can attack and collapse the pocket with speed and quickness. Uche is one such player, and he displayed that this week. Whether it was on a rep against West Virginia OT Colton McKivitz when he beat him around the arc with a quick hand swipe move, or when he raced past Heck around the edge after flashing his hands and then dropping them, causing him to whiff on his punch, Uche showed the ability to pressure passers during drills this week. 

Bradlee Anae, Utah

The Utah pass rusher also helped himself this week, showing the ability to get after the pocket with a few different pass rushing tools. Anae worked well firing out of a three-point stance, with some hand swipe and chop moves to prevent tackles from getting their hands into his frame. He also displayed some power as well. On one rep against McKivitz he was able to long arm into his chest and drive him back with great lower body strength and leg drive. 

Safeties

The Bears might be looking for a safety that better complements Eddie Jackson, given Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s skillset. With both Jackson and Clinton-Dix best suited for deep safety roles where they can read and react to the eyes of the quarterback, finding someone perhaps suited to play down near the box should be a priority for Ryan Pace. That would also give the Bears some flexibility to play some three-safety packages, mirroring how the New England Patriots employ the trio of Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung.

Antonio Brooks Jr.

Perhaps that ideal player could be found in Brooks, the safety product from Maryland. Brooks has drawn a lot of attention this week, and the Bears have reportedly met with the Terrapin defender. His week got off to a bit of a shaky start, as Florida Atlantic TE Harrison Bryant was able to out-muscle him on a dig route during Tuesday’s 1 v 1 session. But his week got stronger from there. He was able to “run the route” against Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney (an All-SEC player in 2018), locking him down on a corner route and preventing a completion. He also showed some good awareness down in the box in zone coverage, quickly reading the play and passing off routes through his zone while maintaining an eye on the quarterback. Brooks also showed the ability to reroute tight ends off the line and then quickly racing to his zone coverage responsibility, either the curl/flat or the underneath hook zone depending on the coverage. 

But he also showed some versatility. Brooks was used at times as a single-high safety, and displayed the ability to drop into deep areas of the field and read the eyes of the quarterback. He flashed some length and athleticism too on a run/pass option play when he started down in the box. Quarterback Jalen Hurts pulled the football from his running back and looked to throw, but Brooks stayed in the throwing lane and leapt to try and deflect the pass, getting a fingertip on the throw and altering the flight path of the football. 

Khaleke Hudson, Michigan State

Another Big Ten safety could fit what the Bears are looking for at the safety spot. Khaleke Hudson put up some intriguing numbers for the Spartans over his career in East Lansing, totaling 225 total tackles (along with 10 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss) as well as two interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Hudson was a linebacker in college but given his size, he looks to be a safety convert in the NFL. This week he flashed both the ability to serve as a coverage defender as well as the potential to be an asset against the run.

He showed off some of his man coverage ability early in the week against Portland State TE Charlie Taumopeau. From a box alignment over the tight end he was able to get into his man's frame off the line, maintain a close relationship with him on the route and stick with him on the tight end’s break to the outside. 

Hudson did have one rep against Taumopeau when he missed on a jam off the line of scrimmage and looked to be beaten on an out route, but he recovered well and got underneath Taumopeau to break up the pass. Then on Wednesday, Taumopeau got the better of him on a dig route when Hudson missed on his jam off the line of scrimmage. 

He even demonstrated some pass rushing ability, which makes sense given his usage at Michigan State in such a role. This was on display in beating Dayton TE Adam Trautman on a pass rushing rep on Tuesday when he used a very quick and violent swim move to the inside to press the pocket. On Wednesday he also got the best of TCU RB Darius Anderson on a pass rushing rep using a pure bull rush move off the edge. 

Hudson might be more of a developmental prospect at the safety spot, but given some of Chicago’s other needs if the Bears go in a different direction early in the draft, he could provide a later round option on the back end of the defense. 

Kyle Duggar, Lenoir-Rhyne

In these notebook pieces we have covered a few different small school athletes who have shined this week, such as Ben Bartch from St. John’s (MN) at the OT spot and Trautman. But on the defensive side of the ball, Duggar has been a similar high-level performer. He has flashed great coverage skills against tight ends when working down in the box, with good footwork and closing ability to disrupt at the catch point. This showed both in 1 v 1s as well as during the team and skeleton portions of practice. 

On Wednesday he had a great interceptions during 1 v 1s against Pinkney, matching him step for step on a dig route and then undercutting the throw from Justin Herbert for the interception. Duggar was in perfect trail technique coming off Pinkney’s break and the tight end appeared to be open, but Duggar closed on the route like he was shot out of a cannon, slicing under the tight end for the pick.

It is worth noting that Florida Atlantic TE Harrison Bryant did seem to fare well when those players were matched up, beating him on a seam route out of the slot early in the week and then on a dig route out of an in-line alignment later in the week. But that might speak to Bryant’s ability more than anything else. 

There are some rumblings that Duggar has played himself into the Top 50 of this draft, according to some of the talk down in Mobile. Where he ends up coming off the board remains to be seen, but as with some other players during Senior Bowl week, his performance has many scouring their networks in search of Division II film. 

Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois

Chinn turned some heads during the weigh-in portion of the program, measuring in at 6’3” and weighing 219 pounds. But it was how he carried the weight that had those in attendance excited.

The physique translated to the performance on the field. Chinn flashed at various moments throughout the week, both with his ball skills downfield in the passing game, his coverage skills in 1 on 1 situations and his ability to play down near the box against the run. At the end of the week Senior Bowl Executive Direction Jim Nagy compared him to Kam Chancellor, a rather famous box safety with versatility to play even as a deep defender, and the comparison certainly fits. 

Winners and Workers

It is always hard to highlight winners and losers during a week like this, but here are some players who stood out, as well as some who probably have some work to do to help themselves as the Combine looms.

On the positive side of the ledger, I would start with some of the small school players who really shined this week. Trautman, Duggar and Bartch showed they belonged on this level, and it would not surprise me to see all three of those players selected on Day Two of the draft.

At the quarterback spot, I think both Herbert and Jordan Love did what they needed to do this week. What did strike me when talking to some around the league is that the gap between them might be closer than I expected. In discussing these players with a league source, he indicated that in a meeting of evaluators after watching both players this week and some of their film, Love was the heavy favorite among the group of over 20 individuals. I would lean in Herbert’s direction, but the potential upside with Love might move the needle for some organizations. Remember, it just takes one team. 

Keeping with the quarterbacks, some players that “won” the week might have been Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. Given the inconsistency we saw from Anthony Gordon, and the questions that linger about Jalen Hurts, second tier passers such as Eason and Fromm now stand in a very good position with the combine on the horizon.

On the offensive line, in addition to Bartch I think some players that stood out were LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry, who might have a case to be the first center off the board, OGs Logan Stenberg, Jonah Jackson and Ben Bredeson, and OTs Matt Pearl and Josh Jones

When it comes to the tight ends, Trautman certainly shined. But all of these tight ends had their moments and I was largely impressed with them all. I’ll mention LSU’s Stephen Sullivan again, as I remain very intrigued with what he could become in the NFL. He might not fit the mold of a traditional in-line TE, but in today’s league with so many "12 personnel" packages, he could serve as that "move"-type tight end and play a very effective role from a variety of alignments.

We have not spent much time talking about the wide receivers this week, but some of them were truly impressive. Baylor’s Denzel Mims has garnered a ton of attention this week, with some great ball skills and some impressive releases against press coverage. But some other wideouts, such as Chase Claypool from Notre Dame, Michael Pittman Jr. from USC, Van Jefferson from Florida, Collin Johnson from Texas and KJ Hill from Ohio State have done some solid work. 

On the defensive side of the football, in addition to the safeties and EDGE players mentioned earlier, I have to mention Javon Kinlaw. A tremendous week for him. Also, Jason Strowbridge. He saw time both on the edge as well as kicking inside, and he showed some versatility along the defensive front that teams are going to love. 

At the CB spot, two players that I thought had strong weeks were Dane Jackson from Pittsburgh, who showed some feistiness on the outside, and Troy Pride Jr. from Notre Dame.

Now we can turn to some players that have a bit of work to do if they want to bounce back from a down week. 

At the QB spot, I would start with Anthony Gordon and Jalen Hurts. I still think both players have NFL futures, but they were underwhelming at times down in Mobile. Solid performances at the combine and their pro days will really help after what we saw during this week.

Clemson OG John Simpson was another player who underwhelmed a bit. I was excited to see him down in Mobile and thought he could show some consistency and refinement, but that seemed to be lacking this week.

Wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden put up big numbers for Liberty University, but he struggled this week. His releases were not as crisp and clean as he needed them to be, and he showed some inconsistency at the catch point. He’ll need to test very well in Indianapolis to bounce back. 

Closing Thoughts

As always, this is “lying season,” so everything you hear must be taken with a grain of salt. Who teams meet with and what players “teams are falling for” can often have different meanings than you expect. For example, a team might meet with a player and people automatically assume that means the team is interested. However, that could just be due diligence, or they could be trying to learn about a teammate of that player, or something that actually resembles true interest.

But there is one bit of scuttlebutt making the rounds that might have implications for how the entire draft plays out. Talk to anyone down in Mobile and the topic of Tua Tagovailoa’s hip comes up very, very quickly. From murmuring around Dauphin Street late at night, it would seem that the league might be a bit more concerned about the status of Tagovailoa’s hip than those on the outside are, given his decision to enter the draft and the word that a recent medical check has him on track to work out for teams sooner rather than later. 

Of course, this is lying season, so take that with a grain of salt. 

Up next? The combine. The next step on a very long and winding road to the 2020 draft out in Las Vegas. 

Bears 2020 vision: More must be done to maximize Mack

Posted on January 23, 2020 - 10:34:00

With their best player's cap charge skyrocketing, should Bears consider replacing Floyd?

In hindsight, maybe expecting Khalil Mack's 2019 encore to match his show-stopping '18 debut wasn't entirely realistic. Then again, it was at least partially based on sidekick Leonard Floyd picking up where he left off rushing the passer late in his first season alongside the Bears' best player.

Neither scenario materialized. Despite his first full offseason preceding his first healthy full season with the Bears — after arriving on the eve of Week 1 and dealing with his most significant NFL injury two seasons ago — Mack's production was his most pedestrian since his rookie campaign ... and the same held true for Floyd.

Assuming Floyd returns, far greater expectations will accompany both next season, the second in Chuck Pagano's scheme, when Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith should again be healthy and making the outstanding contributions that were sorely missed.

2019 Matter of Fact: Mack managed only 8.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss — the first time in five years he hasn't had double digits in the former, and the first time as a pro for the latter. His five forced fumbles trailed only All Pros T.J. Watt (8), Chandler Jones (8) and Shaq Barrett (6), yet four of them came in the first month of the season. Still, his statistical decline is less damning with added context, such as advanced metrics illustrating that Mack recorded more hurries (30) than everyone not named Aaron Donald, the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Mack also was among the top 10 edge defenders in the NFL in terms of drawing and defeating double teams, at the opposite end of the spectrum as Floyd, who had only half of Mack's hurries and slightly more than half of his pressures (45 to 26), according to Pro Football Reference.

But taking the dubious distinction here is OLB3 Aaron Lynch, whose seven penalties — all neutral zone infractions! — trailed only Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller on defense. Fuller, of course, also led the unit in snaps (1,070, 99.7 percent), whereas Lynch played 244, tallying an inexcusable penalty per every 34-plus snaps. That stunning lack of discipline might be tolerable if Lynch was producing, but he was essentially a nonfactor after re-upping on a one-year deal following a quietly productive 2018.

Cap Commitment: Lynch is an impending free agent unlikely to be re-signed, but Mack's cap charge explodes from $11.9 to $26.6 million — more than 12 percent of the Bears' entire cap — and Floyd is currently on the books for $13.2 million. The $46.2-plus million allocated for Chicago's inside and outside linebackers combined accounts for a league-leading 21.48 percent of the total cap, per spotrac.

Moreover, Mack and Floyd are the only two outside backers under contract — and there's a realistic possibility it'll be only Mack by the time new league year opens, when Floyd's salary in his team option season becomes fully guaranteed. One of the harder questions the Bears must answer is whether they can spend that $13.2 million more effectively to help rebuild the OLB room around Mack, ideally alleviating his burden as a double- and triple-team magnet and their lone game-changing edge rusher.

Offseason Need (1 lowest, 5 highest): We're calling this a 4 because the defense simply wasn't formidable creating havoc, an unacceptable fact given the resources invested on pass rush and the adverse effect it had on Chicago's dramatic takeaway decline. The Bears have said repeatedly they're happy with Floyd, who has become a solid all-around linebacker but not nearly the pass rusher they surely sought in trading up to select him No. 9 overall in the 2016 draft. If they do intend to keep him, it can't come at the expense of finding someone who can consistently affect the passer when he's singled up.

Available prospects to watch: An unusual number of difference makers are expected to hit the market, potentially up to six double-digit sack artists. Can the Bears afford Baltimore's Matt Judon, basically Za'Darius Smith lite? Perhaps a Markus Golden or Dante Fowler for slightly cheaper? It's tough to say without knowing their plans for two other premium positions, quarterback and left tackle.

Regardless, the Bears should strongly consider an edge rusher at Nos. 43 and/or 50 in the draft, where Florida's Jonathan Greenard and Tennessee's Darrell Taylor could be found.

Free Agency 2020: With tight cap, can Bears go on the offensive to fix woeful offense?

Posted on January 23, 2020 - 10:30:00

Ryan Pace’s trademark aggressiveness has resulted in a mixed bag as Bears general manager over the past five years, with one division title, no postseason victories and a 34-47 record.

For better or worse, from the Mitch Trubisky and Khalil Mack trades to the Pernell McPhee and Allen Robinson signings, Pace is going to fire his shot on bold acquisitions whenever possible.

Yet one of the stranger, rarely discussed components of the Bears’ immensely disappointing 2019 campaign is that while Pace took a lot fewer shots up against the cap for the first time last offseason, he was quite efficient.

Save for the ill-fated signing of backup RB Mike Davis – who contributed 47 yards from scrimmage for roughly $3 million before his Week 10 release – Pace was shrewd and calculated. He added two new starters in his secondary, the best return man in football and two key depth pieces who rose to the occasion when called upon, while spending less than only six clubs – only one of which tallied more than seven wins en route to the playoffs.  

That was a far cry from Pace’s approach in his first four years on the job, when the Bears’ average offseason spending ranked 11th, including a 2018 league-leading $463-plus million en route to 12 wins and the NFC North title two seasons ago, according to spotrac.

Everything starts behind center

The Bears have a longer list of needs to address this spring, with likely a smaller margin of error, but Pace will have similar cap constraints. Backing up the Brinks truck, as Pace’s Bears had done previously, to fix everything that went wrong this season isn’t an option.

There’s also the great unknown – how candidly Pace and coach Matt Nagy were discussing Trubisky at their season-ending news conference when they said he remains the unquestioned starter. We know the Bears almost certainly will seek upgrades over impending free agents Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray. But it’s unclear how aggressively they’ll pursue stability at the game’s most important and, subsequently, expensive position.

Nonetheless, the vet QB market might be as robust as any in recent memory. Could Andy Dalton, who played some of his best football under new Bears OC Bill Lazor and almost assuredly will be traded or released, offer the vital boost to Chicago’s Trubisky contingencies and competition? Nick Foles has ties to Lazor, Nagy and new QB coach John DeFilippo, but his contract likely wouldn’t make him a viable option until 2021.

Those are a few potential trade targets, but don’t discount free-agent possibilities such as Case Keenum and Marcus Mariota.

Order of non-QB business

The Bears undoubtedly also must use free agency to shop at tight end and offensive line. But the former seemingly lacks clear potential upgrades outside of Atlanta’s Austin Hooper and the Chargers’ Hunter Henry – both sure to command lavish contracts, should they avoid getting tagged – and the latter is solid at guard and sparse at tackle, where the draft is loaded.

Another unknown: Whether a second consecutive offseason surgery finally fixes what ails Trey Burton, whose second year of a four-year, $32 million contract was a total washout. The Bears most certainly need a “Y” tight end with the Adam Shaheen project officially an unmitigated failure, but what about the all-important “U” role that was filled capably in 2018 by Burton before languishing in his stead?

Jesper Horsted flashed promise at the “U” as an undrafted rookie whom the Bears converted from receiver, the position where he broke many school records at Princeton. Similarly, the Bears have a potential “Y” weapon in fellow college free agent Dax Raymond, and an overachiever in J.P. Holtz who did some nice things from a number of alignments.

Unfortunately, the time for promise and potential for Pace’s Bears has passed, making tight end a strong candidate to be priority No. 1 in free agency, where Hooper could be Pace’s biggest prize. It’s worth noting the Bears potentially can save more than $2.5 million against the cap by waiving Shaheen and top reserve Ben Braunecker.

Already with second-round investments in interior blockers Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, plus a couple of intriguing jars on the shelf in Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars, Pace seemingly won’t want to spend a lot at guard. After all, free agents Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff appear poised to reset the OG market, where Andrus Peat and Graham Glasgow hardly will be had for a pittance.

It’s also possible if not likely that Nagy’s decision to replace Harry Hiestand with new O-line coach Juan Castillo signals the Bears’ belief that their biggest improvements up front will originate from within.

Still, we’d expect at least one second-tier OL signing, perhaps with a connection to the Bears’ coaching staff, such as Philadelphia’s Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who boasts positional flexibility and a Super Bowl ring.

The Bears have two free agent O-lineman – Coward, who’s restricted, and bypassed unrestricted utility backup Ted Larsen following recently retired Kyle Long’s trip to injured reserve.

Addition by subtraction?

Frankly, the biggest area of free-agent intrigue on defense could surround potential departures rather than arrivals. Two starters – ILB Danny Trevathan and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – are out of contract, as well as top reserves Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre Louis at linebacker and Deon Bush at safety.

Kwiatkoski is younger and more durable than Trevathan, whom he impressively filled in for last season, while Bush lacks Clinton Dix’s pedigree but might be a better fit stylistically alongside newly extended Pro Bowler Eddie Jackson. Although the Bears aren’t flush with draft capital, these are devalued positions where sharp evaluators can find rookie contributors – especially paired with Jackson and Roquan Smith.

Bear in mind: Chicago can save $9 million in cap room by releasing vet CB Prince Amukamara, and it might not necessitate a drop-off with Kevin Toliver earning valuable on-the-job training the past two seasons. Similarly, Leonard Floyd’s $13.2 million salary potentially also could be shed, and although there’s no clear contingency on the roster, the savings and/or a Day 2 draft pick might lead to a more disruptive complement to the NFL’s highest-paid defender, Khalil Mack.

Senior Bowl OL standouts, from Michigan's Bredeson to St. John's Bartch

Posted on January 22, 2020 - 20:09:00

Bears should get good look at strong crop of offensive linemen in Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. — Mobile during Senior Bowl week can provide some great stories. We told one yesterday in the form of Dayton TE Adam Trautman, a player looking to erase the “asterisk” next to his name denoting a lower level of competition. But Trautman is not from the lowest level of the collegiate ranks represented in Mobile.

St. John’s (MN) offensive lineman Ben Bartch is.

Recruited to the Division 3 school as a tight end, Bartch put on seventy pounds early in his days on campus and moved to the offensive line, where he became a standout for the Johnnies. His story is a fascinating one as well, as he graduated with a degree in psychology, and spent a semester abroad in South Africa.

But Bartch can play the OT position, and play it well. We will dive into his performance thus far in Mobile in a minute but Chicago Bears fans might want to take note. When I asked him on Tuesday what his favorite blocking scheme was, he emphasized his love of the inside zone game. “I enjoy inside zone. It requires a level of communication with other players around you. I enjoy doing combo blocks with other players...it is really a team style of running.”

Does that sound like someone that Matt Nagy might want in a Bears’ uniform?

North Roster

With two days of practices in the books, I wanted to highlight some of the offensive linemen who have stood out so far. We can start in the interior, as Chicago looks to deal with the retirement of Kyle Long at the guard position. There are a few guards who have stood out this week, particularly in pass rushing 1 on 1s. First up might be Ben Bredeson, from the University of Michigan. He turned in some very impressive reps on Tuesday, first against Davon Hamilton from Ohio State. Bredeson showed a great initial hand strike, almost violent with the left hand, eventually driving Hamilton to the turf. He also had a fascinating rep against McTelvin Agim from Arkansas. The guard was beaten a bit to the inside, but maintained contact with Agim and was able to recover with his right arm to bring the rep to a stalemate.

His ability to counter quick moves flashed later on a pass rushing rep, when he slid out to protect to his right but the defender tried to cut inside his left shoulder. Bredeson was able to again recover and “ride and carry” the defender away from the pocket. 

He showed some strength during portions of Tuesday’s practice. First against Darrion Daniels, the big defensive tackle from Nebraska. Bredeson showed good upper body strength to handle the initial bull rush move, but the good footwork to handle the late counter move to the inside. Then in a bit of a rematch with Agim, he handled a “swat and cut” move from the defender very well, with a solid combination of upper body strength and lateral quickness.

Another player who has been impressive in the interior has been Jonah Jackson from Ohio State. On Tuesday he showed very good length and power in his arms, locking out Agim on one particular play. Later in the practice he was beaten very late in the rep by Larrell Murchinson from N.C. State, but in a real world setting the ball would likely have been out of his quarterback’s hands by that time. Jackson flashed some more upper body strength, handling a bull rush from Daniels on the inside. My favorite play of his from Wednesday’s practice was a rep against Agim, when he won with his initial punch but was still able to handle a late spin move from the defender with just his left arm acting as a wall of steel between Agim and the pocket. 

One more guard I will mention from the North squad is Hakeem Adeniji from Kansas. He struggled at times on Tuesday, and in particular on one rep against Jason Strowbridge from UNC, when Adeniji failed to finish the play and gave up a pressure. But as Tuesday wore on he seemed to improve, flashing some pure strength against Daniels when he rocked the Nebraska product with his initial punch and then rides him out of the pocket when Daniels tried to counter with a swim move. But Wednesday he was really impressive, finishing an attempted bull rush by Strowbridge with a win , and handling another bull rush from Neville Gallimore with a strong anchoring of the lower body to stand his ground. He has come on as the week has unfolded.

Looking to the outside for a moment, a player that has flashed at times has been OT Matt Pearl from the University of Connecticut. Tuesday saw Pearl turn in very strong work, such as a play against EDGE Carter Coughlin from Minnesota, where Pearl displayed a very fluid kick slide, as well as good hand strength and length to lock up the defender. Against the talented edge rusher Joshua Uche from Michigan, Pearl was able to use his upper body and lower body strength in concert to anchor against the rusher and hold his ground. 

Finally, on the North squad I did want to mention two centers, Nick Harris from Washington and Matt Hennessy from Temple. Both have been very impressive with a great combination of upper body strength, footwork, lateral quickness and awareness. 

South Roster

We can start with how we opened the piece, with Bartch from St. John’s. He turned in a great performance on Tuesday, winning almost every rep he had at the left tackle spot. He showed both the upper body strength and hand usage that made him an impressive tackle at the Division III level, but he also showed the athleticism that underlies his background as a tight end and a high school basketball player. His day could probably be encapsulated in a rep against Jabari Zuniga from Florida. Bartch stoned the defender with his initial strike, and then simply rides him outside and around the arc of the pocket using fluid footwork and lateral agility. Similar to Trautman, Bartch showed early and often that he belongs on this level.

Kicking to the inside given Chicago’s pressing needs at the guard spot, I should mention Logan Stenberg from the University of Kentucky. The Wildcats’ offensive line was a solid group this year, and Stenberg was a big part of their success on the ground. We can begin with his base, as he shows the ability to mirror, reset and anchor against many types of pass rushers. On a rep against Marlon Davidson from Auburn, he was able to mirror and slide against the defender, giving up a tiny bit of real estate but still dropping the anchor and stopping the penetration. He also showed very good hands, particularly on a rep against Robert Windsor, where Sternberg displayed great hand placement as well as power in his arms. 

My favorite moment of his so far was another rep against Windsor. The Penn State product tried a combination of moves on this play, first a bull rush and then a violent rip with his right arm. But Stenberg handled it perfectly, stoning the initial strike and then riding him after the contact with the rip upwards to his chest. Very impressive to see Stenberg combat the counter-strike from Windsor. 

A player that left me somewhat underwhelmed on the interior was John Simpson, the guard from Clemson. He struggled at times, particularly against Javon Kinlaw, although that might be expected. Kinlaw beat him with a move to the outside when Simpson whiffed on his initial punch. He also lost in a rep to Davidson when he whiffed once more on his initial strike, and Davison was able to beat him with a swim move. Perhaps in a good sign for the Clemson product, he learned from that mistake and when Davidson tried to hit him with a swim move later, Simpson was ready for it and simply rode the defender to the outside of the pocket and away from his “quarterback.”

Another player on the inside who showed some ability was Damien Lewis, the LSU guard. He had two different reps against Kinlaw of note this week. On the first one he faced a pure bull rush from the South Carolina's highly touted defender, but he was able to lock him up and while he got pushed back a bit, he eventually stood his ground against the power move. Later in a meeting between the two, Kinlaw “won” with a late spin move, but again that win probably came after the ball would have been out of the quarterback’s hands. However, prior to that spin move, Lewis mirrored the initial jab step and cut from Kinlaw, riding him and mirroring him perfectly.

At the center spot, Lloyd Cushenberry has been one of the stars of the week. Both Matt Miller and Daniel Jeremiah have been talking up the LSU center, and with good reason. He handled some reps against Kinlaw very well, and has shown great strength in his lower body with tremendous ability to anchor and stone defenders. A perfect example is a rep he had against Benito Jones, when he stoned the Mississippi defensive tackle at the point of attack and barely gave up an inch. 

Schofield's Senior Bowl Day 2 QB nuggets: Herbert and Love a cut above, but Hurts' deep-ball prowess continues to stand out

Schofield's Senior Bowl Day 2 QB nuggets: Hurts' vertical prowess a fit with Bruce Arians' Bucs?

Posted on January 22, 2020 - 19:23:00

Herbert and Love stand out on Day 2 in Mobile, but Hurts' deep-ball success a good sign

MOBILE, Ala.— With our baseline day behind us, it was time to let the QB evaluation process truly unfold Wednesday at the Senior Bowl.

Over the course of two practices, watching six different passers, I found myself thinking of a completely different sport. Tennis. Not football, but tennis. Not because the Australian Open is underway, as much as I would like to be there for that event, but because of something I once learned about that sport.

I’m lucky to be family friends with Craig Tiley, formerly the men’s tennis coach at the University of Illinois and now currently the CEO of Tennis Australia. Our wives grew up together and we have spent many hours at tennis events such as the US Open watching the sport. I’ve learned a ton about tennis from Craig and Ali, and I remember watching one early round pairing featuring Rafael Nadal with Ali, my wife Rachelle, and I. To me, an uninformed observer rooted in football and “momentum,” I remember thinking that an upset could be in the making as Nadal struggled early.

Ali quickly set me straight. This happens all the time in the early rounds, she told me, the unranked players look good at the beginning but eventually the talent, athleticism and stamina from the elite players takes over in the end.

Nadal cruised to victory that humid August day out at Flushing Meadows.

Now what does that have to do with quarterbacks? Well today, it seemed like the talent rose a bit to the top.

North Practice

We will begin with the North team practice, under the direction of the Detroit Lions. Again an...interesting practice to observe from a conceptual standpoint. But it was watching this practice in particular that had me thinking about the hard courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. While Jordan Love had an up-and-down day on Tuesday, he seemed to turn things on a bit on Wednesday. It started early just throwing routes versus air, when he threw a perfectly placed curl route to Chase Claypool, leading him toward the sideline and the boundary shoulder. On a curl route a bit later, the ball just popped out of hand perfectly and you saw the velocity. 

Love later in practice during the cornerback/wide receiver 1 on 1s connected with Southern Methodist WR James Proche on a pristine comeback route, and with Denzel Mims from Baylor on a beautiful deep ball. 

During the skeleton portion, Love showed some of the timing and rhythm that was missing the day before, on this comeback route:

comp:00005e257a35:000000000e:058e 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Not bad timing and rhythm here from Love: <a href="https://t.co/ejNxstM9NN">pic.twitter.com/ejNxstM9NN</a></p>&mdash; Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220069061800886277?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 10

Love finished the day strong during the team portion. He had another good deep ball to Mims where the receiver adjusted very well to the throw, and Chicago Bears fans might want to know that Dayton TE Adam Trautman was wide open on a post route as well. Love closed it out with this touch throw working off play-action:

comp:00005e257a35:000000000f:058e 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Like how Love took a little off this. Good placement: <a href="https://t.co/qGqDHW61Yc">pic.twitter.com/qGqDHW61Yc</a></p>&mdash; Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220073389865435137?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 11

EMBED TWEET: https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220073389865435137?s=20

Not that the day was picture-perfect from Love. He did miss on a seam route and was slow on some other reads. But it was certainly a strong showing from the Utah State product.

Anthony Gordon entered the week as perhaps a favorite of the Bears’ fans looking to see Mitchell Trubisky pushed in training camp, and while his performance was better than we saw from him on Tuesday, he still is a bit of a roller coaster. Early in practice he showed better velocity on a dig route to Quartney Davis from Texas A&M and later on the same route design to Trautman. He also provided the first “giggle-worthy” moment of the day. When working off a play-action rollout, he used a swim move with the football in his hand to escape pressure and then ripped a crossing route through multiple defenders for a completion. He certainly is fun to watch.

comp:00005e257a35:0000000010:058e 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Yeah throw needs a NSFW tag (audible disappointment): <a href="https://t.co/vLiDlJTiS4">pic.twitter.com/vLiDlJTiS4</a></p>&mdash; Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220075098083860486?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 14

But then you had moments like this. I must say that this video warrants a NSFW tag, given some audible disappointment you hear in the background:

EMBED TWEET: https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220075098083860486?s=20

Gordon’s up and down week continues.

Shea Patterson closed out the roster today, and while he was better than I was expecting Tuesday, things perhaps evened out a bit for him on Wednesday. He started well, with a good post route throw and then a great seam route to Charlie Taumepeau, the Portland State fullback, but then he started to struggle. He missed badly on an out route to Mims and then underthrew on two different vertical routes during the skeleton portion. One his strengths yesterday, the timing and rhythm game, seemed to be off on Wednesday. He did have a beautiful deep ball to Antonio Gandy-Golden which was dropped, but this was not Patterson’s best outing. 

South Practice

As with the Tuesday practice for the South squad, Justin Herbert remained the class of the group. But Jalen Hurts is impressing me in one particular area, and it has me wondering a bit about a potential scheme fit for him in a moment.

We will start with Herbert, who continues to demonstrate impressive arm strength as well as the ability to make some throws with good timing and rhythm. Early in the practice he threw a perfect post pattern off play-action to Collin Johnson from Texas (another receiver who is faring well this week in Mobile) and then followed that up with a great out route to Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara and a perfect corner route to LSU’s Stephen Sullivan

Then during the CB/WR 1 on 1s, Herbert ripped a perfect out route to Jauan Jennings from Tennessee, and what happened after the throw might highlight some of what Herbert told the media on Tuesday. The quarterback went right over to his wide receiver to hype him up after the play, perhaps showing some of that leadership that Herbert wanted to display this week. Herbert also showed the ability to anticipate on an out route to Johnson during this portion of the practice.

comp:00005e257a35:0000000011:058e 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Herbert on the move: <a href="https://t.co/PwEBLsbKTe">pic.twitter.com/PwEBLsbKTe</a></p>&mdash; Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220111028320718851?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 22

During the skeleton session, one of the things Herbert displayed that might also be big for him in the pre-draft process: The ability to work through reads. He made a few full-field reads during this portion of practice, showing that processing speed and decision making that he did not have a chance to show much of in Oregon’s offense.

During the team portion, Herbert flashed the arm strength, with a tremendous throw on a slant to Jennings, and also showed his athleticism, throwing on the move here:

EMBED TWEET: https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220111028320718851?s=20

It is probably safe to say that Herbert has been the best of the passers so far this week.

But now let us talk about Hurts for a moment. One of the areas where he continues to stand out is in the vertical passing game. He also connected with Sullivan on a deep corner route, and during the 1 on 1 portion of practice, he dropped in a great bucket throw to Florida WR Tyrie Cleveland on a go route that was just placed perfectly. He also connected with Cleveland a bit later on a go route, and during the skeleton session he hooked up with fellow Gator receiver Van Jefferson on yet another 9 route.

The point? Hurts might fit well in a vertical-based passing offense. That has me thinking about Tampa Bay. Obviously there are free agency dominoes to fall, but I am warming to the idea of Hurts in a Bruce Arians system.

comp:00005e257a35:0000000012:058e 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Montez to Jefferson: <a href="https://t.co/pONCzdShXU">pic.twitter.com/pONCzdShXU</a></p>&mdash; Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220112647674322944?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 28

As for a fit in a Matt Nagy system, well, that might be a tougher needle to thread. Hurts still has a long, looping throwing motion at times, and the processing speed might not mesh with where Nagy wants his quarterback to be. 

Colorado’s Steven Montez rounds out the group, and he struggled today. Montez threw two bad balls during the skeleton session on back-to-back plays. First, he missed poorly on a seam route and the throw was easily intercepted. Then he failed to feel the underneath coverage on a dig route and was lucky that the linebacker only tipped the football into the air before it fell incomplete. Montez was lucky it was not his second interception of the session. 

He did have some decent throws, such as a post route to Ohio State WR Austin Mack that was made with good pace and placement, as well as a seam route to Antonio Gibson, the running back from Memphis. He saved perhaps his best throw of the day for near the end of practice, connecting with Jefferson on this deep ball:

EMBED TWEET: https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1220112647674322944?s=20

But his inconsistency this week - something that plagued him at Colorado - might put a dent in his draft prospects. 

With one day left in the practice week, Bears fans might be wondering: What have we learned about potential options for Chicago in the middle rounds of this draft? I still think from a schematic standpoint, Gordon is the cleaner fit for Matt Nagy’s offense, over Jalen Hurts. (I think we can safely assume both Herbert and Love will be of the board before Chicago is on the clock). But I have been more impressed with Hurts than Gordon this week, at least so far.

Something to remember, however, is this: While the practices matter, they are just a small portion of the evaluation puzzle. It is very, very easy to overreact to the practices. It is just a sliver of the entire body of work. 

Bears 2020 vision: They could already have all they need at inside linebacker

Posted on January 22, 2020 - 10:13:00

But huge holes could emerge quickly depending on free agency

The Bears began the 2019 season with what many believed to be the best ILB corps in the NFL, and finished it with a career backup and journeyman street free agent starting next to each other with little behind them in reserve.

That said, the talent to get back on top is right in front of the Bears — depending on the health of Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, and what the team decides on with its own free agents.

In spite of a game lost to personal issues in Week 4 vs. the Vikings and less than stellar return to action in three consecutive losses after to the Raiders, Saints and Chargers, Smith bounced back in Week 9 against the Eagles and continued to improve from there, playing arguably the best game of his career on Thanksgiving in Detroit.

A week later Smith tore a pectoral muscle against Dallas and was lost for the season.

Nonetheless, only 23 years old in April, he should be ready for the beginning of the ’20 season and is still considered one of the brightest young defenders in the league.

Trevathan went down for the count in Week 10 in the first Lions game with a grisly elbow injury and is now an unrestricted free agent facing his 30th birthday near the end of March.

He is a team captain and one of the Bears' most important leaders in the locker room, but in four seasons as a Bear he has played just 9, 12, 16 and 9 games.

Nick Kwiatkoski was outstanding stepping in for Trevathan, much more athletic in coverage than anyone expected. But like Trevathan, he is now an unrestricted free agent, and still only 26, he’s likely earned himself a very nice payday somewhere.

Kevin Pierre-Louis is a Smith clone, signed last May after bouncing around the league. He was also excellent stepping in for Smith but is a third Bears' unrestricted free agent at the position.

Joel Iyiegbuniwe, a fourth-rounder in 2018, rounds out the group but has shown little other than special teams chops and is unlikely to be able to carry Trevathan’s or Kwiatkoski’s weight.

2019 Matter of Fact: After finishing the 2018 season No. 1 in the league against the run and 4th in average gain allowed per attempt, the Bears fell to ninth and sixth, respectively, last season.

However, some of that can be attributed to the early season loss of Akiem Hicks, as well as the injuries to Trevathan and Smith.

Bears inside linebackers had seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2018 but almost matched that last season in spite of the injuries with six sacks and 16 more TFLs.

The main reason was Kwiatkosi adding three sacks and eight tackles for loss after posting none a season earlier.

Cap Commitment: The Bears currently have just $2.8 million committed to Smith and Iyiegbuniwe, 2.7% of their total cap, so they will be spending money at the position. The question is will they spend it on Trevathan, Kwiatkoski, Pierre-Louis, some combination of the three or new talent altogether?

The most likely scenario is they will sign Pierre-Louis and one of the other two and add a rookie through the Draft.

Offseason Need (1 Lowest, 5 Highest): The Bears' need at inside linebacker is a 5 at the moment because of the free agents, but it drops to a 3 if they sign either Trevathan or Kwiatkoski, a 1 if they sign both, and a 2 if they sign one or the other and Pierre-Louis.

Available prospects to watch: The only free agents that might be better options than their own are Cory Littleton (26, Rams), Patrick Onwuasor (28, Ravens) or Reggie Ragland (26, Chiefs) and Littleton and Onwuasor will almost certainly command a lot more money than Trevathan or Kwiatkoski.

The Draft is fairly rich in Day 2 prospects at the position, including Zack Baun (Wisconsin), Patrick Queen (LSU) and Malik Harrison (Ohio St.), but unless the Bears actually have a first-round grade on one it’s hard to envision them using one of their second-rounders at inside 'backer with so many greater needs on offense.

Schofield's Senior Bowl Day 1 notes: Dayton TE Adam Trautman's competitiveness, athleticism stand out

Posted on January 21, 2020 - 22:16:00

TE-focused Bears should be watching Trautman, Hopkins, among others, closely at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — It is difficult to declare someone the “winner” of the media portion of the Senior Bowl. Not only are there some new faces being introduced to the world, such as OL Ben Bartch from Division III school St. John’s (more on him later in the week), but with so many different players to get to know, there are many that stand out.

However, TE Adam Trautman from the University of Dayton might be a contender for the "winner" of media day.

His is a fascinating story, a self-described “late bloomer” who was originally recruited as a quarterback late in the recruiting process, due to his high school running a veer option offense for his first three seasons. That did not exactly bring recruiters to the stands, but when his high school switched to more of a passing attack his senior year and he added some size (bulking up to 215 pounds from 175), that opened some doors for him. One was Dayton.

Trautman moved to tight end as a redshirt freshman in 2016, and began rewriting record books for the Flyers. He set school records for receptions in a season (70), touchdown catches in a season (14), career touchdown catches (31) and career receptions (178). 

But this week is about football, and removing that asterisk that has been next to his name. He recently spoke to the Dayton Daily News about that “asterisk,” telling reporters that “I also had the same asterisk I have now, like the competition I played in northern Michigan was not very great obviously so they don’t really want to take a chance on that, and no one wants to go up there and really recruit.”

That is an asterisk he carries with him to this day. As he told the media members on Tuesday morning: “I’m just here to put on a show and to get rid of that asterisk regarding the level of competition that is next to my name.”

If that didn’t make you excited about him yet, then this quote that he used to close out his media session might. When talking about his affinity for George Kittle and how he blocks, Trautman stated: “I’ve told scouts that I’d rather put a dude on his back against his will than catch a touchdown. That’s the best feeling as a tight end.”

South Practice

We will start with the South group of tight ends, with a few intriguing names to watch. I remain fascinated by Stephen Sullivan from LSU. He originally came to campus as a wide receiver and then transitioned to tight end, but for a few different reasons he was not relied upon in that offense. With the depth at both spots, Sullivan did not play consistently, and given that the Tigers were almost exclusively an "11 personnel" team, there were not many chances for him to see the field alongside fellow tight end Thaddeus Moss.

But with his size (6-5, 245) and athleticism, Sullivan could be a matchup problem for NFL defenses. He had a very good curl route from a wing alignment during the team portion, and later in that session he aligned in the slot and showed great footwork and a solid release against press alignment from the defender. 

There are obviously two ways to think about him. One is that if LSU could not find a way to get him on the field and use him, then perhaps an NFL team might struggle as well. But for teams that like to use a lot of "12" and even "13" personnel, it might make sense to take a chance on Sullivan and his athleticism. 

In 2018, the Bears used "12 personnel" on 17 percent of their snaps. That number dipped to just 11 a season ago, given some of the injuries at the position, but it is something to keep in mind. 

Another interesting tight end on the South roster is Harrison Bryant, the Mackey Award winner from Florida Atlantic. Bryant was used all over the field for FAU, and that continued into Tuesday’s practice. He had a beautiful wheel route from a wing alignment working against man coverage, and on a sit route versus zone coverage he displayed soft hands and a very quick turn upfield after the catch. He also showed off some good blocking in the team portion of practice, both backside against a linebacker on a zone running play as well as playside on another zone play, where he relied on upper body strength to turn his defender away from the crease. 

Another tight end to keep in mind is Jared Pinkney from Vanderbilt. Pinkney was an All-SEC performer two years ago, and measured in very well at the weigh-in portion of the day. While I did not see him contribute a ton in the passing game, he certainly flashed as a blocker on Tuesday. He had a great playside block on an outside zone run, blocking his edge defender and then flowing well to the second level to take on a safety in the box. 

North Practice

We will have more on Trautman in a moment, but I do want to start with another tight end from this group, Michigan’s Sean McKeon. He has a bit of an advantage during this Senior Bowl week, as his quarterback in college is now one of his QBs down in Mobile, Shea Patterson. But as someone who did not do a ton of advance scouting on McKeon, I was impressed with what I saw from him during this practice. He showed great hands and the ability to adjust to a low throw on a stick route early on, and ran two beautiful post routes for big gains. The first came during the 7 on 7 portion, when Patterson found him working over the middle, and the second came during the team portion. He also worked himself free on a shallow crossing route on one of the many ... many ... play-action boot designs the Detroit Lions coaches called during Tuesday afternoon.

One of the best parts of a week like this is finding a player that makes you want to go back and watch their tape. That happened with me today seeing McKeon.

Another tight end that flashed was Brycen Hopkins from Purdue University. Hopkins was a very fun study over the past season, showing the ability to work from a number of alignments and to potentially be a true threat in the passing game, and in particular down in the red zone. Hopkins had some very good moments Tuesday, such as early in the practice on some stick and dig routes, and then later in the team portion running a “slam” route, where he blocks down on the defender and then releases away from him to the flat on a, you guessed it, boot-action design. During the team portion he ran a beautiful post route on the backside of a passing design and was wide open, but the quarterback forced a throw into coverage on the other side of the field.

As a blocker, Hopkins fared pretty well. He had a pretty good rep on the playside edge of an outside zone running play, as well as on the edge on an inside zone design. Perhaps that description has you wanting to go back and watch Hopkins, as McKeon’s day left me. 

Now we can end things with Trautman. I think he fits the part, and more than demonstrated that - at least today - he has the potential to remove that asterisk. He seemed more than capable of handling the blocking at the next level and perhaps that was to be expected. He was solid during the inside run portion, showing good upper body strength and the ability to twist and turn defenders away from the hole. He also showed some quickness when on the backside of zone running plays, with the ability to make that reach block on the inside defender and seal them off from the play.

As a receiver, while he did have a tough drop on a curl route early in practice, he was solid as well. He showed good footwork off the line and getting into and out of his breaks, and he seems athletic enough to pose problems for defenders, whether linebackers or safeties. 

Maybe he’ll get rid of that asterisk for good over the next few months.

Mark's Day 1 Senior Bowl QB notebook: Herbert looks early on like top passer, while Hurts, Gordon struggle on 'baseline day'

Schofield's Day 1 Senior Bowl QB observations: Herbert looks early on like top passer

Posted on January 21, 2020 - 18:19:00

But Jalen Hurts, Anthony Gordon struggle a bit on 'baseline day' to open Senior Bowl week

MOBILE, Ala. — Ah yes. What to make of the first day of Senior Bowl practices.

I wrote this last year but it does bear repeating: It is important to not overreact to the first day of practices down at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Why? All the players are learning a new offense, they are getting the timing down with new teammates, and they are seeing different looks from the defensive side of the football.

Some, like Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon, are taking snaps from under center for the first time in a long, long time.

So, it is a baseline day. A way to measure how they look over the course of the week. How they can improve and how quickly they can take to coaching.

That being said, this is an overreaction business, so ...

South Practice

The practices began on Tuesday afternoon with the South squad, coached by the Cincinnati Bengals. That gave us our first chance to see Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert and Steven Montez in action. 

Jalen Hurts

What will be interesting about his evaluation, in one respect, is his transition from passer to runner and back. If you watch Hurts on film you will see moments when he pulls the football down and transitions from passer to runner, seeking an escape route. Sometimes in those moments he struggles to make the transition back to passer, missing on opportunities in the passing game downfield. Now, he can be deadly in scramble drill situations, but it is something to watch.

Which is why it was very interesting to see him during early footwork drills working on that exact skillset.

When the quarterbacks transitioned to throwing routes versus air, Hurts struggled at the outset. He left a post route behind Collin Johnson, the Texas wide receiver, who made a very good adjustment on the throw. (For his part, Johnson had a good practice). Hurts also underthrew a post route to Jauan Jennings, the Tennessee wide receiver, who had to slow up and wait for the ball to come to him.

Where Hurts can excel as a passer is in the vertical game, and that showed up during the 1 on 1s. He hit Devin Duvernay, the Texas wideout, with a very well placed vertical ball, and then came back to throw another nine route to Jennings, who made a great play at the catch point, twisting inside of the defender to secure the throw. 

During the 7 on 7 session, Hurts struggled as well. He double-clutched on one of his first reads, and later threw a slant route that was behind his intended target and intercepted. That processing speed showed up later during the team portion, when he looked to throw a route along the left sideline on a sail concept but got the ball out late, letting the flat defender break on the throw and cause an incompletion.

His best throw did come during the team session, when he ripped a slant route into his receiver from a collapsing pocket. 

Justin Herbert

Herbert came into the week looking to cement his status as the top quarterback in Mobile, and his Tuesday showed some strides in that effort. During the footwork drills at the start of practice, he showed off his athleticism and his fluidity, despite his size. Then during the routes versus air segment, he flashed not only his velocity but also some timing and rhythm, throwing some well-placed speed out patterns with the ball coming out of his hand on time and in perfect rhythm.

During the 1 on 1s, Herbert displayed some of the arm talent that has scouts excited about what he could be at the next level. He threw a rope on a comeback route to Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and followed that up with a beautiful throw on an in-breaking route with velocity and good placement. That continued into the 7 on 7 portion, where Herbert threw a number of slant routes with great placement, velocity and tempo.

Prior to the practices, Herbert indicated that “leadership” was something he was hoping to show this week, and something he wanted NFL scouts and evaluators to come away thinking he could contribute at the next level. That might remain to be seen, but the on-the-field portions of his week have gotten off to a very solid start.

Steven Montez

Rounding out this group is Steven Montez from the University of Colorado. Montez enters Senior Bowl week looking to show that he merits a later-round selection, as his film was somewhat inconsistent last season for the Buffaloes. At times, Montez can show good arm talent and the ability to work through progression reads, but at other times his decision-making process can be lacking. 

What was interesting from watching him on tape was that he showed an ability to learn from mistakes over the course of a single game. In his outing against the University of Arizona, Montez made a few poor decisions on route concepts early in the game, but later in that contest he returned to those designs and really improved his decision-making.

Early in practice he threw a great post route to Duvernay, showing off some of the arm talent that earned him a spot in Mobile. But the decision-making remains a question. He double-clutched on a few routes when throwing against air, and he seemed very deliberate with his reads during both the 7 on 7 and the team portions of practice. Again, Tuesday is a baseline day, but Montez does seem to have some work to do over the next few days.

North Practice

We can just say this about the North practice at the outset: I would be surprised if any members of the Detroit Lions have hamstring issues. Lots and lots of stretching...

Anthony Gordon

I know. Believe me I do. Chicago Bears fans were excited about Gordon being a potential Day 2 quarterback to push Mitchell Trubisky next season. I was excited to see him down in Mobile given what I saw on film from him. Early in the practice, some of what has people excited about Gordon was on display: A freakishly-quick release and some velocity in the short areas of the field.

However…

Again, Tuesday is just a baseline day, but Gordon struggled at times. It was windy and raw down at Ladd-Peebles, but on deeper throws during practice Gordon’s passes tended to hang in the air a bit longer. There also seemed to be a lot of miscommunication on routes during this practice, not exclusively with Gordon but also with Jordan Love and Shea Patterson. But that led to some missed opportunities during the various drills.

Another odd aspect to watching Gordon is how he manages the pocket, in stark contrast to his predecessor Gardner Minshew, whom many will naturally try and draw comparisons with given their history under Mike Leach. But where Minshew would always keep his feet moving in concert with his mind while working through reads, Gordon is more stoic in the pocket, keeping his feet steady under him. That is a bit jarring to see from him, but again, the release is so quick that he can make it work in college. You do wonder a bit about the transition to the pro game. Gordon did have a very good throw on a curl route to Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool during the team part of the practice.

Jordan Love

Out of the North quarterbacks, Love came into this week with the most hype, and he did have a solid practice on the whole, with some ups and downs along the way. During the early portion of the practice he threw a beautiful out pattern to USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., as well as a pristine bang eight post route to Claypool. Love also flashed during 1 on 1s and the 7 on 7 portion, drilling a curl route with good timing and rhythm during the former, and throwing both a great curl route as well as perfect dig route working from left to right during the latter. 

One area of his game that did seem to be a struggle, as it was for Gordon at times as well, was on anticipation throws. Again, as this is a baseline day throwing to new receivers it is not fair to read to much into it, but on deeper out routes when he was trying to throw at the break with anticipation, Love missed a few chances to connect. 

In all, a solid day. Love began his Tuesday by measuring well at the weigh-in and having a very good session with the media, during which he talked about interceptions as “learning and teaching moments,” so I came away generally impressed with the Utah State product. It will be interesting to watch him over the next few days.

Shea Patterson

Similar to Montez, Patterson enters Senior Bowl week with a chance to solidify his draft status while perhaps showing some more consistency than he did during his time at two different schools, first Mississippi and later at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh. If you studied Patterson this past season, you probably saw glimpses of pro potential. For example, in his game against the University of Iowa, a low-scoring 10-3 affair, you still saw some NFL-level throws on deep out routes made with timing and rhythm. Could Patterson extend that to this week, and beyond?

For the most part, he showed that he could. While the other quarterbacks struggled at times on such throws, Patterson’s ability to make some throws with good timing and placement was on display Tuesday afternoon. This showed on a deep curl route he threw to Claypool, that he put right on the outside shoulder on time and in rhythm, leading the receiver away from leverage and towars potential yardage after the catch.

This also continued during the 7 on 7 session, when he had a very nice throw on an out pattern, and then had a very quick read and throw against single-high coverage, finding his teammate Sean McKeon from the TE spot on a post route for a big gain. 

Again, it is just a baseline day and there is more work to be done and more film to be watched, but Patterson had some flashes on Tuesday. 

Bears 2020 vision: D-line investments may be due, but it's about as stable as any unit

Posted on January 21, 2020 - 13:39:00

It's unlikely there will be a more stable room inside Halas Hall this offseason than the DL room, overseen by the Bears' longest-tenured assistant coach, Jay Rodgers.

Chicago was without lynchpin Akiem Hicks for 11 games and missed fellow starters Bilal Nichols and Eddie Goldman for four combined games with injuries yet allowed an average of 3.9 yards per carry, ranked 6th in the NFL and only one-tenth of a yard more than in 2018, when their top four lineman missed a total of one game.

Of course, the Bears sorely missed Hicks, their leader in sacks and tackles for loss since his 2016 arrival. Khalil Mack's disruptiveness waned without the team's only additional consistent commander of double teams. That was most apparent in Chicago's drastic decline in sack and INT percentage, from No. 9 and No. 1 overall two seasons ago to 27th and 28th, respectively.

Still, the Bears expect back their top four lineman and could also find a better pass-rushing bookend for Mack, the missing element compounding the first extended injury absence of Hicks' eight-year career.

2019 Matter of Fact: Though the Bears' run defense remained stout and efficient despite attrition, it wasn't without an adjustment period. Josh Jacobs and Latavius Murray immediately went off for more than 100 rushing yards following Hicks dislocating his elbow, matching the total number of backs who eclipsed the century mark against Hicks and Co. in the previous 20 games combined.

Following that two-game stretch, the Bears didn't allow another 100-yard rusher until the regular-season finale, when Hicks, Eddie Goldman and both starting inside linebackers were inactive. Granted, it was Minnesota's third-stringer Mike Boone running roughshod over the Bears, but if we remove that 17-148 rush line, they allowed the same 3.8-rush yard average as 2018.

No funny math required: After playing his first 28 career games spanning five years without a sack, Nick Williams' 6 trailed only Mack (8.5) for the team lead.

Cap Commitment: The D-line has nearly $24 million allocated to the 2020 cap, or 11.1 percent, ranked 19th in the NFL, per spotrac.com. However, that doesn't account for RFA Roy Robertson-Harris, who'll likely command a qualifying offer of approximately $3 million. The Bears also may have to replace Williams, who's set to maximize his earning power for the first time on the open market.

And with blue chip and Pro Bowl-caliber talents in Hicks and Goldman combining for nearly $23 million in cap space, they may look to do so on the cheap. Bear in mind, Pace didn't sign or draft a D-lineman last year and spent only the fifth-rounder on Nichols in 2018. The Bears are due to invest here, but they'd so while expecting more production from Nichols and Robertson-Harris in potential contract years.

Nichols broke his hand in the opener and didn't really get back to flashing his promising rookie form until late in a sack-less second season. Robertson-Harris was a dynamo in Week 1 with a sack and two tackles for loss vs. the Packers but managed only 1.5 sacks and 1 tackle for loss over the final 15 games. Still young and developing, the pair clearly struggled with all the extra attention generally reserved for Hicks.

So too did Goldman, who's already logged five seasons and earned a reputation as one of football's tougher nose guards but only recently turned 26 years old. He maintained his rock-solid play against the run but finished with a career-low 1 sack.

Offseason need (1 lowest, 5 highest): The need here is a 2. The Bears could probably promote Abdullah Anderson to replace Williams and reserve only a later Day 3 selection to spend here — assuming the versatile Robertson-Harris returns and Nichols picks up where he left off as a 2018 rookie.

Available prospects to watch: There's free-agent star power at tackle and end, from Chris Jones and Jarran Reed to Arik Armstead and Leonard Williams, but Ryan Pace would be better served spending his limited cap dollars and premium draft capital in the opposite trench or outside on the second level of the defense. Remember, Nichols and RRH were Day 3 and undrafted finds, respectively, and Rodgers has worked wonders wtih all of his dudes from Hicks to Williams.

2020 Bears vision: If not No. 1, OL clearly among top three offseason needs

Posted on January 20, 2020 - 09:56:00

Whether it was justified or not, there was optimism that the offensive line could be a strength of the Bears in 2019. Instead, it was a problem all season long.

The trouble started early when Kyle Long — while reportedly healthy — clearly still wasn’t the Pro Bowler of 3-4 seasons earlier. He showed flashes but also missed too many blocks and assignments. Once he got injured, the flood gates opened

Rashaad Coward was so raw that the Bears decided it was necessary to flip Cody Whitehair back to center and Daniels back to guard — away from their natural and best positions — further weakening the unit.

Bobby Massie missed the Washington game in Week 3 with a bout of vertigo, and then the final five games of the season with a high ankle sprain.

Cornelius Lucas actually did a nice job stepping in for Massie.

Lastly, there is Charles Leno, who somewhat inexplicably was voted an alternate to the 2018 Pro Bowl, perhaps compelling the Bears to mostly ignore the offensive line last season.

Ted Larsen is one of the better backup interior linemen in the league, but he is a free agent this offseason, as is Lucas.

Like Coward, Alex Bars is extremely promising at guard but still for the most part an unknown.

2019 Matter of Fact: The Bears finished the ’19 season 27th running the football, 29th in average gain per run, 21st in sack percentage allowed and 25th on third down.

Charles Leno tied for 2nd in the NFL in 2017 for most penalties committed with 13, cut that in half in 2018 with six — although that was still second on the Bears — and then jumped back to fifth in the league in 2019 with 12.

After getting sacked 24 times for 143 yards in 2018, Trubisky was sacked 38 times for 234 yards this season.

Cap Commitment: The Bears currently have $29.2 million committed to their offensive line in 2020, 13.55% of their total cap committed, which ranks 22nd in the NFL in O-line spending, according to spotrac.com.

The biggest chunk goes to Leno, who will have approximately a $10.3 million hit this season, with $7.4 million in dead money.

Massie will count $8.3 million against the cap but has more than that in dead cap money on his deal, and then Cody Whitehair, who got a new deal just prior to the start of the ’19 season, will have a $7.4 million hit.

If the Bears don’t pick up the $6 million option on Long, which they won’t, they’ll take a $1.5 million cap hit to move on from him.

Offseason Need (1 lowest, 5 highest): The Bears' need to improve the offensive front is a 5, arguably their greatest need with the possible exception of tight end.

If the offense is to improve, the Bears must find better talent at left tackle, more competition at left guard, and if they don’t re-sign Larsen they will need depth at center and guard as well.

Available prospects to watch: There are no clear improvements at left tackle available in free agency but the Bears would be well served to re-sign Lucas, who is more natural on the left side than he is on the right.

If the Bears could work a trade with Washington for Trent Williams, it would be the most certain way to get a huge upgrade over Leno immediately. Williams definitely wants out of D.C., but his new head coach, Ron Rivera, hopes to convince him to stay.

28-year old Brandon Scherff and 26-year old Andrus Peat would be huge upgrades at guard, but both will be very expensive.

The draft is considered as strong on the offensive line as any other position, with as many as 11 players possibly ranked in the top 60, but as many as seven or eight are likely to come off the board before the Bears pick at 43.

Sizing up Senior Bowl intrigue for Bears

Posted on January 20, 2020 - 09:22:00

Ryan Pace's Bears have spent nearly 30 percent of their draft picks on Senior Bowl products

Nearly 30 percent of Ryan Pace's draft picks thus far as Bears general manager were spent on prospects who attended Mobile for Senior Bowl week.

Among those eight selections, all of them made by Pace on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7): Adrian Amos, whose terrific mileage as a 61-game starter before departing as a free agent to Green Bay should help return the first compensatory pick in more than a decade to Chicago; Nick Kwiatkoski, one of the Bears' best special-teamers prior to becoming one of their more consistent defenders last season, when he was so solid in relief of Danny Trevathan that the team ultimately might prioritize re-signing him over one of its more universally respected players; and Bilal Nichols, the versatile D-lineman who quickly earned a starting role on one of the NFL's top units.

Last year marked the first time in five drafts that Pace didn't pluck a Senior Bowl attendee, but with a couple extra picks, not to mention seemingly at least a few new needs, his Bears are likely to welcome at least one prospect who'll be participating in practices beginning Tuesday in Mobile to the club this year.

So let's familiarize with a few players at each of the Bears' most likely positions of interest. First, though, while Hub and I sadly won't be in attendance in Mobile, we're especially thrilled this year to again have resident QB expert Mark Schofield as our eyes and ears because we think it'd be an upset if Pace doesn't spend a pick on the Bears' QB room after using only one of his first 27 at the position ... with less-than-ideal results.

QBs

There are two potential first-rounders set to compete at the Senior Bowl this year in Oregon's Justin Herbert and Utah State's Jordan Love, neither arriving in Mobile with the fanfare of Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts. Of course, the Bears aren't currently slated to pick until nearly midway through Round 2, where they're armed with the 43rd and 50th selections.

Could the rocket-armed Love still be on the board? It's certainly possible. Less likely but also plausible, Pace could be drooling over Herbert as we speak, readying to mortgage the future and right his previous wrong in trading up for Trubisky.

Hurts, the Heisman runner-up — and an elite running threat — should still be around in Round 2, but would that be too rich for a prospect with impeccable tangibles but a long way to go in becoming an NFL passer? The Bears can begin in Mobile getting a clearer indication of just how steep Hurts' NFL learning curve might be.

Irrespective of those three, it probably behooves the Bears to get even more familiar with Anthony Gordon, Mike Leach's Air-Raid disciple, who showed NFL arm talent, efficiency, and big-play prowess in his lone starting season at Washington State. Yes, we realize the words "lone starting season" will be a nonstarter for many considering Trubisky's tribulations. And we may be reaching here, but it's at least a weird coincidence that new QB coach John DeFilippo comes aboard after working wonders in Jacksonville with the guy who was in front of Gordon in 2017-18, Gardner Minshew.

TEs

It might not be a great draft for tight ends — arguably the Bears' biggest offseason need — but it appears that two of the better 2020 prospects will be in Mobile: Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant of FAU and Purdue's Brycen Hopkins.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Bryant is a formidable receiver and blocker, leading the nation at his position in explosive catches (25) among his 65-1,004-7 receiving, as well as grading out well in pass pro and the run game, per PFF. The latter is especially important to the Bears, who have at least a few talented pass-catching alternatives already on the roster. Also notable: The Bears scouted FAU hard last year, working out privately Devin Singletary and eventual seventh-round selection, RB mate Kerrith Whyte. Although they clearly erred by neglecting the position a year ago, perhaps they were eyeing Bryant with 2020 in mind?

Hopkins, another likely Day 2 pick, has a similar size to Bryant but not the same blocking chops and will probably be utilized more early on in the NFL as a receiving weapon. Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney looks like a slightly bigger version of Trey Burton, a jumbo wideout with a lot of room for growth as a blocker. Cincinnati's Josiah Deguara contributed as a blocker to the nation's 25th-ranked rushing attack and was a more prolific receiver than fellow ex-Bearcat Travis Kelce, who's fared decently in the NFL, we'd say.

OL

With terrific OT depth this year, would it behoove the Bears to pluck one and consider sliding him inside to begin his career at right guard? Charles Leno and Bobby Massie likely aren't going anywhere in 2020, but the RG battle figures to be wide open.

If so, Houston's Josh Jones bears watching. A three-year starting left tackle and team captain for the Cougars, he could be a Round 2 target capable of following in Cody Whitehair's footsteps as an interior convert. We'll also be watching potentially in this draft range athletic Auburn OT Prince Tega Wanogho, another collegiate left tackle with agility but some flex potential with the requisite weight-room work.

Lloyd Cushenberry, of NCAA champion LSU, is one of the top interior blockers available this year. The center of Heisman winner Joe Burrow was the standout performer on the Tiger front.

Temple's Matt Hennessy is another college center, but he's smart and sound coming off an impressive career at the pivot and is listed only as an offensive lineman by the Senior Bowl, meaning he'll likely get chances to showcase his versatility.

The most accomplished collegiate guard in Mobile will be Clemson's John Simpson, an Outland Trophy semifinalist with vast big-game starting experience.

Defensively, the Bears likely covet at least one starter to replace impending free agent Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at strong safety, and possibly a plug-and-play edge rusher, depending on the contract fate of Leonard Floyd, whose $13.2 million price tag for 2020 could be shed prior to the new league year.

Florida's Jabari Zuniga and Tennessee's Darrell Taylor have big-time edge rush potential coming from big programs, while Pace's small-school-and-traits affinity is likely to attract him to Kyle Dugger of the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears, where he was a man among boys, making plays in all three phases.

Like tight end, safety options appear to be a bit limited in this draft. But after paying Eddie Jackson, the Bears should be looking for an affordable running mate that fits a bit better playing near the line of scrimmage than Clinton-Dix, who'll have some outside interest on the open market.

— Arthur Arkush

Ask Hub: Where would the Kansas City Chiefs be now if they'd selected the Bears' Mitch Trubisky?

Posted on January 20, 2020 - 09:13:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions weekly

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions in every newsletter:

Are there any under the radar improvements Bears should make? Anything besides OL, TE, QB, based on lesser needs and potentially available improvements via FA or the draft? Submitted by Danny

Danny, the Bears aren’t in salary cap hell, but they are limited enough in their cap space that they have to use what resources they have to address the big needs – tight end, left tackle, QB competition, safety and inside linebacker.

The same obviously goes for their limited draft capital.

But if they had the means, beyond the spots everybody is talking about, they really need to address depth at running back and in the pass rush.

The rush will be better in ’20 if Akiem Hicks stays healthy — not only for what he brings in pressure but because teams will need to give extra attention to him, limiting what they can do to scheme Khalil Mack, Eddie Goldman and Roy Robertson-Harris.

It is also hard to quit on the potential of Leonard Floyd to be a double-digit sack guy, even if it feels like it’s time to give up that ghost.

That said, former undrafted free agents like Shaq Barrett and Mario Addison, or big-time pass rushers like Za’Darius Smith and Maxx Crosby, found in the fourth round, and Danielle Hunter — who was drafted in the third round — are not as rare as you may think.

More pass rush could make Chuck Pagano’s defense every bit as dominant as Vic Fangio’s was.

