Quick Game Comments: Giants at Bears 9/20/20

Offense

  • The Bears came out with one TE. The Giants snuck an extra guy sup in the box at the last minute. The Giants were obviously focused on stopping the run and making Mitch Trubisky beat them. That’s the way I would have played it, too. They looked like they were particularly ready for Cordarrelle Patterson. They keyed on him whenever he appeared in the back field.
  • Color man Charles Davis rightly pointed out in the fourth quarter that Patterson still doesn’t have the kind of vision that you’d like as a running back. But I think he’s getting better.
  • To Matt Nagy’s credit he stopped with the run despite the Giants’ determination to stop it. They did a decent job of running it to my eye as well.
  • Loved the pass to David Montgomery for a touchdown in the first quarter. We’ve heard for more than a year now about how he can catch a pass. He got it and ran with good vision to dodge defenders and get across the goal line. I’d love to see more of that and see what happens. Hicks looked healthy.
  • Khalil Mack also looked healthy today. Perhaps he was energized by the presence of a competent pass rusher on the other side in Robert Quinn.
  • There’s a good part of me that thinks the Bears are more likely to call designed runs for Trubisky because they have Nick Foles backing him up in case of injury.
  • Trubisky looked more accurate to me today in the first half. I’m no expert but to my eye his footwork looked better as well. That’s probably not a coincidence and I think its a bit encouraging. His second half was rougher as the Giants cleaned up the coverage underneath.
  • Speaking of that, I thought the Bears should have gone down field more with the ball. They were set up to take advantage of the play action and it seemed to me like there should have been more there.
  • I know Trubisky spread it around today but he still looked to me like he was occasionally forcing it to Allen Robinson. He needs to prove that the other receivers can really burn the opponent first. Until then, Robinson will get all of the attention.
  • Three sacks for the Giants in the first half. The offensive line looked to me like they did a good job in the run game but the protection looked like it left something to be desired.
  • Trubisky almost gave me a start on the second touchdown. He held the ball and kept the play alive but if he’d taken a sack to take them out of field goal range, I’d have been apoplectic. As it was, OK. It worked.
  • Anthony Miller had a rough day with a couple big drops. Both passes hit him in the hands. That’s disappointing.
  • I expected more production from the tight ends. Without it the offense is going to struggle.

Defense

  • The Giants really looked determined to run today. Daniel Jones didn’t look great and perhaps that had something to do with it. The loss of Saquon Barkley to injury in the second quarter didn’t help that but they still kept at it and had some success.
  • What a move by Akiem Hicks to get around the offensive tackle to penetrate and stop the run.
  • Perhaps is a huge compliment to Jaylon Johnson, the Giants started the game off passing to Kyle Fuller’s side. Fuller was on top of it and they eventually got smart and went more at Johnson.
  • Danny Trevathan was caught trailing in coverage again in the second quarter on a pass for a big gain midway through the second quarter. I’m surprised it took them that long to test him and they really should have done it more.
  • The Bears were playing off coverage late in the third quarter and allowed the Giants to drive from their own 5 yard line to a touchdown. That’s mighty early to be concentrating on protecting a lead.
  • Jones showed some mobility to avoid what looked like a much improved Bears pass rush. I also thought he was smart with the ball, throwing it away when he had to.
  • There was some sloppy tackling late in the game on the last drive. That should be cleaned up. They looked tired.

