The Bears Were Uncommonly Healthy and Will Have to Overcome Adversity to Succeed in 2019. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times describes how new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will receive more defensive support than he did as the head coach in in Indianapolis:

    “Pagano is less than two months into his new Bears job, but working for [general manager Ryan] Pace and [head coach Matt] Nagy must feel different already. Pace and Nagy over-communicate. The Colts, according to an ESPN report, hired psychologists to improve the strained relationship between Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson, who was fired after the 2016 season.”

    “[I]n Grigson’s five years with Pagano, the Colts drafted only two defensive players in the first two rounds, and both were major misses.”

    “The only pick made by Grigson who started last season for the Colts’ defense was safety Clayton Geathers. A fourth-round pick in 2015, Geathers does not have an interception in his career.”

    Yes, things will be different and there’s a lot of reason to believe that the Bears defense will continue to be very good next season.

    But you also can’t overlook the effect that Vic Fangio and his staff has in terms of developing players. That was an excellent staff and almost all of them are now gone. The big question now is can Pagano and the new staff continue that excellence.

    No matter how many first and second round picks he got to work with, the fact of the matter is that Pagano’s staff in Indianapolis didn’t do a good enough job for the team to succeed, at least defensively. Even the two high round picks he got turned into busts and coaching is a part of that.

    Success or failure of a team is a balance between talent and development and of the two, I’m not entirely sure development isn’t the bigger part. The NFL is not known as a coach’s league for nothing. Pagano has big shoes to fill.

  • Patrick Finley, also at the Chicago Sun-Times, talks about the possibility that the Bears will take a running back:

    “Whether he meant to or not, Penn State’s Miles Sanders successfully summarized the Bears’ running back debate Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    “Sanders, who met with the Bears late Tuesday, was asked about the team not drafting until No. 87 overall.

    ‘‘’They told me, maybe if I’m available, they might take a .?.?. they’re going to take a .?.?. they might take a running back,’ he said. ‘Because I don’t know the situation with Jordan Howard.’

    “That’s it right there. The Bears have made no secret of their desire for a versatile young running back to plug into coach Matt Nagy’s system. Whether that player serves as a complement to Howard next season — the last of Howard’s rookie deal — or replaces him altogether is another question.

    First I sympathized with the predicament that this poor prospect was in. You could almost read his mind: “Ummmm… they told me they were looking for running backs. But they might not want that out there. How am I going to answer this without lying.” The result was a somewhat confused effort to hide something we all know – the Bears have running back at or very near the top of their list.

    Sanders needn’t have worried. Nagy pretty much gave it away with talk about bringing in Kareem Hunt a long time ago. He obviously felt that he was hamstrung by the lack of a versatile back who could do it all. And its clear from Pace’s most recent comments that is how the Bears plan to correct the problem, at least in general terms. Via Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune:

    “’The creativity on offense, the variety on offense, we’re an exciting offense to watch,’ general manager Ryan Pace said. ’And we’ve got a lot of pieces that can do a lot of different things and that’s only going to grow in Year 2. Now from a personnel standpoint, do we need to add to that? Yeah. Do we want to get faster and more explosive? Yes. That’s our challenge.”’

    It will surprise no one who is reading this – the Bears need a special running back and they need a better blocking tight end who can run a route and catch a pass. If those two positions aren’t at the top of the list, it’s only because they found that they couldn’t re-sign cornerback Bryce Callahan and/or safety Adrian Amos.

  • Jahns addresses the Raiders loss of Khalil Mack in the context of the fact that the Raiders got only the #24 pick overall this year rather than a higher pick from the Bears. He makes an excellent point:

    “[Raiders general manager Mike] Mayock said this year has a strong class for edge rushers. He just has to the select the right one — or two — after [head coach Jon] Gruden parted with one of the league’s best last year.

    “Ohio State’s Nick Bosa is widely viewed as a candidate for the Cardinals’ first overall pick, but Kentucky’s Josh Allen could be available at No. 4.

    “Michigan’s Rashan Gary, Mississippi’s Montez Sweat, Florida’s Jachai Polite and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell are edge rushers who also are viewed as high-round picks.”

    This is an excellent point. Defensive line is the strength of the 2019 draft. Seven of the top 8 draft prospects from NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah are edge rushers or defensive linemen. Sports Illustrated has 16 going in the first round of one of their mock drafts.

    It would be hard to get a player as good as Mack is. But the Raiders have a good chance of hitting on a very good pass rusher to replace him. One who could perhaps still be a future star.

    The Bears should be happy with this trade no matter what. But I’m not inclined to pass final judgment on it from the Raiders perspective just yet.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune on the cap space that the Bears made available by restructuring Khalil Mack’s contract

    “It seems unlikely the Bears will make a splash addition… Former Seahawks running back Mike Davis figures to be featured prominently in the offense, and the space created by the bookkeeping could prove to be for a few more smaller moves and then for the operating space the team will require for the season. Keep in mind that an extension for center Cody Whitehair could become a business item general manager Ryan Pace attacks during the summer.”

    I think a lot of people are forgetting Whitehair. He is entering a contract year and, as the Bears’ best offensive lineman, they will try hard to lock him up later in the offseason. The guess here is that is where most of the cap space that they freed up goes.

  • Speaking of Davis, Dan Durkin at The Athletic did a nice job of describing some film of him to give Bears fans an idea of what the team got.

    “[Davis] gets defenders to commit to him, before sliding away to gain extra yards. This run also shows another standout trait — his contact balance, which has to do with his compact build and lower center of gravity at 5-foot-9 and 217 pounds.”

    I’m not thrilled with the acquisition of Davis, though I’m willing to wait and see what he looks like for the Bears. My impression is that he’s a lesser version of what Jordan Howard was in 2017. He’ll be tough to bring down with that low center of gravity and he’ll have better hands than Howard did. But his receiving skills look only average to me and he lacks speed.

    Davis looks like a Howard replacement, not the do it all Kareem Hunt-type that Nagy may really be seeking. They may only find that in the draft.

  • Biggs answers your questions.

    “What is keeping Adam Shaheen from ascending to become a more productive tight end? Speed? Agility? Strength? Technique? Toughness? Durability? Football Intelligence? — @rto58

    “Durability is the No. 1 issue right now. Shaheen was injured late in his rookie season shortly after his playing time was increased due to injuries to others at the position. Then, he lost the first half of his second season when he was injured in preseason in August. He’s got to get more time on the practice field and more game reps to improve. He’s never going to be a speed guy and comparisons to Rob Gronkowski have been wildly off base since Day 1. That doesn’t mean Shaheen cannot be a productive player for the Bears and right now, he’s in line for a much greater role after Dion Sims was released. The Bears will be leaning on Shaheen to give them more as a run blocker unless they go out and sign another Y tight end or draft one. It’s my belief the Bears liked Nick Boyle but knew the market was going to get too big for him for them to be involved. He wound up re-signing with the Ravens for three years at $6 million per season.”

    I’m pretty sure that the bears will be seeking help at tight end as well as running back in this draft. An I like what I see.

    Despite statements like this one from Mike Florio suggesting that people tune in to the NFL Combine just to watch workouts (i.e. the “Underwear Olympics”), most people really watch not so much for the drills as for the opportunity to hear what the experts have to say about the players. For most of us, this is our first introduction to most of them.

    Having said that, one of the sets of drills that I think are interesting to watch are the pass receiving drills for tight ends, running backs and defensive backs. The players at these positions will be expected to be able to catch passes in the NFL despite sometimes not being asked to do it much in college. It’s worthwhile just to watch guys and see if they are natural pass catchers or if they are fighting the ball all the way in as they catch it.

    To my eye, most of the bigger tight ends that the Bears will be looking for looked pretty good. Most of the mid-round-type running backs also looked better than I expected based upon the pre-combine comments from the experts. I think its going to be a good, deep draft at both of these positions.

