Would the Broncs Have Won a Super Bowl with John Fox?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“With Super Bowl 50 in the record books, I can’t help but hope the folks in Halas Hall saw what everyone else did. No disrespect to Peyton Manning, but let’s face it, the Broncos defense beat New England and Carolina. So my question is: Do you believe Ryan Pace and John Fox are committed to building a shutdown defense? — David T., Warwick, R.I.

“I think it’s fair to say Pace and his front office and Fox and his coaching staff have the football acumen necessary to realize what made the Broncos a championship team this season. …It’s probably worth remembering that Fox had a lot to do with constructing the current Broncos defense. He didn’t shift it to a 3-4 front but he had a hand in many of the players that were core performers. …You must be forgetting Fox’s recent past when you wonder if he’s committed to constructing a top-flight defense. That’s just what Fox did in Denver. That’s how he built the Carolina Panthers into a competitor before that. Fox is a defensive guy. Just because the Broncos won a Super Bowl after he left Denver doesn’t mean he didn’t do a good job building a solid defense there.”

I understand the questioner’s trepidation. Broncos General Manager and
Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway strongly implied that getting rid of Fox was an essential step towards winning the Super Bowl. When they hear that, fans are going to wonder what he means and if eventually getting rid of Fox here in Chicago isn’t going to be an essential step for their own advancement.

But I generally agree with Biggs. There are a number of factors to be considered here. For one thing the Broncos added some incredible pieces to the puzzle after Fox left in Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Shane Ray. And although Wade Phillips is a great defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio is no slouch and I’m quite certain that he could have done almost as good of a job as Phillips did. I’m sure he would have been just as aggressive. Furthermore, one of the first things Fox did when he came to Chicago was hire Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. Anyone who saw his defenses in San Fransisco can have little doubt about his aggressiveness or his ability to get the most out of the talent he is given.

No, whatever Elway’s problem was with Fox, I very much doubt it was with how aggressive they were on defense or with Fox’s commitment to it. I think Bears fans can look forward to seeing some good play on that side of the ball as the front office gradually builds it back up. Furthermore, though we’ll never know for sure, I can find very little to make me believe that the Broncos don’t perform at least as well with Fox at the helm as with current head coach Gary Kubiac.

[EDIT – Turns out that Talib and Ware were both with the Broncos in 2014 when Fox was still the head coach.  No excuse.  I just blew it.  Sorry.]

Super Bowl Teaches Us that Kyle Long Belongs on the Right Side

Nate Atkins at ChicagoFootball.com breaks down the Bears draft (and free agent) needs. This is one of many articles which we can expect to see on the subject but I think the top needs, defensive line, offensive line and inside linebacker, are well established. The only real question is what order you put them in. I do have one bone to pick with Atkin’s analysis, however:

Dave Magazu received all kinds of credit for his grooming of Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle last season. But Leno was a seventh-round pick for a reason, with limited athleticism, and his inability to play on the right side makes the position a priority even if Kyle Long finds a home at left tackle. The Bears also could improve their right guard spot, where neither Patrick Omameh nor Vlad Ducasse (sp) solidified down the stretch last season.”

“Could” is understating it. The Bears have a major need at right guard where neither Omameh nor Ducasse are starters. It’s possible that Atkins’ soft stance has more to do with doubt about whether you address it in the first round – which is certainly valid. But the need is beyond doubt.

But what I’d really like to focus on is the first part of this quote. Atkins implication that the Bears may move Long to left tackle is probably a reflection of the influence of Chicago Football publisher and respected football writer, Hub Arkush on his opinion. Whatever else you say about Arkush’s opinions, they’re always strong and he’s made it very clear in the past that he thinks Long’s move to left tackle is already overdue. I’m not so sure.

First, at least to my eye, Leno didn’t do too badly at left tackle. It’s obvious that he didn’t belong on the right side but for some reason the left side suited him. I can say this: I don’t know why Leno was a seventh rounder but it wasn’t because of limited athleticism. He moves extremely well. I’m not at all certain that isn’t what made him a better left tackle than right, where more power is required, nor am I convinced that he doesn’t have a future as a very good left tackle in the league.