Miscellaneous

  • Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, and Evan Washburn were your announcers. I’m not Davis’s biggest fan but I think he was fine today. Nothing special but certainly more than solid. Ian Eagle is a pro. These guys were better than most of what we’ll see this year at noon.
  • The more CBS tries to mimic realistic crowd noise, the more irritating it gets. I don’t’ know why.
  • The Bears looked like they were very aware of returner Jabrill Pepper’s ability in the return game. The Giants were equally aware of Patterson as they popped up a kick in the fourth quarter rather than kick it to him. Cairo Santos missed a 50 yard field goal wide left that the bear really needed with 2 minutes left in the game. The Bears were leading by four points.
  • Eddie Jackson got called for a critical pass interference call in the fourth quarter that called back a pick six. Personally I thought he was just going for the ball. Tough break. It was a ten point turn as the drive eventually resulted in a field goal. Germain Ifedi got called for a chop block in the fourth quarter that called back a big Montgomery run making it first and 25.
  • Anthony Miller dropped a pass that landed in his hands in the first quarter that would have resulted in a big gain. He dropped another first down in the third quarter in Giants territory that killed a drive. Darius Slay dropped a badly needed first down for the Giants in the third quarter to kill a drive in Bears territory. The Giants settled for a field goal.
  • Robert Quinn signing paid immediate dividends in his first start as he caused a Daniel Jones fumble on the very first Giants possession. The Bears recovered and got a field goal out of it. It was a tough day for Jones. He didn’t see Deon Bush and threw him an interception in Bears territory in the second quarter. The offense did nothing with it. Trubisky threw a damaging interception early in the second half after trying to force it to a bracketed Robinson one too many times. He threw another critical interception in the fourth quarter with the Bears up by only 7 points while trying to get it again in to Robinson. The following Giants drive resulted in a field goal.
  • This was a tale of two halves as the offense had a good first half but not a good second half. I think the Giants made some good adjustments and played some good defense but the Bears also failed to make plays when they had to and made some boneheaded mistakes with untimely penalties, drops and turnovers. This is what bad teams do. The defense held up and played well but that Giants offense isn’t exactly the Chiefs, especially without Saquon Barkley, who left with what turned out to be a torn ACL. The Bears won and they’ll take it. But they aren’t a good team right now.

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.

Will Nagy’s “Live” Scrimmages Be the Right Test for His Quarterbacks?

Ross Tucker at The Athletic writes about how hard it is to make a decision in a quarterback competition without preseason games. He strikes a nerve with me when he addresses the importance of seeing what happens when a quarterback can be hit.

“You see, they can and will chart every throw and decision [quarterback Mitch] Trubisky and [quarterback Nick] Foles make throughout camp. They’ll grade who is more accurate, who is making better decisions, etc., but in all instances, the quarterback will know he can’t actually get hit. Without naming names, I played with a number of quarterbacks during my career who looked awesome in practice wearing the red no-touch jersey but were totally different when they had to go out and do it inside the stadium with a defense trying to take them down. I really don’t know if it was just the pressure of being in a game situation or the knowledge that they were subjecting themselves to physical harm, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter, does it? All that matters is how they perform in the games that actually count and when the defense is going to do everything it can to get to the quarterback and inflict harm.

“But don’t just take my word for it. I asked some former quarterbacks for their opinions to make sure my observations weren’t off base.

“‘Most NFL fans don’t like the preseason, but for quarterbacks, whether they are in a competition or backups looking for live reps, the preseason is an extremely important aspect of getting ready for the season,’ said Sage Rosenfels, a veteran of 11 NFL seasons.

“‘There is nothing like live reps. Some quarterbacks excel in practice, when you don’t have the fear of getting hit, and then clam up during real games. The preseason helps tremendously in the evaluation process.'”

This has been on my mind for many months now as I have thought about what went wrong with Trubisky last season. My guess was that, despite having a “live scrimmage” in practice, the first snap Trubisky took against the Packers in game 1 was the first one he had taken without a red jersey on since January. That means it was the first snap he took where he could actually get hit. The guess here is that his eyes dilated in a way head coach Matt Nagy should have, but didn’t, expect.

That, along with the fact that Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Petine is the equivalent of a junk ball pitcher who will throw every wrinkle he can at a quarterback to confuse him, had Trubisky seeing ghosts. Nagy addressed Trubisky’s lack of confidence game after game after that and it certainly looked like it was many weeks before Trubisky recovered from the experience.

How many times did we hear Trubisky and Nagy talk about how good a play looked in practice after failing to work in a game? It’s a refrain we hear many times in many different circumstances. The reason is obvious. Everything is different once the live bullets start flying.

To his credit, Nagy apparently learned his lesson last season and by all accounts he was planning on playing his starters in the preseason this year, quarterback competition or no. But now, with no preseason games, is when we find out if he really learned anything.

Nagy will undoubtedly use the “live scrimmage” approach out of necessity rather than by choice now. And now the crucial question is this: will the quarterbacks still have the red jersey on during that session? If not, there’s a chance that Nagy will choose the right player in this competition. And that player will have at least a chance of being prepared for what’s in store for him in game one when it all becomes real.