I am more positive than negative on the possibilities of David Montgomery having a Pro Bowl season or two, but that’s not enough in today’s NFL.

Derrick Henry is an outlier right now in Tennessee. What the top ground games in the league today in Baltimore, San Francisco, and other spots have in common are multiple backs that can hurt you. Ingram and Edwards in Baltimore, Coleman, Mostert, and Breida in San Francisco, Kamara and Murray in New Orleans and even Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in Green Bay.

Philadelphia – with Doug Pederson running the same offense as Matt Nagy — was heading there, too, with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders until Howard got hurt, and even the Chiefs, who haven’t run the ball well this year, still try and do it with multiple backs.

When Tarik Cohen is used properly and effectively, I love him but he is a third-down, change-of-pace running back and a real threat at receiver. He is not a No. 2 running back you can feed a dozen or more times if he gets hot.

The Bears need more at those two positions, and you can also never have enough cornerbacks.

This feels a little like the $1 bet in "Trading Places," where the question is whether breeding or environment determines a person's future... If either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson were drafted by the Bears, would they be nearly as good right now? And if Trubisky were in KC? Submitted by Lance Rutter

Lance, it’s a fascinating question which, like you, I can only guess at, but I can try and lend some context.

Mahomes almost certainly wouldn’t be as good as he is right now anywhere but Kansas City because he wouldn’t have Hill, Kelce, Watkins, Hardman, Robinson, etc. As NFL weapons caches go, the Chiefs are closer to nuclear than any club in the league.

That’s not a rap on Mahomes, or an attempt to diminish his accomplishments in any way, it’s just a fact.

My guess is Mahomes would be very good here in Chicago, especially since Andy Reid continues to credit Matt Nagy in significant part with his development even though he didn’t hit the field until the year after Nagy left. But limited to Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller at times as the only targets he could really trust at the level of his top four targets in K.C., Mahomes wouldn’t be nearly as good.

Believe it or not, outside of Chicago, Watson isn’t nearly as revered as he is by Bears fans.

That he is way ahead of Trubisky in his development is an indisputable fact, but there are really smart football people I respect who tell me his indecision and insistence on holding on to the football too long, and the number of options he fails to recognize going through his progressions are still major concerns and potentially limiting factors as to just how good he’s going to be.

I think Watson would be better with the Bears than he’s been in Houston, because the system fits him better here, and while DeAndre Hopkins with Will Fuller and Kenny Stills — when those two are available — gives Houston a better arsenal, they are unavailable so often Watson’s targets here wouldn’t be as big a fall-off as they would be coming here from Kansas City.

Would Mitch be better in Kansas City or Houston? Every quarterback in the league with the possible exception of Russell Wilson – his game is more about what he makes happen with or without solid targets more than any other QB in the game – would be better in Kansas City today than he is where he’s at.

Again, that’s not a slap or shade thrown at Mahomes in any way, it’s just reality.

Would Mitch be Mahomes? I’m not saying yet he can never be, but off what we’ve seen these first three seasons he certainly wouldn’t be yet, and while he has shown occasional flashes there are no consistent patterns we’ve seen yet to argue Mitch would be markedly better in Kansas City than he has been in Chicago.

And I don’t see how Mitch would have been any better in Houston with bigger problems on the offensive line there than the Bears have had, and an inconsistent ground game as well over the past three seasons.

So that you don’t think I’m avoiding the meat of your question, or what I’m guessing may be the meat – there is no question Andy Reid is a better coach than Matt Nagy and Bill O’Brien, but there is no clear evidence yet that Eric Bienemy, Mike Kafka, Bill O’Brien or Carl Smith — who mentored Wilson through the first six years of his career in Seattle before going to Houston — are better coaches than Nagy and Dave Ragone.

% chance Mitch starts next year? Submitted by Bill Thickstun

Do you think the bears should target a QB in the draft? Submitted by Willard

What’s the percent chance Mitch will be the quarterback in the season opener? Submitted by Alyse

Alyse, Willard and Bill, I’d say it’s 80-90 percent that Trubisky will be the Bears starting quarterback on opening day of the 2020 season, and if his ability to keep the job throughout the year is to have lower odds than that, it really depends on who they bring in to back him up/compete with him.

Unless Nagy has a complete 180 on his feeling on starters playing in exhibition games, it's hard to imagine what Trubisky could do – or not do – over the summer to lose the starting job. The potential for injury is the main reason I’m not going for 95-100 percent.

It is critical that the Bears draft a young quarterback to develop, but the odds that that second or third day pick is going to command playing time over Trubisky as a rookie are slim and none.

The need to start selecting and developing young talent at quarterback, I believe, is critical for the Bears and every organization in the league regardless of who their starters are. Look at how teams like the Patriots and Packers have done that repeatedly in the past and not only always had options ready just in case, but turned those players into equal or more valuable draft capital when they didn’t need them on the field.

And find me two more successful organizations over the past two decades than those two.

If No. 2 is, say, Case Keenum or even more promising, Alex Smith – if Smith is able to return to the field at all which remains a huge unknown at this time – the odds go up exponentially that one could step in for Trubisky somewhere in the Weeks 4-6 range if the defense is humming again but the offense is still struggling.

I would think one of the failed younger veterans like Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles or Jameis Winston would have a longer wait to get a chance, as based on their bodies of work, the hope that one of them would be better would be more rolling the dice than anything they’ve accomplished to date.

I get Winston’s impressive production in the passing game, but there is no way a winning team can live with a quarterback that turns the ball over like that and still remain a winning team.

Any update on compensatory pick for Amos (any chance they screwed up the Davis thing)? Do you think they keep Nick K over Trevathan? Do you think HaHa comes back? Submitted by B. C.

All of this year’s compensatory draft picks will be announced at the same time — shortly after the Super Bowl and well in advance of the Combine, which is a few days earlier this year.

It seems fairly sure, though, that the Bears will get a fourth-round pick for Amos, and it will come at the end of the round, not necessarily last but all the compensatory picks in the fourth round will be at the back.

I’m not sure what you mean by "any chance they screwed up the Davis thing." I told you the day they signed Davis it was a mistake, so if that’s what you’re asking, there’s no chance they didn’t screw that up.

Ideally, they’d like to keep both Kwiatkoski and Trevathan, but that seems unlikely with their multiple needs and current salary cap status.

My guess is they will attempt to sign one of the two and Kevin Pierre-Louis, who is obviously very good insurance. But the choice is neither clear nor easy and could be complicated by another team overpaying Kwiatkoski. I’m convinced the Packers will take a hard run at Kwiatkosiki if he gets to free agency, as he’s too perfect a fit in Green Bay.

Younger, more durable and better in coverage than we thought — although not as good as Trevathan — Kwiatkoski would seem to be a better choice.

But Trevathan is definitely the better athlete, gives you a lot more speed, is not ancient at 30, will probably command a shorter, less expensive deal and is one of the most important leaders in the locker room.

Which player the Bears focus on is the $64,000 question right now.

I can’t see a return for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, which is unfortunate because he did play well for the Bears, becoming more and more physical as the season went on, and he did give them pretty much everything they asked for.

The problem is he and Eddie Jackson are the same style safeties, Jackson is clearly the better “center fielder” at this stage of their careers and the team’s commitment to him couldn’t be more obvious right now. And even though the days of clearly defined strong and free safeties are in the past, the Bears need more of an in-the-box style of safety to pair with Jackson.

Ironically the best fit for Clinton-Dix right now could be Green Bay again. The Packers have two potentially sound in-the-box guys in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage who also aren’t an ideal fit to start together, but either would look that much better next to a top ball-hawking safety like Clinton-Dix.

It probably won’t happen because the Packers overpaid for Amos, but it’s unclear what Clinton-Dix will command on the open market after his year with the Bears.

Even if he’s not that expensive, and he was a solid contributor and very solid in the locker room, he’s just not a great fit on the field with Jackson.

Hub Arkush: No shortage of Bears and local connections in NFL's Conference Championship Sunday

Posted on January 17, 2020 - 16:26:00

From Amos to Bulaga to Garoppolo, Bears fans and Chicagoans will see many familiar faces

There will be plenty of local connections for Bears fans in action this Sunday in the NFL’s conference title games, perhaps giving you an extra rooting interest depending on what part of the city or state you’re from, and possibly aggravating you just a bit as to how the Bears let these kids get out of town.

Whether it’s proximity, philosophy or pure chance, none of the league’s remaining finalists has more Chicago connections than the Green Bay Packers.

Out of Crystal Lake, Marian Central Catholic High School and the University of Iowa, Bryan Bulaga has been the Packers' starting right tackle since the fifth game of his rookie season, after the Packers selected him 23rd overall in the 2010 draft.

Bulaga never had a chance to be a Bear, as their first-round choice was in Denver that year, the second of two ones they traded for Jay Cutler.

Dean Lowry starts at one of the five-techniques for Green Bay and was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Rockford and Northwestern.

The Bears drafted Nick Kwiatkoski, Deon Bush and Deiondre Hall ahead of Lowry in the fourth round, and Jordan Howard 13 picks after Lowry went to Green Bay.

Danny Vitale is the Packers' starting fullback, and he was drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Wheaton Warrenville South before also attending Northwestern

WR Jake Kumerow (first cousin to Joey and Nick Bosa) is from Bartlett, DT Tyler Lancaster is from Plainfield and Northwestern, and TE Robert Tonyan is from McHenry.

Lastly, you will also find former Bear Adrian Amos starting at safety for the Pack following a good season, but not one in which he played up to the $9 million annual salary they gave him in free agency last spring.

On the other side of the field, the 49ers have extremely significant Chicago ties with starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of Rolling Meadows and Eastern Illinois, starting running back Tevin Coleman from Oak Forest, starting guard Laken Tomlinson from Chicago and Lane Tech and backup tight end Daniel Helm from Chatham, Illinois.

Some Bears fans were disappointed when the Patriots chose Garoppolo with the 62nd pick in the 2014 draft as the Bears were sticking with Jay Cutler and adding Josh McCown to replace Jimmy Clausen, but most pre-draft analysis had Garoppolo lasting into the third round.

The Bears had used the 14th pick on Kyle Fuller, so no complaints there, but would the 51st pick have been better spent on Garoppolo than Ego Ferguson out of LSU?

Phil Emery was fired eight months later.

Coleman is a player I longed for the Bears to grab in the 2015 draft, Ryan Pace’s first. Atlanta snagged him with the 73rd pick, after the Bears took Hroniss Grasu (now a Raven) at 71 and then grabbed RB Jeremy Langford at 106.

It would have been nice for Tomlinson, the rare Chicago Public League player to reach the NFL to be a Bear, especially this year with their issues at right guard, but he was over-drafted in the first round by the Lions.

Of course, you will all be rooting for Bears all-time leading scorer Robbie Gould to get to his second Super Bowl, but how many of you remember that Raheem Mostert, the Niners breakout star at running back was also a Chicago Bear in 2016 before going to San Francisco?

What might have been here?

The AFC game will not be nearly as impacted by local talent or connections, but a pair of Titans first-round picks, Corey Davis (5th) and Adoree' Jackson (18th) are from Wheaton and East St. Louis, respectively, and backup offensive tackle Dennis Kelly is from Chicago Heights.

Like Mostert, Titans backup tight end MyCole Pruitt was also a Bear in 2016.

Kansas City’s sixth offensive lineman right now is rookie Nick Allegretti from Frankfort, Illinois, and he is interesting because he's as or more promising at guard than Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars, played his college ball for Lovie Smith at Illinois and is a player the Bears scouted before drafting Duke Shelley four spots earlier with the 202nd pick in the sixth round last year.

2020 Bears vision: Need is dire to get far greater contributions from TE corps

Posted on January 17, 2020 - 09:16:00

Should Ryan Pace make upgrading TE situation Bears' top non-QB offseason focus?

Feel free to debate whether the Bears were too fast and loose to start the 2019 season believing in their tight ends room, where Trey Burton was coming off surgery, Adam Shaheen hadn't come on at all and Bradley Sowell's position switch from swing OT was the most notable addition. Inarguable at season's end: The near-nonexistent production from Bears tight ends was a monstrous detriment to the entire offense.

Burton tallied 84 score-less yards on 14 catches in eight games prior to being shut down with a hip issue stemming from his failed sports hernia surgery. Shaheen was even less productive — 9-74 receiving — in eight games prior to being a healthy scratch in Week 10 and joining Burton on season-ending IR with a mysterious foot injury. Sowell had more touchdowns (1) as a tackle than he did catches as a tight end.

2019 Matter of Fact: What was left at the position after the three aforementioned letdowns? A trio of former college free agents, vet special teams stalwart Ben Braunecker, rookie WR convert Jesper Horsted and Week 2 waiver claim J.P. Holtz — who produced the most of any Bears tight end, with 91 (!) score-less yards on the season.

By contrast, in a down year at the position, there were 40 separate examples, authored by 18 different tight ends, of at least 91 receiving yards in a game.

Burton — who surpassed his season total of 84 receiving yards in two separate 2018 games — gets a pass, as do the Bears for their faith in him. Few foresaw him essentially losing Year 2 of a four-year, $32 million contract, after debuting solidly if not spectacularly as a full-time NFL starter.

But it was evident to many of us how precarious the "Y" TE spot was entering a season with Super Bowl ambitions, given that Shaheen had shown little since being selected 45th overall three years ago.

And Shaheen's blocking in the NFL's 29th-ranked run game (yards per attempt) and alongside a pass-protecting O-line that ranked 21st in sack percentage, recently fired TE coach Kevin Gilbride said in November, left more to be desired than his receiving ability.

The Bears replaced Gilbride with 15-year NFL coaching veteran Clancy Barone, who's developed Pro Bowl tight ends in all four previous stops in that role.

Cap Commitment: The Bears have more than $12.8 million in cap charges — 5.93 percent overall — tethered to the league's least productive TE room, ranked fourth overall. Rest assured, that number is going to climb. Although the Bears said Shaheen will return for the final year of his contract, an upgrade at the in-line blocking "Y" TE spot is perhaps the team's most pressing need. And because it is one of the tougher positions at which to develop rookies, they might have no choice but finding a Day 1 veteran starter.

The Bears could potentially save roughly $2.5 million against the cap by cutting Braunecker and Shaheen, both entering contract years. But their best hope for Burton is that he at least rediscovers his 2018 form, as he's not going anywhere with a cap charge north of $8.5 million — $7.5 million already dead.

Offseason Need (1 lowest, 5 highest): If it wasn't already crystal clear, we got 5 on this. The Bears desperately need someone who can at least be a blocking force and give Matt Nagy the flexibility to use more "12 personnel," a staple in the Andy Reid and Doug Pederson offenses that the Bears' most closely resembles.

Holtz showed some grit and versatility, deployed in line, on the wing out wide and even as a lead fullback, with relatively decent results, but Horsted is solely a "move" receiving weapon — and a bit tantalizing, at that.

Available players to watch: The Bears almost certainly cannot afford Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry, but that's the two-way threat prototype they'll be after. Perhaps raiding the Niners' free agents, Levine Toilolo or Garrett Celek, as they ready to break the bank on George Kittle makes sense. Similarly, Kansas City's Blake Bell has contributed in an offense like Nagy's.

In the draft, keep an eye on Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant of Florida Atlantic, where Chicago scouted closely last year. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet, Purdue's Brycen Hopkins and Washington's Austin Bryant are other young and intriguing talents.

Hub Arkush: Are Bears coaching changes for better or worse?

Posted on January 16, 2020 - 20:30:00

Still probably up to the Bears head coach more than his new assistants

Okay, so, the Bears did more than a little housekeeping, the offensive side of the Bears coaching staff has been almost completely rebuilt.

Now the question Bears Nation wants answered: Did Matt Nagy get this right or has he failed to address the real issues that caused his offense to take a huge step backwards in 2019?

Let’s start here: Nagy undertook this reconstruction with a handicap of his own design. None of the hottest young offensive minds focused on paving their way to an NFL head coaching job were going to prioritize a coordinator position in which they would have no play-calling responsibilities and a head coach who appears to micromanage his offense while allowing his defensive coaches to roam seemingly unmonitored.

That’s not to say it’s unheard of, in fact head coaches calling their own plays on offense or protections on defense is actually quite common around the league.

But if you’re Pat Shurmur, for example, or maybe Jason Garrett, are you going to come to Chicago to work with limited freedom and responsibility and get little of the credit if you succeed, and most of the blame if you don’t, or are you taking that job in Denver where Vic Fangio is going to give you total control of the offense?

Once that is understood, based on their resumes and past experiences, the coaches assembled by Nagy appears to be quality if not a blockbuster group.

In spite of some fans’ angst, the fact that Bill Lazor, Juan Castillo and Clancy Barone were all out of the league on one-year hiatus last year is meaningless.

The tone we’re getting from haters and the uninformed that the Bears couldn’t even hire coaches who were good enough to be in the league last season is at best uninformed.

It is not at all unusual for very good football coaches to be out of the league for a season either by choice, or more often because of the timing of them leaving their last job and the hiring cycle at the time.

For example, I don’t know this to be true but it is possible that had John DeFilippo and the Jaguars agreed to part ways a few days earlier, it is possible he would have been the Bears' offensive coordinator, and I’m not sure Lazor would be here at all.

Just a guess, but one that I hope clarifies the point.

Lazor is definitely a coach worth having, and at this stage of his career he is less likely than most to chafe at the level to which his job will be a collaborative effort with Nagy.

Coaches cannot be held responsible for the talent they are given to work with and so while Lazor doesn’t have a Brady, Wilson or Mahomes on his roster, he has coached the best seasons of the careers of Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton.

While DeFilippo has never been given a future Hall of Famer to work with either, Kirk Cousins had an outstanding season under his tutelage in Minnesota in 2018 and he wasn’t fired because the Vikings couldn’t run the ball, he got the gate because Mike Zimmer wanted to run it 75 percent of the time.

It’s also hard to imagine anyone doing more with sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew than DeFilippo did this past season.

Castillo is a known quantity and quality having coached some of the better O-lines in the league over 25 seasons, and while Barone has had less than All Pro talent at tight end for most of his career, he did play a significant role in turning basketball player Antonio Gates into a future Hall of Famer in San Diego.

Only Nagy really knows to what degree Mark Helfrich, Harry Hiestand and Kevin Gilbride failed here on their own accounts, and how much was due to the way he worked with them and the room he gave them to succeed.

Now he has a new hand-picked group and the chance to fix any of his own mistakes —assuming they were part of the problem.

The coaching talent is here to get the job done; whether the wisdom is remains to be seen.

2020 Bears vision: WR corps actually should be in solid order next season

Posted on January 16, 2020 - 13:40:00

But you can never have enough speed, and cap moves could impact Bears WR corps

The Bears aren’t in bad shape at wide receiver. In fact, if Anthony Miller makes a complete recovery from his second straight offseason surgery on his left shoulder and picks up exactly where he left off this season, along with Allen Robinson the Bears will have a legitimate one-two punch at the position for the first time since Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were last together and healthy.

Taylor Gabriel has demonstrated he can be a valuable No. 3 when healthy, and in spite of a much slower than expected rookie campaign from Riley Ridley, there is still good cause for hope he might fit anywhere between No. 2 and No. 4 in the WR pecking order, while Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson are available as dangerous and special weapons either in the slot or split out wide.

There was optimism around the potential of Javon Wims heading into 2019, but after a good exhibition season he seemed to regress when given his chances as the season went on.

It is unlikely this will be a position of need this offseason, but don’t be surprised if the Bears use a Day 3 pick on a prospect or two with speed to burn.

2019 Matter of Fact: A full season removed from ACL surgery, though he wasn’t bad in 2018, when recovery and a couple of nagging injuries limited him to 55-754-4 receiving, Robinson increased his production by over 35 percent and almost doubled his catches, finishing 98-1,147-7. He upped his previous single-season best by 18 catches and notched the second 1,000-plus yard season of his career.

While dropping from 7 TD catches in ’18 to two last season, Miller also significantly increased his rookie numbers in catches and yards.

Unfortunately, injuries cut Gabriel’s playing time and production in half, and it seemed Cohen and Patterson were used a lot less in receiver sets than they could have been.

Ridley’s six catches for 69 yards, all coming late in the year, raised as many questions as they answered, but they were due almost exclusively to a lack of playing time rather than poor play.

The question: Why couldn’t Ridley get on the field more, especially with all the time Gabriel missed?

Cap Commitment: With 14.26 percent of their total cap allotted for wideouts, per spotrac, the Bears have the NFL's fourth-largest cap investment in the position.

That, and his issues staying on the field this past season are why many believe Gabriel could be a cap casualty, a likelihood that seemed more certain prior to Miller re-injuring his shoulder in the final game of the season and creating some concern about him getting back to 100 percent.

Gabriel’s $6.5 million cap hit is 20 percent of the Bears' total dollars invested in receivers, and releasing him, drafting for speed in the later rounds and shopping for younger, cheaper, less accomplished pass catchers with similar speed in free agency is a distinct possibility.

Robinson is going into the final year of his deal with a $15 million cap hit, and the Bears would love to extend him, tying up their top pass catcher while lessening his cap cost on the front end of a new deal.

Offseason Need (1 Highest, 5 Lowest): The need here for the Bears is a 3.5 or 4, but that could change as the offseason progresses and they get a better handle on where Miller is in his recovery.

Again, more speed always helps, one lesson Matt Nagy learned in Kansas City, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or at the top of the shopping list and if they don’t move on from Gabriel the Bears could stand pat here.

Available prospects to watch: Philip Dorsett may be a free agent of interest for the Bears. The former first-rounder has speed to burn, is still just 27 and after the positive experience of acquiring Cordarrelle Patterson from New England this season, Dorsett would make sense if they move on from Gabriel.

K.J. Hill from Ohio St., Aaron Fuller of Washington, Nebraska’s J.D. Spielman, James Proche from SMU, Florida’s Van Jefferson and  Charleston Rambo from Oklahoma are a few possible Day 3 draft-types to keep an eye on in the next couple of months.

Bears Insider Podcast 184: A newsy week for the Bears

Posted on January 16, 2020 - 13:14:37

New coaches, a new spot for training camp, Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush break it down on the latest episode of our podcast.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

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Bears hiring John DeFilippo as new QB coach, promoting Ragone to pass-game coordinator

Posted on January 15, 2020 - 20:01:00

Matt Nagy's new-look offensive Bears staff appears to be extremely QB-centric

John DeFilippo is joining Matt Nagy's new-look Bears offensive staff under new coordinator Bill Lazor and new pass-game coordinator Dave Ragone, formerly Chicago's QB coach. The 41-year-old Filippo, who surprisingly parted ways with the Jacksonville Jaguars as offensive coordinator Monday, was among the finalists in GM Ryan Pace's head-coaching search two offseasons ago that ended in Nagy's hiring.

DeFillipo's Jaguars offense ranked only 20th in yardage, but he oversaw the development of surprise sixth-round starting QB Gardner Minshew, who "Wally Pipped" big-ticket signee and Super Bowl LII champion Nick Foles en route to setting franchise rookie records for passing yards (3,271) and touchdowns (21) in only 12 starts, including an NFL rookie-high six wins.

It was DeFilippo's work with Foles and then-rookie Carson Wentz as Eagles QB coach during their Super Bowl run two years ago that vaulted him to the coordinator job with the Minnesota Vikings. But he was shockingly fired only 13 games into the 2018 campaign by Mike Zimmer over philosophical differences, mainly the head coach's desire to run the football more — and more successfully — than DeFillipo was coordinating.

The arrivals of DeFillipo and Lazor, who was out of the NFL last season following a three-year stint with the Cincinnati Bengals, also mean a promotion for Ragone. The Bears' longest-tenured offensive assistant was hired by former Bears coach John Fox in 2015 and retained by Nagy, making him the only offensive coach inside Halas Hall who preceded Mitch Trubisky's arrival.

The Bears' most precipitous backslide from 12-4 division champs in Nagy's 2018 maiden head-coaching voyage to 8-8 also-rans this season stemmed from their 29th-ranked scoring offense and the struggles of Trubisky.

In Lazor and DeFilippo, the Bears added two experienced QB developers with 14 combined seasons as NFL QB coaches and seven more as NFL coordinators.

It should be noted that although Nagy and Ryan Pace said at their season-end news conference that they intend on Trubisky starting next season, he'll almost certainly be surrounded with two new quarterbacks, as backup Chase Daniel and QB3 Tyler Bray are impending free agents.

Lazor worked closely with fellow potential impending free agents Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton, and DeFilippo and Lazor worked together on Chip Kelly's Eagles staff in 2016, when Foles was invited to the Pro Bowl and registered the third-highest passer rating in NFL history (119.2).

If Nagy — who also coached Foles, in 2016 with the Chiefs — and the Bears are interested in the 31-year-old Super Bowl hero, it'd likely have to be after the 2020 season. He signed a four-year deal in Jacksonville including $50 million guaranteed last year and would carry a $20-plus million cap charge next season.

Bears legends Covert, Sprinkle named to 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame centennial class

Posted on January 15, 2020 - 16:50:00

Bears legends Jimbo Covert and Ed Sprinkle were named senior members of the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame’s special 20-person centennial class on Wednesday.

Covert was the Bears’ starting left tackle for nine seasons (1983-91), the first four of which he helped pave the way for Walter Payton and the NFL’s leading rushing attack. Selected sixth overall in the 1983 draft out of Pitt, Covert was a Day 1 starter, two-time All Pro and member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 80s.

“It’s just an awesome honor,” Covert said Wednesday on WSCR 670-AM after receiving the call from Hall of Fame president David Baker.

“I’m almost speechless. I’m usually not that way, but today that definitely happened.”

Covert wildly exceeded the great expectations that came with being immediately inserted into the starting lineup on fellow former first-round pick Jim McMahon’s blind side and as the anchor of a unit that blocked for arguably the greatest running back in NFL history.

“A lot was expected out of me and I felt like I had a lot to live up to,” he said. “I did the best I could.”

Covert is the fifth member of the iconic 1985 Bears to enter Canton. He retired after nine seasons because of a chronic back injury.

Fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate Richard Dent said last summer Covert was the best he competed against.

“To not have one [’85 Bears] offensive lineman as a Hall of Famer — people assume Walter would gain yards with no one blocking,” Dent said. … “I just think it’s worthy, without a doubt, to have a guy like Jimbo Covert, who just happened to be on my team. I knew I wasn’t going to face anyone better than him. ... To me, I’m not playing any favoritism. I just know I would not see this guy week in and week out. I’m glad he was on my team."

Nicknamed the “meanest man in football,” Sprinkle played all 12 of his NFL seasons (1944-55) with the Bears and was once described by George Halas as “the greatest pass rusher I’ve ever seen.” The fiery defensive end was voted to four Pro Bowls and the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 40s, and was a member of the Bears 1946 world championship team. He died in 2014 at the age of 90.

Covert and Sprinkle were elected among 20 senior finalists who last played more than 25 years ago by a special Blue Ribbon panel last week. The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes this year a 20-member “Centennial Slate” commemorating the league’s 100th year in existence.

Covert and Sprinkle are the 29th and 30th ex-Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which leads the NFL.

Hub Arkush: Coordinators on the move everywhere in the NFC North

Posted on January 15, 2020 - 14:30:00

Do Patricia, Zimmer and Nagy all enter 2020 on the bubble?

Bears Insider takes a spin around the division leading up to conference title weekend:

CHICAGO BEARS: After a terribly disappointing 8-8 season, the Bears have made all kinds of headlines over the past couple weeks.

Mark Helfrich is out as offensive coordinator, replaced by Bill Lazor. There are reports not yet confirmed by the Bears that Brad Childress will not return as a senior offensive assistant. Juan Castillo replaced Harry Hiestand as the offensive line coach, and Clancy Barone is the new tight ends coach replacing Kevin Gilbride. And in a lower profile move, Brock Olivo has been let go as assistant special teams coach.

Though some pundits have tried to make an issue of the fact Lazor, Castillo and Barone were all out of the game last season, relative to their coaching abilities, that is mostly insignificant.

It is not at all unusual for good coaches to be away for a year based mainly on why they left their most recent jobs – coaching changes above them, questionable personnel, relationships, etc. – and the timing of those departures and the formation of new staffs by other teams.

It is believed but again not confirmed by Matt Nagy that these changes are all mostly aimed at improving the running game. It is worth noting that in Lazor’s best year as an offensive coordinator — 2014 in Miami — the Dolphins threw the ball 67 percent of the time. That's certainly not an ideal run-pass ratio when you look at the most recent trends around the league – San Francisco, Baltimore, Tennessee, etc. — although we know winning teams tend to run more when they're playing on late leads (the Dolphins were 8-8).

It is worth noting that if Childress is indeed gone, it is reasonable to assume his position won’t be filled and that will mean Nagy and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone will be the only familiar voices in Mitch Trubisky’s ears, and there will be one less voice with Lazor replacing both Helfrich and Childress.

The problem with analyzing all this is only the folks inside Halas Hall know exactly what the working relationships for Nagy with Helfrich and Childress were, how much impact either actually had on game-planning and play-calling and whether Lazor’s job description will be the same or different than Helfrich’s.

Other news has focused on Jim Covert’s and Ed Sprinkle’s selection for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Bears' decision to cease host training camps at remote locations, most recently Bourbonnais, Illinois, over the past 18 seasons and hold their entire exhibition season camp at the newly renovated Halas Hall, effective immediately.

Even I’m not old enough to know anything about Sprinkle other than what I’ve read, but Covert’s selection is extremely deserved and puts to rest a long wait that had left him the only member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the ‘80s not in Canton.

The issue surrounding Covert’s selection had always focused on the shortness of his career, which ended prematurely after nine seasons because of back issues. That's an issue that has kept several of the game’s best of all time out of Canton.

The decision to vacate Bourbonnais will be controversial if not surprising. Having completed a renovation of Halas Hall that has made it by a number of accounts the best team facility in the NFL, it was really just a matter of time before the Bears decided to stay home.

The Bears were also one of only 11 NFL teams still going away for training camp in 2019, but some were caught off guard by the decision coming as soon as it did.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: Obviously, the Packers' 2019 season rolls on Sunday in San Francisco, where they will be a heavy underdog facing the 49ers.

Though the Pack had a number of players leave their divisional playoff game vs. the Seahawks, all eventually returned.

Current No. 2 WR Allen Lazard sprained an ankle, failing to catch a pass after he returned, so his could be the most significant concern.

Several players, most notably right tackle Bryan Bulaga, missed the Seahawks game with an illness, but it’s likely all will be good to go for the 49ers.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: After a shocking wild card upset of the Saints in New Orleans, the Vikings appeared to have little left in the tank, getting rolled by the 49ers in San Francisco last Saturday.

Shortly after the game it was revealed in quick succession that offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski would be the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns and that defensive coordinator George Edwards and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray would not be retained.

Edwards and Gray had held their positions from the day Mike Zimmer became the head coach in 2014, and their ousters come following a season in which the defense bounced back from a subpar 2018 campaign but was still inconsistent at times and began to age at several positions.

In what could prove to be an even more costly loss for the Vikings than the coaching changes, V.P. player personnel and assistant general manager George Paton is reportedly interviewing with Stefanski for the Browns' general manager job.

Paton and general manager Rick Spielman have been together since Spielman was named the Bears pro personnel director in 1997, with a stop in Miami overseeing Dolphins talent along the way to Minneapolis.

It has also been reported the Vikings have begun discussions with Dalvin Cook about a contract extension to avoid him hitting the open market after the 2020 season.

DETROIT LIONS: The Lions have been the quietest of the four North clubs, but head coach Matt Patricia — who is likely entering a make-or-break 2020 season — also decided to change one of his coordinators, replacing veteran defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni with Cory Undlin, a fellow branch off the Bill Belichick coaching tree who started in New England back in 2004.

The Lions defense was among the worst in the NFL last season, but much like the Bears offense, it is uncertain how much of that belongs to Pasqualoni and how much should fall on Patricia.

We know this much: in Undlin, Patricia now has a kindred spirit.

The focus in Detroit now shifts to the health of Matthew Stafford, whether or not his back issues can be alleviated and what the Lions will do with the third overall pick in the draft.

2020 Bears vision: RB corps could be in fine shape — if they get needed scheme, blocking help

Posted on January 15, 2020 - 10:05:00

The Bears shipped out Jordan Howard for a sixth-rounder, welcomed in top pick David Montgomery for third- and fourth-rounders and markedly declined running the ball in 2019.

Montgomery may be a better fit as the lead back in Matt Nagy's offense, but his rookie campaign and Howard's final season in Chicago were uncannily similar statistically, with both averaging 3.7 yards per carry and Howard tallying five more yards from scrimmage (1,080 to 1,074) on three more touches (270 to 267). Essentially, it cost Nagy and Ryan Pace a ton to confirm that their run scheme and offensive line, not either lead back, are the root causes of one of the worst ground games in football over the past two seasons.

The Bears also spent $3 million on Montgomery's new backup, Mike Davis, who provided 18 touches and 47 yards from scrimmage prior to his release in Week 10, a loss-cutting decision surely borne from the likelihood that doing so could allow them to earn their first compensatory draft pick in a decade.

Finally, Tarik Cohen went from being among the NFL's more reliable and dynamic receiving backs two seasons ago to, well, the exact opposite in 2019. The good news? It would appear the Bears have only one way to go from here ...

2019 Matter of Fact: The OL and TE corps were a disaster and cannot escape mention in this space, but we'll go in-depth later in the week on their demise and the role it had in the regressed run game.

But back to the Montgomery-Howard comparisons for a moment. It's worth noting that the rookie's reputation for elusivenesss preceded his arrival and was as advertised: Montgomery finished seventh in the NFL in rush attempts per broken tackle (8.7), compared to Howard's 31.3, fifth worst among qualifiers last season. Montgomery also earned high marks in pass pro and was a more rounded receiving threat, albeit with virtually identical production, save for two drops on 35 targets (none for Howard on 26).

The determined Montgomery's charge in Year 2 must be to leave less meat on the bone after he makes defenders miss; he managed only four explosive carries, two fewer than 2018 Howard, whose biggest knock was a lack of juice.

Meantime, Cohen's nine drops paced all NFL backs and were eight more than he had two seasons ago, when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per catch (compared to 3.3 and 5.8, respectively, in 2019). Coming off his first-team All-Pro nod as a punt returner, Cohen lacked focus and discipline, as apparent off the field — where he arrived to Bourbonnais slingshot wheels screeching on the ONU sidewalk and broke NFL rules by putting post-game locker room footage from Washington unknowingly including in the background Kyle Long full frontal on social media — as on it, where Cohen too often sought sideline safety at the expense of additional yards.

Cap Commitment: Finally, some good news! The Bears are projected by spotrac at No. 27 in the NFL in RB cap expenditures in 2020, with Montgomery, Cohen and Ryan Nall accounting for only $2.42 million, or just more than 1 percent of the cap.

Offseason Need (1 lowest, 5 highest): 2. The Bears just might be set already with Nall and All-Pro returner Cordarrelle Patterson comprising a potentially solid 2A and 2B behind Montgomery — assuming Nagy is willing to utilize them — and Cohen surely motivated to rebound in a contract year. But they could still use some big-play potential, which unfortunately was poached from the practice squad by the Pittsburgh Steelers in November in the form of seventh-round rookie Kerrith Whyte.

Wait, how can one of the NFL's worst run games be in good shape without any additions, you ask? Let's wait and see what the Bears do at right guard and tight end, as well as how earnestly Nagy tinkers with his scheme. That's where we expect the biggest potential improvements.

Available prospects to watch: The Bears shouldn't be in the free-agent market for a back, but Bears Insider will highlight some late-round/UDFA prospects once draft season is off and running.

Bears bid farewell to Bourbonnais training camp

Posted on January 14, 2020 - 15:42:00

Following an 18-year partnership, Bears moving camp from ONU to newly renovated Halas Hall

The Bears announced Tuesday that they'll hold their training camp this year at newly renovated Halas Hall, following 18 consecutive summers at Olivet Nazerene University in Bourbonnais.

“We will host training camp practices at Halas Hall in 2020, while maintaining a public component to many of the sessions to incorporate our loyal and passionate fans,” Bears President & CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement. “Olivet Nazarene University continues to be a valued and committed partner, but with the recent investment in our campus expansion and state-of-the-art facilities in Lake Forest, we feel it is important to stay home for training camp. We would like to thank Olivet Nazarene University, including President John Bowling, and the Bourbonnais community for their 18 years of partnership and hospitality.”

The Bears were one of the NFL's last teams to hold training camp at a site separate from their regular facility, creating a unique and intimate fan experience. However, the writing has been on the wall for this announcement ever since the Bears began expanding Halas Hall in March 2018, a project that more than doubled the facility's square footage with a focus on enhancing football operations, including huge weight-room and field upgrades.

The team indicated fan participation will continue, with more details on free tickets and scheduling announced at a later date.


 

2020 Bears vision: Believe it or not, QB isn't the greatest offseason need in Chicago

Posted on January 14, 2020 - 09:45:00

While their QB position and Mitch Trubisky in particular are two of the hottest buttons in Chicago Sports today, believe it or not it is not the Bears' greatest need this offseason.

No one is suggesting the situation isn’t dire, that this is anything but a make it or break it year for Trubisky or that the Bears don’t desperately need talent in the pipeline to develop and a much more capable backup than Chase Daniel — preferably a player who can also push and perhaps even compete with Mitch.

All of that is absolutely true.

But the bottom line is, the Bears are going to do everything they can in 2020 to take one more run at making Mitch the man. Thus, any rookie or youngster they bring in will be a developmental prospect targeted to compete a year or two down the road, and a new veteran backup will only get his chance if Trubisky fails badly during the offseason and exhibition season.

But the QB position is definitely a puzzle at best for the Bears right now, and a problem at worst.

So how did it come to this?

2019 Matter of Fact: Bears fans apparently have very short memories.

Trubisky took a quantum leap forward in ’18, compiling a modern Bears single-season record 95.4 passer rating for quarterbacks with 10 or more starts, a 66.6 completion percentage, 7.4-yard attempt average, 24-12 TD-INT ratio, adding 68-412-3 rushing and going to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

The problem today is 2019 was a season in which Trubisky took one of the greatest moonwalks since Michael Jackson, dropping to an 84.0 passer rating, 63.2 completion percentage, 6.1-yard average, 17 TDs versus 10 INTs and his rushing fell off to 41-248-2, while also raising serious questions about his ability to read the field and handle the off-the-field spotlight.

Cap Commitment: The Bears are projected to be approximately $21 million under the cap entering the new league year, according to Spotrac, and Trubisky carries a $9.24 million cap hit for 2020. All of that is dead cap space, but he represents just 4.3 percent of the Bears' cap, an extremely low number for the position.

Prince Amukamara, Taylor Gabriel and Adam Shaheen are all potential cap casualties, while Charles Leno, Allen Robinson, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and Cody Whitehair could have their deals redone to create even more space.

Offseason Need (1 Highest, 5 Lowest): 2.5. Based on his 2018 season and the organization’s continued commitment to Trubisky, while quarterback is a serious need for the Bears right now, it is not as important as tight end, safety and inside linebacker — all currently without enough starters — and left tackle, where Charles Leno’s performance last season was even worse than Trubisky’s.

But the need is real with backup Chase Daniel and QB3 Tyler Bray ticketed for free agency, so we'll call it a 2 ½.

Available prospects to watch: Free agents Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers aren’t coming to Chicago, and even if there was a chance, while you’d love to have Brady or Brees in any offense, none of the three are a great fit for Nagy’s scheme.

Dak Prescott, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill could all be great competition for Trubisky, but Prescott will be tagged in Dallas if they don’t come up with a long-term deal and they all are going to command more on the open market than the Bears can afford.

Free agents to watch are Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum, Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles.

It is just too early to know how the passers will stack up in the draft, but early indications are that Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Jake Fromm and Jordan Love could be options with one of the Bears' two second-round picks — although I’m betting Herbert and Hurts will go earlier.

Anthony Gordon, Nate Stanley, Steven Montez, Bryce Perkins, Kellen Mond, Cole McDonald, Brian Lewerke, Jake Luten, Tyler Huntley, Shane Buechele, Khalil Tate, Riley Neal and Blake Barnett are a bunch of Day 3 or priority free agent names to keep an eye on depending on who comes out and who stays in school.

Bears tab Bill Lazor as new offensive coordinator

Posted on January 13, 2020 - 21:05:00

With Lazor on board with Bears, keep an eye on former Bengals pupil QB Andy Dalton this offseason

The Bears are expected to hire Bill Lazor as their new offensive coordinator, replacing Mark Helfrich, who was one of three offensive assistants fired by Matt Nagy following the team's four-win regression to 8-8 last season.

Lazor, 47, has four years of coordinating experience at the NFL level, most recently in 2018 with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he spent 2016-18 helping in the development of three-time Pro Bowler and potential free agent QB Andy Dalton. Lazor coordinated the Miami Dolphins in 2014-15, working with Ryan Tannehill, who set a franchise record with 392 completions and tossed a career-high 27 touchdowns in their first season together.

The well-traveled Lazor, once a record-breaking Cornell QB, has been an NFL quarterbacks coach in Cincinnati (2016), Philadelphia (2013), Seattle (2008-09) and Washington, cutting his teeth under Dan Reeves and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, in addition to former Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Holmgren.

Lazor's new role in Chicago is likely to be a hybrid between QB coach and offensive coordinator. Nagy has given no indications he'll cede play calling despite a major step backward on offense last season, ranking last in the NFL in passing, 31st in yards per play and 29th in points.

It's worth noting that Lazor has no connections to the Andy Reid tree, from which Nagy found Bears new O-line coach Juan Castillo last week. The Bears also hired 15-year NFL coaching veteran Clancy Barone — like Lazor in his first job with Nagy — to coach tight ends. None of the three worked in the NFL last season.

Lazor will bring some different scheme backgrounds to Halas Hall, having worked in Air Coryell in addition to West Coast and Spread systems. Like Helfrich, he's another former assistant of Chip Kelly hired by Nagy as coordinator with plenty of RPO, spread and play-calling experience but unlikely to call plays.

Lazor was named Bengals interim offensive coordinator in Week 3 of the 2017 season and helped spark a slumping Dalton and Bengals offense that had been shut out in its first two games. Under Lazor's guidance, Dalton tossed 25 touchdowns against eight interceptions in the final 13 games, when the offense averaged 20.1 points.

There was already some dot connecting between Dalton and the Bears this offseason. The 32-year-old Bengals career passing TD leader has no remaining guaranteed money on his contract but would save the Bengals $19M in cap space if he's released.

In 2013, Lazor was the Eagles QB coach under Kelly who oversaw Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles' NFL breakout season including an NFL-leading TD percentage (8.5), yards per attempt (9.1) and 119.2 passer rating that remains the third highest in league history. Foles, who also worked with Nagy in Kansas City in 2016, lost the starting job to Gardner Minshew last season after signing a four-year, $88 million contract, making him very difficult to move.

The Bears remain committed to former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky despite his stark Year 3 regression yet don't have any other quarterbacks under contract. After flopping in their centennial season that began with Super Bowl talk, the pressure is mounting to maximize a playoff-ready defense in 2020, starting with improved QB play and a much-improved offense.

Nagy thinks he's made the necessary fixes to his coaching staff. Without the necessary personnel upgrades in and around the QB corps, they're unlikely to be enough.

Bears' biggest divisional round takeaway not Mahomes-Watson, it's Titans' Tale of Tannehill

Posted on January 13, 2020 - 14:33:00

Titans' storybook season provides stark reminder to Bears' Nagy and Pace on biggest offseason to-do

The next generational signal caller like Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson isn’t walking through the doors of Halas Hall any time soon, but what about the next Ryan Tannehill?

That should be the question on Bears fans minds following a divisional weekend that of course brought us Round 2 of the “Ryan Pace Bowl” — Chiefs 51, Texans 31 — an absolutely bananas ballgame in which Mahomes’ Chiefs responded to a 24-0 second-quarter deficit with a cool four touchdowns from the reigning MVP in the subsequent 9-plus minutes en route to 41 unanswered and their second consecutive AFC title game appearance.

We were also “treated” to Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson dueling in the nightcap, which ended with the Green Bay Packers punching their return ticket to Santa Clara to reacquaint in the NFC title game with a San Francisco 49ers team that humiliated them less than two months ago.

Strange as it may sound, neither game should mean as much to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy in plotting their plans for the Bears’ biggest offseason in recent memory as the Titans taking down the top-seeded Ravens Saturday evening. What matters is the tale of Tannehill, whom the Titans acquired via trade last spring, days after failed former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota’s fifth-year option for nearly $21 million became guaranteed for injury.

What matters is how Mike Vrabel, with his Titans’ season circling the drain behind Mariota at 2-4, boldly benched the supposed franchise signal caller he inherited in favor of Tannehill, who merely led the NFL in regular-season passer rating and yards per attempt, guiding Tennessee to a 7-3 finish and wild-card berth.

Has Tannehill been the Titans’ playoff catalyst? Of course not. Derrick Henry just became the only player in NFL history with three consecutive demolitions of at least 180 rushing yards — all of them in sudden death scenarios! Still, Tannehill has accounted for four touchdowns despite attempting only 29 combined passes in the first two games, throwing as many first-quarter touchdowns (2) as the Bears produced on offense this season.

And there’s no way the Titans would’ve made the playoffs without a young and aggressive head coach in Vrabel pulling the Mariota plug; GM Jon Robinson making the shrewdest acquisition of the offseason to insure his maddeningly inconsistent hand-picked first-round quarterback, actually persuading Miami to pick up the majority of Tannehill's 2019 check for a late-round pick swap (!); and, obviously, Tannehill — mind you, formerly the No. 8 overall pick who was making steady progress with the Dolphins prior to a series of knee injuries — blossoming in front of our eyes.

Lightning in a bottle, right?

Perhaps, but now consider that, two years earlier, the NFC title game was quarterbacked by Case Keenum and Nick Foles, The former signed a one-year, $2 million with the Vikings to insure china doll Sam Bradford; the latter signed a two-year deal including $7 million guaranteed to back up Carson Wentz, coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign.

Say what you will about the Bears’ continued support of Mitch Trubisky, whose Year 3 regression was the single biggest factor in Chicago going from a contender following a 12-win season to an 8-8 pretender in 2019. It matters far more how they find their own version of Tannehill, or Keenum, or Foles, this offseason, when Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray will depart as free agents, leaving only Trubisky under contract in their QB corps.

Tannehill flourished with good coaching and defense, and a great run game, not elite weaponry, like Mahomes.

Sure, the Bears only have one of those elements currently, but the other two may be right under their nose and are certainly interconnected. The toughest part is finding the next Tannehill, but in a robust offseason veteran QB market, he could be out there. It’s up to Pace and Nagy to have the humility, the foresight and the flexibility to go find him. And if they do, who’s to say they can’t be spending this same week next year preparing for a conference championship?

Hub Arkush: Three Bears I admire more than any other

Posted on January 13, 2020 - 14:32:00

A reader asked me the other day what player and coach I admire most in Bears history

My first reaction was, wow, that’s a big question.

I know he said player and coach, but Jim Finks, Virginia McCaskey, Bill Tobin, Gary Fencik, Jay Hilgenberg, Ron Rivera, Tom Thayer, Jim Harbaugh, Trace Armstrong, Curtis Conway, Olin Kreutz, Tony Medlin, Patrick Mannelly . . . are all just some of the Bears I admire most for their combinations of integrity, talent, toughness, work ethic, loyalty, etc.

There are others truly worthy of our admiration for some or most of those qualities, but these folks have all of them and they are comprise my honorable mention list.

George Halas could easily be No. 1 — and maybe he should be since he is basically the father of the National Football League — but he’s No. 4 on my list only because there are three other folks I’ve had much more personal interaction and experience with.

Dick Butkus, I believe, is the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.

Most Bears fans know him for his vicious physicality and highlight-reel hits, but there is so much more.

Dick was one of the greatest athletes to play the game at the time he arrived in the NFL, and he really defined the middle or inside linebacker position for all who’ve come since.

As big a hitter as he was he was equally outstanding against the run and in coverage, an outstanding blitzer, and athletically he blanketed the field from sideline to sideline as well as anyone until time took its toll on his knees and shoulders.

Unknown to many, though, is that behind the gruff exterior that I believe is part real, and part created as a shield to help filter more than block the incredible demands on his time and attention from a seemingly infinite fan base, Dick is a great friend and as loyal and devoted a family man as you’ll ever meet.

There is no football player, and few men, I admire more.

Number 2 on my list is Dan Hampton.

His talent, toughness and loyalty are undeniable, as exhibited by his bust in Canton. His leadership skills are also second to none – talk to any of his ’85 teammates – as well as his unfailing loyalty to a Bears organization that didn’t always treat him as well as it could have.

Now my bias here is clear, as Hamp has become one of my dear friends over the years, a period that dates back to his being drafted by the Bears and my taking over Pro Football Weekly in 1979.

I know many of you think I am a flaming, hippie, liberal, lefty, and while that is mostly untrue, there is no question I lean to the left.

Dan, on the other hand, is as far to the right as you can get, and there is no denying he’s a hard core "Trumpkin."

Yet if anything we’ve gotten closer over the last few years, rather than allowing that to interfere in our friendship. To me that is the definition of friendship and decency, and smacks of integrity and loyalty, two of the qualities I admire most in individuals.

Forced to pick a No. 1, I don’t know how it can be anyone other than Walter.

How great a football player was he? Like Michael, Babe or Gordie, no last names required. What else do I need to say?

You want to talk toughness or work ethic? Playing running back and getting attacked by NFL defenses 4,330 times (his total touches from scrimmage), he missed one game as a rookie and four in his 13th season. That’s it.

Walter was an extremely successful business man and a huge contributor to the Chicago community and the National Football League — not only the Bears but all 32 teams named their Man of the Year Award for him.

We became friendly and I got to know him pretty well in his retirement, particularly when he was attempting to become the principal owner of an NFL franchise before the league expanded to Jacksonville and Carolina, and whenever someone asks me who was the "greatest football player of all time," his is the only name that comes to my mind.

Ask Hub: How do you evaluate Year 2 for Bears LB Roquan Smith?

Posted on January 10, 2020 - 16:18:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions every week

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions weekly:

Prior to his injury, can you evaluate Roquan Smith's year?

This is tough because of the unknown with Roquan’s “personal issues.” Players are absolutely entitled to have and deal with personal issues as much as anybody else, and I’m not going to even begin to speculate what Roquan’s were, but there’s no question something impacted his first half of the season.

He was outstanding in the opener against the Packers, then fell against Denver and Washington before missing the Vikings game, and then was pretty pedestrian vs. the Raiders, Saints and Chargers for the rest of October.

However, he did start to play like a difference maker again vs. the Eagles to open November and was playing at a very high level over the next four games culminating in possibly his best day as a pro — Thanksgiving day vs. the Lions, with 16 tackles and two sacks – before tearing the pectoral muscle against the Cowboys.

The fact that he had one of the best games of his career and an outstanding performance by any measure just prior to his season-ending injury bodes extremely well for the future and tells me he is still likely to become a perennial Pro Bowler. He has that kind of talent and has demonstrated he can translate it to NFL playing fields.

The only concern going forward is the uncertainly of his personal issues makes it unclear from the outside looking in if it has to be a concern going forward.

Smith’s rookie campaign was an "A-minus." I guess I’d have to call 2019 a "B-minus," but one that didn’t really create any concerns he still can’t be one of the best at his position on the field.

Anthony Gordon to the Bears a good fit? Submitted by Ryne Benassi

Ryne, he’s not a bad fit, but he’s not exactly hand-in-glove, either. No Mike Leach quarterback had really succeeded at the NFL level until Gardner Minshew, and it’s awfully early to call Minshew a success, and we’re talking about a lot of big-time college passers.

Gordon has nice size for the position at 6-3, 210 and he isn’t a bad athlete, but he isn’t the athlete you’d like in terms of doing damage with his legs.

That said, he can definitely throw the football. But off one year as a starter under Leach, he brings the same questions of inexperience that Mitch Trubisky did and when you add in the uncertainties that come with these “Air Raid” offense guys, he’s a stretch.

You will see him ranked somewhere between five and eight or nine on a lot of “Draftniks” quarterback prospect lists, in large part because of his huge 2019 season, but he is a Day 3 prospect at best to me right now and possibly even a priority free agent, although that could change with the Combine and Pro Days.

I do like his arm a lot but until NFL teams get their eyes on him up close, and even more important their ears around him to try and evaluate what he’s got upstairs, it’s hard to ignore the awful NFL track record of Leach’s guys at the position.

Why did Harry and Meghan leave their total duties? Submitted by Arthur Lee

Again, Art, I guess I asked for this, but I have absolutely no clue. What do you think, and more importantly, why would you care?

Why did MJ retire the first time? Submitted by Nate

Again, Nate, I know I asked for this but I suspect you know while I have all the same clues you do, I don’t have an answer. Next time Mike calls me, though, I’ll ask him.

What’s the story with the Jordan Howard Draft compensation/ the compensatory pick from free agency? We may have more draft ammo than I thought. Submitted by Joe Calandriello

Joe, unfortunately only the Bears and Eagles know that for sure at the moment, but I’m hoping we find out soon.

Conditional draft picks are based on the performance(s) of the players traded. I’m quite sure that had Howard continued at the pace he was setting prior to his injury against the Bears, the pick would have become a fifth-rounder.

But based on the injury and his missing seven games, it could very likely remain a sixth-rounder. It was originally a conditional fifth-round pick, meaning that a floor for his production was set, and he needed to outperform it for the pick to become a five. Whether he could have done enough in nine games to accomplish that is suspect.

Regardless, it will be remembered as one of the worst trades the Bears have made under Ryan Pace. It didn’t make sense when they did it, and makes less sense now, with one caveat.

Howard is an unrestricted free agent now. If the Bears were worried about losing him after this season with no compensation, we get it. But he was definitely worth more than a sixth-round pick to them, and his absence this past season cost the Bears dearly.

Who are some options the Bears could target this offseason (FA/Draft) at safety that better complement EJ? Submitted by Luke Stanczyk

Luke, we’re just not deep enough into our draft work for this year yet for me to give you any solid draft projections, but I can tell you it’s not an exciting group of free agents.

The best fit might be the Raiders' Karl Joseph, the former first-rounder, who's an in-the-box safety who could complement Eddie Jackson nicely. And since he’s an unrestricted free agent, not originally a Gruden or Mayock guy, they may let him get to the open market.

Other names worth watching: Minnesota’s Anthony Harris, not a true in-the-box guy but not a pure center fielder, either; the Colts' Clayton Geathers, who could be a very nice fit; Kansas City's Jordan Lucas is someone Matt Nagy certainly knows; the Chargers' Adrian Phillips; and Seattle’s Akeem King, to name a few.

Joseph and Geathers are my first choices, and King would be a real reach.

One other name worth keeping an ear out for is Stephen Denmark, the Bears' seventh-round pick last year out of Valdosta State.

They drafted Denmark as a cornerback — where he finished his college career after converting from wide receiver — but at 6-3, 216, he clearly has great size for safety and playing in the box.

What we don’t know is how physical he is and can be, and where the Bears see him — if he fits there plans at all. But a move to safety seems logical.

While I don’t see the Bears re-signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, unfortunate because he did play well this year and was an upgrade at safety but not a great complement to Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush is also an unrestricted free agent. He's also not a true in-the-box safety, but Bush is somewhat more physical than Jackson and Clinton-Dix, and I don’t know what the Bears are thinking about his future.

We can assume with Jackson’s new contract that the Bears won’t spend big on another safety in free agency, so they probably will look to address the position in the draft, quite possibly with one of those two second-round picks.

Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons and LSU’s Grant Delpit would look incredible in Navy and Orange, but even this early both are near-certain top-20 picks, maybe even top-10, and whether Simmons is a safety or linebacker at the next level is uncertain.

After them the drop-off is precipitous, and players that could fit at 43 or 50 right now may not include any safeties.

I’ll get back to you on the Day 3 guys once we’re further along in our scouting.

Bears offseason primer: A look at their biggest needs, likely resources and the dates fans must know

Posted on January 10, 2020 - 12:37:00

Facing a critical offseason for the current regime and, subsequently, the franchise’s trajectory after a four-win regression in 2019, the Bears have plenty of needs but not a plethora of resources with which to address them.

They’re projected to be in the bottom half of the league in salary-cap space, currently somewhere in the vicinity of $14.1 million, per the latest NFLPA report, not accounting for Kyle Long’s impending retirement and the $8 million in relief that comes with it.

The Bears’ first-round draft pick (No. 19 overall) for the second consecutive season belongs to the Raiders as the final key compensation in the Khalil Mack trade, leaving Ryan Pace currently with only two top-100 selections — Nos. 43 and 50, the former coming back from the Black and Silver as the Mack sweetener.

Chicago's third-rounder is in Oakland, err, Vegas, too, and fourth-rounder belongs to Bill Belichick’s Patriots as part of the David Montgomery trade compensation. However, the Bears are expected to earn their first compensatory pick in more than a decade, with comp pick guru Nick Korte from Overthecap.com projecting a fourth-rounder for Adrian Amos.

Plus, the Bears have an extra fifth-rounder (from the Raiders), likely two sixth-rounders (theirs plus the kickback in the Jordan Howard deal, which might have netted them a fifth-rounder from the Eagles had Howard not missed six games with injury before being phased out on offense) and a seventh-rounder.

The Bears surely are already hard at work on free-agent planning, and will pivot in two weeks to scout the Senior Bowl in Mobile, where, as always, plenty of eyes will be on the quarterbacks, including this year: Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts, potential first-round picks Justin Herbert and Jordan Love and Air Raid disciple Anthony Gordon of Washington State, among others.

Chicago hasn't drafted a quarterback not named Trubisky since Pace said in his introductory news conference more than five years ago that he subscribes to the Ron Wolf philosophy of picking one every year. Even with limited draft ammo, Pace's Bears unquestionably are in the market to add multiple passers this offseason with Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray out of contract.

It’s possible the Bears hold a news conference in the coming weeks to introduce their coaching additions, but our next confirmed opportunity to visit with Pace and Matt Nagy will be some time in the early part of the scouting combine, beginning in Indianapolis on Mon. Feb. 24.

The Bears extended Eddie Jackson but still must decide by early May whether to exercise the fifth-year option for 2021 on Mitch Trubisky, a price tag north of $25 million guaranteed for injury only. There's also still some contractual uncertainty regarding their previous first-round pick, OLB Leonard Floyd, who's slated to earn $13.2 million on his own fifth-year option next season. But Floyd managed a career-low three sacks in 2019, and though Ryan Pace echoed Bears coaches last week in saying they're "happy" with the former No. 9 overall pick, like in the case of Trubisky and how the team addresses its QB room, actions will speak louder than words regarding Floyd.

In lieu of him playing on the fifth-year option, it's possible the two sides could agree on an extension lowering Floyd's price tag but offering more long-term security, or the Bears could release Floyd, allowing both sides to test the market, where more proven pass rushers abound.

So with all of that bookkeeping out of the way, how should the Bears prioritize improving their roster? Beginning Monday, Bears Insider will unveil the first piece in our daily position-by-position series, assessing the strength and overall state of every unit.

Spoiler: We expect quarterback and tight end to be among Pace's top priorities in free agency, where adding a veteran signal caller and Day 1 starting "Y" tight end are absolute musts, while the draft could offer better alternatives to address offensive line, wide receiver, outside pass rush and strong safety.

As far as identifying the best free agents and draft prospects for the Bears, stay tuned. Bears Insider has tons of exciting offseason content planned for our subscribers' enjoyment well in advance of the start of free agency (March 18) and the draft (April 23). The 2019 Bears season wasn't nearly fun enough, and we're determined to help compensate.

Bears notes: Clancy Barone named new tight ends coach

Posted on January 9, 2020 - 15:13:00

Plus, Kyle Fuller is headed back to Orlando for second consecutive Pro Bowl

The Bears named 15-year NFL coaching veteran Clancy Barone as their new tight ends coach Thursday, a little more than a week after Matt Nagy fired four members of his staff, including previous TE coach Kevin Gilbride.

Barone, 56, was last in the NFL in 2018, when he served as the Minnesota Vikings' co-offensive line coach, following one season working with their tight ends, including Notre Dame product and two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph.

Prior to his time in Minnesota, Barone spent the previous eight seasons on the Denver Broncos staff, including five years overseeing the TE position and the other three coaching the offensive line. Barone oversaw the breakout of former Pro Bowler Julius Thomas' career, when the ex-basketball player caught a combined 24 touchdowns from Peyton Manning en route to earning a monster free-agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Barone cut his NFL coaching teeth in 2004 in Atlanta as an assistant O-line coach before being promoted to TEs coach the following season and working with Alge Crumpler, the franchise's all-time second-leading receiving TE. Barone spent the 2007-08 seasons with the Chargers working with future first-ballot Hall of Famer and the NFL's all-time leader in TD catches among tight ends, Antonio Gates.

Barone was also an O-line coach at Eastern Illinois from 2004-06, where he overlapped in his final season with Bears GM Ryan Pace, then a EIU Panthers defensive lineman.

Barone inherits a position group whose leading receiver last season, J.P. Holtz, was claimed off waivers in September and failed to surpass 100 yards. Starting "U" tight end Trey Burton never fully recovered from the mysterious groin injury that popped up on the eve of the wild-card defeat vs. his former team last postseason and was placed on I.R after only eight games and 14 receptions.

The Bears said last week Burton, who signed a four-year, $32 million contract and was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2018, recently underwent hip surgery that they hope will fix his underlying injury issue.

Starting "Y" tight end Adam Shaheen, the 45th overall pick in the 2017 draft, was benched late in the season and eventually placed on season-ending injured reserve with only nine catches for 74 yards. When asked whether Shaheen would be back for the final year of his rookie deal in 2020, Pace said he remained under contract and in the team's plans.

A critical position in Matt Nagy's offense, tight end is perhaps the Bears' greatest non-QB need of the offseason. With Burton's availability a question mark and Shaheen seemingly a longshot to make the team's 53-man roster next season, the Bears will be on the hunt for reinforcements both at the "U," or "move" TE spot held by Burton, and the "Y," the in-line blocker, a role in which Shaheen has provided sparse contributions.

Fuller returning to Orlando: A 2020 Pro Bowl alternate, Kyle Fuller will replace Rams star Jalen Ramsey at the annual all-star game in two weeks, marking his second consecutive year attending.

Fuller led the Bears with three interceptions and 12 passes defensed, in addition to trailing only LB Roquan Smith on defense with 82 tackles, while starting all 16 games for the third consecutive season.

The 27-year-old former first-round pick of ex-GM Phil Emery has played the best football of his career since the Bears declined to exercise their team option on his rookie deal in the spring of 2017. He responded with a career year, and the Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller, matching the the rival Packers' offer sheet by signing him to a four-year, $56 million contract. Fuller reported recently restructured that deal, which expires in 2021.

The Bears must decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option for QB Mitch Trubisky this spring.

Bears Insider Podcast 183: Some new names

Posted on January 9, 2020 - 13:30:14

After some hirings and firings by the Bears, Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush discuss what's next.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

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Ask Hub pt. II: How much pressure is Bears GM Ryan Pace under entering 2020?

Posted on January 6, 2020 - 12:25:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions every week

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions every week:

Why do the Bears treat Trubisky w kid gloves? Submitted by Brett Rapaport

Brett, I can’t really answer your question because I don’t really know that your premise is correct.

We have no idea what’s going on away from the TV cameras and the extremely limited media access we get to see actual teaching and coaching.

I’ve been doing this 42 years now and can’t remember a single player whose development was benefited by his being called out or criticized or embarrassed publicly by his coaches.

What do you want Pace and/or Nagy to say, we blew the pick but we’re still hoping to get a lot out of it?

We’re ready to trade Mitch because he sucks so please give us a second- or third-round draft choice for him?

That’s just not the way the NFL works.

Would you like them to have benched him for Daniel or Bray, who we know can’t be starters in the league, and then expect Trubisky to somehow get better from that?

Please don’t take this personally because it’s meant as an honest answer to your question and not as a criticism or slam at you in any way, but fans and most media (I’m including me here) just aren’t qualified to know the best ways to develop players – if we did that’s what we’d be doing rather than our current jobs – and need to be satisfied or disappointed with just the results.

I’m not suggesting fans shouldn’t criticize players or coaches at all. Of course you should, it’s a huge part of being a fan.

But when we criticize the results, that’s what we’re paying for with our time and money. When we start telling them how to do their jobs in order to win, that’s when we’re way too far out over our skis.

Nagy and Pace are 20-13 together the past two years. The Rams, Seahawks, Saints, Patriots, Ravens, Texans and Chiefs are the only other teams in the NFL that have done as well.

I know it’s not what Bears fans want to hear right now but it is the simple truth, and I am one who believes the truth always matters.

2020 is the pivotal year for the Pace-Nagy duo, and Trubisky. We can talk about it and debate it all we want — that’s what makes the game so much fun — but it’s just too soon to judge them yet.

Hub, based on what I heard on the pod, 80 will earn about $7m in salary + $8m in bonus. Is that $7m & a roster spot better spent on a player who doesn't walk into the season as a? Everyone is ready to cut bait on 20,18, & 59. Anyone of those players cost w/i $7m + replacement.