I found the opinion of David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune that there was nothing for NFL teams to learn from Sunday’s Super Bowl to be amusing. There’s always something to learn from any game and, in fact, there was at least one thing that stuck out that could teach a lot of people a lesson. Watching Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers get beaten like a drum by Denver pass rusher Von Miller should have taught people that, though they generally make less money, very good right tackles are almost as valuable in the NFL as left tackles are. I’m not at all sure that your best athlete need be moved to the left, as both Arkush and possibly Atkins believe, especially when you’ve already got a decent guy on the left side who doesn’t seem to be as capable on the right.

The one thing you have to do as a developing team is use the draft to fill holes. Especially when you already have a lot of those holes to fill, creating holes moves you backwards not forwards as a team. Moving Long to left tackle creates two holes, right tackle and right guard, where only one existed before. If right tackle is where the need is, right is where you put your guy. That’s the case here.

Malik Jackson Could Be a Fit for the Bears Defensive Line

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Do you see the Bears making a push to sign Malik Jackson if Denver does not re-sign him? — @bkelz417″

“[The Broncos] would like to keep Jackson too but there might be only so much money to go around. Jackson has flourished as a full-time starter for the first time in his career and would be attractive to any team looking to solidify its defensive line. I don’t know that he is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. His production dipped a little bit after the midpoint of the season. But he’s very good and would fit in nicely for the Bears. Certainly coach John Fox and defensive line coach Jay Rodgers can answer any questions the front office has about Jackson. He’ll likely command very good money at the start of free agency where there really aren’t any good deals. It could come down to how much the Bears want to pay, again, assuming Jackson doesn’t re-sign with the Broncos. He’s definitely a player to keep in mind at this early juncture.”

One thing to bear in mind: the draft is very, very deep in defensive linemen, especially at the top of the draft. That’s going to affect the market for Jackson. Depending on what kind of ceiling teams feel he has when he’s not paired with guys like Von Miller and Derek Wolfe, Jackson’s market may not be as great as it would be in other years.

The Bears need as much or more help than anyone in the NFL right now with multiple spots in the rotation along the line open. Unlike many teams, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to fill all of those holes in the draft. They’ll almost certainly be looking to free agency to sign at least one player. I’d say the Bears will certainly take a close look at Jackson as an option to fill a spot as long as they don’t have to over pay too much.

To Re-Sign or Not to Re-Sign? That is the Question.


Mike Mulligan
at the Chicago Tribune speculates about Alshon Jeffery‘s future with the team:

“Franchise tags won’t be set until the 2016 salary cap is set in March, but Corry, writing for CBSSports.com, recently predicted it will grow about 7.5 percent to $154 million. With big-money deals for Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas added to increases for Julio Jones and A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson‘s top-dollar deal, the franchise number for a wide receiver is projected to jump from $12.8 million to just over $14.5 million.

“The number will be the richest at any NFL position other than quarterback (projected $19.75 million) and defensive end ($15.5 million).

“Is Jeffery worth that kind of money? “

Aishon_jeffreyYes, he probably is.

The real problem with Jeffery is that he’s been injured so often this season. Worse, he’s been out with exactly the kind of soft tissue injury that head coach John Fox mentioned as the major issue with Jeffery after he was hired in the off-season.

But the truth is that franchising Jeffery for a year minimizes the risk. Sure, the Bears will try to sign him at their price, which will take the injury risk into account. But even if Jeffery refuses and decides to try to prove to the Bears that he can, indeed, remain healthy, its only a one year contract with a rebuilding team that will have plenty of cap room to absorb the hit. Over the next off-season, I would expect the Bears to talk a lot to Jeffery about how to manage these injuries. If he responds, he’s going to see his pay day with the Bears. If he doesn’t, he’ll see it elsewhere. But probably not until 2017.