  • Mark Potash at the Sun-Times on why what the Bears did in free agency won’t be that critical to the teams future success:

    “Regardless of what happens in free agency, the Bears’ chances of taking the next step in the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl are predicated on growth from within:

    “1. Mitch Trubisky and the offense parlaying a foundation year in 2018 into a quantum leap in 2019 — with or without running back Jordan Howard. The story lines of better communication, improved chemistry, reacting instead of thinking and Trubisky’s ability to read the defense instead of setting the offense will be over-written and tiresome by training camp. But nobody the Bears add on offense is going to change that scenario.

    2. The defense avoiding a significant drop-off — and potentially improving — in the transition from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano. Even without nickel back Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos, the Bears still have 10 starters returning on defense. And that includes four 25-and-under players who should be better in 2019 no matter who is coaching them: linebacker Roquan Smith (22), safety Eddie Jackson (25), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (25) and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (23 on Sept. 14).”

    This is all true enough but there’s one factor that has been typically overlooked. The Bears were uncommonly healthy last year. In fact, according the mangameslost.com, the Bears were the second healthiest team in the NFL behind only the Buffalo Bills in terms of games lost due to injury.

    That statistic is a little bit skewed because Mack played through some injuries during the year that severely hampered his play, including the playoff game against the Eagles. But it isn’t skewed that much.

    The Bears had a lot of things go right for them last year and the odds are very good that they’ll have more adversity to overcome this year. How they handle that will, as usual, determine more than anything how well they perform.

Elsewhere

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com passes on this nugget regarding Kyler Murray’s height. Specifically the fact that some scouts don’t believe it was an accurate measurement.

    “’I think that his height was inflated,’ an unnamed scout told Dan Patrick on Tuesday, and Dan relayed the story on the Wednesday edition of his show. ‘Maybe it’s the tin-foil hat theory. I just don’t see it. If he refuses to be measured at the Pro Day, that will be telling.”’

    If its a tin hat theory, then its going around because I’m wearing a similar one. The possibility that this number wasn’t accurate was the first thing I thought of when I heard the result. Murray was measures at 5’9-5/8” at Oklahoma. Suddenly he is half an inch taller, meaning that his college substantially under-estimated his height rather than inflating it as is the more standard procedure.

    I’m having a hard time with that.

  • Michael David Smith, also at profooballtalk.com, points out that if the New England Patriots trade for defensive tackle Michael Bennett, it could get awkward with new Pats defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano. Bennett had this to say about Schiano in 2013 when Bennett played for him in Tamp Bay:

    “I think he just wants to flex his power He has small [man’s] syndrome. I still talk to guys who are there, and trust me, there’s not much respect for him in that locker room.”

    Bennett also let it be known that he will be staying in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem this season:

    “’I explained to them is that my integrity mean everything,’ Bennett said, according to ESPN. ’I think they respect that about me, they respect who I am as an individual.’ ”

    Yeah, Bennett is an individual all right. Just like his brother Martellus, Michael is an individual to a fault.

    There’s a reason why Bennett will be going on the fourth team of his career (the Seahawks twice) and the third in three years. He’s an immature, high maintenance player who can be a hand full in the locker room. The Patriots are betting that they have the culture to tame Bennett but it says here that if he plays for them in 2019, he won’t be there in 2020. Talented as he is, New England could be his last stop.

  • According to a report from Barry Wilner at the Associated Press, the NFL teams are proposing major changes in replay and in overtime for the upcoming season. Most of the replay proposals to the NFL’s competition committee have suggested an increase in the number of plays subject to video review.

    I have never like the league’s procedures for replay and in my opinion this is a step in the wrong direction. The challenge system for review is hopelessly broken in part because NFL coaches are expected to do both their own job and that of the officials under the current rules.

    I really don’t care what sort of system the league implements but it should be one that relieves coaches the responsibility for cleaning up the mess created by poor calls. Personally, I favor an extra official in the booth who is responsible for deciding whether a play should be reviewed. And, of course, any on field official should also be allowed to request a review of a call they weren’t sure of.

  • This item from Florio explaining how badly the Steelers blew the way they handled Antonio Brown also caught my eye.

    “The Steelers got a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick for Antonio Brown. The Giants got a lot more than that for Odell Beckham Jr.

    “The reasons for the differences are obvious. First, the Steelers made it clear that they wanted to move on from Brown. The Giants, in contrast, insisted that they were keeping him. And the “we’ll keep him” posture often becomes the best leverage in trade talks.

    “Second, Antonio Brown embarked on a scorched earth/bleached ‘stache effort to get out of town. Beckham had engaged in no similar campaign to be traded.

    “It adds up to the Browns giving up a lot more to get Beckham (a one, a three, and Jabrill Peppers) than the Raiders gave up to get Brown, because the Giants were committed to perpetuating the ruse that under no circumstances would they trade him. The Giants played it the right way, and the Steelers simply didn’t”

    Florio’s point is well taken. But there is so much more to it than that. This was really a hard and cold lesson for the league in terms of how teas should handle disgruntled players.

    Pittsburgh’s problems started the minute head coach Mike Tomlin hit the stage after the Steeler’s week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals when he explained that Brown went AWOL before a contest with playoff implications. Instead of simply stating that Brown didn’t play because was hurt (he was) and that they would handle anything else that was abnormal about the situation internally, Tomlin devalued Brown with the less than tactful way that he handled the situation with the media.

    I don’t blame Tomlin for being angry and I don’t blame him for not playing Brown after receiving a phone call fro his agent the morning of the game. But there’s no way at that point you publicly degrade a player that you had to at least suspect was going to need to be traded in the offseason.

    The Steelers chose to play hard ball with Brown and it back fired. They should, instead, have buttoned up this entire situation. They should have met with Brown and his agent the minute it became evident that he wanted out and they should have promised a trade way before Brown went all Terrell Owens on them and did things that hurt both himself and the team.

    You can be sure that the next team that finds itself in this situation will handle it far differently. If they are smart.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment

The Tavon Young Signing Affects Any Bryce Callahan Negotiations and Other Points of View

Bears

  • This post from profootballtalk.com caught my eye as being peripherally Bear-related. It seems Indianapolis guard Quenton Nelson thought his technique deteriorated over the course of the season after being the sixth overall pick in last years draft. Colts senior assistant Howard Mudd relayed a conversation from Nelson where he expressed frustration with his technique.

    “’I happened to be in the room,’ Mudd recalled, ’and (Nelson) was saying, ‘I really feel like my technique has slipped, and I really don’t want that to happen. I was coached in college a certain way,’ … and he wants to be coached that way. He wants to be better. That’s not, gee coach, I want you to hear what I think you want to hear. He said that because he believes that.”’

    Nelson played for Notre Dame where he was coached by current Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Hiestand came with a reputation for coaching meticulous technique and Nelson evidently agrees. Evidently Colts head coach Frank Reich agreed that Colts offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo didn’t measure up to Hiestnad’s standard. DeGuglielmo was fired after the season and Chris Strausser and Mudd were hired to coach the group moving forward.

    The Bears are fortunate to have Hiestand who appears to be setting the standard for good offensive line coaching in the league.

  • Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic comments upon the restructure of Kyle Long’s contract:

    “Assuming the Bears find a way to extend Cody Whitehair’s contract before the season, they’ll head into 2019 with all five starters on the O-line under contract for multiple seasons. Guard still remains a position for Ryan Pace to monitor over the next couple months to add depth considering Long’s recent injury history, and the Bears can do that by bringing back Bryan Witzmann or Eric Kush, or acquiring a guard via the draft. “

    The Bears have limited resources but the guess here is that they’d like to find something better than Witzmann and Kush to back up the guard position.

    More importantly, Whitehair is only signed through the 2019 season after which he becomes a free agent. Whitehair might be the best offensive lineman they’ve got and extending him should be a priority. The Bears have limited cap space and the need to negotiate with Whitehair might have an effect on any decision to resign Adrian Amos or, especially, Bryce Callahan.

