Bears Problems with Ted Ginn Represent a Change in Team Direction that Isn’t Working.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers another question:

Regarding Ted Ginn’s release from the Bears, it seems like Matt Nagy was looking for someone (anyone) to blame for the loss to the Rams, and, yes, Ginn didn’t have a great game fielding punts against one of the best punters in the NFL, but the punts were going to land inside the 10-yard line anyway. I guess I’m confused as to why they let an experienced, super-fast, inexpensive receiver go from the team, when it’s apparent they need more options for Nick Foles? I also thought it was interesting that the coach said that Ted only caught four passes as a Bear, but you can only catch them if they throw you the ball. Seems like they were trying to make Ginn a scapegoat. To be fully transparent, I’m a neighbor of Mr. Ginn’s in Chicago, and it just bums me out to watch the family packing up to leave Chicago. Thoughts? Do you think he’ll get picked up by another NFL team? — Chip F., Wilmette

I understand what you’re saying, but I didn’t think Ginn was productive as a punt returner in the games before the one in Los Angeles after Tarik Cohen went out for the season with a torn ACL. He didn’t look to have that skill anymore, and you need to remember it has been at least three seasons since he did it on even a partial basis. On offense, Ginn wasn’t factoring into the game plan on a weekly basis. They signed him to add a speed element to the offense and then wound up drafting Darnell Mooney in the fifth round. Mooney is playing a significant amount, and his development is more valuable than anything Ginn could add to the offense. If Ginn isn’t going to return punts and isn’t going to be on the field as a wide receiver, it’s hard to make a case for him having a spot on the 53-man roster.

I thought Biggs’ answer to this question was kind. It’s obvious that this fan is biased because Ginn was a good neighbor and a friend.

The truth is that Ginn showed zero interest in fielding punts. From the very first game they asked him to do it, that was evident.

Let’s be honest here. Being a punt returner is a dangerous job. Generally speaking it’s either a hungry, young man’s game for players interested in proving themselves in the league, or it’s a niche for veterans who have shown a talent for it but who haven’t been able to get on the field regularly with the offense or defense.

Ginn almost certainly doesn’t consider himself to be in either of those categories. He certainly is no longer young and he probably feels like he’s proven enough in the league. And he’s probably not ready to accept being in the latter category and probably never will be. He’s made his money. At this point, he’d probably rather his career just ended rather than to be forced to risk his body fielding punts for a living.

With Mooney being much younger and, let’s face it, performing better than Ginn could at this point or, in my opinion, at any point in his career, there just wasn’t a place for Ginn on the roster unless he was willing to use his skills on special teams.

I think this is all interesting because the Bears haven’t seen this problem in recent years. Now they not only have had it with Ginn, but they are dealing with it from Foles, who is having trouble standing in the pocket against the pass rush, trouble that he almost certainly didn’t have when he was younger and dumber.

Up until this year, the free agents that the Bears have signed have generally been young men under the age of 30. But in the 2020 offseason, GM Ryan Pace switched to “win now” mode, signing Robert Quinn (30), Foles (31), Ginn (35), Jimmy Graham (33), and Barkevious Mingo (30). They also chose to resign Danny Trevathan (30) over 26-year old Nick Kwiatkoski.

Suddenly they have become an older team with older team problems. And that’s on top of the fact that the “winning now” isn’t working out the way that they’d hoped.

Getting back to Ginn, it’s entirely possible that this is the end of the road for him as a player. If its any comfort to Chip, above, if his attitude towards the risks of taking punts is an indication of his level of desire in general, that might just be OK with Ginn.

If Subpar Quarterback Play Has to Be Accepted, The Bears Should Start Trubisky, Again.

The blog hasn’t been as active as I’d like lately. Part of it is that I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t put up comments on night games. Instead, I just go to bed and watch the condensed version of the game on Game Pass the next day. It’s much easier to do that when the Bears can’t run a decent offense, as has certainly been the case (again) this season.

It’s also a busy time of the year and, though I love teaching my students, the fall courses that I run don’t allow for much time to write. It makes this blog a better read in the offseason.

In any case, I’m hoping that with the Thanksgiving break I can get a few posts up before things get super busy again.

With that out of the way, Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

At this point neither Nick Foles nor Mitch Trubisky has impressed me. Actually, Trubisky has a slightly higher passer rating. If you look at the Baltimore Ravens, Lamar Jackson is a running quarterback who passes when he needs to. I think he is a better athlete than Mitch and the Ravens have intelligently devised an offense to complement his skills. Matt Nagy has tried to make Trubisky into a pocket passer. He will never excel that way. His talents are more like Jackson’s, and Nagy has failed to devise an offense which helps Trubisky. I have a feeling that once Trubisky is released, another team and coach will figure out how best to use him. Perhaps he will become a premier quarterback; players go elsewhere and flourish. In any case, why not play him, giving him option plays. If he succeeds, no need to look for another QB, and if he fails, the Bears move up in the draft. In either case the Bears win. What do you think? — Peter B., Baltimore