John Jenkins Is a Good Bet to Get the Nod in Goldman’s Place

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times thinks defensive lineman Bilal Nichols is the most likely candidate to replace nose tackle Eddie Goldman in the lineup.

“Nichols, 23, is getting the first shot at replacing the inimitable Eddie Goldman at nose tackle for the Bears, who held their first practice in pads Monday at Halas Hall. Goldman, a two-time Pro Bowl alternate and five-year unsung hero in the defense, opted out of the season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“His absence leaves a significant hole, but one the Bears can fill and survive better than when they lost defensive end Akiem Hicks last year. Nichols, who played tackle at Delaware, is arguably the most intriguing prospect for the vacancy because he fits the Goldman mold as a strong run-stopper, and he obviously learns quickly.”

“The Bears have other candidates to fill Goldman’s nose tackle role; defensive line coach Jay Rodgers mentioned Abdullah Anderson, John Jenkins and Brent Urban as additional options. But given his quick acclimation to the NFL as a rookie, Nichols seems like the best place to start.”

I’m not too sure of that. Or at least I’m not too sure that’s true in every situation.

Goldman is a mountain of a man at 318 pounds. He’s a load to move and can hold up well to double teams. Nichols at 299 pounds is almost 20 pounds lighter than Goldman and almost 30 pounds lighter than Jenkins at 327 pounds. Nichols is really built more like the 2 gap defensive end that he mostly has been in the Bears base 3-4 defense.

Though he was rarely active because he doesn’t play special teams, the Bears almost certainly carried Jenkins on the roster in 2018 specifically to back up Goldman. The guess here is that was the plan this year before Goldman opted out.

It’s highly unlikely but not impossible that the Bears would change their scheme to adapt to Nichols size and ability. He could, for instance, play a 1 gap nose tackle. And the Bears will, as usual, see plenty of time in their nickle defense where Nichols will surely be a good fit in the interior of a 4 man line.

But when they are in base defense in their current in scheme, I think Jenkins gets the nod.

Why Don’t the Bears Have a Run Game Coordinator? Well, in a Way, Maybe They Do.

As head coach Matt Nagy re-made his offensive coaching staff last year, one of the most puzzling moves was Dave Ragone‘s change in title from quarterbacks coach to passing game coordinator. What does Nagy, the supposed wizard in charge of an offense that makes its living passing the football, need with a passing game coordinator? What is he going to do? What role will be play in the quarterback competition that is playing out at Halas Hall?

Ragone has addressed the issue with reporters. Via Adam Jahns at The Athletic:

“[Ragone] indicated more than once over Zoom last week that his direct interactions will change with [quarterback Mitch] Trubisky. Unlike the coaches he’s working closely with, Ragone also doesn’t have previous experience with [quarterback Nick] Foles.

“’It’s my job to oversee other things and be where I’m needed to be for [offensive coordinator Bill] Lazor and coach Nagy,’ Ragone said. ‘The conversations with Mitchell are more so how’s my family, how are my kids. It’s been those type of conversations. To me, it’s not my role to get into those (football) conversations with him right now.'”

“‘It’s just not at this point of the juncture of the conversation would I be willing to go into details about what I’m looking for in the job,’ Ragone said. ‘More importantly, it’s just getting us on the field and executing at a high level.’

“The Bears always will have ‘us’ in mind, too. For Ragone, that means preferring to have a macro perspective of a competition that will have micro-managed qualities to it.

“‘For me, watching how this plays out is more about the offense in general than just the quarterback spot,’ Ragone said. ‘I know that’s where the spotlight will be on, but the reality is getting the other 10 guys to be in sync with whatever quarterback is going to be behind center is obviously all of our goal going forward.'”

My initial instinct when I heard about Ragone’s change in title was that Nagy wanted to make sure Trubisky still had a “Mitch guy” on the staff. They probably already knew at that point that Foles was going to be their guy in the coming competition and everyone that Nagy brought in was familiar with him.

But this probably goes farther than that. It’s now evident that, as his title suggests, that Ragone is going to have a role in the game planning and in make sure the passing offense runs well as a whole. He’s gong to be putting in extra time researching the opponents, watching film and providing extra information to Lazor and Nagy and generally being of assistance.