  • Speaking of Callahan, Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times reads my mind when it comes to the effect of an under the radar Baltimore signing on his odds of getting a big contract. He points out that the Ravens established a new market for nickel backs Thursday by signing Tavon Young to a three-year extension worth a reported $25.8 million, $13 million guaranteed. The average-per-year of the deal is more than Chris Harris Jr. and Aaron Colvin, and Callahan could be seeking a deal in that ballpark, or more. That might be more than the Bears want to pay given their needs and cap situation.
  • Fishbain doesn’t think that there will be much for the Bears to pay attention to on the field at the NFL Combine. He makes 14 points about how the Bears can use the Combine to get better.

    10. The combine is known for the on-field prospect testing, which begins Friday. Those previous nine points? Maybe a little more important for a Bears team without a pick until No. 87 overall.

    I disagree. The Bears are looking for running back help and the on field workouts will be critical to their evaluation because if they draft one, he’ll have to be able to catch the ball. Here’s what NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah had to say about the running backs that the Bears might find in their situation. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times

    “With no selections in the draft’s first two rounds, the Bears have limited resources to pursue upgrades to their 2019 roster. They could eye a pass-catching running back in Rounds 3-7, but, Jeremiah said, that might be difficult.

    “’As you can imagine, there’s not a lot there,” he said. “These guys don’t catch a lot of balls.”’

    Exactly.

    How these running backs look in pass catching drills will be critical to their odds of being drafted by the Bears. And its even more important for the bigger tight ends of the type that the Bears might be looking for.

    If the player looks fluid and comfortable with good hands and some natural pass catching ability, he’s got a chance. Otherwise, probably not. I expect the Bears will be watching closer than usually during these drills this year.

Elsewhere

  • Bob Costas is making it known that he’s being blackballed by the NFL. Via Cindy Boren at the Washington Post answers your questions:

    “A year after Bob Costas was conspicuous by his absence from NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII, the longtime face of the network’s sports telecasts explained that he was told “you’ve crossed the line” with commentary about the NFL.

    “I remember being told that now I can no longer host the Super Bowl,” Costas, who parted amicably with the network after 40 years, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” “I think the words were, ’You’ve crossed the line’ and my thought was, ‘What line have I crossed?’”

    “It’s a line that isn’t clearly defined, but the NFL is a ratings behemoth and likes to refer to networks as ’broadcast partners. Over the last few years, Costas had moved from being the genial host of the network’s biggest sports event to someone who offered brief snippets of commentary and he quickly was subjected to an unaccustomed barrage of criticism for speaking up about long-term cognitive issues that can develop after playing football, gun control, the national anthem controversy and the Redskins’ name. He had referred to football as ’unacceptably brutal’ and a sport that ’destroys people’s brains,’ likening it to ’Russian roulette.’ The reality, he said in a 2017 Shirley Povich Symposium at the University of Maryland, ’is that this sport destroys people’s brains.”’

    Boren’s expansion in the last paragraph pretty much says it all in this situation. The line that Costas frequently crosses is, indeed, a fine one. It separates “critic” from “self-righteous”. It’s a line that we all sometimes cross, I think, but Costas has turned it into a habit.

    Costas defines himself as a journalist, which is fine. The problem is that he does it by treating sports like world peace depends upon defending its dignity. It leads to inflammatory language such as that above addressing the NFL’s concussion problem. It’s this tendency that turns off not just the NFL but those of us who are just watching for a little entertainment, not what amounts to something akin to a political tirade.

    My guess is that we have seen the last of Costas on any major network for any sport, not just the NFL.

  • I found this column by Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post both advocating for a second chance for Kareem Hunt and criticizing the NFL for giving him one wildly inconsistent.

    I won’t give this too much time except to say that this was a poorly thought out piece that looked like it was supposed to be about Hunt but which Jenkins couldn’t resist using to take a shot a the NFL no matter how it conflicted with her point.

    For the record, I think Hunt is an animal who doesn’t “deserve” a second chance at anything not guaranteed him under the law.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment

Bears Should Be Uneasy About Amukamara’s Late Season Performance. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reviews the cornerback position as the Bears enter the off-season:

    “[Prince] Amukamara set a bold goal of 10 interceptions before the season, and while that didn’t happen, he played with confidence after going through a contract season each of the previous three years. Having some security allowed him to just go out and play. He had a pick-six in the Week 2 victory over the Seahawks and added interceptions against the Lions and Rams. Amukamara had 66 tackles to lead the position and three tackles for a loss with two forced fumbles. The passer rating against him was 82.9, and he tied for 19th in the NFL with 83 targets, per [Pro Football Focus].”

    Amukamara had a good year but I fear that he was exposed a little bit in the last few games. He had 7 pass interference or defensive holding calls against him. All came in the second half of the season including one playoff game. Three came in the last two games against the Vikings and the Eagles.

    Having just signed a 3 year contract last offseason with $18 million guaranteed, Amukamara isn’t going anywhere but the Bears have to be at least a little worried that teams were trying to take advantage of Amukamara more as the season wore on and as teams adjusted to what they had going on defense. Add the fact that they might seek a replacement for Bryce Callahan at nickel cornerback rather than investing significantly more cap space into the position and this is one of the few areas of uncertainty for the Bears this offseason. It will be interesting to see what general manager Ryan Pace decides to do at the position.

  • Biggs also answers your questions:

    “Do you think Ryan Pace would sign Matt Nagy to a healthy contract to keep him around for a long time? — @flowersdevonte

    “Nagy has a healthy contract right now, one that runs for four more seasons through 2022. He’s not anywhere close to becoming a coaching free agent. The Bears actually signed Nagy to a contract that runs one year longer than Pace’s deal. I wouldn’t have any concern. If the Bears continue to be successful, I fully expect them to take the steps necessary to retain Nagy. I would be surprised if the team contemplated a new deal for Nagy until he has two years remaining on the current contract. There is a lot of football to be played between now and then, but coming off a successful 12-4 season when Nagy was named Coach of the Year, I can understand why you would broach the topic.”

    As do I. But I agree that there’s no rush here.

    There are a lot of coaches around the league that have a lot of success their first year. Adam Gase in Miami won 10 games and made the playoffs as a rookie head coach. The team fell back into mediocrity after that and he no longer has a job there.

    Nagy did a great job and making the playoffs was a huge accomplishment. But he’s an offensive head coach and, let’s face it, the offense wasn’t up to snuff the second half of the season.

    Some of that was being conservative by design to not put your number one rated defense in a bad spot with turnovers. But some of it was the not yet fully implemented scheme run by a not yet fully developed quarterback.

    Add the uncertainty that comes with a new defensive coordinator for that defense and no one can really be sure what’s going to happen.

    I’m optimistic that the new regime will do well. But if it was my money I’d want to see more before I shelled out a lot more of it unnecessarily.

  • Biggs answers another one:

    “Is pass rusher a high offseason priority given the lack of depth behind Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd? — @schechschech10

    “From the standpoint that no team ever looks at its depth chart of pass rushers and says, ’We’re good here,’ sure, it will be a priority. But very few teams have a pass rusher with the talent of Mack. They’re not going to go out and pay another pass rusher. They’ve got a ton of resources invested in that area. Will they always be looking for players to push for a spot on the roster? Absolutely. Maybe they look to bring back Aaron Lynch or seek a replacement for a role player. But it’s not going to be a greater priority than that.”

    I don’t think many people are going to agree with me here but I’m going to continue to insist that the Bears depth at pass rusher isn’t that bad. One of the first signs of improvement I noticed in 2018 was the play of the younger pass rushers and defensive linemen during the preseason.

    Are they guys who are going to be spectacular and replace the production of a Khalil Mack if he’s injured? No, of course not. But Sam Acho is adequate and players like Isaiah Irving and Kylie Fitts look to me like they could hold their own and give average production if they had to play. In other words, they’re good back ups. And it’s important to know that these players are still getting better and could take the next step if given the chance.

  • And yet another one:

    “One of the Patriots’ best and most consistent, yet unsung, players over the past few years has been left guard Joe Thuney. He put on a clinic in the Super Bowl. Aaron Donald lined up over him initially, then Donald was moved to the left side of the line. What a testament. Thuney was drafted in the third round the same year Cody Whitehair was taken in the second. Do you see any chance the Patriots let him become an unrestricted free agent after next year and could he potentially sign with the Bears? I don’t see Kyle Long around much longer and I think Thuney could be a great pickup. — Terry M., Hawthorn Woods, Ill.