You need to understand that high-level quarterback play has to include the ability to not just function but succeed as a pocket passer. That is the NFL. So any coach who has Trubisky would be working with him to improve that aspect of his game. I don’t look at Trubisky and Jackson as being real similar in terms of their skills. Trubisky is dangerous when he runs the ball, but he’s not going to threaten defenses like Jackson does on a weekly basis. The other issue you have is Trubisky has now had shoulder injuries in three consecutive seasons, so there is a bit of a durability concern when you talk about designed runs, which are a big part of the Ravens offense. We’ll see what the coaches aim to do if Trubisky gets back on the field

So there are a couple things to unpack here. Let’s start with the idea that Trubisky is primed to go somewhere else and succeed where he failed with the Bears.

I find this statement to be easy to believe for a couple reasons. First and foremost, I think Peter is right. Matt Nagy really believes in that Kansas City scheme and he didn’t want to have to cut his play book down to ask Trubisky to do less with greater success in his fourth year with the organization. Had he done so – again – I think Trubisky would have done better. He still wouldn’t have been good. But he would have been netter.

Having said that, I can hardly blame Nagy for replacing Trubisky with Foles. It was evident that Trubisky just wasn’t developing and he obviously wasn’t the future here if they were going to run any semblance of the offense Nagy eventually wants to run.

Could Trubisky go somewhere else and develop? I think its possible. One, there might be a better longer term scheme fit out there with simpler reads off of a play action run game. But even more than that, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Trubisky is just slow to develop. It took him years behind a mediocre quarterback at North Carolina to finally get the starting job. There’s a reason for that. But once he got to the point where he was ready, he was really good. Perhaps that may happen with a new team if Trubisky is given time to develop with a good coaching staff.

Any debate about whether the Bears should actually bring Trubisky back to start should start with the obligatory comment that it all is predicated with the assumption that his shoulder will be healthy enough after the bye to allow him to play. You can consider this to be that statement.

The truth is that there that isn’t much reason for Trubisky to want to risk further injury playing for an offense that is unlikely to highlight his skills for future employers. But I’m sure, like most players, he chose this profession because he wants to play. So I’m guessing he’ll come back if he can.

I hate to advocate for Trubisky to start again because it feels like it’s taking a step back. Trubisky simply wasn’t very good and didn’t look significantly different in the first three games of the season than he had his previous three years as a starter. Bringing him back now seems an awful lot like simply giving up and accepting the fact that you won’t have quality quarterback play for the rest of the year.

However, as Peter pointed out above, it isn’t like Nick Foles has been any better. Foles hasn’t shown the ability to stand tall in the pocket against the pass rush and his mechanics have occasionally been atrocious as a result. True, to my eye he’s better throwing off of his back foot than Trubisky was. But the Bears are last in the league in yards after catch largely because of Foles’ inability to place the ball to a receiver in stride so that a run can result.

It may be necessary to bring Trubisky back. And having said the above, bringing him back might have one or two significant advantages.

I don’t put much stock in the suggestion that Trubisky’s superior mobility is going to bring a lot more production to the offense. Like Biggs above, I believe firmly that in order for a quarterback to be successful in any NFL offense, he has to be able to throw from the pocket. Good teams will contain Trubisky and keep him from burning them by running too often. True, it could provide a boost in isolated spots here and there, but it won’t bring sustained success to the offense over the course of an entire game, let alone all six of the games that are remaining in the season.

But there is one thing that I think might help the offense if Trubisky came back and became the starter again.

At the beginning of the year the coaching staff was putting Trubisky under center far more frequently than they had in the past years. I’m an old-school football fan, a child of the 70s and 80s, and I believe firmly in the sort of downhill running game that putting a quarterback under center can produce along with the kind of play action passing game off of it that can result.

When the Bears switched to Nick Foles to my eye they largely abandoned this philosophy and went more to the shotgun again, something that is more consistent with what Nagy was used to in Kansas City, and probably where Foles felt most comfortable running the offense.

Going back to an offense where the quarterback is under center could improve the run game in the same way it did for the first three games of the year (against inferior opponents, it must be said). That could improve the offense as a whole.

I don’t like it. But it seems evident to me that good quarterback play isn’t going to happen for the Bears this year. And if you accept that, bringing Trubisky back to start again might be the right thing to do.

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Titans 11/8/20

Defense

  • Of course, the ultimate question here was going to be whether the Bears could stop the Titans run game without allowing the play action pass to burn them. The Bears did do a good job of stopping the run (2.5 yards per rush at halftime, 3.2 for the game) and I think they did about well stopping the play action pass as you could expect. But the play action pass over the middle was there for the Titans more than occasionally. They did gain some chunks of yardage on it but there were some drops that limited the damage.
  • The Bears did a good job of beating the Titans on first down. That’s eventually putting the Titans in third and long, something they are not built to handle well.
  • Buster Skrine had really good coverage on A.J. Brown on the Titans first touchdown. Sometimes this stuff happens.
  • The Bears got really good pressure on Ryan Tannehill. They had 3 sacks at halftime.
  • Tashaun Gipson has some tackling issues that need to be addressed. Eddie Jackson missed some, too.
  • I’d say the Bears defense did as well as you could expect. It was a good effort totally wasted.