The problem with Trey Burton’s contract is that his cap hit for 2020 is about $8 million, and because of the way it was structured there’s $8 million in dead cap space if they try to move on.

All of my cap estimates are just that — estimates based on best available information — but should be close.

You gain nothing by cutting him and I don’t agree Burton's a question mark. He was one of the better "U" tight ends in the league in 2018, and if healthy, can be again.

Was the torn hip labrum they just operated on the real problem? Don’t know but he’s a sunk cost at this point, so let’s find out.

It’s definitely possible they’ll move on from Amukamara and/or Gabriel because there is about $14-$15 million in potential cap savings there ($9M Prince and $6.5M Gabriel). Toliver may not be an upgrade at corner but he looks like he’s ready to move in with little drop-off, and Robinson, Miller and Ridley, with Tarik Cohen really more a receiver than a running back, and Cordarrelle Patterson always someone you can run out there should give you plenty of comfort if you move on from Gabriel.

It’s not hard to find a burner in the fifth or sixth round that might fill the Gabriel role, or even a guy on someone else’s practice squad. Only question there is how comfortable will they be with Miller’s health after his second straight offseason surgery on same shoulder?

The big question mark is Trevathan. They should re-sign either him or Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre Louis because Iyiegbuniwe has shown nothing but some special teams chops. They should be able to get KPL done.

I’m just not so sure that after the way he played, Kwiatkoski won’t command more money than Trevathan, but he’ll certainly get a longer-term commitment, and with all the needs on offense, Trevathan on a two-year deal may be the wiser option than Kwit.

If they let all three work, then they’ve created a whole new serious need without doing anything to help their cap situation.

Why do the refs love the Packers and Aaron Rodgers so much? Almost every game there’s a critical call or two that helps them win. Just ask the Lions fans. It’s so obvious it’s sickening! Submitted by Maxwell Smart

Max, the great ones always get the benefit of the doubt – i.e. Michael, LeBron, Brady, Gretzky, etc.

But you’re overstating the reality. I’ll agree that Rodgers seems to get an extra second or two on the play clock without yellow laundry flying consistently, but the two hands to the face calls on Trey Flowers that cost the Lions their first meeting with the Packers this year – I was on the sidelines for that one on the radio – had nothing to do with Rodgers, it was Flowers and the guy he was blocking.

I don’t believe the Packers are as good this year as the Saints, 49ers or even the Seahawks, but I don’t think they’re the No. 2 seed because of the officials either.

They’ve had incredible luck avoiding injuries — much like the ’18 Bears — and they’ve made plays when needed to win games. It feels different in part because it’s been more Aaron Jones and the Smith Brothers and Kenny Clark on defense making the plays, than Rodgers.

Officials are not intentionally or even subconsciously favoring the Packers — the stripes actually just haven’t had a very good year, period.

Hub with the bears firing everyone but the people responsible for the Off, isn't the real problem the org. leadership? The Bears have no consistency, no one willing to take ownership for what occurred in 2019 and it looks like status quo for 2020. Did the team bottom out? Submitted by Gary Higham

Gary, I get that people are going to hear what they want to hear, but I was in the room from start to finish with Pace and Nagy on New Years Eve morning and there is just no way to spin it other than they clearly took full ownership and responsibility for 2019.

I think Harry Hiestand was probably scapegoated a little bit, but based on results it’s reasonable that Helfrich and Gilbride had to go and Nagy took responsibility for hiring them by firing him and painting a bulls eye on his own back if their replacements don’t work out.

Here is a direct quote from Ryan Pace at the season-ending press conference, “8-8, no one is happy.

“We sit here disappointed. We're not dejected. We're working on solutions. But there's a multitude of factors. The word that comes to mind this season is 'regression', why did we regress in so many areas? We need to figure that out.

“We're going to look at things from a personnel standpoint. Matt will look at things from a schematic standpoint. All those things will be discussed.

“Our head is not in the sand, that everything is fine. Not at all. We never want this feeling in our guts ever again. We're going to do everything in our power to change this.

“But we got to be better in a lot of areas. I think if you look throughout our team, we were disappointed in a number of things. We got to figure out what it is. That's what the next four to five months is.

“When I talk about hard decisions in the next four to five months, that's us stepping back, letting the emotions subside, what's going on, what are the problems, what are the solutions, how are we going to fix that. We're all on board with that.”

I have no idea how you can call that no one taking responsibility and the status quo for 2020?

Patience is tough when you’ve been working on it for 35 seasons, I get that.

But these guys clearly are not copping out and they are taking responsibility and trying to lead; the question is are they good enough at their jobs to get it done?

Again, when Nagy got here they were a 14-34 team over the three previous seasons. In two years with him and Pace together, only seven teams in the league have won as many games as they have.

Give them one more year and we can talk about a grade.

Going into next season how can you make me as a Bears fan feel good about this team? Everything said in last Tuesday’s press conference made me feel like Pace and Nagy don’t have a clue. Also the owner doesn’t seem to care. How can the fans trust anything they say? Already unsure. Submitted by Ba Ba Booey

My guess is there's’s nothing I can tell you to make you feel better right now because there was nothing in the Tuesday press conference to suggest Pace and Nagy don’t have a clue, and I know fans just love to take shot at the McCaskeys but I can absolutely guarantee you that no one in Bears Nation cares more about winning than the McCaskeys.

Again, whether this is the right management and coaching team to get it done, that jury is still out.

But they clearly have a plan, they know what they’re doing and they want desperately to win.

What you can feel good about is one of the best defenses in the league, promise on the interior of the offensive line and some potential star power at some skill positions including Montgomery, Cohen, Patterson, Robinson and Miller.

Let’s split the difference between 12-4 ’18 and 8-8 ’19 and agree that neither was real or the bottom line.

That’s 10-6, which gets you into the playoffs 87 percent of the time, and with a dominant defense, that’s something to feel good about.

Happy New Year, Hub. Enjoyed your show with Terry (Boers) so much. I have followed you and your dad since I was 12 years old. I still have some PFW issues from 1970.

Thank you. The Friday, 12/27 2:00-6:00 shift I did with Terry Boers can be heard by going to the SCORE web site and it was the most fun I’ve ever had co-hosting a show on the radio.

Thank you also for the kind words and your commitment to Pro Football Weekly and my family.

It is greatly appreciated!

Hub in the Last press conference Not one Reporter asked Nagy about His Awful Play calling (my opinion). Also Since Pace got his Pick of Nagy (Fox Forced on him) and took Trubisky with his first big move, do you believe this is the end of him in 2020? Submitted by Mark A.

Mark, considering almost every one of us asked Matt about his play-calling every week for 17 straight weeks leading up to that press conference and never really got a satisfactory answer, I’m guessing that’s why none of us asked him an 18th time.

What would you have expected to be different?

Since Nagy was the NFL Coach of the Year in his first season after Pace “picked” him, and Trubisky actually played in the Pro Bowl in his second season, I have no idea why I would think 2020 was the end of Pace before it even starts?

I get where you’re going, I get everybody’s frustration, but Pace and Nagy have done every bit as much to suggest they may be good at what they do as they have to predict they’re going to fail.

I’m not optimistic Trubisky is going to be the player Pace hopes he will be. I said that the night they drafted him before and after they made the pick, and couldn’t believe they took him over Deshaun Watson.

But with three full seasons left on his contract, I see no reason to assume 2020 will be Ryan Pace’s last year with the Bears.

Bears three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long announces his retirement after seven seasons

Posted on January 5, 2020 - 19:48:00

At his best, Bears' Long was a dominating blocker but injuries halted meteoric NFL rise

Former three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman and Chicago's longest-tenured homegrown player Kyle Long announced Sunday on Twitter that he’s retiring as a member of the Bears.

“Some Chicagoans are probably happy to hear I’m finally stepping away and getting my body right,” Long tweeted. “Some Chicagoans may be said to hear this. Either way u feel about it, I want you to know how lucky I am to have spent time in your city. I became a man while playing in Chicago. Thank you.”

Long's modesty aside, Bears fans surely will be sorry to see one of the team's tougher, more affable and respected players walk away from a career that began spectacularly but unfortunately like too many was derailed by injuries.

Long, 31, the son of Hall of Famer Howie and younger brother of fellow recently retired NFL star Chris, was selected 20th overall in the 2013 draft by former GM Phil Emery. A talented but raw one-year starter at Oregon, Long made a seamless NFL transition, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl nods and starting 47-of-48 games to begin his career.

"Special thanks to Phil Emery, Marc Trestman and the rest of that staff for bringing me in," Kyle Long tweeted. "Thanks to and happy birthday to the young lady named Virginia as well. Ryan Pace, thank you for keeping me around as well "

Unfortunately, each of Long’s last four seasons ended with trips to injured reserve, the most recent in October stemming from a hip issue. The ex-Oregon product and one of the NFL’s more naturally gifted offensive lineman missed a combined 34 games from 2016-19, when his body deteriorated physically following multiple ankle, shoulder, neck and knee injuries, among others.

Long’s injury-shortened 2019 was especially disappointing after he’d agreed to take a paycut and participated in every offseason and training camp practice following a 2018 offseason in which he underwent three separate surgeries. He'd reshaped his body following complications from an ankle operation and was in his best shape in years. Long also said over the summer he was in the best place mentally and physically that he'd been in since his rookie season, on the heels of returning from short-term IR in 2018 in time to make his first and what appears will have been his last postseason appearance.

The hip injury — announced via his trip to IR after he played every snap of the Week 5 loss to the Raiders in London following his return from a separate knee ailment that sidelined him the previous game — also created a domino effect on an underachieving Bears offensive line that returned all five starters. None were more accomplished than its senior member Long, at his best a mauling run-game catalyzer and dependable pass protector.

Sadly, it's been a long time since we've seen him at his best. He was briefly suspended by the team in training camp when his infamous temper raged in a practice fight during which Long swung a helmet at teammate Jalen Dalton. And it became clear early in the season that the brief, better health fortune he seemed to experience in the spring and summer had run out.

Long, who agreed at the peak of his powers to move from his dominating RG post to right tackle on the eve of the 2015 regular season to compensate for the team's poor planning, and who played through myriad maladies, including a torn shoulder labrum, is the kind of player every quarterback wants in his bunker. His legacy may be a bit complicated, but he was undoubtedly one of Emery's bigger draft successes and made positive and lasting contributions to three different Bears regimes during his memorable seven-year career.

Bears tab Juan Castillo as new OL coach

Posted on January 5, 2020 - 16:08:00

Longtime Eagles assistant was out of NFL in 2019 but brings two-plus decades of experience to Bears

One day after firing four assistants — including offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and OL coach Harry Hiestand — Matt Nagy began assembling his 2020 coaching staff with the hiring of new OL coach Juan Castillo, NFL Media's Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday.

Castillo, 60, brings more than two decades of NFL assistant coaching experience to Chicago, where he'll reunite with Nagy after they teamed on the Eagles staff under Andy Reid from 2008-12. Castillo preceded Nagy — and Reid — in Philadelphia, beginning with the Eagles as an offensive assistant in 1995, with a year stint as tight ends coach and two seasons as defensive coordinator flanking his 12-year run overseeing the Eagles offensive line.

Castillo was last in the NFL in 2018 with the Buffalo Bills, coaching the offensive line and coordinating their run game for two seasons, following four years with the Baltimore Ravens in similar roles. While it would be difficult to argue he brings better credentials to the Bears than Hiestand, Castillo's previous rapport with Nagy almost certainly was a factor in his hiring.

And we'll soon find out whether Nagy goes back to his Reid roots to replace Helfrich, like Hiestand, a first-time colleague of the Bears coach last season. If so, two potential names to consider might be Pat Shurmur, who was fired as head coach of the New York Giants this week following two seasons; and Marty Morninwheg, a fellow former head coach and longtime offensive coordinator who was out of the NFL last season after parting ways with the Baltimore Ravens in 2018.

The Bears announced the firings of the four assistants Tuesday roughly 90 minutes after Nagy and Ryan Pace completed their season-ending news conference, in which the head coach was specifically asked about staff changes and said he was still reflecting and working through the decisions.

Chicago finished a disappointing 2019 campaign that began with Super Bowl ambitions at 8-8 largely because of its steep decline on offense, from a top-10 unit in points scored and third down and red zone efficiency to one of the league's worst.

Castillo's previous experience working specifically with the Eagles rushing attacks, including those headed by dynamic lead backs in Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, will naturally shine the spotlight brightly on his tutelage of David Montgomery and role in rectifying the Bears' broken run game.

But with at least four starting offensive linemen under contract and likely returning in 2020, whether Castillo can coax more from a unit that's struggled with consistency — especially creating movement on the ground — should help determine whether the Bears' problems are rooted more in coaching or personnel. Clearly, the Bears are convinced it's the former.

Ask Hub: Why did the Bears fire Hiestand — and what about new O-line coach Juan Castillo?

Posted on January 3, 2020 - 20:15:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions weekly

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions every week:

What do you think of the Castillo hire? Submitted by Whyld Weasel

Whyld, I can tell you for a fact the problem with the O-line wasn’t coaching. I’m not saying Hiestand had his best year, or that he’s perfect, but you have to have the talent. The drop-off from a healthy and focused Kyle Long to any other lineman on the team is huge. Kyle appeared to be both healthy and focused throughout training camp but by Week 2 or Week 3 he didn’t look focused at all – as many mental errors as physical – and while I can’t speak to his health, shame on the Bears for not working him enough in the preseason to know where he was at health-wise.

Daniels and Whitehair were coming along fine at center and guard until Long went down. I’m not saying they were great, or even good, but they were coming along fine. Their positions were switched either because Coward needed Whitehair next to him for help, or the coaches thought they were helping Mitch. Again I can’t say for sure but expect it was a little bit of both, and it was a big mistake.

It seemed to help for a few weeks but then they backslid.

Charles Leno is a below average left tackle. I’ve been saying it for three years now and was really taken aback when they gave him the contract extension a couple of years ago. The money wasn’t crazy but locked him in for a few years with a job he isn’t god enough for and that happens to be the most important spot on the line.

Bobby Massie was actually playing fairly well until the Vertigo week, and then he still came back decently before the ankle went and he missed the last third of the season.

Cornelius Lucas actually did a pretty nice job as the backup swing tackle, but he’s still a backup.

If they put Daniels back at center and Whitehair back at guard, both can be perennial Pro Bowlers and that’s a great place to start with your front. It’s not they can’t play the other spots, it’s just that they don’t play them nearly as well.

I have to watch more tape on Coward but he seemed to be improving, and I’m fascinated by Alex Bars. If they want more competition there you can find really good guards in the middle or late rounds of the draft, and they should re-sign Ted Larsen if they can as he can play both guard spots or center and is an excellent backup at all three spots.

Whether it’s through a trade, free agency or the draft, they have to find better options at left tackle. Over the past three seasons, Leno is among the NFL’s leaders in penalties, he can’t handle a speed rush to save his life and he isn’t physical enough in the run game. The problem is if you get a good one, the position is expensive unless you outsmart everyone and find a left tackle on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft.

But, if you upgrade left tackle and stabilize the interior with Daniels and Whitehair in the right spots, and either Bars or Coward or both become the player Hiestand thinks/thought they could be, you can get away with Massie at right tackle and Larsen and Lucas are nice depth.

They really only need new blood at left tackle, and if they find the right guy you’ve upgraded the whole group adding just one player.

They were good enough to win 12 games in ’18 with Leno at left tackle and Tom Compton stepping in for Long, so obviously Whitehair, Daniels and Massie can play.

As bad as they were up front in ’19, they may not be as far away as you think.

Agreed. Cannot do anything today. Free Agency will tell. Submitted by Ed Bailey-Mershon

Don’t see/hear a question here Ed, but I’m guessing you’re referring to my column and tweets about what fans were freaking out so much about the Tuesday season-ender press conference with Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.

The general reaction from fans seemed to range everywhere from disappointment to outrage, and I just don’t get it.

Pace and Nagy may not turn out to be the answers, but they’re definitely not stupid, they see the issues as clearly as we do, actually almost certainly more clearly than we do because they’re pros and we’re not.

But the best way to fix it is to improve the players they can and try and get something in return for the ones they can’t, and neither of those efforts is benefited — in fact both suffer tremendously by the G.M. and/or head coach saying we suck, we stink or we blew our jobs this year.

And how do fans benefit from hearing them say it?

If you think they don’t know it, you’re wrong.

Come about May 15th or June 1st we can judge what we think they knew and whether we think they’ve fixed things, stayed the same or made things worse.

Until then, let them do their jobs, and when we see what they’ve done then we’ll have some actual evidence of what they were thinking, what they knew and what we believe they didn’t.

What position do Bears target with their second round picks? Submitted by Dan Murphy

Which position do you address first as the top priority in the off-season? Submitted by Greg L.

Dan and Greg, most of that depends on what’s available when they pick and we’re still in the early stages of preparing for the draft.

If Tua goes back to Alabama — which I’m guessing is what he will do — that could mean one or two potential first- or second-round QBs go sooner than the Bears would like, but until we know which underclassmen are coming out, we don’t even know how deep that group will be.

Either way I don’t see the Bears taking a QB at 43 or 50 unless someone like a Jalen Hurts or Tua was to drop that low and that’s unlikely to happen.

I think they’ll sign one of the other failed young veteran free agents – Mariota, Winston, etc. — and Draft a QB on Day 3.

I’d rank the Bears' greatest needs as tight end, left tackle, safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played well, but I don’t see him back with Bears), edge rusher, running back (I like Montgomery but you need two and Cohen is a hybrid, not a number two RB, and they obviously don’t trust Ryan Nall) and inside linebacker — depending on how they handle all their own free agents there.

You can get a great tight end prospect at 43 or 50, left tackle is a little tougher to address there, but it also gets a lot harder to find a left tackle the further down you drop.

Where do you think Philip Rivers ends up playing next year? Keep seeing the Colts linked to him--any chance the Bears might be interested? Seems like Bears intent on giving Mitch every chance to succeed. Thanks Hub Submitted by Steve Simmons

Steve, I’m a Philip Rivers guy, but he’s about as far away from a good fit in Nagy’s offense as you can find and we’ve learned anything Matt is reluctant to get away from his scheme.

Rivers running RPOs seems about as likely as Akiem Hicks moving to tight end.

The Colts would be a good fit. Jacoby Brissett moves better than folks realize for a big man, but Frank Reich is much more comfortable with a pure drop-back passer – see Andrew Luck, although he was much better on the move than most too – and if Luck is truly done it could make sense.

Most likely scenarios are Rivers stays in L.A. or retires, and while Brady and Brees are also free agents, I just don’t see them going to new teams in their 40s.

Which of the available QBs is best suited to run the Nagy offense Submitted by J. Andrew Moss

Hub do you think the Bears will bring in another QB who can truly compete for the job?Submitted by Jason Harbaugh

What’s the latest on Alex Smith recovery? If he recovers to play again, is the bears a real possibility for him? I like the idea over re-signing chase Daniel but nervous with the leg injury if he would be the same player as before.

I know, Jason and J. Andrew, that a lot of folks don’t want to hear it, but far and away the best option available among free agents is Colin Kaepernick – assuming he’s still at least 90-100 percent of what he was when he last played. If so he’s a perfect fit and by far the most accomplished of any of those type of guys available with one exception.

Obviously, Alex Smith works too. Ironically, the 49ers gave up on him for Kaepernick, and athletically, Kaepernick is a better fit, but clearly Smith and Nagy would be like hand in glove.

The problem there is as much as I admire the guy and his commitment and effort, it’s hard to imagine Smith making it all the way back in his mid 30s after at last count I believe 17 surgeries on that leg.

I asked Nagy a couple weeks ago if he had been staying in touch with Smith and he said he talked to him on the sideline at the Washington game early in the year but otherwise he had not, but whether he was just blowing smoke I have no idea.

Of the younger free agents, I wouldn’t want any part of Jameis Winston – not worried about off-the-field stuff so much as all the picks – so Marcus Mariota is probably the best fit, but if they were thinking that way I doubt they would have jettisoned Mark Helfrich, who’s gotten the most out of him of anyone he’s ever played for.

Tyrod Taylor is probably the next best fit.

Teddy Bridgewater is going to get big money to be someone’s franchise guy, and that’s not where they should be looking at least until next year when Mitch has to either be the guy or not.

Do you see the Bears making substantial changes to the O-Line and TE groups? And also adding a 3rd pass rusher who can actually rush the QB, not Lynch who just jumps offsides. Submitted by Nick Mear

Nick, they have no choice!

I don’t know about significant personnel changes on the offensive line, but if they don’t make a change at left tackle and settle the RG spot at the least, 2020 will be a repeat of last season up front.

They will bring in at least two new tight ends, quite possibly both "Y" or “starters,” not the U that is more of a substitution position and where they may be okay with Trey Burton, Jesper Horsted and Dax Raymond competing.

Your thoughts on Pace end of year presser? Is this 'GM speak,' or does he honestly believe what he's saying? And why can't be as forthright as what we're seeing from Chris Ballard's presser? Submitted by Chris Brownson

Chris, I haven’t seen Ballard’s year-ender yet, so I can really comment on that. But I know Chris is a lot more available to the media and fans than Ryan, he’s a lot more of a shoot-from-the-hip-type guy and he doesn’t pretend that he and Frank Reich are equals. Ballard is the boss in Indy and a lot freer to speak his mind — which gets him a lot more credit when things go right, and a lot more blame when they don’t.

Pace prefers the team approach, and he and Nagy really are joined at the hip and they are going to be a lot more careful with what they say so they don’t risk putting their partner on the spot.

The answer to your question: 90 percent of what we get from Ryan is “GM speak,” which is fine when you’re winning, but obviously didn’t satisfy a lot of folks this week.

Truth is, though, who cares who’s satisfied the week after the season when you’ve known for three weeks you’re out of the playoffs anyway?

If the Bears are back in the playoffs in 2020, nobody’s going to be talking about or even remembering last Tuesday’s conversation.

Being forthright and blunt as an NFL Executive works for some guys but can be a death knell for others.

Few guys recently have been as up front as John Dorsey was in Cleveland and Kansas City before that, and how did it work out for him?

Interesting to note that Ballard was under Dorsey in Kansas City and that’s where he learned some of his style. We’ll see where he’s at in 12 months — still pointing up, I hope, because I like him, but ...

If Trubisky makes it you won’t care what Ryan said this week, and if he doesn’t Pace is screwed no matter what he said along the way.

By the same token, he knows he missed on Shaheen and that experiment should probably be over, but if there’s any chance of getting a sixth- or seventh-round pick for him, why not try and work it?

Bears' Cordarrelle Patterson named AP All Pro for the fifth time in seven-year career

Posted on January 3, 2020 - 14:30:00

Chicago's dynamic returner/gunner even better than advertised, helping to spark much-improved third phase

The ace of the Bears' much-improved third phase, Cordarrelle Patterson on Friday was named a member of the 2019 Associated Press All Pro team as the first-team kick returner and second-team special teamer.

A seven-year veteran, Patterson is an AP All Pro for the fifth time, and in November he became the first Bear since Devin Hester to earn Special Teams Player of the Month, after taking his seventh career kickoff back for a touchdown. His next kickoff return TD would tie Patterson with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for the most ever.

Signed last offseason to a two-year, $10 million deal to energize the NFL's worst kickoff return unit in football in 2018, Patterson led the league with 825 yards and finished first in the NFC with a 29.5-yard average on 28 kickoff returns. Considering he's No. 2 on the all-time list with a 29.9-yard career clip, trailing only Bears legend Gale Sayers, Patterson's success, while undoubtedly impressive, perhaps wasn't shocking.

More surprising and at least equally impressive, Patterson got the second-team nod for his work as a gunner on punt coverage, with five tackles — trailing only Nick Kwiatkoski and Sherrick McManis — and several downed punts near the goal line, including two clutch ones inside the 10-yard line to help the Bears beat the Giants in Week 12.

"What he did today on special teams was second to none," Matt Nagy said afterward. "The way that field position flipped, for him to get down there and make those plays, watching him there on the Gunner, running downfield, making plays, and then he made that saving tackle there on the one punt return, I had a click of it, he jumped out of nowhere and made a saving tackle. I really appreciate that. That's who he is. He takes a lot of pride in how he does that."

The Bears might not have maximized Patterson's unique blend of speed and strength on offense, where the contributed 28 touches for 186 yards from scrimmage, but he was even better than advertised on special teams.

Patterson, who was also recently named to the Pro Bowl, suffered a concussion during the regular-season finale in Minnesota. He's the Bears' lone AP All-Pro representative, after the team led the NFL with four selectees last season.

Bears strike extension with Pro Bowler Eddie Jackson, making him NFL's highest-paid safety

Posted on January 3, 2020 - 11:46:00

Chicago's feared playmaking defensive back becomes first eligible player from 2017 draft to sign second deal

One of the game's more dangerous playmaking defenders just became its highest paid at the safety position.

The Bears reached a contract extension Friday with 26-year-old Pro Bowl S Eddie Jackson worth up to $58.4 million, pacing all safeties with an annual average of $14.6 million ($33 million fully guaranteed) and making him the first player from the 2017 draft to earn a second deal.

comp:00005e09cab6:0000000029:2799 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">PAID. 💰 4 more years of <a href="https://twitter.com/BoJack39?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BoJack39</a> in Chicago. <br><br>$58.4M, $33M total guarantee. His<br>$14.6M yearly average makes him the highest paid safety in the <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BoJack?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BoJack</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LegendsLiveHere?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LegendsLiveHere</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BearDown?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BearDown</a> <a href="https://t.co/SDqmHLJ7cl">pic.twitter.com/SDqmHLJ7cl</a></p>&mdash; SportsTrust Advisors (@_SportsTrust) <a href="https://twitter.com/_SportsTrust/status/1213142423850946566?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 3, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 2

Jackson leads the NFL with five defensive return touchdowns since his arrival as a fourth-round pick (No. 112 overall) in 2017 out of Alabama. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, earning the starting job out of camp and becoming the first player in NFL history with two defensive return touchdowns of at least 75 yards in a game in Week 7, one year to the day that his Tide career was abruptly halted by a broken leg.

The rangy and instinctive ball hawk followed that up by picking off a career-high six passes in 2018 en route to being named a first team All Pro. Although he managed only two interceptions and five breakups this past season, Jackson played closer to the line of scrimmage following the departure of Adrian Amos in new coordinator Chuck Pagano's scheme yet remained among the league's stingiest coverage defenders (NFL's lowest completion percentage over expectation and fewest completed air yards over expectation, per Next Gen Stats) while reducing his missed tackle percentage by more than two points (from 17.7 to 15.5 percent).

Jackson — who has 10 interceptions, 26 pass breakups and four forced fumbles, in addition to 184 tackles in his first three seasons combined — didn't complain once about his altered role in a potential contract year, one of the clearest signs of him maturing into a leader on a star-studded defense that now includes the game's top-earning safety and highest-paid defender in NFL history, Khalil Mack.

Thus, after making his best draft pick to date the organization's top offseason priority re-signing, Ryan Pace and Co. may have to do some belt tightening with other starters on that unit set to hit free agency, including Jackson's running mate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and ILBs Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski.

But securing arguably their second-best defender, in the prime of his career, is a huge win-win for a player who may have been drafted a lot earlier had he not been injured and for a team and general manager who fortunately found a blue-chip talent later in the 2017 draft after picking Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick and Adam Shaheen at No. 45 overall. Jackson has proven himself as a core building block for the Bears, who likely saved some paper by getting the deal done now rather than waiting until first-time first- and second-team All Pros Jamal Adams and Justin Simmons — also eligible for extensions for the first time — are locked up.

As for the regrettable portion of the 2017 draft, Trubisky and Shaheen, upgrading the talent alongside them in the QB and TE rooms, respectively, may now rate as the Bears' top offseason priorities with Jackson's deal done. Although there are other in-house extension candidates — including one or both of the aforementioned linebackers and possibly Allen Robinson, who has one year remaining on his three-year, $42 million deal — those decisions could be put on the backburner as the Bears mull how to solve their vexing issues on offense, beginning with rebuilding a more competitive QB room.

Hub Arkush: Coaching changes likely just the start to busy Bears offseason

Posted on January 2, 2020 - 18:13:00

Team must address lack of talent at key positions

So the first major move of the 2020 offseason for the Chicago Bears is to clear out half of their offensive coaching staff, primarily everyone involved in the run game and their assistant special teams coach, and then add a new offensive line coach before the recently departed have even cleared the Halas Hall parking lot.

It is not at all surprising that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride and assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo are gone, nor is it in the least bit curious that Juan Castillo – while not yet confirmed by the team – seems destined to fill Hiestand’s job.

What is terribly disappointing is the way it was handled and what is extremely curious is whether or not Castillo will be able to carry Hiestand’s water.

Asked Tuesday if there would be changes to the coaching staff Nagy’s answer was, “That's part of the reflection stuff I talked about a few days ago. We're working through that. So fresh to being out of this, we're going to look at everything right now.

“I think it's our job, my job, to make sure the reflection process is done the right way. Regardless of the timeline, we want to make sure they're the right decisions.”

Nagy either lied, clearly knowing as he answered the questions there would be changes, or best case, he intentionally misled.

What would have been wrong with simply saying, "Yes, we’re making a few changes but can’t announce them yet?"

These Bears are having issues communicating with a large segment of their fan base right now and it’s moments like those that cause the problem.

I believe Helfrich saw what was coming. Asked the Thursday before the final game in Minneapolis if he expected there to be changes to the staff Helfrich replied, “We haven't discussed that yet specifically, but every offseason is in essence the same.

“The same thing happens every year. That's something that, when you're in this business, stuff happens and that's a possibility.”

There was no "I’d certainly like to be back." It just felt like he already had a foot out the door.

How meaningful is his departure?

That's really tough to gauge. With Nagy calling plays and seemingly micromanaging the offense, we never did know exactly what Helfrich’s role was or how he’d be evaluated.

Gilbride is equally tough to evaluate. Is he being blamed for the shortcomings of Adam Shaheen three seasons later?

That would be unfair, but it’s hard to point to any wins he's responsible for either.

Olivo is an unknown, particularly after improvements almost across the board this year on special teams. But Chris Tabor is the boss there, and we have to assume Olivo doesn’t get the axe there without his buy-in.

The real puzzler though is Hiestand.

Just start with Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey at left and right tackle, Nick Martin at center, Zack Martin at right guard and Quenton Neslon at left guard. That’s a young NFL, Pro Bowl offensive line all developed by Hiestand at Notre Dame.

Olin Kreutz, Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza, all starters on the Bears 2006 Super Bowl offensive line have all told me at one time or another Hiestand is the best O-line coach they’ve ever played for.

A year ago, Charles Leno, a below average NFL left tackle was a Pro Bowl alternate playing for Hiestand. Did he suddenly become a bad coach?

When Castillo almost immediately was identified to fill the O-line role things became much clearer.

He was the offensive line coach in Philadelphia with Any Reid when Nagy got his first NFL job in 2008, and they were together there until 2010.

We have to assume that Nagy and Hiestand just weren’t a good fit for each other because while Hiestand may have had additional responsibilities with the running game, it was Nagy and Helfrich’s run game, not his.

All Bears fans now need to hope Nagy and Pace have gotten and will get their first big moves of the offseason right. But if they don’t address the lack of talent at tight end, tackle and backup running back, none of these moves are going to matter.

What we learned in our first visit with GM Ryan Pace since before Bears' disappointing 2019 campaign

Posted on January 2, 2020 - 14:06:00

Chicago values Leonard Floyd's versatility ... but how much remains to be seen; plus, Shaheen still standing and Pineiro on solid footing

Our visit Tuesday with Ryan Pace in his first availability since Sept. 2 spanned roughly 35 minutes and was so exhaustively focused on QB Mitch Trubisky that the general manager wasn't queried for a rookie evaluation of Trubisky's backfield mate David Montgomery, and the subject of Roquan Smith's complicated sophomore season wasn't even broached.

Still, there was important ground covered irrespective of Trubisky and the Bears' most recent top picks, and because our focus Tuesday was mostly on the quarterback, several players rehabbing offseason surgeries, and Matt Nagy and his coaching staff changes, we're switching gears and sharing what we heard from team brass on Leonard Floyd, Adam Shaheen and Eddy Pineiro, along with out interpretations.

Floyd love keeps flowing: "We're happy with Leonard. I know the stats don't always say that. Leonard does a lot of things that go a little undervalued. ... For him, he plays with such a high motor. He plays physical. He played the run really well this year. Again, there's a lot of things in coverage that he does that a lot of outside linebackers in the NFL can't do," Pace said.

Bears Insider take: In a potential contract season, Floyd managed a career-low three sacks. That disappointment was magnified by Khalil Mack's declined productivity and Akiem Hicks' half-season-long absence, resulting in the Bears ranking only 27th in sack percentage — down from No. 9 last season — and finishing No. 22 in the NFL in ESPN's new metric pass rush win rate.

Suffice to say, the play of the Bears' three highest-paid pass rushers is intertwined. For instance, with Hicks out of the equation and Floyd struggling to win individual matchups, Bears opponents opted to deploy chip help to Mack on 58 snaps, the third-highest total in the NFL, according to PFF.

It stands to reason, then, that the Bears might covet next season a Mack bookend who can take greater advantage of so many one-on-ones than Floyd, who hasn't lived up to expectations rushing the passer as a former No. 9 overall pick but is slated to earn a top-10 EDGE salary of $13.2 million on his fifth-year team option.

Pace wouldn't get into contract specifics on any player — including Floyd — and it wouldn't behoove the Bears to do so for someone who could have trade value. Our hunch is that the two sides could look to strike a long-term agreement that would give Floyd more security at a price tag better reflective of his versatility but also limitations as a rusher.

Shaheen's last stand?: "Shaheen is talented. I think what's hurt his development, especially being small school, is the time he missed. When he's played, we've liked what we have seen. He just hasn't put it out there long enough."

Bears Insider take: The 45th overall selection in the 2017 draft, Adam Shaheen was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 30 with a foot issue — or so we're told. It was more than a bit curious that Shaheen first was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career the week after inexcusably fumbling a squib kick at the end of the Eagles game and prior to popping up on the injury report for the first time all season. Moreover, when Nagy was simply asked whether Shaheen hurt the same foot that cost him half of the 2018 campaign, he wasn't sure.

It should be clear by now that Shaheen has been unable to compensate for the massive jump from Ashland University to the NFL in large part because he's lacking in functional strength and athleticism. Pace perhaps protecting another of his recent high draft picks did no one any favors from an aesthetics standpoint, but we get it for the same reason we outlined above with Floyd. What we simply cannot get behind is Pace using Shaheen's lack of availability as an excuse for his failure to develop after Nagy certainly appeared at least to decide he was done with the experiment for reasons unrelated to injury.

Pace said Shaheen will be be back for his final season, using the same broad explanation we heard multiple times — he's under contract — but it should be most obvious to the general manager that the Bears would be acting recklessly entering the offseason by counting on anything from Shaheen at a position whose barreness crippled the offense.

Kick starter: "The goal the whole time was to hit on a young kicker that we can grow. We feel like we've done that with Eddy. He finished the season strong, made 11 straight field goals. We feel like he's going to continue to get better," Pace said.

Bears Insider take: Pace also said that the Bears are "very proud" of the outcome of their well-documented and unorthodox kicker battle last offseason, and Pineiro's grounded approach "is going to carry him a long way."

That could all certainly be accurate, but if we've learned anything when it comes to the Bears and kickers, it's to take things one step at a time. Pineiro finished the season on a strong note, literally hitting a game-winner in the regular-season finale on his 11th consecutive conversion. It should be noted, though, that only five of his 23 conversions (on 28 attempts) was from 40 yards or farther, and Nagy clearly lost trust at least temporarily in the first-year kicker following the missed would-be game-winner vs. the Chargers.

But it's probably safe to assume the Bears won't need a separate field at Halas Hall to accommodate place-kicking challengers this spring.

Hub Arkush: Bears brass concludes centennial season with promise of change

Posted on December 31, 2019 - 16:19:00

What's unclear is how realistic Bears are about how much change is needed

My overriding reaction to what happened at Halas Hall Tuesday in Ryan Pace’s and Matt Nagy’s season-ending press conference: What exactly did you expect?

Anyone who hoped for definitive answers on the futures of Mitch Trubisky, Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, Charles Leno, Leonard Floyd, Nick Kwiatkoski, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and others, that’s your bad, not Pace’s or Nagy’s.

The NFL is a cold and often cruel business in which players — more than friends, fathers, sons and brothers — are just assets.

Diminishing any remaining value they may have by throwing them under the bus would just be compounding a disappointing season with a final act of stupidity.

At 3:00 p.m. Chicago time on Mar. 18th, the 2020 “league year” will begin. Until then, other than perhaps the re-signing of one or a few of their own free agents, or restructuring of an existing deal to create salary cap space, we aren’t really going to learn anything about the 2020 Chicago Bears.

So although Nagy told us he hadn’t gotten to any potential coaching changes yet, only to learn via Twitter an hour or so later that Mark Helfrich, Harry Hiestand, Kevin Gilbride and Brock Olivo had all been fired was disappointing, it probably assuaged the concerns of some of the haters that nothing was going to change.

I think the firing of Hiestand is a huge mistake, but we’ll save that for another day.

What I can’t understand is how the Twitter-verse was filled with frustrated fans howling at the moon about how dare the Bears claim all is well.

That is clearly not what Pace and Nagy had to say.

Specifically, when asked how he could expect Bears Nation to believe things would improve with a struggling quarterback and play-caller returning, Pace told us, “We sit here today disappointed in our season. Obviously, we expect more of ourselves, from our team. We didn't hit the goals we set out to achieve.

“The next four or five months are about hard decisions, honestly, decisions that require an honest assessment of our roster and our entire football operation.

“It is about identifying problems, gaining clarity on the issues, doing whatever it takes to solve them.

“Our head is not in the sand, that everything is fine. Not at all.

“We never want this feeling in our guts ever again.

“I think if you look throughout our team, we were disappointed in a number of things.

“When I talk about hard decisions in the next four to five months, that's us stepping back, letting the emotions subside, what are the problems, what are the solutions, how are we going to fix that. We're all on board with that.”

That’s good enough for me, for now.

Obviously, Mitch Trubisky is the Bears starting quarterback, until he isn’t anymore.

But there was one spin on that which cannot fly.

Pace, Nagy, team Chairman George McCaskey and Ted Phillips obviously rehearsed their talking points and were all singing from the same hymns book about Trubisky.

Asked why they still believe in Mitch, each in turn essentially repeated, we’ve seen the flashes of the great things he can do; now we just need consistency.

Digging a little deeper, Nagy offered that his young QB has to get better at reading defenses and making the right decisions.

I have seen the flashes, and I agree there may still be something there to covet.

But when you are bad more often than you are good, that’s not about consistency, that’s about learning the position and getting better.

Reading defenses and making the right decisions, that’s about learning the position, too— it has little to do with consistency — and too many great QB prospects show a lot more flashes than Mitch has but never become “the guy.”

I’m all for continuing the experiment, and I’m actually pulling for the kid, I really am.

But let’s make sure we don’t pretend he’s closer than he is, it’s going to be easier than we think or that there is anything acceptable about not having a real plan B this time when the 2020 season begins.

Bears planning on Mitch Trubisky being the starter in 2020

Posted on December 31, 2019 - 15:13:00

But with evaluations ongoing, Bears' Pace not ready to commit to Trubisky's fifth-year option in 2021

The Bears still plan on Mitch Trubisky being their starter in 2020, despite significant steps backward by the former No. 2 overall pick and offense this past season, his second in Matt Nagy’s system.

But Bears GM Ryan Pace wasn't ready Tuesday in his annual end-of-season press conference to commit to picking up Trubisky's fifth-year option for 2021, at a price tag north of $25 million. Chicago has until May to exercise the option — which is guaranteed for injury only — and will take more time to evaluate Trubisky, unlike a year ago, when the organization confirmed in January it would exercise Leonard Floyd's option.

“We do [feel confident he'll remain the Week 1 starter]," Pace said. "With Mitch, we need more time in the coming months to evaluate everything. The first thing that comes to mind for me is just consistency. You see moments, you see games, but for him streaming together better consistency. You have the peaks and valleys. We just need to flatten that out."

Pace again pointed out that QB development isn't linear, and though Trubisky's growth hasn't come at nearly the accelerated rate of Patrick Mahomes, the reigning MVP whom the Bears passed on to select Trubisky, and soon-to-be MVP Lamar Jackson — both earning the award in their first full season as starters —the Bears see enough potential long-term benefits in continuing to back the embattled 25-year-old quarterback.

It's worth noting with many Bears fans likely unsatisified in what they heard Tuesday from Pace, that there's no benefit to declaring now that there will be an open QB competition in 2020, or that the team is done with Trubisky. The Bears have only him under contract in their QB corps, where Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray are impending free agents. Pace made it clear the Bears have tough decisions to make in that room, likely heading toward a rebuild.

But how aggressively Pace seeks a starter-caliber veteran who can step in, a la Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee this season and Nick Foles in Philadelphia during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run two years ago, will be far more telling than anything we heard Tuesday as to how the team feels about Trubisky.

“I think we're looking to increase competition at every position. Mitch is our starter. We believe in Mitch and we believe in the progress that he's going to continue to make,” Pace said. “But two of the three players in that room are free agents. We’ve got to look at it. The quarterback room is critical, it's important for us. We're always going to try to make it better. But as far as who it is, what we're going to do, we're not there yet.”

The theme of Pace and Nagy’s nearly 35-minute press conference Tuesday essentially was that Trubisky isn’t where he needs to be yet, either, but the Bears remain confident that he can take the offense where it needs to go. Pace said one of the general manager's strengths is separating his emotions from objective decision making, which is critical considering he made a legacy-defining move up for Trubisky, who has yet to reward the general manager’s faith in making the selection.

But Pace said that he and Nagy, who was nine months after Trubisky’s arrival, only grew closer during the trying season. The general manager praised the “commitment” that Nagy and QB coach Dave Ragone have to continuing to develop his hand-picked quarterback.

“They're steadfast in seeing that through, working through him. I think the goal is for them to all see things the same way,” Pace said. “That's hard when you got a guy who has a master’s in this area and you have a young quarterback that's developing. I just appreciate the relationships and the passion and the work they all put into it.”

Chicago’s Trubisky-led offense regressed across the board in 2019, when it finished No. 29 in points scored and the quarterback’s completion percentage, average yards per attempt and passer rating, among other key quarterbacking metrics, plummeted. Pace said Tuesday it’s easy to point to one “villain,” but plenty of other elements on offense aside from Trubisky fell short of expectations.

Nagy said atop Trubisky’s to-do list this offseason will be continuing to hone his decision making and ability to read defenses.

“Our first year here, I thought Mitch did a really good job at understanding the importance of getting in and out of the huddle with the verbiage that we have. We've also learned not just with him, but with our players how to use that,” Nagy said.

“The next step we talked a lot about this past year, level 202. How do you see the defense? Is that front, stunts, blitzes, first wide vision with the motion or a shift, seeing the Mike rotation?

Let's now put all that together and understand now how defenses are going to try to trick you. Let's not get tricked. If we do that, we slow the game down, we collectively get other parts of this offense fixed, which I know we can, and that's our job. That's the exciting part, looking for solutions, staying positive, believing in people, and getting this thing done.”

Bears Insider Podcast 182: What did Ryan Pace have to say?

Posted on December 31, 2019 - 15:07:25

Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush break down what exactly Ryan Pace had to say at his season-ending news conference on New Year's Eve.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

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Bears fire four assistants, including offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and OL coach Harry Hiestand

Posted on December 31, 2019 - 13:13:00

Chicago also expected to part ways with TE coach Gilbride and special teams assistant Olivo, per report

After an 8-8 season that GM Ryan Pace said was "about regression and inconsistencies in too many areas" — especially throughout the NFL's 29th-ranked offense in points scored — the Bears fired offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and TE coach Kevin Gilbride, as well as special teams assistant Brock Olivo on Tuesday.

The Bears confirmed the news — first reported by The Athletic's Adam Jahns — an hour or so after coach Matt Nagy said he was stll reflecting and "working through" those decisions.

All four assistants were hired as part of head coach Matt Nagy's new staff in 2018, with Hiestand returning for a second stint with the Bears after serving in the same post under former coach Lovie Smith for five years, including the franchise's last Super Bowl season.

For Helfrich, the ex-University of Oregon head coach, it was his first NFL opportunity, and though he technically was the Bears' offensive coordinator, he really held the title in name only with Nagy calling his own plays. But in light of the vast success Helfrich had designing run games in college with the Ducks and the fact that the Bears finished 29th and 27th in the NFL in yards per attempt during his tenure, it's perhaps safe to assume that was one of the deciding factors.

Hiestand is a longtime NFL assistant whose unit sharply regressed this season despite returning all five starters, albeit with Cody Whitehair and James Daniels flip-flopping positions to begin the season. But Whitehair was moved back to center around midseason, in part, the Bears said, to supply more experience at the pivot next to RG Rashaad Coward, a converted collegiate defensive lineman who took over the starting reins following Kyle Long's season-ending IR trip.

Hiestand was also supposed to be a key figure in designing and orchestrating the Bears' run game that has yet to gain traction under Nagy.

Gilbride, the son of former Super Bowl-winning Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride Sr., arguably had the least among the jettisoned assistants to work with this season, when Trey Burton never recovered from offseason sports hernia surgery and Adam Shaheen basically cemented his bust status as the 45th overall pick in the 2017 draft out of tiny Ashland University.

There's no question the Bears offense was wholly disappointing, but Olivo helped special teams coordinator Chris Tabor oversee a much improved third phase, where Chicago had the NFL's best return tandem and overcame injuries to Sherrick McManis and playtime promotions on defense for Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis to field a very competitive unit.

The report comes only an hour or so after Ryan Pace called Eddy Pineiro's growth this season "something we're very proud of," and in addition to the kicker, praised "the collective effort from our coaches and scouts to thoroughly go through that."

Bears LB Roquan Smith, TE Trey Burton underwent recent surgeries and expected back by training camp

Posted on December 31, 2019 - 12:07:00

Plus, Anthony Miller headed for second left-shoulder operation in as many offseasons

Bears LB Roquan Smith (pectoral) and TE Trey Burton (hip) underwent recent surgeries to repair season-ending injuries and are expected back in time for training camp in July, GM Ryan Pace confirmed at his season-ending press conference Tuesday.

Pace also confirmed that WR2 Anthony Miller will require surgery on his left shoulder for the second time in as many offseasons and wouldn't rule out the possibility that QB Mitch Trubisky also may undergo surgery on his left shoulder.

Smith, 22, the eighth overall selection in the 2018 draft, had recently returned to his rookie form and was the Bears' leading tackler when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle on the first defensive series of the Week 15 win vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The injury halted a season that began with great promise after his Pro Bowl alternate rookie campaign but was marred by a surprise late deactivation in Week 4 for personal reasons, after which he clearly wasn't himself for a few weeks.

Burton, 28, hasn't been the same player since he was a late scratch from the wild-card defeat vs. his former team with a groin injury that required sports hernia surgery last offseason. In the second season of a four-year, $32 million deal, after posting career highs across the board in 2018, Burton managed only 14 catches for 84 yards in 8 games (five starts) prior to being placed on season-ending injured reserve.

The veteran "move" tight end will undergo hip surgery, which Pace said is related to the groin issue and, he hopes, will help fill the massive void from the TE position that contributed to the offense's derailing.

Anthony Miller, one of the Bears' bigger bright spots in the second half of 2019 on offense following a frustrating first half of his second season that included too many mental lapses, will soon undergo left shoulder surgery for the second consecutive offseason, Pace also confirmed Tuesday.

Miller was injured Sunday in Minnesota by Vikings S Andrew Sendejo on his first kick return of the season, a role he was only playing because Pro Bowler Cordarrelle Patterson suffered a concussion moments earlier.

This is something that we can get fixed. I know they're confident in the outcome of it," Pace said. "This is new news to us basically just yesterday that he's going to need this surgery. But we don't have any long-term concerns with him."

Miller played through a chronic left-shoulder dislocation and torn labrum during his rookie season in 2018, after the Bears traded back into the second round to select the Memphis product with the 51st overall pick. He led the team in receiving touchdowns despite the injury, but after missing the offseason rehabbing from surgery, he was unable to capitalize on that positive momentum early on this season. After catching only 16 passes for 211 yards in the first seven games, Miller came on like gangbusters in the second half of the season, with 36 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns in his final eight-plus games.

Bears free-agent LB Pierre-Louis: Whoever is going to be here is going to be a part of something special

Posted on December 30, 2019 - 17:19:00

Pierre-Louis, Williams impending free agents who answered bell, unlike too many 2019 Bears

Journeyman linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis has played on four different teams during his first six NFL seasons, including his first with the Bears in 2019.

Pierre-Louis went to the Super Bowl following the 2014 season as a fourth-round rookie and appeared in the AFC title game two years ago after his trade from Seattle to Kansas City. He's experienced a ton of team success as a reserve linebacker and special-teams stud, but this marks his second consecutive year of emptying out his locker on "Black Monday," rather than preparing for the postseason.

Pierre-Louis exceeded expectations as a spot starter on defense for the Bears this season, also playing a major role on special teams, where he was among the unit's leaders in tackles and snaps. Unfortunately, those contributions are likely to be overlooked because of two crushing running-into-the-kicker penalties, and Pierre-Louis' chances of re-signing with the Bears probably hinge on what happens to the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, fellow free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski.

But as a player who's already been on good teams and a a couple of bad ones in the NFL, he said Monday that from his experience, the Bears are squarely in the first category, a team more than equipped to rebound following a wholly disappointing year.

"8-8 is not what the Bears organization is. We fell a little short this year, and something special is here. I’ve been on a couple teams, and I’m able to realize what’s real and what’s not, and they have something that’s real here. Whoever is going to be here is going to be a part of something special."

Pierre-Louis' opportunity to start on 'D' with the Bears didn't come until late in the season after Roquan Smith tore his pectoral in Week 14. Thus, neither he nor fellow next-starter-up Nick Williams technically count among the mere two Week 1 starters who took time to talk to the media on get-away day, James Daniels and Bobby Massie.

But Williams, like Pierre-Louis, are among the few Bears who played over their heads in a season when too many clearly were in over their heads following last year's surprise 12-4 breakthrough. The hulking D-lineman Williams went from journeyman with 28 career appearances — including no starts and no sacks — in his first three-plus seasons to being the Bears' second-leading sack artist(6) and D-lineman in snaps played (49.4 percent).

“I think you see it in my play this year. I was given opportunity and I just made the most of it," Williams said. "But it’s [kind of] short-lived, going home 8-8, not making the playoffs. I just wanted to come in here and give this team a chance. We fell short, but I had a good season."

As a former street free agent, Williams said he'll likely have more fun in free agency this go-around, but his hope is to return to Chicago.

"I want to be a Bear. I love this organization. They’ve afforded me a lot of great opportunities. I like this locker room. I like my teammates. ... We'll be even hungrier next year."

Whether Williams, like Pierre-Louis and especially Kwiatkoski, priced himself out of returning obviously remains to be seen. Before the Bears can turn their attention to depth, they have far bigger decisions relative to their quarterback, offensive line and TE positions.

But in determining the value of some of their second-tier free agents, the Bears would be wise to consider the fact that they answered the bell when called upon, unlike a number of other Bears whose returns are assured if for no other reason than financially.

Accountability. How much of it will Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have for their large parts in the offense's regression? Hopefully at least as much as Pierre-Louis, who was still focused on his bad special-teams penalties — the first dating back to Week 5 — as he emptied his locker.

"I definitely want to look at my two things I did on special teams that were pretty critical," Pierre-Louis said of his self-evaluation. "I have to focus on that and really see how I can correct those mistakes."

The Bears need more Williams and Pierre-Louis types, not fewer.

Hub Arkush: More than 44 percent of Bears roster became at least temporarily unemployed Monday

Posted on December 30, 2019 - 13:43:00

'Black Monday' is about a lot more than coaches and general managers getting fired

The phrase "Black Monday" is most widely recognized in pop culture today for its connection to the NFL, but it is certainly not its origin.

The Irish believe "Black Monday" dates to the Monday of Easter week in 1209 and denotes the slaughter of hundreds of English settlers who had migrated to Dublin.

In America, it is first noted to have been used by a Democratic congressman from Mississippi, John Bell Williams, on the floor of the House on May 17, 1954 in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

It is likely most widely recognized in association with October 19, 1987, a day on which the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 508 points.

Though it has since lost more points in a single day, the 22.6 percent drop still represents the greatest single day crash in history.

All that is interesting, but my beat is still the National Football League. Most credit the coining of "Black Monday" as the day after the NFL’s final games of the regular season to a pair of writers from the Associated Press whose names I have been unable to track down who used it in a story for The New York Times in 1998.

In NFL circles it is used to refer to the firing of multiple coaches and general managers on the same day immediately after the season ends, but in reality it could also be used to refer to the moods and emotions of hundreds of players around the league from the 20 teams that will not be in the playoffs.

For example, by the time the doors of the Chicago Bears locker room were opened to the media Monday morning, many of the players were already gone, but of those that remained, most were in dark if not completely black moods.

It had little to do with not being in the playoffs, as that reality became clear a couple of weeks ago.

Of the 53 players on the Bears active roster at season’s end, nine on injured reserve and 10 on the practice squad, only 40 have contracts for the 2020 season.

Some of the 22 free agents and 10 practice squad players will be re-signed by the Bears, and others by other teams, but on “Black Monday” there were technically 32 unemployed players in the room.

Additionally, players under contract like Adam Shaheen, J.P. Holtz, Charles Leno, Javon Wims, Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods, to name a few, have to know their Bears futures are uncertain, while still more like Leonard Floyd, Prince Amukamara and Taylor Gabriel face the possibility of being 2020 salary cap casualties.

Even for those almost certain to return, looking around that locker room at friends and teammates they have lived, played, laughed, perhaps cried and gone to battle with, and knowing they are unlikely to be teammates with again made for a really dark day.

It’s a part of the business most of us not only never experience but have little context to fully understand and often don’t even think about.

Kevin Pierre-Louis has made a case to stay, but he is one of those free agents who described "Black Monday" this way.

“It is difficult because you grind with these guys every day.

“You get close to certain players, so knowing that you might not be there next year or someone else might not be there next year, it’s definitely tough.

“But it’s tough because you do blood, sweat and tears with these guys, you build these bonds, and it’s hard to let them go.”

Nick Williams knows the feelings of "Black Monday" all too well after stints in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Miami and being out of the league altogether in 2017.

“We’ll see what happens in the future.

“Obviously, I want to be back here. I want to be a Bear. I love this organization. They’ve afforded me a lot of great opportunities. I like this locker room. I like my teammates. We’ll see what happens.”

Fifty-one weeks ago, fresh off the “double doink” that ended last season, the pain in the room was palpable, but the mood more gray than black, and it quickly turned sunny off the great accomplishments and expectations for this season.

Monday it was just sad.

Hub Arkush: Are Bears any closer to their goal than they were when Matt Nagy arrived?

Posted on December 29, 2019 - 18:04:00

Bears' season-ending win in Minnesota leaves an empty feeling

I am a huge believer that it is always better to win than it is to lose. That the Bears managed to secure a 21-19 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, with Mitch Trubisky making the critical play on fourth-and-9 on the game-winning drive, finding rookie Riley Ridley behind the Vikings secondary and dropping a dime in while on the move to set up the game-winning 22 yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro — who was 4-for-4 on the day — are silver linings worth hanging on to.

So was a 23-113-1 rushing day from David Montgomery that seemed to cement the Bears do have a No. 1 running back heading into 2020.

However, it would be a huge mistake to make too much of anything the Bears got done in Minneapolis Sunday with what’s left of their first teams taking on the second and third teams of the Vikings, and a much bigger mistake to not make a ton out of what they couldn’t get done in the red zone and on third down on offense.

Sunday marked the 11th time this season the Bears offense failed to score a touchdown in the first half, frustrating enough on its own but let’s say it again, this time against guys who normally aren’t good enough to be on the field.

Matt Nagy appeared to figure it out at halftime and came out to start the second half with a drive that featured eight runs, six of them by David Montgomery for 57 yards, the first two NFL carries of Ryan Nall’s career for 8 yards and just one 10-yard pass to Riley Ridley, setting up Montgomery’s final rush of the drive, a 14-yard jaunt to the end zone he finished with half the Vikings defense on his back.

It was the kind of physical, smash-mouth football Bears fans have longed for.

The defense responded with a three-and-out, so of course the offense bounced back with more of the same ... right?

No.

After Montgomery added seven more yards on the ground to start the drive, the Bears threw the ball five times in a row before eventually stalling at their own 43 on a failed fourth-and-1 QB sneak from Trubisky.

The Vikings answered with an eight-play, 43-yard drive to close the score to 18-13, and the Bears came back with a three-and-out on three more passes.

That whole sequence – which led to the Bears blowing an 18-6 lead — was a microcosm of so much that disappointed in the 2019 season.

One of Nagy’s favorite expressions is to identify an issue and then say, “now we have to figure out the whys.”

We started the season wondering why the Bears couldn’t find any rhythm or consistency in their offense.

Now the season’s ended with the exact same “why” being asked with — to our knowledge — not a single change made to try and fix the problem.

Why, after 16 weeks following a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2018, did Mitch Trubisky appear to have no more pocket presence than he displayed the day he arrived in Chicago?

Stuck in the pocket Sunday, he made a few great throws, missed badly on a few others, never appeared to feel pressure or know when to quit on or extend a play.

His one great play of the day was of course throwing on the run, scrambling to his right and dropping that beauty on Ridley to set up the win.

As near as I can recall before I get to the tape, he was schemed out of the pocket three times all day.

Heading into the offseason, before we start getting answers to so many questions that need them, I would have liked to have seen a lot more Sunday of Ridley, Nall, Alex Bars, Jesper Horsted, Kevin Toliver, Duke Shelley and Michael Joseph, to name a few, to know whether they are or can be some of those answers, but that didn’t happen either.

We are left to ponder why Nagy and Ryan Pace — with a 20-13 record after their first two seasons together — don’t appear much closer to paydirt than the 14-34 John Fox group they inherited?

That’s a why we sure hope they can answer this offseason.

Nagy on Bears' disappointing year: 'If you don't learn from it, then shame on you'

Posted on December 29, 2019 - 17:06:00

Now the long wait to see what Nagy and Bears brass learned begins

Mitch Trubisky made two key throws to help the Bears starters beat the Vikings backups, 21-19, Sunday and finish the season at .500.

With Chicago trailing by one point and facing fourth-and-9 on the final play before the two-minute warning, Trubisky felt pressure from his blind side, where Charles Leno had ceded the strip-sack leading to Minnesota's go-ahead score moments earlier.

This time, Trubisky rolled to his right and found rookie Riley Ridley while on the move with a perfect pass for 32 yards and the young QB-WR tandem's biggest connection as pros. It reminded of a few things: Trubisky is easily at his best outside the pocket, where he's seldom been placed by Matt Nagy this season; and the quarterback tends to play his best when he's not thinking as much in crunch time, and relatively speaking, this play qualifies.

Trubisky finished Sunday with another pedestrian rating (84.0) and suboptimal passing clip (5.6 YPA) but 5-of-7 for 53 yards on the final drive, when he also completed a key pass for three yards to Allen Robinson on third-and-2 that allowed the Bears to chew more than 90 additional seconds off the clock before Eddy Pineiro's 22-yard game-winning FG.

For Trubisky and the Bears offense, these are obviously sporadic and specific instances, hardly comprising the majority of the season, when his yards per attempt and TD percentage went down by nearly a full yard and a half and almost two points, and Chicago averaged well over a touchdown each game than it did last season.

Sure, we'll never know how many more meaningful attempts Trubisky might have made for the Bears if he'd been put in more advantageous spots, or if they had better tight ends or if the O-line didn't regress even further than its quarterback this season.

Irrespective of that, Bears brass must decide whether — ideal circumstances or not — Trubisky's overall struggles over his first 42 career starts, and clear step backward this season, trumps a couple more of the fleeting flashes we saw Sunday. Make no mistake, he'll be back for a fourth season because his rookie contract basically ensures it, but the other two quarterbacks will be out of contract.

Chicago's approach to rebuilding its QB corps, then, obviously takes center stage this offseason, when Nagy and Pace must reconcile Trubisky's performances on every stage, not soley late in meaningless games or during a solid five-to-six-game stretch

"Situational football in crucial times, I think Mitch has shown what he can do in those scenarios; he's done that over his career," Nagy said Sunday following his 20th career victory, the most ever by a Bears head coach in his first two seasons. "We just want to make sure as we go through this thing that we really, really learn on all the other stuff, which is [going to] happen. Taking time on learning how to get better with everything that involves playing the quarterback position."

That includes the quarterback's issues that carried over from last season, such as downfield inaccuracy and inconsistent progression reading, as well as Trubisky's struggles staying healthy and making strong decisions. Being unsuccessful in those areas are nonstarters, of course, when it comes to adeptly playing the position on a consistent basis, but will Pace and Nagy see eye to eye on whether the Bears have more time to spend while enduring the quarterback's growing pains?

"For me, it can't get here soon enough," Nagy said of the looming opportunity to begin the big-picture self scout of where his team, quarterback and offense specifically went south this year. "For me, that 2020 starts now, literally the second I walk off this stage. "... I'm ready to go in attack mode with Ryan and figure out how we want to go about this thing. There's a lot of stuff for us to look at. It's not one thing. It's all three phases. It's a challenge, I accept it and we're looking forward to it."

Nagy and Pace will each be asked a litany of questions at their annual state-of-the-season address Tuesday about the head coach's failures to maximize his quarterback and Trubisky's inability to overcome that and the other adverse conditions that contributed to the NFL's 30th-ranked scoring offense. It'll be even longer before anyone truly knows what they learned from this year's disappointment.

"The message is that every year is always different. So regardless of it, next year is going to be completely different, with completely different players," Nagy said Sunday of his message to the team entering the offseason. "I hope that all of us understand —players and coaches — that what we went through this year, we need to turn it into a glass-half-full deal and learn from it. If you don't learn from it, then shame on you. And that's going to be our No. 1 job — to make sure each person does that."

Three and Out: Breaking down Bears' season-ending 21-19 win over Vikings

Posted on December 29, 2019 - 15:32:00

The Bears finished their centennial campaign with an 8-8 record, thanks to their 21-19 win in Week 17 over a Vikings team resting its starters for the playoffs.

THREE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

1. The game was meaningless, so we're revisiting previous moments in 2019, when things still mattered. And because Matt Nagy first highlighted the Chargers defeat in Week 8 when asked this week whether he had any "what-ifs," we will too. Sure, Eddy Pineiro missed the 41-yard buzzer beater, the ultimate difference then between 4-3 and 3-4. But recall Matt Nagy not trusting his quarterback and kneeling at the 21 on first down with 43 seconds remaining, after going 1-of-4 in goal-to-go situations. The I-formation was dusted off, and the run game popped consistently, but it wasn't enough to fix the Bears' season-long offensive problems.

2. The other L.A. defeat, three weeks later in prime time, showed Nagy's lack of trust at the time in Pineiro. The Bears eschewed a 49-yard attempt after Pineiro's first miss (and try) following the Chargers game, from 48 on the opening series. But this was also the season's low point because Mitch Trubisky was pulled when he was hurt, not injured. Plus, the Bears 'D' got run over early by Todd Gurley and the Rams reserve O-line before ceding big passing plays later on to an offense sans two of its top three receivers and leaning on the run in light of Jared Goff's struggles.

3. Akiem Hicks dislocating his elbow on the eighth snap in the London loss to the Raiders had an unmistakable effect on the pass rush the remainder of the season, but the immediate wrath was felt most against the run. The Bears lost four consecutive games, including the run defense's three worst performances prior to Sunday.

THREE THINGS THAT WORKED

1. Eddy Pineiro: He converted all three of his field goals — from 26, 33, 34 and 22 — to improve to 23-of-28 on the season (82.1 percent). Pineiro finished the season by converting 10 consecutive field goals, helping restore some of team brass' confidence in him that had all but disappeared around midseason."I think we're in a good place with him right now," Nagy said this week.

2. Take it away now: After going three straight games without a takeaway for the first time since 2016, the Bears notched two of them on their first two defensive series. Following a Bilal Nichols fumble recovery, Kevin Pierre-Louis tipped interception gave the unit nine this season, ensuring it wouldn't match its franchise low (8).

3. Run and run again: The Bears began the second half with an 11-6 lead, imposing their will with a 75-yard TD drive, including eight carries, highlighted by David Montgomery's determined 14-yard pile-dragger. It was Montgomery's seventh touchdown, tying Allen Robinson for the team lead, and marked one of their few scoring drives all season when Matt Nagy matched his top pick's determination to relentlessly run the ball. Whether that persistence is repeatable in 2020, of course, will dictate whether it means anything. Montgomery went over 100 yards for the second time as a rookie, and the Bears had 158 rushing yards — their second-highest 2019 total.

THREE THINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. Staying healthy: Pro Bowl special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson was ruled out with a concussion in the second quarter, and his replacement, Anthony Miller, suffered a shoulder injury on his first return attempt in Patterson's absence. Patterson has been among the team's more consistent performers, while Miller — who had surgery last offseason to repair a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder — appeared to be figuring things out in his dynamic latter portion of 2019 after a frustrating first half to his second season.