    Thuney has been a terrific young player for the Patriots and it’s hard to imagine them not at least working to extend him before the start of next season. If Thuney remains healthy and does reach the open market 13 months from now, he’ll likely command a huge payday. You might not see Long around much longer, but I don’t know if I see the Bears going big for a guard in free agency. It’s one thing to pay a guard big money that you’ve drafted, developed and used on a cost-controlled rookie contract. It’s another thing to pay the kind of premium required to sign a player at the outset of free agency, especially at guard.”

    A couple things here.

    1. Thuney is a very good guard. But make no mistake, the Patriots stopped Donald because they double teamed him virtually every play. Thuney had a lot of help and if the Rams moved Donald to the left side, its only because they thought tackle Ndamukong Suh might have a better chance against him one-on-one.
    2. The Bears are getting to the point where they have to keep an eye on their cap. Eventually they are going to have to pay quarterback Mitch Trubisky and that won’t be cheap. They are gong to have to ask themselves how much money they want to invest in the offensive line. Charles Leno and now Bobby Massie are on reasonable deals but they are gong to want to keep Whitehair, who is probably the best of the bunch, and he might not be so easy to sign. I’m not so sure the Bears jump into a signing on the offensive line any time soon.
  • Rich Campbell, also at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Browns have signed Kareem Hunt, ending speculation that he might be headed to the Bears:

    “[Browns general manager John] Dorsey released a 245-word statement as part of the Browns’ announcement of the signing. He acknowledged the complexity of questions about signing Hunt but cited his relationship with Hunt in explaining the decision that ’he deserves a second chance.’

    “Said Dorsey: ’There were two important factors: One is that Kareem took full responsibility for his egregious actions and showed true remorse, and secondly, just as importantly, he is undergoing and is committed to necessary professional treatment and a plan that has been clearly laid out.”’

    Hmmmm… he took full responsibility, eh? Like when he lied to the Chiefs about the incident and only came clean after video of the incident came out and he knew the jig was up?

    Hunt strikes me as being similar to many athletes in situations like this such as Ray McDonald, who was briefly a Bear before once again finding himself in trouble for allegedly attacking a woman. He’s a con man who has grown up as an athlete who people believed because they wanted to believe him.

    Hunt is a talented running back. People who want talented running backs on their team are apt to believe that he “took full responsibility for his actions” even though the evidence clearly shows that was not the case until he could no longer deny his guilt.

    Let’s tell this like it is. This wasn’t a Ray Rice situation where an instant of anger led to a fist being thrown faster than the brain could catch up. The video showed Hunt as an out of control animal who attacked this woman like a mad dog for almost two minutes.

    Professional help or not, Hunt is a ticking time bomb who is just waiting to explode again.

    Knowing this, signing players like this puts fans in a terrible position. You want to root for your team. But how do you do it knowing that they signed such a player? To this day, I can’t watch Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger without visions of a college girl being raped in the back room of a bar in Georgia. Having to watch players like this prevents fans from fully enjoying what should be an entertaining experience.

    Thanks heavens the Bears didn’t sign Hunt. They and their fans are better off without him and his ilk.

  • Biggs answers another question:

    “What was the deal with Taquan Mizzell taking snaps away from Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen? — @jgrythefireguy

    There have been multiple questions about this, and while I agree it seemed Mizzell was forced onto the field a little bit in the second half of the season, we’re talking about a very small percentage of plays. Mizzell was on the field for 66 offensive snaps over the final nine regular-season games. He was the only running back on the field for a total of 18 snaps. He was on the field with Cohen for 28 snaps (nearly half of the 66), so it’s not like he took a lot of playing time from him. Mizzell was on the field with Cohen and Howard for 16 snaps. Howard and Mizzell were on the field together for two snaps. Mizzell was on the field with fellow running back Benny Cunningham for one snap, and on one snap Mizzell, Cohen and Cunningham were all on the field. Mizzell got a total of nine carries and was targeted with 10 passes, catching eight of them. So I don’t think there’s a lot here. He didn’t really take many snaps away from the other backs and he certainly didn’t take many touches from them. Mizzell was performing well in practice and coach Matt Nagy wanted to create some game opportunities for him.”

    To me the insistence on playing Mizzell was an indication of Matt Nagy’s dissatisfaction with the running back position.

    Howard was obviously slower, with less burst and, at least early in the season, poor vision. To me he looked hurt but there are no reports indicating that was the case.

    Cohen is a nice little back who can make plays but his size is occasionally a liability.

    Together the two made for a “thunder and lightning” combination that could be valuable but there were definite limitations to each that Mizzell, who was putatively more of a “do it all” back, would have alleviated had he been better. For example, Biggs continues in a later article as he quotes a scout on what the Bears might find in this area in the third round of the draft:

    “If you are taking a third-round or a fourth-round guy, it’s not going to be an elite player necessarily but someone who has a complete skill set. Jordan doesn’t have that. He can’t run routes. He can’t catch. So they don’t have to be elite; they have to be complete.”

    I agree that Mizzell was not good enough to fill this role or that of a return man, which the Bears briefly positioned him as.

    Like Biggs, I’m quite sure the running back position and, probably, the tight end position are at the top of general manager Ryan Pace’s list of positions to revamp.

  • Dan Durkin had this interesting comment for The Athletic regarding Mitch Trubisky’s contractual future:

    “[The Bears] have the luxury of Mitch Trubisky being on a rookie deal through the 2020 season. Keep in mind that the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) also expires in 2020. So it’s possible that fifth-year option — a protection afforded to teams to retain first-round picks for a fifth season after their rookie deals expire — could be eliminated in 2021 if the players association (NFLPA) pushes for an end to the provision when negotiations for the next CBA commence. That will be an interesting aspect to monitor for the Bears.”

    Indeed it will.

    Durkin’s comment is an uneasy reminder that the CBA is coming to an end and with that comes a lot of uncertainty. If Trubisky turns out to be a top ten quarterback, that uncertainty for the Bears will be many times higher than usual.

    Assuming he continues to develop, the Bears could push for a Trubisky signing after 2019. It would be unusual given the current fifth year option which would ordinarily secure Trubisky through 2021 but, as Durkin says, if the next CBA doesn’t have it, Trubisky is an unrestricted free agent after 2020 when the Bears would normally be thinking about negotiating an extension.

  • Biggs also had a comment some time ago about some of the things the Bears did on offense in the playoff loss to the Eagles. I never got around to commenting on it.

    “I didn’t care for the two-point conversion call. Send outside linebacker Khalil Mack in motion on another gadget play with offensive lineman Bradley Sowell lined up in the backfield and then try a shovel pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, maybe the skill position player least likely to break a tackle for an extra half-yard in the sea of humanity in the middle of the line? Sure, it’s easy to second guess a play call that doesn’t work, and the Bears have been so good with unconventional stuff at the goalline, but it’s a different situation if the Bears are leading 17-10 with 9:04 remaining. Much different.”

    I was amused to find out from a friend in Green Bay that Packer fans were up in arms about the Bears use of gadget plays. They seemed to think the Bears were doing it because they are arrogant. This was their reason for wanting to beat the Bears so badly at home at the end of the season. As if they needed an excuse.

    I don’t think the Bears are running these plays because they are arrogant. Nor do I think the reason most fans and media give, that they are “fun” is the primary reason. I think its because its just really hard to score in the red zone and the closer you get, the harder it becomes.

    The Bears didn’t really have a red zone weapon, a big receiver that they could depend upon to reliably beat a defensive back one on one in a short field. I also don’t think that some of the throws that are required to make those plays work are Trubisky’s forte.

    So the Bears went to those gadget plays not out of arrogance but out of desperation. It was an indication of yet another limitation to their offense and was yet another reason why tight end is probably high on their list of wants.