Offense

  • The Bears came out attacking the edges of the Titans defense, apparently believing that they didn’t have the speed, nor the cornerbacks to defend it. They had very little success on the ground (2.8 yards per rush). But much of what they had on the ground did come to the outside.
  • Matt Nagy made a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth and one from the Titans 34 yard line. They didn’t get it behind the re-shuffled offensive line. Not that they would have gotten it behind the starters. Running such a play up the middle is a bit tone deaf. Whether he thinks they should be able to get the yard or not (they should) Nagy should know he doesn’t have the personnel to do it by now.
  • For whatever reason, the Bears largely went with Cordarella Patterson at running back early in the game rather than David Montgomery. Perhaps Nagy thought he was more of a threat to the outside. They certainly had very little success with Montgomery running up the middle. In any case, personally I don’t have a problem with this as I don’t think Patterson’s instincts are as bad as some have made them out to be. But I like Montgomery better and I’d rather see him in there. Eventually he started getting a lot more snaps.
  • Foles struggled with pressure in his face much of the time. It was an anemic Titans defensive line but they brought a lot of pressure to my eye and the Bears re-shuffled offensive line couldn’t handle them. The run blocking also was poor. All in all, the back ups didn’t step up this week as they do on good teams around the league when needed.
  • Foles also showed the fear in the pocket that we saw last week. This is very, very disturbing.
  • The Bears were miserable on third down. They were failed to convert on 13 of 15 until garbage time.
  • For much of the first half it looked to me like Jimmy Graham was the only receiver who could get open and that wasn’t much. The Bears must have adjusted at halftime because more receivers got involved at that point. We finally had a Riley Ridley siting.
  • Few if any targets for Cole Kmet this week. Kmet is an inline tight end and I think its hard to use a guy like that if you don’t have a running game. We didn’t see much from Demetrius Harris either.

Miscellaneous

  • Dick Stockton, Greg Jennings and Laura Okmin were your announcers. I would say that Stockton was his usual self. I’m not as critical as many but he won’t be the favorite of many people. Jennings wasn’t great and added something to the broadcast that I could appreciate only a few times.
  • Special teams
    • Although Pat O’Donnell had a good game, the Bears punt coverage team occasionally got its tail kicked with a number of good returns for good chunks of yardage. I targeted this unit for criticism last week as well.
    • The fake punt and run by Barkevious Mingo was clever (and successful).
    • The Titans made an interesting decision to kick the ball short on the kickoff to open the second half. It was an indication that they were reasonably confident that they could stop the Bears offense with good field position and they didn’t want Patterson to blow open the game with a big return.
    • The Bears kicked a field goal with 12 minutes left in the game and you have to wonder if at that point it was more about not getting shut out than it was about winning the game.
  • The Titans had some open play action passes over the middle open but they didn’t make as much of it as they could have due, in part, to drops. Teams that live and die by such plays need to make those plays all the time.
  • Fourth and one early in the third quarter. False start Arlington Hambright. False start Jimmy Graham. Punt. Typical. The Bears had 5 penalties for 35 yards which is an improvement for a team that entered the game leading the league.
  • Just as the Bears looked like they might finally be able to kick a field goal in the third quarter, Montgomery fumbled. Desmond King brought it back for a touchdown. Anthony Miller’s fumble with 3:45 left in the game extinguished any slim hope the Bears had of coming back.
  • This Bears offense is about as bad as I’ve ever seen right now. And I’ve seen some really bad Bears offenses. Some of the units from the early 2 thousands scarred me for life. One thing is certain. The Bears can’t keep rolling Nick Foles out there at quarterback if he won’t stand in the pocket, as he again failed to do, especially in the first half. No matter how bad the blocking is, you can’t have a guy in there who won’t take advantage on the occasions when they actually do keep the pocket clean. I get it. It’s an easy thing to say when you are sitting on your couch at home. But its not my job. It’s Foles’ and he has to step up and do it or the Bears have to find someone else to step in.

Troy Aikman’s Eyes Are Bleeding? Welcome to Chicago.

Adam Jahns at The Athletic addresses the Bears quarterback situation:

On fourth-and-5 from the Saints’ 36 early in the fourth quarter, Bears quarterback Nick Foles received the snap at the 41 and backpedaled to the 48, where he threw a pass off his back foot.

That pass — an errant-looking one from the beginning — sailed 5 yards over the head of receiver Allen Robinson and into the hands of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who dropped what would have been his second interception of the game.

As the Fox broadcast came back from a break, play-by-play man Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman were ready with another critique on the Bears’ quarterback situation.

