It’s the Brad Biggs Show Today. And Other Points of View.

Bears

    • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reviews the film from Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals:

      Eddie Royal looks out of position on the outside, and that’s the way it’s going to be without Alshon Jeffery (and Kevin White). Undrafted rookie Cameron Meredith flashed a little at the very end and might be worth looking at in place of Marquess Wilson, who is not maximizing his playing time.”

      Royal insisted during the preseason that he was looking forward to proving that he’s more than a slot receiver. But I think we all understood that wasn’t what he was signed to do. Wilson has, once again, been a major disappointment. He was targeted five times for only one catch and 10 yards. It may be time to accept that he’s the seventh round pick that he is.

    • Biggs continues:

      “Bennett needed to run a better route on the Jefferson interception, but the ball was behind him. Period. He didn’t get enough chances as he was targeted only six times. With Jeffery out, the Bears needed to do a better job of highlighting him in the passing game.”

      I noted in my game comments that the Bears came out in double tightend, throwing to both Bennett and Zack Miller. But they didn’t carry it through the game.

    • It’s the Brad Biggs show today, folks:

“Right guard Vladimir Ducasse added two more penalties to give him four. Even if the holding call looked questionable, that is a problem. Right tackle Kyle Long is in a tough spot with a cast on his right hand.”

Those who insisted that it was a good idea to move Long to tackle and wonder why it took so long should take note here. I’m not saying it was the wrong thing to do but if Jordan Mills had these kinds of penalties, the town would be burning him in effigy. I’m not at all sure that putting Charles Leno in at tackle and letting him develop wasn’t the right thing to do. He probably wouldn’t be much worse than Ducasse and he has a higher ceiling.

    • On a day when I have to believe that the Bears are desperately searching for a solution at quarterback, I have to once again agree with Biggs that they must surely be looking forward to having Tracy Porter available. He’s been out with a hamstring injury but believes that he’s getting closer to being ready to play. Terrance Mitchell is also a possibility. He got burned by Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday and admits that he made a mistake in hesitating on the tackle, saying, “I should have just come up harder, you know what I am saying?” I do, indeed. But I’m concerned that his football instincts didn’t tell him that. It looked ot me like he lacked confidence and I’m not sure its the kind of thing you can teach.
    • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com gives out some pretty harsh grades but with this caveat:

“It is also fair to point out that as well coached as the Bears looked against the Packers, they didn’t appear well prepared for Arizona, and John Fox and company should be looking in the mirror this week as well as at the tape.”

Gotta disagree with Hub, there. I liked the offensive game plan before quarterback Jay Cutler got hurt and there’s only so much you can do on defense with that talent. The Bear biggest problem in relation to their performance in week one was the penalties and the turnovers. I suppose that could be coaching but I’m inclined to believe it was a team effort.

Elsewhere

  • I know that Bears fans are feeling pretty sorry for themselves right now. But at least they aren’t the Detroit Lions. The Lions are 0-2. Their next three opponents? vs. Denver Broncos, at Seattle Seahawks and home vs. Arizona Cardinals. That looks to me like 0-5, folks.
  • I didn’t see the game but by all reports they came out flat and gave a subpar performance again this week against Tampa Bay. I’m starting to wonder if head coach Sean Payton isn’t on the hot seat. If he isn’t, I’m wondering if he should be.
  • It appears that Kam Chancellor made a major miscalculation in holding out for the first three games this year. Yes, the Seahawks were worse without him but they never budged in negotiations. According to Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com Chancellor racked up $1.1 million in fines and the team could demand that he return $500,000 in signing bonus money now that he’s ended his hold out. He’s also missed two game checks. The team would undoubtedly like to be lenient but I can’t imagine that they think they can afford to be so. This is a good team with a lot of players that will undoubtedly want more money over the next couple years. Letting Chancellor off the hook in any way encourages them to follow his lead.
  • Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has the unenviable task of preparing his 0-2 team to play the Bengals this weekend. He says that the Bengals are the best team in the NFL. Right now, to my eye, he’s right.
  • There are a lot of reasons why the Dolphins are not living up to the preseason hype. But Omar Kelly at the Sun-Sentinel is spot on when he says that the team has to get tougher and run the ball more.
  • How good has running back Dion Lewis been for the Patriots? He’s fumbled twice in two games but head coach Bill Belichick can’t afford to put him in his dog house.
  • Michael Rand at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “A younger, dumber, childless version of myself might have been tempted to take a press release from the Vikings about installing breastfeeding/lactation suites at TCF Bank Stadium (and eventually U.S. Bank Stadium) and make a few lame jokes along with the information.” Count me in as being both young and dumb.