    Elsewhere

  • Bucky Brooks at NFL.com thinks the Arizona Cardinals should trade away Josh Rosen and pick Kyler Murray in the draft:

    “’Josh (Rosen) is our guy.’ – Kliff Kingsbury, Feb. 12

    “The Cardinals’ new head coach has told the football world that Rosen is the team’s QB1 for the future, but it is hard to ignore the dot connecting that could put Oklahoma standout Kyler Murray in the desert on draft night. In fact, I believe the opportunity to put Murray in a system designed to elevate playmakers should prompt the Cardinals to trade away the franchise quarterback they selected 10th overall last spring.”

    “’Kyler, I mean, he’s a freak, man,’ Kingsbury said in October, per KLBK-TV’s Eric Kelly. ’… Kyler is a freak. I’ve followed him since he was a sophomore in high school. Just think the world of him and what he can do on a football field. I’ve never seen one better in high school and he’s starting to show it now at the college level. I don’t have enough good things to say about him. He’s phenomenal.

    “’… I would take him with the first pick of the draft if I could.’

    “As it turns out, Kingsbury will have the chance to do exactly that, as Arizona holds the No. 1 overall pick.”

    “’Our feelings toward Josh haven’t waned or changed,’ Kingsbury said. ’I get that we have the first pick and there are going to be a million scenarios, and over the next three months they are going to come up. But Josh is our guy.’”

    “Hmmm. I would love to believe the Cardinals’ coach, but Murray’s skills are a perfect match for the team’s new system.”

    A couple things here:

    1. In my opinion, you absolutely don’t take Murray with the first overall pick.

      Yes, I know that Kingsbury effused that he would take Murray with that pick as the Texas Tech coach. But it was easy to say that then and, as Brooks points out later in the article, people can’t always be taken literally when commenting on such things as an opposing college coach. They are expected to exaggerate.

      More to the point, where you take a player in the draft has little to do with where you think he should go and it has everything to do with where other teams will take him. Murray is almost certainly less than 5’10” and has yet to show that he can throw from the pocket. He’s a risk that you don’t take with a top five pick. if you want him, you find a way to trade down and then take him.

    2. Its possible that Kingsbury is smart enough to understand what he’s got in Rosen.

      People like to think that getting a franchise quarterback is just a matter of choosing the right guy. In my opinion, they couldn’t be more wrong. It about developing the right guy. That means good coaching at the very minimum.

      Rosen had a miserable year but he was on a miserable team with a defensive head coach who had no clue how to develop him. Whether Kingsbury has a clue remains to be seen. It seems evident to me that as the need for quarterbacks has become more acute, the NFL has gotten better at developing them with some very good young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Mitch Trubisky, and Deshaun Watson coming to the fore in recent years. But either way Arizona is still going to be a bad team and probably a bad situation.

      Rosen is a classic NFL quarterback. He’s got the size and physical ability. He’s accurate and by all accounts he’s smart. He simply hasn’t had a chance to show what he’s capable of. If he is traded, here’s hoping its to a team that can fully develop him and utilize his talents to give him the best chance to succeed.

  • Having said that, I was intrigued by these comments regarding Murray that came via Peter King at profootballtalk.com:

    “’What percentage of the time,’ I asked Oklahoma coach and Murray mentor Lincoln Riley the other day, ’would you guess Kyler threw from the pocket this year?’

    “Riley thought for a few seconds.

    “’Eighty-five percent?’ Riley said. ’Ninety, maybe.’

    “Think of how amazing that is — a short quarterback who runs like a greyhound, and Riley called a similar percentage of designed passes from the pocket as many NFL teams with classic dropback passers would. Think of how the game has changed from a decade ago, when a fleet and smallish quarterback would basically be an option quarterback playing the game on the edges. Not Riley. Not with Murray. His runs? Mostly designed runs to takes advantage of a player with Vick-type tools.”

    A lot of those throws were quick hitters and running an NFL offense where you frequently have to stand tall while the pocket collapses around you is quite a bit of a different story.

    Having said that, it’s clear that Murray is a different kettle of fish when compared, for instance, to Johnny Manziel. Manziel not only didn’t show that he could throw from the pocket in college, it was proven conclusively that he couldn’t as the teams that beat Texas A&M his last year with the team were the ones that kept him there.

    Murray could prove to be one of those rare athletes like Russell Wilson who can overcome his lack of size to succeed in the NFL. Murray is shorter than Wilson and has more of an uphill battle. But you can see why a team might pick him in the top ten. Indeed, Brooks has Murray as his #6 overall prospect which, for a quarterback, means top 5 pick.

    Where Murray is selected is going to be one of the more interesting draft stories in years. I’m looking forward to seeing him at the combine.

  • Brooks also quotes offensive coordinator Greg Roman on some some of the things that Baltimore has to do to get the most out of quarterback Lamar Jackson now that they have traded Joe Flacco to the Broncos and made him the unambiguous starter.

    “’We’ve got to develop a strong passing attack,’ Roman said. ’Lamar’s got to develop and everybody around him has got to get better in that area. Obviously, there will be more emphasis on that.’”

    “’Everybody wants you to have to fight left-handed. The best thing we can do is be able to fight with both hands. We want to be able to run it and pass it. There will definitely be more of a balance there. That’s how you win – that’s what makes it sustainable.’”

    Jackson is problematic because he lacks arm strength and he’s not always very accurate, particularly outside the numbers. Though he had some good throws over the middle in the intermediate range in 2018, his weaknesses showed and will likely continue to be a problem as the Ravens work to build a power running game to counter the game plan with 7 defensive backs that the Chargers used to beat them in their AFC Wild Card game.

    Teams will undoubtedly do what they can to take the middle of the field away from Jackson and, as Brooks points out, a strong running team needs to be able to complete deep throws when they do pass the ball to get chunks of yardage. Whether Jackson has the arm to take advantage of a good play action passing game will be an open question until he proves he can do it.

  • Antonio Brown has reportedly asked for a trade.

    Personally if I’m a football fan I don’t want this guy anywhere near my team.

    Frankly, I don’t understand him. He’s got a lucrative contract and this doesn’t appear to be about money. When he’s asked to explain his problem he’s all over the place. Take this response when he was asked to explain his strained relationship with Ben Roethlisberger:

    “No conflict just a matter of respect!. Mutual respect! He has a owner mentality like he can call out anybody including coaches. Players know but they can’t say anything about it otherwise they meal ticket gone. It’s a dirty game within a game.”

    The best I can tell he just doesn’t like criticism and doesn’t like having to work as part of a team. He reminds me a little bit of former Chicago Bear Martellus Bennett.

    Wide receivers in general tend to be head cases, I think. But Brown seems to take it to a whole new level.

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com takes a team-by-team look at potential 2019 tag candidates:

    “Eagles: The team reportedly is considering the use of the franchise tag on Nick Foles, with an eye toward trading him. Although this approach would violate the CBA, Foles seems to be OK with it — possibly because his agents already know that he wouldn’t get on the open market a long-term contract worth more per year than the franchise tag will pay.”

    I would agree with this. My gut tells me that the payday for Nick Foles might not be what many people believe it will be.

    For one thing, you need at least two teams to drive the price up for Foles. Right now, the only team that currently makes sense for him is Jacksonville.

    But the major reason has to do with Foles’ performance, itself. He struggled for years with the Rams, admittedly under a defensive coach with a stagnant offense. But Foles wasn’t good in those years and really hasn’t been good anywhere but Philadelphia. The fear is that you end up signing a Case Keenum, who had one good year with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, cashed in big with the Denver Broncos in the offseason, then reverted back to under-perform in 2018.

    Admittedly, Foles has come up big at the tail end of not one, but two seasons in a row now. But its what he did at the beginning of the 2018 season when subbing in for Carson Wentz that would worry me if I were considering him as a signing. Foles wasn’t impressive. In particular, his 50.7 passer rating against the Falcons in the first game of the year sticks in my mind and makes me wonder if his days as a sub-par quarterback will always be limited to those with the Rams.

    Admittedly it was only two games. But I would hesitate to commit too much to Foles right now.

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The Bears Will Need to Be More Aggressive Offensively Next Season. And Other Points of View.