The question is, “Why is that necessary?” Although the passing game wasn’t anything to brag about, its accepted that the biggest problem associated with the Bears offense last year was the running game. The Bears ranked 29th overall in rushing, had the second-fewest runs of 5 to 10 yards in the league and the third-fewest plays that gained 10 yards or more according to Football Outsiders.

If the problem was in the running game, shouldn’t the Bears have a run game coordinator?

Well, maybe in a way they have.

Nagy reportedly put the running game into the hands of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Harry Heistand last season. Both took the fall at the end of the year in part due to its failures as they were fired and replaced. A legitimate question at the time was why Nagy was using these two coaches as a scapegoat when the truth is that he was in charge of the offense. Shouldn’t he have been the one to take public responsibility?

Well, perhaps this year he is. The shifting of Ragone’s responsibilities could indicate that Nagy is planning to spend more time working on the run game while delegating more of the planning in the passing game to Ragone and Lazor. In other words, its possible that he didn’t hire a run game coordinator because he has been personally concentrating on improving it and will be filling that role himself. One can only hope so.

One thing seems certain. Although new offensive line coach Juan Castillo will reportedly have a strong say in how the run game is constructed, there will be no one this year to shift blame to if the running game is the same mess in 2020 that it was in 2019. With no “run game coordinator”, this year its all on Nagy.

Anthony Miller: Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance

Jason Lieser at the Chicago Sun-Times highlights the problem with fluffy spring time comments as he addresses wide receiver Anthony Miller‘s situation with the Bears. He quotes receivers coach Mike Furrey on the matter:
‘‘’He’s starting to understand defenses and coverages and leverages — that stuff, it’s not just playground,’ [Furrey] said of Miller. ‘Now everything’s slowing down for him from a route-running standpoint. He gets in meetings, he can respond, he can communicate. He’s not tucking his hat down and [giving] one-word answers. ‘‘’He’s trying to learn. He’s dropped the ego of this whole Memphis thing. Now he’s coming here and learning from Allen Robinson, asking Allen Robinson, watching Allen Robinson. . . . If you’re starting to do that stuff, you’re definitely heading in the right direction and starting to grow individually.’’’ “Furrey thought the same thing last summer, however. Nearly one year ago to the day, he said of Miller: ‘I just held my breath, hoping that he was gonna go to the right place [in 2018]. . . . He’s come in now and understands what we’re doing. Now I believe everything’s gonna get better and better for him.’’’ “That proved to be false hope.”

It did, indeed. Miller disappeared and wasn’t really a factor until late in the season when he had a five-game stretch in which he had 33 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns. That’s because, despite Furrey’s comments last season, Miller still didn’t mastered the details of playing the position. ‘‘One of our best players is not on the field,’’ Furrey said. ‘‘And the reason why [he wasn’t on the field] is because you can’t trust him.’’ I love the fact that Lieser pointed out that the rainbows and sunshine coach-speak surrounding Miller this season is the same as last season. I wish other writers did it more. For instance, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino went on and on last offseason about linebacker Leonard Floyd. Floyd went on to have a miserable year. His total inability to win one on one match ups completely destroyed the pass rush along with it as offenses focused almost completely on throwing men at stopping Khalil Mack. As a result, fans will never be able to trust anything he says about a player again. We’re in a similar situation with Miller, who is now entering his third year. Miller has shown flashes of ability that give fans hope that he could finally breakout. But so far, its been no bueno for the guy that Ryan Pace traded up to get in the second round of the 2018 draft. And that’s a problem because the Bears didn’t do that much at wide receiver this offseason. Similar to the situation along the offensive line, they decided to stick with the guys they have with only minor additions and depend upon better coaching and player development. This is what good organizations can do. Unfortunately, the Bears have failed to do it rather consistently on offense. The most notable failure in this regard was last years’ tight end situation where they stuck with Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton when many (including me) thought they needed help at the position. The result was disastrous. In any case, in finally addressing the situation at tight end this year they obviously hope that it will help solve the issues in the passing game. Certainly, at least as long as everyone is healthy, we can expect to see a lot of double tight end sets. But you still need wide receivers on the field and right now the only one the Bears can depend upon is Robinson.
Riley Ridley and Javon Wims have proven to be nothing special so far and I don’t see anything in their game that makes me think that’s going to change. Similarly, Ted Ginn, Jr. will be useful but he has proven that he isn’t going to provide the kind of consistent threat that the Bears need. And a fifth round pick like Darnell Mooney feels more like hoping to catch lightening in a bottle than something you can depend upon. So those passing game issues are going to remain prominent unless Miller finally gets it this year and provides another viable threat. It could happen. But I wouldn’t take Furrey’s word for it.

