Did Someone Fail to Properly Coach Leonard Floyd?

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune explains Leonard Floyd‘s further evolution this season:

“[Floyd] recently dug into his game video archive.

“I … wanted to go back and grab something that I did consistently,” he explained.

Floyd’s search took him back three seasons to his decorated career at Georgia. Between all the snaps on which he dropped into coverage, Floyd recognized he had pass-rush success using an inside move, not just an outside speed rush.

 

Ummm… shouldn’t his coaches have noticed that a long time ago?

Floyd had some notable success with the move in his brief playing time in the Aug. 9 exhibition game against the Bengals.

Brandon Staley is the Bears outside linebackers coach but its well known that Vic Fangio likes to coach them himself.  Fangio, however, has a lot on his plate as the defensive coordinator and its fair to say he can’t devote all of his attention to coaching the players at this one position.

Either way, you’d think someone on the coaching long before this would have looked at the  video and said “Hey, he’s always moving to the outside”.  Instead, its something Floyd had to figure out himself by going back to look at college tape when, presumably, someone taught him how to be a more complete rusher, at least in terms of this particular aspect of his game.

It looks to me like somebody may have dropped the ball here.

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Roquon Smith Will Never Get Back What He Has Lost

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune on the consequences of Roquon Smith’s holdout:

“[A]fter missing all of Bourbonnais and two practice games, the question becomes this:

“How far behind is Smith?

“The answer can be only this:

“It depends on how quick a study he is and how fit he is to withstand the rigors of NFL practices.”

No amount of study will get back what Smith has lost. Most of playing middle linebacker is quickly reading the play and reacting. Just determining whether its a run or a pass is a huge issue that must be resolved from the look of the play and seeing way the it develops. The decisions are made in much less than a second.

It helps to have good instincts but those instincts are all based upon recognition. That recognition only comes through repetition and experience. The loss of almost a month of those reps is something Smith will never get back. And no matter how good he is this year the fact will remain that he could have been better for having had them.

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Will the Bears Running Game Be Better in 2018? Reasons Why It Could Go Either Way.

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune on what the Bears running game will look like:

“Power blocking. Pulling guards. This isn’t the sideline-to-sideline outside zone blocking scheme the Bears ran the last three seasons. Yes, the Chiefs incorporated that into their repertoire with Andy Reid as coach and [new Bears head coach Matt] Nagy as coordinator, but they ran more inside zone and more power than the Bears have.”

“’Schematically, it’s great,’ Bears center Cody Whitehair said. ’The thing you’re going to see a lot more of is physicality up front. More downhill blocks. And just guys that are not going to beat themselves. We’re going to come off the ball and really maul guys.”’

This all sounds great, especially to old school guys like me. But the Bears have been drafting linemen to run outside zone plays and power football is a different game. How this adjustment goes as the new season progresses is going to be an issue.

Another significant issue is running back Jordan Howard, who thrived in the Dowell Loggains/John Fox offense his first two years with good patience and excellent vision. How he adjusts to the new scheme is going to be critically important. Things are going to look different and the rhythm of the play once he has the ball in his hands is going to vary depending on what the offense is doing and how they are blocking the play.

One good thing for Howard and the other Bears personnel – he’s excellent running out of the shot gun and indications are, as Campbell points out, that they’re going to be running out of it a lot. The Kansas City offense ran out of the formation 72% of the time.

Trubisky also was obviously more comfortable in the shot gun of his college days last year even as Fox tried to force him to throw more and more from the pocket in the typical drop back manner. I would look for both Trubisky and Howard to be far more comfortable this year as their strengths in this area seems to fit Nagy’s philosophy.

All in all the adjustments this year are going to be interesting all over the offensive side of the ball. Fans will add the ones here to their list of things to watch.

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Double Digit Interception Goal for Amukamara Is Admirable, Probably Not Realistic

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reviews the Bears situation at cornerback:

“Projected on final roster: 6-7.

“Roster locks: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara.

“Good bet: Bryce Callahan.

“On the bubble: Sherrick McManis, Marcus Cooper, Cre’Von LeBlanc, John Franklin.

“Practice squad candidates: Kevin Toliver, Doran Grant, Michael Joseph, Rashard Fant.

“Camp depth: Jonathon Mincy, Nick Orr.”