  • The Bears signed Bobby Massie to a four-year contract extension, preventing him from entering unrestricted free agency. The deal is reportedly worth more than $8 million per year. That’s a pretty good price for a solid right tackle in today’s NFL so Massie must have wanted to stay in Chicago.

    Massie did a good job this year but I did wonder if the Bears were going to try to save some money by giving Rashaad Coward a shot at the right tackle job. Coward is a converted defensive line and and, though I’m sure the Bears like his future, he’s probably not ready to start, yet. He could be good depth though, probably on both sides, and it will be interesting to see how he does when he gets his chance to perform.

  • Ryan Wilson at CBS sports thought quarterback Drew Lock showed well at the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama on Saturday.

    “And while [Daniel] Jones gets the MVP hardware, those watching know that Lock was the real star. He started the game and was composed from the first snap when he rolled right only to find Montez Sweat in his face, made an arm-angle adjustment to find McLaurin for a 12-yard gain. First down. Two plays later Lock pump-faked the defense out of position and came back to NC State’s Jakobi Meyers across the middle, but Meyers couldn’t hang on.

    “A series later and facing fourth-and-4, Lock rolled right and found Isabella for an eight-yard gain. It was poised, effortless – and something an NFL quarterback is expected to do. But it was the pass on second-and-10 from the South’s 26 that we’ll remember most.

    “Yes, that’s an incompletion but Lock put it the only place he could and McLaurin couldn’t come up with it. That’s the throw scouts will be talking about.”

    So let me say up front that I’m a proud University of Missouri alumnus.

    Having said that, I love what I’ve been seeing from Drew Lock. He did, indeed, look good in the Senior Bowl. Missouri switched to a pro style offense this year and by the end of the year Lock looked pretty good in it to my eye.

    I didn’t’ feel the same way about Blaine Gabbert or Chase Daniel when they came out. Both are from Missouri. So I think this is different.

    Lock may be the quarterback to keep an eye on as we roll towards the draft. These quarterbacks tend to fly up the boards the closer you get and he could be the one that catches the most attention.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

    “I understand Cody Parkey’s season was disappointing, but Mason Crosby had disappointing seasons in the past and the Packers kept him. Could this season be an anomaly for Parkey, and could the Bears look at how the Packers kept Crosby? Especially since the free-agent kickers available are bottom heavy. — John K., Parts Unknown

    “The difference between Crosby and Parkey is huge, though. Crosby had a solid reputation in Green Bay and had earned the trust of general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy. Parkey was given trust by the Bears by virtue of the $9 million guarantee in his contract. He didn’t earn it. That trust has been lost. I don’t see a scenario in which the Bears bring back Parkey.”

    I could be way off base here but I’m not so sure that Parkey doesn’t kick for the Bears next year. Yes, I know, the Today Show appearance by Parkey just days after blowing the potential game winning field goal against Philadelphia wasn’t a good look. But as Biggs himself has pointed out, its about performance on the field. Unless you are talking about a guy who did something that will take him off the field, its practically irrelevant.

    Yes, Parkey had a miserable year. He missed 11 kicks. But six of those actually hit the upright, inches from being good kicks.

    I was all in favor of getting rid of Robbie Gould at the time the Bears released him. He was obviously high maintenance and I had never warmed to his almost constant media presence (at least as kickers go). But I dislike missed kicks more than I dislike Gould and the position has been a disaster since he left while he has performed well elsewhere.

    Let’s just say that I don’t want to look back 2 years from now and know that Parkey got together with a good kicking coach like John Carney made a few minor adjustments and became a very good kicker elsewhere.

    As the questioner above implies, the Bears may be better off keeping Parkey into training camp and letting the best guy win. If Parkey performs well, I think all can be forgiven with the team. The worst thing you can do in this situation is let things that don’t really matter take precedence over performance.

  • Biggs answers another question:

    “What are the chances Matt Nagy gives up play-calling duties next year? When he looks back on his first year as head coach, do you think he will see some of the mistakes as rookie-head-coach mistakes or having too much to do? Mainly thinking about game management. — @adamdcharlton

    I’d say there is little to no chance Nagy hands off play-calling duties to anyone on his staff, and I think doing so would be a mistake. Nagy’s offensive vision is one of his strengths, and the Bears reaped the benefits this season as they went from 29th in the league with 16.5 points per game to ninth with 26.3. That’s quite a jump in one year, and there is reason to believe the offense will be more potent in Year 2.”

    “..Was he perfect with game management? No. There surely are some things he’d like to do differently. Some of those situations may be rookie mistakes as you call them. But I don’t think the Bears had glaring issues with game management, and as I have written before, when you’re simply viewing the game and not processing tons of information on the fly as a coach, it’s a lot easier to make snap decisions.”

    I’d suggest that Nagy put a coach in the booth to advise him on some of those snap decisions, particularly those involving clock management. I don’t think Nagy was horrible with this but I think he is distracted and it might help to have someone else thinking these things through with a clear head.

  • Biggs answers yet another one:

    “I recall some excitement about Jonathan Bullard when the Bears drafted him a few years ago, but I don’t remember seeing Bullard having much of an impact this year. Should we be resigned to the fact that he is just a rotational guy and not an impact player? Or is he doing things on defense the casual fan doesn’t see? — Rich S., Barrington

    “Bullard hasn’t panned out quite like the Bears hoped he would. He is a rotational player and was on the field for 28 percent of the snaps this season. Bullard would probably would be best in a 3-4 scheme. He can help them a bit, but as a third-round pick, it’s probably fair to say he’s been a bit of a disappointment. Entering the final year of his contract, maybe the Bears will get more out of him in 2019.”

    I’m going to mildly disagree with Biggs on this one. Although Roy Robertson-Harris out performed him, I thought Bullard made some progress this year.

    In watching him, along with Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols, Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving in training camp, my impression was that the Bears had more depth on defense than I had thought back in early July. That depth wasn’t tested as the Bears remained extremely healthy. During the season defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was obviously very hesitant to take Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd off the field and when he did, veteran Aaron Lynch was the first off the bench. As Biggs points out, the defensive ends got more time but only on a rotational basis.

    Nevertheless, I’m going to say that it would have been very interesting to see what some of these guys could have done given the chance. My guess is that for the most part they would have all been solid but not spectacular performers. That wouldn’t make Bullard a great pick but it wouldn’t make him a bad one, either.

  • In reading through this fluffy interview with former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher at the Pro Bowl, one response stood out to me:

    “[Q:] What did you want from your quarterback being on the other side of the ball?

    “[A:] Don’t turn the ball over. Simple. Don’t turn the ball over. Take care of the football. Convert some third downs. And protect the ball. The No. 1 thing for us was always: Don’t put us in bad positions. If the quarterback and the offense could do that, we were happy. We could tolerate being put on a short field every once in a while.”

    I totally get this. And its very evident that Nagy got it during the year as well. But I’m not sure its the right attitude for the team overall.

    As the year wore on, Nagy got more and more conservative with his play calling, particularly as opponents played more and more zone defense to prevent the big play against the Bears. Nagy has the NFL’s #1 defense and he didn’t want to turn the ball over and put them in a bad spot.

    The problem is that football is a game of aggression and it has to be played aggressively. This is especially true against good teams like the Eagles. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Mitch Trubisky after that game but the truth is, Trubisky’s hands were tied. He was forced to embrace the role of game manager because that’s what the team wanted.

    To be frank, the Bears flat out had a better team than the Eagles did. But Nagy played it close to the vest offensively and let them hang around. That’s really why it came down to one missed field goal.

    Next year we should all hope Nagy chooses to play aggressively and attacks on both sides of the ball. Its the only way that the team will really play up to its potential.

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Mitch Trubisky Is Just Fine the Way He Is

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes Mitch Trubisky as he addresses the inevitable comparisons between himself and Patrick Mahomes:

“But even as Mahomes has surged ahead as the consensus best quarterback from that 2017 class, Trubisky makes it clear he’s trying not to get caught up in an ill-advised chase or a competition that doesn’t really exist.

