Quick Game Comments: Bears at Lions 9/13/20

Offense

  • The Bears came out running with 3 straight runs for a three and out. They got zero push on a quarterback sneak on the third play. It wasn’t a great start and it was pretty representative of how the day was going to go.

  • The Bears seemed to be rotating their running backs with David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson all getting playing time. All looked reasonably good.

  • Mitch Trubisky was obviously looking for Allen Robinson first on most plays and is still relying on him too much, I think. He’s got to find consistent success with another receiver. His first attempt to Anthony Miller went wide on a obvious miscommunication though he did have some catches late and a touchdown. He found some success throwing to Darnell Mooney. He has to do more of that earlier in games.

  • Despite all the talk about improving footwork in the off season, Trubisky was still throwing off balance with what was poor footwork even to my own inexperienced eye. His accuracy was off early on largely as a result. This is a bad sign.

  • I thought we might see more outside zone runs from the Bears this year but it wasn’t evident to me today that was happening. The Lions did a good job defending whenever the Bears tried to run outside. That may have had something to do with it. They had more luck up the middle.>

  • There was a lot of talk about no changes to the personnel offensive line after they under performed last year. To my eye, they were a lot better today under new coach Juan Castillo. The Bears running game was productive and Trubisky got good p protection most of the time.

  • As advertised, David Montgomery looks quicker this year. Some of that contact balance showed up today as he did a good job of breaking some tackles as well. He still didn’t get a pass thrown in his direction.

  • Despite a lot of offseason talk the Bears struggled to integrate the tight ends into the offense until late in the game. Jimmy Graham did catch a touchdown as he towered over Lions cornerback Tracy Walker in an obvious mismatch.

Defense

  • The Bears badly missed Robert Quinn. It allowed the Lions to concentrate more on stopping Kahlil Mack on the other side. Unlike last year, Mack will had Akiem Hicks next to him on the line to help. Nevertheless, one team sack. The Bears need to get more pressure with Quinn out.
  • If the Lions were picking on Jaylon Johnson, it wasn’t evident to me. When the Lions did throw outside, they did go to Johnson’s side, though. Johnson made some rookie mistakes. There was some poor tacking and a holding call. But so far so good.

  • Adrian Peterson still runs hard and age certainly hasn’t reduced his vision.

  • I thought Matthew Stafford looked good today. He’s moving well in the picket and creating time and his passes were reasonably accurate. Still got a cannon for an arm.

  • I thought the Lions did a good job of pushing the ball downfield and moving against a very good Bears defense. But they stalled in the red zone as the Bears stiffened and did a great job.

  • The Lions came out running with some success in the second half. It was a good move as the Bears were probably expecting more of the passes that burned them at the end of the half. They executed well.

  • The Bears, on the other hand, looked flat after the half. Despite some words from Mack on the sideline, there just didn’t seem to be much there. The Lions had the ball for most of the third quarter.

Miscellaneous

  • Dick Stockton, Jonathan Vilma, and Shannon Spake were you announcers. Stockton isn’t the best play-by-play man in the business but I’ve never had the problems with him that many others seem to have. He was definitely rusty today as he stepped in at the last minute for Kenny Albert. Vilma didn’t teach me very much. He was as kind as he could be when talking about Trubisky, who is under siege nationally. For the typical male Bears fan, Spake was the best thing about this game.

  • Special teams – It was notable that Matt Nagy passed on what would have been about a 52 yard field goal earlier in the quarter to go for it on fourth and seven. The Lions seemed to me to have too many good kick off returns.

  • Jamie Collins ducked his head and hit an official with his helmet in one of the dumbest penalties I’ve ever seen a player commit. Every play surely knows that you can’t touch a referee, let alone with his helmet.

  • A interception by Kyle Fuller in Lions territory in the fourth quarter gave the Bears life with just over two minutes left in the game. Huge play in the game.

  • Deandre Swift dropped the go ahead touchdown for the Lions with 10 seconds left. Those are the kinds of plays that kill games.

  • The first half ended in a miserable, demoralizing way for the Bears defense. They held the Lions offense with just over 2 minutes left and the Bears for the ball back with a minute and twelve remaining. The Bears did nothing and handed the ball back to the Lions with about 50 seconds left almost at mid field. The Lions marched down and scored a touchdown.

  • Final statistic: Bears third down conversion rate = 2/11. This must get better.