“A straight backpedal by Foles off the snap,” Buck said. “I would imagine Mitchell Trubisky is sitting on the bench going, what’s it going to take.”

If you watched the game, you know that Aikman was wondering the same thing.

“Yeah, I’m sure there is some of that,” the Hall of Fame quarterback responded. “I’m sure there is a lot of things running through a lot of these players’ minds right now.”

I’m not surprised that Jahns highlighted this comment. He and his podcast partner Adam Hoge have been leaning in Trubisky’s direction for this job since the preseason. Both tend to be more positively inclined toward the Bears in general and Trubisky in particular than most fans or other members of the media. Not too positively inclined, of course. No one with eyes who wanted to maintain any credibility could be. But more so than most.

Let’s start with this. Whatever the Bears problems on offense are, Trubisky isn’t the answer. I’ve heard it said that Trubisky would be in the process of being crucified if he made some of the throw that Foles did on Sunday and that is absolutely correct. But Foles has had 5 games with this team as the starter. Trubisky had more than three years.

Trubisky wasn’t progressing. At the beginning of this season he looked far too much like he did last year and, at least as a passer, that looked far too much like it did the year before. There was simply no hope of improvement there any more and, injury to Foles aside, going back to him would be an admission that you just don’t feel the Bears can get any better at the position this year.

Having said that, Foles obviously really worries me. The most disturbing thing I saw on Sunday was his obvious fear of the pass rush. The play highlighted above was far and away the worst example but for most of the game, Foles was skittish in the pocket and failed to step up, even when the makeshift offensive line had done its job and kept it clean in front of him.

Foles is getting to an age where these problems start to crop up. At 31 years old it would be a tad early but older quarterbacks don’t stand up to the rush in the same way that they did when they were younger and dumber.

Remember Tom Brady forgetting what down it was at the end of the Buccaneers game after the Bears knocked him around a bit a few weeks ago? That’s what Foles looked and acted like, at one point completely forgetting to look at the play clock and taking a delay of game penalty. The Bears at times have struggled just to get lined up and head coach Matt Nagy, himself, has implied that this was partly Foles’ fault on Sunday when he wondered how such a thing could happen when you are reading the plays off of a wrist band.

If I had any positive thoughts about the position it was that, despite throwing off of his back foot all game, Foles still made some good throws. When Trubisky tried to do that, almost none looked that good.

But that’s not much comfort.

Foles probably isn’t the biggest problem with the offense right now. And neither is the much criticized play-calling. Lack of concentration and execution is. The Bears are undisciplined, as indicated by their league leading penalty count. They had two critical drops in overtime that arguably cost them the game on Sunday. In addition to not even being able to get lined up, mental mistakes, especially along the offensive line, are far too frequent.

But even given all that there’s only so far the offense can improve with quarterback play that is mediocre at its best.

It looks like Bears fans are going to be stuck once again riding it out every Sunday with the hopes that general manager Ryan Pace can find another quarterback in the offseason. With limited cap space in a year where the cap is expected to go down, he’s going to have to get in line with the rest of the league and over-draft one whether he likes it or not.

Until then, our eyes will just have to bleed.

Quick Game Comments: Saints at Bears 11/1/20

Defense

  • The Saints came out running. They obviously knew that the Bears have given up a lot of big ones. They’ve got one of the best running backs in the league. With the Bears offense being what it is, they probably figured they could wear them out as well.
  • In line with the above, the Bears tendency to give up big plays made itself evident in teh first quarter. Alvin Kamara ripped off a 20 yard run in the first series setting up a field goal. He followed that with an 88 yard catch and run on the following series.
  • Taysom Hill also did some damage on the run in the first half. He seems to run the ball a lot more than he passes. I’m surprised teams don’t key more on it when he comes in.
  • Barkavious Mingo continues to do nothing but make plays for the Bears. He doesn’t get enough credit. He’s been a gem.
  • I thought Roquon Smith also had a good game.
  • One thing I was glad to see was that the Bears cleaned up the tackling this week. It was excellent. And it was needed. The Saints do a good job of running after the catch.
  • Hated to see Roy Robertson-Harris go down with a shoulder. He’s a big (and also underrated) part of that defensive line.
  • The Bears had a lot of trouble getting pressure on Drew Brees in the first half. He was also gettng the ball out fast. They did better in the second half.
  • The drive before half time was a travesty. The Bears had them in a third and thirteen situation from thier own 40 yard line. They threw a little screen to the left and there were no Bears defenders in sight. He got 12 yards. They converted the fourth down and then scored a touchdown against some really bad coverage along with another Kyle Fuller penalty. I don’t know what they were thinking.
  • Jaylon Johnson was nowhere near the guys he was covering an awful lot today. I don’t know what he was doing. Like a lot of things about this game, it was a bad look.