“Fuller, whose roster spot seemed to be in jeopardy at this time a year ago, turned in an encouraging performance in his contract season. He had 22 passes defensed, second most in the league, and had interceptions off Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13 and DeShone Kizer three weeks later.

“Fuller’s reward? That hefty four-year contract and the full confidence of his teammates and coaching staff.”

Biggest question: Is Amukamara serious?

“Heading into his eighth NFL season, the 29-year-old veteran has set a lofty individual goal for 2018. Ready for it? “I’m really looking for a 10-pick season,” Amukamara said last month.

“This from a corner who has seven career picks and none since intercepting Kirk Cousins in September 2015. For Amukamara, that was 37 games and two teams ago.”

A couple thoughts here:

  1. If the Bears are keeping 6-7 that means that all of those players who are “on the bubble” could make the squad. Not much in the way of competition at this position, which looks like its going to be the least interesting in training camp when it starts next week.
  2. Amukamara’s goal of getting 10 picks is admirable but not realistic for two reasons.
    1. The Bears play a lot of man coverage. That means Amukamara is playing with his back to the quarterback a lot. Unless the Bears are planning on changing their philosophy, which they almost certainly aren’t, this is going to work against all of the cornerbacks statistically in this area.
    2. Though Dan Durkin at The Athletic calls Fuller the Bears’ “top cover corner”, I’m going to mildly disagree.  Despite the fact that Fuller had what almost everyone thought was an excellent season last year, teams continued to throw at him instead of Amukamara for most of 2017.  Fuller’s 22 passes defensed actually tied for third in the league, not second.  Amukamara’s seven passes defensed wasn’t even in the top 95.

      One of the more interesting things to look for this year is to see if that changes. Most teams find success by rapidly adapting as the season rolls on but I sometimes wonder if ideas about certain players die hard. After 2018 opponents review the 2017 tape in the offseason, Amukamara may see more action on his side of the field this year.

      Having said that, I’m not holding my breath.For most of the year last year

      Amukamara still looked like the better cover corner and one that seems to be vastly under rated by the general public outside of Chicago. If opponents still agree with that, he still isn’t going to get as many balls thrown his way. That respect is well-deserved but it’s going to hurt him statistically.

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Will Fox’s Input on Defense Be Missed

Dan Durkin at The Athletic gives fans reasons to be optimistic in 2018:

Vic’s vision and voice — [New head coach Matt] Nagy’s singular focus is installing his offense, so he’s handed over control to [defensive coordinator Vic] Fangio. Considering how well the defense played last season, despite minimal help from the offense in terms of points and time of possession, keeping things the same on defense was a wise decision. [Former head coach John] Fox was a defensive-minded coach who reportedly didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Fangio. With Fox fleeing, that allows Fangio to scheme and gameplan how he wants and be the single voice in defensive meetings and film sessions. That’s a win for the side of the ball most ready to compete.”

I’m not so sure dismissing Fox’s contribution on defense is entirely right here. I can recall former head coach Lovie Smith allowing defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to depart after the Bears last Super Bowl appearance. The defense that year was outstanding but Smith didn’t like compromising on his game plans and resented Rivera’s input. Instead of viewing the situation as the positive which it undoubtedly was – a situation where creative tension resulted in outstanding performance on all sides – Smith chose to view Rivera as challenging his authority. Smith brought in his own yes men at defensive coordinator after that and his defenses were arguably never quite as good for the loss.

I’m not saying the situation is quite the same here. Fangio, himself, said that he virtually always got his way last year when he and Fox clashed. That wouldn’t be too surprising given Fox’s evident tendency to let coaches do their jobs as long as they got results. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if the absence of input from Fox this year will have an effect on the defense.

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How Big Will Nick Kwiatkoski’s Role Be in 2018

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic gives fans reasons to be optimistic in 2018:

The duo inside… — Injuries to [Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman], suspensions and Freeman’s subsequent release put the Bears in position to add [Roquon] Smith, the most instinctive player in the draft who brings speed and playmaking to the middle of the defense. He’ll be paired with a healthy Trevathan, who has been an impact player against both the run and pass when on the field. He’ll be motivated to prove he’s worthy of sticking around in 2019 for the last year of his contract with fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe looming. There’s a lot more speed in the middle of the field to bring down the ball carrier or run with tight ends up the seam, and the instincts the two starters possess should lead to more takeaways, a number the Bears still have to increase. Trevathan and Smith form one of the better inside linebacker pairings in the league.”