The real problem that the Bears will face in the off-season isn’t what to do with Jeffery. Its what to do with cornerback Tracy Porter. Porter has been healthy this year but has a brutal history of injuries as documented by Dan Wiederer, also at the Chicago Tribune:

“Through the summer, the biggest thing Porter seemed to have a knack for was getting hurt and bouncing around. When he signed with the Bears on June 8, shortly after being released by the Redskins, Porter joined his fifth team in five seasons.

“His resume came loaded with red flags, most notably the durability concerns of a player who had missed 23 games the previous three years.

“A mysterious seizure episode in Denver had been a culprit in the 10 games he missed in 2012. Last season, hamstring and shoulder injuries sidelined Porter for 13 games with the Redskins.

“Then, on Aug. 11, in the third week of Bears training camp, Porter tweaked a hamstring. He doesn’t remember how.”

Porter is a problem. He’s currently the Bears’ best corner but he’s 29 years old and, though he probably has some good years left, that’s not young for a cornerback. Will this be the year he breaks out and never looks back? Or will this be the exception to the rule, one of the few where he remained healthy? It’s a critical question because if he continues to play the way he has, he could demand a reasonably large amount of money on the open market.

What you do with Porter, of course, depends on the situation. If he’s healthy the rest of the year and he’s willing to be reasonable, maybe you give him a two year contract with most or all of the guaranteed money in the first year and see how it goes. If he’s going to require top dollar, though, you have to let him go. There’s little reason to roll the dice on a player in Porter’s situation when you are still at least a couple years from making a deep playoff run. Whether they sign Porter or not, the Bears will undoubtedly continue to look for younger cornerbacks in the draft. And that, not taking risks on free agents like Porter, has to be their primary focus.

Fales Starting Quarterback in Waiting?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune documents the process by which Bears quarterback David Fales because the primary back up behind starting quarterback Jay Cutler. Fales got offers to join the rosters of both the 49ers and the Ravens before choosing to remain with the Bears after they agreed to promote him from the practice squad to the roster.

“‘Yeah, but it’s all about being in the right system,’ Fales said. ‘Eventually you are going to get an opportunity and no one knows when that will come. It doesn’t matter if you are not in the right spot.'”

San Fransisco is starting Blaine Gabbert, whose long-term future as the starter is questionable. Former starter Colin Kaepernick had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and his future with the organization is in serious doubt. The Ravens were probably following up on the recommendation of former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, now their offensive coordinator. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco is out for the season after suffering a serious knee injury November 22.

Both of these teams were searching for someone to be a back up after starters became unavailable. But Fale’s popularity around the league, which is why the Bears had to add him to the roster, makes me wonder if he doesn’t have the potential to be a starter. When former Bears general manager Phil Emery drafted him, Emery said it was with the idea that that Fales had the potential to be a solid back up, thus setting the ceiling for him. But does anyone ever draft a player anywhere with the idea that he’ll never be more than a backup? Could it be that Emery was just trying to publicly re-assure Cutler that he wasn’t drafting his replacement even while he took a swing at doing so?

Regardless, Fales may have been given a gift by starting with such apparently low expectations.  He’s had the chance to develop slowly behind other quarterbacks rather than being thrown into the fire too early.  It’s debatable but this is the way many of us still believe it should be done.  No greater example of the benefits could be seen than in the person of Denver quarterback  Brock Osweiler, who beat the Bears and was named AFC offensive player of the week after a solid first start last week.

I’ve very consistently claimed that the Bears need to draft a quarterback of the future sooner rather than later. And I still believe that. But drafting quarterbacks in the first three rounds is a risky business. At minimum Fales may be a good fall back option if the process requires more than one bite at the apple. But you also have to wonder if the Bears aren’t eventually going to find that they were forced to add the quarterback of the future to the roster by necessity last week.