One Final Thought

He just now came to this conclusion? VERY, VERY NSFW.

Quick Comments: Late Sunday Afternoon Games

Baltimore – Oakland

  • Oakland surprised me this game by taking Baltimore head on at the line of scrimmage and they competed very well.
  • Quarterback Derek Carr once again had a good game this week (30/46 for 351 yes). Significantly, he got good protection.
  • In contrast, Joe Flacco (32/45, 384 yds) did not have a good game. He saw a lot of pressure and missed a lot of throws he ordinarily makes.

Dallas – Philadelphia

  • The story of this game was how ugly it was for the Eagle offense. Demarco Murray had a terrible game as the Cowboys keyed on him every time he entered the game. The Eagle offensive line was awful, allowing the Cowboys defensive line to penetrate at will. Eventually the Eagles had some success attacking the edges and getting away from the interior defensive penetration.
  • I saw some pretty poor tackling from the Eagles in this game. Tough to stop the run that way.
  • Surprisingly, I also was less than impressed with some of the blocking from the vaunted Cowboys offensive line. The Eagles were getting plenty of penetration against them at times. The Cowboys did better after wearing the Eagles down late in the game, a bi-product of an Eagle offense that gets the defense back on the field quickly when things aren’t clicking.
  • Tony Romo went down hard on a sack and a fumble. Before any report was made you could tell that it had broken collar bone written all over it. Its Brandon Weeden time. For a while.
  • Tweet of the day:

Miami – Jacksonville

  • Jacksonville took advantage of some poor defensive backfield play from Miami. Brice McCain looked particularly bad. This is something that the Dolphins are going to want to take a close look at in the coming week.
  • Blake Bortles’ (18/33 273 yds) accuracy and ball placement leaves a lot to be desired. For a highly touted up and coming quarterback, I was unimpressed this game. Sometimes he flashes some of that potential but its time for him to fish or cut bait this year with some consistency.
  • Right now Ndamukong Suh looks very over paid. He’s not making the plays we saw him make in the NFC North despite often being double teamed.
  • On the other hand, Jacksonville got all kinds of pressure on Ryan Tannehill (30/44 359 yds). This was the first sign of problems for the season on a much – maligned Miami offensive line. Brandon Albert left the game in the first half and ws replaced by Jason Fox, which obviously didn’t help.
  • Olivier Vernon should be ashamed of himself for a late personal foul call that badly damaged Miami’s chances of getting the ball back with time to score.

Redskins Cut Blocking Inside Gregg Williams’ Head

cbssports.com
cbssports.com

Joe Lyons at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Washington Redskins appear to have gotten into Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams‘ head:

“‘Cut me, cut me, cut me, cut me, cut me…’’

“An original song from Gregg Williams.

“It’s a catchy little tune from the Rams’ defensive coordinator and has been featured this week as the team’s defensive linemen prepare to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

“The Redskins are a team that likes to cut-block. In fact, right guard Brandon Scherff, a highly touted rookie from Iowa, used the cut-block against four-time All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and limited Miami’s standout defensive tackle to just two tackles in the Dolphins’ 17-10 road win last week.

“‘That’s the little song that goes off in my head when I see them on the ground,’’ Williams joked after practice Friday at Rams Park.”

You can understand why.

A couple things ran through my head as I watched the Redskins offensive line block the Miami defensive linemen last week.

  1. How effective the cut blocking was. Miami defensive players were all over the ground. Its very hard to tackle anyone from there.
  2. How much defensive linemen must hate it as an offensive lineman dives at them low like that. It really should be illegal. But its not.

In any case, this is an issue that the Bears are going to have to deal with when the Redskins visit the Bears in December. Here’s hoping they’ll be prepared for it with a spring in their step and a song in their hearts.

Previewing the Dolphins Game: “I Tell ‘Ya I Get No Respect. No Respect at All.”