I’m a little surprised no mention was made here of Nick Kwiatkoski. I’d be more than a little surprised if Kwiatkoski wasn’t a factor at inside linebacker, especially early in Smith’s rookie season.

Kwiatkoski had a sneaky good year in 2017. Pro Football Focus had the 2016 fourth rounder rated very highly amongst other players at inside linebacker. They ranked him third in the NFL in run-stop percentage and he was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.

“Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.

“His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.”

The Bears probably wouldn’t have picked both Smith and Iyiegbuniwe if they were totally satisfied with Kwiatkoski. My guess is that, as was the case with safety Adrian Amos, PFF rated Kwiatkoski more on whether he did his job well last year over whether he was a high impact player on the field.

Smith is, of course, going to be given every chance to show he brings that high impact. Nevertheless, I think it would be a mistake to ignore his strengths in terms of what he adds to the roster, at least until we see if Iyiegbuniwe has what it takes to replace his solid play on the field. My guess is that we’ll see a lot of Kwiatkoski before the season is over.

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The Bears Have No Players in the NFL Network’s Top 100. Again.

John Mullin points out what we have known for a long time. The Bears will (once again) not have a player in the NFL’s Top 100:

“This year’s blanking follows a shutout in last year’s poll, which represented [voting] returns from more than 900 players. This year the number was more than 1,100, making the rankings more than simply the opinion of an individual or even small group.

“Making them more disquieting from a Bears perspective is the fact that this marks a de facto third consecutive year that the Bears approach a season without a player whose peers rate him among the top 5 percent in the game. Because the 2016 survey (coming out of the 2015 season) listed running back Matt Forte (No. 90) as the lone Bear, and he was on his way to the New York Jets by the time his number was called.”

“One of [Bears GM Ryan] Pace’s mandates has been to bring Bears talent to a level competitive with at least the NFC North. The more than 1,100 players canvassed don’t think it’s happening: The Bears are one of only four teams (plus Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and the Jets) not represented in the top 100, while Detroit (2), Green Bay (7) and Minnesota (5) have multiple selections. Even the 0-16 Cleveland Browns boast a pair – wide receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Carlos Hyde) by virtue of their offseason moves.”

I was asked on a recent podcast if I thought the Bears could be the new Los Angeles Rams this year. That is certainly what Pace had in mind as he crafted his offseason and followed many of the steps the Rams did last last year by, for instance, hiring a good, young, quarterback-friendly head coach in Matt Nagy.

But, much though I want to believe this plan will work, I had to squash the idea on the podcast. The Rams had a lot of talent when they fired Jeff Fisher and hired Sean McVay including Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley. Both will be in this year’s top 10 on the list.

The addition of Nagy will help make the Bears better this year. But the fact of the matter is that both he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have zero impact players to work with. Without difference makers on either side of the ball, it’s going to be extremely difficult for this team to be competitive in a very good NFC North.  The responsibility for that falls directly upon the shoulders of Pace. And until that problem is corrected, the Bears will likely be going nowhere.

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How Will Leonard Floyd Get His Sacks in 2018?

Lorin Cox at USA Today draws some conclusions from the data at Pro Football Focus:

Vic Fangio’s pass rush won on stunts and twists

“The Bears weren’t one of the teams that used them the most often, but they ranked fifth in pressure rate when using stunts, affecting the quarterback on 45.6 percent of these plays.

“That’s pressuring the quarterback on almost every other stunt. It helps having athletic pass rushers like Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks (respective to their positions) who can be tough to block when they’re on the move.”

This tendency of the Bears defense to use stunts so effectively may be why they are a bit more comfortable with what is at best a mediocre group of pass rushers heading into the 2018 season.

Having said that, one of the things you notice when you watch the Bears is that Floyd almost never gets pressure unless he’s running a stunt. There were a notable exceptions but for the most part Fangio schemed to get him free.

If the Bears are going to have success this season, Floyd is going to have to have more success when he finds himself one-on-one with blockers on the outside.

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Will the Bears Offense Run Faster in 2018?

Lorin Cox at USA Today doesn’t think the Bears offense will be any quicker to snap the ball this year.