2. No backup boon: Without both Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, the Bears run 'D' was gashed repeatedly by Vikings third-stringer Mike Boone. It began on the opening play, a 59-yard explosion when he was untouched to the third level before Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's missed tackle, and didn't end until Boone had a career day: xx for xx and xxx yards, with xx a touchdown.

3. Moving Mitch: Perfect symbolism: Mitch Trubisky's best throw of the game came on his penultimate attempt: a 32-yard beauty off the rollout to Riley Ridley on fourth-and-9 to set up Pineiro's game-winning field goal. Why is in this category, you ask? Where were these rollouts — clearly Trubisky's greatest strength — all season?

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Bears will have their final open locker room Monday morning, prior to Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace holding their annual end-of-season joint news conference bright and early Tuesday.

Bears lose Pro Bowl special-teamer Patterson to concussion, ascending WR2 Miller to shoulder injury

Posted on December 29, 2019 - 13:12:00

Two of Chicago's brighter spots in a mostly dark season hurt in meaningless finale

The main goal in the Bears' meaningless season finale in Minneapolis — staying healthy — won't be achieved Sunday, as Pro Bowl special-teams ace Cordarrelle Patterson was ruled out in the second quarter with a concussion, and his KR replacement, Anthony Miller, is questionable to return with a shoulder injury.

Miller was injured on a big hit by Vikings S Andrew Sendejo on the second-year receiver's first return of the season, on the heels of Patterson getting dinged in the first quarter. Miller has had multiple surgeries on his shoulder, which he dislocated in college and tore the labrum in, in addition to enduring multiple separations during his rookie season.

The injuries are particularly disoncerting because Patterson has been among the team's more impressive performers this season, while Miller's strong second half of his sophomore campaign is one of the few bright spots on offense.

Powered by two Eddy Pineiro field goals (following two failed red-zone visits) and a safety by Nick Kwiatkoski, the Bears lead 8-3 late in the second quarter over the Vikings, who sat most of their starters — including QB Kirk Cousins — wisely opting to treat Sunday as a bye week prior to wild-card weekend, in which they're already locked in as the sixth seed.

Raising Bars: Promising UDFA Alex Bars in line for NFL starting debut against Vikings

Posted on December 29, 2019 - 09:17:00

Sunday in Minneapolis will largely be insignificant for the Bears, whose goal in their centennial season was earning a postseason trip to Miami in February, not beating a rival resting its starters for the playoffs, in Week 17 to get to .500.

Fittingly, however, among the few important individual evaluations for Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace and Co. is at right guard, arguably the least valuable position on the field, albeit where undrafted rookie Alex Bars is set to make his first NFL start.

We chatted Friday with Bars, who was most interested in his alma mater getting ready to meet Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl Saturday.

"It's a tricky game. They're 7-5; we're 10-2. But they run a 3-3-5. So just run outside zone on them," Bars said in the open locker room following the Bears' last practice of the season. Spoken like a true offensive lineman.

Still, don’t begin to tell Bars that Sunday is insignificant, not after he was in the early stages at this time last year in his recovery from a torn ACL that halted his final season with the Fighting Irish and made him a priority college free agent rather than a likely mid-round pick.

"That would be huge for me," he said. "Obviously my senior year in college didn’t go how I wanted it to go with the injury and everything. But I’m blessed to be here, I’m blessed to have this opportunity and make the most of it."

And out of playoff contention or not, it's a big opportunity considering how miserable the Bears offensive line played this season and the likelihood that Bars could be in the mix competing for the RG post currently manned by Rashaad Coward, who's been up and down in his first year as the starter but will miss Sunday with a knee injury.

With all due respect to Coward, a converted defensive lineman from Old Dominion who was thrown into a difficult spot this season, he lacks Bars' experience and pedigree. The Notre Dame product and team captain as a redshirt senior made 32 combined starts in college at either guard or tackle, learning under Bears OL coach Harry Hiestand and played alongside Pro Bowlers Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey.

Still, he's the first to point out the significant step up from even an NFL OL factory like Notre Dame, never mind switching from defense coming out of ODU.

"It’s a different level than college, obviously, so you have to be on your game 24-7," he said. "Every detail has to be spot-on. So approaching that from a technical side has been big for me."

Of course, the devil is in the details when it comes to the Bears' offensive failures this season, from up front to behind center to the organization and play calling of the scheme. That's part of what makes the opportunity for Bars, among the more popular of the Bears rookies because of his strong career with the Irish and connection to Hiestand, unique.

The injury ensured he wouldn't be a plug-and-play alternative, but his talent and versatility are considered big potential long-term assets for the organization. There were even some rumblings around Halas Hall early in the season that the presence of Bars, at the time a member of the practice squad who turned down an opportunity to join the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots active roster, might have factored into the decision to send longtime RG Kyle Long to season-ending injured reserve.

Ultimately, Coward got the call, while Bars has logged merely two snaps to date as a rookie. But now that he's gained key experience, regained some of the strength that was lost in his knee and likely been granted his first starting shot.

"I’ve kept the same mindset all throughout the season. ... I’ve been working every week as if I was playing each and every rep," Bars said. So no matter what my role, I’ll be ready and I’ll be working on that."

The Bears are nearly ready to begin their self scout of a dreadful 2019 season on offense. It sure would be nice if Bars provided some optimism Sunday that one potential fix — personnel, not play calling — has been under their nose all along.

— Arthur Arkush

Hub Arkush: Very real difference between a losing record and Bears finishing at .500

Posted on December 29, 2019 - 09:17:00

So how ironic is it that a Bears season that started with such high hopes will end with what is basically going to be an exhibition game, and for the first time as the team’s head coach, Matt Nagy will let most of his regulars play in one?

While not detailing his specific plans, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has confirmed he intends to treat this weekend something like a bye week and rest a lot of his starters ahead of next weekend's wild-card round.

So why will/should the Bears regulars get one last chance to pad their stats and hopefully impress the bosses, and if not theirs, potential future employers?

For starters, there is a very real difference between finishing 8-8 and 7-9.

Going out on a win and having that as your last memory of the season, and finishing .500 and being able to make a reasonable argument that one kick in the Chargers game and a running into the kicker penalty and horrible pick from Chase Daniel against the Raiders is all that kept you from 10-6 and maybe even a second straight playoff trip is a lot more palatable for players and coaches alike than a losing season.

It is also worth noting that going into this game the Bears under Nagy are 8-3 in the NFC North and stretching that to 9-3 with another win over the Vikings does help them continue building on one of their main goals.

Dominate your division and you’re well on your way to the playoffs almost every season.

Also extremely important, if Mitch Trubisky can finish with a big game, even though it will clearly be too little too late, it is still the best way for Trubisky to enter what will clearly be the most important offseason of his career.

Why does Nagy think the Vikings game is still really important?

“Opportunities, you never know when they come and go. We know that we have one more. You never know when it’s going to be the last one.

“So, to everybody else: we have one more chance. Let’s go do whatever we can to win.”

If Nagy is concerned about who the Vikings are playing and which guys they’re resting, he’s not letting on. 

“Yeah, we’re just going about it – that’s not changing.

“If you hear they say that, we’re just going to go about it playing our guys and again, if there’s a position here or there that we feel like we want to take a look at, we might do that, but big picture wise, we’re going there to play.”

Until we see who the Vikings have on the field and how they compete, it will be difficult to gauge how much the Bears can really accomplish, but everybody on the field Sunday will be an NFL player, so you can’t undervalue what the Bears do in Minnesota either.

When Nagy says there’s a position or two we may want to take a look at, it makes the Vikings game huge for certain players.

There’s no question the Bears are going to be in search of a legitimate starter at tight end during the offseason, but J.P. Holtz, Jesper Hosted and Eric Saubert will be playing for their Bears futures against the Vikings.

With Rashaad Coward banged up, you can assume it will be Alex Bars in his spot fighting for that job next year, as opposed to the veteran Ted Larsen, unless they decide to give Bars some reps at left tackle, which would be really interesting.

David Montgomery has more to prove, and there is no excuse for the Bears to not give Ryan Nall a couple of series at running back before they go looking for a backup running back they will have to identify for next season.

Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and Duke Shelley are other youngsters the Bears need to find out about, and if they can sprinkle all these players on to the field, get a solid game from Trubisky and collect one more win, it could be a critical and great days work they can view as the beginning of the 2020 season as opposed to the end of 2019.

Bears will be without two starters along each line in finale against Vikings

Posted on December 27, 2019 - 15:49:00

With Rashaad Coward doubtful, undrafted Notre Dame product Alex Bars set for NFL starting debut

The Minnesota Vikings ruled out leading tackler Eric Kendricks and leading rusher Dalvin Cook for the regular-season finale Sunday vs. the Bears — and the smart money is on that star pairing being joined on the sideline by a number of key teammates.

Kendricks suffered a quad injury Monday night, when Cook was inactive with a shoulder injury, and Minnesota fell 23-10 at home to the rival Packers, which locked up the division for Green Bay and the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC for the Vikings.

Thus, in addition to resting their best linebacker and arguably most dangerous playmaker on offense, the Vikings are expected to sit QB Kirk Cousins, likely in addition to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on offense and Pro Bowlers Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter on defense, among others.

"It is always a catch-22 because you always want to go out and you always want to play well," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, not confirming multiple reports that Cousins will rest while Sean Mannion makes his first Vikings start. "These guys like to play. You don’t want to get anybody hurt. You want to start focusing on the new season that is coming up here in a week. There has been a lot of consternation, I guess, on trying to figure everything out."

Assuming the Vikings rest their key guys, it would create an interesting juxtaposition from a year ago, when the Bears visited Minnesota in the regular-season finale with their playoff seeding secure, while the Vikings needed a win to earn a wild card. No matter, playing their starters for nearly the entire game, the Bears maintained their upper hand on Kirk Cousins and Co, sweeping the season series with another mauling of the Vikings offensive line that kept Minnesota out of the postseason.

Of course, with the 7-9 Bears set to watch the playoffs from their couches, how they balance playing time between their starters and veterans could be the most interesting viewing aspect Sunday, when they'll try and avoid a losing season and remain undefeated under Nagy against the Vikings. Starters Akiem Hicks (elbow), Eddie Goldman (concussion) and Taylor Gabriel (concussion) are officially out, and OL Bobby Massie (ankle) and Rashaad Coward (knee) are listed as doubtful, meaning they almost assuredly won't play, either.

"If you hear the [Vikings] say [they're resting starters], we’re just going to go about it playing our guys, and again, if there’s a position here or there that we feel like we want to take a look at, we might do that, but big picture wise, we’re going there to play," Matt Nagy said Friday following the final practice of the 2019 season.

One of the positions where the Bears could be compelled to look more closely is right cornerback, where Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was listed as questionable after being limited the final two practices of the week. With no guaranteed money remaining in the final year of his contract in 2020, Amukamara at the very least would continue to rotate with Kevin Toliver, and it wouldn't be stunning if the Bears opt to give the whole game to some combination of Toliver, Michael Joseph and Duke Shelley.

Coward's likely absence should open the door at another position requiring closer evaluation and likely to be hotly contested this offseason — right guard — where undrafted rookie Alex Bars is set to make his first NFL start. Veteran Ted Larsen replaced Coward in the second half vs. the Chiefs, but Matt Nagy said this week that the decision to go with the veteran over the rookie was based on the sudden nature of the change. With a full week to earn some first-string reps, one of the Bears more promising undrafted rookies will get the call for the first time in the NFL, and under the tutelage of former Notre Dame OL coach Harry Hiestand, who holds the same title in Chicago.

Which Vikings will play Sunday, and which Bears will show up?

Posted on December 27, 2019 - 12:35:00

What a difference a couple months can make in the NFL

With the Vikings already locked into the NFC’s sixth seed, not only will they most likely be resting everybody with even the slightest of nicks or bruises to prepare them for wild-card weekend, they could even decide to rest key contributors like Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith just to make sure they’re as ready as possible for next weekend.

We also have to assume – perhaps even hope – the Bears will take advantage of their last opportunity in a real game to look at players such as Alex Bars, Ryan Nall, Eric Saubert, Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Brent Urban, Abdullah Anderson, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Kevin Toliver and Michael Joseph before key personnel decisions have to be made in the offseason.

The Vikings have actually been a good matchup in recent years for the Bears, who have won the past three and four of their previous seven meetings, including a punishing 16-6 victory in Week 4, when they sacked Kirk Cousins six times, limited Minnesota to 222 yards of total offense and recovered Cousins and Stefon Diggs fumbles.

But prior to stunningly managing only seven first downs in a beatdown from the Packers reminiscent of Week 4, the Vikings had won eight of 10 after losing only to Kansas City and Seattle, while the Bears have dropped seven of 11 and haven’t beaten a winning team except Minnesota this year.

Basically, we have no idea what to expect from either of these teams in the season finale.

Vikings offense vs. Bears defense: Even though the Bears almost certainly won’t see Dalvin Cook or Alexander Mattison, the Vikings will still try to focus on running the ball with Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah, because that’s what their offense does under coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

Minnesota is seventh in the NFL rushing, although only 14th in average gain a rush, while the offense ranks 20th throwing the ball but is tied for third in the NFL in average gain per pass.

The main reason for their big plays in the passing game has been Stefon Diggs. Even though Adam Thielen missed six games with a hamstring injury and returned Sunday against the Chargers, Diggs is averaging 17.9 yards a catch in a 1,130-yard season to date.

If Cousins is at quarterback, it

Hub Arkush: It's not about Trubisky's want-to; it's about his will-to and having maturity to get there

Posted on December 27, 2019 - 12:13:00

Do Bears QB and team brass understand the real problem on their hands?

It’s a real stretch to suggest that 2019 was a lost season for the Bears.

A number of players made clear strides forward, however, what was accomplished at quarterback — which is clearly the most important position on the field — or what wasn’t accomplished is a real problem.

After a promising sophomore season in which Mitch Trubisky showed real growth culminating in a trip to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, it wasn’t as if he just did a little moon walking.

At times it appeared Trubisky threw it in reverse and floored it.

But the trick to evaluating and fixing that problem is in first figuring out how much of it was on Trubisky, how much is on his coaches charged with developing him and how much the lack of front-line offensive talent around him at a number of spots held him back.

As Matt Nagy said earlier this week, “So you have to take everything into consideration. It does start with the quarterback. You could say, well, you've gotta get a run game to help the quarterback. Well, you've gotta have a quarterback to help the run game, etc.

“Everyone can go back and forth on that.

“And then what are the standards that we set at that position? I know Mitch is an extremely hard worker. He's going to do everything in his power to learn from this year mentally and physically. And then we need to help him out and set goals and figure out ways to do it as best as we can.”

From the team perspective, the answers are pretty obvious. Get better at tight end and on the offensive line, get deeper at running back and wide receiver and bring in better competition to push Mitch to produce.

None of that will matter, though, if Trubisky doesn’t work on Trubisky, and it’s hard not to wonder how much of that is about him getting better in his own head than on the field.

Sometimes, in addition to walking the walk you have to be able to talk the talk to lead, and to prove you get the problem and know how to fix it.

Right now that is not a Trubisky strength.

Asked Thursday what he’s feeling as this dream crusher of a season wraps up, he responded, “Um, I’m really not feeling much. “I really haven’t had time to think about the season.

“I really don’t like dwelling on the past too much either.

“It’s just life. You go through years, days, months where things aren’t going your way but being negative is not going to help that.”

Not feeling much? Trubisky is right about avoiding the waste of negativity, but I’m positive Bears Nation wants to hear he’s as disappointed as they are about 2019, not “I’m really not feeling much.”

Asked how he sees his potential, Trubisky says, “I think when I look at the really good games throughout this year, you see really good games and then you see some really bad games. The consistency just hasn’t been there.

“I think I could be a lot more of a consistent quarterback in the future.”

Mitch is also correct about the importance of being consistent, but taking him strictly at his own words, does he think there was some balance between the “really good games” and “some really bad games?”

Washington, the two Detroit games and Dallas were his good ones this year — with Dallas arguably the only “really good one.”

The rest were all bad, and the first Packer game, Denver, Philadelphia, the Rams and Chiefs were all really bad.

There is no doubt Trubisky cares and wants to be great, and his competitiveness and work ethic are off the charts.

But it is often unclear talking to him if he gets how tenuous his situation really is.

Unquestionably, Ryan Pace and Co. have to give Trubisky more to work, with and there should be no lingering doubts that he has the physical tools to be very good if not great.

But whether or not Trubisky has the head for success remains very much in doubt, and if he doesn't, 2020 will be his last chance to prove it in Chicago.

Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson is PFWA Chicago 2019 'Good Guy' award winner

Posted on December 26, 2019 - 16:20:00

Bears WR A-Rob as dependable off the field for media as he was on it for Mitch Trubisky

Allen Robinson epitomized consistency and dependability on and off the field in his second season with the Bears.

Catching at least 80 passes for more than 1,000 yards (89-1076-7) for the second time in his six-year career and first in two seasons with the Bears, the 26-year-old might have been snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Yet he was recognized Thursday by the PFWA Chicago Chapter as winner of the 2019 “Good Guy Award,” voted on by the media to honor the Bears player or coach who was most helpful in assisting us in our jobs this season.

“He’s just an incredible teammate, reliable player and he’s gonna have your back through it all. So anytime you need a big-time play or just someone who’s always gonna be there for his teammates —absolute professional, just helping guys and pushing the other guys to be their best and just a great leader on this team," Mitch Trubisky said Thursday. "That’s what you get out of 12."

Similarly, perhaps no Bears player was more reliably successful and thoughtful for interviews on a consistent basis this season, when hard questions were the norm, as were, unfortunately, a lack of regular participation by even some of the Bears biggest stars.

But Robinson always took time to answer questions, often about the up-and-down second season together for head coach Matt Nagy, QB Mitch Trubisky and a routinely underperforming offense — with the exception of Robinson. In addition to producing one of his finer pro seasons, including a career-high 62.7 percent catch rate and 5.9 receptions per game, he operated with outstanding professionalism and respect, helping prevent the inward frustrations he undoubtedly experienced from ever bubbling to the surface and marring his insights.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. Robinson conducts himself in the locker room and in interviews with the same kind of smarts and leadership traits that allow him to excel in the meeting rooms and on the field, where he’s earned no shortage of praise from coaches and teammates for overseeing the growth of fellow WR Anthony Miller and providing many of the few-and-far-between flashes on offense this year.

For as many questions remain regarding Trubisky as a franchise quarterback, very few exist on Robinson as a true No. 1. No, his 12.9-yard average and 7 TDs don’t scream WR1 prototype, but given the ineptitude around him on the NFL’s 30th-ranked scoring offense (dead last in passing yards per play) around him, he probably hasn’t received enough credit for his consistent high-level production.

"He's just a stud. Great dude to be around, great team guy," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said Thursday. "Heard him yesterday talk to a couple of wideouts 'Hey, in the offseason, you're going to come live with me and do this, this and this.' If we had 100 percent Allen Robinsons as a player, as a character-type guy, we'd be in good shape."

Still, there couldn’t be a more deserving winner of the 2019 “Good Guy” award. Robinson takes the mantle from CB Prince Amukamara, tied with Taylor Gabriel as the third-leading votegetter, behind Robinson and Trubisky, this year’s runner-up.

"In the game there’s going to be ups and downs, but you can’t really [let] that waver how you feel and how you go about your business because at the end of the day there are going to be wins and there are going to be losses, but you have to understand that fans want to come see good football and the media has a job to do," Robinson told reporters Thursday. "So again, you’ve just got to understand that and you’ve got to try to make the best of it.”

Bears Insider prediction time! Do Matt Nagy and Co. stay undefeated against Vikings, win finale?

Posted on December 26, 2019 - 16:15:00

One final time in 2018, the Bears Insider staff share our predictions — Bears against Vikings, Sunday at noon at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis:

Hub Arkush (season record: 10-5)

How do you pick a game that means almost nothing to anyone, including most of the guys on the field? Who knows? I’m sure the Vikes would love to get the offense in rhythm for the playoffs but there’s no way Dalvin Cook or Alex Mattison see the field, maybe not Adam Thielen either, and considering Kirk Cousins has taken all but five snaps at QB this year, it might make sense to get Sean Mannion a few. The Bears should probably play everyone for one last look before offseason changes start, and a number of guys are playing for their futures in Chicago. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking for suffering Bears fans, but I’m sure their team would much rather be .500 than have a losing season, and they have owned Minny lately. I tossed a coin 5 times, and it came up Bears 3 of them. Bears 26, Vikings 20

Arthur Arkush (season record: 10-5)

Matt Nagy's Bears managed to stay undefeated against the Lions, because between two bad teams, they remained superior to Matt Patricia's club this season. That's not the case with Mike Zimmer's Vikings. Despite likely sitting many meaningful players as they look ahead to playing wild-card weekend, they'll still earn their first victory head to head against Nagy's Bears, who head into the offseason following one final listless showing on offense. Vikings 21, Bears 14

Sean Hammond (season record: 10-5)

What would be a fitting way to put an end to a mediocre Bears season? Assuming he even starts, Kirk Cousins' first win over the Bears in a Vikings uniform. The Chicago defense was dominant in the Sept. 29 matchup, but the Vikings have since figured out how to score points. Playing in the climate-controlled U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings will find a way to score enough to win. The Bears will start turning their attention to the offseason and 2020. Vikings 17, Bears 10

Barry Rozner, Daily Herald (season record: 7-8)

The Bears didn’t bother to show up last week, which wasn’t a surprise. They looked like a team with nothing to play for, a poor reflection on the head coach. What happens this week in Minnesota? In a battle between Mitch Trubisky and Kirk Cousins, I choose instead to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Here’s hoping 2020 brings you and your family good health and much happiness. Vikings 5, Bears 4

Joe Aguilar, Daily Herald (season record: 10-5)

Finally, it ends. Before the Bears play another football game (in 2020), this also needs to end: Matt Nagy calling plays, Mitch Trubisky starting at quarterback, backups committing costly penalties, practice-squad players posing as starting tight ends. The Bears' season ended two weeks ago in Green Bay. Sunday's finale in Minnesota against the playoff-bound Vikings only makes it official. Finally, something to cheer about. Vikings, 24 Bears 17

Chuck Pagano on Aaron Lynch’s chronic neutral-zone infractions: 'He needs some earplugs'

Posted on December 26, 2019 - 14:08:00

Aaron Lynch has played 234 defensive snaps this season, or 22.9 percent overall. The Bears’ No. 3 outside linebacker has been whistled seven times for offsides/neutral zone infractions, one every 33.4 snaps. By contrast, Kyle Fuller leads the Bears in defensive snaps (1,022) and defensive penalties (8), one every 127.8 play.

Across the league in 2019, defensive backs draw an average of 3.88 flags per game, compared to only 1.74 by linebackers, according to nflpenalties.com.

It’s difficult to deduce anything other than that Lynch has been among the more undisciplined players in the NFL. Only three positional peers in football — all full-time players — have more penalties: Pro Bowlers Shaq Barrett (16.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles) and Von Miller (7 sacks) and Seahawks lynchpin Jadeveon Clowney (4 sacks, 4 FF).

Lynch signed a one-year deal to return this season after an underrated debut with the Bears in 2018 that was cut short by injury, including four tackles for loss, three sacks (and three penalties) and an interception in 353 snaps on 'D.' While his penalties have gone way up, his production has fallen (2 sacks and 3 TFLs), seemingly making him a longshot to return for a third season to supplement the contributions of Khalil Mack and possibly Leonard Floyd.

Still, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano told reporters Thursday that correcting Lynch’s serial jumpiness would be an offseason priority.

“He needs some earplugs, I don’t know,” Pagano said with a laugh when first asked about Lynch’s nasty habit. “No, again, he’d be the first one to tell you that he’s going in there, obviously his role is what his role is. It’s not intentional, we know that. He doesn’t want to do that, but he gets out there and most of the time he’s out here — he’ll take some first and second in run situation snaps off the guys — but a lot of times he’s in on third down and he’s there to rush the passer and go get the quarterback on the ground. With that comes the hard count and all this other stuff. It’s something we’ll focus on in the offseason to clean up.”

Pagano added that he and his staff must do a better job with him despite saying Lynch has been given the study tools, like game film and, likely, specific nuggets on varying quarterbacks’ cadence. 

It's an example of a coach doing his best to cover for one of his players who has failed to consistently do his job — two consistent themes surrounding the 2019 Bears. And we're certainly not purposely picking on Pagano or Lynch but pointing out that for every Mitch Trubisky and Charles Leno who have taken steps backward, there are a lot of secondary contributors like Lynch and Taylor Gabriel (60.4 percent catch rate, down from 72 percent in 2018) who have done the same in a season when the Bears too often played like they'd already accomplished their goal after the 12-4 surprise in 2018.

Along those lines, are there any Bears performers who actually exceeded the expectations of Pagano in their first season working with the solid defensive coordinator?

"I’m really, really proud of the guys who stepped in for … Danny [Trevathan] played well when he was out there. He played really, really well. Roquan was coming back to being Roquan — started off really fast and then we lose him. Guys like Nick Kwiatkoski, who comes in and just continues to produce and make plays; and KPL [Kevin Pierre-Louis], those guys; the defensive line. I found out that the marquee names that we all know, it was top to bottom in that room. ... I’m proud of everybody in that room. Again, we’re not proud of our record. We’ll never accept where we’re at. It’s not good enough. I’ll go back and look at myself. Everybody will look at themselves and we’ll make the necessary adjustments in the offseason and we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to play better."

Kwiatkoski and Lynch are both impending free agents at positions likely to see some degree of shakeup in the offseason. It seems pretty clear which one has remained "locked in" and deserves strong consideration to be subsequently rewarded.

Most important remaining evaluation of 2019 Bears to occur behind closed doors

Posted on December 24, 2019 - 15:13:00

"We put all the egos aside and we have honest discussions."

The most important remaining evaluation of the 2019 Bears will occur behind closed doors, not in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, where the Vikings will be locked into the No. 6 seed and looking ahead to wild-card weekend while the Bears look to avoid their fifth losing season in the past six years.

It’s no wonder, then, much of the focus during a relatively intimate Christmas Eve morning chat with Matt Nagy focused on the impending discussions among Bears brass regarding the changes that lie ahead, most of them needed to fix Nagy’s baby — the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense in points allowed.

“Honesty. This will circle back to where, at the beginning, I go back to my very first press conference," Nagy said of what will be most important in the offseason evaluation. "In my very first interaction with Ryan, with chairman George [McCaskey] and with president Ted [Phillips] is that I felt that between all of us we were all able to have honest conversations and be real. And there’s zero egos. So when you have that and you get into these types of situations that we’re in right now, when there’s a lot of decisions that go on because we want to look for solutions, we put all the egos aside and we have honest discussions. And we talk through everything and for what’s best for the Chicago Bears and the football team. That’s what we’re [going] to do.”

Nagy is among the NFL’s more forthcoming head coaches to the media but only the three aforementioned men and others inside Halas Hall will get his side of why the offense significantly regressed this season and how much of the blame belongs with him, his scheme and staff versus the personnel, beginning with Mitch Trubisky. It was interesting to hear the coach Tuesday attempt to tackle the difficulty in separating those failures to get the most accurate reflection of how to proceed moving forward.

“You have to take everything into consideration. It does start with the quarterback,” he said. “You could say, well, you've [got to] get a run game to help the quarterback. Well, you've [got to] have a quarterback to help the run game, etc. Everyone can go back and forth on that. I think, again, just like the discussions that we as a staff and Ryan and myself will end up having throughout this process, and I know Mitch will be the biggest advocate of this, is making sure that there's an accountability from him, and from us, in talking through where we can get better.

“And then what are the standards that we set at that position? And the whys behind, you guys have heard me say it, not making a bad play worse can sometimes be better than a really great play depending on the situation. Learning that part of it and understanding that is [going to] be significant. I know Mitch is an extremely hard worker. He's going to do everything in his power to learn from this year mentally and physically. And then we need to help him out and set goals and figure out ways to do it as best as we can.”

Clearly, the standards must be higher at the position, where Trubisky’s completion percentage fell four full points, from 66.6 in 2018 to 62.6 percent this season, along with his adjusted yards per attempt declining by nearly a point and a half (from 7.3 to 5.9 yards). But will Pace determine that Nagy did everything in his power to develop the former No. 2 overall pick, despite sticking with level “202” of his offense without the needed growth from his quarterback and surrounding personnel?

There are so many questions that need answering, few of them with easy and clear answers. This much seems clear: Being a fly on the wall for these discussions would be more entertaining than watching the offense throughout much of this season.  

"If you as a coach can't accept criticism for play calls when there are poor play calls, right, and the players will tell you — if I'm in there and we're going through a play and it's a bad play call, I'm gonna tell you it's a bad play call, and that it could be better, and that's my fault. But then on the other end, OK, if we're gonna get this thing right, you better be honest with your side, too. When a play is there to be made, you've gotta make it. That's the part where we've gotta get both those fixed. And we will. It takes good people and a collaboration and understanding the whys to do that, and that's gonna be our No. 1 focus and that's gonna happen," he said.

Hub Arkush: Is what ailed the 2019 Bears the coaching, talent or QB?

Posted on December 23, 2019 - 22:30:00

Matt Nagy seemed a bit testier than usual Monday as he met Bears media for his weekly postmortem following a Sunday game.

But hey, how would you be feeling after your team, in its own words, embarrassed itself in its final home game of the season?

Following the game, Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson said, “It’s tough. It’s our last home game, prime time. It’s embarrassing.

“Guys kept fighting, which is always a good sign, but it’s still embarrassing.”

Allen Robinson, arguably the team’s best player all season long, added, “I’m frustrated. I don’t like losing.

“Keep fighting and keep playing. We understand we’re in a tough situation, but we have to go out there and perform.”

With what could very well be the most difficult offseason of their careers in front of them, it is easy to see how head coach and players have reached the end of their ropes.

What happened? The problem we’re all having in trying to find that answer is another question, this one akin to what came first, the chicken or the egg.

Is the Bears' current state of affairs a product of overrating their talent?

Are we here because Mitch Trubisky just isn’t the answer at quarterback, or has he failed to answer the bell yet because Matt Nagy’s offense is a mess without a clear plan or enough consistency to allow him to figure out what these Bears can do well?

Asked Monday about the sloppiness that has haunted his team all season long and seemed to reach a peak versus the Chiefs, Nagy said, “We're always up front and honest with everybody in regards to how we try to change that.

“To me, really, I always talk about details. When you think one play might be the play that affects a game, you want to try to be as perfect as you can.

“And so you look back and early on in the game, we're moving the ball a little bit and then we have the fumble on the around.

“Now, all of a sudden, it's second-and-20.

“We had a couple penalties here and there offensively, didn't score in the red zone, gave up some long drives on defense, had an offsides, gave them a free first down on 3rd-and-4 and then we had obviously the running-into-the-kicker.”

While all of that is obviously true, it leaves unanswered the question of why call that end-around in the first place when you were driving to open the game?

Nagy’s answer: The play was fine; the execution was the problem. That may be true, but was it the best call in that spot?

What went wrong in the red zone? Asked about each play, first, second and third down, Nagy said Mitch was fine on all three of them, did the right thing.

So does it follow that the play calls were wrong?

What really struck me, though, was when asked about Cordarrelle Patterson’s play on offense, Nagy replied, “I think you guys saw yesterday what he can do when he is in the backfield.”

No, I actually saw that last year when he was in New England and thought that was one of the main reasons he was brought here.

Nonetheless, Nagy continued, “He’s able to make some — he’s fast, he’s big, and he runs the ball hard. And then he does good things in the pass game, too.

“That’s, again, for somebody like him, me learning how to use some of the players, I think you’ll see that that’ll get better.”

That’s great news, Coach, but why did it take 16 weeks to figure out what should have been obvious opening day?

Even if the Bears lose to the Vikings Sunday, Nagy will be 19-14 after two seasons, with one NFL Coach of the Year Award, and by any measure that’s an excellent start in his business.

It’s enough to convince me there still could be a very good NFL head coach hiding inside him right now.

But one more season like this one and he could very well be the Bears ex-head coach, and I’d hate to see that happen, especially if we never find out whether it was the coach or his players to blame.

Bears' Nagy vows to find fixes, become bigger part of solution in 2020

Posted on December 23, 2019 - 15:15:00

I'm going to be locked in on making sure that these mistakes come to an end.”

The Bears have been wilting under the weight of expectations from the outset in 2019, when they’ve regressed no less than four wins from last year’s division title campaign, literally fumbling on the first play of Week 1.

Not often, though, has Matt Nagy openly questioned his team’s focus the way he did in the immediate aftermath of its least competitive defeat, 26-3, courtesy of (all teams) his old pals from Kansas City.

It wasn’t stunning given it was Nagy’s Bears first-ever game without playoff hopes, in prime time with all of the obvious storylines, against a Chiefs club looking like a bona fide Super Bowl heavyweight in late December. It was jarring because competitiveness has been the hallmark of Nagy’s club, which had suffered only one of its first 12 losses by double digits, with an average overall margin of only 4.8 points.

The Bears are a bad football team right now, the kind that struggles with details and doing the little things well. This is not news, and so the litany of mistakes Sunday, from Anthony Miller’s fumble on the first series and Kevin Pierre-Louis’ second crushing running-into-the-kicker penalty of the season, to Mitch Trubisky’s missed deep shot and Aaron Lynch’s 7th (!) offsides penalty in only 234 defensive snaps,  and on and on and on, at least on offense, is part of this team’s identity.

“We can overcome those, and we've got to lock in, we've got to understand that that's a part of when they hit they're good, when they don't hit they're bad,” Nagy said of Miller’s fumble on an end-around losing 10 yards, the latest in a season of potentially promising drive killers. “… First play of the game in Green Bay, you know? So, when you look at that, none of this is criticism on the players, but we've got to learn from this. We've got to understand that this is the why part that we talk about. And so we've got to all lock in. I've got to lock in better. Our coaches need to lock in better, our players need [to]. When we do that, I think we can be pretty scary. We didn't do that this year.”

Nagy mentioned Monday the importance of turnover differential, one of myriad stats the Bears have markedly precipitated (from plus-12 to minus-2) this season, but because last night was a turnover-free game for both clubs, here are a few others that help illustrate the messy overall operation relative to last season:

Third down on offense: 24th/11th

Red zone on offense: 22nd/6th

Third downs defense: 11th/4th

Red zone on defense: 17th/5th

Penalties: 100 for 848 yards / 100 for 821 /

Nagy clearly has struggled to be a consistent part of the game-day solution during a humbling second season after earning Coach of the Year honors for his maiden voyage, and we can debate how much his specific handling of the offense has contributed to its failures. But he made it clear Monday he knows the root of what’s infected his team — and he fully intends to find the elixir in what’s become a make-or-break offseason for his regime.

“I don't think that anybody is wrong saying that [the 2019 Bears are undisciplined]. And that's the part of the frustration part for me is I know we're a disciplined team but when you have some of the things that happened yesterday in the game, it's very easy to say that we're undisciplined,” he said. “And that's the part that when I talk about reflection moving forward here, and when I step back and look at everything big-picture wise, that's my job. I need to make sure that that part gets fixed. And that's what I'm going to do. Whatever it takes, however it's done, I'm going to do it. I'm going to be locked in on making sure that these mistakes come to an end.”

Hub Arkush: Bears take a giant step backward in loss to Chiefs

Posted on December 23, 2019 - 00:27:00

Home finale creates far more questions than answers about Bears

CHICAGO – For all the buildup to the first family reunion between Matt Nagy and Andy Reid, Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes and the Fuller brothers, once the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears finally kicked off, it pretty quickly became a microcosm of the Bears entire season.

And it wasn’t very pretty.

The biggest problem was that after multiple promises to get certain things fixed, Nagy almost immediately began repeating the same things that have haunted him all season.

The Bears came out running, with Trubisky getting the first two carries for five and one yards, Tarik Cohen converting on third down with a six-yard scamper, Trubisky missing Javon Wims with his first pass and then running again for five yards and scrambling for eight to set the Bears up with first-and-ten at midfield.

But six plays in with a little momentum, Nagy’s worst instincts prevailed and he called a gadget run play with Anthony Miller coming back right on a reverse jet sweep action, Trubisky and Miller botching the short pitch and Miller recovering the fumble but with Bears once again behind the chains and the drive, for all practical purposes, over.

The Chiefs answered with a 15-play, 82-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead after they converted four of four third downs — including 3rd and 18 and 3rd and 10.

The Chiefs offense is just really good, but on the 11th play of the drive, on second-and-4 at the Bears' 22, Mahomes missed Spencer Ware on a short swing pass to the right, short but clearly a forward pass and for some reason Nagy challenged the call looking for a fumble giving away a valuable challenge and timeout with two minutes still left in the first quarter.

Three plays later, from his own 20, Trubisky had Allen Robinson 3 steps behind the defender 50 yards down the field and threw the ball three yards over Robinson’s head.

After the Bears went three-and-out, the Chiefs took over at their own 30, and on the second play of the drive a big rush from Roy Robertson-Harris and Buster Skrine forced Mahomes to throw the ball away but Robertson-Harris shoved Mahomes after the throw.

It wasn’t even a good shove and until three years ago it would have gone unnoticed but in today’s NFL it’s roughing the passer and Robertson-Harris has to know better.

That penalty set up Harrison Butker, the league’s leading scorer, for a 56-yard field goal that he nailed, making it 10-0.

The Bears then drove from their 25 to the Chiefs 43, where the drive stalled they punted to the Chiefs 5.

Eleven plays later, the Bears defense stopped the Chiefs, setting up fourth-and-4 at the Bears 43, where reminiscent of Week 5 in London against the Raiders, Kevin Pierre-Louis — who other than at that moment was one of the best players on the field all night for the Bears — was guilty of running into the kicker, giving the Chiefs a first down at the Bears 38.

Six plays after that the Chiefs were in the end zone again, and with 52 seconds left in the first half, it was 17-0 and the game was for all practical purposes over.

While he only finished with one sack, Khalil Mack spent most of the night in Mahomes face and played his best game in months.

At the end of the day, the Chiefs offense is just too loaded for the Bears to take them on without Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman, who went out on the Chiefs first possession with a concussion.

But the offense, other than a few sparks in the run game with David Montgomery, basically failed to show up, and while Trubisky missed a few plays, he really never had a chance with what Nagy gave him to work with.

It was an awful way to say goodbye for the season to the Soldier Field faithful, and as players, coaches and fans alike ventured off into the evening Nagy and his troops had really left far more questions to be answered than they kicked off the game with.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

Bears loss to Chiefs 'just embarrassing'

Posted on December 23, 2019 - 00:20:00

CHICAGO – Even the boos were halfhearted.

Bears fans tried to boo their team’s offense late in the first half Sunday. As far as boos are concerned, it was a weak attempt. A spattering, at best.

Bears fans, it seemed, didn’t have enough energy left for a deep, hearty boo. They had seen enough over the first 14 games of the 2019 season to know not to raise their hopes up too much.

The Kansas City Chiefs came into Chicago on "Sunday Night Football" and ground the Bears into a dull 26-3 loss in front of the home fans.

“It sucks, man,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “Last home game, prime time, that was just embarrassing.”

Most fans were gone midway through the fourth quarter, which said more than boos could have. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes finished carving up the Bears defense for 251 passing yards, two touchdowns and another touchdown rushing.

Even though they had nothing to play for, playoff hopes already dashed, the Bears seemed to know they let the fans down.

“You play games like that on TV, prime time, ultimately, you want to go out and ball, especially at home,” Pro Bowler Khalil Mack said. “It’s embarrassing to us. We embarrassed our fans. Ultimately that’s unacceptable.”

It’s a bad sign when receiver Allen Robinson – usually one of the more eloquent Bears interviews – is at a loss for words.

“It’s frustrating,” Robinson said. “Obviously, we don’t like to lose. We didn’t play well.”

The game’s first drive exemplified just what makes Mahomes and the Chiefs so special. They capitalized on two third-and-long situations, and Mahomes later scored a 12-yard touchdown run on third down.

The Chiefs went 6 for 11 on third down for the game. They have big-play potential on every play.

“Play good for first down, second down,” linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “A team like that, we’ve got to get off the field on third. It’s tough because each and every one of us grind each week. We put our bodies on the line and that’s what makes games like this game hurt a little bit.”

Pierre-Louis, who led the Bears with 12 tackles, said Mahomes is difficult to prepare for because he makes defenders look for things they wouldn’t normally expect.

“I had a play I’m covering the running back,” Pierre-Louis said. “Anyone else, I’m not really thinking back shoulder going to the running back. [With] Patrick Mahomes, you’ve got to lock in and think that he’s not going to throw it over the top, he’s going to throw it to where his guy can get it.

“He’s a dynamic guy. He’s going to get the ball to his guys' hands. He wants his guys to make plays and they have been making plays all season.”

Mahomes put on a clinic in what was likely a forgettable win over a mediocre team for the 2018 NFL MVP. Bears fans would like to forget it, too.

Bears defense struggles out of gate again at home en route to a 4-4 Soldier Field finish

Posted on December 23, 2019 - 00:15:00

After going 7-1 at home in 2018 en route to a 12-4 NFC North title, the Bears need a victory in this year's finale in Minnesota against the playoff-bound Vikings Sunday to surpass seven victories overall and avoid their fifth losing season in the past six years.

Chicago finished its Soldier Field slate with a 26-3 defeat Sunday in prime time vs. the Chiefs, who never looked back after marching 15 plays for 82 yards on their first possession — the second long, game-opening TD drive against the Bears at Soldier Field in as many games — before becoming their third consecutive opponent not to turn the ball over. The Bears managed only a field goal in their first and last games of the season at Soldier Field, where they failed to maintain last year's big edge, finishing at 4-4.

“It was definitely sloppy. There were a lot of things we gave up, especially up front and on third downs," said Khalil Mack, referring to the Chiefs converting 55 percent on the money down and only allowing one sack, Mack's 8 1/2 of the season. "Ultimately, it was not the type of ball we like to play.”

Indeed, while most of the storylines this week revolved around the Mitch Trubisky-Patrick Mahomes duel, and it, like mentor Andy Reid against mentee Matt Nagy, were as one-sided as they get, the defense wasn't of its usual caliber. It couldn't get off the field before halftime, when it allowed three scoring drives and dug a 17-0 deficit, and allowed three touchdowns in four red-zone trips.

“The track record speaks for itself. He did a lot of great things with his feet and was just throwing to guys that were open. Today was on us," said Eddie Jackson. "We gave up some third downs, and we just have to clean it up.”

But the Bears are nearly out of time to clean it up this season, and they'll finish against a Vikings team with its postseason seeding still in the balance. Minnesota hosts the division-leading Green Bay Packers Monday night and can still potentially earn the No. 3 seed, but not without earning its first victory in four tries against Matt Nagy's Bears. It's just that Nagy's Bears have never been more vulnerable.

"We all need to understand where we're at and how important it is. That's where it led us to that point, to that score, and that's why it was empty," Nagy Nagy said of a mostly empty Soldier Field late Sunday night and of his team's disappointing focus in its first game on his watch without playoff possibilities.

Injuries: Pro Bowl alternate nose guard Eddie Goldman suffered a concussion on the first defensive series and didn't return. Starting RG Rashaad Coward injured his knee and was replaced after halftime by veteran Ted Larsen. Akiem Hicks, who returned off IR following the minimum eight-week stint with a dislocated left elbow last week with the team still in contention, was ruled out Saturday night.

"We just decided that we got it looked at, had some further examinations and we just felt like after that, through all of us talking, collaborating, that was the best thing to do, so that's what we did," Nagy said of the decision after Hicks was a full practice participant in Week 16 and didn't initially show up on the injury report until Friday, when he received a questionable designation.


 

Forget what could've been, loss to Chiefs couldn't have been more embarrassing

Posted on December 22, 2019 - 23:36:00

After Patrick Mahomes scored his second touchdown and built the Chiefs a 17-0 halftime lead Sunday night, he jogged to the sideline, unfurling his fingers and counting them one by one until he’d reached 10.

The NFL’s reigning MVP wasn’t taunting Bears QB Mitch Trubisky, who wears No. 10, or the Chicago offense, which moments later would complete its 10th first half of the season without a touchdown.

More likely, Mahomes was reminding the Bears — who infamously opted to trade up from No. 3 to No. 2 to select Trubisky over him in the 2017 draft — and at least eight other teams that they passed on the generational quarterback. It was perhaps the lowest of lows Sunday night for the Bears, who fell 26-3 in, mercifully, their final embarrassing performance on a national stage this season.

"I didn't feel like he got into that," Matt Nagy said of the unavoidable and breathless Mahomes-Trubisky storylines this week. "I felt like today, it felt like team vs. team, not player vs. player, not coach vs. coach, is how I felt. ... It just wasn't our day today."

But back for a moment three years earlier, when the Chiefs made their own trade, sending a 2018 first-rounder to Buffalo for the right to move up from No. 27 to 10, injecting Mahomes into a QB room coach Andy Reid this week referred to as “Quarterback University.”

And the rest is history for the Chiefs and, more often than not, misery, or quarterback purgatory, it seems, for the Bears.

Mahomes authored one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons in NFL history in his first year as the starter in 2018, following that up with another mesmerizing campaign this season ending in the Chiefs’ second consecutive AFC West title.

Unsurprisingly, then, as Mahomes was doing Mahomes things Sunday night — Game No. 30 — like becoming the fastest player in NFL history to reach 9,000 passing yards and 75 TD tosses, the Bears were also busy staying on brand, or at least from an offensive standpoint.

Trubisky had a career-low 120 passing yards with less than two minutes remaining, completing only 52.9 of his mostly horizontal passes. Those mostly horizontal passes were reflective of a play caller in Matt Nagy who can praise his quarterback all he wants — his true feelings are conveyed in his conservative play calling, like Trubisky’s first third-and-long pass attempt failing to travel beyond the line of scrimmage.

"Could be a bunch of things," Trubisky said when asked to explain his and the Bears' lifeless performance. "Bad execution. Not locked in. ... They came to play; we didn't."

And arguably the Bears’ even greater concern following their first game of the Nagy regime without postseason aspirations was a stunning lack of competence and discipline from his players not named Trubisky. The 23-point margin of defeat was the largest on his watch, ominously occurring in the first game his team has played without playoff aspirations.

On a third-and-4 on the Bears opening defensive series, OLB3 Aaron Lynch earned his seventh penalty of 2019 — all neutral zone infractions — trailing only Kyle Fuller on defense. Fuller had played more than 99 percent of the total defensive snaps through 15 weeks; Lynch has logged fewer than 22.5 percent. In the offense’s only visit to the red zone, Nagy called a QB keeper on third-and-goal from the 5 that gained 1 and a low-percentage fade that Trubisky woefully underthrew.

Kevin Pierre-Louis was called for his second running into the punter penalty of the season, the first arguably costing the Bears the game to the Raiders in London. Anthony Miller fumbled an end-around that halted a promising opening drive. Trubisky overthrew a would-be touchdown to Allen Robinson and threw short of the sticks — 20 yards short — on fourth-and-23 — midway through the fourth quarter.

Indeed, following a week in which Nagy cited effort and focus as the two litmus tests he’d value the most in evaluating his players in the final two games of an officially lost season, the Bears failed collectively, not only the head coach and quarterback. They'll take the most heat, and they are the biggest combined problem, but it's their mostly season-long struggles that make it so hard to know exactly how far the entire team has fallen.

"The score doesn't indicate that," Nagy said when asked whether the focus he sought was present. "And that's all of us — coaches and players. The score didn't indicate that. You hope that's there. If there's not focus, then there's some sloppiness, and I felt like that kind of mashed up a little bit."

The night's theme, as expected, was what could've been. But until the Bears find an answer to what they should do next after their season-long issues on offense and a defense suddenly trending in the wrong direction, the rest of it won't matter.

3 and out: Chiefs shut down Bears on Sunday Night Football

Posted on December 22, 2019 - 22:09:00

The Kansas City Chiefs took down the Bears, 26-3, under the lights Sunday at Soldier Field. Here’s what went down.

THREE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

1. The Chiefs marched down the field on their first possession and punched in a touchdown on a 12-yard run from QB Patrick Mahomes. The Bears over-committed against dangerous TE Travis Kelce, and left the entire left side of the field open for Mahomes, who ran into the end zone untouched.

2. On the Bears’ opening drive of the second half, trailing 17-0, QB Mitchell Trubisky and the offense drove to the Chiefs’ 4-yard-line and stalled out in the red zone. On fourth-and-goal, Trubisky’s pass intended for Allen Robinson was batted away. A touchdown would have given the Bears life in an otherwise lackluster performance.

3. After the Bears defense came up with back-to-back stops to open the second half, Kansas City’s offense revived itself with a 71-yard fourth-quarter drive to put the game away. Mahomes found Damien Williams for a 14-yard touchdown on third down, putting the Chiefs up, 23-3, with about 10 minutes remaining.

THREE THINGS THAT WORKED

1. Early-down success: The Bears defense had some success forcing the Chiefs into third-and-long situations. The problem was that early in the game the Chiefs kept finding ways to convert. The Chiefs’ first drive was a perfect example. Kansas City converted on plays of third-and-10 and third-and-18. The Bears jumped early on a third-and-4 for a penalty, and Mahomes ran in a 12-yard touchdown on third down. It seemed as if no hole was too deep for Kansas City.

2. Bears on the board: The Bears gave kicker Eddy Pineiro a shot at a field goal from 46 yards in the third quarter. He split the uprights with ease. With an offseason of uncertainty looming, Pineiro is another player who is trying to cement his spot on the 2020 roster. Pineiro hasn’t missed a field goal since going 0 for 2 against the Rams in Week 11.

3. Second-half D: Mahomes and the Chiefs didn't score in the third quarter. The Bears forced back-to-back punts after halftime. LBs Kevin Pierre-Louis and Nick Kwiatkoski played well, each with double-digit tackles. Overall, though, it was no moral victory for the Bears.

THREE THINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. QB comparison: The battle of the former 2017 first-round draft picks didn’t fare well for the Bears QB. No. 10-overall pick Mahomes was firing the ball all over the field, showing off his arm strength and sidearm action. No. 2-overall pick Trubisky had 59 total passing yards at halftime and his team didn’t have a point. It was a painful reminder of how things could have been different.

2. Goldman out: The Bears lost nose tackle Eddie Goldman early in the game due to a concussion. Goldman is a Pro Bowl alternate who has been a huge presence for the Bears defensive line in the absence of injured Akiem Hicks. Goldman did not return to Sunday’s game.

3. Bears offense: As has been the story all season, the Bears failed to create any momentum or consistency on offense. Allen Robinson made a few nice catches, David Montgomery had a couple decent runs, but all-in-all, it was a another disheartening offensive showing. The Chiefs, by comparison, look ready to make a run at the Super Bowl.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Bears finish the season next week against Minnesota at noon on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Bears Pro Bowl alternate NT Eddie Goldman ruled out vs. Chiefs with concussion

Posted on December 22, 2019 - 20:13:00

Chicago's Pro Bowl starter Cordarrelle Patterson also has departed with an apparent injury

Bears Pro Bowl alternate nose guard Eddie Goldman exited Sunday night's game during the first defensive series with a concussion.

Goldman entered the blue medical tent early in the first quarter prior to being escorted very slowly by trainers to the locker room and ruled out for the night.

A key cog in the NFL's No. 6 run 'D,' Goldman 25, started 31 consecutive games prior to Sunday and received his first Pro Bowl recognition this season, his fifth since the Bears selected him in the second round in the 2015 draft.

The Bears, who were eliminated from playoff contention at Lambeau Field last Sunday, trail the AFC West champion Chiefs 10-3 midway through the second quarter. Patrick Mahomes led an 82-yard TD drive on the Chiefs' first possession, converting two third-and-long situations prior to scoring himself from 12 yards out after ROLB Leonard Floyd vacated his edge to cover Pro Bowl TE Travis Kelce.

The Chiefs tacked on three on their next possession, capped by a 56-yard Harrison Butker field goal.

Ask Hub: Should be Bears' top offseason priority be TE, OL or something else?

Posted on December 22, 2019 - 12:20:00

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers Bears/NFL/Life questions weekly

Ask Hub

Bears Insider Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions in every newsletter:

Hypothetically speaking, if the Bears in the off-season can only upgrade either the TE position or the OL, which should they prioritize? Submitted by Chase Riddle

Chase, they can and must do both, but “hypothetically" if I’m forced to pick, it has to be tight end. The biggest single differences between the Bears offense and the Chiefs and Eagles offenses from which the Bears is devised and which are far more successful are Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.

When Matt Nagy arrived, Adam Shaheen was coming off his rookie year, and Ryan Pace knew when he drafted him he would be at least a two-, maybe three-year project coming from tiny Ashland College and there was still reason to hope he could become that guy. That’s why they chose to supplement him with the best "U" tight end on the free agent market in Trey Burton.

Shaheen hasn’t become even a quality starter at the "Y" position, let alone “that guy,” and it seems almost certain now he isn’t going to.

Burton is salvageable, but Jesper Horsted is intriguing — perhaps even exciting — so Burton could very well be a cap casualty.

J.P. Holtz has also been a pleasant surprise, but his ceiling doesn’t appear to even approach those of Kelce and Ertz, so he projects best as your solid No. 3 who can step in and start at the "Y" and could back up the "U" too (tight end position, not the band).

They must have a quality "Y" starter to fully explore and be successful with all of Nagy’s offense.

They also have to get better at left tackle, but Charles Leno, while not good enough, clearly gives you more at the position than Shaheen does at his, so that’s why tight end is the choice.

It is also possible that though they signed him to play guard, Alex Bars could end up getting a chance to compete at left tackle, and I believe his ceiling is quite a bit higher than Holtz’s and maybe Horsted’s too.

I also believe they will switch James Daniels back to center, where his ceiling is definitely higher than at guard and he has Pro Bowl potential while Cody Whitehair has Pro Bowl potential at either position, and the Rashaad Coward experiment is interesting and promising. Ted Larsen is one of the better backup interior linemen in the league, and they have Bars, so center and guard are in pretty good shape.

Bobby Massie is good enough at right tackle and they’d be fine re-signing Cornelius Lucas as the backup swing tackle.

Priority one is tight end, 1B is left tackle.

Why can’t Bears fans aim higher for their QB position? Do they not realize that the one position that can cover up the most flaws? Look at the Packers all these years. Why do Bears fans expect a shut out from their defense each week. Submitted by Jermaine Jones

Jermaine, you can’t “aim” a whole lot higher than trading the No. 3 pick in the Draft — plus two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder — to move up one spot to draft “your guy.”

The problem isn’t aim or the Bears understanding the need, it’s that three seasons later we still don’t know if they got it right and there is some cause to be concerned they may have missed.

Aaron Rodgers fell to the Packers after 22 other teams passed him in the first round, and they traded a first-round pick for Brett Favre following Favre's rookie year in Atlanta.

I get that Bears fans are frustrated because the organization missed with multiple first-round picks — in fact every one they’ve used on a quarterback since Jim McMahon in 1982, with the exception of Jim Harbaugh in 1987, when they focused on Rick Mirer, Cade McNown, Rex Grossman and Jay Cutler.

And the fact that when all was said and done, McMahon didn’t give them enough to have been worth the No. 5 overall pick they used on him and Harbaugh didn’t become a Pro Bowler until he got to Indianapolis, doesn’t help either.

Not only did this current regime make a huge investment at the position in Mitch, Chase Daniel is the second-highest-paid backup in the league this year behind only Teddy Bridgewater (you can’t count Eli Manning, Nick Foles or Joe Flacco, all having played their way out of their starting jobs to become backups).

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy definitely get it, they just have to do better in developing Trubisky and/or their talent evaluations at the position.

What do you see the N.Y. Jets biggest offseason need being? Submitted by Eric Bunson

A new head coach?

I don’t mean to be a wise guy, Eric, but I can’t for the life of me understand how they thought hiring Adam Gase immediately after he was fired in Miami was a good idea. He is a very bright offensive mind but looks to me to be one of those guys missing most of the key leadership and temperament qualities necessary for the job, suggesting he should be a quality career offensive coordinator, but not the top guy.

He is going to get at least one more year, though, so let’s talk players.

I like Sam Darnold a lot but he perhaps has taken a step back as a sophomore, so look at his weapons. The Jets have several “nice” receivers who can be solid Nos. 2 or 3, but they need a quality No. 1 — and the same goes for the tight end position.

An overhaul of the offensive line is in order as well with a focus on the key left tackle spot. If Kelechi Osemele can come back healthy next year, that will help a lot up front.

On defense, with the Leonard Williams trade they now need Quinnen Williams to start dominating, as wel as upgrades at cornerback and outside linebacker.

If C.J. Mosley can stay healthy next year, that will help a lot.

I want to give GM Joe Douglas the benefit of the doubt because he arrived after the ’19 team was put together, he is an excellent evaluator and he inherited the horrible Le'Veon Bell and Mosley contracts. But any front office that would even consider trading Jamal Adams — who should be the cornerstone around which you build your defense — may be heading in the wrong direction.

Wide receiver, cornerback, pass rusher, tight end, offensive tackle, in that order.

Two questions hub the Patterson hit to the punt returner of the packers, why didn't Nagy throw the red flag? 2nd is the last desperation play by the bears, where they almost pulled it off, they said they practiced it, why wasn't the ball pitched the 2 open guys to his right? Submitted by Tony Guzman

Tony, once the officials threw the bogus flag, they wiped out the fumble. Had the question been whether or not he fumbled the ball, it would have been automatically reviewed, as all turnovers are. Interference with the returner’s right to catch the ball — which is what they called — is not a reviewable play, so Nagy couldn’t throw a flag.

As for the final hook and ladder, fire drill play, they may have practiced it, but I can guarantee you it wasn’t more than a couple times all season, and I’m pretty sure Jesper Horsted, who ended up with the ball and wasn’t on the roster or special teams until just a couple weeks earlier, couldn’t have practiced it more than once or twice, if at all.

So now you’ve got the least experienced player on your team with the ball in that situation, and he appeared to be looking straight ahead and thinking end zone or bust.

It’s really as simple as he didn’t look for Allen Robinson trailing him on his right, or even if he tried he just didn’t see him and the green grass in front of A-Rob, or I’m sure Horsted would have tried to get him the ball.

Should the Steelers draft a qb of the future? Submitted by Itsame Mario

Until a few weeks ago, they thought they had him in Mason Rudolph, and they obviously like “Duck” Hodges in spite of his four-pick meltdown last week in his first prime-time spotlight.

Roethlisberger will be back next year and maybe a year or two after that, so the question becomes are they quitting on Rudolph or do they still think he can be the guy?

I doubt Hodges will ever be more than a solid No. 2, but I liked Rudolph a lot coming out of Oklahoma State and would still like to see more.

I’d have no issues with them drafting another quarterback they like late on Day 2 or on Day 3 of the Draft, but without a first-rounder now because of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, I doubt they’ll make a big commitment for another QB this spring.

If the Bears decline on Mitch, who can they realistically replace him with?Submitted by Michael

Mike, by decline you’re obviously talking about the fifth year of his deal, but the Bears have no intentions of “replacing him next year, his fourth in the league.

I can’t imagine they won’t replace Chase Daniel with a backup more capable of winning games for you if he were forced to start multiple games due to a significant injury to Mitch. Daniel is a great guy and has been a nice fit for “young Mitch,” but he isn’t that guy, and they would hope to get the next backup a little more inexpensively than Daniels.

The question is will they be looking for just a solid backup, or a currently failed young veteran who they think still has upside and can come in and compete with Trubisky.

I also believe they will pick what they hope will be an upgrade over Tyler Bray on Day 3 of the draft, meaning a youngster who isn’t well known now but with a higher ceiling than Bray.

The decision to exercise Trubisky’s fifth-year option is meaningful but not nearly as significant as people are making it out to be. It is guaranteed only for injury, and if they do exercise it they risk Mitch getting hurt late next year and being stuck for over $20 million in 2021 — even if he hasn’t established himself as the clear man of the future.

If they don’t exercise it, they still have the ability to tag him and control him for several years after next season, and either way, if he does emerge as what they’ve hoped for next year they’re going to want to extend him before he gets to Year 5 anyway.

The whole fifth-year option conversation is much more about the salary cap than anything else.

Do you see any change in Nagy's staff at all coming in the off season? Submitted by Raul Portillo

Raul, it’s a fair question but not one I can really answer without an insiders knowledge of how Nagy and Pace feel about the staff and who they could be happy or unhappy with.

For all the struggles on the offensive line, it’s certainly not about Harry Hiestand, who is one of the most respected O-line coaches in the game.

There was no way to predict the Kyle Long injury, forcing Rashaad Coward into the lineup probably before he was ready, and that caused the switch back to guard and center for James Daniels and Cody Whitehair, not their play or Harry’s coaching. Hiestand has actually done a great job the past 5-6 weeks improving the play of the interior of the line until they got to Green Bay last Sunday.

While I think the problems with Charles Leno were predictable and should have been addressed a couple of years ago, that’s on the front office, not the position coach.

Has Kevin Gilbride failed with the tight ends? Again, who knew Trey Burton would lose a season to an injury that had supposedly been surgically repaired, and off what we’ve seen so far, I doubt Mike Ditka, Tony Gonzalez or Rob Gronkowski could have done much more with Adam Shaheen than Gilbride has.

And Gilbride gets high marks for the work he’s done with J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted in basically emergency situations.

I can break them all down for you, but I don’t see any coaches on the staff who’ve failed or had particularly bad years.

The other concern is that guys move on, and that can happen with position coaches who have a different relationship with another head coach who may be getting his first top job and reaches out to them for his staff — possibly even with a promotion. Or maybe they look to switch positions with another team or get an upgrade to a coordinator or assistant head coach elsewhere. I’m not aware of any Bears assistants in those kinds of situations, but who knows.

Lastly, you can lose a coordinator to a head job elsewhere, and I think Chuck Pagano has done an excellent job this year and will get another chance, but not yet, and I’m not hearing Mark Helfrich’s or Brad Childress’ names as hot candidates.

But back to the top, it could be Nagy will have a reason(s) for a change or three, but none that are obvious.

— Hub Arkush

Why aggressively rebuilding QB room around Trubisky could be win-win for Bears and embattled starter

Posted on December 22, 2019 - 12:20:00

Perhaps you’ve heard: Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, whom the Bears passed on in the 2017 draft in favor of trading up one spot and spending the second overall pick on Mitch Trubisky, brings his AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs to town Sunday.

The week of breathless comparisons, fair or not, were “imminent,” as Bears OC Mark Helfrich admitted. Of course there are no do-overs, as Trubisky reminded everyone, and obviously there are valuable lessons to be learned from Ryan Pace’s potential legacy-defining mistake.

Yet not nearly as prevalent as all of the Mahomes-Mitch rants you’ve surely read or heard in recent days is where Alex Smith fit in that picture. And with a couple offseason moves looming in the Bears’ QB room — hopefully at least one that gives them a fighter’s chance in 2020 if/when Trubisky’s inconsistencies continue — we think it’s past time to spend a few minutes focusing on Smith.

First, let’s be clear: Only 10 games into his stint in Washington last season, Smith suffered a catastrophic leg injury from which he’s yet to return, that ultimately could end his career.

This is not a column about the Bears needing to pursue Smith this offseason.

But the reasons are twofold why Smith was traded two offseasons ago to Washington by the Chiefs in exchange for a second-round pick and CB Kendall Fuller: Clearly, Mahomes was ready to not only start but shine, as he obviously did in one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons in NFL history; and Smith was coming off the best season of his career, with the hot-shot first-rounder for whom the franchise fearlessly mortgaged its future suddenly alongside in the QB room.

Smith had taken a clear step backward in the 2016 season, compelling the Chiefs — despite being on the heels of their first division title in six years — to stun the NFL world by moving up 17 spots and selecting Mahomes at No. 10 overall.

With Smith’s yards per attempt, passer rating, TD-INT ratio and especially rushing production all having declined precipitously, and with only one year remaining at the time on his current deal and their defense also having taken a notable step back, he suddenly had the ultimate motivator: his likely heir breathing down his neck.

Sure, Smith was in a far more established career spot, on his second team and in Year 12 at the time, and Trubisky this offseason will only be entering Year 4, when Bears fans are likely resigned to a best-case scenario for their supposed QB savior becoming, well, coincidentally, Smith. And no, the Bears, with their limited draft ammunition, aren’t likely to shoot for one of this draft’s most likely future stars at the position, like a Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovoila.

The bigger point is that the Chiefs acted decisively with Smith's reckoning nigh, identifying a path toward a better QB future with Mahomes, and doing so undoubtedly brought out the very best in the incumbent starter.

All Smith did following Mahomes’ arrival was set career highs while leading the NFL in passer rating and TD-INT ratio, finishing second in yards per attempt and third in completion percentage as he guided the Chiefs to consecutive division titles for the first time in franchise history. His spectacular resurgence created powerful leverage for Smith and for the Chiefs — they found an aggressive trade partner willing to hand him a new contract including in excess of $70 million guaranteed, clearing the way for history to be made by Mahomes.