There were 11 people in the Dolphins photo when Ndamukong Suh signed his contract. And none of them was named Joe Philbin. After playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” the press finally spotted Philbin in the room. Philbin was in the audience and, as Dan Hanzus at NFL.com put it, “probably next to some schlub columnist who calls for his firing on a weekly basis. It’s just a matter of time before Joe’s desk is in the basement.”

This is the life of Joe Philbin, the Rodney Dangerfield of pro football. What kind of job Philbin is doing in Miami depends upon who you ask. This debate between veteran Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly and Chris Perkins at the Sun-Sentinel is typical. Kelly argues that the Dolphins consistently play below their talent level with Philbin as head coach while Perkins claims that he believes that this isn’t true and the Dolphins play exactly to their talent level, though they never overachieve.

This is how you know that you are the NFL coaching fraternity’s version of a JAG. Your critics argue that you suck while your defenders passionately object by claiming that you are mediocre.

Joe Philbin is on a seat that is beyond hot. It’s scorching, perhaps the hottest in the NFL. Ownership spent lavishly in the offseason on Suh and there are signs that they are about to spend more on guard Evan Mathis. Even given that, the weakest link on the team is the offensive line, the unit that is supposed to be former offensive line coach Philbin’s specialty. Not a good look.

It is against this back drop that the Dolphins visit Soldier Field on Thursday. It’s fairly clear that the Dolphins are all in and the indications are that Philbin’s going to have to at least make the playoffs or he’s out. If the team underperforms significantly, even in a preseason game, there will be howls from the fan base led by members of the press like Kelly.

Miami Rookies to Keep an Eye On

The Miami draft class is led by wide receiver DeVante Parker, chosen 14th overall out of Louisville. Parker has his flaws but his most important attribute is that he’s a legitimate vertical threat because he can create late separation with his good top-end speed, length, body control and leaping ability. The Dolphins have been heavily criticized for their poor deep passing game and Parker is being counted on to help improve on that weakness this year.

Unfortunately Parker is currently out with an injured foot. He had surgery last year to put a screw in and he had to have that screw replaced in June. Two weeks ago, Philbin sounded fairly confident that Parker would be ready to play in the regular-season opener, saying he just didn’t know if the rookie would be available for 30 snaps or maybe 60 snaps. That is probably still the case but he hasn’t sounded so sure that Parker will be fully recovered in his more recent comments.

The Dolphins second round pick was defensive tackle Jordan Phillips out of Oklahoma. He is a massive, wide-bodied nose tackle prospect that might have been a good fit for the Bears had things fallen that way. He moves well but he was unreliable at Oklahoma in terms of his on-field effort, particularly on passing plays. But he’s definitely got the potential to help the Dolphins defend the run, something they had their share of problems doing, especially late in the year. Phillips will fit in well with the Dolphins but his effort will be worth keeping an eye on Thursday night.

The Dolphins fourth round pick was offensive guard Jamil Douglas from Arizona State. Douglas reportedly struggles with speed-to-power off the edge and his below-average arm length raises concerns about his ability to prevent NFL speed rushers from turning the corner. That makes him a poor tackle prospect but a good fit for the Dolphins at guard. He has the frame, size and enough foot speed to provide depth there in a zone-heavy scheme. Douglas is currently in a competition with Dallas Thomas. Thomas is currently slightly ahead and no one is comfortable with the situation. Douglas will bear watching.

The Dolphins also took runningback Jay Ajayi in the fifth round. Ajayi is a big back from Boise State who reportedly has good overall vision, patience and agility. He is also a natural pass-catcher.

Ajayi came to the Dolphins in the last draft with the promise of being a physical, hard-knocking, capable pass protector who offers a bigger alternative to what the Dolphins have on the roster. Unfortunately reports out of camp have indicated that this has not been the case. He also reportedly needs to work on his blitz pick up.  Ajayi has no been practicing with a hamstring injury and we may not see him Thursday night.

Also drafted in the fifth round, Tony Lippett, a wide receiver out of Michigan State, is long and tall and was supposed to have had good ball skills. He’s on the leaner side so he was known to get pushed around at times. Lippett has reportedly looked good in camp and he may be a surprise on the field this year. Both Bears and Dolphins fans will be looking forward to getting a good look at him Thursday.