  • Final statistic: 5.3 yards per rush, a good indication that maybe the Bears will be able to run the ball better this year.

  • Final statistic: A miserable 5.8 yards per pass. Despite talking all offseason about pushing the ball down field, the passing game was still a mess for much of the day. This is bad news.

  • Trubisky really disappointed me today. It was evident, especially early, that he has not taken the step forward in the offseason that the Bears hoped that competition from Nick Foles would bring. His footwork still stinks and he’s missing passes that this offense simply can’t afford to miss. We heard all offseason that they needed a running game to help him out. They had one today and it didn’t make any difference. They struggled to throw the ball down field most of the game and even Trubisky’s completions were off target.

  • Having said that, kudos to Trubisky for his fourth quarter. He’s always had that kind of last minute magic in him. The problem is that the team usually fails to put it away. This time they did.

  • In the mean time I heard all offseason from Lions fans that their team was better than their record last year. They lost a bunch of games in the fourth quarter, they caught bad breaks, etc… They should know as well as Bears fans that that’s what bad teams do.

Some Things to Watch as the Bears Play the Lions on Sunday

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic provides us with a viewer’s guide to Sunday’s matchup.

“In Nagy’s season openers with the Bears, the first drive has turned out to be prescient.

“Let’s go back to September 2018 at Lambeau Field. Curiosity was the sentiment at the time, as we wondered what Nagy’s offense would look like. It began in the T-formation and ended with a Trubisky touchdown run. It resembled nothing seen in Chicago in the John Fox era. The rest of the season, the offense wasn’t great, and often not even good, but it was adept enough for a 12-4 mark.

“If 2018 was about curiosity, 2019 was about confidence. We heard about taking the offense from 101 to 202. All the starters but one returned. This would be Trubisky’s finest hour.

“With the country watching as the Bears kicked off the league’s 100th season, the opening play was a fumble. The drive resulted in a punt. The offense sputtered all night, and then all season.”

Fishbain goes on to identify a number of other differnt things to watch and they’re all good points. The article is worth reading.

Having said that, I thought I’d provide some other things that I will be watching that aren’t specifically called out or emphasized.

  1. Watch the yards per carry and the yards per attempt.

In particular, the yards per attempt is perhaps the best indication of how well an offense is operating. Not coincidentally, quarterback Mitch Trubisky was last in the league in this department in 2019 at 6.1 yards.

The heart of any good scoring offense is completions in the 10-20 yard range, close enough to make a connection realistic most of the time yet far enough to represent a good chunk of yardage. These are the bread and butter plays that you see executed over and over in sustained drives by good offenses like that of the Kansas City Chiefs. Its not a great signs that reports indicate that Bears quarterbacks struggled with these throws in a pandemic shortened camp. What the yards per attempt is at half time will be a huge indicator of where they are at.

Similarly, the Bears struggles in the running game were well documented last year. They are going nowhere unless this imporoves.

  1. Watch Tarik Cohen.

Cohen was the heart of much of what the Bears did in 2018. He was a match up nightmare for defenses and what he did with the ball after the catch was a big part of the offense, such as it was. Last year with no good tight ends like the 2018 version of Trey Burton to worry the opposing linbackers and safeties, teams focused entirely on stopping Cohen. It had a major effect on the offense.

The Bears evidently have high hopes that their current tight ends, Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris, will produce more in the offense this year. If they are even just decent, as Burton was in 2018, perhaps the biggest observable effect will be that things will loosen up again for Cohen.

  1. Watch Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine.

Although the Fishbain did highlight Johnson’s role and the importance that he perform as a rookie, I’ll be interested in seeing if the Bears only play him in nickel situations. It’s entirely possible that nickel back Buster Skrine will be moved outside in the base defense.

If that happens, how the relatively undersized Skrine performs will be important. Similarly, how quickly the Bears gain or lose confidence in Johnson will be very evident in how much he plays as the game wears on and how he holds up when the Lions test him (which they undoubtedly will).

  1. Watch Khalil Mack.

This isn’t a revelation but how much the Lions can afford to concentrate on stopping Mack will go a long way towards telling you how this game went. Last year teams literally triple teamed him with an offenseive tackle and a tight end to his side and a running back kept in specifically to concentrate on making sure he never got loose. They could do this because Akiem Hicks was injured and the Bears literally got nothing from the one-on-one matchups that Leonard Floyd consistently got on the other side.