’I learned that isn’t something that’s ever going to help you, when you measure against other people,’ Trubisky said. ’Just measure against yourself. If you stay locked in and try to be the best you can possibly be, that’s when you’ll have the most success. But if you get caught up in the comparisons, that’s when you get distracted and you’re not as focused as you should be.’”

This sounds like the right attitude and it is certainly one that fans and media should emulate as they examine Trubisky’s performance.

I’ve heard a lot of talk, mostly outside of Chicago, criticizing Bears general manager Ryan Pace for taking Trubisky before Mahomes. This is total nonsense.

For one thing, Trubisky isn’t done developing. Most of those people haven’t actually studied Trubisky on a week-to-week basis. If they had, they would have seen very steady growth over the course of the year.

“’Nobody truly knows how far that kid’s come this year more than me,” [Bears head coach Matt] Nagy said. “I’m looking forward to the future because the city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback.

“We threw a lot at him early on. We threw a bunch at him, and he didn’t really have a big library into seeing a bunch of different defenses. So he was trying to learn our offense and then pair it up with the defenses he was going to see. And some defensive coordinators, they did a good job of throwing a bunch of different stuff at us this year, so we got to see a lot of different things. And what he did was early in the year, it was maybe a next play, ‘Hey, let’s forget that,’ and he grew there. So he got better in regards to (forgetting) about what just happened the previous play.”

And Trubisky is very likely nowhere near finished growing.

Will he ever be as good as Mahomes? As of now, I kind of doubt it. I’ve never seen a quarterback be so physically gifted and so accurate at the same time. He plays the game on schedule almost flawlessly at times and yet he can go off schedule and make spectacular plays when necessary. He could turn out to be the best ever before he’s done.

But having said that, overall, for the record, you can now consider me to be a Trubisky guy. When this year started, I knew it would take time before we could draw any conclusions about Trubisky. In fact, I honestly wasn’t too sure we’d be able to do it even by the end of this year. But I’m reasonably sure now.

I think Trubisky’s floor is above average quarterback because, as he plays in his first Pro Bowl, that’s what he is right now. Trubisky settled down as the season wore on, he got more comfortable with what he was seeing and his accuracy got better with that. The wild throws that went miles over the heads of receivers had virtually disappeared by the end of the year. By all accounts he was reading the field much better than he was at the beginning of the year and there’s every expectation that he’ll get better at it as he progresses in the offense in 2019. Certainly that is Nagy’s expectation.

“’By the end of the year, he was reading (his progressions) 1-2-3-run,’ Nagy said. ’That, he conquered. Now, I think level two next year is going to be him really recognizing pre-snap what he’s about to see from these defenses.’”

I think it’s very possible Trubisky could eventually grow to be something really special. Right now I’m thinking his ceiling is Drew Brees. In my wildest dreams, Peyton Manning. But I’m definitely beginning to see a little Drew Brees there.

And, for now, that should be good enough for anyone.

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Bears Need for Running Back May Not Center Around Jordan Howard

Kevin Fishbain at the The Athletic reviews the Bears offseason needs:

Greatest offseason need: Running back. The good thing for the Bears is it’s kind of difficult to peg one major need. Last offseason it was clearly wide receiver. In 2016, they had to upgrade at inside linebacker. This depends on which free agents are re-signed, but running back isn’t an issue of a starter with a contract expiring. It held the offense back to not have more production from the position. Jordan Howard was sixth in the NFL in carries (remember how everyone wanted him to get the ball more?), yet his 3.7-yard rushing average was third-worst among the top 20 rushers. Only 7.2 percent of his carries went for 10-plus yards, which was the lowest for a back with at least 180 carries. Now, fulfilling that need could involve a few things. Maybe Howard completely changes his body and game for next year. Maybe the Bears think he’s fine and it was an offensive-line issue. More likely, though, they address it in the draft or free agency and put more speed in the backfield.”

I agree that the Bears need a running back. But I’m not so sure that its Jordan Howard they should be looking to replace.

Howard had an off year, no doubt about it. Although I thought his vision wasn’t as good earlier in the year, that improved as the season wore on. What did not improve was his explosiveness. Howard had one or two runs where he broke completely in the clear that should have been touchdowns but weren’t because he was simply too slow.

Howard will never be a burner. But he didn’t have this problem in 2017 when he was very impressive on some runs, finding cracks and bursting through them before the viewer even knew they were there. This leads me to wonder if he was hurt in 2018 and he definitely had that look about him.

I think a little patience with Howard might go a long way. The Bears patience with Taquan Mizzell, however, should have run out a long, long time ago. Mizzell was given chance after chance to do something in the Bears offense this year, presumably because head coach Matt Nagy wanted more of a “do it all” utility back who had more power than Tarik Cohen and more mobility than Howard. Whatever the reason, he was a miserable failure.

If Howard was, indeed, injured this year there’s every reason to believe he’ll come back stronger and look more like the 2017 version of himself in 2019. If so, the Bears should be looking for a replacement for Mizzell’s role in the offense.

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Quick Comments: Eagles at Bears 1/6/19

Defense

  1. Looked to me like the Eagles thought they might be able to spread the Bears out and run up the middle. It didn’t work.
  2. What did work was the mid range passing game. The Eagles burned the Bears passing over the middle and up the seam.
  3. On a related note, Zach Ertz might be the best tight end the Bears played all year. It showed as he caused some trouble and had a good game.
  4. Alshon Jeffery had a good game as well. He seemed like he wanted to show the Chicago crowd something.
  5. I thought the Eagles did a pretty good job of protecting Nick Foles all things considered. As promised, Foles generally got the ball out early.
  6. When he didn’t get the ball out early and when he threw deep he ran into the occasional problem. Two interceptions in the first half kept the Bears in the game.
  7. Khalil Mack looked a step slow all night. Either he wasn’t feeling well or he didn’t show up. This reminded me of the Dolphins game.
  8. As expected, the Bears generally did a decent job against the run in this game.
  9. Some poor tackling in the fourth quarter reaered its ugly head and hurt the Bears as the game wound down. Some of those guys might have been getting tired.

Offense

  1. The Bears started with a few good runs but the Eagles defensive line toughened up and it was rough going from there on out. Seemed like the Bears were trying a lot of trap blocks to take advantage of the Eagles aggressive, penetrating defensive line.
  2. It was a lot of dink and dunk out there for the Bears. I understand the need to protect the ball when you have a good defense but I wonder if they are going too far. I’m not sure you are going to beat really good teams without an aggressive offense very often. And the Eagles are a good team.
  3. Still wondering why the Bears insist on playing Taquan Mizzell.
  4. What is the deal with Michael Bennett’s shoulder pads? They look like they should be on a 9 year old.
  5. Supposedly the Eagles defensive backs were all hurt and the position was a weakness. They sure looked good to me.
  6. On a related note, nice adjustment by the Bears by picking on Avonte Maddox in the second half with some double moves and some other trickery. He was very successful in the first half by being mighty aggressive. The Bears turned it against him.

Miscellaneous

  1. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth did a nice job as usual of pointing out the major points during the game. Always enjoy listening to those guys. Collinsworth is a reasonably good teacher and I always feel like I learn something.
  2. Well, Cody Parkey finally killed them. Pat O’Donnell had a nice punt out of bounds that trapped the Eagles on the one yard line in the first quarter. I’ve often wondered why more punters don’t use the old “coffin corner” kick. Having said that, a short kick with 5 minutes left in the game set the Eagles up with a short field. The Bears are going to have to take a close look at punter in the offseason.
  3. Drop weren’t a major issue in the game.
  4. Weird play at the end of the first half when Anthony Miller caught a pass and fumbled. The play was initially ruled and incomplete pass and no one recovered the ball after the whistle. Everyone expected the bears to get the ball at the point of the fumble. Instead they got a loss of down and the ball was moved back to the initial line of scrimmage. Here is the explanation. The referees let a lot of contact go in the defensive backfield this game. There could have been a lot more calls on both sides than there were. I guess that’s playoff football. We haven’t seen it around here in so long we wouldn’t recognize it.
  5. Turnovers kept the Bears in this game in the first half with two interceptions, one by Roquan Smith and one by Adrian Amos. The Bears weren’t burned by turnovers but they played so conservative on offense through three quarters protecting the ball that you wonder if the Eagles came out ahead.
  6. Its the NFL. Nobody died.
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Quick Comments: Bears at Vikings 12/30/18

Defense

  1. The Vikings came out in the no huddle, evidently thinking that they could take the Bears by surprise. It didn’t work as they went three and out.
  2. The Bears defensive line is pretty good. The Vikings offensive line is not very good. That’s a bad combination if you are a Minnesota fan. It was basically the story of the first half.
  3. The Bears defense played pretty well in a game where the Vikings had everything to play for and the Bears had less and less to play for as the game went on. They were pretty fundamentally sound, where, frankly, the Vikings offense wasn’t.