One last prospect worth keeping an eye on is fifth rounder, Bobby McCain, a cornerback from Memphis. McCain reportedly lacks ideal length and doesn’t have great overall range and long speed. However, he has been making a name for himself so far in camp and Dolphin fans and media members have been extremely impressed and it will be interesting to see what he can do.

 

Previewing the Dolphins Game: The Defense

The Miami Dolphins ranked 12th in total defense in the NFL last year. That was primarily because they were 6th in the league against the pass. However they were 24th against the run.  If the rush defense was the primary deficiency, they have moved to correct it.

Despite their nice overall ranking, the Dolphins had their share of troubles last year. They were up and down throughout the season and many blamed defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle for the problem. For instance, after a blowout loss to the Chiefs in September last year, the Dolphins players were reportedly “beyond furious” with the defensive game plan and reporters could hear their vocal displeasure in the locker room after the game. Probably more concerning, the year ended on a down note as there was a significant defensive slide over the last six games where they were particularly poor against the run. Coyle said in the offseason “Finishing is the name of the game. This league, the competition is so fierce, so close, the good teams find ways to win in critical situations. And we need to do that. We need to do that better than we’ve done over the past three years to get from being an 8-8 team to the upper echelon of the league. It’s making plays in crunch time.” Coyle recognizes the problem. It remains to be seen if he understands the considerably more difficult task of finding the solution.

After much uncertainty, Coyle was retained by the team after the season and in the end, the Dolphins decided to correct their problems through him instead of without him. Evidently as a result, the Dolphins have simplified their defensive scheme this year. The claim was that the complexity of the defense stunted the growth of rookies and new players to the team. There have been veterans of the Dolphins who have openly complained about how complex the system was and how much thinking that was done on the field. Indeed, defensive rookies haven’t played much for the Dolphins and it apparently has nothing to do with head coach Joe Philbin’s preference. The defense was reportedly simply too difficult to learn in the first year, especially when you’re a rookie in the NFL.

The Dolphins play a standard 4-3 which, in its simplified form, will probably be similar to the type of front the Bears used over the past decade or more before this year. As most Bears fans will know, when you play such a defense, fundamentals are key. In that respect, the Dolphins have been emphasizing better tackling in the offseason, something that they were notably poor at last year. This will be something to watch on Thursday.

Building a Wall

Those putting together the Dolphins offense might not recognize that games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. But they definitely have the right idea on defense. This is a rugged group headed by free agent addition Ndamukong Suh. Suh promises to improve the run defense and, perhaps as important, he may help provide for a better pass rush. Outstanding defensive end Cameron Wake promises to be the major beneficiary of the increased attention which Suh will command and Dolphin fans may reasonably expect the pass rush, and therefore the pass defense, to be significantly improved by this signing.

This offseason included questions about Suh’s commitment. Suh had a previous habit of not showing up for OTAs but its one thing not to want to spend months of your precious offseason in Detroit, it’s another thing altogether to pay a man $60 million guaranteed only to have him not show up for workouts in Miami. The Dolphins, somewhat concerned about it, dispatched Mike Tannenbaum to Portland, Oregon to check on their highest paid player. He was happy to find Suh working hard at the Nike state of the art facilities. Suh apparently was spending a great deal of this time there and the Dolphins were satisfied that their investment was safe, something Lions fans could have told them without spending the price of a plane ticket.

Suh has dominated defensive workouts in camp and he’s beaten right guard Billy Turner so badly that the Dolphins replaced him with third stringer Jacques McClendon yesterday at practice. As always, how Bears Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long does against his familiar foe, Suh, will be entertaining to watch for both Dolphins and Bears fans, even if the stakes are somewhat lower than usual.

One other point worth noting.  The Dolphins signed C.J. Mosley, late in free agency.  He’s a veteran of 10 NFL seasons who was signed as physical, savvy depth.   But there has been a lot of concern over Moseley’s performance in camp.  He is languishing on the third team for the Dolphins and reportedly hasn’t stood out against third-team offensive players. Mosley should be dominating these players and he’s not.  No team stays 100% healthy over the course of the season and the Dolphins are counting on Moseley to perform this year as part of a defensive line rotation where he could eventually be called upon to take on a major role.  Mosely’s performance Thursday night will be something to keep an eye on.