The Plan for Jason Spriggs

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic reviews things he would have been looking for in a normal, non-pandemic OTA. What he said about the situation at right tackle caught my attention:

Bobby Massie’s contract guaranteed his spot on the 2020 team, but that won’t be the case in 2021. If he can’t play as he did in 2018, Jason Spriggs could challenge him for a job. He’s the best other option the Bears currently have at tackle.

This is the first mention I’ve heard from anyone that Spriggs might have a chance to compete for a starting job and win it.

The Spriggs signing was interesting to me just because I wondered what the Bears were seeing that maybe the Packers didn’t over the last 4 years.

The Packers drafted Spriggs for his athleticism but soon found that he was being pushed around too much at the line of scrimmage. As a result, they asked him to gain weight  and he put on about 20 pounds. This not only resulted in the loss of some of the aforementioned athleticism but he was still being beaten by power rushers.

So I’ll be curious to see if the Bears have a plan for Spriggs. Perhaps they just liked him in 2016 and have decided to give him a shot. Or perhaps they’ll allow him to lose the weight and find a way to better utilize his athleticism.

If it’s the former, I’d say that there isn’t much of a chance that Spriggs will be starting at tackle for the Bears. But things could get interesting if it’s the latter.

How Much Adjusting Is Matt Nagy Really Capable Of?

Jason Lieser at the Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at the biggest questions during what would normally be OTAs:

Will Matt Nagy’s play calling change?

Yes. Nagy is too smart and resourceful to stay the same. He will reinvent not only the offense, but himself. That starts with a fierce commitment to the ground game. Nagy set a franchise record low with seven rushing attempts in a blowout loss to the Saints. The Bears had fewer than 25 run plays in nine of their games. They were third-worst at 3.7 yards per carry. Nagy knows it’s imperative to change that.

Knowing and doing are not the same thing.

I think Nagy is getting a pass from the media after he made a lot of mistakes last year. To his credit, he’s correcting some of those. But to my mind, Nagy did a pretty lousy job of adjusting to his personnel. And I’m wondering if that lack of adaptability is correctable.

For instance, to my eye, Nagy normally runs an offense that requires a tight end, ideally two, to run properly. The TE sets up mismatches as someone, either the tight end of the running back (Tarik Cohen) ends up matched up on a linebacker. Without anyone at the tight end position last year, the offense stalled. Nagy couldn’t get the match ups he wanted anymore and he either couldn’t or wouldn’t change things to make them operate properly.

What could he have changed? It’s the coach’s job to know that not me. But there are no excuses and I know there are coaches around the league that regularly work around adversity when it occurs due to either roster deficiencies or injuries. Nagy couldn’t.

And then, as Lieser points out, there’s the running game. When this became problematic, Nagy couldn’t adjust to make it work. Instead of taking this in hand himself, Nagy reportedly left it in the hands of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. When the running game still didn’t work, these two took the fall at the end of the year. This all whitewashes the basic fact that Nagy, himself, didn’t know what to do about to correct the issue.

Recent comments by former Bears center Olin Kreutz are to the point. Kreutz pointed out at least twice on a recent podcast that the Bears had their best success running out of the I-formation. Instead of adjusting and making it a major part of the offense, for three games in a row Nagy didn’t go to it until he absolutely had to in the third quarter.

The guess here is that this didn’t fit in with Nagy’s idea of what “his” offense was supposed to look like. In Nagy’s mind the offense wasn’t built that way and he either wouldn’t or couldn’t adjust it to make it work.

Kreutz is quoted here by Adam Jahns at The Athletic:

Part of me wonders if coach Nagy knows what … the run scheme in his offense really is. Or does he always have to count on somebody else to put a run scheme in his offense? You know what I’m saying?

I know exactly what he’s saying.