Offense

  • The Bears came out with the short passing game. It was reasonably effective as the Saints defensive backs were giving them some room. The Saints have had some problems in their defensive backfield.
  • Interesting bringing Mitch Trubisky in for a pleay in the first series to run the ball. It didn’t get many years but I didn’t have a problem with it.
  • It was nice to see the Bears hand the ball off to Montgomery on 3rd and 8 in the first quarter. It keeps the defense honest, especially since it worked.
  • It was also nice to see Montgmery break free for a big 38 yard run in the second quarter. The Bears ran the ball well in the first half. they Bears had 6.7 yards per carry at half time. They ended the game at 4.2 as they didn’t run as well in the second half.
  • The Bears finally completed some nice deep balls in the second quarter with a 50 yard completion to Darnell Mooney followed by a 24 yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson on a really nice catch. I think most people familiar with the Bears have been waiting for that kind of catch from Mooney for a while. Its obvious that teams respect his speed and he ran right Janoris Jenkins.
  • Nick Foles looked really awful in the face of the pass rush today. He might be at that point in his career when fear of being hit becomes a dominant part of your game. For much of this game he reminded me of Jay Cutler wiht the Dolphins. Or Tom Brady earlier this year while the Bears defense knocked him around a little. A straight back pedal off of the snap on a fourth down play at the beginning of the fourth quarter was a really bad look.

Miscellaneous

  • Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Erin Andrews were your announcers. Aikman is always interesting. He’s not the kind of guy who will teach you a lot of Xs and Os but he’s observant and he’s obviously studies both teams very hard. His perspective on teh team is nice to hear.
  • Bears special teams were not good. Coverage teams got outplayed. Return teams got out played. The Bears got outplayed. Cairo Santos was kicking well. That’s the best I can say.
    • The Saints Will Lutz finally missed a feild goal after hitting 29 straight. He walked off looking at the goal post like it jumped in the way to purposely hit the ball.
    • I noticed that Tedd Ginn was inactive after basically refusing to field a punt last week and showing little interest before that. He basically threw his opportunity to play away. Perhaps at this stage of his career, he’d rather do that than take the chances that come with returning punts. Dwayne Harris took his place as punt returner.
  • There were two consecutive bad drops in overtime by Anthony Miller and Jimmy Graham. The drive died with a sack on the next play. The Saints kicked the winning field goal on the next possession.
  • The Bears didn’t have as many penalties as they have had over the last few games but they came at critical times. Well, they’re all critcial when your margin for error is as small as the Bears. Javon Wimms took an unessessary roughness penalty midway through the third quarter and got thrown out of the game after throwing a punch at a defensive back. It was a dumb penalty. The only thing I can say is it wasn’t a big loss and he did nothing on the field before that.
  • The Saints had one really bad penalty late in the fourth quarter, a pass interference on Jimmy Graham in the endzone that set up a Bears touchdown to make it a 3 point game. Other than that, they were very clean.
  • Nick Foles threw a terrible looking interception that handed the Saints the ball deep in Bears territory. It looked like he expected Jimmy Graham to go back shoulder or hitch up. He didn’t and kept on running. It was an ugly play to go along with some other ugly play at the beginning of the half (see below). The Saints turned it into a field goal.
  • There were a lot of players slipping around out there today, especially Saints players.
  • The start to the second half was a travesty. The Bears offense failed to get lined up properly and took a delay of game. That was faloowed by a false start on the punt by Cordarella Patterson. That was followed by a Saints punt return to the 16 yard line.
  • For most of this game, it didn’t feel like it was as close as the score indicated. With the Bears offense continuing to be miserable with some awful, embarrassing stretches, it never felt like the Saints wouldn’t or shouldn’t win. A lot of work remains to be done to get the execution to where it needs to be.

To Huddle or Not To Huddle. That Is the Question.

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the advantages and disadvantages of running an no-huddle offense:

“The success of the hurry-up offense often is born of desperation. At the end of a half or the end of a game, with time running out, the two-minute drill can bring an offense to life.

“When executed properly, it creates the focus, timing and -momentum that give the offense the rhythm any quarterback or play-caller craves — forcing players to only react and giving coaches no time to over-think. And at the same time, it often leaves a defense in a state of frustration — huffing and puffing, on its heels and often a step behind on every play.”

“[Nick] Foles’ affinity for the tempo of the no-huddle has been a recurring theme since he replaced [Mitch Trubisky as the Bears’ starting quarterback.”

One of the things that Potash didn’t mention was that teams frequently go to the no-huddle at the end of games when not only is there a sense of desperation but the opposing defense is often in prevent mode where they are simply trying to avoid the big play. This makes for more apparent success.

Foles’ affinity for the no-huddle was probably born in the time he spent with former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. The fact that Kelly is no longer a head coach in the NFL should tell you something about the long-term benefits of his offense.

The no-huddle is great if it works for all of the reasons Potash documented above. The problem is that when it doesn’t work it’s not the opposing defense that’s “huffing and puffing”. It’s your own guys, who you have thrown under the bus by giving them almost no rest on the side line while you used only seconds off the clock in a three and out.