Quick Game Comments: Broncos at Bears 11/22/15

bearsbroncosthree

Offense

  1. The Bears came out trying to run from the start with a triple tight end set. The Broncos were having none of it and did a good job stopping the it. I thought maybe the Bears had slightly more success once they started to spread the Broncos out more in the second quarter. But they still weren’t able to do it well and I’d say the Broncos did a pretty good job overall. this was a big key to the game. The Bears need to run the ball.
  2. The Bears lost the line of scrimmage. Not only could they not run but Jay Cutler was under a fair bit of pressure. It wasn’t a horrible effort. But it needed to be better. Jay Cutler did a marvelous job of moving around in the pocket to avoid pressure.
  3. Cutler found receivers over the middle early on third downs to keep the chains moving. This was apparently a weakness that the Bears identified and tried to take advantage of.
  4. The Broncos had obviously done their homework. They were all over Bears screens that have been a staple in recent weeks.
  5. In addition to taking advantage of the Broncos over the middle, I thought the Bears managed to et in a number of good deep throws against the Broncos, who were likely concentrating on taking away the shorter throws the Bears have been living off of lately.
  6. Martellus Bennett once again didn’t have a good game. He was missing catches that he really should be making. His concentration has been off for some time, now. He did draw three big pass interference calls but the Bears need more from Bennett with Alshon Jeffery not on the field.

Defense

  1. The Broncos came out running the ball very successfully. This set up the play action pass nicely and Brock Osweiler scored their first touchdown by sucking the linebackers in on such a pass.
  2. The Bears flat out lost the line of scrimmage this game against the run.
  3. The Broncos came out and took advantage of their speed and really beat the Bears linebackers in coverage. The Bears weren’t horrible. Just not good enough.
  4. The Bears did get pressure on Osweiler. Sometimes it was rushing straight up but they also brought the blitz with some success. They weren’t fancy blitzes by any stretch but the Broncos didn’t handle them well. Osweiler could have gotten rid of it quicker under pressure but most of the problems weren’t really his fault. His linemen were getting beat.
  5. Osweiler looked reasonably accurate. He does have a habit of staring down receivers that might come back to burn him but he makes good decisions. He’s got a good deep ball. He’s not exactly a young Peyton Manning but he looks like a pretty good pro quarterback to me.
  6. This was what the Broncos want their offense to look like. Osweiler was under center the whole time. There was no compromise as there has been with making Peyton Manning more comfortable at quarterback.
  7. Kudos to the Bears on a few defensive stands that took some back bone to make over the course of the game.

Miscellaneous

  1. Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn did a nice job. I really like Fouts, who I think does a good job of breaking down the important plays to let you know exactly what happened and why. Too bad he works for a network that runs commercials mostly for shows targeted at people my parent’s age (that’s pretty old).
  2. Deonte Thompson replaced Marc Mariani as the kick return man. they continued to use Mariani as a punt returner. Omar Bolden made a terrible mistake by letting a kickoff hit the ground in the end zone. It bounced back and dribbled out. The Broncos got the ball at the two yard line. Other than that there weren’t many obvious miscues.
  3. This was a relatively clean game with few penalties for the Broncos and none for the Bears. There was a big thirty yard pass interference call against Brandon Marshall on Martellus Bennett that hurt the Broncos pretty badly in the fourth quarter. Bennett drew two more against Aquib Talib Bradley Roby after that. The Bears were very fortunate not to get a personal foul penalty after both Willie Young and Jarvis Jenkins hit Osweiler after he gave himself up for a sack with two minutes left.
  4. Except for some catches that Martellus Bennett really should have made, I’d say drops weren’t a big part of this game on either side. Jeremy Langford had a drop in the fourth quarter that also didn’t help the Bears offensive effort.
  5. Jay Cutler threw an interception to Danny Trevathan. It’s not a defense but in a way it was understandable. Trevathan, a linebacker, was on a wide receiver in Marquess Wilson. So it’s usually the throw you make. The Broncos got the ball deep in Bears territory. It resulted in no points as the Bears defense came up big and stopped the Broncos on fourth down from the two yard line. Cutler almost threw another one in the fourth quarter to Bradley Roby but Roby dropped it. Then Von Miller stripped the ball from Cutler from behind and Malik Jackson caught it for a second interception.
  6. I thought it was an indication of the progress that the Bears have made that they were competitive in this game. They played well against another team with more talent who was also playing reasonably well. If they had done more offensively with the ball on the Denver side of the field, this could well have been a victory. A very respectable outing overall and, considering the talent gap between the teams, there was a lot to be happy about here.

