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.