Last year under John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, the Bears’ offense was the NFL’s slowest in terms of the time it took to snap the ball, according to Football Outsiders (via The Ringer).

However, [new Bears head coach Matt] Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs were actually the second-slowest to snap the ball, just ahead of the Bears.

It’s worth remembering that Nagy hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich to help bring some spread concepts to the offense. Along with that may be a renewed commitment to a hurry up offense, at least in spots. It may not be enough to make a huge difference statistically but this is something that Nagy, himself, has said he’d like to do depending upon the opponent.

Are we going to see the kind of speed offense that Helfrich ran at Oregon? No. But Nagy wouldn’t have hired him unless they has a simpatico vision for how the offense would run and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Nagy brought the no huddle to the offense more than his mentor, Andy Reid did in Kansas City.

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Is the Size of the Bears Receivers a problem?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Once upon a time, a Bears receiver named Brandon Marshall reminded us that he’s 6-foot-5 and that there weren’t many defensive backs out there that could match up. He and Alshon Jeffrey were supposed to be a mismatch nightmare tandem for seasons on end. Alas, that wasn’t to be. While I’m as excited as the next fan about the offense’s potential, I worry about the shorties catching the ball: [Taylor] Gabriel, [Anthony] Miller and Tarik Cohen. That said, wouldn’t it be ideal for [Allen] Robinson and Kevin White, both 6-3, to start on the outside with Gabriel filling in where he naturally fits, in the slot? I keep hearing that Gabriel and Miller can play outside. Seems like a recipe for Cutler-esque interceptions to me. – Greg M., South Side

“I wouldn’t put [Jay] Cutler’s propensity to turn the ball over on the Bears having short wide receivers in the past. I think the Bears have a good blend of skill position players when you think about skill sets and where coach Matt Nagy can line them up on the field to attack opposing defenses. I think Gabriel and Miller have the ability to play inside and outside and remember that the slot receiver is as important as ever in today’s NFL. [Mitch] Trubisky did a nice job of minimizing turnovers last season. He threw only seven interceptions in 12 games. I don’t know that the height of Gabriel and Cohen is a reason to think picks will pile up. Keep in mind that Miller measured 5-foot-11 at the scouting combine.”

I agree with Biggs that the height of the Bears receivers in recent years had little to do with turnovers. But I think it had a definite effect on the offense as a whole. From the very first year that he arrived in Chicago, Cutler made it clear that he preferred larger receivers, for instance, when he characterized former Bears speedster Johnny Knox Devin Hester as “not a go and and get it, guy”. Cutler wasn’t trying to be openly critical about it and he didn’t indicate that he was uncomfortable with Knox. But it was evident that larger receivers was what he was used to and that’s what he wanted. It wasn’t a coincidence that the first guy he befriended in Chicago was the biggest receiver on the field, 6’5” tight end Greg Olsen. The same thing happened in Miami when he hit the field and immediately sought out the 6’3” DeVante Parker. Cutler was far more comfortable with big receivers who could fight for a 50:50 ball in the air.

In a similar vein, I think what the Green Bay Packers did this off-season was interesting. The Packers are facing far more man coverage than they used to nowadays. For instance, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio prefers this kind of coverage and we can anticipate that new Lions head coach Matt Patricia will prefer to run the same kind of defense he did in New England.

The Packer’s response? Sign the 6’7” Jimmy Graham at tight end and draft a huge group of wide receivers in J’Mon Moore (6’3”), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6’4”), and Equanimeous St. Brown (6’5”) to go with the 6’3” Geronimo Allison. As I pointed out on a recent podcast, these players are going to present huge match up problems for teams who don’t have the corner backs and safeties to match up with them in coverage.

Having said that, I do think there’s a reasonable chance that Trubisky will handle an offense with shorter receivers better than Cutler did. For one thing, as the fan who wrote the question points out, if White and Robinson both turn out to be good, he won’t have to make due with those shorter receivers all the time in every situation. For another, he has an offensive head coach in Matt Nagy who should know how to take advantage of the better speed and agility that shorter receivers tend to have.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Antonio Brown, I’m sure many fans moaned about the fact that he was only 5’10” and predicted that he’d be strictly a slot receiver. We know how that worked out. Similarly, I think we won’t know too much about the Bears current configuration until we give them a chance to succeed.

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