Whether new pass rusher Robert Quinn plays or not will be a big factor here. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday with an ankle injury. But even with Quinn out, the presence of Hicks should make a big difference. If it doesn’t, I would say that fans shouldn’t get too carried away with their optimism for the season.

Some Unique Thoughts on the Bears 53 Man Roster

Like many writers this morning, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on the 53 man roster. I’ll concentrate upon the position groups where I think I can offer a unique thought rather than going through them all one-by-one.

Offensive linemen (9): Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Bobby Massie, Germain Ifedi, Rashaad Coward, Jason Spriggs, Alex Bars, Arlington Hambright.

The fact that Hambright made this roster was a mild surprise. I thihnk most had targeted him for the practice squad. Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune offered the opinion that Hambright’s place is only temporary that the he’d be the first one voted off the island once the Bears started picking up players that other teams had released. I’m not so sure.

Most believe that the Bears released kicker Cairo Santos with the idea of bringing him back onto the practice squad. They can’t put kicker Eddy Pineiro onto IR and bring him back whenever they want unless they keep him on the initial roster. The plan on Monday would be to do that and to promote Santos.

The guess here is that Jason Spriggs is in the same situation. The Bears had to carry him through until Monday before putting him on IR. Hambright is probably your swing tackle until Spriggs is healthy.

Running backs (4): David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Ryan Nall.

Nall makes the roster over undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce. It’s a good bet that special teams may have played a part here. Pierce is also a rookie and the Bears may not be able to trust him to do things like block, yet.

Cohen and Patterson are thought to be gadget players and it will be interesting to see how snaps are split. Nall is arguably the only healthy, all-around back on the roster as long as Montgomery is hurt with a groin injury.   I say “arguably” because Patterson has only been practicing with the running backs since training camp began and we don’t know how he has progressed.

Physically Patterson could be a Montgomery replacement. He has the size, the speed and quickness and the ability to catch the football that would allow him to perform in all aspects of the position. But because he was a wide receiver who was only used as a piece in isolated spots last year, he never really moved like a running back. He didn’t have the vision to spot a hole and burst through it. Like Pierce, we also don’t know if he can block.

This will be an interstesting situation to keep an eye on.

Defensive linemen (5): Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins, Brent Urban.

The Bears probably planned to have Jenkins as a reserve on the practice squad when they signed him.  This is what they did with him in 2018. But when Eddie Goldman opted out, Jenkins because an essential peice of the puzzle. I expect to see him at nosetackle when the Bears are in a three man front. Nichols will replace Goldman in the nickle.

Inside linebackers (4): Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods.

This position worries me. The Bears lost Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis in free agency and they may have lost their depth along with them.  Iyiegbuniwe is a core special teamer. But we really don’t know if either he or Woods can play in the defense. Historically this has been a position where starters have been lost for games for the Bears. So we may find out the hard way.

Safeties (5): Eddie Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Sherrick McManis.

I was always amused at the memebers of the media who immediately assumed that Gipson would be starting opposite Jackson the minute he was signed. For one thing, if you follow the money, Gipson is being paid like he was on the bubble and I’d guess that he was. He was released 1 year into a 3 year contract in Houston. Whe you find out why that was, you will probably als find out why he’s not the player everyone thinks he was.

Cornerbacks (5): Kyle Fuller, Buster Skrine, Jaylon Johnson, Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley.

Like everyone else, I was surprised when the Bears released Kevin Toliver here. As Biggs pointed out, this arguably leaves them with Fuller, Johnson and three nickelbacks, two of which, Skrine and Shelly, are only 5-9. Most seem theh think the Bears will be in theh market for a veteran corner.

I’m not so sure, thought. For one thing they still could bring back Toliver.  For another, veteran cornerbacks don’t play special teams. I’m also not so sure that the Bears feel that they need help at the position as much as the media apparently does.

Skrine has played outside corner before and he reportedly was lining up there in practice and holding his own. Vildor, who is 5-11, also reportedly got time at the position. And let’s not forget McManis, a core special teamer who is classified as a safety but who played cornerback for many years.

The guess here is that the Bears will line Skrine up on the outside and move him in to nickle when they go to 5 defensive backs. At that point, they’ll move one of the others in outside. Who that is probably depnds on how comfortable they are with the rookie Johnson. The whole plan will probably also vary depending on the matchups with bigger corners covering bigger receivers.