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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