Like most aspects of offensive play, the no-huddle is great if you have a good offense anyway. On the other hand, when you have an offense like the Bears, it can ruin the only good part of your team.

I like the way that head coach Matt Nagy is handling this. Foles obviously likes it and wants to do it and it can’t hurt too much to go ahead and do it occasionally as a change of pace and see if you can build some momentum. But don’t over do it or serious problems may ensue.

Thoughts on the Bears Running Formations. And Other Points of View.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune supplies us with his always insightful ten thoughts after the Bears victory Sunday. I had a couple of thoughts on his “The Questions We Didn’t Get to” section:

“What was the real reason or reasons for the delay-of-game penalty coming out of the timeout on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line? [Head coach] Matt Nagy was clearly being tongue-in-cheek when he said, ‘You know, it’s, I guess it was a little loud. I don’t know. I guess it was a little loud.’ Crowd noise was a total nonissue. Yes, the Panthers had fans in the stands, but the announced attendance was 5,240 in a stadium that seats more than 75,000. This was Nagy’s way of not answering the question. Clearly, there was some kind of disconnect after whatever play they came up with during the timeout was given out in the huddle. I wouldn’t dwell on this too much because it distracts from the bigger picture, which is the offense’s struggle to move the ball and score”

Well, I would say that the offense’s struggles to move the ball might be partly related to the fact that they can’t get their act together on the field coming out of a time out.

As I chronicled in my game comments and as Biggs mentioned earlier in his comments, the Bears had 10 penalties for 92 yards on Sunday. It’s become a common gripe for me as each week the penalties have piled up. This is not a disciplined team. They don’t always concentrate well and, as Nagy pointed out last week himself, they aren’t getting the details right offensively.

Penalties are always an indication of how well dialed in a team is. Even the defense, who did play well at other times on Sunday, had to do so in some tight situations of their own making.

This team is setting itself up for a fall against a good team. It will happen soon, maybe Monday against the Rams.

“Did you forgo the run on third down late in the game because you couldn’t push the ball in from the 1-yard line on a David Montgomery handoff with five offensive linemen and four tight ends on the field? Montgomery was stopped for no gain after a replay review showed his elbow was down before the ball crossed the goal line. The Bears can’t put more beef on the field than this, and the Panthers stalemated them before Nick Foles scored on a quarterback sneak on the following play. The running game is an ongoing issue.”

A comment by color man Jonathan Vilma on Sunday struck me. Vilma pointed out that Carolina was dong the same thing against the Bears defense that the Buccaneers had done a week earlier, namely spread them out and run the ball. When you compared the Bears formations to the Panthers, the difference was obvious. the Bears were playing it like a power team by running out of compact formations. Even the wide receivers are line up close to the formation. And its not working.

It occurs to me that, like the Panthers, the Bears may be better off spreading out their formations and clearing out some of the traffic inside. This will make it more difficult for teams, who are now expecting the Bears to run on first down, to beat players off the snap to converge on the ball carrier.

“Did you have issues with the officiating by referee Adrian Hall’s crew? Nagy is highly unlikely to take the bait with this one because coaches tread lightly when they believe they’re on the wrong end of calls. They don’t want to risk being fined by the league when they can complain directly to the NFL about discrepancies without fear of retribution. The unnecessary roughness call on Kyle Fuller for a hit to the head of Panthers wide receiver Keith Kirkwood was close. Fox analyst Mike Pereira thought it was the proper call. Nagy might disagree, and it looked very iffy. It looked like shoulder-to-shoulder contact, and you don’t want Fuller to become gun-shy. A 33-yard pass interference call against cornerback Jaylon Johnson was also close, but he did pin D.J. Moore’s right arm against his body and really never let go. The play happened directly in front of side judge Dominique Pender.”

Agreed on the call on Fuller. But I have an issue with Biggs interpretation of the Johnson penalty. The position of Moore’s arm between Johnson and himself made it look like it was pinned. But if you look closely, Johnson wasn’t holding on to it. It was a phantom call by a referee who went by what he thought must have happened rather than what actually did.

Bad Officiating in the Bears Victory over the Panthers Went Both Ways

Jason Lieser at the Chicago Sun-Times reports some comments by Bears defensive players about the officiating in yesterday’s victory over the Carolina Panthers:

“The highlight of [safety Eddie Jackson‘s] day would’ve been a pass break-up by cornerback Kyle Fuller that deflected to Jackson at the Panthers’ 17-yard line early in the third quarter. He darted through the Panthers to the end zone, but Fuller was flagged for pass interference for hitting wide receiver Robby Anderson before the ball arrived.

“Jackson chimed in later on Twitter that having his touchdown called back ‘makes no sense.'”

“He took it a step further by adding, ‘If you think these refs dot have something against us you Crazy.’ He deleted that one.”>/p>

“Jackson was not alone venting his frustration with the officials on Twitter. Linebacker Danny Trevathan
added, ‘We need to start fining refs. This is ludicrous.'”