Again, these aren't exactly apples-to-apples comparisons. By most indications, however perplexing, the Bears are prepared to continue riding with Trubisky, which likely means picking up his fifth-year 2021 option this spring. Still, it'll be guaranteed for injury only, essentially making next year Trubisky's contract season. And with Trubisky currently their only quarterback under contract next season, the Bears have no choice but to make some difficult decisions on how to surround him. The potential scenario that we're outlining, obviously, would be best case, like the "Quarterback University" label Andy Reid gave this week to his 2017 QB room. Matt Nagy expounded, emphasizing the process between Smith and Mahomes of establishing trust from the beginning to the end of that season, and the unity and the united front it helped to create.

But if we can see some of these similarities, surely Bears coach Matt Nagy — at the time the Chiefs offensive coordinator who shared that QB room with the "heaven-sent" mentor Mahomes and ungodly talented Mahomes — can, too, right? And with the coach saying just this week that one of his main points of pride with Trubisky in his quarterback's clear step backward from last season is how he's been "mentally calloused," he should be able to take the heat that comes with a legitimate rookie and/or veteran challenger?

Because if he's not, wouldn't that be the most obvious sign thus far that his wiring isn't that of a franchise quarterback?

Hub Arkush: Chiefs-Bears game still matters for a number of reasons

Posted on December 21, 2019 - 08:45:00

CHICAGO – There are only a few things that are certain about the Bears’ meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs in primetime Sunday night.

In spite of the fact that their matchup really doesn’t matter to anyone but their families and closest friends, NBC will set the all-time record for sideline shots of head coaches Andy Reid and Matt Nagy – at some point in the game we will get a video package of them visiting on the field before the game, quite possibly multiple times. The network also will set records for graphics with information almost every single person watching the game already knows comparing Patrick Mahomes with Mitch Trubisky. NBC’s greatest hope for the game is that they will be able to get some video of the two quarterbacks visiting on the field before the game, and we will see shots of Mahomes and Trubisky on the sidelines almost every time the other guy is on the field and Al Michaels and/or Chris Collinsworth will gush breathlessly almost every time about what the QB on the sideline must be thinking about the QB on the field.

Let’s face it, that’s why the NFL and NBC didn’t flex out of this game for one with greater playoff implications, such as New Orleans at Tennessee.

So if we already know all that, why bother watching the game at all?

Because contrary to what many seem to believe, there will be a lot that does matter going on on the field that we just have to hope NBC doesn’t miss while it is dramatically overhyping Reid-Nagy I and Mahomes-Trubisky I.

With nothing but pride and future employment to play for, will the Bears show up? Khalil Mack will for sure, and he’s convinced his teammates will, too.

“Man, if you really need motivation, you don’t really love it,” Mack said. “I love this game, and regardless of what the situation or circumstance is, I’m going to go out and give my all every time. That’s the kind of group of guys we have here, as well. They love the game, and we’re going to do whatever we can to win.”

I don’t know about winning, but I believe they will show and put up a fight.

The Bears have huge decisions to make about where they think Trubisky is and who they will put in the quarterback room with him next season.

The dynamics of that decision are quite different than they were six weeks ago when coming back from one of his worst games of the season at Philadelphia, Trubisky put up some of the best numbers of his career in a 20-13 win over the Lions including three touchdowns, no picks and a 131.0 passer rating.

Since that game, Trubisky is 146 for 229 passing for a 63.8% completion percentage, 1,557 yards with a 6.8-yard average, 12 TDs and seven interceptions along with 29 carries for 126 yards for a 4.4-yard average with a long of 23 yards and two touchdowns.

Not exactly Mahomes, Drew Brees or Lamar Jackson numbers, but enough to believe he is making progress, moving forward and beginning to get the job.

It also helps that the Bears are 4-2 in those games.

If Trubisky plays well Sunday night and the finale in Minnesota, not in comparison with Mahomes or Kirk Cousins, but executes the offense, avoids mistakes and is productive, it will affect how the Bears view their offseason moves on offense and, in particular, at quarterback.

In addition to Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are free agents after the season, and how they play the next two weeks will have an effect on whether they are in Chicago or playing elsewhere in 2020.

The Bears will focus on acquiring additional talent this offseason at tight end, offensive tackle and running back, but how J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted and David Montgomery play over the next nine days will determine whether they focus on those areas in the draft (and how high) or free agency and whether Trey Burton becomes a cap casualty.

You also can expect Kevin Tolliver and Michael Joseph, if he’s active, to be closely studied to determine whether Prince Amukamara is a cap casualty, as well.

Lastly, a wining season at 9-7 would make everybody feel a lot better.

Don’t let anybody tell you the Chiefs game doesn’t matter.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

Bears Amukamara, Hicks questionable Sunday night vs. Chiefs; Massie, Gabriel out again

Posted on December 20, 2019 - 14:38:00

Could Kevin Toliver earn another audition as potential 2020 starter?

Bears starting RCB Prince Amukamara is listed as questionable for Sunday night vs. the Chiefs, but after he was downgraded from full participant Wednesday to limited Thursday and Friday with the balky hamstring that sidelined him two weeks ago and cut into his snaps in Green Bay, his status is less certain.

Although Matt Nagy has indicated on several occasions that his team would "keep rolling" and use all healthy hands on deck in the final two games after being eliminated from playoff contention in Week 15, it's clear the hamstring issue that Amukamara sustained on Thanksgiving remains.

And with Amukamara's status with the team also unclear next season, when the Bears potentially can save $8 million by cutting the soon-to-be 31-year-old, there could be motivation for both parties to sitting the veteran cornerback down.

In Amukamara's case, his opportunity to potentially cash in on another multi-year deal — which he only obtained from the Bears after back-to-back one-year prove-it pacts in Jacksonville and Chicago — certainly could be tied to his health.

From the Bears perspective, if they're anticipating parting ways with Amukamara and going younger at the RCB spot opposite Pro Bowl alternate Kyle Fuller, Sunday night against the high-flying Chiefs would mark the best opportunity to date to evaluate promising sophomore Kevin Toliver.

"When he has gotten his opportunity, he has gone out there and done some good things. It’s never perfect. It’s a hard job. He’s doing a nice job with the reps that he’s getting," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said of Toliver, the 2018 undrafted free agent from LSU who never quite matched expectations in Baton Rouge as a former five-star recruit but has acquitted himself well in sporadic chances thus far as a pro.

Toliver made an impressive breakup on a sideline pass from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams Sunday, when he began in a rotation with Amukamara before taking over for good in the second half. He also flashed physicality in support, fighting off an Adams block attempt to shut down a WR screen. Of course, he was trucked at the goal line on Aaron Jones' second TD run and flagged on special teams, illustrating, unsurprisingly, that the long and athletic press corner with pedigree but not a ton of experience remains a work in progress.

It's no wonder, then, Pagano cited "experience" and "confidence" as the two greatest potential benefits in Toliver potentially gaining more opportunities over the final two games. He was beat for a touchdown by Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper two weeks ago in his lone 2019 start, but that required a precision downfield throw by the NFL passing leader in garbage time to complete.

"I liked the way that he played," Nagy said afterward. "We went in Cover-0 on the play he got beat for the touchdown and Dak made a hell of a throw, dropped it right in the bucket. But for the most part, overall I thought it was good for him. He got a chance to go out there and see what he could do. Every bit of experience that he can get is only going to help make him better down the road."

With Toliver perhaps more likely than Amukamara to remain in the Bears' down-the-road plans, the final two games could loom especially large vs. Chiefs' speed merchants Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins and against the Vikings' outstanding tandem of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

The same probably can be said for swing OT Cornelius Lucas, who's in line for his third straight start with Bobby Massie (ankle) again out, and Javon Wims, who should get more run in a third consecutive missed game for Taylor Gabriel (concussion).

The 10-4 Chiefs, who have already locked up their division but still have a shot at a first-round bye, will be without starting LG Andrew Wylie and reserve CB Mo Claiborne (shoulder). Kansas City should welcome back starting RB Damien Williams (rib) from a three-game absence to a recalibrated backfield, where vet Spencer Ware and rookie Darwin Thompson have earned increased touches alongside the still-dangerous LeSean McCoy, 31, the NFL's third-leading active rusher.

Prime-time Betting Guides in Week 16

Posted on December 20, 2019 - 10:27:00

Mahomes-Mitch Round 1, and Packers' NFC North title there for taking in Minnesota

Kansas City (10-4; 9-5 ATS) at Chicago (7-7; 4-10 ATS) (Sunday night)

Early line: Chiefs (minus-4 points). Total: (45)

KC 5TH OFF; CHI 8TH DEF

KC 25TH RUN; CHI 6TH vs. RUN

KC 3RD PASS; CHI 13TH vs. PASS

KC 4TH PTS; CHI 3RD PTS ALLOWED

CHI 28TH OFF; KC 18TH DEF

CHI 29TH RUN; KC 26TH vs. RUN

CHI 25TH PASS; KC 11TH vs. PASS

CHI 26TH PTS; KC 11TH PTS ALLOWED

KC 8TH TO/TA; CHI T17TH TO-TA

Bears lead all-time series 7-5-0 and won most recent game 18-17 at KC Oct. 11, 2015. Chiefs’ 4th-ranked scoring offense (28.1 ppg) goes up against Bears’ 3rd-ranked scoring defense (18.1 ppg), as Bears head coach Matt Nagy faces his mentor, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, at Soldier Field on “Sunday Night Football.”

With stellar TE Travis Kelce leading the way, CHIEFS’ 23-3 Week 15 rout of the division-rival Broncos at a very snowy Arrowhead Stadium allowed them to keep pace in the race for a first-round playoff bye in the AFC.

"Right now it's just a bunch of numbers. Honestly, I'm focused on winning games," said CHIEFS’ Kelce, who had 11-142 receiving vs. Broncos and became the first TE in NFL history with 4 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. "It being a team sport, the individual accolades, you know, I like to kind of push them aside and try to focus on how I can get better for my teammates."

Some of Kelce's best games have come late in the season and in the playoffs, and the CHIEFS could use a few more of them. They need to win their last two games against the Bears and Chargers and hope for the Patriots to lose to get a first-round playoff bye.

QB Patrick Mahomes had 27-34-340-2 TDs-1 INT (115.7 QB rating) while getting sacked 3 times directing CHIEFS offense that gained 419 total yards and converted 6-of-11 3rd downs. Mahomes' 79.4 completion rate vs. Denver was the 2nd best of his career. And he did it despite constant snowfall that made gripping the ball difficult for both him and his receivers.

CHIEFS are still searching for some offensive balance. They ran 25 times for just 92 yards vs. Denver, and their longest run went for just 12 yards. That meager total is offset in part by screen passes, and KC should be a bit more potent once RB Damien Williams returns from his rib injury (check status). But the Chiefs need to have more success on the ground.

Every time LeSean McCoy seems poised to have a breakout game for CHIEFS, the veteran running back gets bottled up. He managed just 16 yards on six carries against the Broncos in the snowy Week 15 conditions.

True to form, CHIEFS WR Tyreek Hill continued to be a major force with 5-67-2 receiving on 7 targets with a long of 41 (TD) in Week 15 win.

But of the utmost importance, the massive offseason overhaul that CHIEFS undertook on defense is finally paying off. The Chiefs have limited their past four opponents to 20 points or fewer, and two of the past three have failed to score 10 points. The Broncos didn't surpass 200 yards until late in the game.

Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill give the CHIEFS perhaps the best set of safeties in the AFC. They were two of K.C.’s three leading tacklers against Denver, Mathieu had a sack and nearly picked off several passes, and Thornhill made an interception in the end zone. They duo also combined to have three passes defensed.

The CHIEFS claimed veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs off waivers on Monday, filling a massive hole at defensive end after losing Alex Okafor to a torn pectoral muscle a day earlier against the Broncos.

Check status of CHIEFS OL Andrew Wylie, who left Week 15 game late with an ankle injury; and CBs Morris Claiborne (shoulder; DNP in Week 15) and Rashad Fenton (hamstring; DNP in Week 15).

The playoffs are out of the picture for the BEARS after their offense reverted to their inconsistent tendencies much of this season in 21-13 Week 15 road loss to the arch-rival Packers. Despite gaining a season-high 415 yards, Bears managed only one TD in 25 possessions (that’s not a typo).

But Nagy said Monday the BEARS would not sit out starters to look at other players against the Chiefs on Sunday night. Mitchell Trubisky remains at quarterback after his 29-53-334-1 TD-2 INT (64.5 QB rating) Week 15 effort that also included 4-29 rushing, and the idea is to play out the string as if Bears were still competing for a playoff berth.

BEARS’ running attack struggled in Week 15 after two straight games of improvement, preceded by an entire season of being mired. Running backs averaged only 2.9 ypc with 67 yards on 23 attempts. Rookie David Montgomery was limited to 39 yards on 14 runs.

BEARS WRs Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, meanwhile, continued performing quite well. Robinson earned his 2nd 1,000-yard receiving season with 7 catches for 125 yards. He has 1,023 yards, and also achieved a career high in receptions with 83. Miller, who has come on really strong in the last month, had 9-118-1 receiving on 15 targets with a long of 33.

As usual, BEARS’ defense was decent, allowing Packers only 292 total yards, but just one sack with zero takeaways was a significant drawback.

BEARS’ pass defense stood out through much of Week 15 game, as it held GB’s Aaron Rodgers to less than 50 percent completions (16-of-33) and only 203 yards with one touchdown and a QB rating of 78.2. Three completions accounted for 110 yards, so they held Rodgers to 93 yards on his other 13 completions.

But BEARS standout OLB Khalil Mack had only one tackle against the Packers, a TFL. He went without a sack for the seventh time this season and has two sacks in the past six games. Mack is still 2 ½ sacks shy of extending his streak of double-digit sacks to five straight seasons.

BEARS’ Mack has been getting double- and even triple-teamed by blockers. "That's never gonna change for the rest of his career," Nagy said. “Would we love to be able to see more (sacks)? Yeah, but none of it is because of effort or scheme or anything like that. That's just the way it was yesterday.”

Though BEARS escaped without additional reported injuries, concern focuses on DE Akiem Hicks, who came off I.R. to play vs. Packers and wore a large brace on his dislocated left elbow. Hicks left twice in pain to go to the injury tent but returned both times to play. Asked afterward if he'll keep playing with only two meaningless games remaining, Hicks said: "I love the game." (check status).

Green Bay (11-3; 9-5 ATS) at Minnesota (10-4; 8-6 ATS) (Monday Night)

Early line: Vikings (minus-4.5 points). Total: (46.5)

GB 21ST OFF; MIN 14TH DEF

GB 17TH RUN; MIN 8TH vs. RUN

GB 17TH PASS; MIN 20TH vs. PASS

GB 14TH PTS; MIN 6TH PTS ALLOWED

MIN 10TH OFF; GB 23RD DEF

MIN 4TH RUN; GB 24TH vs. RUN

MIN 12TH PASS; GB 22ND vs. PASS

MIN 5TH PTS; GB 9TH PTS ALLOWED

GB 2ND TO/TA; MIN T4TH TO-TA

Packers lead all-time series 61-54-3 and won most recent game 21-16 at Green Bay in first game of these NFC North rivals’ 2019 season series in Week 2 after losing 3 of 4 previous games (teams tied 29-29 in first game of 2018 season series). Vikings outgained Packers 421-335 in first matchup this season (including 198-144 rushing edge) but committed 4 costly turnovers. GB took 21-0 lead early in 2nd quarter, but remained scoreless after that while Vikings reeled off 16 straight points. Green Bay will be playing its first "Monday Night Football" game at Minnesota since 2009.

PACKERS clinched a playoff berth for the first time in three years with their 21-13 Week 15 home win over the division-rival Bears, and they now have sites firmly set on winning NFC North crown.

"It's a good accomplishment," PACKERS head coach Matt LaFleur said on clinching a playoff spot. "That was not our goal, though. Our goal was to win our division, and that's still out there in front of us, so there's still a lot of work left to be done."

QB Aaron Rodgers had a relatively pedestrian 16-33-203-1 TD-0 INTs (78.2 QB rating) directing a PACKERS Week 15 offense that gained only 292 total yards and converted 5-of-15 3rd downs and 1-of-3 4th downs.

But on a very positive note, Rodgers now has 265 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. That's the third-longest streak in PACKERS team history (Rodgers, 402 attempts in 2018; Bart Starr, 294 attempts in 1964-65).

On the PACKERS' 3 scoring drives in Week 15, the ball touched the hands of WR1 Davante Adams or RB1 Aaron Jones on nine-of-14 plays. Two of the other 5 plays were incompletions intended for Adams. The other 3 were a season-long 17-yard run by Rodgers, a 49-yard pass to WR Jake Kumerow and a 4-yard completion to WR Allen Lazard.

PACKERS’ Adams, who has four TDs in the last four weeks after being shut out of the end zone in his first six outings this season, had 7-103-1 receiving on 13 targets with a long of 34, while Jones had 13-51-2 rushing with a long of 21 in Week 15 win.

But offensively, very little is working for the PACKERS outside of Adams and Jones, which could be a problem in the playoffs if teams figure out how to scheme those two out of LaFleur's offensive game plan.

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling played all of seven snaps in Week 15, a season low for the 6-foot-4 speedster, and he dropped what likely would have resulted in a 70-yard touchdown on the PACKERS' first offensive play of the game. His production has plummeted and now he can't even get on the field.

PACKERS’ defense that has had its share of issues all season allowed Bears offense a season-high 415 total yards, but 4th-year DT Kenny Clark has been on an absolute tear of late. Clark tied his single-game career high with two sacks in Week 15, giving him 3 ½ in the last two games and five for the season.

In PACKERS’Week 2 win over Vikings earlier this season, Rodgers had 22-34-209-2 TDs-0 INTs (101.2 QB rating) and a lost fumble, Jones had 23-116-1 rushing with a long of 15 and 4-34 receiving on 6 targets with a long of 15, Adams had 7-106 receiving on 9 targets with a long of 39, WR Geronimo Allison and RB Jamaal Williams each had a TD catch and OLB Preston Smith and CB Kenny King each had an INT.

VIKINGS further solidified their playoff positioning with convincing 39-10 Week 15 road win over Chargers in which the defense forced seven turnovers (3 INTs by 3 different defenders and 4 FRs) and registered 3 sacks.

VIKINGS are one win — or one Rams loss — away from clinching a playoff berth as they sit comfortably as the 6th seed in NFC after LA lost at Dallas. The Vikings could climb to No. 5 in the conference if they win both of their final 2 games, at home vs. GB and Chicago, and Niners lose at home to the Rams and on the road at Seattle.

VIKINGS’ early road loss to the Packers leaves winning the NFC North as a distant possibility because of tiebreakers. Minnesota would need to win both its remaining games and have Green Bay lose its season finale at Detroit.

Keep a close eye on VIKINGS’ ground game moving forward. Second-year RB Mike Boone had eight carries total this season when star RB1 Dalvin Cook was injured early in the third quarter vs. Chargers.

With VIKINGS backup RB Alexander Mattison also out, Boone responded with 13 carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns. The carries and yards were career highs in a game, and the touchdowns were the first of his career.

"I really felt like for a couple weeks, Boone's been wanting to have a chip on his shoulder the way he's been running, showing in practice and the things that he's been doing," VIKINGS head coach Mike Zimmer said.

VIKINGS’ Cook left Week 15 game with a shoulder injury after being on the injury report for a chest injury previously. Zimmer said Monday that it's an injury Cook might be able to play through and said Cook "feels good today (check status)."

VIKINGS’ Cook is still having the best season of his career with 1,135 rushing yards to go with 53 catches for 519 yards, but he doesn't have a 100-yard rushing day since Week 7 at Detroit. In the past six games, he's averaged 3.32 ypc after averaging 5.28 ypc in the first eight games.

VIKINGS’ Mattison was held out of Week 15 game with an ankle injury. He didn't practice at all last week, so Boone could get the call again this Sunday (check statuses).

QB Kirk Cousins had 19-25-207-1 TD-1 INT (96.6 QB rating) directing VIKINGS Week 15 offense that gained 344 total yards and converted 7-of-14 3rd downs. WR Shelton Diggs led Minnesota receivers with 4-76 on 6 targets with a long of 46.

Particularly noteworthy VIKINGS defenders in Week 15 were: DLE Danielle Hunter (a sack, 2 FFs, a FR and 5 tackles), MLB Eric Kendricks (a FF and team-high 7 tackles), SS Harrison Smith (an INT, a FR and 6 tackles), CB Mike Hughes (an INT, 2 PBs and 4 tackles) and DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (a sack and a FR returned 56 yards for a TD).

VIKINGS’ special teams had one of their best games of the season against the Chargers. PK Dan Bailey missed an extra-point attempt, his 4th miss in 42 tries this season, after the Vikings scored on their first possession but came back to hit 4 FGs, continuing his strong season where he's 22-of-24 and 5th in the league with a 91.7% conversion rate. Bailey also hit his final PAT in the game.

In addition, VIKINGS’ Britton Colquitt averaged 51.5 yards per punt and placed both of his punts inside the 5-yard line (he is the only qualifying punter in the NFL to not record a touchback this season), LA averaged just 16.8 yards per KR and to top off the day, Eric Wilson partially blocked a LA punt that traveled just 26 yards.

After their seven takeaways and just one turnover on Cousins' interception in Week 15 win, VIKINGS are now plus-11 in turnover margin this season.

In addition to Cook and Mattison, check status of VIKINGS S Jayron Kearse (toe; DNP in Week 15).

In VIKINGS’ Week 2 loss to Packers earlier this season, Cousins had 14-32-230-1 TD-2 INTs (52.9 QB rating) and 2 fumbles (one lost) in a very lackluster performance; Cook had 20-154-1 rushing, including a 75-yard TD gallop, and 3-37 receiving on 3 targets with a long of 13; WR Adam Thielen had 5-75 receiving on 8 targets with a long of 30; Diggs had one catch (a 45-yard TD) on 7 targets and a lost fumble; and Hunter had a sack, 2 TFLs, 3 hurries and a team-leading 9 tackles.

Bears go 'all hands on deck' against Chiefs TE Travis Kelce

Posted on December 19, 2019 - 16:36:00

Over time, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce learned how to take ownership of a route.

He literally commandeered them from former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.

“He ended up putting his own little flavor on certain routes,” the Bears head coach said Thursday. “It might be drawn a certain way in the playbook and then he does it a little bit different, but it works. That’s a Kelce route. That’s Kelce doing his thing.”

Nagy had a front-row seat to watch the maturation of Kelce, a 2013 third-round draft pick by the Chiefs. Kelce flourished in coach Andy Reid’s offense, and under offensive coordinator Nagy in 2016 and 2017.

“He’s a rare talent and he’s going to be that way for a while,” Nagy said. “He’s very, very friendly to the quarterback. All over the field. It can be backed up at your own 5-yard line, it can be in the red zone … He’s a mismatch in a lot of different ways.”

For Bears safety Eddie Jackson, the proof is in the pudding. There’s a reason Kelce is seventh in the NFL with 1,131 receiving yards.

“Aw man, Kelce’s Kelce,” Jackson said.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano called Kelce “crafty.” Not bad for a 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end.

“He’s obviously got great synergy with the quarterback,” Pagano said. “There’s a trust level there. So it’s all hands on deck to try to take care of him.”

Special specialist: Bears kickoff return man Cordarrelle Patterson is heading to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career. He leads the NFL with 799 kick return yards and is second with 29.6 yards per kick return. His one kick return touchdown this season went for 102 yards against New Orleans.

He has also been a huge contributor in punt coverage. He has six special teams tackles.

“Not a lot of guys have his size and his speed and his strength and his instincts,” Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “I think that’s what makes him just really a special football player. I think sometimes people say, 'Well what is he? What does he do?' He’s a good football player. He can do a lot of things. You don’t see a lot of good returners be good cover guys. He’s one of those guys.”

Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack are also heading to the Pro Bowl.

“It’s always a blessing when you get respect from the coaches and players around the league,” Jackson said.

No word on Hicks: Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said he has not talked with coaches about potentially sitting out this week. Hicks, nursing an elbow injury, returned from injured reserve to play at Green Bay on Sunday. Multiple times, Hicks left the game due to his ailing elbow, but he kept returning to the field.

With the Bears out of playoff contention, no one would blame them if they shut Hicks down for the remaining two games.

“We haven’t had any discussions, as far as not playing,” Hicks said Thursday. “Just making sure that I do the right thing for my body and making sure that I don’t go out there and hurt myself more. I’m sure that’s on the mind of the coaches and GM.”

Hicks said he hopes to avoid having surgery on his elbow after the season.

“We’re in a good place in just making sure that it doesn’t get damaged any further,” Hicks said.

Bears Insider Podcast 181: A primetime showdown

Posted on December 19, 2019 - 12:54:14

Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush review Bears-Packers and look ahead to a primetime Chiefs-Bears game.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

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Bears Insider prediction time: Bears vs. Chiefs on 'Sunday Night Football'

Posted on December 19, 2019 - 10:24:00

Who wins Round 1 in Nagy-Reid, Mitch-Mahomes reunion?

Hub Arkush (season record: 9-5)

The question here for me isn't so much who will win but whether the Bears will show up and give the Chiefs a game. The Bears proved last Sunday in Green Bay this year's club just isn't ready to beat teams like the Packers and Chiefs right now, but based on the way they finished vs. the Packers and have somewhat salvaged their season from its 4-6 start, it does seem likely they'll show up and fight Sunday night. What should be more fun will be the Trubisky-Mahomes showdown, and my gut tells me the "newer" Mitch we've seen lately will make some plays and put up some points. Andy Reid — who's been known to run it up at times — won't be tempted to do that here against Nagy. Chiefs 27, Bears 24

Arthur Arkush (season record: 9-5)

The timing of Round 1 for Nagy vs. Reid and Trubisky vs. Mahomes almost feels like the Bears’ punishment for an immensely disappointing season. And although most of that disappointment stems from their still-broken offense, the Bears’ ‘D’ is poised to take the brunt of things Sunday night. After going back-to-back games without a takeaway for the first time this season and not tackling well on the back end at Lambeau, here comes the NFL’s most dangerous offense outside of Baltimore, with Mahomes masterfully running the point for big-play specialists Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. With the Bears likely sending a few defensive cogs to IR this week, don't be stunned if this one gets a bit ugly. Chiefs 30, Bears 17   

Sean Hammond (season record: 9-5)

The Chiefs, winners of four straight, are hitting stride at the right time. The Bears, at this point, have nothing to play for. Opponents have a fairly easy time running against the Chiefs defense, although Kansas City is stout in pass protection. If the Bears have any shot in this game, most likely running back David Montgomery will play a part in it. It will be a test for QB Mitchell Trubisky, who has two more chances to prove himself to the Bears and make an impression moving forward. Chiefs 24, Bears 14

Barry Rozner, Daily Herald (season record: 6-8)

The most important tally will be how many times GM Ryan Pace is shown on national TV Sunday night while Pat Mahomes is playing football. The game has no meaning in the standings for the Bears, but you can be sure Matt Nagy will do all he can to make sure Pace and Mitch Trubisky have a good night. The Chiefs are susceptible to the run, but it’s simply not in Nagy’s nature to take advantage of that. Chiefs 23, Bears 19

Joe Aguilar, Daily Herald (season record: 9-5)

Patrick Mahomes is healthy, back to MVP form and dominated in a Kansas City snowstorm last weekend. So the Bears don't have a snowball's chance in mid-summer KC, as they play their penultimate game of 2019. Mitch Trubisky is tired of being compared to the guy selected eight picks after him in 2017 and will continue to make plays, but the Chiefs are 6-1 on the road and, unlike the Bears, are headed to the playoffs. Chiefs 31, Bears 21

Bears and Chiefs are two teams going in different directions

Posted on December 19, 2019 - 10:23:00

But there's still plenty of prime-time intrigue in Chicago Sunday night

The Kansas City Chiefs are going to the playoffs again, while the Chicago Bears once again are not.

The last time the Bears made back-to-back appearances in the playoffs was 2005-06.

However, while the Bears are playing for pride and next year’s jobs, the Chiefs are still hopeful of getting a first-round bye, currently a game behind the Patriots for the No. 2 seed and two games behind the top-seeded Ravens.

With a likely win at home against the Chargers on the final day of the season if they need it, this is the game the Chiefs have to be careful with and make sure they show up.

Of course, this also is the first meeting of the Jedi Master Andy Reid and his prized pupil, Matt Nagy, and all eyes, preview, in-game and post-game chatter will focus on the performances of the second pick in the 2017 draft, Mitch Trubisky, and the NFL’s reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes, who was selected eight picks later.

Throw in the Sunday prime-time evening slot and there still is plenty to look forward to here.

Chiefs offense vs. Bears defense: You all know everything you need to about Mahomes, All Pro TE Travis Kelce and Pro Bowl WR Tyreek Hill.

If they don’t scare the crap out of any defense, they should.

Overall, the Chiefs come in ranked 5th in total offense, just 25th running the ball but 3rd throwing it, 5th on third down and 4th in the league in points scored at 28.1 points a game, and they are 4th in fewest sacks allowed, 2nd in fewest picks and they basically don’t give the ball away.

The Bears defense is top 10 or five in almost every category, 3rd in fewest points allowed at 18.1, but they don’t take the ball away or rush the passer very well.

After the big three, the players the Bears defense will have to be aware of include LeSean McCoy, who leads the Chiefs in rushing with a paltry 465 yards but can still hit you with a big play with a 4.6-yard average and four rushing TDs, plus one more score among his 28 receptions.

Veteran Sammy Watkins (49-637-3 receiving) and rookie Mecole Hardman (25-508-6) help round out a WR group that probably has more collective speed than any other club in the league.

Offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy is the heir to Matt Nagy in K.C., and he and Andy Reid will orchestrate Nagy’s offense on steroids.

The numbers suggest this group gets an edge over any defense in the league, but the Bears do have one of the groups well suited to playing with them – if they can get pressure on Mahomes, an area in which they’ve struggled in recent weeks.

EDGE: Chiefs

Bears offense vs. Chiefs defense:

The Bears had one of their most productive days of the season on offense in terms of yardage last Sunday in Green Bay — other than, of course, putting enough points on the board — and there’s no doubt that defense has been the Achilles’ heel of these Chiefs.

K.C. is just 18th in total defense and 26th vs. the run but 11th vs. the pass, 9th on 3rd down and a very respectable 10th in points allowed, and they will pester the passer, ranking 12th in sack percentage and 9th in interception rate.

The Bears’ numbers on the season have been awful, but this has been a much improved offense in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, where the Bears still struggle the most is running the ball, and that’s where you’d like to gash the Chiefs, who are just 30th in average gain per run allowed, on top of the poor overall run “D” ranking.

The Chiefs defense doesn’t feature a lot of playmakers, but Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark and Chris Jones – if healthy – are the guys you have to have a plan for, and new waiver pickup Terrell Suggs could also make his K.C. debut.

Jones, in particular, is one of the game’s best interior pass rushers, as the continuing trial-by-fire education of Rashaad Coward goes on at right guard against most of the NFL’s best defensive tackles.

EDGE: Even

Special Teams: This is another matchup of one of the game’s best versus a prize pupil as former Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub now runs the Chiefs teams, and his former assistant Chris Tabor handles the Bears’.

Like most placekickers this season, Kansas City’s Harrison Butker has been fallible, but he’s still having a much better season than Eddy Pineiro.

Patrick O’Donnell rates the slightest of edges over Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, but they’re awfully close.

As always, the Bears’ outstanding kickoff and punt return groups have a clear edge, but the Chiefs are one of the best coverage teams in the league – well ahead of the Bears.

EDGE: Even

Coaches: Andy Reid has done everything an NFL coach can do but win the big one, and though he called Nagy his best-prepared assistant to be a head coach, prior to the Bears hiring him, the reigning Coach of the Year has had an up-and-down sophomore campaign, making this choice obvious.

EDGE: Chiefs

Hub Arkush: Why Chiefs coming to town more than playing out string for Bears' Nagy, Trubisky

Posted on December 18, 2019 - 18:10:00

Some will try and make 'Sunday Night Football' in Chicago subplots bigger than game itself

Once the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention by the Packers in Week 14, with a chance to flex them out of prime time this Sunday night to air the Saints and Titans game — two clubs in the thick of the playoff chase — why did the NFL choose to stick with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to Chicago?

Good business sense.

Chicago is the country's third-largest TV market, with Kansas City 32nd, while Nashville and New Orleans are currently 27th and 50th, with 4.16 million local TV homes versus 1.65 million.

It also goes without saying that while Drew Brees is a big story these days, the Bears still have by far the biggest national following and highest profile of these four clubs, and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs fireworks offense make them a strong No. 2.

When you throw in Andy Reid, one of the best coaches in the NFL today, facing his protégé, Matt Nagy, who happens to be the reigning Coach of the Year and Reid’s closest confidant, and an improving-but-still-developing Mitch Trubisky, drafted second overall in 2017, facing off with Mahomes, taken eight picks later, you have a prime-time, made-for-TV reality show.

What does Trubisky think about it all? He says not much.

“You just play your game and find a way to win for your team.

“The comparisons are out there and they are never going to stop. There are no do-overs, we are where we are.

“Our careers are going in different paths, and they will for the rest of time, and they’ll be compared against each other. It’s just the nature of the beast; it is what it is.

“Hopefully we just keep getting better and help the league.”

For Nagy, though, the emotions will run a bit deeper, as he says Reid is the man most responsible for getting him where he is today.

“Yes, without a doubt.

“I'd be remiss to not talk about Brett Veach (Chiefs general manager) as well because Brett was my teammate at Delaware, getting my name to Coach Reid when I started.

“But then once we got into that thing, Coach Reid just took me under his wing and we built trust with one another. I'm just very appreciative.”

Nagy says Reid’s been huge in helping him get through a much more difficult second season than his rookie campaign.

“He’s just a calming presence. He’s somebody that I trust as a friend, as a mentor.

“The amount of trust that I have for him and the experience, the life experiences and the coaching experiences that he’s been through, and the experiences we’ve been through together for so many years, he’s taught me to be who I am as a coach and taught me to be myself as a human being, and so when those times arise, where you need a little bit of advice from somebody whose been through something, he’s the guy I go to.

“He’s one of my favorite people in the world.”

Reid talked Wednesday about how he’s tried to guide Nagy.

“Unfortunately, there's things that come into it that you can't control.

“That's what makes Matt so unique. I mean, he's so mentally tough. He tries to get the best out of his guys. The guys know that. And so, he'll be fine.

“I think he's great for the city of Chicago. I was in Green Bay for all those years and then in the NFC for those years, so I know Chicago. Chicago is a tough place. It's a blue-collar place, and that's what he is.

“He's a central PA guy that he's got that toughness. I just think it's a great fit.”

Reid’s coaching tree is the most impressive in the NFL right now, so why does he talk with Nagy the most?

”Nags and I talk quite a bit. I don't know, I like talking to him.

“He's so passionate about it and he works hard, long hours, and we end up talking. I can't tell you why, I don't know why, that's just the way it seems to work.”

Sunday night for three hours they will be fierce opponents, then they will leave the field two of the NFL’s staunchest allies.

All Downhill from Here: Nick Kwiatkoski's development into every-down LB couldn't come at better time

Posted on December 18, 2019 - 17:16:00

In a contract year, Bears' next-LB-up has flourished in coverage in addition his usual stout run 'D'

With their first of three fourth-round draft picks in 2016, the Bears selected a rugged downhill linebacker from West Virginia named Nick Kwiatkoski. He arrived in Chicago less than six weeks after plug-and-play free-agent signees Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, who’d just received contracts worth a combined $40-plus million to transform one of the league’s worst position groups for a franchise with the NFL’s longest LB tradition.
Kwiatkoski, then, clearly would have to make his first mark on special teams. Unfortunately, he’d face another early obstacle, a hamstring injury wiping out the entirety of his first NFL training camp. Who knows how differently things might have gone if not for the guidance of Trevathan.
“I missed the whole training camp, but he helped me learn how to be a pro, really,” Kwiatkoski told Bears Insider Wednesday, the same day the Bears placed the impending free agent Trevathan on injured reserve, marking the potential end of his Bears tenure. "To have a guy like that ... it helped a lot."
Fast-forward two years. The Bears had just cut Freeman, spending the eighth overall pick on his replacement, Roquan Smith, then doubling up at the ILB position in that draft with the selection of fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe.
Smith was a no-doubter, the reigning Butkus Award winner who projects as a perennial Pro Bowler. But the impetus in drafting “Iggy” at least partially was to bolster the speed and coverage ability on the defense’s second level. When Trevathan and Freeman were unavailable, Kwiatkoski would fill in admirably, but it appeared his ceiling might be as a special-teams stud and run-game thumper.
Less than two years later, Kwiatkoski is the last of the lot not only standing but shining on ‘D.’ Smith suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Week 14 and was sent to injured reserve, where Trevathan joined him Wednesday with the elbow injury that’s sidelined him for the past nearly five full games. All Kwiatkoski has done in their absence is reach a new level of play, after at least two years of being an afterthought on defense.
“You can see that. I think we felt that early on with Kwit in training camp,” Matt Nagy said Wednesday of Kwiatkoski’s strides, especially in the passing game. “He came in in really good shape. You could see him flying around, you noticed it in preseason, training camp and then when he had that opportunity against the Vikings you felt it there against a team that runs the ball a lot. So probably that’s the biggest place is just being able to cover backs out of the backfield, because we all know he can play the run game really well.”
What few foresaw was Kwiatkoski developing the dynamism the Bears invested so much in Smith and Trevathan to add defensively. His three sacks — including their lone takedown of Aaron Rodgers in the playoff-eliminating defeat at Lambeau Sunday — are a career high and rank fourth on the team. But even more notable, Kwiatkoski is among the NFL leaders — regardless of position — for his work in coverage, where only San Francisco 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt has permitted fewer yards per target than his 3.6 on 30 coverage chances. That’s better than future Hall of Fame S Earl Thomas and New England Patriots stud LB Jamie Collins, to name a few.
“The biggest thing is just going into a game and having an idea what they’re going to run against you,”Kwiatkoski said. “You never really know for sure, but the studying, just getting tendencies and little things like that go a long way.”
“The biggest thing is just going into a game and having an idea what they’re going to run against you,”Kwiatkoski said. “You never really know for sure, but the studying, just getting tendencies and little things like that go a long way.”
Kwiatkoski was still lamenting Wednesday a dropped would-be interception roughly 20 yards downfield late in Sunday’s game. We reminded him that’s a position the Bears likely wouldn’t have been comfortable putting him in to begin as recently as last season.
“It’s a good feeling,” he admitted, to hear that. “I haven’t really went back and looked at things, but it’s one of those where, whatever they asked me to do, I’m going to do it regardless. Still, I wanted [the interception], but a drop’s a drop.”
Indeed, same as a rise is a rise, and few Bears have done so more impressively this season than Kwiatkoski, who must have a knack for timing considering it has come in his first NFL contract season.
“I really don’t know what the future holds,” he said,“but I know the next two games could play a big part in that.”
How the Bears handle myriad complex contract decisions at the LB position will be the center of offseason attention on the defensive side of the ball. This much already seems clear, though: Kwiatkoski’s future has never been brighter.

Danny Trevathan's season officially over — but what about his Bears career?

Posted on December 18, 2019 - 11:28:00

The stellar yeoman work on much-improved Nick Kwiatkoski may provide Chicago surprising leverage

Danny Trevathan's season is officially over after the Bears sent the veteran inside linebacker to injured reserve Wednesday with the dislocated left elbow he suffered in Week 10. Cornerback Michael Joseph, a 2018 undrafted free agent out of Dubuque, was promoted to the active roster, with WR Alex Wesley taking Joseph's vacated practice-squad spot.

The question now: Will someone take Trevathan's starting "Mike" ILB spot opposite Roquan Smith in 2020, with the soon-to-be 30-year-old defensive leader an impending free agent? One of the brighter spots for the Bears defense this season has been the play of Trevathan's replacement, Nick Kwiatkoski, who's also set for free agency but is four years younger, with a shorter injury history.

Of course, the light had also shone brightly on the consistent production of the Pro Bowl alternate Trevathan.

Prior to his latest injury, he was enjoying his best year-and-a-half stretch in the NFL since signing the four-year, $28 million contract with Chicago on the heels of his Super Bowl 50 triumph with the Denver Broncos. In addition to his trademark speed and physicality, Trevathan's intangibles — including his work ethic, experience and leadership — have been tremendous assets to the Bears whenever he's been on the field, especially bringing along 2018 first-round pick Roquan Smith while starting all 17 games following the then-rookie's lengthy summer holdout.

But Trevathan had also missed a combined 11 games because of a torn patella tendon, calf issue and suspension in his first three years with the Bears. Add in the immense improvements of Kwiatkoski, as well as Kevin Pierre-Louis acquitting himself in extended action over the past two weeks with Smith hurt, and the Bears 'D' has managed to remain formidable despite huge voids to fill in the middle.

That certainly includes Akiem Hicks, who returned valiantly Sunday at Lambeau from the minimum eight-week IR stint with an eerily similar injury as Trevathan's. However, after the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention by the Packers, Hicks is among several other injured starters expected to be shut down in the final two games. He's also proven to be largely irreplaceable and is a lock to return in 2020.

But with Smith entering Year 3 of his first-round rookie contract and eligible to be re-signed as early as next offseason, and other, more pressing needs popping up on offense during this disappointing season, the Bears must be shrewd in the process of finding him the most logical running mate.

Mack, Jackson and Patterson represent Bears in 2020 Pro Bowl

Posted on December 17, 2019 - 20:47:00

Chicago also has three alternates in Goldman, Fuller and Cohen

Outside linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson and special teams ace Cordarrelle Patterson will represent the Bears as 2020 Pro Bowlers, the NFL announced Tuesday. Mack and Patterson were named starters, and the Bears also have three Pro Bowl alternates — NT Eddie Goldman, recognized for the first time; and CB Kyle Fuller and PR Tarik Cohen, both starters in their first Pro Bowls last season.

While the Bears defense again ranks in the top 10 in most statistical categories, it hasn’t matched last year’s prolific playmaking stature, but that didn’t prevent Mack from being voted a Pro Bowler for the fifth consecutive season, with Jackson returning in back-to-back years.

In addition to his 7.5 sacks, Mack has 5 forced fumbles, running his NFL-leading total to 17 since the start of the 2016 season. Jackson, the NFL’s most dangerous playmaking defensive back over his first two seasons, also hasn’t replicated his previous ball production or found the end zone after combining for 8 interceptions and 5 defensive touchdowns in 2017-18. But he has performed well while tasked with more dirty work closer to the line of scrimmage and tallied 57 tackles in addition to 1 sack, 1 INT and four passes defensed.

The newcomer Patterson perhaps has been the best of the bunch, with an NFL-best 799 kick return yards, six special teams tackles and a number of spectacular plays both as a gunner and returner on punt teams. The NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in November, Patterson has surprised with his rounded excellence in the third phase after arriving known mostly for his game-breaking return ability.

The NFL’s annual all-star game will be held the week before the Super Bowl, on Jan. 26 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

In their fall from 12-win division champions to 7-7 non-playoff attendees, if the Bears have a Pro Bowl snub this season, it’s most definitely Allen Robinson. In his second season removed from a torn ACL, the Bears’ long-sought No. 1 receiver has been their offensive MVP, with a career-high 83 catches — including 8 TDs — and 1,023 receiving yards. But the NFC is simply loaded with blue-chip wideouts, including record-breaking Saint Michael Thomas and perennial Pro Bowler Julio Jones.

Akiem Hicks on IR status: 'Have to see what is the smartest move for [Bears] going forward

Posted on December 17, 2019 - 18:02:00

Pro Bowl DL says no IR decision yet, but it's a no-brainer for Bears

Akiem Hicks' importance to the Bears, ironically, perhaps has never been more apparent than this season, the first in which the eight-year vet has missed considerable time with injury.

And following his minimum eight-week IR stint with the dislocated left elbow he suffered in London, the Pro Bowler reminded everyone of as much in returning to his familiar starting LDE post Sunday at Lambeau with a gutsy performance as the Bears were being eliminated from playoff contention.

“I love competition. I love riding with my guys," said Hicks, who recorded four tackles and two QB hits, playing 61 percent of the defensive snaps in a must-win game despite aggravating the injury and requiring regular medical attention. "So when I see us have an opportunity to extend our season, I’m gonna do everything in my power to add to that. So that was the goal this past weekend.”

But with the Bears officially unable to accomplish the goal of following up their surprise 2018 NFC North title with consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 2005-06, the only decision regarding Hicks must be shutting him down for the final two games and helping ensure he's best equipped to help them meet their goals next season.

“When things are on the line, that sense is heightened and you play even harder through worse circumstances. But the way our season has gone and the things that we don’t have in front of us, that changes perspective and we have to see what is the smartest move for the team going forward,” he said, adding that no final decision has been made.

Hicks left zero doubt Sunday of his toughness and willingness to keep playing — if that were what the Bears still needed from him. Instead, in what certainly could be a make-or-break 2020 season for some even higher up in the Bears organization than Hicks, what they'll need most is their "warrior" for 16 and hopefully more games next season.

“I put myself on the line so many times, I wouldn’t flinch to do it again. At a certain point you have to be smart," Hicks said. "That’s what the building’s for. That’s what the personnel department is for. That’s what our GM, our coaches are for, is to make the decisions that are best for the team and the players. I don’t really focus on that very much. Like I said, when my number’s called, that’s what I do.”

Hicks' 24 sacks and 39 tackles for loss since his 2016 arrival lead the Bears, despite missing a career-high nine games so far this season. His exit following only eight snaps in Week 5 with the elbow injury — after missing the previous week with a knee issue — immediately contributed to the Bears allowing consecutive 100-yard rushers — something they had done only twice in the previous 21 combined contests, all with Hicks.

Although the Bears steadied afterward against the run, where they currently rank 6th overall (4th in YPA), they plummeted this season from No. 9 in the NFL in sack percentage to 25th, with Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd struggling the most with the added attention a healthy Hicks requires.

Motown mulligan: Despite a collaborative record through nearly two full seasons of 9-20-1, Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn will return as Detroit Lions head coach and general manager, respectively, the team confirmed Tuesday.

"We expect to be a playoff contender," owner Martha Firestone Ford told reporters, via the team's website. "That means playing meaningful games in December."

Detroit played meaningful football in December more often than not under Patricia's predecessor, Jim Caldwell, who was fired following back-to-back 9-7 seasons, with the winningest record in franchise history (36-28, two wild-card appearances).

Quinn, a former longtime New England Patriots executive, replaced Caldwell with the fellow longtime Patriot defensive coordinator Patricia, whose 'D' currently ranks 26th and 31st in yards and points allowed.

The unit's regression has been amplified this season by crippling attrition on offense, where franchise passing leader Matthew Stafford was in the midst of a career year when his ironman streak of 136 consecutive starts was halted by a season-ending back injury in Week 10, when the Lions were 3-4-1.

Patricia's Lions have lost seven consecutive games this season and have yet to beat Matt Nagy's Bears in four tries.

Schofield: What QB evaluation lessons can Ryan Pace learn from 2017 NFL draft mistake?

Posted on December 17, 2019 - 16:15:00

Bears' biggest takeaway from drafting Trubisky over Mahomes and Watson perhaps that experience matters

There are two current sets of commercials that really tickle me.

Interestingly enough, they are both commercials from the same insurance company. First up are the Baker Mayfield Progressive commercials, where they treat FirstEnergy Stadium as his home. As someone who recently moved into a new house, the version where he is trying to ascertain which smoke alarm is chirping hits home.

Another that hits home are the Progressive commercials with the tagline “we can’t stop you from becoming your parents…” I have to admit, as a man on the cusp of turning 43, with two children of my own, there are moments where my mind flashes back to things my parents told me, as I see myself doing the very things or saying the very things to my children. For example, I remember my parents telling me on yet another occasion when I needed to clean my room that “when you grow up you’ll be cleaning after your kids all the time, and you’ll always be harping on them to clean up.” 

At the time, I laughed it off. I loved the idea of a “lived-in look” so to speak.

Monday, with the kids home from school due to a dusting of snow in the Maryland suburbs of DC (seriously, we need to talk about how Maryland handles winter weather), I found myself flashing back to those moments as I hurriedly cleaned up behind them. 

There is of course another lesson from my parents that I am sure many of you heard from your parents as well: Everything in life is a lesson, even the mistakes.

This week, Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears face perhaps the biggest “what if” of their current state of play, when Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs come to town. They will face another next season when the Bears square off against the AFC South teams ... including Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans. 

What could have been.

However, instead of dwelling on how the Bears would fare with either Watson or Mahomes, let’s try and make this productive. Building off the lessons of our parents, let’s turn this into a learning experience. What lessons can be learned about the quarterback evaluation process by the Bears’ decision back in 2017?

Let’s look at each of these three quarterbacks and see what lessons we can extrapolate. 

Patrick Mahomes - Scout the Traits Not the Scheme

Think back to Mahomes and his pre-draft process. Often times, the “negatives” or “weaknesses” present in a profile of him centered on the offense he was playing in at Texas Tech. For example, in one such writeup it was stated that “...Mahomes does indeed face the steep learning curve that comes with a transition from Texas Tech’s system to the NFL. He will have to adjust to working under center, at least on occasion, while digesting reads and coverages.” Another read “Mahomes played in a spread offense at Texas Tech. At its core, the spread offense is incredibly simple. It looks to create mismatches and outnumber defenders, with the quarterback only having to read small parts of the field. In the NFL, you have to be able to see the entire field.” A third read that again, Mahomes faces a “[s]teep learning curve coming from the Texas Tech spread/wide open system.”

Putting aside for a moment that those reports understated the complexity of the Texas Tech offense (something that was highlighted in this pre-draft profile, or in this piece by Doug Farrar where he sat down with the quarterback to watch film) these criticisms more than anything else go to the scheme fit of the player. 

They also gloss over the traits that Mahomes displayed in college. The incredible arm talent. The ability to make any throw from any platform. The willingness to be aggressive and challenge windows in the passing game that would terrify most other college quarterbacks...yet are the kinds of windows you face regularly in the NFL. All of the things about Mahomes that caused some to label him a “gunslinger” and a passer who was overly aggressive, are the traits that make him the coverboy of Madden 20, and one of the game’s brightest young stars.

The scheme fit matters, and understanding what the QB was asked to do in college is worth studying. But more importantly is what the player does from a trait-based perspective. If he is a special enough quarterback, he will fit in almost any system. Getting caught up in what he was asked to do in college might not matter, if you will be asking him to do something different in the NFL. Or, perhaps more critically important, is this question: Is he so good at what he does in the college game that you’d be wise to adapt your offense to what he is used to doing?

Deshaun Watson - Competitive Toughness Matters

It sure does.

As I often do, I would like to turn to the wisdom of others to make this point. Relying on various coaching clinic presentations as outlined in Coaching Quarterbacks: By the Experts (Second and Third Edition), we can hear things like the following:

“The quarterback has to be a leader. He has to be your coach on the field. He is the person you trust with the football every single play. His job is to make everyone else successful, and when things break down, he has to make a play...The great quarterbacks are not the ones who have the most talent. They are the ones in the huddle who show leadership and confidence. They get the players on their team to play better than they are.”

-Mike Bellotti, Former Head Coach, University of Oregon

“Another key attribute for quarterbacks is being a positive leader. He has to be an encourager, not a discourager. Probably the number one thing I talk to quarterbacks about is to be an encourager of other people. I have heard coaches talk about their team having a chance to be good, if only their quarterback had some leadership ability. We teach ‘leadership’ the same way we teach the quarterback to read cover 3 or cover 2. It takes no special ability to be an encourager of his teammates. The quarterback is a player who is looked up to and a person who typically gets much of the glory on your team. If he is constantly encouraging his teammates, he is building respect for himself on the team.”

-Todd Dodge, Head Coach, Carroll High School (TX)

“I can’t stress enough to you the importance of the leadership attribute. Is he going to be a leader? This may be the most important point here. Is he going to be consistent in everything he does, both on and off the field? Many of you are teachers. Many of your best leaders are the students that you never hear about. They are never in trouble. They are not sitting in the office for some discipline problem. Is he a leader in drills? Is he the first to finish? Is he going to be the person who makes sure everyone is on time for practice and class? Is he the player who is going to finish the last rep when no one is watching? That is what we are looking for. In the end, he must be a leader on and off the field.”-David Huffine, Head Coach, Chaparral High School (AZ)

“He must be a competitor. He must hate to lose. He must be competitive in practice. He must be ready to compete in all phases of the game. He must be confident. He must have confidence to the borderline of being cocky. He must inspire confidence in his teammates. He must have credibility. We hear the expression, ‘You’re the man.’ In football, the quarterback must be The Man. His teammates must believe in him. When it is third-and-six on the last drive and you must stick the ball in the end zone, the team must believe in him.”

-Bobby Lamb, Head Coach, Mercer University

“Many people do not think about toughness at the quarterback position, but we believe the quarterback has to be the toughest player on the field. I think it requires more toughness to stand in the pocket, knowing you are going to take a shot and deliver the ball, than it is to come downhill and hit a ballcarrier. I played quarterback, and I know it takes a lot of courage to stand in and take the shot after you have been hit a number of times...The next area involves the most difficult parts of evaluating a quarterback. These are the million-dollar questions as to whether a quarterback will be successful or not. These are the things you cannot see on a film. They are the intangibles in a quarterback. The first quarterback intangible that we consider is his drive to be the best. We look for the quarterback who comes in every day trying to figure out the game of football. He has the inner drive to work every day to get better. I believe the quarterback must have that more than any other position. There is so much that has to get done at that position, that if he does not have the inner drive, he cannot succeed...The next intangible factor is leadership. Everyone talks about leadership. However, you must study and clearly understand leadership before you can develop it...Leadership to us is helping your team and other players achieve their goals. That is our definition of leadership...We want our toughest most competitive player with the ball in his hands on every play. I love to see what those players are all about. I like to hear his coaches talk about how competitive he is. They will tell you he is the worst loser you ever want to be around. It does not matter whether he plays ping-pong, TiddlyWinks, Monopoly, or football, he does not like to lose.”

-Chris Petersen, Head Coach, University of Washington

Petersen outlines the importance of the intangibles in this clinic discussion, and he also outlines the difficulty in identifying these traits on film. You might not always be able to glean a quarterback’s toughness, competitive nature or leadership abilities no matter how much film you watch of that player. However, there are moments you can identify, or situations that test the player, that can help illuminate these issues. 

For example, whenever I study a quarterback I try and watch games against elite competition, games on the road, games in adverse weather conditions, and games where the quarterback’s team loses. How does the player handle those situations? Is the player still fighting until the very last snap, or does the QB seem to pack it in as the going gets tough? Does the player look to fight through adverse conditions, or adversity on the field? 

Enter Deshaun Watson.

Often the scouting process leads you to an indelible moment. An image or a play that is seared into your memory. During the 2017 draft process one that was always on my mind was the image of Watson against Alabama, getting helicoptered by Reuben Foster, the Crimson Tide linebacker, on a third down in the National Championship Game. Putting everything on the line, including his physical well-being, to deliver his team a victory.

Read back through these quotes with that image in mind.

It is easy to get caught up in things like arm strength, velocity, radar gun numbers, interceptions and some other things we notice on film or in data to discount a quarterback prospect. But inherent in the position is the ability to lead. To inspire those around you. Watson might not have hit 55 mph on the gun at the Combine. Perhaps he threw too many interceptions in college. Yet he elevated the level of play in those around him. 

At a bare minimum, it is worth sitting down with him to hear more. 

Mitchell Trubisky - So Does Experience

Turning to Trubisky, if there is a lesson to be learned from his draft process, perhaps it is this: Experience matters too.

The Bill Parcells rules for drafting a quarterback might be tougher and tougher to satisfy, with so many passers leaving school early. That makes it difficult to check these boxes: Start 30 games, and win 23. Many prospects are leaving school before they can possibly hit either of those thresholds. 

But Trubisky stands out in that he was a one-year starter in college. Dating back to 2000, quarterbacks with such few time as “the guy” have enjoyed mixed results in the NFL. Mark Sanchez was one example. Cam Newton is another (although he did have time in junior college as a starter where he led Blinn College to the NJCAA National Championship). Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins are still writing their stories as we speak.

So is Trubisky.

Now I do not want to go down the path of “how good can he be, he did not beat out Marquise Williams in college.” That is an unfair criticism. Williams was a popular player in UNC’s locker room and try as we might, this is not simply Madden where the players are just names on a screen. See the previous point: Leadership matters. 

But one season as a starter limits the number of live, in-game reps that a quarterback can experience before entering the NFL. That is going to steepen the developmental curve for them as they acclimate to life in the league.

Meaning that the organization needs to have a clear path in place for how they are going to handle his transition. From a scheme fit perspective, from a coaching staff perspective, from a personnel perspective, to everything else you can think of. 

Did Chicago have that in place for Trubisky? Certainly not during his rookie season. Perhaps they put that in place with the hiring of Matt Nagy, but some recent frustrations with play-calling, expressed this week by the quarterback himself, lead me to question the current support system around the passer. 

Without the backdrop of personal experience to rely on, the young quarterback needs critical assistance from those around him to be successful.

Pace will, rightly or wrongly, be judged on the decision to pass on Mahomes and Watson to select Trubisky. Whether that decision ultimately costs him his job in Chicago remains to be seen. But assuming Pace eventually gets another opportunity to try and find a potential franchise quarterback, he needs to take some hard lessons from how he handled this process, and what he can learn from each passer, to heart the next time he goes down the QB evaluation road.

Hub Arkush: Did Mitch Trubisky knowingly throw Matt Nagy under the bus?

Posted on December 16, 2019 - 19:29:00

Bears offense has a number of problems but QB-HC relationship likely not among them right now

While most of you headed home to thaw out and cry in your beer over the Bears' uber disappointing 21-13 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, I’ve had an interesting 24 hours or so.

Immediately following our post game show on 670 The Score, I was off to O’Hare for a 7:45 flight to New Orleans, where I'm working on the national radio call of the Indianapolis Colts-New Orleans Saints game on "Monday Night Football."

Waiting at the gate, sitting on my phone and having a slight debate with a colleague over how Mitch Trubisky played against the Packers – apparently, I thought he was better than many did – who should sit down next to me but Mr. and Mrs. Chase Daniel.

Mrs. Daniel agreed with me.

Part of the festivities planned here in New Orleans Monday Night is a 10-year reunion of the Saints team that beat the Colts 10 years ago in Super Bowl XLIV.

Daniel split that season between the 53-man roster and the Saints practice squad and earned himself a ring.

Then I arrive at my hotel around midnight only to discover what’s this, Trubisky is throwing shade at Matt Nagy and even he’s bitching about the play calling now?

Having found the quotes, that’s not exactly how I would read it.

In case you haven’t noticed, Mitch has developed a tendency lately to find a way to say not so much the wrong thing, but things that can be broken down all kinds of ways if you don’t know him at all.

Mitch is not only a work in progress when it comes to playing quarterback, he has that issue with microphones too.

My read is he certainly was frustrated in the immediate aftermath of the game, and he probably would have liked to get out of the pocket and move around a bit more. But if he’d thought it through and realized they were going to land right in the lap of his head coach, he never would have said it.

I believe Nagy was awfully close to the truth when he said Monday, “I think ... first of all, as you all know, you guys are always catching us right after the game, and so there's a lot of emotions that go through.

“Here we are losing a game like that and knowing we could've played better. So I don't know exactly what the question was that was asked, but I'm saying if you sensed a frustration, I think I know Mitch better than anybody in this building except maybe Dave Ragone.

“I think probably, if I'm going back and watching that, it's probably very general and big picture but it's also right after the game so I take nothing by that and we have a great relationship.”

With it still nagging at me Monday morning, it occurred to me, hey, my broadcast partner tonight is Kurt Warner. He knows a little bit about QBs, I wonder what he’d make of all this.

Walking to the game, I asked Warner what he made of the whole moving pocket controversy?

“You know I get it, and Mitch probably is good at it because he’s so good with his legs” Warner said.

“The problem most people don’t realize, though, is when you do get your quarterback out of the pocket, you really limit what you can do within your offense, the plays you can call, and on the move it makes it a lot harder for him to read the whole field.”

And Warner’s overall observation about Mitch? “You know, I can see the tools that get people excited and he does make some great throws, but I’m just not sure what he’s seeing a lot of the time.”

“It looks to me like he’s still missing more opportunities to make plays than you’d like.”

Forget my opinion, I’m going with the Hall of Famer.

And so the Trubisky saga crawls on. Was there good reason to keep him in the pocket Sunday?

Clearly, he has played better the past five or six weeks, and clearly he has a longer way to go than we would like before we know what the finished product will look like.

But I don’t believe there’s a Trubisky-Nagy problem. That's just the kid still trying to grow up.

Out of the playoffs with two games to go, Matt Nagy still plans to play Bears starters

Posted on December 16, 2019 - 13:49:00

"These next to games, to us, are very important and we’re gonna play them hard.”

Despite being out of playoff contention at 7-7 with two games remaining, Bears coach Matt Nagy plans to play his starters vs. the Kansas City Chiefs this week on "Sunday Night Football" and in the finale in Minnesota against the Vikings on Dec. 29.

That includes Pro Bowl DL Akiem Hicks, 30, who was activated from IR to play his first game Sunday in eight weeks and aggravated his disclocated left elbow, requiring multiple visits to the blue medical tent. Nagy after the game praised Hicks' toughness, referring to him as a "warrior," and doubled down on that assessment Monday.

"We want to continue to just keep going forward with him like we’ve been. I don’t look at this as changing anything with that," Nagy said. "Now we’ve [got to] talk through all that, and I think that’s the biggest thing is making sure that we’re all on the same page, but I know Akiem’s gonna want to be out there and playing and helping out our defense as much as he can.

"I will say this in regards to how he played yesterday: He was unbelievable. I thought he played lights out. Even all the stuff, fighting through the aggravations of the injury throughout the game, the way he played and the plays he made yesterday, that was fun. We missed that. That was fun to watch.”

While Hicks returned Sunday, when the Bears were without three starters still on the active roster — Taylor Gabriel and Bobby Massie, neither of whom traveled because of their injuries to Green Bay; and Danny Trevathan — Prince Amukamara rotated with Kevin Toliver in his first game back from a hamstring injury before being replaced in the second half.

“It was managing reps. It was more of that. It wasn’t performance," Nagy said of Amukamara, who struggled in coverage and missed a tackle on the Packers' second touchdown. "It was just managing reps. Kevin Toliver was doing well. It was a nice balance of being able to do that.”

Unlike Hicks and Massie, there are legitimate questions whether the impending free agent Trevathan, as well as Amukamara and Gabriel — who have minimal guaranteed money remaining on their contracts and are no longer clearly better than younger teammates — will be back in 2020. Would it behoove the Bears, then, to end their seasons, increasing the evaluation opportunities for others? By contrast, would it make the most sense to let Hicks and Massie begin fully healing for next season, same as three respected veterans who could need to maximize their earning power on the open market?

“The one positive that we do here in this building is togetherness [in] all that, so we’ll talk through everything and we’ll make sure that it’s the right decision for all parties included," Nagy said. "I think that’s the only way to go about it. But we’re going into this thing and I really am looking forward to our team finishing and playing really hard these last two games. We can do that. So my message to the guys is, we’re rolling. There’s nothing that changes. It stinks that we can’t get to the playoffs, but that’s on us. We made this. Hopefully we learn from it and remember this feeling. But these next to games, to us, are very important and we’re gonna play them hard.”

Mitch vs. Mahomes? Even the most casual Bears observer is painfully aware that the Bears traded up one spot in the 2017 draft to No. 2 overall and selected Mitch Trubisky over reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and MVP candidate Deshaun Watson.

But if any Bears fan has only recently awakened from a two-plus-year slumber, rest assured, they'll be reminded this week as Mahomes' Chiefs visit Trubisky's Bears. Thus, Matt Nagy reminded Monday that Sunday night won't directly pit his unfulfilling quarterback with Kansas City's unassailable one.

"I don't get into that," Nagy said when asked about the difficult timing of playing his former team, the Mahomes-led AFC West champs, one week after his Bears' playoff elimination. "I understand what you're saying. But they have a good season going right now, they're playing well. Obviously, I have the utmost respect for Coach Reid. He's taught me everything. I've learned a lot from him. Everybody in that organization, that building, I'm friends with. They've helped me to this point. But at the same time, when we get rolling, it has nothing to do with a 1-on-1 battle. It's everything about these two teams."

On the move or barely moving? Mitch Trubisky openly laments Bears lack of pocket movement Sunday

Posted on December 16, 2019 - 10:27:00

By our count, Matt Nagy changed Trubiksy's launch point only twice on at least 56 dropbacks

Bears fans, and even Mitch Trubisky, pining for more opportunities for the quarterback to throw while on the move is hardly new. Prior to Sunday's immediate aftermath of the playoff-eliminating loss to the rival Packers at Lambeau, though, the quarterback had never went as far as to question his play-caller's gameplan.