Revising Expectations for the Bears

Jon Greenberg at ESPN is revising his expectations for the Bears:

“In the beginning … we predicted 6-10 for the Chicago Bears and it seemed just about right.”

“But then Jay Cutler returned [from injury] ahead of schedule and things settled down, and now, weeks after fans stopped watching games between their outstretched fingers, this looks like, knock on Mike Ditka’s pompadour, it could be a wholly respectable team with a longshot chance of making the postseason.”

The Bears are on a hot streak and Cutler is certainly a big part of that. But Cutler or not, I’m sticking with 6-10.

The Bears are 4-5 and at this point in the season, I think that’s great. But let’s not forget that they are the same team that lost to the Lions a month ago. They’ve won two games since then but they’ve gotten a lot of help from two teams that, frankly, played well below their talent level. Such things have a bd habit of evening out and more often than not, given decent coaching and a good environment, teams end up right where their talent level says they should.

I’m not disparaging the Bears here. I think they’re a well-coached team that is making progress every week. But Denver is a much better team that is unlikely to give the game away with poor discipline in the same manner that the Rams did. And I don’t care how badly the Packers are slipping at the moment, I can’t believe that they won’t pull it together and beat the Bears on Thanksgiving. I also see the Vikings as a loss in Minnesota. After that, the Bears are still a team that’s going to be no more than a coin flip against Washington, San Fransisco, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. If they win half of those, that’s two more wins. And that’s where I’m still sitting.

Brock Osweiler in 2016? It’s Not Impossible.

Troy Renck at The Denver Post answers your questions:

“If we don’t re-sign Brock Osweiler by the end of the season, what do you think happens? Go with Trevor Siemian or draft high again?

“— Brooks Lee, Kalamazoo, Mi.

“Brooks: As we sit here today, I expect them to make a strong effort to keep Brock Osweiler. He made strides in the spring and preseason. Any real evaluation will have to wait until a real game, but his progress was encouraging. There’s no denying how highly this coaching staff thinks of Trevor Siemian. I do think it would impact their search for a quarterback if Osweiler were to leave via free agency. They would still look to add depth, but I doubt they would use a high draft pick for the position.”

800px-Brock_Osweiler_2013The Broncos might make a strong effort to keep Osweiler but I can’t imagine he’d sign anywhere, including Denver, unless they guaranteed that he’d be the starter. That’s possible with current starter Peyton Manning showing his age.  But its also possible that if Manning recovers to have a good year, as many think the veteran will, that they’ll wish to stick with him and put their future in to Siemian’s hands.

Osweiler’s likely to be a hot name after the season amongst teams that are desperate for quarterbacks. He’s unproven but if you can’t draft early enough to get a highly touted prospect, you may roll the dice.

We hear all the time when talk of replacing quarterback Jay Cutler comes up – “Who are you going to replace him with?”  There can be little doubt that the Chicago Bears would guarantee him the starting position if the chose to pursue him.  Osweiler has obviously worked closely with both head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase. They would know as well as anyone what his potential is. The Bears will in all likelihood have plenty of cap room even after they sign the few of their own free agents that they’d like to keep.

Bottom line, Osweiler would be a strong candidate to come to the Bears should he hit the free agent market.