Offense

  1. Unlike the Vikings, who came out with three straight passes, the Bears ran the ball on the first two plays right behind guard Kyle Long, back from his injury. The Bears only threw once on the first drive, which went for a touchdown. The Vikings eventually shut the run down and it became a field position game.
  2. Jordan Howard definitely looks hurt to me. He was lumbering on a long run in the first series in the open field. Tarik Cohen would have made it a touchdown.
  3. The Bears took three time outs, two in the first half, before the play clock ran out. One of them came after a delay of game. That’s not a good look. This is week 17 and you are headed to the playoffs, folks. You are supposed to have your act together.
  4. Kudos to Mitch Trubisky for throwing some very accurate deep balls, a couple of which should have been caught. He had a good game.

Miscellaneous

  1. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Erin Andrews did a reasonably good job, I thought. They were surprisingly critical of Kirk Cousins, implying that he was too tightly wound. It turned out to be prophetic as there was a lot of arguing going on on the Vikings sideline at one point near the end of the first half.
  2. Special Teams
    1. The Vikings punter, Matt Wile, should get a nomination for most valuable player for this game. He had some beauties including one for 65 yards and one for 56 that put the Bears back at their own 12 yard line.
    2. Meanwhile Cody Parkey missed another extra point. Shaky field goal kicking is a serious issue entering the playoffs. Its very frustrating.
  3. The Vikings had a couple of huge drops in this game on third down. It had a significant impact on the game. The Bears had a couple deep balls that should have been caught but the coverage was good and they would have been good catches.
  4. Penalties
    1. Deon Bush had a bad face mask penalty that gave the Vikings the ball in field goal range near the end of the first half. They converted it.
    2. Prince Amukamura had a couple of bad pass interference penalties. He’s got to stop all of the grabiness.
    3. Not a great decision by Mike Zimmer to throw the challenge flag late in the third quarter. The Vikings were going for it on fourth and one and appeared to get the first down on a Cousins quarterback sneak. Zimmer threw the flag right before the snap. He lost the challenge, the time out and the first down. They did eventually get the first down and the touchdown.
  5. No turnovers this game. So it was clean in that respect.
  6. They should really outlaw yellow gloves like those worn by Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. They look too much like penalty flags.
  7. The most striking things about this game was the huge disparity in time of possession. The Bears had the ball almost twice as long as the Vikings. The offense played reasonably well and the defense played very well under circumstances when they really didn’t have much to play for. A very surprising win for the Bears as they have some momentum going into the playoffs.
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Bears Chances of Keeping Fangio Not as Remote as Fans Might Assume

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune suggests that its possible that the Bears could keep defensive coordinator Vic Fangio happy in Chicago:

“The Bears aren’t in the business of ripping up contracts for players or coaches but they might have to think outside the box if Fangio is weighing options in the next few weeks. If the Bears can pay to rebuild Halas Hall, they at least can make Fangio an offer that is hard to refuse. It wouldn’t be unprecedented — one of the reasons Josh McDaniels did a U-turn last offseason on his way to Indianapolis after the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss was because of a pay raise.”

It was one of the reasons. But by all accounts, McDaniels staying had more to do with speculation that there was an agreement that McDaniels would succeed head coach Bill Belichick.

And becoming a head coach is really what its all about.

I have a hard time believing that there is anything that the Bears could do to keep Fangio from leaving Chicago if a head coaching position was offered elsewhere. Its the pinnacle of the profession and there are few coaches who would feel fulfilled professionally with anything less if the opportunity to move up arose.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any hope. Right now the trend in the NFL is toward offensive head coaches. The success of Matt NagyKyle Shannahan and Sean McVay, not to mention old hand Andy Reid, has undoubtedly put owners and general managers in the mood to follow the lead of these teams.

In particular, offensive head coaches who can coach quarterbacks will be in high demand. Because more and more it becomes evident that is what the game is about and there are few losing teams who won’t either be looking for one somewhere or who won’t be looking to develop one that they already have.

Team Potentially Looking for a Head Coach Likely 2019 Draft Position* Likely 2019 Quarterback
Arizona 1 Josh Rosen
New York Jets 3 Sam Darnold
Tampa Bay 6 Jameis Winston or draft pick
Jacksonville Jaguars 8 draft pick
Carolina Panthers 10 Cam Newton
Cincinnati 12 Andy Dalton
Miami 13 draft pick
Denver 14 Case Keenum or draft pick
Green Bay 15 Aaron Rogers

Of the nine teams either looking or who will be most likely to be looking for a head coach, only Carolina, Cincinnati and Green Bay have a firmly established starter and I’d say both the Bengals and the Packers may still take one with an eye towards developing him for the future.

Even the Packers, who are rumored to be interested in Fangio, are are said to be already happy with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and will undoubtedly be looking to inject some originality into what was perceived as a stale offense under former head coach Mike McCarthy.

Almost all of these teams certainly understand that the only way to keep a fertile offensive mind is to make him the head coach. Anyone else who is any good will almost certainly be pilfered the minute a head coaching position is open.

In this environment that even a very, very good defensive coordinator will ultimately be chosen for a head coaching position is not a given. And as a defensive coordinator Fangio seems happy in Chicago. I have to believe that the only place Fangio would leave for is his home in the bay area. And that would be assuming his contract was up as the Bears would almost certainly never give him permission to leave for such a position.

So it’s going to be an interesting offseason and Fangio will undoubtedly get his share of interviews for head coaching positions. But I would say that Bears fans shouldn’t give up hope that Fangio will happily stay where he is absent a better offer.

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Packers Game Evidence of Mitch Trubisky’s Growth

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune comments upon Mitch Trubisky’s performance in their 24-17 win over the Packers at Soldier Field:
“No one should be surprised that Trubisky completed 20 of 28 passes in putting a division championship on his growing résumé. Or that he followed last Sunday’s career-worst rating of 33.3 with a 120.4 rating against the Packers. Or that he protected the ball and let the defense smother quarterback Aaron Rodgers all game.” “’I felt like (my game) was solid,’ he said. ’We were consistent enough on offense. We wanted to stay out of third downs because we know they’re really good at third downs. And just score when we needed to in big opportunities.”’

Trubisky wasn’t asked to pass deep much but his short passes were generally on point and he wasn’t sending the intermediate passes into orbit as has been his want at various times over the course of the season. His good comfort level was very evident as the game progressed. Packer’s defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had a slightly less aggressive game plan for the Bears than the last time the two teams played, a 24-23 loss for the Bears. The first game, he brought pressure from all angles and did everything he could to confuse Trubisky and it generally worked. This game he chose to mimic the plan that the Rams executed the week before, keeping a light box against the run and challenging Trubisky to throw with 5 men in coverage. He did so partly because what the Rams did worked but also undoubtedly partly because he saw that the same thing might not work against a more experienced Trubisky. In any case, Trubisky handled it well and when Pettine did call for a blitz, he countered with some nice throws, getting the ball out quickly. Anyone who watched both of these Packers games should be able to recognize Trubisky’s growth. Its been very gradual, game-by-game but the improvement should now be evident. Trubisky is pretty close to an average NFL quarterback right now. I don’t know where he is going to plateau off but it hasn’t happened yet. Its now evident that his emergence isn’t going to happen in leaps and bounds. But he’s continuing to very gradually get better. Its to be interesting to track it over the course of the rest of this season and next season.
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