“I felt like we could’ve taken more pressure off [the O-line] moving the pocket a little more and I getting out, but the [Packers pass rush] has done a great job of that all year long and that’s what they hang their hat on and they did that today,” Trubisky said of Green Bay’s rush, which produced three sacks and 4 QB hits in the 21-13 defeat of the Bears. “We’ve just got to find ways to take pressure off our O-line with a good pass rush like that, continue to mix it up, whether it’s screens, running it, draws, all that kind of stuff helps. But credit to them, they’re a good defense.”

Mitch Trubisky’s second-longest — and quite possibly best — throw during Sunday’s playoff-eliminating loss at Lambeau was a 33-yard play-action bootleg to Anthony Miller.

In a rare under-center alignment, Trubisky took the snap and faked to David Montgomery before rolling to his right and climbing the pocket. He uncorked a ball with perfect touch and trajectory to Miller back over to the left sideline, with Miller displaying his toughness by taking a big shot and appearing to injure his shoulder but securing the ball. On the very next play, Trubisky kept it on an RPO for his longest run Sunday, a nine-yard scamper into the red zone, punctuated emphatically by lowering his shoulder into Packers rookie S Darnell Savage.

While he’d take a sack before missing either Jesper Horsted, or Tarik Cohen, who fell down on the play, over the middle on a dangerous throw on the subsequent third down, it was clear Trubisky’s confidence was at its highest at that point of the game.

The play was called by Matt Nagy with a little less than four and a half minutes remaining until halftime. From our vantage point in the press box, and from charting the game after re-watching late Sunday night, it was the only rollout Nagy called, and one of only two among at least 56 Trubisky dropbacks on which his play caller moved the pocket.

Nagy, who made it clear that he maintains an open in-game dialogue with his quarterback, was asked in his Monday postmortem whether he was aware of Trubisky's comments. The coach said he wasn't but stressed that his relationship with the quarterback remains strong.

"First of all, as you all know, you guys are always catching us right after the game. And so there's a lot of emotions that go through," he said. "Here we are losing a game like that and knowing we could've played better. So I don't know exactly what the question was that was asked, but I'm saying if you sensed a frustration, I think I know Mitch better than anybody in this building except maybe [QB coach] Dave Ragone. So I know the effect or what he means by any of that. I think probably, if I'm going back and watching that, it's probably very general and big picture, but it's also right after the game. So I take nothing by that and we have a great relationship."

Trubisky also mentioned the moving pockets after the Week 12 win vs. the New York Giants, when he attempted a season-high 24 percent of his passes from an altered launch point. That data comes courtesy of our QB expert Mark Schofield, but by Bears Insiders' count, it was only 4 percent Sunday, which would be the second-lowest total of the season.

The Bears ran it 27 times — 17 of those attempts coming with a one-score deficit — but we only counted one draw play. There were definitely a few screens sprinkled in, but not with great effect, which has rarely the case, with the exception of the Week 14 win vs. the Cowboys.

But interestingly, with most everyone hyper focused — even during Trubisky’s recent stretch of improved play — on how Nagy and GM Ryan Pace currently view their inconsistent lightning rod of a quarterback, and how that will affect offseason planning at the position, it’s now officially time to at least consider: How does Trubisky feel about his head coach and play caller.

After all, we don’t have to wonder, Trubisky made it quite clear Sunday that Nagy didn’t do the Bears offense as many favors as he could have. And as big of a riddle as the Bears already had on their hands this offseason at quarterback, it might be getting even trickier.

 

Hub Arkush: Bears lose another one to Pack they could have won

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 19:16:00

But this time they had help, and all was not lost

This game could have had it all.

So how disappointing, inexcusable and, quite frankly, shameful is it that the 200th meeting of the NFL’s oldest and best rivalry – one of the best in all of sports – very well may have been decided by a completely bogus, blown officiating call that could have been so easily corrected by instant replay?

Halfway through the first quarter after Cordarrelle Patterson was flagged for one of the best special teams plays I’ve ever seen on Packers punt returner Tyler Ervin, forcing a fumble the Bears recovered at the Packers' 43. Instead of the Bears starting with all the momentum in Packers territory, Patterson was flagged for a phantom catch-interference penalty, and the Packers were given the ball at the Bears' 35.

Three plays later on fourth-and-4, Davante Adams got a step on Buster Skrine for a 29-yard strike from Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s only score of the half.

It was early, but we will never know how that huge swing in momentum changed the outcome of the game.

That said, the Packers clearly were the better team on the day, that play is not why they won the game, and it’s not as if the Bears didn’t have chances and weren’t their own worst enemies.

They had more missed tackles in the second and third quarters than they had all season on a day when Rodgers really wasn’t the difference other than the Adams touchdown.

The Bears actually took control after that touchdown, owning the ball for 12:22 of the remaining 19:38 of the half and outgaining the Packers, 101 yards to 68, but they never got decent field position after the fumbled punt was taken away.

Starting from their own 15 nine seconds into the second quarter, the Bears drove 44 yards on 11 plays, but on third-and-7 from the Packers' 41, Mitch Trubisky was slightly off on a throw to Anthony Miller at the 15, and Miller made a casual one-handed attempt on a ball he could have, and probably should have, caught.

On fourth down, Miller made an acrobatic grab on a deep ball to the 4-yard line but only got one foot down before going out of bounds.

On the Packers' next possession starting from their own 41, on third-and-6 from the Bears' 36, Rodgers hit Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski right in the hands in front of Packers tight end Jimmy Graham, and with plenty of green grass in front of him, Kwiatkoski dropped the ball.

Trubisky made a lot more plays than he missed, and although not perfect earned high marks on the day.

But on the Bears' last possession of the half after driving 52 yards from their own 36 on third-and-7 at the Packers' 12, Trubisky threw the ball half a yard behind tight end Jesper Horsted at the 4, forcing them to settle for an Eddy Pineiro field goal.

The third quarter belonged to the Packers, who drove 73 and 66 yards to a pair of Aaron Jones touchdown runs on their first two possessions, while the Bears slipped and slid all over the field.

One thing about these Bears, however: They do not quit.

Staring at the end of their season, they took over the game again with 3:27 to play in the third quarter and proceeded to control the clock for 11:47 of the final 18:27, put up 194 yards of offense and scored 10 points.

They were driving again in a one-possession game when they stalled at the Packers' 49 with 1:42 to play, and even came back again with 36 seconds to play and no timeouts, driving from their own 22 to the Packers' 34 before the last play of the game ended at the Packers' 7 on a wild hook and ladder.

Sadly, there are no moral victories, and losing to the Packers stinks worse for Bears fans than anything else.

Yes, the Bears' playoff hopes are over in a season that started with such great promise.

But all was not lost Sunday at Lambeau.

Akiem Hicks is a warrior, he was heroic, and now you can sit him down until next year.

Trubisky continued to move forward, and there is no question that the Bears now have a top 1-2 combination at receiver in Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller.

Most importantly, while there is much work to do, the window for this team to contend clearly still is open, and the next two games will be two more fascinating tests to help decide what many of those offseason moves should be.

Bears notes: 'Warrior' Akiem Hicks battles through pain in first game off IR

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 19:16:00

And Cordarrelle Patterson robbed of another potential game-changing special-teams plays

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Akiem Hicks hit Aaron Rodgers on the first defensive snap Sunday, and Hicks' first in eight weeks, since a grisly dislocated left elbow sent the Bears Pro Bowl lineman to injured reserve.

It was a reminder of everything the Bears have missed in the absence of one of the game's most underrated players. Hicks, who tallied two of Chicago's mere four QB hits, tackled the ball carrier on the very next play, showing the other half of his two-way game-wrecking ability.

Unfortunately, there were even more reminders of the pain Hicks was playing through, coming in the form of his frequent trips to the blue medical tent on the sideline during the Bears' 21-13 loss Sunday at Lambeau, eliminating them from playoff contention.

After being activated from IR when first eligible Saturday, Hicks donned a giant brace on his elbow, protecting him from doing additional damage, not alleviating any of the pain he'd endure.

"It just speaks to who he is — his toughness. He aggravated it a few times in the middle of the game, and you're never sure really what happens," Matt Nagy said. "But for him to fight back like that and be back out there as a warrior with his team, we appreciate that."

It's possible the Bears appreciate and value their best defensive lineman so much that we don't see him on the field again this season. Then again, they could have a hard time shutting down Hicks, even with their postseason aspirations officially vanquished.

"It was everything. My defensive line mates saw the energy and they were excited for me to be able to go back out there because they know how much I miss it," Hicks said. "I was happy that I got to play today."

Hicks finished with four tackles for a Bears run 'D' that held Packers offensive MVP Aaron Jones to an average of 3.9 yards on his 13 carries, albeit two of them finishing in the end zone. He was clearly on a snap count, and now the Bears must decide whether to play one of their best players in the final two games that don't count. Perhaps it'll depend on the status of Roy Robertson-Harris, who missed his first game of the season Sunday with a foot injury, though the Bears could also look to Abdullah Anderson — a healthy scratch Sunday and most of the season — for additional snaps.

Officiating blunder: When Cordarrelle Patterson arrived a hair after PR Tramon Williams fielded Pat O'Donnell's 34-yard punt, blasting the longtime Packer and dislodging the ball at midfield around the midway point of a scoreless first quarter, it should've signaled a big edge of Chicago's over its oldest rivals — the third phase.

Instead, it was yet another reminder in an NFL season loaded with them that officiating has never been worse. Patterson's timing was impeccable; the stripes simply blew the call, which wasn't reviewable but was preceded by moments the Packers taking a lead they'd never relinquish.

"It's frustrating, but at the end of the day that's [the officials] job. My job is getting down there and making the play. Their job is to make the right call. ... I don't think it was the right call."

Still, Patterson's special-teams prowess — in coverage in addition to on kickoff returns — has been one of the few bright spots in a dark Bears season, when he's thrived in the less familiar gunner role, while also leading the NFL in kick-return average. Patterson even almost had the first blocked punt of his career later Sunday.

"That was my first time ever [nearly] blocking a punt. I thought I had it and I looked up and the ball was in the air. I was real close."

Indeed, it's a game of inches, and Matt Nagy thought that especially held true Sunday, when Patterson also nearly made a huge third-down conversion in the red zone late in the third quarter but couldn't get his second foot in bounds.

"I thought there was a lot of those types of plays today. It's kind of uncommon for that many plays to be a game of inches," he said.

Not close enough: Bears eliminated from the postseason after frustrating loss to Packers

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 19:16:00

And Chicago isn't as close as Sunday perhaps indicates to returning to playoffs next season

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Roughly three hours before they were officially eliminated from the playoffs Sunday, the Bears’ version of the “Stanford Band Play” brought them within seven yards of a potential touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion on the final snap at frozen Lambeau Field.

And who knows, perhaps if Jesper Horsted somehow sees a streaking Allen Robinson to his right and can make one more lateral, things are different. Maybe the Bears wouldn’t have lost the 200th all-time battle with their oldest rivals, 21-13. It’s possible they wouldn’t have been forced during the journey home to depend on both the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams suffering road defeats — rather than the resounding victories they needed — to extend Chicago’s playoff livelihood one more week.

It’s also possible Sunday goes differently if Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t robbed of another stellar play on punt coverage, with the officials misruling a forced fumble and recovery by the Bears catch interference early on at midfield of a scoreless game. Or if Mitch Trubisky hits Anthony Miller on a would-be long touchdown, and if Aaron Rodgers’ elbow isn’t down a fraction of a second before losing the ball deep in his own territory in the final minutes.

It would still be a mistake to lump this loss with their other six this season and lament how close the Bears are to being the bona fide Super Bowl contenders that they and so many of us believed they were three and a half months ago.

After throwing for a season-high 348 yards but much of it in garbage time, Trubisky’s unwillingness to do so afterward was perhaps his most accurate delivery all season.

“No. I would say that’s a little bit of a reach,” Trubisky said when asked whether this loss epitomized a close-but-no-cigar season. “You can flip it around and say we’re giving great effort, we’re just coming up short. It is what it is. It just didn’t go our way. But you can’t ever let one play dictate how the game goes. There are a bunch of plays throughout that game where if we would’ve made them, maybe it could have been different.

“You can say maybe, if and or but — there’s a lot of hypotheticals that we just can’t get into. … Overall, if you make more plays, you won’t be in that spot.”

If the Bears managed more than 16 points in two meetings with the soon-to-be division champion Packers in the 2019 series, they might not be in this spot. If Trubisky completed better than a combined 56.1 percent of his attempts in the two games, and tossed fewer than three picks along with more than the lone touchdown Sunday after more than 110 combined minutes of battle, perhaps it’s different.

But in the biggest game of the season, the slow-starting Bears offense stayed true to its form, while real contenders such as the Baltimore Ravens and Vikings stayed true to theirs.

“We felt like that in each of our games. On offense we just have taken too long to get things rolling,” said Tarik Cohen, who finished Sunday with 85 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches. “… We took too long to get things going with our season.”

Even the Bears’ consistent if not game-changing defense failed to force a takeaway in two Packers games As great as it played in the opener, it didn’t have nearly as many answers Sunday, when Akiem Hicks returned but the pass rush and playmaking on ‘D’ remained M.I.A.

Heck, with Green Bay’s two best players, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, combining for 154 yards and three touchdowns, and the Packers committing a number of drops — including a long would-be touchdown on their first third down of the game — one might argue they stopped themselves Sunday as much as Chicago did.

Make no mistake, the Bears continue to show admirable resolve.

Trubisky again was able to lean on the ascending WR tandem of Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller — both eclipsing 100 yards receiving for the first time in the same game — and the defense forced punts on its final five series. It was the continued illustration of the pride of a that stacked three straight victories and won four of the past five entering Sunday.

“We didn’t help ourselves earlier in the season. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Robinson said. “But through the ups and downs, I think we saw the kind of team that we have and the players that we have. We’ve continued to fight.”

But all the little miscues, the compounding of near-touchdowns and near-sacks and near-completions, added up to equal a team that’s as far or farther away from the ultimate goal as it was when the season started.

I know that our guys, our players, our coaches, our organization, we’re disappointed. And hopefully all of us learn from a lot of different experiences. … This year has had its challenges. I said last week that it made us mentally calloused. The results — we want to be better — but none of it is for lack of effort, and that’s the part that I appreciate. We just got to get back to the grind and do everything we can to change that so we can get more wins.”

Three and out: How the Bears fell to the rival Packers at Lambeau, 21-13

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 15:19:00

Chicago now a Vikings and/or Rams win in Week 15 from being eliminated from playoffs

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Breaking down the Bears' 21-13 defeat to the rival Packers at Lambeau Field:

THREE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Game of inches: On two or three different instances, the Bears were within a hair of making a game-turning play Sunday, none bigger than Aaron Rodgers' third-and-20 scramble deep in his own territory late in the fourth. Deon Bush stripped the ball loose, initially ruled a fumble that would give Chicago possession on the fringe of the red area, trailing by 8. But Rodgers' left elbow was ruled down on replay review, costing the Bears 39 yards of field position. Trubisky was intercepted by Northwestern product Dean Lowry at the line of scrimmage only two offensive plays later.

Officials strike again: Cordarrelle Patterson made another exceptional play as a gunner on the punt team, timing a Pat O'Donnell 34-yarder to midfield perfectly and jarring the ball from Tramon Williams' hands, which Chicago recovered seemingly for a takeaway. Instead, the officials inexplicably called kick-catch interference, and four plays later, Aaron Rodgers threw a fourth-down scoring dart 29 yards to Davante Adams for the Packers' first touchdown and a lead they'd never relinquish.

Staying vertical: The Bears offense managed only six points, averaging only 4.6 yards per play, but that's not where we're going here. Instead, the surprisingly slippery Lambeau Field playing surface seemed to affect the visitors the most, with Tarik Cohen slipping on his route on a third-down pass breakup in the red zone that appeared like it would convert, and Kyle Fuller falling down on Davante Adams' 34-yard reception to catalyze Green Bay's first second-half touchdown.

THREE THINGS THAT WORKED

Continuing to fight: After back-to-back TD drives by the Packers to open the second half opened up a 21-3 lead, the Bears stayed composed, marching 11 plays for 75 yards and a field goal and 13 plays for 67 yards and a Trubisky-to-Anthony Miller touchdown to cut the lead to 8 points. It felt like the end of the season after Green Bay's second consecutive score in a five-minute span, but the Bears at least made it interesting, much like the past five weeks, before coming up short.

A-Mill and A-Rob: Miller went over the century mark (9-118) receiving for the second time in three weeks and caught a touchdown in the second straight game after a 12-outing TD drought to begin the season. Allen Robinson gave the Bears two 100-yard receivers in a game for the first time, catching seven balls for 125 yards.

Mitch's running: On the heels of his best rushing performance this season, Trubisky once again for the most part showed both a willingness and understanding of when to tuck it and run. He even lowered his shoulder on a Packers defensive back to punctuate a 9-yard scramble en route to 29 yards on four carries.

THREE THINGS THAT DIDN'T

Healthy returns: Akiem Hicks returned from an eight-week absence with a dislocated left elbow, and he hit Aaron Rodgers on his first snap. But he also spent a lot of time in the medical tent having his elbow evaluated, and the Bears' pass rush was nonexistent. Prince Amukamara returned from a hamstring injury, struggling mightily. He gave up a big, early play to Davante Adams, and though the Bears temporarily replaced Amukamara with Kevin Toliver, it wasn't for long enough to avoid ...

Tackling: Amukamara whiffed on Aaron Jones' 21-yard TD run to open the second half. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went for a knockout shot rather than wrapping up Jake Kumerow on a 49-yard gain, nearly half of it after Clinton-Dix's lunge. Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver also missed tackles. One of the better tackling secondaries in the NFL chose the worst possible time to struggle.

Trubisky's consistency: Trubisky made some beautiful throws and mostly sound decisions, but it was going to take another near-perfect outing to win at Lambeau, and this wasn't it. Trubisky threw for 321 yards but completed less than 55 percent of his attempts and was intercepted twice, leaving too many big plays unmade.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Bears, who would be eliminated from playoff contention later Sunday with a Vikings victory against the L.A. Chargers, play host to the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs, who smashed the Broncos for their ninth victory. It's currently set for prime time, but if the Bears are eliminated, it becomes a flex candidate.

As Bears welcome back Hicks, fellow DL cog Roy Robertson-Harris inactive for first time this season with foot injury

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 10:42:00

Chicago will have WR Javon Wims, its other questionable player entering Sunday; Packers welcome back CB King

While Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks returns from an eight-week absence with a dislocated left elbow Sunday at Lambeau, the Bears will be down fellow defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris for the first time this season with a foot injury he suffered during the Week 14 win over the Cowboys.

Robertson-Harris had a strong evening vs. the Packers in the 10-3 Week 1 loss, recording a sack and two tackles for loss, but will miss his first game, despite getting in a full practice Friday.

The Bears will have WR Javon Wims, the other player listed as questionable on the injury report because of a hamstring injury, in their WR corps, where Taylor Gabriel will miss a fourth consecutive game with a concussion. But Anthony Miller has come on like gangbusters lately after not recording a catch and playing a season-low 15 snaps in the first Packers tilt, and rookie WR Riley Ridley is active and could chip in behind Allen Robinson, Miller and Wims.

Green Bay, at 10-3 and in position to punch its playoff ticket Sunday with a Bears win and L.A. Rams loss in Dallas, will have starting CB Kevin King back from a shoulder injury after he missed last week's game, a close-for-comfort 20-15 win at Lambeau vs. 3-10 Washington.

The 7-6 Bears — who can keep their playoff hopes alive with a Packers upset, full list of inactives includes Robertson-Harris, Gabriel, Bobby Massie, Danny Trevathan, Eric Saubert, Abdullah Anderson and Corey Levin.

Ask Hub: Has Chicago Bears HC Matt Nagy's long-term outlook changed this season?

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 08:14:00

Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions weekly

Ask Hub

Bears Insider's Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions in every newsletter:

Do you still want the Bears to sign Kaepernick? Submitted by Ryne Benassi

Ryne, based on the way Trubisky has played the past few weeks, I’d love to see the Bears sign Kaepernick, who could be the ideal complement.

Was I disappointed in how he handled the “NFL workout?” Yes. But none of us know what the league’s motives were and there is a ton of credible evidence that the waiver they asked him to sign was considerably different from what every other free agent signs before working out.

His skills are a perfect fit for Nagy’s offense and he was a Pro Bowl-level QB before the 49ers organization went to hell. He could also be a great special weapon in the same way Sean Payton uses Taysom Hill.

By all accounts of everyone he’s ever played with, he’s a great teammate and great in the locker room.

If Mitch continues to play the way he has the past few weeks, he’s the starter to begin next season. But I don’t see how you can bring Daniels and Bray back, and Kaepernick could be the ideal No. 2, or an option to start if Mitch backslides again, and they have to draft a young developmental guy for Bray’s spot.

If I were signing him, I would require him to commit to keeping all of his personal beliefs and causes off the field.

At the end of the day, I don’t care what your politics are. Kaepernick is an incredible athlete and extremely bright young man who has never broken any laws or done anything to embarrass his team, and he is a better quarterback than at least a dozen starters in the league and certainly better than any backup.

He’d be an excellent addition for the Bears.

What do the Bears do about Floyd’s option? He isn’t worth $13.2 million and has not developed as a pass rusher. Submitted by Darryl Conrad

Darryl, they’ve already picked up the option, and they certainly don’t have the kind of depth to replace him if they were to just cut him. So I don’t see how they do anything.

He has actually become a “very good” outside linebacker, he’s just not the threat in the pass rush you expected. But with Khalil Mack, and Roquan Smith looking a like a pretty good threat on the blitz from the inside, you can probably get away with it.

And he still has the kind of unique traits to become a late bloomer as a double-digit sack guy.

My guess is they do nothing or possibly even try and extend him, see if they can get him to take two more years at $16-18 million and structure it to lessen the $13.2 million cap hit in 2020.

Without Roquan and Trevathan do you think the Packers will run up the gut the whole game? Submitted by Kyle Feller

They will try something like that, but it could be a huge mistake.

Nick Kwiatkoski is as good against the run as the starters, especially if you run right at him.

What I do expect the Packers to try and do will be to double team Akiem Hicks and run right at him early to find out if he’s 100, 90 or just 80 percent. If Hicks can’t hold up they will continue to attack him, so inside but not right up the middle.

Hicks doesn’t have to make a lot of great plays, but if he’s able enough to hold his gap and the Pack is committing two blockers to him, Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis will clean up if they try and run the middle.

You can also expect the Packers to test the edges early. If they have success outside, they will get Kwit and KPL running east and west, and then they will probably have some success coming back inside later.

How are you feeling about Nagy long term? I believe in him and want the Bears to give him the opportunity to grow as a head coach. Submitted by J.P. Smith

J.P., he’s 19-11 in his first 30 games, and that’s an outstanding start for any young, first-time head coach — no matter how you read it — particularly taking over a team that was 5-11 the year before he arrived and 14-34 over the three previous seasons.

You also have to be real impressed with how he’s gotten this team to win four of its past five with mounting injuries after a brutal start. Other really talented teams like the Cowboys, Jaguars, Panthers and Colts had much better starts but appear to have given up after some adversity.

I think we’re seeing him now start to mature as a head coach over this latest stretch.

To all the haters out there, how good were you at your job on Day 1, and with just a year and a half experience in that spot, as opposed to where you were after years three, four or five?

I don’t know how much of the offense’s struggles the first half were due to his reluctance, maybe stubbornness to stop trying to run his entire playbook when it was obvious it wasn’t working, and how much of it was needing to test until realizing he just wasn’t getting the play at tight end, right guard and left tackle he needed to make it all work, and that Anthony Miller and David Montgomery were a little slower than we would have liked in development.

How many RPOs did he call that were the right play but Mitch made the wrong read?

There are a lot of unknowns, but I like the way he seems to have figured it out.

I also worry at times that he’s just a little too in love with the pass and his trick plays, but I also believe that’s still a work in progress.

There is no question he and Ryan Pace have improved the culture around their team 1,000 percent, and overall I’m impressed and encouraged by what we’ve seen in his small-but-growing overall body of work.

Hub, we are so glad you're OK! Give us 2 keys to the Bears winning Sunday. Submitted by Loren Werth

Thank you Loren! No matter how well Mitch is playing right now, Aaron Rodgers is better, markedly so, and that makes it crucial for the Bears to win the turnover battle. They cannot give the ball away, and a couple of takeaways would be huge.

Number 2, I’d say, is they have to find the best pass rush they’ve had all year since opening night, when they sacked him five times and held the Packers to 213 yards of offense.

If they can do that along with having one of their best days of the year running the ball, the best way to beat Rodgers and the Packers is to not give him time to beat you and keep their offense on the sideline.

The Packers are getting a great rush themselves from the Smith brothers, Preston and Za’Darius, but other than that their defense is average at best.

(Editor's note: Hub's 3 Keys to victory, in full, are included at the bottom of this week's newsletter.)

Do you want Chico here? Submitted by Timothy McKay

Boy, Tim, great question, but it’s a tough one for me. As some of our group here may remember, Ron was my broadcast partner on pre- and post-game shows when I was still in the Bears broadcast booth for the first three years after he retired. We’ve remained close and I consider him a dear friend.

That said, he’s a two-time NFL Coach of the Year and one of the best defensive minds in the game — equally adept with both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses — so what team outside of Charlotte wouldn’t love to have him either as the head coach or defensive coordinator?

The problem is, the Bears already have their own Coach of the Year in charge, and Chuck Pagano is another great coach who’s done an excellent job in his first year taking over the defense from Vic Fangio.

I’m not sure what other role Ron would fill, so as much as I would love to have him back in Chicago with the Bears organization, there’s just no fit right now for a guy who is going to be in great demand and may very well have another head-coaching opportunity as soon as January. Keep an eye on the Browns. He is the perfect fit to clean up the nightmare culture they’re dealing with right now, handle a difficult personality like Baker Mayfield and get that defense firing on all cylinders.

Your thoughts on Mitchell's pocket presence??... Submitted by Noriega

I guess all I can say is Trubisky’s pocket presence is fine and has clearly improved the second half of this season.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen him with happy feet, and there is no doubt in my mind he’s tough as nails and certainly not worried about taking hits.

The problem is he’s been slow in learning to read the field and having the game slow down for him – although again it looks like it’s happening now over the past few weeks – and that can certainly cause him to look uncomfortable in the pocket.

And ironically, he is clearly a lot more dangerous when they get him on the move, sprinting out, rolling out and on bootlegs to take advantage of his athleticism. So his pocket presence isn’t as critical as it might be with some others.

I guess the bottom line is as he gets better and better at reading defenses, I don’t think “pocket presence” is near the top of the list the organization is worried about him improving.

Do either of the “Fill In” TE’s stick next year? Submitted by J. Math

J., I don’t know how high their ceilings are and I don’t see J.P. Holtz ever being a Pro Bowler, but he may develop into a dependable starter or an excellent number two at the 'Y' position.

Jesper Horsted definitely has a high ceiling as a 'U' tight end, and I think the Bears are excited about his prospects.

The team is also still high on Dax Raymond, who is on the practice squad and probably flexible enough to be a 'Y' or a 'U.'

I definitely expect Holtz and Horsted to be Bears next year, and suspect Raymond could be on the active roster.

The issue is, Trey Burton could be a cap casualty, but he also showed enough last year that he could be one of the better 'U' TEs in the league.

My best guess is the Bears look for an upgrade at the 'Y' over Holtz and Raymond either in the draft or via free agency, and that player might be the starter next year with Holtz No. 2 and Horsted and Raymond each either third- or fourth-stringers.

Hub, would you attempt to extend Cousins for less money per year? Assuming he would consider more guaranteed dollars over a longer term that is less than the 28 mil he is getting now. Submitted by Scott Ray

Scott, I think the Vikings would be well served to try and get Cousins extended based on both the way he’s played this year and the ability to save $5-15 million against the cap on him next year, depending on how they structure it.

But, how much money they’re willing to commit to do that is still very much dependent on how he finishes the season.

Should he crap the bed next week against the Packers, or should they fade and fail to make the playoffs, or if he were to struggle in their first playoff game, they may not be willing to. And they may be wise not to commit the kind of dollars he’ll want to give up on another crack at free agency in 2021.

Also, based on how he’s strangling their cap already because he is one of the top guys on an annual basis, it really wouldn’t cost them that much more if they had to franchise him for another deep look in 2021.

— Hub Arkush

Hub's 3 Keys to Victory No. 8 Sunday at Lambeau:

1. The Bears must create serious pressure on Aaron Rodgers while keeping him in the pocket and not allowing him to extend plays. Easier said than done, but that is the Rodgers magic.

Chicago held Rodgers to one of the worst performances of his career in the opener by bringing pressure up the middle while keeping contain on the outside and not allowing him to escape and freelance.

It is also critical to generate that pressure with only four rushers, and no more than five. If you can force Rodgers to get rid of the ball with six or seven defenders in coverage, Davante Adams is the only one who scares you on contested balls.

2. The Bears must run the football successfully, and the production has to come from the backs. Trubisky on the move will help and can lead to big plays, but if the Packers have to scheme and stack the box to stop Montgomery and Cohen, it will open up the rest of the Bears offense.

The key to success here will be in the matchups between Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward, and Kenny Clark. If Whitehair can neutralize Clark with occasional help from one of the guards, and there is always a guard or two focused on Blake Martinez, the Packers will be in trouble.

3. Whatever got into J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted vs. the Cowboys has to happen again at Lambeau. When the defense has to defend the Bears tight ends, it opens up the whole field for their wideouts, as well as the RPOs that were so effective for Montgomery and Trubisky vs. Dallas.

The Cowboys linebackers are mediocre in coverage, and Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are solid in-the-box safeties, but they can be beaten through the air.

Horsted, in particular, with his wide receiver traits could very well prove to be the difference in this game if Trubisky looks for him often.

— Hub Arkush

A healthy scratch last season at Lambeau, Bilal Nichols playing best football as return visit arrives

Posted on December 15, 2019 - 08:14:00

Sunday marks Bilal Nichols' second visit to Lambeau Field as a member of the Bears but first opportunity to play there, much less as the starting right defensive end.

Nichols was a healthy scratch when the Bears and Packers clashed in last year's season-opening and heart-breaking 24-23 loss, still a complete unknown as a fifth-round rookie from FCS Delaware.

"I’m real anxious. I didn’t get a chance to play at Lambeau [last year]. I can’t wait," Nichols told Bears Insider this week.

After a broken hand in Week 2 this season helped stymie Nichols' lofty Year 2 goal to ascend from a rookie starter on the NFL's best defense to a Pro Bowler, like so many of his Bears teammates, he's playing his best football during the team's better-late-than-never surge, including three consecutive victories to extend their playoff livelihood.

"The last three games, he’s really played well," D-line coach Jay Rodgers said, first crediting his youngest pupil's work against the run. "Hasn’t had as much production in the pass game, but he’s getting more pressures than he is sack production. It’s trending upward. I thought he made a couple really good plays last week."

Perhaps the best came on the first play following Mitch Trubisky's end-zone interception, which halted the Bears' promising first possession. Backed up at their own 1, Dallas fed Ezekiel Elliott on an inside run, but Nichols used his length and strength to jolt Cowboys backup LG Xavier Sua'Filo, dropping one of the NFL's toughest runners in his tracks for a short gain.

"Pretty solid game. Really starting to get back to myself," Nichols told Bears Insider this week, "having great strike power, and now I feel like I'm really starting to get it back."

Indeed, while most of the attention this week has rightly been on what the overall D-line unit is getting back — game-wrecking Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks, set to return from an eight-week stint on IR with a dislocated left elbow — Nichols is beginning to provide the bright flashes that took so many by surprise a year ago. While he continues the quest for his first sack, Nichols notched his first pass breakup of the season and only his second QB hit over the past two games, respectively.

He's also been a key cog for a run 'D' that somehow managed to improve from fourth to third overall in the NFL during Hicks' absence, a span over which Chicago also lost defensive leader Danny Trevathan in Week 10 and running mate Roquan Smith early last week.

"That's adversity," he said. "You got to fight. Life isn’t fair all the time. You got to make things happen."

Speaking of unfair, Nichols took the brunt of a combination block by the best C-RG tandem in the NFL, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, last Thursday, leading to Elliott's longest run of the season (31 yards). Yet only two plays later, his quick penetration prevented All Pro LT Tyron Smith from executing a reach block, and Nichols and Eddie Goldman converged for a tackle after only two yards. Later on, in the second half with the Bears up big but needing to thwart Dallas' comeback bid, Nichols got his hand up to swat down a Dak Prescott attempt to Jason Witten on third down.

"At the end of the day you just got to keep battling. A football match ain’t nothing but a fight, and you’re going to take some hits, you’re going to give some hits. It’s just about how you bounce back," he said.

And with Hicks back to absorb more of those combo blocks, Nichols is well positioned to finish his second season on a high note. After notching a half-sack of Aaron Rodgers in the Bears' division-clinching victory at Soldier Field, how sweet would it be to drop him on the frozen tundra by defeating outstanding Packers rookie Elgton Jenkins, who's yet to surrender a sack?

"It’s funny because quickly you start to realize how deep it is and you start to develop that hatred," Nichols said of his increasing knowledge regarding the NFL's oldest rivalry. "You start to feel it early. So I feel like I’m getting there. I’m close."

— Arthur Arkush

Returning Dream: Bears activate Akiem Hicks from IR, ready to unleash Pro Bowler against Rodgers' Packers

Posted on December 14, 2019 - 14:28:00

And Ben Braunecker becomes third Bears tight end to land on season-ending injured reserve

The Bears activated Pro Bowl DL Akiem Hicks from IR Saturday ahead of their must-win battle against the rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field Sunday. Chicago also announced that TE Ben Braunecker (concussion) was sent to the season-ending injured reserve list and starters Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and Bobby Massie (ankle) didn't travel with the team to Green Bay.

Hicks, the Bears' leader in sacks (24) and tackles for loss (39) since his 2016 arrival, was placed on injured reserve Oct. 15 with a dislocated left elbow, which he suffered on the eighth defensive snap of the Week 5 loss to the Oakland Raiders in London. Hicks had just returned from a knee injury that sidelined him in the previous week's win over the Vikings for the first time with the Bears.

"With Akiem, again, none of it is live in practice, but we like what we’re seeing with him. ... I like what I’ve seen all week long from him," head coach Matt Nagy said of Hicks, who first resumed practicing in Week 14 and will make the earliest return possible from short-term IR Sunday.

The Bears defense has performed quite well following early growing pains in the absence of their best lineman, ranking third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.7) and points permitted (17.8). However, the pass rush has cooled off considerably, with OLBs Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd in particular missing the benefit of all the double teams Hicks regularly commands.

Although he's unlikely to be 100 percent immediately upon returning Sunday, Hicks should provide a huge emotional boost in addition to his imposing physical presence. The Bears praised one of their biggest and best defensive leaders for sticking so close to the team during his most extensive NFL injury absence, making regular practice appearances and helping D-line coach Jay Rodgers on gameday.

“[I feel] really good,” Hicks said Thursday at Halas Hall. “It’s a tough situation to take your athleticism from an athlete. So for the first few weeks, I couldn’t really run around, I couldn’t really do the things I was accustomed to doing. Now that I’m getting back into the flow of things, I’m starting to feel my body waking up and getting back to being an athlete again. So it’s a good feeling.”

The Bears' spirits have increasingly brightened over the past month, too, when they've won three in a row and four of the past five, clawing their way back above .500 and into the playoff picture — barely. An upset of the division-leading Packers Sunday would double their flickering postseson odds ... from roughly five to 10 percent. But a loss all but extinguishes any remaining dreams of making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in a decade.

Indeed, the Bears still need plenty of help if their NFC North title defense season — the franchise's centennial campaign — is to extend into the new year in a return to the playoffs. But at least the still can dream, and in the 6-4, 352-pound Hicks, whose nickname is "The Dream," a massive reinforcement officially has arrived.

“Isn’t that beautiful, just to see the adversity and the grit and the fight that these guys had to go through, and I couldn’t help. To be in this position at this time in the season, you have to take advantage of it,” Hicks said.

Hub Arkush: Bears-Packers all-time battle No. 200 among hardest to predict

Posted on December 13, 2019 - 17:00:00

So many unknowns, potential potholes, and neither team — especially Bears — resembles Week 1 self

Celebrating the NFL’s 100th season, the Bears and Packers will meet for the 200th time Sunday at Lambeau Field in the league’s oldest and best rivalry.

The Packers are a near-lock to make the playoffs but haven’t clinched yet, and can sew up the NFC North title with a win over the Vikings next Sunday in Minneapolis.

Green Bay has a chance to finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed to out of the playoffs, but a loss to the Bears would put a severe crimp in hopes for a Week 1 postseason bye.

A loss to the Packers and a Minnesota win at Los Angeles eliminates the Bears from playoff contention.

Sunday is a must-win for the Bears, important but not so much for the Pack.

What can be gleaned from the opening night of the season when the Bears dropped a 10-3 heart breaker to the Packers at Soldier Field?

Virtually nothing, these two extremely different teams since then both had defensive performances that evening they have failed to come close to matching since.

While the Bears defense remains top five or ten in almost every significant category, most importantly 4th in points allowed, Green Bay is in the bottom half of the league in almost all of those categories with the exception of being 13th in points allowed.

The Bears will field one of the NFL’s worst offense’s, although it has been much more dangerous recently, while the Packers offense is average overall but claims three of the league’s most dangerous weapons this season in Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams.

As Matt Nagy said Friday, “For instance, last year, for the first time we were playing them, the very first night. He (Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine) has no idea what we’re going to do as an offense and we don’t necessarily know 100 percent what he’s doing.

“Even this year, they have new players on defense. So some of their scheme has changed.

“They get new players, they see things, they change, just like we do. It’s a cat and mouse game.”

The Packers have had an uncanny run of good luck with injuries this year, much like last year’s Bears.

But Mike Davis — who was the Bears' week one starting running back — has been cut, top TEs Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton are on injured reserve and Ben Braunecker, Taylor Gabriel, Bobby Massie and Danny Trevathan will all be out Sunday.

With at least five new starters, that is over 20 percent of the Bears lineup changed.

There is also a surprising new element of intrigue to this one that few expected.

The playing surface at Lambeau Field, long the gold standard in the NFL, has devolved this season into one of the league’s worst — with both the Packers and their opponents having significant issues on it in recent games.

I asked Nagy, in his experience which positions it could impact the most, and he said, “Um, there’s not one that it doesn’t. It affects every position.

“I mean, we’ve looked at the tape, there’s guys in previous games on that field where there’s long snappers that are slipping, but obviously the skill positions, the guys that are breaking and cutting, running deep – DBs, WRs — is probably where you see it the most.

“Sometimes, you can see it with edge rushers as they go to cut the corner, you can see some slipping and falling.”

We would expect Green Bay’s "Smith Brothers," Za’Darius and Preston, and the Bears' Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to be among the biggest difference makers Sunday.

Can they still be?

Under normal circumstances, figuring this out is difficult.

52 on 52, the Bears are the slightly more talented team and they’ve played better football than the Packers over the past four or five weeks.

But no slap at Mitch Trubisky, Aaron Rodgers will clearly be the most dangerous man on the field, and he’s led other inferior Packer teams to wins over the Bears more often than many can count.

And oh yeah, they’re predicting a wind chill near zero Sunday.

I have no idea what’s going to happen, but the possibilities are endless.

Bears expecting Hicks and Amukamara back against Packers

Posted on December 13, 2019 - 15:16:00

And the impending activation of Hicks off IR against rival Packers could bode especially well for Leonard Floyd

While the Bears expect to welcome back Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks Sunday at Lambeau Field for the first time since early October, they'll officially be without four additional starters still on the active roster in yet another must-win game, the 200th all-time meeting with the Green Bay Packers.

Taylor Gabriel and Ben Braunecker (concussions), as well as Bobby Massie (ankle) will miss their third consecutive contests, while Danny Trevathan (elbow) observes in a fifth straight game. Those four were ruled out Friday, when top rotational DL Roy Robertson-Harris (ankle) and WR3 Javon Wims (knee) were listed as questionable after getting in limited work, encouraging after they both sat out the first two practices in Week 15.

Veteran Prince Amukamara, who sat out for the first time this season with a hamstring injury in last week's impressive win over the Dallas Cowboys, was a full practice participant all three days and removed from the final injury report.

Victorious in three straight and back above .500 for the first time since Week 6, the 7-6 Bears likely need to win their final three games, in addition to receiving help from the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams, to clinch a wild-card berth. Hicks' likely return could spark a pass rush that was often lifeless in his absence but tallied five sacks in the first meeting with the Packers, a 10-3 season-opening loss, despite limiting Green Bay to 213 yards of offense.

And although much of the focus centers on how the presence of Hicks — who can be activated up until 3 p.m. Saturday and play in Green Bay — helps Khalil Mack, it's possible known Packer smacker Leonard Floyd can benefit even more from Hicks' return. Consider the fact that of Floyd's career-low three sacks, two occurred in the opener vs. Green Bay with a healthy Hicks. Also worth noting: Of Floyd's 19.5 career sacks in 52 total games, 7.5, or more than 38 percent, have come across seven battles with the Bears' bitter rivals.

"It makes a huge difference," OLB Ted Monachino said this week of the effect Hicks can have on Floyd and Mack. "Because we're winning, we're having some winning rushes outside, and because the quarterback is able to climb the pocket and step up inside, we're just a hair off on finishing some of those rushes."

Monachino, one of Floyd's staunchest backers, said the film illustrates his top two edge rushers are reaching their landmarks, but the inconsistent interior push at times mitigates that work. Regardless, fans expect the body of work from Floyd, whom the Bears traded up to select No. 9 overall in 2016, to include more pass-rush production. And after it appeared their expectations might finally even be exceeded this season, with Floyd exploding out of the gate in the opener following his best eight-game stretch as a pro to conclude last season, the conversation has reverted to what he isn't doing enough.

Not that Monachino sees it what way.

"There's one guy in our building that can do the job that Leonard is asked to do, and that's Leonard Floyd," Monachino said. "He's playing at as high a level as I've ever had a 'Sam' play. ... I'd love for him to be able to finish some of those things at the top of the pocket that he's had some success with more often, but right now there's only one guy I can ask to do that job and that's Leonard Floyd, and he does a great job of it."

This much is crystal clear: Floyd's greatest work as a pass rusher has consistently come against the Packers and with Hicks on the field. Throw in the fact that Sunday marks the Bears' biggest game of the season, and it's reasonable to expect it'll be Floyd's biggest performance to date this season, if not since his gangbusters Week 1.

"He did a great job in that first game of finishing plays," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said of Floyd. "And there have been times where not only him but we have left plays out there. He’d tell you the same thing. There were opportunities. You just have to finish them."

Kevin Pierre-Louis, like Nick Kwiatkoski, thrived once thrust into spotlight and has plenty to play for in final stretch

Posted on December 13, 2019 - 10:55:00

Bears' new starting LB KPL: "You never know when your last play is going to be. I want to make sure of each play and make the most of it."

Following in the footsteps of pal and fellow next-backer-up Nick Kwiatkoski, Kevin Pierre-Louis delivered an inspired performance in the Bears' win last Thursday over the Dallas Cowboys, which was as dominant as it was stunning.

The 28-year-old sixth-year veteran, who signed a one-year, $800,000 deal in March to back up Pro Bowl alternates Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and be a special-teams stalwart, earned his most extensive playtime on 'D' as a Bear, following the departure of Smith with a season-ending pec tear after only one series and 17 defensive snaps.

Uncannily, like Kwiatkoski in the Week 4 win vs. the Vikings, when he was thrust into action with Smith a late scratch for personal reasons, Pierre-Louis channeled Smith's dynamism — with "not inside linebacker stats."

"I told the guys, I dont know if I've ever had an inside linebacker have that kind of pass-rush production. Ro [Roquan Smith] had 2 sacks [in Detroit in Week 14], but Kevin had hurries, hits and PBUs," ILB coach Mark Deleone, who, by the way, coached Chiefs' legend Derrick Johnson in his final three seasons in Kansas City before working throughout this season with Smith, told Bears Insider this week.

Then there's Pierre-Louis, a 28-year-old journeyman who'd played on defense only twice prior to last week, combining for 26 snaps, before flourishing in a pinch-hitting role as a blitzer and coverage defender, not to mention helping shut down reigning rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott.

"A lot’s riding on your name on the back of the jersey. Guys are counting on you to make a play," Pierre-Louis told Bears Insider. "... Fortunately, I was able to make a couple of plays."

Pierre-Louis' stat line, even under difficult circumstances, might not jump off the playbook, but the same can't be said for his play on the field, where his speed coming forward, laterally and in retreat was a lethal weapon vs. the NFL's top-rated offense. His blitzing prowess, not unlike Smith's, was particularly evident. Don't believe us? Ask his teammate, starting DRE Bilal Nichols.

"I made a joke with him after the game, I told him he was bending the edge like he’s pass-rushed before," Nichols told us. "And it was great to see. That’s just a guy you like to see him do [well]. Because of the character of the guy, the way that he handles himself. So when he gets in there and he’s making plays, he’s being a force, you love to see it."

Pierre-Louis said his blitzing success, even if it was more so moving Prescott off his spots than getting home, is "something I realized I have in my back pocket." He also realizes as the "new guy," that he's likely to get targeted Sunday at Lambeau by Aaron Rodgers.

That Pierre-Louis' first extended starting opportunity in the NFL arrives against now, late in a contract year against the Bears' oldest rivals, could create an opportunity to put something else in his back pocket — if he has a few more performances like Thursday's.

With Pierre-Louis and Kwiatkoski potential free agents, as well as Danny Trevathan, the Bears face tough decisions on how to best complement Smith moving forward. The way all three have played, it may be a good problem to have for the Bears, so to speak. And especially for Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis, each in search of their first multi-year veteran NFL contracts, their auditions are for all 32 teams — including the LB-hungry Packers they'll face off against Sunday.

Just don't expect that reality to cloud Pierre-Louis' interim focus.

"Very back [of my mind] because you start to focus on that, you’ll miss what’s right in front of you," he said. "And that’s one thing I don’t want to do. I’ve watched guys' last play ever. You look too far ahead … you never know when your last play is going to be. So, I want to make sure of each play and make the most of it. And whatever happens, happens."

PODCAST: Public money on Packers will overwhelm sharp play on Bears, oddsmaker says

Posted on December 13, 2019 - 09:11:00

Our BetIndiana teammates talk Bears-Packers and much more on Week 15

A 7-point underdog on advanced lines offered last week in Las Vegas, the Bears have drawn money from professional bettors ahead of their Week 15 trip to Green Bay. Late in the week, the point spread sits between Packers -4 and -4.5 on oddsboards.

The Bears have found some late-season momentum, winning three games in a row and four of their last five. Most recently, they handled the Cowboys by a 31-24 count as 3-point home underdogs last Thursday (Chicago is still the NFL’s worst bet, with a 4-9 record against the spread). The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off an uninspired 20-15 win as 13-point home chalk over the Redskins.

“Green Bay was probably just going through the motions last week against Washington. I think we’ll see Green Bay’s best effort this week,” oddsmaker Robert Walker said on this week’s edition of The Bet Pro Football Podcast presented by BetIndiana.

Sharps, though, are taking the points this weekend, and will be on the opposite side of recreational bettors.

“The public is going to be on Green Bay; the pros are definitely fading Green Bay, for whatever reason,” Walker told host Matt Perrault.

The public money will overwhelm the respected money, a dynamic that makes Walker a bit uneasy.

“I think we’re going to need Chicago in this game, and I’d feel much better about 6 or 7 than I do 4, 4.5,” he said.

Listen to the entire podcast, where Perrault and Walker discuss much more on the Week 15 card, below or here.

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Bears' DT Akiem Hicks looks increasingly likely to play Sunday vs. Packers

Posted on December 12, 2019 - 16:31:00

“I’m going to say that I’m going to do my best to be available to play football for the Chicago Bears this Sunday.”

LAKE FOREST – The Bears locker room at Halas Hall was more lively than usual Thursday, with players hooting and hollering after practice. Akiem Hicks, especially, had good reason for his wide smile.

“I probably had more fun than most because it’s been a while since I’ve been able to have that type of activity,” Hicks said of Thursday’s practice.

The Bears’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle has been on injured reserve since mid-October with a dislocated left elbow. Hicks wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s definitely playing in Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, but he sure sounded like a football player who is preparing for game action.

“I’m not going to go out and make any declarations,” Hicks said. “I’m going to say that I’m going to do my best to be available to play football for the Chicago Bears this Sunday.”

A stint on injured reserve requires a minimum of eight weeks before returning to action. This week is the earliest Hicks could play again. Hicks last played on Oct. 6 against the Oakland Raiders in London.

“[I feel] really good,” Hicks said Thursday at Halas Hall. “It’s a tough situation to take your athleticism from an athlete. So for the first few weeks, I couldn’t really run around, I couldn’t really do the things I was accustomed to doing. Now that I’m getting back into the flow of things, I’m starting to feel my body waking up and getting back to being an athlete again. So it’s a good feeling.”

Hicks on Thursday shared his thoughts on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers run game. Even if the Bears won’t say Hicks is playing Sunday, he gave the impression he has spent more time focused on Green Bay than focused on his elbow.

That’s a good sign for the Bears, who are still going to take it slow.

“It’s just a matter of watching him on tape, watching him in practice, getting a feel, communicating with him, talking to him, seeing how he’s doing,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said.

Hicks said he did “a lot of running around” once he was cleared for initial activity a few weeks ago. Pagano credited the Bears training staff for helping Hicks take care of his conditioning, in addition to his elbow.

“There’s nothing like football shape,” Pagano said. “So until you get the pads back on and get out there and play, time will tell. I think it’s just constant dialogue.”

Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who will return to Green Bay for the first time since the Packers traded him last year, said he’s excited for what Hicks’ potential return means for the Bears defense.

“He’s one of our veteran leaders,” Hicks said. “He keeps the D-line pumped up, he keeps us together on the back end. It’s definitely a plus, having him out there.”

The Bears remain a top defense in the NFL, even with Hicks sidelined. His return will make it that much more difficult for opposing teams to run the ball against the Bears. It could open things up for Khalil Mack, too, who has garnered much of the attention of offensive lines with Hicks out.

With playoff hopes on the line over the next three weeks, Hicks’ potential return could be coming at an opportune time.

Schofield: Packers' play-action usage, opening possession and Rodgers' snap-to-throw time are big Bears keys Sunday

Posted on December 12, 2019 - 13:37:48

Coming off three straight victories, the Chicago Bears seem to have righted the ship. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is playing his best football of the season, and after seemingly being out of the playoff picture, Chicago now has a chance to climb back into the mix with some wins down the stretch.

Standing in their way this weekend? Their bitter rivals.

The Green Bay Packers sit atop the NFC North with a 10-3 record, but after a strong stretch earlier this season they have come back to earth a bit. Part of their recent swoon could be the play of QB Aaron Rodgers. The former two-time Most Valuable Player seemed to be returning to form during Green Bay’s four-game winning stretch in the month of October, when he threw for 10 touchdowns and only one interception over four games. But he has struggled in recent weeks, especially in losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers.

Let’s look at one area where the Packers’ offense has been impressive, and another where there are causes for concern from Green Bay’s perspective.

First up, the good news for the Packers.

Entering 2019, expectations were high that under the guidance of offensive-minded head coach Matt LaFleur, Rodgers would enjoy a rebirth of sorts late in his career. Though that might not have come completely to fruition, there is an area where Rodgers and the Packers’ offense are markedly improved over their 2018 iteration:

Play-action

One of my favorite days each summer is “Play-Action Day” over at Football Outsiders. Sometime during the summer doldrums, FO releases their play-action passing data from the previous NFL campaign. On that day, I love diving into the data and seeing who made the most of these designs, which some have equated to the NFL’s live-action version of a cheat code. 

Football Outsiders uses their Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric to see which teams see a boost in their offensive production when using play-action, opposed to what teams are stagnant - or even see a dip in production - when they use such schemes.

Last season, the Packers were dreadful using play-action. First off, they hardly used play-action designs, as only 20 percent of their offensive plays in 2018 were such calls. This was good for merely 20th overall in the league. Now when you see the results, you might understand. On straight dropbacks (plays without play-action), the Packers posted a passing DVOA of 27.6 percent, which was sixth-best in the league.

When they employed play-action? Their DVOA plummeted to just 2.7 percent, which was ranked 25th in the league. Their DVOA difference of minus-22.6 percent was ranked 29th in the league.

This stark contrast also shows up when you dive deeper into his numbers. According to Pro Football Focus and their charting data, Rodgers’ 2018 completion percentage on straight dropback passing plays in 2018 was 62.5. On play-action plays? 61.5 percent. That dip of -1.1 percent was the sixth-most among qualified passers last season. Only Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota and, yes, Eli Manning saw a bigger drop. In terms of his Yards Per Attempt (YPA), Rodgers posted a mark of 7.5 on straight dropbacks, and only 7.1 on play-action designs. That drop of -0.4 was tied with Mitchell Trubisky for the biggest in the league.

This season, however, there is a big improvement in these numbers, which might account for some of Green Bay’s offensive success. Rodgers is completing 62.7 percent of his passes on dropback designs, but that completion percentage ticks up to 70.2 percent when Rodgers is carrying out a play-action fake. That improvement of 7.5 percent is seventh-best league wide. In YPA terms, Rodgers is posting a YPA of 7.3 on dropbacks, and 7.9 on play-action passes. That jump of 0.6 is good for only 20th best in the league, but it's a big step up from last season.

That has led to the Packers using more play-action. Where they were near the bottom in PA attempts a year ago, Rodgers currently ranks 13th in the league in play-action passing attempts.

What does this translate to on tape? The 2019 Packers have been able to attack both downfield in the vertical passing game, as well as underneath, with Rodgers throwing off of play-action. On this second-and-5 play from Green Bay’s Week 10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, Rodgers (#12) hits wide receiver Davante Adams (#17) along the right sideline on a go route, working off a play-fake:

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However, one of the ways the Packers implement play-action the most is off of zone fakes in the boot-action game. For example, earlier in their victory over the Panthers, Rodgers aligns under center, and fakes an outside zone running play to the right side of the formation. He then boots back to the left, throwing underneath to a receiver crossing across the formation with him:

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A week ago, the Packers were blown out by the 49ers, but the play-action designs were still part of their gameplan. On this throw from their scripted portion of the game, Rodgers again uses a boot-action design:

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These types of plays cater to Rodgers’ athletic ability and desire to make plays outside the pocket. Given the inclusion of this one in LaFleur’s scripted plays, you can expect them to be a part of the Packers’ call sheet on Sunday. 

Speaking of scripted plays, something to keep in mind Sunday is how well the Packers execute on the opening drives of each game. Green Bay has scored a touchdown on seven of their 13 opening drives this season, or 53.8 percent of the time. That ties the Packers with the Baltimore Ravens for the league-high, according to Pro Football Reference. Twenty-two percent is the league average. When it comes to finishing the opening drive with a scoring play of any kind, the Packers are fourth-best in the league, behind the Ravens, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. Chicago’s first defensive possession will be critical on Sunday.

The improvement in play-action passing numbers are a reason why the Packers enjoyed a recent string of offensive success. Given Green Bay’s success on these designs so far this year, LaFleur would be wise to rely on them more down the stretch.  

But now an area where Rodgers needs to show some improvement: 

Holding onto the football

Thanks to charting data from Pro Football Focus, we know that Rodgers averages 2.77 seconds from snap to throw this season. That is the second-longest average among qualified NFL passers (defined as a quarterback with 50 percent of the team’s dropbacks) this season. When you dig in deeper to his numbers in the pocket, more trends emerge. Rodgers releases the football in under 2.5 seconds only 43.6 percent of the time, which is ranked 21st in the league among qualified passers. His mark of 56.4 percent of dropbacks where he holds the football for more than 2.5 seconds is sixth-most in the league. 

When holding the football for less than 2.5 seconds, Rodgers has yet to be sacked this season.

When holding the football for more than 2.5 seconds, Rodgers has been sacked 31 times. That is sixth-most in the league, behind Kyle Allen (41), Kyler Murray (38), Deshaun Watson (34), Jameis Winston (33) and Carson Wentz (32). 

Now, at this point you might begin to question the offensive line, but the Packers up front are a very strong unit on offense. This season, ESPN created their Pass Block Win Rate (PBWR) statistic, which measures the “rate at which linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer.” So this corresponds well with the PFF data. As of this week the top team in this category?

The Green Bay Packers

To drive this point home further, according to one of PFF’s analysts, the quarterback who leads the league in pressures faced when the pressure occurs more than four seconds into a play?

Aaron Rodgers. With 10

What do these numbers translate to on film?

Take this third-and-4 play vs. Washington last week. The Packers put Rodgers in the shotgun and utilize a 2x2 alignment. Washington shows pressure here, with six defenders down in the box in blitz posture:

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Green Bay runs a tosser/flat concept to the right, with both receivers running slant routes while the running back releases to the flat. On the backside the tight end stays in to block initially given the blitz look before releasing late to the flat, while the receiver releases vertically:

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The problem for Green Bay here is that the defense is not blitzing at all. Washington drops eight defenders into coverage:

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Rodgers opens up to the right side to read the tosser/flat concept and there is a window to hit the inside slant. Given the man coverage here Rodges can fit in a throw as the strong safety vacates the box to cover the running back in the flat. But the quarterback does not pull the trigger and brings the ball down, which allows the pressure to get home:

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Time from snap to sack? More than 2.5 seconds. 

Here is another example from later in the game. Coming out of the two-minute warning the Packers face a first-and-15 on the Washington 46-yard line. They align in a bunch to the left with Rodgers in the shotgun, and they run a very nice follow concept from the three-receiver set:

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This is very similar to the Mills concept, with a post route deep from the left with a pair of dig routes underneath. Mills pairs a post with a dig, but the follow element comes into play when LaFleur brings two different dig routes over the middle. Rodgers will read the safety toward the bunch. If he stays deep on the post, he will throw one of the digs, but if he cheats downhill he can throw the post over his head.

Another interesting element to this play is the switch from the two dig routes. Washington will drop into Cover 4 here, and the linebacker is responsible to “carry” the #3 receiver, i.e., the inside receiver to that side. The two inside receivers switch off the line of scrimmage, and the angle of their releases creates space for the original inside receiver - who becomes #2 after the switch - and his dig route:

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At this point, Rodgers can probably know he will have the post route. The safety is flat-footed and looks ready to squat on the second dig route in front of him, and the cornerback in this Cover 4 coverage is using outside leverage, so the receiver on the post route will have separation when he breaks inside. He will also have the dig route, or even if you look down at the running back, he has leverage as he cuts toward the left side of the field. 

But Rodgers never pulls the trigger:

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There is a window to throw the post, the second dig route, and even the shallow crosser from the running back that comes late over the middle. Instead, Rodgers tries to climb the pocket and gets dragged down for a sack.

Time from snap to sack? More than 2.5 seconds.

Putting the film and the numbers together, we now see that some of these sacks are of Rodgers’ own creation. These two throws are passes we are used to seeing Rodgers make. The kinds of throws that made him into the legend he is. The kinds of throws that earned him MVP nods, and had little kids around the country donning green and gold No. 12 jerseys. Now, instead of challenging these windows or making these quick reads, he is pulling the ball down and looking to create - or escape.

That gives the Bears’ defense an opportunity this week to get home for sacks early and often, given what we have seen from the Packers’ offense - and their quarterback - this season.

Play-action, points on the opening possession, and Rodgers’ time in the pocket. All things to watch for in a critical NFC North clash this weekend. 

 

Bears-Packers matchup dead even

Posted on December 12, 2019 - 12:36:00

Except, of course, at quarterback and Trubisky vs. Rodgers

Obviously, at 10-3, the Green Bay Packers have been a better team than the 7-6 Chicago Bears this season.

But statistically and personnel wise, these two teams are evenly matched with the only big edges going to the Bears’ defense and the Bears’ return game.

Throw in the first meeting, in which two plays were basically the difference in a 10-3 slugfest, and almost anything could happen at Lambeau Field Sunday.

The Bears have been slightly hotter in recent weeks as both teams have faced relatively inferior competition, with the exception of a beating the Packers took at San Francisco.

Of course there is the rivalry, arguably the best in all of sports and certainly in the NFL.

As for motivation, the Bears’ playoff hopes will be on the line Sunday while the Packers have little to fear knowing they can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Vikings at Minneapolis the following Sunday.

Beyond all of that, though, there is Aaron Rodgers, who will be the only player on the field capable of winning the game all by himself, as he has done all too often over the Bears, compiling a 17-5 record in his 12 seasons against Chicago as the Packers starter, throwing 46 TDs and only 10 INTs.

Packers offense vs. Bears defense: Basically, this matchup starts and ends with Rodgers. As Bears Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks says, “His ability to slip out of a sack, his ability to keep his eyes downfield, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks to play in this league, and you have to respect his capabilities while remembering that you’re here to put him on his back.”

Statistically, the Bears are a clear winner with Green Bay’s offense just 23rd overall, 17th running the ball, 16th passing, 21st on third down and 13th in points scored, while the Bears “D” is 10th overall, 7th vs. the run, 13th vs. the pass, 7th on third down and 4th in points allowed, only 17.8 points a game.

But Rodgers only needs a couple plays to beat you, as he proved on opening night.

Davante Adams appears recovered from a toe injury that slowed him through the middle of the season and will need to be doubled a good part of the evening.

That is doable, however, because while Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison and Allen Lazard have all had their moments, none have become a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 receiver.

Aaron Jones is the other guy the Bears have to worry about, as he has become Rodgers’ favorite weapon — with 45-425-3 receiving to go with his 779 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as a rusher.

Jamaal Williams can also be a factor on the ground, but he’s battled a balky knee.

The Packers are excellent at the tackles with David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, but Bulaga has also battled a knee problem, and the interior of the Packers line is average at best.

The health of Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Prince Amukamara will go a long way toward dictating the outcome of this matchup.

EDGE: Even

Bears offense vs. Packers defense: After a hot start, the Packers defense has cooled off considerably, ranking just 22nd overall, 25th vs. the run, 21st against the pass, 18th on third down and 13th in points allowed.

Za’Darius and Preston Smith continue to provide significant pass rush with 10 and 11 ½ sacks each, and Kenny Clark is one of the best nose tackles in the league. But the Packers have battled a host of injuries at cornerback as well as consistently getting on the ground.

Jaire Alexander is one of the better young cover corners in the league and will most likely shadow Allen Robinson a good part of the afternoon, with that matchup also going a long way toward dictating the outcome of the game.

Kevin King, who starts at the other corner, was inactive last Sunday, and his health this week could be key for Green Bay.

If Mitch Trubisky is effective with his legs again this week and the Bears can get David Montgomery untracked, the Packers could have a problem.

The Bears offense against the Cowboys last Thursday would rate an edge, but we’ve only seen that once this season to date, making it hard to predict. Based on their body of work over the season ...

EDGE: Packers

Special Teams: The Bears’ return game with Tarik Cohen on punts (8th in the NFL) and Cordarrelle Patterson on kickoffs (1st) has a huge advantage over Green Bay’s 32nd-ranked punt return game and 29th-rated kickoff return game, in large part because Chicago is also slightly better in punt and kickoff coverage — 16th and 23rd —while the Pack is just 23rd and 26th respectively.

Mason Crosby gets the nod over Eddy Pineiro, having missed just one kick — field goal or PAT — all year, and Patrick O’Donnell gets the slightest of edges over Green Bay’s J.K. Scott, averaging ½ a yard more in net punting, while both have been excellent in punts inside the 20 and avoiding touchbacks.

EDGE: Bears

COACHES: These are two of the brightest young coaches in the league, with Matt Nagy’s 19-11 record and Matt LaFleur’s 10-3 start both outstanding. Honestly, we just don’t really know enough about either yet to split them.

EDGE: Even

Bears Insider prediction time! NFL's oldest rivalry, Bears-Packers, renewed for 200th time

Posted on December 12, 2019 - 12:29:00

Hub Arkush (season record: 9-4):

Honestly, I'm just going with my gut, not my heart or my head here, guys. I hate having to make this pick without knowing the injury status of Montgomery, Gabriel, Massie, Hicks, Trevathan or Amukamara, but I'm assuming all but Trevathan can go, and, honestly, the difference between Massie and Cornelius Lucas doesn't feel that great right now. The Packers haven't played their best football the past few weeks, and the Bears have. Plus, there is revenge in play and at the end of the day, the Bears just need this one a lot more than the Packers do. Rodgers is more likely to be the difference, but I'm guessing Hicks, Khalil Mack and Trubisky will be this time. Bears 27, Packers 23

Arthur Arkush (season record: 9-4):

The Bears remain likely to be at home in January, but they’re going out with a bang — including an upset of the rival Packers at Lambeau. This is not a typo: Mitch Trubisky is the hotter of the two quarterbacks, leading the hotter offense entering Sunday, and beating Rodgers’ Packers with another big performance would be a decent consolation to returning to the playoffs. If the Bears don’t let Za’Darius Smith and Kenny Clark wreck the game, their offense will stay on track and produce enough to supplement what I expect to be another terrific performance by a shorthanded defense, now buoyed by the return of Akiem Hicks. Bears 24, Packers 21

Sean Hammond (season record: 9-4):

The Bears are playing as well as they have all year. The Week 1 matchup with Green Bay was one of their more abysmal offensive efforts, and I wouldn't expect a repeat of that. Green Bay's defense has proven it will surrender yards, but it is one of the league's best in the red zone. Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears offense should have an opportunity to move the ball. This game will come down to whether the Bears can punch the ball in once in the red zone. The offense has converted on six of its past nine red zone attempts over the past two games. Bears 21, Packers 20

Barry Rozner, Daily Herald (season record: 6-7):

Mitch Trubisky’s march to the Hall of Fame continues this week as the Bears face a Green Bay team that hasn’t looked good since a win at Kansas City in October. The Packers have gone 3-2 after beating the Chiefs, winning against three awful teams, and have been pushed around physically in every game. The Bears keep their Super Bowl dreams alive with a victory on the road. Bears 30, Packers 22

Joe Aguilar, Daily Herald (season record: 8-5):

Believe. In Mitch. In Matt Nagy. The Bears may have provided some holiday cheer for their fans the past coupe of weeks, but this is still Aaron Rodgers' team (or is it Aaron Jones' team now?), Lambeau Field and the Packers in Packer weather. A Bears defense that continues to get depleted by injury more and more every week can't continue to perform at a high level with Kevin Toliver, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Brent Urban. Aaron (pick one) will prevail. Packers 27, Bears 24

Bears Insider Podcast 180: The home stretch

Posted on December 12, 2019 - 10:57:37

Hub Arkush and Arthur Arkush discuss what the Bears can do in the final three games of the regular season.