Use of the Zone Read Adds a Nice New Wrinkle to the Bears Offense

Bears-Jay-Cutler1One positive from Sunday’s game is highlighted by Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points to offensive coordinator Adam Gase‘s use of the zone read with quarterback Jay Cutler as a positive from Sunday’s game:

“‘We did it the last two years with Peyton [Manning],’ Gase said. ‘Peyton didn’t keep any. But that’s been going on for a long time. That was different stuff (that what we ran with Tim Tebow in Denver). A lot of this stuff we do, everybody is doing it in the league right now. It’s just kind of the decision making. If you watch Philly, even when (Mark) Sanchez was playing, he’d pull it and get 4 and slide. Jay just decided like he felt like dropping the shoulder. He does a good job and does a good job of making the right decisions.'”

I like this for a number of reasons. First it gives the defense another runner to worry about. Despite putting it on tape against the Green Bay Packers the week before, the Cardinals were clearly surprised when Cutler kept the ball and scrambled for a couple of good gains of 10 and 8 yards. Second it takes advantage of Cutler’s underrated mobility and physical toughness. At a time when the offense lacks talent at wide receiver with Alshon Jeffery hurting, Gase is using every weapon in his arsenal to compensate. Cutler’s willingness to run and take a hit when necessary (though they’d rather he slides) could be a big part of that.

Kansas City – Denver: What We Learned

Jan 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; General view of the NFL Wild Card logo on the field before a game between the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-119966 ORIG FILE ID: 20130105_sal_ad1_152.JPG
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Peyton Manning‘s arm is shot.Yeah, I know. He threw a dramatic game-winning touchdown. And he also threw a number of other nice passes.  But he also threw quite a number of balloons, especially in the first half. When everything is perfect for Manning and he’s got his feet underneath him with a clean pocket, he’s fine. But he’s no longer the playmaker that can make up for other team deficiencies. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. The Broncos need to adjust to Manning’s obvious physical deficiencies. He’s still a smart, savvy quarterback who is one of the best in the business pre-snap. But he’s not going to be able to completely adjust to head coach Gary Kubiac‘s new offense by continually getting under center and running play action. At least not yet.  Manning was a different quarterback when Kubiac put him into the shotgun more often and/or when he was in the two minute offense. Suddenly Manning was reading the blitz and getting the ball out before the Chiefs could touch him. Kubiac is going to have to shelve some of his offense, at least temporarily, until Manning gets his feet back under him.
  3. The Chiefs have a pair of very good tight ends, at least one of which has come out of nowhere. Travis Kelce I’d at least heard about but James O’Shaughnessy was a complete surprise. Both of these guys are athletic and dangerous. It should be fun watching them this year.
  4. These are two of the best defenses in the NFL – we knew that going in. But, even given that, I’m very concerned about both of these offensive lines, especially Denver’s. The Broncos gave up three sacks and the Chief gave up four. Most significantly, Denver had only a paltry 60 yards rushing. That ‘aint good, folks.Denver did a lot of shuffling alone its offensive line in the offseason and its possible that they will gel as the season goes on. But for now, a bad offensive line combined with a physically limited Peyton Manning isn’t a good mix.
  5. On a related note, someone has to settle the Broncos down as they gave away so many personal foul penalties in the first half that all Kansas City had to do was collect them and, as former Chiefs coach Hank Stram put it, “matriculate” their way down the field. I appreciate physical play but you still have to make them earn it, boys.
  6. Also on a related note, is there any doubt that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the game? He does nothing but win everywhere he goes. He’s one of those guys who is simply born to be a coordinator instead of a head coach. He won a chess match last night against a great offensive mind.And that brings us to Andy Reid.  I’m beginning to wonder if Reid also isn’t simply a born coordinator. He certainly doesn’t appear to be a big game coach and some of the decisions he made from the sidelines last night were head scratchers. I appreciate aggressiveness but putting the game in the hands of Alex Smith by throwing the ball, especially right before half time, was bad news. Reid may have taken the Chiefs as far as they’ll ever get with him as the coach.
  7. Turnovers kill. Jamall Charles and Alex Smith. Protect football. ’nuff said.