I don’t like seeing players criticize officials publicly under any circumstances but I have a particular objection in this case.

As I chronicled in my game comments, the bad calls went both ways. For instance, the first Bears interception by Tashaun Gibson
came on a hit to the receiver that was pretty obviously early. And though Jaylon Johnson got hit with a terrible pass interference penalty where the refs called what they expected to see instead of what happened near the end of the third quarter, it was almost immediately followed by a pretty awful roughing the passer call on Carolina on the Bears next possession.

Bad officiating? Yes. But I’d be careful throwing around accusations of bias. I don’t see it.

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Panthers 10-18-20

Defense

  • The Bears played a lot of man-to-man coverage. The Panthers receivers were tough to handle. They’re quick and they play fast.
  • The Bears were very physical on defense today. They were fast to the ball.
  • The pass rush was pretty undisciplined and they left a lot of of room for Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to run.
  • Having said that, the Bears front seven looked pretty good today and handled the Panthers up front reasonably well.
  • Jaylon Johnson had a bad, bad day today. Bridgewater picked on him all game, especially with D.J. Moore.
  • The Bears once again struggled in coverage with their linebackers on shallow crossing routes. Admittedly those are tough but its their job and they have to do it.

Offense

  • Cole Kmet finally got a touchdown on a good throw to him in double coverage. Here’s hoping its the first of many.
  • Anthony Miller also finally got a ball in the first quarter but wasted it by backing up and giving up the first down that he initially had. It wasn’t a good look.
  • I don’t have the stats but Matt Nagy calls a lot of runs on first down. As color man Jonathan Vilma pointed out, when he didn’t do that, he called for short passes to the outside which were the equivalent. I know the offensive line is largely responsible for the struggles with the run game that the Bears have. But I’m starting to wonder how much Nagy’s play calling is factoring into it.
  • Having said that the Bears got dominated up front by one of the worst run defenses in the league. They ended the game with 3 yards per carry but it seemed like less.
  • The Panthers got a lot of pressure on Nick Foles in the second half. Much of it came on the blitz. This was a terrible game for the offensive line, who were without coach Juan Castillo. Castillo is quarantining after being exposed to someone with COVID.
  • Nick Foles let go of a bunch of wobbly passes under that pressure. He finally got picked off by the Panthers inside the Panther 10 yard line. I understand trying to make a play but you can’t be stupid about it.
  • Foles did do a good job of spreading the ball around today. Most of the receivers and tight ends had a catch. The Panthers were obviously hyper-aware of Allen Robinson, who I think almost everyone in the league believes is the only Bears offensive player likely to consistently burn anyone.
  • Darnell Mooney really does do a good job of getting open by using his speed. Cornerbacks have to respect it and he gets a lot of room.
  • The Bears continue to struggle to throw the ball down field. They had only 5.1 yards per pass, which is a statistic that is a pretty good indication of the overall health of your passing game.
  • David Montgomery still has a habit of running without the necessary patience. But he’s getting better.

Miscellaneous

  • Kenny Albert, Vilma and Shannon Spake were your announcers. Once again, I liked Vilma, who has warmed to the job after a tough start without Albert at the beginning of the season. Again, I frequently found myself thinking along with him. He made a number of good points, including pointing out that Carolina was spreading the Bears out to run in the same way the Buccaneers did. I’m also a Shannon Spake fan.
  • Special teams: Cairo Santos kicked a career long 55 yard field goal. Joey Slye missed a 54 yard field goal in the third quarter that the Panthers really could have used with the score only 13-6. The Bears took over and eventually scored a touchdown. Slye gave Cordarella Patterson absolutely no chance to return kicks, consistently kicking it through the endzone.
  • The Bears dominated field position for much of the game getting good starting position while pinning the Panthers inside their twenty.
  • Penalties: The referees were letting a lot of early hits on receivers go on both sides today. The penalties should have been pretty obvious. The Bears got rolling with a delay of game on their first possession coming out of a time out on the Carolina 4 yard line. I’ll never understand how that happens. The sequence leading to the Panther’s second field goal was interesting. It looked to me like the Panthers were just trying to draw the Bears offsides but Nagy ran down the sideline in panic and called a time out to set up the defense. The Panthers then came out and did the same thing and, sure enough, Akiem Hicks jumped offside to defend a play that almost certainly wasn’t going to come. That’s bad all the way around. The Bears had not one but Two 12 men in the huddle penalties to sustain a Carolina drive at the end of the third quarter. Jaylon Johnson got called for a terrible pass interference call later in the drive to set up the touchdown. Though the arm was in a suspicious position, on replay you could clearly see that Johnson didn’t have D.J. Moore’s arm pinned. Just so no one thinks I’m saying that the bad calls all went one way, the Panthers drew a terrible roughing the passer penalty on the next Bears possession. The Bears eventually kicked a field goal. It was a bad day for the refs. The Bears finished the game with 10 penalties for 92 yards. That’s too many to consistently play winning football against good teams.
  • Drops: D.J. Moore dropped a touchdown on what was otherwise a pretty good day for him. It was the worst of a few today for him including one on fourth down with less than 2 minutes left in the game.
  • Turnovers: Tashaun Gibson got a nice interception on the Panthers first possession to set up a Bears touchdown. It looked like the hit on the receiver was early but see my comments about the referees above. Akiem Hicks recovered a Mike Davis fumble that Eddie Jackson knocked out in the third quarter. The Bears got the ball on the Carolina 22 yard line. Nick Foles immediately handed the ball back to the Panthers with an awful throw under pressure. Deandre Houston-Carson got the game winning interception off of Bridgewater with less than 2 minutes left.
  • I hate to keep bashing a team that keeps winning but they just aren’t playing well. They ran into a Carolina team that had a bad game today and once again pulled one out. But they have to start playing better, more disciplined football or this simply won’t fly against good teams like the Packers.