Our podcast is sponsored in part by Grassers Plumbing & Heating. Grassers Plumbing & Heating is a reliable Air conditioning, Heating, Plumbing company. Serving the Illinois Valley for over 60 yrs.

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Hub Arkush: The biggest difference for Bears rejuvenated offense?

Posted on December 11, 2019 - 17:14:00

Three players you'd never guess have provided huge spark for Chicago

It is quite possible that the biggest difference in the Chicago Bears team that has now won three straight and four of its past five games are three names I never thought I might offer in that context, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted and Cornelius Lucas.

That the Bears received little from TEs Trey Burton and practically nothing from Adam Shaheen before each landed on the injured reserve list had been an anchor around the necks of Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky.

Look at what Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz mean to the Chiefs and Eagles and you’ll see what the position means to Nagy’s offense.

While it may still be likely that neither Holtz nor Horsted ever become household names, their contributions over the past five weeks have been crucial to the improved play of the offense.

When I asked Matt Nagy about it he explained, “I think that you had two other guys in Trey and Adam that were a little bit beat-up and hurt physically.

“You have two other guys that come in and are 100 percent, and they have different types of talent. So we’re trying to figure out the best way to use them.

“I want to credit them, especially J.P. Holtz; here’s a kid that’s come in here and [has] done everything that we’ve asked and he’s helped us out at that "Y" position.”

Following the win over the Cowboys, Trubisky was clear in his appreciation of two of his newest teammates.

“The tight end group has done a great job stepping up. J.P. and Jesper, just filling in that role, making big plays.

“J.P. had a huge screen early on in the game. With a front like that, I think that keeps them honest the rest of the game, that they have to be alert for screens, can't just go out for the pass every time. “Then making catches, they have to cover all 11 of us on the field. It was a great job by them.”

Nagy added, “Starting out early, you saw J.P. Holtz had some nice catches, got open. That's nice to have that. It definitely helps out.

“He happened to be that guy on some of the plays. Those guys have stepped up. They've helped us out in that role. You can see when you have that tight end, that presence there, it helps out.”

Both Holtz and Horsted remain men of few words in spite of their sudden notoriety.

Asked if he’s having fun after the Dallas win, Holtz said, “Yes, definitely. Definitely. Anytime an opportunity comes your way, you have to execute and make the most of it.”

I had a chance to talk with Horsted on the field immediately after the win over the Lions, in which he caught his first NFL touchdown, and I asked him about the journey from Princeton wide receiver to Bears tight end in only 10 months.

“I’m really just taking it a day at a time and I feel like I’m getting the receiving end of the job down, but my blocking is a work in progress.”

Of that first TD he just said, “Unbelievable feeling!”

So where does Lucas fit in the equation?

Clearly, he has been invaluable stepping in for three starts at right tackle for a banged-up Bobby Massie without skipping a beat, including the second Lions game and the Cowboys game, in which the Bears had two of their better rushing performances.

But they also began using him regularly as a second tight end in "12" and "22" personnel in Week 8 against the Chargers, consistent with when the ground game started to come around.

Lucas is likely to be the Bears swing tackle for some time to come, and while upgrading the tight end position will still almost certainly be a priority of the coming offseason, Holtz and Horsted both appear likely to be part of that equation.

Holtz in particular has earned the admiration of tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride, who says, “He just loves to play the game and he loves to hit people — that’s just who he is.”

If the Bears are to continue their winning ways over the next three weeks, expect these three to be a big part of it.

'Humbled' Anthony Miller's off-field improvements making a profound on-field effect for Bears

Posted on December 11, 2019 - 17:04:00

Bears' vision for 2018 second-round receiver beginning to crystalize

Anthony Miller is now in the Mitch Trubisky/Matt Nagy circle of trust, and that could allow the supremely talented receiver's humbling second year in the NFL to come full circle Sunday when the Bears' season once again is on the line at Lambeau Field against the division-leading rival Packers.

"He's earned that trust and he's been busting his tail to get on the same page with me. He's done a tremendous job for this offense, especially stepping up [with] some of the other guys being out," Trubisky said Wednesday.

It didn't appear on the surface initially that Miller's process of endearment would take so long.

After the Bears traded up in Round 2 to select the Memphis product last year, Miller led them with 7 receiving touchdowns despite a chronically recurring shoulder dislocation and torn labrum that required offseason surgery. All things considered, it was a successful first foray as a pro, albeit with some adjustments needed in learning to become a pro.

Then came an offseason of minimal on-field activity while rehabbing the shoulder, preceding an ankle injury late in his second camp in Bourbonnais, causing Miller to fall behind. His inconsistent attention to detail and practice habits didn't help. Miller basically was an afterthought in Game One of Year 2, the crushing 10-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, when he played only 15 snaps, the fewest of his young career, failing to catch a pass.

It was an outing he'd just as soon forget, admitting Tuesday he remembered noting about that evening.

The reduced playtime and minimal involvement stemming from his lack of dependability continued for Miller basically until the midpoint of this season. Sure, he flashed in London against the Raiders with Taylor Gabriel inactive, and the following week vs. the Saints, when Gabriel was still limited, but it consistently felt like he'd take one step forward, only to follow it with two steps back.

Back-to-back penalties marred his monster drive at Tottenham Hotspur, and the first lost fumble of his career came in the next game. Even in Week 10, his most involved game of the season at that point, came with an asterisk — Miller overrunning a sideline route by two yards and drawing offensive pass interference as Mitch Trubisky was intercepted on the botched play.

"I’ve always been humbled. But that’s any playmaker," Miller said. "He’s going to want to be on the field, be involved, be able to make plays. That was just me. I’m glad I’m receiving the opportunities I’m getting now.

And he's undoubtedly maximized those opportunities, authoring the best three-game stretch of his career — 18 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown — all resulting in victories, with the offensive output increasing each week. He and Trubisky put the unit on their backs late in Detroit before Miller finally found the end zone for the first time last week to punctuate the Bears' best performance of the season.

"We all knew about Anthony’s potential. We all sat here in Week 1 trying to figure out why he wasn’t on the field a lot," WR coach Mike Furrey said. "It’s more of the mental part, it was more of the maturity part than it was the ability. ... You can’t just go out there and play playground on Sunday or you won’t play. And in this league there’s a lot of people out there on the streets that can play football, and if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, then he can be one of those guys down the road.

"I think what he’s done over the last 6-7 weeks, the growth he’s had maturity-wise, the way he’s handled himself when he comes in and his preparation, you’re starting to see what we were all hoping, as well as what we all kind of knew. I don’t think he’s done. I think he still has a lot more room to grow."

Injuries: The Bears welcomed Prince Amukamara (ankle) back the practice Wednesday after he missed Week 14, but fellow starters Taylor Gabriel and Ben Braunecker (concussions), Bobby Massie (ankle) and Danny Trevathan (elbow) remained sidelined, in addition to Roy Robertson-Harris (ankle) and Javon Wims (knee).

Pro Bowl DE Akiem Hicks, who's been on IR since Week 7 with a dislocated left elbow, remains on track to play Sunday.

Week 15 NFC North report: Similarities between Nagy, LaFleur maiden voyages uncanny

Posted on December 11, 2019 - 15:34:00

Plus, Minnesota gets well on 'D,' while all hardly well for Lions' Patricia, Quinn

Matt LaFleur, like Matt Nagy one season earlier, has flourished in his maiden head-coaching voyage, likely en route to a division title and quite possibly 12-4 regular-season mark, same as the 2018 Bears.

There is also no shortage of additional parallels, from the uneven performances on their expert side of the ball to red-zone acuity and an outstanding turnover differential playing vital roles in their winning ways.

But don’t look past the role that unusually good health has played on Green Bay’s success, just as it did last season for the Bears, who ranked third in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ games lost metric.

To wit: The Packers will have the good fortune to line up 20 of the 22 starters Sunday at Lambeau vs. the Bears that they did at Soldier Field in Week 1, if they so choose. Lane Taylor, the only regular starter on IR, was merely keeping the LG spot warm for powerful second-rounder Elgton Jenkins, while Raven Greene was deployed as a hybrid sub-package linebacker.

By contrast, the Bears have sent four Week 1 starters to IR — Adam Shaheen, Kyle Long, Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith — and though Hicks is set to return Sunday for the first time since Week 5, they could be down two more defensive starters in Prince Amukamara and Danny Trevathan. Chicago has also coaxed essentially nothing all season from fellow starting TE Trey Burton, who was inactive in Week 1, and their second-leading receiver a year ago, Taylor Gabriel, hasn’t played since Week 12.

None of this should minimize what LaFleur’s Packers have accomplished, just as it didn’t serve as a red check mark for Nagy a year ago. But it should serve as a cautionary tale for the Packers, whose depth doesn’t appear as strong as Chicago’s — regardless of how rarely it’s been called on this season.

The Vikings got right defensively in their win vs. the Detroit Lions following their struggles in Seattle, holding David Blough and Co. to 231 total yards and seven points and picking off a pair of passes.

Obviously, the Lions are everyone’s elixir, and a better gauge of where Mike Zimmer’s unit — ranked 14th overall, as low as it’s been in his five-plus year tenure — should come against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday.

But Zimmer liked what he saw from a group that stiffened considerably vs. the run, permitting only 70 yards (3.2 YPC) after allowing the Seahawks to run roughshod to the tune of 218. Linval Joseph’s second game back following a two-game absence with a knee injury was encouraging, as was Minnesota’s successful foray with rotating its maligned CB corps.

“We played better,” Zimmer said. “There as only like one or two things during the course of the ballgame that we did not do like they’re being coached. Hopefully, that continues to improve, hopefully take a little wear and tear, where they have to be thinking all the time, off their plate. I don’t know, we’ll see what this week holds.”

The early word is that the most maligned cover man of the bunch, Xavier Rhodes, avoided a serious ankle injury one week after his sideline blowup with Zimmer following after allowing a 60-yard TD grab by David Moore in Seattle.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the season finishes for Rhodes, whose play has dropped off precipitously but is owed nearly $13 million in his age-30 2020 campaign. Remember, the Vikings’ other two starters, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, are already ticketed for free agency.

The Vikings’ No. 1 focus the disappointing 5-8 Chargers, not looking ahead to a potential Week 16 NFC North title game at home vs. the Packers. But we’re already looking ahead to what could be an offseason of change in Zimmer’s prized CB room.

The silence regarding the futures of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn is becoming deafening.

Patricia was asked following his team’s sixth consecutive loss whether he’s been in contact with ownership regarding his job security but said if any such discussion occurred, it’d remain private.

We’ve also been unable to glean much about what the Ford family and president Rod Wood are thinking, though the sense we have currently leans ever-so-slightly to the HC-GM ex-Patriots pairing could get one more season to — wait for it — do their jobs a heck of a lot better.

And in fairness, few teams have endured the amount of injury carnage of the Lions, who most recently placed WR2 Marvin Jones on season-ending IR with an ankle injury. There, he joins Kerryon Johnson — though the Lions feature back could return from his IR stint following knee surgery in Week 16 — and fellow skill players on offense, including top pick T.J. Hockenson and WRs Jermaine Kearse and Marvin Hall.

Still, it’s the defense — Patricia’s baby — that’s been the biggest problem for the club, and only so much blame can be assigned there to injuries. The Lions entered the year without enough pass rush, even with blockbuster signee Trey Flowers, and have had even more issues on the back end.

Watching recent trade export Quandre Diggs, then, intercept two more passes — including a 55-yard pick-six in prime time last week — had to really sting the fan base. Diggs now has three picks and a forced fumble in four starts for the Seahawks, who have enjoyed a serious boost since the deal, while Detroit has come up with few answers after willingly creating his absence.

Is that on Patricia? Quinn? It’s likely to be a question Detroit brass wants answered before deciding what to do with the two men heading football operations.  

Mitchell Trubisky: The Redemption

Posted on December 10, 2019 - 23:23:43

Bears young quarterback starting to figure it out?

Earlier this season, I believed it was time to come to some hard terms with the dear readers. In a piece titled “Mitchell Trubisky: The Reckoning,” I argued that “there needs to be drastic improvement - and fast - or there needs to be a difficult decision made for the future of this franchise.”

Then the past two weeks happened. 

After an ugly victory over the New York Giants that found Trubisky throwing a pair of interceptions, the young QB has shined in back-to-back Thursday victories. Against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, he completed 29-of-38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns (with one interception) and he followed that performance by going 23-of-31 for 244 yards and three touchdowns (with one ugly interception) in a win over the Dallas Cowboys.

So ... what happened? Was this a schematic change, a function of Trubisky healing up, picking on weaker competition, or actual improvement? 

Let’s dive in. 

Moving the Pocket

Humans are egotistical creatures. We crave the validation of being right, especially those of us in the football analysis space. This author is no different, and when confronted with Trubisky’s recent success and based on hard-hitting analysis of combing through my Twitter timeline, I was convinced: Matt Nagy heeded my advice.

Not that the Bears’ head coach was actually reading my work. God, what kind of egotistical monster do you take me for? But a few weeks back when we crafted a game plan to salvage Trubisky’s season, moving him around in the pocket and using his athleticism was the main prescription offered. Hearing isolated anecdotes on the timeline and seeing a few plays while making Thanksgiving dinner had me convinced Nagy was following a similar plan.

Then I turned on the film and updated the charting data.

Here are the week-by-week numbers for Trubisky this season in terms of his percentage of throws made from inside the pocket:

Week      -      Percentage of Throws from Pocket

1      -      92%

2      -      81%

3      -      76%

4      -      100% 

7      -      89%

8      -      85%

9      -      79%

10      -    78%

11      -    81%

12      -    73%

13      -    82%

14      -    79%

Now, those numbers include throwaways and sacks. If you take those out, these are the percentages:

Week      -      Percentage of Throws from Pocket

 

1      -      95%

2      -      82%

3      -      81%

4      -      100%

7      -      91%

8      -      88%

9      -      81%

10      -      83%

11      -      88%

12      -      76%

13      -      82%

14      -      81%

So while there has been a trend toward more throws outside of the pocket, it has not exactly been drastic. To illustrate this, the average per game percentage of his throws from the pocket from his first 10 games? 86.5 percent. The past two weeks? That number dips to 81.5 percent. A decrease to be sure, but not a wild change in philosophy.

(For those of you wondering about that Week 4 100% mark, that was the game against the Minnesota Vikings where Trubisky was knocked out due to injury after three passing attempts).

This is not to say that Nagy did not move him around the past two weeks. He certainly did. Take this example from the Thursday night game against Dallas:

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Trubisky (#10) sprints out to the right here, and has an easy throw to Allen Robinson (#12) who is working against off coverage. This allows Chicago to convert a third-and-6 situation.

However, without an easy answer it was time to check the ego and dive in deeper.

HB Read

Returning to the game footage, it was time to try and find an answer. Working through the past two weeks in chronological answer, I began with yet another watching of the Thanksgiving Day victory over the Lions. Something struck me early, like, “within the first two plays” early.

Here is Trubisky’s first passing attempt against Detroit:

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Now here is Chicago’s second play from scrimmage, which is the very next play:

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As you can tell, these are nearly mirror images of the same route concept, just from slightly different formations. On the first play, Chicago breaks the huddle and puts Trubisky in the shotgun using a three receiver bunch to the right. Tarik Cohen (#29) is in the backfield to the left of the quarterback, with tight end Jesper Horsted (#49) split outside. Out of this Y-Iso alignment, the Bears run a three-level concept to the bunch consisting of a snag route, a seam and a dart toward the sideline. Horsted runs an out while Cohen runs an option route, choosing to break outside against an inside-leveraged defender.

On the next play, Chicago runs nearly the same design out of an empty formation. Cohen and Robinson align in a stack to the right, and Robinson runs the out pattern while Cohen’s option route again takes him toward the boundary. To the bunch side of the formation we get both the snag and the dart routes, only the seam converts to a deep in.

Interesting way to begin the game, with virtually the same play, but not yet notable.

Midway through the second quarter it becomes notable:

comp:00005dee1b33:000000000a:37b2 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/eKaZjApPFdTKVQGGMA" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/eKaZjApPFdTKVQGGMA">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 51

Once more, Cohen and Robinson are in a stack to the right, and the running back runs an option route. Only this time his defender plays him with outside leverage, so Cohen slices back inside toward the middle of the field. Robinson runs a seam route instead of the out we have seen on the previous two examples. Backside gives us the same combination as the previous example: Snag/dart/curl.

Now a pattern is emerging in my mind, and I start reaching for playbooks. Coaching trees and backgrounds bring me to the Philadelphia Eagles playbook, given that Nagy and Doug Pederson are from the same schematic lineage. I come across Gun Trips Left Buster Nasty 82 Tampa HB Read:

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This design matches up with what we are seeing play out over these first three examples. To the three receiver side you have a drag (or dart) route toward the boundary, an arrow (or snag) route that comes inside, then works back toward the sideline if necessary, and then a corner route that can convert to either an out or an in, depending on the coverage. To the two receiver side you have another corner route with a multitude of conversion options, and the halfback’s read/option route. 

Lots of options for the quarterback and his targets, and seemingly an answer for every coverage.

Especially when you start working in some variations…

With my nerdy schematic antenna now up, I started noticing this design more and more as the Detroit game wore on. Late in the first half they turn to this again, with a slight twist:

comp:00005dee1b33:0000000016:37b2 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/icCtRkbPrN6fbdBx28" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/icCtRkbPrN6fbdBx28">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 57

Here, Javon Wims (#83) runs a dig on the two receiver side. Against off coverage, the receiver is able to cut inside without resistance, and Trubisky makes a very nice anticipation throw. Part of the reason he is able to pull the trigger on this route in the middle of the field is that Detroit sends pressure, blitzing one linebacker and leaving the other in a man coverage situation against Cohen. That clears the middle of the field, and Trubisky has time and space to find the dig route. 

Later in the third quarter, we now see that route to the two receiver side of the formation become a curl:

comp:00005dee1b33:0000000017:37b2 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/h1RDelin0bARCcFDrp" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/h1RDelin0bARCcFDrp">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 59

Again, Trubisky’s target (Robinson) runs a curl route against off coverage, as the Lions retreat into a Cover 4 look on this third-and-10. The QB identifies the coverage and makes a well-timed anticipation throw, and the Bears are able to move the chains.

As we will see in a moment, this design was used this past week against the Cowboys.

Over the past two years I have been critical at times of Nagy’s designs, such as the over-reliance on mirrored curl/flat plays that fail to truly stress a defense and provide the quarterback with a multitude of options and outs based on what he sees in the secondary. Here, we see the same basic elements tweaked at times, depending on the coverage, and it gives the Bears’ offense answers to whatever questions the defense puts in front of them. More options equals increased productivity.

Rhythm Nation

Anticipation throws and Trubisky have not always been the greatest match. At times the quarterback shows the ability to throw receivers open and time his passes up directly with the route concepts. At other times, Trubisky seems to be more of a “see it, throw it” passer.

But when I saw this throw against the Lions, my heart skipped a beat (much to the dismay of my cardiologist):

comp:00005dee1b33:0000000018:37b2 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/ZFuffFM0oVwnm6veCO" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/ZFuffFM0oVwnm6veCO">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 65

Facing a third-and-6 late in the first half against the Lions, the Bears run a “pout” or post/out combination to the right side of the field. Anthony Miller (#17) runs the out pattern while Cordarelle Patterson (#84) runs the post route. Miller gets inside leverage from his defender, so he has a free release toward the sideline when he makes his cut. As he does so, look at Trubisky back in the pocket:

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As I wrote in my notes, “this is one of the best timing/rhythm throws I’ve seen from him.” A very impressive play from the quarterback.

A play that he followed up this past week against Dallas, on this strike to JP Holtz (#81):

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Again, look at the state of play when Trubisky is pulling the trigger:

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Holtz has yet to get into his break, and yet to look for the football. But the ball is coming out. Another very impressive timing, rhythm and anticipation throw. 

However, there are always mistakes to point out, and Trubisky’s two-game run has not been flawless. 

Eye Work

Readers of my musings on quarterback play likely know that I am a stickler when it comes to how a QB uses his eyes. Little things such as looking off defenders, not “bird dogging” or locking onto a target, and working quickly through reads are things that warm my cold and black heart, even during the holiday season. 

Now at times I have been critical, perhaps unflinchingly so, when it comes to how Trubisky uses his eyes when making reads and throws from the pocket. But these little things matter. The ability to manipulate a defender out of position is critically important to playing QB at a high level. Conversely, if defenders can simply follow your eyes to the football, you are going to have problems executing your offensive gameplan.

Take this throw against the Lions that should have been an interception:

comp:00005dee1b33:0000000022:37b2 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/d5xMcWiTTWMoyUBjbc" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/d5xMcWiTTWMoyUBjbc">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 75

Nagy dials up a heavy personnel passing concept with just three receivers for Trubisky to choose from, the running back in the flat, Miller on a deep out route and Robinson working the middle of the field on a dig. Coming out of a play-action fake, Trubisky checks the out pattern from Miller before flipping his eyes to the middle of the field and Robinson’s dig. Did you notice how long it took Trubisky to get this ball out after bringing his eyes center?

Free safety Tracy Walker (#21) sure did. As Trubisky waits to throw this route, the safety drives down hill on the pattern and is in position for the interception. Only the fact that Trubisky’s pass is low and off target prevents this from being a turnover.

Here is the view from the end zone camera:

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Seriously, count how long Trubisky takes to dial up the pass. It is an eternity by NFL standards, and this play is very reminiscent of a play back in Week 1, when the QB stared down a route to Robinson that rookie safety Darnell Savage from the Green Bay Packers jumped for a near-interception. Trubisky has to get the ball out faster, or use his eyes better.

Speaking of missed throws…

Mechanics. They Do Not Matter Until They Matter. 

Another topic that has been much discussed regarding our young hero is his passing mechanics. 

The main focus has been Trubisky’s left foot, and his ever-present tendency to step in the bucket on passes. Rather than stepping down the target line (or more accurately, slightly left of the target line to enable the hips to turn through the motion correctly) Trubisky will step well left of where he should. This impacts both velocity and placement in a negative manner. By stepping in the bucket as he often does, Trubisky breaks that mechanical chain between the upper body and the lower body. It turns him into an arm thrower, resulting in a dip in velocity. It also changes the release point, which impacts ball placement.

Now look at this interception against Detroit:

via GIPHY

Trubisky steps in the bucket and that throwing chain is disrupted. He becomes more of an arm thrower rather than a full-body passer, and that takes velocity off the throw. All of which allows the defender to undercut the route for an interception.

Look at his feet on the end zone angle:

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The footwork is off here, and the result is an interception. Look at the still of Trubisky’s lower platform at the moment this throw is released:

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Mechanics, as I have often said, do not matter until they matter. If the ball is getting where it needs to be when it needs to be there, mechanical flaws from the quarterback are not an issue to be concerned with. However, if the ball is not getting where it needs to be on time, and it is due to mechanical issues in the throwing motion, then the mechanics are a problem.

At times, they are still a problem for Trubisky. 

So, what is the final verdict? Is Trubisky’s recent good form because of scheme, pocket movement, actual improvement, health or something else? 

Is it a cop-out to say “all of the above?”

Nagy has been a bit more creative over the past few weeks, giving his quarterback numerous options and answers on a given play. There has been an effort - perhaps a slight one - to move his quarterback around more. Trubisky seems healthier, and the shoulder and hip injuries have not limited his movement or ability the past few weeks. 

And yes, there has been improvement. Those two timing and rhythm throws stand out.

Yet, some inconsistencies remain. Slow with his eyes at times. Poor lower body mechanics. Issues that have plagued him for his entire NFL career still present in this, his third season. 

The bigger question is this: Is this current version of Trubisky closer to what he can be as a quarterback, and is that version good enough for Chicago to be a competitive team? With three games left and the playoffs still a possibility, that question needs to be answered quickly. Over the next three weeks, it just might. 

 

Hub Arkush: Are this year’s Bears really that different from last year’s?

Posted on December 10, 2019 - 17:45:00

Dig into the numbers and turn on the tape and you may be surprised

LAKE FOREST – The greatest irony of all the gloom and doom surrounding the Chicago Bears 2019 season from a significant portion of fans is they are basically two or three plays away from being exactly where they were last year.

With 6:01 to play in the game in London they led the Raiders, 21-17, and had the Raiders punting on fourth-and-6 from their own 7-yard line. If Kevin Pierre-Louis doesn’t run into the kicker, the Bears get the ball at no worse than midfield and arguably put the game away.

Even with that mistake trailing 24-21, the Bears have the ball at the Raiders' 47 and are driving with 1:22 to play when on second down Chase Daniel inexplicably throws the ball to Gareon Conley with no Bear in sight. Game over.

Three weeks later if Eddy Pineiro hits a 41-yard field goal as time expires against the Chargers, the Bears win.

Change two or three of those plays and instead of 7-6 the Bears are 9-4, exactly where they were one year ago heading into Week 15. They would be in control of the NFC’s second Wild Card with a chance to still win the NFC North by beating the Packers this Sunday.

Perspective is everything folks. At the same time, if I had another $999,999,000, I’d be a billionaire.

The Bears deserve no more than their 7-6 record, but that’s how fickle the NFL is these days.

They deserve that record because the offense until last Thursday had taken a giant step backward from last season and their “generational” defense as many have called it hadn’t been there to bail it out.

Realistically the Bears defense has resembled last year’s group once all season and that was in the opening-night loss to the Packers.

But has it really been that far off?

We knew going in that last season’s other-worldly 36 takeaways – including 27 interceptions and six defensive scores – were unlikely to be repeated, but this season’s 16 takeaways with just eight picks and one score have still disappointed.

Other than that it is still one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Last season the Bears were third in total defense, first vs. the run, seventh vs. the pass, fourth on third down and first in points allowed. This year through 13 games they are 10th, seventh, 13th, seventh and fourth, respectively.

Add injuries and time off for Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Prince Amukamara and the performance is actually pretty impressive.

If the offense continues to improve off its last outing, can this team make a run at 10-6?

It is possible the defense's best football is still in front of it.

Khalil Mack and Kyle Fuller are playing like two of the best in the league at their positions, and both Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are playing their best football of the season the last few weeks.

According to inside linebacker coach Mark DeLeone, Nick Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis in for Smith and Trevathan shouldn’t be the reason for any dropoff.

“KPL is an unbelievable person, great pro, comes to work every day very serious, prepares," DeLeone said. “When he’s had moments in games this year, he comes in the Minnesota game and made big plays. He comes in last week and makes plays. Kevin’s got all the tools you look for.

“Kwiatkoski can do a lot of different things really well. I think his best trait is probably the way he plays the game. He plays the game of football the right way. You talk about the way you want your linebacker to play like, he is downhill on every play.”

They are not Smith and Trevathan, but if Hicks is back Sunday for the Packers and anywhere near 100 percent, suddenly everyone else is better, especially Mack, Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris.

At this point whether or not this team can actually make a run from here is really far more up to Mitch Trubisky and the offense.

But there should be little doubt the championship contention window for this team is still wide open for at least next season and quite possibly beyond.

Rookie Wall? Not for Bears top pick David Montgomery

Posted on December 10, 2019 - 17:39:00

Chicago's third-round rookie runner hitting his stride at the ideal time: "I've actually seen him getting stronger each week."

David Montgomery is coming off his best back-to-back performances as a rookie, following up his game-winning TD grab to punctuate a beastly 18-touch, 87-total-yard Thanksgiving showing in Detroit with 86 rushing yards on 20 carries vs. the vaunted Dallas Cowboys front last week.

So much for the dreaded rooke wall.

"I've actually seen him getting stronger each week," Bears RB coach Charles London said Tuesday.

Ask most players and they'll say the rookie wall is real. After all, the college season ends in November, when NFL stakes are often at their highest point, and that's long after the exhaustive pre-draft process preceding a full offseason of work that goes well beyond what's asked of student athletes.

Obviously, the NFL draft is largely a guessing game with teams struggling to properly project how a college player will fare in the pros, period, never mind how they'll look in the latter portion of their rookie season. London, though, said the Bears were optimistic that Montgomery could carry over his track record at Iowa State of growing stronger as the year goes on.

Montgomery averaged 5.4 yards per carry in his career with the Cyclones in November, up from 4.4 and 4.6, respectively, in the first two full months. But beyond the sheer numbers, London said he can tell in recent weeks Montgomery has been at his best by the way he's seeing holes and feeling the way certain calls are being blocked.

"... He's more than halfway through his rookie season, and I know when we played Detroit on Thanksgiving, the first time he came to the sideline, he said, 'I'm feeling it today. I can see it.'"

It was apparent to everyone, Montgomery ripping through arm-tackle attempts by the hapless Detroit 'D' before coming through in crunch time with his first-ever NFL receiving touchdown. It was equally evident last week vs. a Cowboys stop-unit that rarely stopped the powerful back on first contact.

Perhaps tougher to see is the work Montgomery both is putting in behind the scenes and the lengths to which he's gone to ensure the guy behind him, QB Mitch Trubisky, is remaining upright.

"That’s usually the biggest adjustment for a young running back coming into the NFL," London said of pass blocking. "He’s done a great job with that. ... I really think he’s taken a big step with his game."

London revealed that on occasion Montgomery will even delay getting into his routes at the expense of keeping his quarterback safe.

"He takes a lot of pride in protecting Mitch. He’ll come to the sideline sometimes and say, ‘Coach, I should’ve got out [into a route] but I didn’t want Mitch to get hit. I didn’t want to let the team down here.’"

Suffice to say, the Bears appreciate that kind of selflessness, that kind of fearlessness that their prized rookie has shown during some monster blitz pickups in recent weeks, in addition to having a tremendous December weapon as they attempt to extend their postseason livelihood as long as possible.

And with the Bears preparing to face two of the NFL's worst run defenses over the next two weeks prior to visiting a Vikings 'D' less than 10 days removed from allowing the most rushing yards in a game during the Mike Zimmer era, the table appears to be set for Montgomery to maintain this recent run.

"We felt [during the pre-draft evaluation] like he’s a player that got stronger as the season went on, and that’s what he’s proving right now," London said.

For Montgomery's part, well, he makes sure to remind everyone he's playing a supporting role.

“I’m just taking it one game at a time and I keep chipping away at the armor. It’s being able to create chemistry with my O-line. Those guys have been doing good. I credit them with the little bit of success I’ve had towards the end of the season. I’m just happy to be here.”


 

Hub Arkush: Forget the odds — Bears happy to be in the hunt

Posted on December 9, 2019 - 16:47:00

Only Packers currently stand in Bears way

There are a number of scenarios in which the Bears can still make the playoffs this January, but at the end of the day their chances are slim and there is only one route that seems more than remote.

If the season ended today, the Seattle Seahawks would be the first wild card, the Vikings would be the second and the Rams would be the first team out, the Bears the second.

To qualify, the Bears will need to leapfrog the 9-4 Vikings and 8-5 Rams, and to achieve that the Vikings will have to lose to either the Chargers or the Packers and the Bears, and the Rams will have to lose two of three to the Cowboys, Seahawks or Cardinals, while the Bears win out.

Again, it’s not the only scenario but it’s the cleanest and actually not all that far-fetched.

But none of it matters if the Bears lose to the Packers Sunday in Green Bay.

Asked Monday how he’s reading the mood of his team heading into this final stretch run, Matt Nagy replied, “Yeah, winning helps. Winning helps for sure.

“I don't know where this thing will end up. I've been talking about a silver lining. I don't know when that will come or what it is.

“But I've said it before, I really, really appreciate the camaraderie, the spirit, just the way everybody in this building has handled everything.

“We know that we have guaranteed three games left. Where that takes us I don't know but I know I will look back and be very proud.

“But we've just got to do everything we can to get a win this week.”

What are the Bears chances of getting that win at Lambeau Sunday?

We all know the Bears have won three straight and four of their last five. Over that same stretch, the Packers are 3-2, getting pounded by the Chargers and 49ers, handling the Panthers and Giants and struggling Sunday with Washington.

The Packers are clearly the better team on the season, but are they the better team right now?

The Bears have gotten fat on the Lions, Giants and Cowboys, and it’s tough to measure the significance of that last win with where the Cowboys are at right now.

But they are also winning with dramatically improved play from the offense and Mitch Trubisky.

In answer to a question about David Montgomery’s increased production against Dallas, Nagy said he thinks it’s more about the offense as a whole.

“I think just right now, what the feel is with our offense is that it’s not just the running back, it’s not just the quarterback, it’s not just the O-line.

“Everybody is just kind of syncing right now. Even myself, as a play caller.

“You start to feel stuff you like, things that feel right, concepts that are working. And then everyone’s just worrying about themselves, not worrying about others.

“And you put all that together, and you have success.”

Of course, the bigger test with the Packers will come for the defense and handling Aaron Rodgers, and the news Monday that Roquan Smith is officially done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle is a significant blow.

On the other hand, Nagy wouldn’t rule out the return of Danny Trevathan and Akiem Hicks, and while Trevathan still seems a real long shot, it’s looking more and more like Hicks could be back.

Hicks said Monday, “I feel good, I feel good.

“There's some preparations that need to be made, some finishing, some cleaning up of things to do just to make sure I'm prepared to play and do what I need to do out there.”

And to hear Hicks tell it, he doesn’t care how hard the road ahead may be, he’s just happy to be on it.

“Isn’t that beautiful, just to see the adversity and the grit and the fight that these guys had to go through, and I couldn’t help.

“To be in this position at this time in the season, you have to take advantage of it.”

Everyone has an opinion on how this will all work out, but I prefer for now just to focus on how much fun the next seven days are going to be.

Roquan Smith's second season over because of a torn pectoral muscle

Posted on December 9, 2019 - 15:34:00

Smith up and down in Year 2, and Bears must decide how to best complement him this offseason

 

Roquan Smith's second season is over with three weeks remaining after he tore a pectoral muscle Thursday night in the victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Matt Nagy confirmed Monday.

Smith, the Bears' leading tackler, is the second starting inside linebacker and fourth defensive starter overall to suffer a serious injury this season. Running mate Danny Trevathan hasn't played since dislocating his elbow on the first defensive series in Week 10, and fellow Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks hasn't played because of a similar elbow injury since Week 5, though he's expected to return Sunday against the rival Packers in his first game eligible to be activated from short-term IR.

Smith, the eighth overall pick in last year's draft who came within three tackles of breaking Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher's rookie franchise record, had played his best football as a sophomore since Trevathan went down.

"Overall, I really thought you felt him — especially here in the last several games — really turning it on, really playing fast," Nagy said Monday, when the Bears held a light practice at Halas Hall to begin Week 15 preparations. "Every play that he gets, every game that he plays, for the rest of his career, he’s only [going to] get better and better in my opinion."

But it was an up-and-down encore after being named as a Pro Bowl alternate at the end of his rookie season. Smith missed the first game of his career in Week 4 because of a personal matter that prevented him from fully regaining his on-field footing until November. The Bears have remained mum on what specifically was affecting Smith, but his reduced playtime, if not the absence of his usual trademark speed and aggressiveness in the first few games upon returning, was evident.

Smith was certainly close to his top form in his last full game, the Thanksgiving victory in Detroit, where he notched a career-high 16 tackles and two sacks — including the game-sealer — while playing every defensive snap for the second consecutive week.

"I feel that way," Nagy said Monday when asked whether Smith had made it all the way back, after the coach admitted earlier in the season his prized backer wasn't playing as advertised. "I mean you see it on tape. He's really moving fast, flying around making tackles. He's always had instincts — that's been his biggest strength — and he's violent, he's a violent tackler, and I think now as we go here it's just going to be focusing in on having the game slow down, just like it would for a quarterback, slow down a little bit there in the middle of the field."

Smith was injured sometime during the Bears' opening defensive series, a 17-play, 75-yard TD drive by the Cowboys, who had success targeting the reigning Butkus Award winner in coverage wiith TE Blake Jarwin and in the run game with Zeke Elliott.

But the Bears 'D' was brilliant thereafter in the absence of both starting backers Thursday night, thanks in large part to the yeoman work of reserve Kevin Pierre-Louis, who had two passes defensed and a tackle for loss in a superlative sideline-to-sideline effort — easily his most extensive to date on 'D' with the Bears. Pierre-Louis took a page out of the Trevathan replacement handbook of Nick Kwiatkoski, another backup pressed into action and playing lights out in a contract year.

"We worked together a little bit in the preseason, which was great, and then OTAs, preseason practices, and our linebacking group as a corps are great people to be around," Pierre-Louis said Monday. "So, anybody that we're out there with, we're going to mesh together well."

With Trevathan, Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis all impending free agents, the Bears face difficult offseason decisions on finding the ideal complement to mesh with the elite skill set of the 22-year-old Smith, who may or may not be fully healthy when the new league year begins.

Trevathan is perhaps the defense's most established leader and was building on his best season with the Bears in 2018 prior to getting injured. He'll also be 30 in March, when he potentially could command at least one more lucrative multi-year contract. At least in theory, the presence of Smith should create leverage for the Bears, who surely drafted him thinking Trevathan was closer to Smith's floor than ceiling.

Meantime, the Bears have younger, more pressing in-house extension candidates, perhaps even at the same position.

Prior to this season, Kwiatkoski was a special-teams stalwart whose lack of speed was thought to be limiting on defense. Yet his contributions over the past month and a half have exceeded expectations and demonstrate clear improvements in coverage. Pierre-Louis, despite the barest track record, has all sorts of speed and versatility, which he began flashing Thursday and will now get to showcase in an enhanced role to finish the season.

Sunday didn't go according to plan for Bears, but at least they're not the Raiders

Posted on December 9, 2019 - 11:05:00

Wait, Oakland didn't win the Khalil Mack trade? That's not what everyone thought a few weeks ago

If readers are still holding out postseason hope for the 7-6 Bears, they’ll be disappointed to learn that Thursday night’s outstanding win over the Dallas Cowboys, solely for intents and purposes of the playoff picture, essentially never happened.

With victories Sunday for the division-leading Packers, current No. 2 wild card Vikings and top wild-card challenging Rams, the Bears’ postseason odds, as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, still are 3 percent — same as entering Week 14.

Add in a buzzer-beater field goal off the right foot of franchise scoring leader PK Robbie Gould to clinch perhaps the Game of the Year in New Orleans for the current No. 5 seed 49ers, another dynamic day for Chicago’s seventh-round-rookie-turned-Steelers-practice-squad-poaching Kerrith Whyte, and we totally get it if Sunday pigskin left a lot to be desired for the Bears and their fan base.

It wasn’t all bad, though.

The Oakland Raiders, holders of the Bears’ first-round pick and suppliers of Chicago’s extra second-rounder, dropped their third consecutive contest, 42-21 at home to the Titans, falling to 6-7.

So the team that as recently as a month ago supposedly won the Khalil Mack trade now ranks 28th in the NFL in total defense and points allowed and 30th in passing touchdowns permitted. Oakland’s own first-rounder once again appears more valuable than the one they “stole” from Ryan Pace, and, of course, the Bears’ second-round sweetener from Jon Gruden in that deal is again currently more valuable than Pace’s own pick.

The Raiders have an easier schedule than the Bears down the stretch but are likely to be eliminated earlier from playoff contention, while their stud rookie runner, Josh Jacobs, acquired with the 24th overall pick in April via the Mack deal, is hurt. Don’t cheer the last part — Jacobs is already tremendous, unlike, say, fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell, who was held without a sack and tackle for loss for the ninth time as a Raiders rookie.

We look forward to explaining at Bears Insider throughout the final three weeks this season why making the postseason probably isn’t even the most important potential accomplishment that remains for Matt Nagy and Co. this year. From the eye-opening play of Kevin Pierre-Louis in his first extended action in place of an injured Roquan Smith, to the immense improvements of the O-line and WR corps to, of course, Mitch Trubisky and everything he still has a chance to show if he can continue perhaps his best stretch as a pro, don't lose sight of the big picture through the barely visible playoff picture.

Meantime, revel in the ruins of the Raiders, who remain a far bigger mess than the Bears nearly two full seasons after trading Khalil Mack.  

Hub Arkush: Cowboys beatdown a crucial turning point for Bears?

Posted on December 7, 2019 - 08:29:00

You may not like Mitch Trubisky, but Troy Aikman sure does

As I was saying a week ago ...

Sorry guys, I didn’t mean to disappear like that but it seems the big guy had a plan for me to spend a little time on the I.R. list, and while I’m still a few days away from getting back in the lineup, I couldn’t resist the urge to weigh in on Thursday night’s 31-24 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s been decades since I’ve watched a Bears game propped up in bed in my Bears footie P.J.s, with my Teddy by my side and a gallon of chicken soup on the nightstand, and it was really quite instructive.

Troy Aikman is an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, and to hear him tell it last night, they may need to start clearing space next to his bust in Canton for one of Mitch Trubisky.

Please bear with me, I haven’t had a lot of fun lately and last night was, so the hyperbole is strictly to make a point.

Aikman was careful to explain he hasn’t gotten to see the Bears all that much but in doing the Thanksgiving game in Detroit and then Thursday night’s, he was really impressed with how well Trubisky and the Bears are playing.

The point he kept getting back to was it’s really, really, really hard to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, and he felt he was watching one develop right in front of our eyes, in large part due to the way Matt Nagy is bringing him along.

And as I watched the game unfold, I couldn’t argue with a word Aikman said.

Have the Bears feasted on the soft underbelly of their schedule in winning four of their last five?

Of course they have. There is still a long road to hoe, and quarterback and coach still have much to prove.

But what we saw versus the Cowboys was a plan coming together.

You cannot run Nagy’s offense without solid play from your tight ends, and though J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted almost certainly aren’t going to morph into Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, they were one of the main reasons the offense worked so well vs. the Cowboys.

Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward won the line of scrimmage Thursday night, and when they do David Montgomery is a big-time NFL back.

It helped that the Cowboys run more stunts and games up front than most teams and ran themselves out of some plays, but those three were moving people off the ball, and that’s what makes the running game go.

They also appear to have found a valuable piece in Cornelius Lucas, a legit swing tackle who can also be effective as a second tight end in "12 personnel."

If he’s going to be a franchise quarterback, Trubisky needs a Pro Bowl wideout, and Allen Robinson is all that and more, but equally important is a solid No. 2.

Anthony Miller has begun flashing that type of play, although drops like the one he had on third-and-7 with 7:45 to play — killing an important drive — have to stop.

And there’s the defense, playing without Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Prince Amukamara, controlling the NFL’s No. 1 offense all night long.

Halfway through the second quarter, All Pro RB Zeke Elliott had 10 carries for 65 yards. The Bears held him to 16 yards on nine carries the rest of the evening.

Kyle Fuller is a stud, period.

In his postmortem presser Friday, Nagy said, “I'm just happy for the players, that they've gotten themselves to this point.

“Some day I'll look back on this season and I'll always come back to how we handled where we're at right now. And I know we still have games left, but this is their moment to be able to, hey, just keep doing what we're doing.

“Don't make it too big, don't make it too little, let's just stay the course. But the players have worked hard to get to this point.”

This team almost certainly still isn’t going to the playoffs, but for those of you who wrote them off a few weeks ago ... oops.

They’re a work in progress and fun to watch again, and now there’s a really big game in Green Bay next week.

Let’s talk again in a few days, I’m going back to bed.

'It was an ah-ha moment:' How Mitch Trubisky's Bears teammates reacted to his historic night vs. Cowboys

Posted on December 6, 2019 - 12:41:00

There's zero doubt regarding the respect and support Trubisky commands inside Bears own locker room.

Mitch Trubisky did more than play his best game of the season when the Bears needed it most in Thursday's resounding win vs. the Dallas Cowboys, he made NFL history:

comp:00005de4e0b3:000000007d:0f0c 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Tonight Mitchell Trubisky of the <a href="https://twitter.com/ChicagoBears?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChicagoBears</a> became the first QB in NFL history to ...<br><br>Complete 70.0+ pct of his passes on 30+ attempts<br>Throw 3+ TD passes<br>Rush for 50+ yards<br>Rush for a TD<br><br>... all in the same game.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bears100?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bears100</a></p>&mdash; Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) <a href="https://twitter.com/StatsBySTATS/status/1202813569647161344?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 6, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 1

So how did Trubisky's teammates react to his prime-time explosion, a cathartic night for one of the NFL's most maligned players?

“For me, it was like an “ah-ha” moment. You see someone work so hard, day in and day out. You can see it paying off," said top pick David Montgomery, a tackle-breaking machine Thursday in out-gaining reigning NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, 86 yards to 81. "A lot of people kind of jumped ship on him. But Coach Nagy always preaches about staying together as one. Mitch steps up. I’m happy for him and I’m happy that he is our quarterback.”

And in addition to the players, Nagy deserves a ton of credit for (A) calling his best game of the season and (B) maintaining his unrelenting optimism during the darker times earlier in the season to help ensure his team remained united.

"I think one thing is for sure: everybody is seeing what type of people we have on this football team," he said following the Bears' fourth win in the past five tries, keeping alive their faint playoff hopes heading to Lambeau for the Week 1 rematch with their biggest rivals. "No one has flinched. We've pulled together, become even tighter. We're winning football games now. We're playing as a team."

Perhaps even more than for Trubisky, Nagy's praise for his offensive line Thursday night was in abundance after a performance in which it mitigated Dallas' dangerous pass rush and opened some of its bigger holes in the run and screen games. The communication hub of the group, C Cody Whitehair admitted Trubisky's scrambling — a season-high 9 carries and 63 yards, including a highlight-reel 23-yard touchdown run moments after Dallas cut its deficit to 10 points — helped fuel not only his unit's effectiveness but the confidence of their quarterback.

“We’re just trying to sustain our blocks and obviously give him time to find an open receiver. It was great (to see)," Whitehair said. "It helps his confidence too. He’s always done that – making plays when you know guys aren’t open and just making them with his legs.”

The unit's longest-tenured starter, Charles Leno, continues to be impressed by Trubisky's resolve. For the second consecutive week, he tossed a bad interception that could've taken the wind out of the Bears' sails, yet for the second straight game, Trubisky channeled it into something positive by elevating his and the offense's play.

“I told everybody this last week – it’s not fazing him," said Leno, who earned big praise from Trubisky for the key block on the scoring scramble. "He’s the same guy whether he throws a pick or he doesn’t. Whatever it is, he’s the same guy from the beginning of the game to the end of the game, and that’s what I love about him.”

Anthony Miller is still learning how to consistently abide by the next-play-mentality that Nagy preaches. And although his 3-42 receiving line was actually his most pedestrian during his second-half surge in Year 2, the team's receiving TD leader as a rookie finally found the end zone for the first time Thursday on a beautifully executed screen that showed off his dangerous post-catch ability.

Still, it was after Trubisky's own rushing touchdown that Miller enjoyed his biggest celebration. Trubisky called it a special moment between he and his teammates, and here's the summation from Miller on what he said to his quarterback.

“I can’t tell you what I specifically said, but I was just telling him that, ‘You’re doin’ it, man. You’re running stuff. You’re proving the doubters wrong.’ You know what I mean?" said Miller, who continues to look more and more like the dynamic Allen Robinson sidekick Ryan Pace envisioned when he traded a second-round pick to acquire the Memphis Grinder. "We been rocking with him this whole time and finally everything is clicking, and you might see some people just try to jump on his bandwagon or something like that, but we know who’s been there the whole time and who hasn’t. You know, all we need is us and the people who been rocking with us.”

Trubisky has had his teammates' support all along. He's likely gaining some new followers during his overdue recent stretch of strong play. Just don't expect him to stop and revel, not with much work still ahead this season.

"I don't care about [individual success]. I just want to try to get better every week, continue to stay hungry, progress each week," he said. "We've gotten better over the last couple weeks, I'm talking about as a team, that's what's most important to me. That is what allows you to get better as an individual, is if you focus on the team first, focus on the guys around you."

Doubts rightly remain regarding Trubisky's ability to sustain a consistent level of play, never mind the spectacular performance he authored Thursday. There's zero doubt regarding the respect and support he commands inside his own locker room.

Trubisky's Bears out-duel Prescott's Cowboys in most convincing victory of 2019

Posted on December 6, 2019 - 07:35:00

Don't look now but maligned Mitch Trubisky might finally be putting it all together late in Year 3

It wasn't supposed to be Week 14 when the Bears finally fired on all cylinders, but that's exactly what they did for the first time in Thursday's stunning 31-24 handling of the Dallas Cowboys to improve to 7-6, their first time back above .500 since the Week 6 bye.

Chicago's best victory in a mostly disappointing NFC North title defense season that began with bonafide Super Bowl aspirations hardly means it will now end back in the playoffs. Instead, it means Bears fans have reason to continue hoping, if not for January football, that Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Co. at least turned a corner.

"I’ve talked about trying to find that identity — we’ve been searching for it. We finally feel like, the last several weeks, we feel good about where we’re at," Matt Nagy said.

But it wasn't trending that way early after Dallas won the toss and marched 75 yards on 17 plays, chewing up nearly nine minutes of clock and capping a dominating drive with a two-yard Zeke Elliott TD run. It certainly didn't appear to be Chicago's night when leading tackler Roquan Smith's ended after only those 17 plays because of a pectoral injury, or subsequently following Mitch Trubisky's fourth red-zone interception of the season, just when it appeared the Bears would tally back-to-back game-opening TD drives for the first time all year.

"We played a full game tonight across the board," Nagy said. "Had some adversity early, but no one flinched, and that's what we know we want to keep growing from."

All the Bears did next was score on their ensuing four possessions, three ending in Trubisky TD passes. The scoring surge included a quick slant to Allen Robinson for five yards and a laser over the middle to Robinson on the next series from eight yards out on third-and-goal with only 14 seconds remaining to take a 17-7 halftime lead.

The Bears then returned from the break to march 84 yards, consuming nearly half of the third quarter, and punctuate only their second "double dip" of the season on Anthony Miller's nifty 14-yard run-after-catch score for his first touchdown of the season.

Firing on all cylinders was hardly limited to an offense that spent most of the season firing blanks.

Without Smith and three other starters, the defense was spectacular, channeling its Week 4 shorthanded heroics by forcing three-and-outs on four of the five possessions following the game-opening TD drive. A Dallas offense that led the NFL in yardage and third downs was limited to 331 and 36 percent.

Dallas' first score after halftime proceeded a David Montgomery fumble near midfield and required two fourth-down conversions, including Elliott's second TD dive. Their other TD drive, spanning 100 yards, came late in the fourth quarter with the Bears in total command, when Kevin Toliver — who'd played only four snaps on 'D' before earning the start in Prince Amukamara's absence — was beat by Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

But this night didn't belong to the Dallas star. For the second consecutive week, it undoubtedly belonged to Trubisky.

On a night when he rediscovered his dangerous dual-threat skills — another first this season — none of his nine carries for a season-high 64 yards was more spectacular than the 23-yard juke-and-jive scamper following Elliott's touchdown. Showing off not only his athleticism but run instincts that have been mostly absent in a difficult season, Trubisky totaled his fourth touchdown overall, the exclamation point on what felt like his NFL coming-out party in Year 3: 23-of-31 for 244 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT (115.5), on top of his ground production.

"The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards," Trubisky said of his rushing touchdown and the jubilation that followed, including a rejoice with Leno and even Eddie Jackson running on the field. "So really cool moment."

So even if what's easily the Bears' best performance of the season comes to late to salvage their season, with trips to Lambeau and US Bank in Minnesota flanked around a home date with the Chiefs — all three teams currently ticketed for the playoffs — and a bunch of help still required to join them in playing January football, Trubisky's development is the next important thing.

And unlike the baby steps Trubisky may or may not have taken during what Matt Nagy repeatedly claimed were four consecutive strong games prior to Thursday — two of which were sub-70 passer rating performances, including what many still feel was a benching in L.A. — Trubisky building on last week's coming-of-age in crunch time against an awful Lions 'D' by again bouncing back from an early interception to display complete control vs. one of the more talented defenses in football marks unmistakable and undoubtedly impressive growth.

"It's not just one person; it’s everybody," Nagy said. And when you have the entire offense, everybody working together in unison, it makes your job as a quarterback a lot easier."

Added Leno: "He’s just doing his job. I told him before the game, just be the best you that you can possibly be."

Thursday night, Trubisky did exactly that.

Roquan Smith goes down, backups step up again for Bears defense

Posted on December 6, 2019 - 07:35:00

CHICAGO – It’s becoming a familiar story for the Bears defense.

When linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis heard his name called Thursday at Soldier Field, there was no time to think. There’s no thinking in those moments. Just play.

Pierre-Louis stepped in for injured Roquan Smith in the first quarter and played most of the Bears’ 31-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.

The same thing happened with linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski last month when starter Danny Trevathan left a game against the Lions with an elbow injury.

“Kevin’s a guy, he’s been around the league, he knows,” Kwiatkoski said. “He knows that can happen. He’s been in that situation before. He’s a guy that comes to work every day preparing like he’s going to play.”

Smith left Thursday's game on the first possession with a pectoral injury. He did not return. His status moving forward is unknown.

“It could be a big loss because the way Roquan has been playing the last couple weeks, flying around and making plays and you just love that confidence that he's bringing to the defense,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. "So the depth that [general manager Ryan Pace] and his guys have created on this roster allows a guy like Kevin Pierre-Louis to step up and make plays.”

Kwiatkoski said he spoke with Smith after the game and that the Bears’ 2018 first-round draft pick was “in good spirits.”

Pierre-Louis finished his day with five tackles, one tackle for loss and one QB hurry. He’s a sixth-year pro who, as Kwiatkoski said, has been around long enough to know how these things work.

NFL backups are paid high salaries to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. If it doesn’t go well, it can be a thankless job. The Bears backup inside linebackers have done it exceptionally well.

“This defense works for everybody, all 11 guys on the field, the guys on the sideline,” Pierre-Louis said. “Whenever somebody comes in, we all have each other’s back and that’s what happened today.”

The Bears cruised for much of Thursday’s game, but allowed two late touchdowns to make the score closer than it felt. At one point, the Bears defense stopped Dallas on nine straight third-down attempts.

The Bears also used backup cornerback Kevin Toliver, who played in place of injured Prince Amukamara (out with a hamstring injury). Toliver, a second-year player who went undrafted in 2018, was tasked with stopping the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.

“Like [defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano] said, it’s nameless faces,” Toliver said. “I just went out there and played like he wasn’t nobody. Just playing my technique and making good plays.”

Though the Bears were mum this week, Toliver said he knew he would play as early as Sunday. Add defensive lineman Akiem Hicks to that list and the Bears were down four starters. It sure didn't seem like it Thursday.

Pierre-Louis credited the Bears' preparation. For the linebackers, a big part of that is Trevathan, who remains involved in the film room.

“It’s big having a veteran guy like that, having that football mind helping you break down film,” Kwiatkoski said. “Even on the sideline, today, other games. ‘What are you seeing?’ It’s like having another coach there almost.”

3 and out: Bears cruise to win over Cowboys on Thursday Night Football

Posted on December 6, 2019 - 07:35:00

The Bears won in relatively easy fashion against the Cowboys, 31-24, on Thursday night at Soldier Field. Here's what went down.

THREE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

1. When the Cowboys cut the Bears lead to 10 points early in the fourth quarter, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky ran his way to a 23-yard touchdown, evading tacklers along the way. It was a beautiful run – exactly the type of run the Bears want to see from the QB – and it extended the lead in a pivotal game for the Bears' slim playoff hopes.

2. Trubisky threw a red-zone interception on the Bears’ first possession of the game, but shook it off and led the Bears to a touchdown on his next chance. He didn’t let the mistake compound into another. Trubisky found tight end J.P. Holtz for a 30-yard gain and later connected with Allen Robinson for a 5-yard touchdown.

3. Trubisky connected with Robinson for another touchdown seconds before halftime. The score put the Bears up, 17-7, at half. It marked one of the best first halves of the season for Trubisky and the Bears. The offense totaled 210 yards in the half. It bookended halftime with another touchdown after the break to extend the lead to 24-7.

THREE THINGS THAT WORKED

1. On a roll: The Bears offense was … really good. Trubisky spread the ball to nearly every receiver in the lineup. He consistently used his feet to pick up yards when he couldn’t find a target. Running back David Montgomery had a nice game other than a third-quarter fumble.

2. Tight end play: Holtz sparked the Bears tight end group. He caught two passes on the opening drive and ignited the offense with his 30-yard gain in the second quarter. Holtz and fellow tight end Jesper Horsted both caught multiple passes in the game. It was one of the best games for Bears tight ends this year.

3. Third-down D: Dallas drove 75 yards and scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, but the Bears defense smothered the Cowboys for much of the remainder of the game. The Cowboys converted four third-down attempts on the opening drive, but the Bears stopped them on their next nine third-down attempts. Khalil Mack sacked Cowboys QB Dak Prescott on a key third-down in the third quarter.

THREE THINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. Roquan out: Linebacker Roquan Smith left the game on the first possession and was ruled out for the rest of the night with a pectoral injury. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis took Smith’s spot in the lineup. The Bears are already without linebacker Danny Trevathan, who has been out with an elbow injury. Nick Kwiatkoski has been filling in for Trevathan since he went down nearly a month ago.

2. Red zone pick: About the only major criticism of Trubisky on Thursday was the interception he threw on the Bears’ first drive of the game. It was Trubisky’s fourth red zone interception of the season. Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis made a really difficult catch near the sideline and dragged both feet in bounds.

3. Missing Prince: Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara missed the game with a hamstring injury. Kevin Toliver stepped into the starting lineup. It was the first game all year that the Bears secondary was missing a starter. Dallas receiver Amari Cooper beat Toliver for one late touchdown, but otherwise Toliver did his job.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Bears travel to Green Bay for a noon game on Dec. 15 at Lambeau Field. The Packers defeated the Bears, 10-3, in the season opener.

Bears notes: Don't call it a comeback for the Bears — not yet anyway

Posted on December 6, 2019 - 07:34:00

But the emergence of their tight ends at least qualifies

The Bears remain in the playoff hunt entering a Week 15 trip to Lambeau Field to take on the division-leading Green Bay Packers, thanks to their finest win of the season Thursday night vs. Dallas.

There's a lot of work remaining, and the 7-6 Bears almost certainly need help, still trailing the 7-5 Los Angeles Rams — who are also on the outside looking in — by a game, in addition to the 8-4 Minnesota Vikings, with a tenuous grip on the final wild-card spot.

But they're more than alive, they're dangerous because they're peaking in December.

"This is our team. This is what we really look like. This is what we were trying to get done early in the year," LT Charles Leno said. "But I don’t care that it’s happening right now because why not have it happen right now? Why not get hot right now? Why not get on this streak right now? Because the time is now."

Leno was obviously riding high following a great victory, but obviously the answer to his rhetorical question is because they might be a tad too late.

But maybe not.

The Rams are one-point dogs at home Sunday vs. the division-leading Seattle Seahawks, and they'll visit the still-alive-thanks-to-the-awful-NFC East Cowboys (6-7) in Week 15 and travel to the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers the following week. In other words, help just might be on the way on that front for the Bears.

Minnesota should bounce back on a short week in Detroit after its Monday-night loss in Seattle, but the Vikings are licking their wounds — literally — with their top three playmakers all ailing and their defense currently a shadow of its former self. The Vikings play host to a Green Bay Packers team not yet celebrating a return to NFC North superiority in Week 16, before welcoming Matt Nagy's Bears in the regular-season finale.

The next time Mike Zimmer's bunch beats Nagy's bunch will be the first time, mind you.

The Bears' focus? Solely Green Bay. Then Nagy's old friends, the Kansas City Chiefs, back in primetime in Week 16. Not scoreboard watching, that's for sure.

"The percentages part, no," Matt Nagy said when asked whether he concerns himself with playoff odds. "I know we got to win. If we don't win, none of those percentages matter."

Tight end production! The Bears' offense broke out in such a big way Thursday night that even the maligned tight ends were involved. As in, early-season waiver claim J.P. Holtz and recent practice-squad call-up Jesper Horsted, now the team's top two options with Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen on injured reserve and Ben Braunecker missing his second consecutive game with a concussion.

"Those guys have stepped up. They've helped us out in that role," Nagy said. "You can see when you have that tight end, that presence there, it helps out."

Holtz entered Thursday night with two career catches for 23 yards, both earlier this season in London. He ended the night with a team-high 56 receiving yards and the Bears' two longest receptions this season from the position — 30 and 19 yards.

"Set up perfect," Holtz said of his well-executed 30-yard TE screen setting up the Bears' first touchdown. "We practiced it all week, got the look we wanted. A little surprised how open it was. I turned up field and it’s like, ‘Wow, I might score here.’ It was a great setup for it and we executed it well."

Horsted was also productive one week after his first career touchdown, finishing with 4-36 receiving.

"We need the defenses to respect all our playmakers out on the field. The tight end group has done a great job stepping up," Mitch Trubisky said.

Injuries: It wasn't all good news Thursday, though. Matt Nagy said the pectoral injury that knocked leading tackler Roquan Smith from the game after only one series "doesn't look good." Smith had been playing his best football this season in recent weeks, when Chicago has been without running mate and defensive leader Danny Trevathan (elbow).

Javon Wims also suffered a right knee injury and didn't return, adding to the attrition at receiver, where Taylor Gabriel has missed the past two games with a concussion.

And the Bears began the night without three starters on each side of the ball.

"We need to continue to get healthy these days and come back hungrier and harder when we come back next week," Trubisky said.

Bears leading tackler Roquan Smith out for game after only one series with pectoral injury

Posted on December 5, 2019 - 20:18:00

Chicago now down four defensive starters vs. NFL's top-rated Cowboys offense

Bears leading tackler Roquan Smith suffered a pectoral injury on the first defensive series Thursday night vs. the Dallas Cowboys and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game.

After Smith struggled on Dallas' 17-play, 85-yard TD drive spanning nearly nine minutes, taking a poor pursuit angle on a Zeke Elliott run and getting caught in coverage on a third-and-long conversion, he quickly ducked into the blue medical tent on the sideline prior to heading to the locker room.

Aleady down one starter in Danny Trevathan, the Bears are left with special teamers Kevin Pierre-Louis and Josh Woods alongside yeoman worker Nick Kwiatkoski against the NFL's top-rated offense.

Smith was ruled out early in the second quarter, moments after the Bears responded with their own TD drive, capped by a Mitch Trubisky five-yard scoring strike to Allen Robinson, to knot it up at 7-all. Trubisky marched Chicago downfield on its opening drive, using a nice mix of scrambles and safe passes, prior to an ill-advised red-zone interception that appeared to be targeting Javon Wims. It was Trubisky's eighth interception this season, half of them coming in the red zone, and Dallas' first takeaway on 'D' in more than a month.

The Bears began Thursday down three starters on 'D' — Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Prince Amukamara — but are hanging tough, leading Dallas 17-7 at halftime. They tacked on a 36-yard Eddy Pineiro field goal before Trubisky found Robinson on their second scoring connection, eight yards over the middle on third-and-goal on the penultimate play from scrimmage before intermission. Chicago also gets the ball coming back out of the tunnel.

Schofield: The maddening inconsistency of Marcus Mariota

Posted on December 5, 2019 - 16:35:33

We all remember our first time.

Get your minds out of the gutter you heathens. Of course I am referring to the first time you study a quarterback draft class and put together your own rankings on the potential passers in the group. I have no idea what else you might think I was talking about.

For me, that first draft class was the rather memorable 2015 cycle. When it was clear that there were two top quarterbacks and then...everyone else. While many analysts sided with Jameis Winston in that debate, there were some who placed their top ranking on the kid from Hawaii, the Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota.

I was in that latter group.

I even defended the selection a few years ago, when I revisited my quarterback rankings of that class for a 2017 piece over on Inside the Pylon. As I wrote then:

"At the outset, I remain proud of the call of Mariota over Winston. There were not many that went down that road. But again, looking at what I wrote about for both players, this was not a real 1 versus 2 type of ranking, but more of a 1a versus 1b. There were traits that I liked about both players, and felt that either one would be worthy of the first overall selection. For me, what put Mariota over the top was the fact that you could see how his game would translate to the professional level. You could see processing speed, decision-making, and anticipation throws on his tape, that illustrated that he could succeed at the next level."

Perhaps it is time to revisit things once more.

But as the Mariota Experience comes to an end in Tennessee, and the Chicago Bears (or rather their fanbase) contemplates a future of their own quarterback room, could a reunion of sorts be in order in Chicago? After all, current Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich coached Mariota while the two were at Oregon. Could Mariota be the answer Chicago has been looking for at the quarterback position?

I am, sadly, skeptical.

I want to believe in Mariota. Still. Every season with him he turns in a performance or even a few games where you get sucked in once more. It’s the old quote from Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Last season it was a Monday night in Dallas, when Mariota posted perhaps the game people like me were waiting for. He went 21-of-29 for 240 yards and two touchdowns passes, a quarterback rating of 119.9 and adjusted yards per attempt of 9.66, and I broke down some of this game over at Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio . As I wrote then: 

"More than anything else, his processing speed and decision-making were on point throughout the evening. Every year in draft season, countless draft analysts (myself included) drone on and on about processing speed at the quarterback position. We talk about “pre-snap versus post-snap” and “identifying coverage” and “leverage,” and sometimes it sounds as if we just like hearing our own voices. But these things matter at the quarterback position. Remember, a QB is not just playing against the 11 guys on the defensive side of the ball, but he’s also matching wits with a defensive coordinator who has spent every waking moment of the past week ignoring the rest of his life and trying to scheme ways to confuse the said quarterback.

"So when the QB solves the riddles, it is worth highlighting."

Mariota managed to follow up that game with a two TD performance a week later in a victory over the New England Patriots. But that two-week stretch was likely the high water mark of his season. He spent Week 17 on the bench with an injury, and the Titans’ loss in the season finale kept them out of the playoffs.

This season, I again thought we were seeing the passer turn the corner. It came during this Week 4 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Mariota completed 18-of-27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns, and one of those plays sparked my hope anew:

comp:00005de4e0b3:0000000050:0f0c 4 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Man, the anticipation on this TD throw from Mariota is just a thing of beauty. <a href="https://t.co/ZU2uHj8ihK">pic.twitter.com/ZU2uHj8ihK</a></p>&mdash; Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkSchofield/status/1178845564211007489?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 1, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> xl left 14

Processing speed, anticipation and placement. All highlighted here to an elite level.

A few weeks later, Mariota lost his job.

How did it come to this? Inconsistency.

A week later, the Titans hosted the Buffalo Bills, and the anticipation we saw against Atlanta was gone:

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Mariota (#8) gets sacked here because he fails to pull the trigger on an anticipation throw. He wants to throw an in-cut to the slot receiver, but the robber coverage employed by the Bills on this play takes that route out of the equation. Mariota then transitions to the bunch formation look and locks onto an out pattern, but that decision comes much too late. If he speeds up his process and makes an anticipation throw, that pass can be completed. Instead, the quarterback is sacked.

The passer would be benched a week later in Denver, in Tennessee’s Week 6 loss to the Broncos. Mariota was sent to the pine after throwing his second interception in the game, but some earlier decisions highlight the issues he has been dealing with. For example, on this third-and7 play from the second quarter, he gets baited into a near-interception:

comp:00005de4e0b3:0000000052:0f0c 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/Z9V81nBFpeRDuJYdTl" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/Z9V81nBFpeRDuJYdTl">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 20

Adam Humphries (#10) manages to beat the cornerback at the catch point to prevent the turnover. 

To be fair, this is a difficult coverage to decipher as a quarterback. The Titans are running an Ohio concept, with a flat route from the slot receiver and a go route from the outside WR. This is a concept designed to attack Cover 2, which the Broncos show on this play. Normally in such a coverage, the cornerback would stay on the outside receiver’s vertical route, opening up the flat for the slot WR’s route. 

Here, however, the defense is doing something different.

Given that football is a game of schematic cycles, when offenses come up with a way to attack a defense, defenses will adjust. Then offenses will adjust to the adjustments, and so on and so forth. 

In response to the Ohio concept, defenses started running Cover 2 Trap. In this scheme, the cornerback will backpedal as if he is covering the vertical route, but he is reading the inside slot receiver. Should the slot receiver break out to the flat, the corner will peel off and “trap” that route. It is an easy way to bait the QB into throwing a pick-six.

Offenses figured this out, and quarterbacks started throwing the go route in response before the safety could rotate over.

So...defenses adjusted. “Cougar” was born. In that coverage, the cornerback will actually turn and play the route as if he is in man coverage, but will still read the slot WR. That is what happens here, and Mariota takes the bait.

Now you might say that this is a difficult coverage to decipher for even the most veteran of quarterbacks. Well, here is rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham deciphering the same look in the preseason against the Detroit Lions:

comp:00005de4e0b3:0000000053:0f0c 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/fWqRq7nX4Rk336YAFe" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/fWqRq7nX4Rk336YAFe">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 28

(If you want to get super nerdy I break down that play in depth here ).

Later in the second quarter, Mariota fell victim to one of the classic blunders. A quarterback must never throw late over the middle:

comp:00005de4e0b3:0000000054:0f0c 4 <iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/STf8mXcPNnRBFKrXxM" width="480" height="270" frameBorder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="https://giphy.com/gifs/STf8mXcPNnRBFKrXxM">via GIPHY</a></p> xl left 30

Mariota’s second interception, which came early in the second half, was due more to his arm being hit as he threw than anything else. But head coach Mike Vrabel had seen enough.

So the question for the Bears in 2020 becomes this: Can Mariota overcome this maddening inconsistency in Chicago? 

My history in studying and covering him leads me to think this would be answered in the negative.

Because what have we seen over the years? Games like Week 4 against Atlanta this year, or the Monday nighter against Dallas a season ago. Impressive performances that the quarterback fails to duplicate. Sometimes the inconsistency can be found on more of a micro level, as in these games against Buffalo and Denver, Mariota still made some good plays, but the consistency was severely lacking.

Now maybe a change of scenery, or a reunion with his former college coach, could make things easier for him? Perhaps, but again there are huge question marks. One, the Bears are running Matt Nagy’s offense, and not Helfrich’s offense. Second, it would be Mariota’s sixth offensive coordinator during his time in the NFL, and that lack of consistency in offensive schemes does not lead to consistency in execution.

So, in summation, despite my continued belief in Mariota, I am not sure Chicago is the right destination for his resurrection campaign. 

All of this means that Mariota to Chicago to compete with Mitchell Trubisky is a mortal lock. 



 

Bears Insider prediction time! Bears vs. Cowboys on 'Thursday Night Football'

Posted on December 5, 2019 - 10:31:00

Which reigning division champ will give its disappointing defense season a boost?

Hub Arkush (season record: 9-3):

This is a tough one to pick as we've got two 6-6 teams who have disappointed in very similar ways and the Bears will have some home-field advantage. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bears find a way, but I'm worried about their ability to commit to shutting down Elliott and still handling Prescott and Cooper. They're already missing Hicks and Trevathan badly, and if Amukamara can't go they have a problem. I'm also not overly confident about Leno and Lucas handling Lawrence and Quinn. I expect Chicago to show up and be game, but while my heart says the Bears, my head says Cowboys will have more playmakers on the field. Cowboys 21, Bears 20

Arthur Arkush (season record: 8-4):

The Bears might only have one signature win — 16-10 vs. the Vikings in Week 4 — but that's one more than the Cowboys can claim. Chicago might be down two of its most important defenders, while Dallas is without only Leighton Vander Esch, but the Bears boast the better stop-unit overall this season. Matt Nagy might be having a difficult second season, but I trust him and his staff more than Jason Garrett's Cowboys crew. Both clubs have a sense of urgency, but the Cowboys still have slightly more wiggle room in a depressed division. Behind an inspired defensive effort and relatively efficient showing on offense, the Bears live to fight another week. Bears 21, Cowboys 17

Sean Hammond (season record: 9-3):

This one has the feel of a toss-up. Both defenses rank similarly from a purely statistics standpoint. Ultimately, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott just seems more reliable right now when it comes to putting points on the board against good defenses than his counterpart Mitchell Trubisky. Overall, scoring should come at a premium in this game. The Cowboys should find the end zone a couple of times, whereas the Bears will continue their struggles against teams not named the Lions. Cowboys 14, Bears 13

Barry Rozner, Daily Herald (season record: 5-7):

Future Cowboys coach Lincoln Riley will be watching with interest as Jason Garrett offers one more reason why he’ll be fired in a month. Dallas is down a starting offensive lineman and the team is in disarray. Matt Nagy says Mitch Trubisky is fixed, so the Bears’ march to the Super Bowl continues here. Another winnable game for the Bears, who have also run out of excuses for why they’re a .500 team in Year 5 of a rebuild. Bears 15, Cowboys 13

Joe Aguilar, Daily Herald (season record: 8-4):

The Bears' stretch of games against disappointing clubs continues against a Cowboys squad that, like the Bears, beats only bad teams. Mitch Trubisky deserves all the credit for his fourth-quarter, game-winning drive and overall strong performance against the Lions on Thanksgiving, but he's not better than Dak Prescott, who won't get pressured by the Bears' front seven. Maybe Mitch shines again, maybe Eddie Jackson builds on his late-game interception at Detroit. Then again, maybe not. Cowboys 24, Bears 20  

Bears begin difficult, defining stretch with down-but-dangerous Cowboys

Posted on December 5, 2019 - 10:31:00

The Bears and Cowboys are reigning division champions with matching 6-6 records, and only Dallas still has a viable opportunity to repeat in the lowly NFC East as it arrives at Soldier Field Thursday night. Yet these might be clubs heading in opposite directions.

Minnesota’s loss in Seattle Monday night concluded a Week 13 that began with a Bears’ win in Detroit and went almost entirely their way: Cowboys, Eagles and Panthers also lost, with only the L.A. Rams holding serve to get to 7-5, but facing a remaining schedule only slightly less daunting than Chicago’s.

Matt Nagy’s Bears still have to bypass the Rams, but are within two games of the Vikings, whom they’ve never lost to and will visit in the regular-season finale, potentially with the conference’s final wild card hanging in the balance.

And while Chicago has won three of its past four, Dallas is the inverse at 1-3, with Jason Garrett’s seat now scorching while Nagy perhaps slowly rediscovers his footing. Of course, playing in a far superior division, the Bears have little remaining margin for error.

Bears defense vs. Cowboys offense: Dallas’ top-rated offense and passing attack should pose the biggest challenge to date for a Bears “D” that must weather Akiem Hicks’ absence one more week – even if the Cowboys’ big-strike prowess has mostly struck out over the past month. Dak Prescott and Co. are averaging only 20.8 points a game and 6.2 yards a play in that span, down from their season averages of 25.8 and 6.5, respectively.

Amid a career year, Prescott struggled mightily in the Thanksgiving defeat vs. the Buffalo Bills, who sacked the NFL passing leader a season-high four times and took the ball away from him twice.

The Bears will need a similar effort from Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller and Co., but not before ensuring Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t beat them coming off one of his finer performances this season.

Can an uneven Bears pass rush exploit a Cowboys O-line not playing up to its usual standards and sending starting LG Connor Williams to injured reserve this week? Roy Robertson-Harris against Williams replacement Xavier Sua-Filo will be a key matchup, as will the blue chipper Mack battling OTs Tyron Smith and La’el Collins.

“They have weapons everywhere, a great offensive line. I think Dak’s playing at a very high level,” Nagy said. “You’re always going to have your highs and lows throughout a season. Amari playing the way he’s playing, and then Ezekiel at running back. They have weapons. They can score at any time. They’re aggressive. So, whatever they’re going through the last couple weeks, we know we’re going to get their best shot.”

In addition to Cooper, WR2 Michael Gallup has game-changing ability, and old nemesis Randall Cobb has created his share of nightmares for the Bears. Fuller and Buster Skrine have been great, but Chicago may have to weather Prince Amukamara’s absence for the first time this season.

Edge: Even

Bears offense vs. Cowboys defense

Fresh off their highest yardage output of the season and best third-down success in months in Detroit, Mitch Trubisky’s offense gets a significant step up in class from the Lions’ 29th-ranked third-down “D” to Dallas (No. 3 in the NFL).

The Bears’ O-line must play its best game vs. a Cowboys front without a clear weakness, even sans 2018 rookie second-team All Pro LB Leighton Vander Esch. Bears coaches lavished praise on an “elite” D-line that creates pressure with four rushers at the highest rate in the NFL. The arrival via trade of Robert Quinn (team-high 9.5 sacks) and Michael Bennett (3 sacks in 5 games with the Cowboys) makes doubling Demarcus Lawrence a nonstarter; the interior presence of disruptive Maliek Collins further raises the onus on the entire front five building on its strong Thanksgiving.

“These guys are elite, elite, elite in [pressuring quarterbacks] and it goes back to, again, just find a No. 1 in rhythm and on time,” OC Mark Helfrich said. “Every O-line gets beat by these guys, every quarterback gets sacked by these guys, gets hit by these guys and you have to weather that storm. You have to step up and get it out, you have to step up and run. ... And just execute.”

While not quite as imposing, a Byron Jones-led secondary also boasts playmakers despite being mired in a four-game takeaway drought. Four of Trubisky’s seven interceptions this season have come in the past three games – including one Thursday – but it was the way he responded in the Bears’ go-ahead and game-winning TD drives each exceeding 90 yards that has his and WR2 Anthony Miller’s confidence peaking.

Edge: Even

Special Teams: Neither club trusts its kicker. The Cowboys worked out legs this week following two more Brett Maher misses; Nagy eschewed Eddy Pineiro indoors to attempt a 48-yarder on fourth-and-6. But the Bears have a huge advantage covering and returning kicks, most recently with Cordarrelle Patterson catalyzing their first game-opening TD drive since Week 4 with a 57-yard return.

Edge: Bears

Coaching: It hasn’t been a good season for either former Coach of the Year, but Nagy at least has the backing of ownership and an arrow still pointing up, unlike Garrett, whose team was blown out at home on Thanksgiving after he was publicly called out by Jerry Jones in Foxboro.

Edge: Bears

Cordarrelle Patterson becomes first Bears special teamer since Devin Hester to win Player of the Month

Posted on December 5, 2019 - 09:46:00

Patterson arguably more valuable on coverage than returns in November, showcasing versatility with Bears

Cordarrelle Patterson on Thursday was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November, becoming the first Bear to earn the honor since Devin Hester eight years ago.

Patterson catalyzed the Bears' first game-opening TD drive since Week 4 in Detroit on Thanksgiving. After offsetting penalties on the first attempt, he exploded up the middle for 57 yards, later adding a 33-yarder that began a FG drive before halftime. Patterson's 294 total yards on 10 kick returns over five November games paced the conference and ranked third in the NFL. His 711 total yards is tops in the league, and his 30.9-yard average ranks second.

Patterson also returned his seventh career kickoff for a touchdown earlier this season vs. the Saints, marking his third career return at Soldier Field but first as a member of the Bears. It was one of only six kickoff-return scores in the NFL so far this season.

Of course, the Bears knew they were getting the NFL's most dangerous kickoff returner when they signed Patterson this offseason to a two-year, $10 million contract. Where Patterson has perhaps surprisingly excelled is in kick coverage, making four special-teams tackles in November — including a potential TD-saver vs. the Giants in Week 12, when he also downed two huge punts inside the five-yard line to help the Bears stave off Big Blue's comeback bid.

“There’s a lot of players, probably, that look past special teams,” Patterson said last week. “A lot of people got a lot of pride, and because it’s special teams, they don’t think they can make a lot of money.

“But there’s a lot of guys [who] would die for special teams. Some guys, that’s all they do is play special teams. That’s their only job, so they go out there and play their heart out.”

In one of the more memorable locker-room interviews of the season, Patterson quickly clarified that he wouldn't really die for football — "Sorry, I love it to death. But I'm not dying for it," — also quipping about his pregame ritual of playing catch with fans in the stands going awry when he accidentally hit a fan in the head.

The Bears' best-laid plans to make Patterson the ultimate chess piece in an offense with no shortage of explosiveness and versatility might have also went by the wayside this season, but Patterson's outstanding contributions to Chicago's third phase climb from 26th in Football Outsiders' special teams DVOA efficiency metric last season to No. 9 this year.

That should spur Patterson to his third Pro Bowl this season.

“If it comes, it comes. That’s a [popularity] thing. If you’re liked, you’ll make it to the Pro Bowl. That’s just how it goes, man. If I get liked enough, I’ll be there.”

There are few guys more likable on the Bears, and none more valuable on special teams last month in the entire NFC.

Week 14 NFC North report

Posted on December 4, 2019 - 13:37:00

Packers closing in on division title while Vikings suffer a couple scares and Lions provide Bears a teaching point on Thanksgiving

Taking our weekly look at the Bears' NFC North rivals, with four games to go in the regular season ...

PACKERS (9-3)

Following consecutive seasons of finishing in third place in the North and out of the playoffs, the Packers are on the cusp of a division title in Matt LaFleur’s maiden head-coaching voyage.

Their convincing rebound — after the prime-time pummeling from the Niners — at MetLife over the hapless New York Giants, paired with Minnesota’s loss in Seattle Monday night, means the Packers technically could lose to the Vikings in Week 16 and still win the North by virtue of a tiebreaker based on their divisional record. Green Bay remains a perfect 3-0, while the Vikes are 1-2 and surely feeling regret regarding their failure to beat a Bears team without Mitch Trubisky, Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith in Week 4.  

Of course, the Packers’ rosy divisional outlook still requires them taking care of other orders of business in the North — including playing host to the Bears next weekend and traveling to Ford Field for the regular-season finale, one week after their visit to Minnesota — following Sunday’s date at Lambeau with a 3-9 Washington team that isn’t going down easily.

Green Bay’s focus, then, come Sunday is likely to first be on slowing an ascending Washington run game, not a second consecutive rookie QB foe, first-rounder Dwayne Haskins. While the Packers made life miserable for Giants top pick Daniel Jones by intercepting him three times and injuring his ankle, they let Saquon Barkley rack up 115 yards from scrimmage, including 84 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Powered by an Adrian Peterson-Derrius Guice combination, Washington managed a season-high 248 rushing yards and three TDs on 30 carries in the road upset in Carolina preceding Panthers head coach Ron Rivera’s firing. It’s up to Packers DL Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry and LB Blake Martinez to prevent the visitors from repeating that success and getting the ball back to Aaron Rodgers, who followed up his worst 2019 game in San Francisco with one of his best in the snow on the opposite coast.

VIKINGS (8-4)

Good news and bad news this week in Minnesota: After watching their season flash in front of their eyes on a singular play in the Monday-night loss in Seattle, where Dalvin Cook lost a fumble and departed for good with a re-injured shoulder while Stefon Diggs simultaneously writhed on the field with a rolled ankle, the Vikings’ offensive centerpiece and most dynamic receiver, respectively, are doing OK.

Cook said he expects to play Sunday in Detroit, it’s mostly a pain-tolerance issue and he’ll have to improve his ball security when his shoulder gets dinged; Diggs was back on the field on the next series.

That’s the relatively good news.

Not so hot, the Vikings’ postseason ambitions, albeit still healthy, took a hit in Seattle and theoretically now could hinge on beating the Bears at home in Week 17 — which they were unable to do in the same time and place a year ago, when Chicago had nothing to play for, unlike Minnesota, which faced a win-and-in scenario.

All the Bears have to do is beat three consecutive division leaders first, while the Vikings lose at home to the Packers, if not to the 3-8-1 Detroit Lions Sunday or on the road against the Chargers in Week 15.

Indeed, Minnesota still controls its own fate — including tightening up its defense after allowing the most rushing yards in Seattle (218) since Mike Zimmer’s first year at the helm and somehow mitigating the dramatic demise of Xavier Rhodes, who was absolutely torched yet again Monday night.

But notice how we hadn’t even mentioned Kirk Cousins until now. He played solid yet again in prime time, leading two fourth-quarter TD drives following an interception that required sensational skill and concentration by Seahawks CB Tre Flowers. Also encouraging, Cousins led Minnesota to the cusp of another riveting comeback, doing so sans Cook while third-rounder Alexander Mattison continued his excellent under-the-radar rookie campaign.

LIONS (3-8-1)

Last week in this space we explained how it might be a lost season for the Lions, but not Kenny Golladay, their shooting star receiver from Northern Illinois who proceeded to have a career day on Thanksgiving vs. the Bears.

Of course, Golladay couldn’t have gone holiday wild without David Blough, the undrafted rookie from Purdue whose NFL debut almost certainly exceeded even his own expectations.

So consider it yet another reminder on the importance of continuing to develop and evaluate young players even after a team’s postseason hopes are fully extinguished. And more specifically relative to the Bears, Blough’s success should also signal their own need to give Matt Nagy a developmental rookie passer this offseason — something GM Ryan Pace has yet to procure in his first five years, former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky notwithstanding.

Is Blough likely to be the heir to Matthew Stafford? Obviously that remains to be seen, but it’s almost certainly not Detroit’s endgame here. Still, with this NFL season also reminding us of the great value in having a competent clipboard holder — even in Detroit, where the Lions have been fortunate to have one of the game’s few ironmen at the position — Blough going from fourth-stringer in Week 1 to performing well on a short week vs. a top-5 defense at least suggests he belongs on a roster and competing for more chances.

“I think the team tried to rally around him,” Matt Patricia told reporters of Blough this week, “and I think he tried to do everything he could to help the team win from that aspect, too. I thought all that was really positive.”

Blough now gets another chance, against another dangerous divisional defense, Sunday in Minnesota, and may even share a backfield before the season is out with RB1 Kerryon Johnson, who returned from IR to practice and can play as early as Week 16.

Schofield's QB film room: Anthony Gordon, Jordan Love among Bears potential 2020 QB options

Posted on December 4, 2019 - 10:05:33

While some have moved on to the idea of making Mitchell Trubisky earn another season as the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback, don’t tell young Mr. Trubisky that things are set in stone. As many were setting in for a Thanksgiving filled with food and family, the Bears’ quarterback was turning in one of his best performances of the season, carving up the Detroit Lions defense en route to a victory on Thanksgiving Day. Will this portend a late-season surge from the QB, or just delay the inevitable? Only time will tell.

Speaking of the future, a number of collegiate passers put the finishing touches on their regular seasons. Here is a look at some of the draft-eligible quarterbacks and what they did over the previous week, as well as a deep dive into a quarterback some Bears fans are considering as potential competition for Trubisky next summer.

Joe Burrow 

The senior’s magical final collegiate regular season drew to a close this weekend, as the LSU Tigers handily dispatched Texas A&M on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. It might not have been possible, but Burrow endeared himself even more to the LSU faithful by coming out for Senior Night with a jersey that read “Burreaux” on the back, which was apparently his idea. 

The Heisman Trophy candidate completed 23-of-32 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns, and in the 50-7 victory, set school records for passing yards (4,366) and TD passes (44) in a season. The passing yardage number also eclipsed Tim Couch’s SEC record of 4,275, set back in 1998 with the University of Kentucky. In addition, the 44 TD passes ties Drew Lock for the most in SEC conference history, and Burrow likely has a few games left to play.

All of this points to Burrow being one of the first players off the board come draft time, which likely puts him out of reach for the Bears. 

Justin Herbert

The Oregon Ducks rebounded after an upset loss last week against Arizona State with a victory over in-state rivals Oregon State. In Herbert’s final home game, the senior passer posted pedestrian numbers, completing 18-of-30 passes for 174 yards and a scoring strike. That touchdown pass, covering 28 yards from Herbert (#10) to wide receiver Johnny Johnson III (#3), exemplifies what will make Herbert attractive to NFL scouts — his arm strength:

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Herbert executes a play-action fake (turning his back to the defense) and comes out of the fake to read a two-receiver concept. First, he checks his tight end on a deep curl route, and then spots Johnson working against man coverage on a deeper crossing route from right to left. The QB delivers a strike against tight coverage for the score.

Herbert will have a few more chances to show off his arm talent this season, beginning with the Pac-12 Championship Game against the University of Utah on Friday night. Speaking of the Utes…

Tyler Huntley

Could you make the case that the best college quarterback in the Pac-12 Championship Game is not Herbert, but rather Utah senior signal caller Tyler Huntley? You certainly could. Huntley has been one of the most efficient passers in the college game this season, completing 75.5 percent of his passes for 2,773 yards and 16 touchdowns, against only 2 interceptions. Furthermore, the Utes enter Friday night’s contest as the No. 6 team in the country, with an outside shot at getting into the college football playoff.

As far as Huntley’s performance this year, his completion percentage of 75.5 is second in the nation, behind only Burrow. His quarterback rating of 180.4 is fifth in the nation, behind Tua Tagovailoa, Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields. His yards per attempt of 11.1 is third in the nation, behind only Hurts and Tagovailoa. Pro Football Focus named him to the All-Pac-12 Team (over Herbert), pointing out that his passer rating of 129.4 from a clean pocket this season was best in the conference, and he threw nine touchdowns against zero interceptions when kept clean. 

Huntley’s mobility and athleticism make him a dangerous offensive weapon, as he chipped in an additional 311 yards rushing and five touchdowns as a ball carrier. When this game kicks off on Friday night, make sure to watch #1 on Utah.

Jalen Hurts

Hurts pulled off quite the trifecta on Saturday in Oklahoma’s 34-16 victory over Oklahoma State. The senior passer threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and even caught a pass for a score. Hurts completed 13-of-16 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, hauled in by fullback Brayden Willis. 

While the passing numbers were largely efficient, it was Hurts' touchdown run that will keep people returning to him as a potential draft prospect. Hurts opened the scoring with this 28-yard scoring scamper, flashing impressive burst, agility and change-of-direction skills:

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Hurts gets a chance on the big stage this weekend against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. With a victory (and perhaps a little bit of help), the Sooners might just get a crack at the playoffs. 

Jake Fromm

The Georgia Bulldogs were dominant Saturday against Georgia Tech, scoring 17 points in the first quarter en route to a 52-7 thrashing of their in-state rivals. Fromm posted impressive numbers as well, completing 14-of-29 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns.

And yet…

I understand why some NFL scouts and coaches will like Fromm. He does look the part, he runs a pro-style offense and you see him doing some of the little things that matter at the position — things that usually endear me to a prospect. You can see him work through full-field progression reads. Fromm is willing to take what the defense gives him at times, and he's more than willing to check the football down when the situation dictates such a decision. But as I wrote a week ago, I often feel underwhelmed watching Fromm — and his last game was no exception to this rule. He was shaky early, made a number of throws that were ill-advised and should have been intercepted, and did not demonstrate to me that he is a sure-fire NFL prospect. With another year of eligibility remaining, one more campaign of seasoning might be a wise decision for him. 

Jordan Love

The Utah State Aggies secured bowl eligibility with a 38-25 victory over New Mexico on Saturday, ensuring that QB Jordan Love will get at least one more collegiate game. That is, provided he decides to enter the NFL draft.

Love posted solid numbers for the Aggies, completing 18-of-35 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns, against one interception. Though his pure arm strength and raw physical tools might be the most attractive aspects of his play, I was excited to see one of his touchdown throws, which highlighted an area of his play that he will need to develop as he looks to the next level:

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On this play, the Aggies run a three receiver concept to the left side of the formation, consisting of a dig route, a post route and a wheel route out of the backfield. The Lobos show man coverage here, and Love (#10) wants to hit the post route. Rather than drilling this throw in on a line - which might have been risky given the defender in trail coverage - he uses a bit of touch, feathering it over the underneath defender and into his receiver’s hands for the score. Touch and feel are tough aspects to develop, but this touchdown from Love shows a great deal of promise. 

Anthony Gordon

Gordon will be the featured prospect in this week’s deep dive, but after I talked him up a week ago, those who tuned into the Apple Cup might have walked away disappointed. Gordon struggled against Washington on Friday afternoon, throwing a pair of interceptions in Washington State’s 31-13 loss to the Huskies. The Washington defense played smart coverage in the secondary and took away many of Gordon’s vertical opportunities, forcing him to rely on underneath throws.

The two interceptions were uncharacteristically poor decisions from Gordon, who has been a rather efficient passer and smart with the football. The first seemed to result from a miscommunication between him and the receiver, as his intended target broke short but the quarterback lofted a throw deeper downfield and into coverage. The second was a pure misfire, as Gordon was rolling to his right and his throw came out too high for his receiver and was picked off. 

More on Gordon in a moment.

Jacob Eason

On the other side of the Apple Cup was Eason. He had the much cleaner game of the two quarterbacks, completing 15-of-22 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown, and he did not throw an interception in the victory over the Cougars. 

As highlighted last week, Eason does show the ability to read the middle of the field and make good decisions when attacking that area of the defense. He also has impressive arm talent. I remain very curious to see what Eason decides regarding his future, as he has one year of eligibility remaining. If given another year - and if the coaching staff lets him cut it loose a bit more in the next season - he could be in a good position for the 2021 draft. But given his traits and athleticism, he'll likely receive a grade good enough from the draft advisory board to entice him down that path.

Transfer News

It would seem that the college version of free agency is upon us, perhaps earlier than usual. The first big name to announce that he will be transferring is South Carolina QB Jake Bentley. The senior passer was lost for the season in the Gamecocks’ first game of the year, and rather than return to campus (where his father is on the offensive staff), he is looking to complete his college career elsewhere. 

What are some options for Bentley, who was a highly-recruited prospect coming out of high school? Washington State might make some sense. Mike Leach turned Gardner Minshew into an intriguing draft prospect after he transferred to campus, and Leach could be working similar magic with Gordon. Another school to keep in mind is Duke University, with head coach David Cutcliffe’s reputation for developing quarterbacks. 

Deep Dive - Anthony Gordon and Feel

Let’s close this out by taking a bit of a deeper dive into Gordon. In each of these pieces we will put a quarterback under the microscope and examine some of the traits that either are promising for his potential, or point to areas of concern.

This week we can take a look at Gordon and his combination of touch, feel and ability to attack leveraged defenders in the underneath passing game. In Leach’s system, Gordon has more than enough opportunities to display for scouts his prowess as a passer. After all, the quarterback averages 54 attempts per game. But what you see on those passes is a quarterback with great feel for defenders, and an ability to exploit leverage to his advantage.

Take, for example, this corner route he throws against the University of Houston:

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The Cougars run a divide concept, with one receiver breaking inside on a post route while the other - his target - breaks toward the boundary. Gordon (#18) has to drop this throw in over the underneath defenders, in front of the rotating cornerback and before the receiver gets to the boundary. He does so perfectly. When you see this play from the end zone angle, you will see another brilliant aspect to the placement of this pass:

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The QB knows that the biggest threat to his receiver is the cornerback, who is playing with outside leverage. If Gordon leads his receiver on this play, he will bring him right into a collision course with the cornerback. Instead, Gordon leaves this throw to the inside, which enables the receiver to throttle down and avoid a huge hit.

Now take this little throw on a spot concept:

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Gordon knows before the play that Houston is in zone coverage, as no defender trails the motion man. So he knows that the spot route will come open underneath, and seeing this, he immediately goes there with the football. This is a simple design and route concept, but the decisiveness from the quarterback is a necessity at the next level. Gordon displays it on this short completion.

Now for my favorite throw from him that I have come across so far:

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When I first watched this throw, I was convinced it would be an interception on this slant route. I saw the underneath defender breaking to the outside, fully recognizing the route, and I was fully convinced that he would step in front of this throw. However, Gordon also saw the linebacker breaking under the slant route, and used that to his advantage. He places the slant route behind the back of the vacating linebacker, right into the open area left as the 'backer crashes outside on his fruitless quest. 

That is a snap decision with the QB identifying the coverage, the leverage and making the best choice with the football possible. That will work on Sundays. 

I really hope we get to see him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl this January. 

 

How Bears could replace injured vet CB Prince Amukamara Thursday vs. Cowboys

Posted on December 3, 2019 - 16:26:00

Start with nickel CB Buster Skrine, one of the better offseason investments by Ryan Pace's Bears

With Bears veteran starting CB Prince Amukamara unable to practice in Week 14 with a hamstring injury he suffered on Thanksgiving, the Bears will almost certainly require the next man up in their secondary Thursday night in a must-win spot at Soldier Field vs. the Dallas Cowboys' No. 1-rated passing attack.

Chicago already this season has weathered major injuries in the first two levels of its defense to Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, respectively, and maintained one of the top units in the league. However, this will be the Bears' first time in 2019 playing without one of their five starters in the secondary, raising the question of who exactly will be the next man up and how the unit responds vs. Dallas' dangerous downfield passing game.

Amukamara struggled early on in the Thanksgiving victory in Detroit to cover Lions speedy wideout Kenny Golladay but eventually tightened up, making five tackles — including a big solo stop on a key third-and-long — and an equally big pass breakup. Despite not playing quite as well this season as he did in a career year in 2018, Amukamara has largely been a dependable cover man who gets targeted a lot playing opposite Kyle Fuller.

The Bears have enviable depth throughout their defense, but their reserve corners remain largely unproven. Though Matt Nagy wouldn't confirm the contingency plan for Amukamara, it says here to expect rock-solid nickel Buster Skrine to line up at right corner across from Fuller in base, with second-year player Kevin Toliver playing the boundary while Skrine moves over the slot in sub packages.

Skrine has been even better than advertised in his first season with the Bears on a three-year, $16.5 million deal. His two forced fumbles trail only Khalil Mack for the team lead, and the athletic journeyman Skrine has been far more disciplined than he was over his four-year Jets tenure, when he led Gang Green in penalties. Moreover, Skrine has been stingier in coverage than predecessor Bryce Callahan, who took more money to follow former Bears coordinator Vic Fangio to Denver but didn't appear in a game this season because of a chronic foot injury.

Skrine has been durable, he's been dependable and he's been a fast study as one of the newcomers in a star-studded secondary.

"Buster is a guy, first of all he has been in this league a long time. So when you’re in the league and you have different coordinators, you understand the lingo of these different style defenses and terminologies," Nagy said Monday. "He has trust in himself and being able to do it and we saw that going – I know I’ve seen it going against him for years and years. He just has the personality to be able to adapt to different coaching styles, different schemes. ... So there is a confidence level and a trust level that we have as coaches with him playing that slot."

But Skrine has played almost exclusively in the slot so far this season, and though he has some previous boundary experience, it'll be interesting to see whether the Bears trust the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder to hold up against Dallas' big and dynamic outside receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, both measuring in over 6-1 and 200 pounds.

It's possible the Bears prefer Toliver, who's 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds and acquitted himself well in an early spot start for Amukamara as an undrafted rookie last season. He's shown his physicality mostly on special teams in Year 2, but it was clear in the offseason program that a new defensive staff led by Chuck Pagano valued the former five-star recruit out of LSU.

"That's one of those deals where if Prince can't go or whoever on the team can't, we feel like we have pretty good depth," Nagy said.

Panthers fire former two-time Coach of Year Ron Rivera

Posted on December 3, 2019 - 15:18:00

Will QB Cam Newton, GM Marty Hurney be next ones jettisoned by new Panthers owner?

After their fourth consecutive loss, all but vanquishing their playoff aspirations, the Carolina Panthers fired two-time Coach of the Year Ron Rivera on Tuesday and promoted Perry Fewell from secondary coach to interim head coach.

Rivera, 57, guided the Panthers to four playoff appearances — including three NFC South titles — and a Super Bowl berth in eight-plus seasons, going 76-63-1 to become the winningest coach in franchise history.

“I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team,” owner David Tepper said in a statement on the team's website. “I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community. I wish him the best. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers.”

But the Panthers have fallen on hard times of late with former MVP Cam Newton going on injured reserve early in the season with a foot ailment and former undrafted backup Kyle Allen’s struggles increasing along with his exposure to the rest of the league. Rivera’s Panthers also struggled greatly this season to stop the run following the departure of longtime defensive leader Thomas Davis and a season-ending injury to top DT Kawann Short.

Rivera, a Super Bowl champion with the 1985 Bears who parlayed successful coordinating stints in Chicago and San Diego into his Panthers post in 2011, is highly regarded in league circles and unlikely to be out of work long. One of the nicest, most genuine men in his profession, Rivera fielded some of the best defenses in the league, led by LBs Luke Kuechly and Davis, in 12-4 and 15-1 seasons in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

Yet Rivera also struggled to win consistently, never stacking consecutive above-.500 seasons, and was nearly relieved only two-plus years into his tenure prior to winning 12 of his final 15 games after an 0-2 start in 2013. It was then that Rivera earned his “Riverboat Ron” moniker, helping pave the way for the more aggressive mindsets that have become increasingly prevalent around the NFL.

Rivera’s days in Charlotte arguably have been numbered from the time David Tepper bought the team last offseason, and the attention will soon shift to the future of Newton, 30, who has suffered season-ending injuries in three of the past four seasons. Newton is entering a contract year in 2020, and his potential release could save Carolina $19 million against the cap next season.

Though Allen has predictably been unable to prove he can be the heir to the 2015 MVP whose nickname at the height of his prowess was Superman, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Tepper opts for an entirely clean break from the old regime with his quarterback’s body continuing to break down.

A clean break would also mean firing GM Marty Hurney, who hired Rivera in 2011 and began his second stint as Carolina’s lead decision maker in ‘17. That also would likely help the Panthers lure the best potential replacement for Rivera.

With arguably the NFL's best running back in Christian McCaffrey, two up-and-coming playmaking receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel and a few key pieces on defense, the Panthers should be an attractive destination. They have a fairly healthy cap situation, in addition to a progressive owner, and reside in a smaller market that can hardly be considered a pressure cooker. With NFC South rivals Drew Brees and Matt Ryan on the back nine of their illustrious careers and the Bucs still curiously committed to Jameis Winston, a quick turnaround in Carolina under the right stewardship is certainly feasible. Contrast that with the only other current opening, in dysfunctional Washington, and there's no contest which of the two availabilities thus far will be more highly coveted.

As for Rivera, it'd be a very surprising if he isn't at least coordinating a defense, if not leading a new team in 2020. His players seem to love and respect him, and his straight-shooting and sincere personality will be attractive qualities when he's ready to interview again.

Bears notes: Prince Amukamara misses Monday practice with hamstring injury

Posted on December 2, 2019 - 16:54:00

But Akiem Hicks is back with a new perspective after "miserable" and "humbling" IR stint

Prince Amukamara missed Monday's practice with a hamstring issue, marking the first time this season the Bears veteran starting cornerback has appeared on the injury report.

At 6-6 and coming off their Thanksgiving victory over the Detroit Lions, the Bears began preparations with a light workout Sunday for a second consecutive Thursday game vs. the 6-6 Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field. It's unclear if that's when Amukamara — who's started the first 12 games, playing more than 98 percent of the total defensive snaps — was injured after he finished Thursday's game.

Matt Nagy met the media Monday prior to practice and won't be available to provide an update on Amukamara until Tuesday, the last practice before hosting the Cowboys.

Amukamara, 30, is tied with first-team All Pro Kyle Fuller for the team lead with 10 pass breakups but is still searching for his first interception this season. After a rough start on Thanksgiving battling Lions emerging star Kenny Golladay, who caught a 75-yard touchdown on Detroit's first pass attempt, Amukamara settled down, tackling well in the open field and limiting additional explosive plays after halftime.

If Amukamara were unable to go against the Cowboys' top-rated passing offense, it's possible nickel Buster Skrine could kick outside in base packages, with Kevin Toliver likely covering the boundary opposite Fuller when the Bears go to their sub packages.

Amukamara was the only new addition to the injury report Monday, when concussions continued to sideline WR Taylor Gabriel and TE Ben Braunecker. Like that pair, RT Bobby Massie didn't travel to Detroit because of the ankle injury that kept him out Monday along with Danny Trevathan (elbow).

Hicks speaks: Pro Bowl DL Akiem Hicks, who remains on injured reserve with a dislocated left elbow, practiced for the second consecutive day Monday, speaking afterward to reporters for the first time since suffering the injury in London in Week 5.

"I won’t lie, it was super tough. You know you play this sport and you know that it’s violent and rough and they say there’s a 100 percent injury rate. I always felt I was above that," said Hicks, who'd missed only three games because of injury in his first seven seasons and none in his first three-plus years with the Bears prior to 2019. "I never really had to really experience some of the things that teammates of mine have experienced or opponents of mine have experienced. Yeah, it was hard on me.

"But everything that has a beginning has an end, right? Being here in this place right now and being able to practice with my teammates — there’s nothing better."

The Bears 'D' has maintained its top-five standing in points allowed despite playing sans Hicks since Week 5 and Trevathan since Week 10. Still, the drop-off early on defending the run without their best D-lineman was stark, and the overall pass rush hasn't been the same since the team's sack leader dating back to 2016 has been out.

The Bears have consistently praised Hicks' continued daily presence around the team despite him being on IR but won't hide their excitement regarding his potential return when he's first eligible to play in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers.

"He's been awesome while he’s been out as far as being in the meetings, being engaged, being around the guys, on the sideline, encouraging his teammates, all that kind of stuff," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "... He changes the game. Nothing like reps and time on task to do that for a guy, but he commands double teams. He can whip one block. He can whip two blocks. He can get push in the pass game, from a pass-rush standpoint. So it’ll be good to get him back."

The Bears confirmed Sunday that if he's healthy enough, Hicks will play again this season — regardless of Thursday's outcome vs. the Cowboys — and their leader on 'D' made clear that's his top objective, too.

“I would say this, if I can get my body to a place where I feel like I can compete at a high level, there’s nothing that would stop me from being on the field with my boys,” he said.
 

Bears continue to praise Floyd's quiet season, but will they pay him top-10 money in 2020 option year?

Posted on December 2, 2019 - 16:51:00

Chicago's next foe, the Dallas Cowboys, took different route to bolstering their bookends

It's hardly a revelation to point out that Bears OLB Leonard Floyd's production isn't commensurate with his draft status.

The ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft is stuck on a career-low three sacks and has yet to get his hands on a football, much less force a takeaway, which he did at least once in each of his first three seasons. Considering this is his first full season in the enviable position of lining up across from Khalil Mack, and no defender was pumped up more by a new coaching staff and many of his old teammates than Floyd this offseason, it's fair to say he's failed to fully capitalize.

Of course, the Bears are always quick to say that Floyd does so much more for their defense than rush the passer. From setting sturdy edges for the NFL's No. 8 run 'D' to playing sound in coverage for a pass 'D' also ranked in the top 10, Floyd's versatility and consistency, if not his sheer pass-rush production, the Bears say, help key the unit.

Fittingly, then, it was Floyd earning the Bears' latest Sweep the Sheds Award, given weekly to one unheralded performer, for his work in the Thanksgiving win in Detroit. He finished with a nondescript three tackles — and a bad roughing-the-passer penalty — but it was Floyd's ability to finish the game, period, that garnered him the award.

"He got the crap kicked out of him on a play or two and our trainers came up and said he’s probably not going to come back," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano explained Monday. "Because he got some type of rib injury or whatever it was. And they took him in for some X-rays, I guess. So he came back out and he said there would have to be bone showing for him to come out of the game."

Unfortunately for Floyd, Sweep the Sheds Awards create little negotiating leverage if/when his representatives get together with the Bears, perhaps this offseason, regarding a new potential contract. Chicago exercised its fifth-year team option last spring on Floyd for $13.2 million next season, but it's guaranteed for injury only, raising questions among fans and analysts as to whether the Bears could rescind the offer and seek more bang for their buck opposite Mack, whose cap charge more than doubles next year, from $11.9 million to $26.6 million.

What surely would be pointed by Floyd's reps is the fact he's started 29 consecutive games over the past season-plus, after appearing in only 22 combined because of various injuries in his first two seasons. The toughness Floyd showed last season playing with a broken hand, like enduring whatever whatever malady on Thanksgiving, certainly illustrates his commitment.

Ultimately, the Bears will have to decide whether Floyd's selfless and rounded play, albeit with inconsistent contributions as a rusher, are worthy of a top-10 salary at his position at a time when better players will also be looking for new deals, including Allen Robinson and Eddie Jackson.

And Chicago will get a reminder Thursday with the Dallas Cowboys visiting of a less conventional way it could look to provide a new bookend for one of the game's very best EDGE defenders.

After paying Demarcus Lawrence this spring as one of the NFL's few guys in Mack's stratosphere with an extension averaging $21 million and maxing out north of $105 million, Dallas cut its own disappointing former first-round EDGE, Taco Charlton, and replaced him via more established veterans via trade in Robert Quinn and Michael Bennett. The Cowboys were actually willing to eat nearly $2 million of Charlton's remaining guarantees and committed an additional $10 million combined for ready-made rushers to supplement Lawrence.

Bennett has three sacks in five games with the Cowboys — equaling Floyd's total in 12 — and Quinn has not only been the most disruptive defender on the NFL's best four-man pass-rushing front, he's been among the best in the league.

"Demarcus Lawrence has done some really good things for us and we wanted to keep him here for a really long time," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said this week. "But you have to bring other people to the defensive front so you can attack a lot of different ways with different guys. Having a chance to get Robert Quinn ... I thought was really important for our team, and he's come in and done a great job and those two guys are a great tandem together."

In what's expected to be a robust free-agent market for edge rushers, will the Bears stick with Floyd or follow in the Cowboys' footsteps by coveting a pass rusher with more quantifiable accolades to pair with Mack?

"I really like where he's at. Again, for me, I love production, I love numbers, I love all the fantasy stuff," Matt Nagy said Monday. "... He's done a lot of great things and I'm proud of him for it."

Whether making Bears brass proud without consistently producing will be enough for Floyd to get paid is among the more pressing offseason questions Nagy and Ryan Pace must answer.

Bears open 21-day window to activate Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks off IR

Posted on December 1, 2019 - 15:26:00

If Hicks healthy enough to play when first eligible in Week 15, Bears will activate him — regardless of their record

The Bears on Sunday opened Pro Bowl DE Akiem Hicks' 21-day practice window to be activated from injured reserve or shut down for the season with the dislocated left elbow he suffered in Week 5. Hicks is first eligible to play in two weeks, when the Bears visit the rival Green Bay Packers in Week 15.

"It was good. It was nice to see him out there on the field," Matt Nagy said Sunday after the Bears began preparations to host the 6-6 Dallas Cowboys Thursday night in a must-win game for both reigning division champions. "He's been on the sidleines, he's popping in and out. He's been around in meetings and all that. He's never left us. We've felt him, which is great. But to see him actually out there on a very kick-back tempo type of practice was really good."

Prior to Sunday, his first day of practice eligibility while on short-term injured reserve, Hicks' most recent practice participation came 58 days ago, when the Bears were 3-1 and coming off their best defensive performance of the season.

Riding high following their Week 4 victory over the Minnesota Vikings sans Hicks and Roquan Smith, the Bears welcomed back the Pro Bowl defensive lineman from a knee injury suffered two weeks earlier in Washington that forced him to miss his first game as a Bear.

Hicks' return in the London loss to the Oakland Raiders lasted only eight snaps, thanks to a grisly dislocated left elbow that led to his I.R. trip and seven-game absence. The Bears said Hicks was unavailable to meet with reporters following Sunday's practice, but he's expected to address the media Monday.

His return Sunday inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall comes with the Bears again riding high, winners in three of their past four games and coming off perhaps their best offensive output of the season in the Thanksgiving victory over the Detroit Lions.

Of course, now 6-6 with likely no remaining room for error, the Bears are feeling a great deal more urgency accompanying this go-around with Hicks. But would Chicago risk activating one of its most important players if its playoff hopes are already vanquished, potentially Thursday by the Cowboys?

"If Akiem is ready to play and ready to go for the Green Bay Packers game, then regardless of anything we want him to be able to play," Nagy said.

So Bears brass already has decided potentially getting back Hicks, albeit likely at slightly less than his best, outweighs the option of shutting him down for good to help ensure Hicks is his usual self for what's shaping up to be a make-or-break 2020 campaign for this regime.

The Bears still boast one of the top stop-units in football but obviously have sorely missed their best D-lineman, whose absence coincided with them surrendering two 100-yard rushers — the same number as in the previous 22 games combined — and enduring a significant drop-off in pass-rush production.

Roy Robertson-Harris is among the Bears' pass rushers whose numbers have fallen off the sharpest. He has only 2.5 sacks, and none since Week 4, when the Bears played inspired in their first game sans Hicks since his 2016 arrival.

"To see his joy of just being back out there with us is always good to see," Robertson-Harris told Bears Insider Sunday. "Obviously it’s been a long season for him not being able to play with us, but he’s definitely happy, he’s out there with us and he’s enjoying his time. I think [it can be contagious] for the rest of the D-line. He’s got big energy, he’s got a big personality, so that [rubs off] a lot on us. I think it’ll be good."

Schofield: Would Teddy Bridgewater be a good fit for Bears offense in 2020?

Posted on December 1, 2019 - 11:58:09

Bridgewater’s touch and decisiveness appear ideal, making his potential fit in Nagy scheme obvious

With our thoughts turning to a potential challenger for Mitchell Trubisky in the offseason, we can begin examining not only rookie options but also possible veteran acquisitions at the quarterback position. Many readers have clamored for New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, so our analysis can begin by putting the veteran passer under the film microscope. Bridgewater performed well in place of Drew Brees earlier this season, and some of his traits stand out when watching him on film. 

The Touch Game

The first aspect to Bridgewater’s game this season that stands out is his touch and feel for throwing the football. When people first picture a “touch” throw in their minds, they likely envision a bucket throw on a vertical route deep along the sideline. However, there is more to the touch game than the deep ball. Sometimes, as a quarterback, you need to demonstrate feel for the underneath defenders and apply the right trajectory to a throw depending on the defensive coverage.

Take, for example, this out pattern that Bridgewater (#5) delivers to Michael Thomas, who runs this route out of the slot against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

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Tampa Bay drops into a Cover 2 Man Underneath coverage on this play, giving the Buccaneers two deep safeties over the top. Bridgewater executes a five-step drop from a shotgun alignment and drops this throw in perfectly, over the underneath man coverage defender with enough velocity to get the ball to Thomas before the safety can make a play on the football or the man. 

Looking at this throw from the end zone angle, you can see how Bridgewater navigates the coverage and the sideline to convert this third down for the Saints:

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Later in this Week 5 victory over the Buccaneers, Bridgewater hits Ted Ginn Jr. (#19) on a deep post route for a touchdown. Ginn is wide open on this play, splitting the safeties on his post route in a divide concept. What stands out to me watching this throw from the veteran passer is the subtle pocket movement before the throw:

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Bridgewater faces some pressure from the left side, and is forced to climb the pocket in response. He slides up and to the right, away from danger, but as he does so his eyes remain trained downfield, and his left hand is glued to the football. This is teaching tape when it comes to the subtle art of pocket movement. Bridgewater remains at the ready to throw, and when Ginn breaks open, the ball is out:

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A thing of beauty.

Here is one more example of Bridgewater’s touch, and it comes against the Bears themselves. Midway through the fourth quarter of their Week 7 contest, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-4 near midfield. Bridgewater dropped to throw and faced pressure off the right edge, and once more he was tasked with balancing the tightrope of pocket evasion and downfield passing:

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This was a test that the veteran passer aced. Once again we see him evade pressure by flushing to his left, all the while keeping his eyes trained on the horizon to find a downfield target. That target appears in the form of Thomas, crossing the field from right to left, and Bridgewater drops in a perfect throw over the outstretched arms of a pair of defenders:

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Bridgewater can navigate the downfield throws, and the underneath throws, with a great balance of trajectory and velocity. He would certainly bring that to a table in Chicago.

Decisiveness

Now let’s talk a bit about the mental side. This season (and last season to be fair) we have spent a lot of time together talking about Trubisky’s mental approach to the position. Issues in that realm were perhaps highlighted when Chase Daniel stepped in against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this year, and the offense seemed to click when the ball was coming out on time and in rhythm.

That decisiveness within structure is something that Bridgewater could also bring on Day One.

Here is the first example, from the Saints’ Week 6 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Facing a third-and-13, New Orleans runs a “Pout,” or post/out, combination along the right side of the field:

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Jacksonville drops into a Cover 4 coverage scheme on this play, and this route combination is ideal to run against this defense. Usually what happens is the cornerback has to stay on the post route and the safety then becomes responsible for the deep out pattern, and the receiver has the leverage advantage on the break to the outside. Here, however, Jacksonville’s secondary exchanges the routes, and the cornerback peels off the post route to cover the out pattern and the safety rotates over to the post:

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If Bridgewater hesitates at all, he is throwing his tight end Josh Hill (#89) into danger. But because Bridgewater hits his drop depth and gets the ball out, the corner cannot rotate over in time:

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Decisiveness leads to big plays for an offense, and on this occasion the Saints convert a third-and-long.

Returning to the Bears game for a moment, Bridgewater again showed some quick thinking on this in-breaking route to Thomas from late in the second quarter:

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The QB gets the benefit of added information before the play, as pre-snap motion lets him know the Bears are in man coverage. He comes out of a play-action fake (with his back to the defense) firing on this route to Thomas working toward the middle of the field. Again, any hesitation from the quarterback here and the passing window is closed. 

The view from the end zone illustrates just how quick the process is from Bridgewater:

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The passer carries out the play fake and comes up throwing, without a hitch in his drop. Timing and decisiveness leading to a big gain for the offense.

We can return to the Tampa Bay game for one more example to close out the film portion of the proceedings. On this second-and-9 throw against the Buccaneers, Bridgewater not only shows decisiveness on the pass to tight end Jared Cook (#89), but we also see some of that feel for underneath defenders. Tampa Bay has a linebacker right in the throwing lane, so Bridgewater works the throw around him, leading Cook to safety:

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Linebacker Kevin Minter (#91) is right in the way of this route to the tight end, but Bridgewater puts this throw outside of the LB’s reach and toward the middle of the field, so Minter cannot make a play on the football.  If he waits to let Cook completely clear the underneath defender, Bridgewater’s patience will bring the safeties into play. Again, the decisiveness opens up big play opportunities for the offense. 

The Nagy Fit

As we discuss with quarterbacks each draft cycle, perhaps the most important piece of the evaluation process is the scheme fit. This was illustrated in my mailbag piece last week, when I relayed the lesson from former NFL scout Dan Hatman, about how NFL personnel rooms will differ - often vociferously - about a player’s potential fit in an offense. 

Bridgewater’s potential fit in a Nagy offense, however, seems to be pretty straight-forward. While there are really no such things as a pure “West Coast” or “Air Coryell” system these days, Sean Payton is a disciple of the Bill Walsh coaching tree, having coached alongside other West Coast minds such as Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan. While his offense has taken on a bit more of a vertical flavor over the past few years, the core components of such a system are still in place down in the bayou. 

Nagy’s system - or at least what it strives to be - is a West Coast system. Now that flavor may have been refined and altered over the past few years with Trubisky, but given Bridgewater’s decisiveness, the scheme fit seems to be ideal between the system and the potential new triggerman. 

Whether the Bears and Pace decide to move in this direction - and whether New Orleans would even let Bridgewater leave town - are questions to be answered in the offseason. But in terms of traits and fit, Bridgewater might be a very intriguing option for Chicago. 

 

Bears send former second-round TE Shaheen, special-teams stalwart McManis to IR

Posted on November 30, 2019 - 13:47:00

Bears impending FA McManis remains big asset, but Shaheen likely out of chances in Chicago

The Bears placed special-teams stud Sherrick McManis and second-round dud Adam Shaheen on season-ending injured reserve Saturday and signed free-agent OL Corey Levin and TE Eric Saubert to the 53-man roster.

Though the well-respected McManis, an impending free agent who turns 32 next month, could certainly be re-signed this offseason, it's fair to wonder whether Shaheen's disappointing tenure is over. The big "Y" tight end out of Ashland University rarely flashed the versatility and athleticism that compelled Ryan Pace to move down in Round 2 of the 2017 draft and spend the 45th overall selection on Shaheen to try and fortify one of the consistently weaker positions of the general manager's tenure.

Shaheen was rarely healthy with the Bears, suffering a chest injury in his rookie preseason and an ankle injury last summer, and when he was, the sporadic flashes of mismatch potential and ball skills on display in practice simply never transferred to the games.

Despite Shaheen being drafted for a different system one year prior to Matt Nagy's arrival, in many ways, he became the poster boy for the arrested development at one of the most critical positions in Nagy's offense, severely lacking this season.

Shaheen managed only 17 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown in 15 games under Nagy, with the ankle injury last preseason costing him the first half of 2018, failing to capitalize on improved health in a make-or-break 2019 after Pace said Shaheen was in "phenomenal shape" and his "arrow was still pointing up" this summer.

After trying to advance and fumbling a kickoff he was supposed to fall on late in the Week 10 loss to the Eagles, Shaheen was a healthy scratch in Week 10 before popping up on the injury report with an ankle injury and missing declared out for the past three games.

McManis, the Bears' longest-tenured player and one of the NFL's more consistent and established special teamers, suffered a groin injury in the Week 12 win vs. the New York Giants. After surprisingly being a healthy scratch in Weeks 2-3, McManis' return to the lineup coincided with the Bears' marked improvements in the third phase, where they've ascended from 26th last season to 11th in the NFL in Football Outsiders' DVOA efficiency.

The 25-year-old Saubert (6-foot-5, 253 pounds), who went to high school in Hoffman Estates before playing collegiately at Drake, was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft by the Atlanta Falcons, with whom he appeared in 31 games from 2017-18 and made catches for 48 yards.

Levin, 25, is a third-year vet from Tennessee-Chattanooga, making all 16 of his NFL appearances (including one start) with the Titans last season. He most recently was on the Denver Broncos roster.

Bears HC Nagy: 'I know Miller can be more detailed — and he will'

Posted on November 29, 2019 - 16:42:00

Is Anthony Miller the only one who can stop Anthony Miller?

No one came through in crunch time for Mitch Trubisky more than Anthony Miller on Thanksgiving.

The second-year receiver tracked down two monster third-down conversions past Lions high-priced nickel CB Justin Coleman on the game-winning drive, accounting for 67 of his career-high 140 receiving yards. Among Miller’s nine catches were two on the Bears’ other second-half TD drive, good for 20 and 12 yards.

“Those two catches and plays that he made with throws that Mitch made at that moment on third downs says a lot about who those guys are and how they’re growing together, Anthony and Mitch,” Matt Nagy told reporters Friday. “… Two big moments for those guys.”

After a quiet start to his sophomore campaign, Miller is on a three-game tear, amassing more than 55 percent of his production on the season. He’s showcased the explosive skill set the Bears gambled on last year when they traded a fourth- and 2019 second-rounder to New England to pluck Miller 51st overall.

Miller flashed outstanding competitive toughness as a rookie, battling through a chronic dislocated shoulder and torn labrum and still pacing the Bears with 7 receiving touchdowns. Yet he totaled only 33 catches for 423 yards (12.8 YPC) and at times struggled with his playbook and being a consistent pro.

Although Miller is up to 38-489 receiving after his banner Thanksgiving, Matt Nagy on Friday notably tread lightly in lavishing too much praise on his talented but volatile young receiver. Prior to his second-half eruption in Detroit, Miller lined up illegally coming out of a timeout and committed a key drop, continuing a troubling trend of costly mental lapses. Two weeks ago, he ran a route two yards too deep, contributing to a Trubisky interception. Earlier this season in London, Miller followed up an electric sequence of plays with back-to-back penalties for taunting and jumping offsides on a kickoff.

“Well, he’s getting more opportunities, for sure. Now, with all that said, right? We want to make sure that we’re still honing in on the details,” Nagy said. “And so, numbers-wise, he’s done a good job. But we can all still improve in some areas and he knows that. That’s [going to] be important here moving forward that make sure that regardless of a stat line, that we make sure that on every play we’re doing the right thing all the time.” 

He has shown the ability to ignite the Bears oft-lifeless offense like few others this season. Miller unfortunately has also proven to be the only person who can consistently slow down Anthony Miller. And he was very self-critical after the game regarding what he called “one of his worst” halves

“It says a lot. We just got the mentality of never quit,” Miller said. “We had [to] fight a lot of adversity today from penalties to drops to stuff like that. We feel like we can bounce back from anything.”

The Bears showed real resolve and upside in Detroit, even providing a tinge of hope that perhaps the season can be salvaged. But in the loaded NFC, the 6-6 Bears have no remaining margin of error. Miller is one of many responsible for the rocky operation on offense this season, but the spotlight is shining brightly on him on him after Thursday.

“We talk about Anthony and getting better at some details, but the thing I love about Anthony is he plays with extreme passion. And he’s ultra talented.

“… I know he can be more detailed and he will. I have all the trust in [WR] coach [Mike] Furrey and Allen Robinson being a great mentor. That’s what we’re striving for is perfection there in regards to details." 

Bears' goal is to have Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks back practicing when first eligible Sunday

Posted on November 29, 2019 - 13:37:00

"It's exciting when you get to this point," Nagy says of potentially welcoming Bears leader on 'D' back from IR

The Bears have clawed their way back to .500 with three wins in their past four games and fully understand they need all the help they can get in their unlikely bid to return to the postseason after last year’s division title campaign.

Chasing current NFC wild cards Seattle (9-2) and Minnesota (8-3), the 6-6 Bears could run the table against the division-leading Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and the Vikings over the final four games and still miss the playoffs. But if that were to happen, they’re hopeful they won’t be missing Pro Bowl DE Akiem Hicks for the majority of the final stretch, like they have in the past seven-plus games.

Hicks, who has been on injured reserve since dislocating his left elbow in the Week 5 loss in London to the Oakland Raiders, is eligible to resume practicing Sunday when the rest of the Bears first return following their Thanksgiving victory in Detroit. He’s first eligible to play again in Week 15 at Lambeau Field, and though Matt Nagy admits it’s still unclear whether the burly lineman can get through a full practice, never mind play in a game, the coach confirmed Friday that’s the goal.

“It’d be huge. Any time you have a guy that is the type of player he is, the type of leader he is, what he’s meant. I like the way he’s handled himself here in the last whatever it is, seven or eight weeks," Nagy told reporters Monday. "He’s done a great job at being around and being a great teammate and a leader and mentor to all these younger guys. It’s exciting when you get to this point. It does feel like forever ago, but hopefully we can get that moving forward.”

Hicks, who went to his first Pro Bowl last season, leads the Bears with 24 sacks and 39 tackles for loss since his 2016 arrival. And since suffering the grotesque injury when his left arm took the brunt of a collision with teammate Khalil Mack’s helmet at Tottenham Hotspur stadium, Mack and others have sorely missed the heart and soul of Chicago’s defense. Mack has only two sacks since then, and the Bears have tallied only 11 combined over the past two months, when they’ve allowed as many 100-yard rushers as they did in the previous 22 combined games.

Granted, the Bears ‘D’ remains in the top five in the NFL in points (4) and yards (5) allowed despite playing without Hicks since Week 5 and fellow defensive leader Danny Trevathan since Week 10. Still, welcoming back one of the best two-way D-lineman in the game obviously wouldn’t hurt as they gear up for the most difficult scheduling stretch, with the stakes at their highest this season.

“First of all, they understand, they’re aware of that. … I just think it’s a credit to our players for battling through what we’ve gone through because of what we’ve done, right?” Nagy said. “It’s putting ourselves in this position. But, to keep fighting, and that’s what I like most about it. That’s why last night felt so good in that locker room: because we understand that we’re continuing to fight. Is it perfect? No. Can we be better? Yes. We know we have our hands full the next coming games, but as long as we just hone in on the Dallas Cowboys at home — and we’ve been doing that all year — who knows? We’re in a position where we need help. But none of that matters if we don’t handle our business.”

What a catch: Bears undrafted rookie TE convert Horsted's story keeps getting better

Posted on November 29, 2019 - 12:00:00

Record-breaking Princeton receiver nearly pursued baseball before breaking through with Bears

Princeton’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns, Bears undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted is a tight end now — despite the fact that the official NFL game book including his first professional touchdown still lists him as a wide receiver.

Of course, the game book from Thanksgiving in Detroit, where the Bears rallied from a 10-point deficit with their season circling the drain for a 24-20 win, can’t capture what an incredible 18-yard touchdown it was, just as it can’t begin to illustrate what a remarkable story Horsted has become.

In his second career game and first-ever start, less than seven months after the 225-pound former Tigers wideout and leadoff-hitting centerfielder parlayed a rookie minicamp tryout into his first NFL contract — as a Bears tight end — Horsted’s spectacular lunging TD catch helped spark the best offensive output of the season.

A season in which Horsted — who’s now played 11 total snaps on offense — is tied not with Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen but fellow Ivy Leaguer Ben Braunecker for the TD lead among Bears tight ends … with 1.

“It was in slow motion and yet I don’t really remember what happened. I just remember looking the ball in my hands and rolling over so they couldn’t rip it out,” a jubilant Jester said from the winning locker room.  “… I knew I caught the ball but I want to go back and watch it. I knew it was a contested catch and I knew that there’s no way that ball was dropped. That’s all I can tell you.”

Throw a dart at a board listing all the Bears position groups on offense and you’re likely to land on a disappointment, but the TE corps is the only group with a former Super Bowl champion and his $32-million deal (Burton) on IR and a second-round bust seemingly buried in Matt Nagy’s dog