Eventually the Bears Are Going to Have to Invest More at Offensive Tackle

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times says that the problem that the Bears have on the offensive line has no easy solutions. He’s got a good point:

“When the Bears had a quarterback issue, they turned to Nick Foles.

“When wide receiver Anthony Miller’s production dipped, they turned to rookie Darnell Mooney.

“With rookie tight end Cole Kmet still getting acclimated to the offense, they turned to Demetrious Harris.

“But an underperforming offensive line is much more problematic. A team-within-a-team, the issues are often hard to define. They take turns contributing to the problem — Bobby Massie gets beat on one play, Cody Whitehair the next and Charles Leno the one after that.

“And you usually can’t just plug one new guy in and fix it. In fact, that can create as many problems as it solves, given the chemistry and unspoken communication it takes to develop an outstanding offensive line.”

According to offensive line coach Juan Castillo, the Bears think that the solution is simply getting a better performance out of the men they have:

“It’s about fundamentals. It’s about doing something over and over so that you are able to make that block. This is what, five weeks? We still have a few left. The important thing for us, it’s a progression. We’ll get better every week.”

I have my doubts.

Fans clamored for better players along the offensive line all season. But the Bears put themselves in a bit of a bind. They’ve handed out big contracts to Whitehair, Massie and Leno that they can’t walk away from without taking a serious hit to their tight salary cap situation.

According to overthecap.com the Bears had roughly $44 million invested in Massie before 2020 and the cap hit would have been $12.1 million if they had cut him. Similarly, they had $46 million sunk into Leno and cutting him would have resulted in a $7.5 million cap hit.  And that’s not including the price of replacing either or both with starter quality players. The cap hit after 2020 for both is more reasonable.

I wouldn’t have been impossible to move on from these players. But it would have been tough, especially in Massie’s case. They chose instead to invest in Robert Quinn, someone they badly needed, and to put their faith in Castillo.

There is also the problem that general manager Ryan Pace has a bad habit of stubbornly overestimating his talent at obvious positions of need. He did the same thing last year, sticking with the tight ends he had when fans called for more help at the position. The result was a disaster.

Standing pat on the offensive line isn’t looking like it was a much better decision this year.

In any case, no matter how good Castillo is, there’s only so much he can do with mediocre talent. And it’s evident that’s what the Bears have.

I’ve heard it said repeatedly by, among others, Potash himself that the Bears haven’t invested enough first round picks in the offensive line. I’m not sure that’s the issue. Though they haven’t been taking linemen with first round picks, both Whitehair and James Daniels were second rounders.

No, the problem isn’t a lack of investment in high picks. It’s where those picks have been invested.

The Bears and Pace have inherited their offensive line philosophy from the organization that he spent 14 years with before he was hired by the Bears, the Saints. They believe, rightfully I think, that the most important part of protecting the quarterback is keeping the pocket clean in front of him so he can step up. They have, therefore, invested in the interior part of the line with Whitehair and Daniels to go with, until recently, Kyle Long.

But the problem with that is that you are left with mediocre tackles. In pass protection, that apparently works for them. They currently rank 12th in the league with 8 sacks allowed.

But when it comes to the run game, offensive tackles who can win one-on-one blocks are important. And, no matter who the coach is, the Bears don’t have the talent there to play with the top half of the league.

That’s very unfortunate because the Bears have chosen to make the play action pass a major part of their game plan. In order to do that effectively, it helps to run the ball successfully.

True, it’s far more important to keep the opposition honest by continuing to try to run whether it’s successful or not, something Nagy has been continually criticized for not doing.

But if you don’t turn those run plays into yards, you continually end up in third and long. And that is exactly what has happened to the Bears. They currently rank 30th, converting third downs at a 33% clip.

Unfortunately, as Potash points out, there are no easy solutions for the Bears right now. And it is becoming increasingly evident that offensive tackle is going to have to bubble up to the top of Pace’s offseason list of positions to address.