Areas of Competition

Given the quality of the Dolphins run defense and the emphasis on improving the defensive line, this could be one heck of a front seven if they get their linebacker situation straightened out. The position is an area of wide open competition right now with weak side linebacker Jelani Jenkins as the only established starter. Jenkins became a starter in Week 2 last season after Koa Misi and opening-day starter Dannell Ellerbe both were injured in Week 1. He ended up leading the team with 108 tackles to go along with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

This year Misi, veteran Kelvin Sheppard and second year man Chris McCain are competing to be the other two of the best three linebackers on the team. Misi started last year and Sheppard has started 31 games for the Bills and Colts over his previous 4 year career but McCain has the length and athleticism that coaches look for in an outside linebacker and third-down pass rusher. Currently it looks like it will either be Misi at strong-side linebacker with Sheppard in the middle or McCain on the outside with Misi in the middle. This competition would be better addressed if Misi could stay healthy. He is currently not practicing with a calf injury. His durability is a concern.

The other competition of note for those watching Thursday night will be at cornerback opposite Brent Grimesfor the Dolphins. Jamar Taylor entered camp as something of a front-runner but he is being challenged primarily by free agent pickup Brice McCain. Taylor is a former 2013 second-round pick. He earned some valuable experience at the end of the 2014 season when he started three games in place of injured former cornerback Cortland Finnegan and played reasonably well. McCain has started 86 games over a six year career, most of which was played with the Houston Texans. These guys both look solid to me and it looks like one of those rare camp competitions where the Dolphins win either way.

Bottom Line

I didn’t have a lot of good things to say about a Dolphins offense that appears to have major problems along the offensive line yesterday. But I love this defense and, like Coyle, I’m having a hard time understanding why they slid so far late in the season last year. But I’ll say this. With the addition of Suh and reasonably solid starters everywhere I look, if these guys aren’t’ a wonderful unit to watch in 2015, Coyle should and will be fired. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what they do on Thursday night against a Bears offense which is good at the skill positions but which, to my eye, leaves a lot to be desired at the line of scrimmage. These guys are going to be a significant challenge for them.

Points to bear in mind while watching:

  1. Long Vs. Suh. ’nuff said.
  2. Will the Dolphins tackle better than last year.  This is something that’s going to be critical for them over the course of the season.  It’s probably the most common reason why otherwise talented defenses can under-perform.
  3. How will veteran C.J. Mosley look?
  4. Matt Forte (if he plays) and the other Bears running backs against the Dolphins linebackers. This could be an interesting match up as the linebackers in competition on the outside are assigned some reasonably good pass catchers out of the backfield.
  5. Will the Bears be able to run on what should be a much improved Dolphins run defense?
  6. Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and the rest of the Bears passing game against an excellent pass-defending unit. The Dolphins pass rush will be something both teams fans should be interested in keeping an eye on. Wake, in particular, has the potential to eat them alive if they don’t perform well.

Previewing the Dolphins Game: The Offense

The Miami Dolphins ranked 14th in total offense in the NFL last year. They played with reasonably good balance in that they were 17th in passing and 12th in rushing, being almost equally mediocre in both – statistically that is.

Deep Thinking

The Dolphins hired Bill Lazor to be their offensive coordinator last year, hoping that he’d bring some Chip Kelly magic to the team after he spent time as the Eagles quarterbacks coach. Lazor kept life simple for quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2014, with a vast majority of his throws targeted at receivers on short and intermediate routes. Tannehill accumulated 1,965 of his passing yards after the catch (11th-most in the NFL), although his YAC percentage was 48.6 (19th), according to Advanced Football Analytics. This sounds OK but it points to the major issue with last year’s Dolphins offense – the lack of explosive downfield plays. Tannehill has a reputation around the league as throwing one of the worst deep balls of any NFL starter.

He wasn’t helped by the presence of wide out Mike Wallace, his only downfield threat at receiver and a disappointment as a Dolphin after signing a huge contract to come over from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. Wallace was criticized for his lack of physicality and fell further out of favor in Miami last season following a Week 17 sideline altercation with head coach Joe Philbin in a loss to the New York Jets. He was benched in the second half, which raised questions about his future with the team. He was traded along with a seventh round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth round draft pick in the offseason.

Time will tell whether the lack of a deep threat was more due to Wallace or Tannehill. Thanks to a younger, bigger, stronger and faster group of wide receivers this year, in theory Tannehill will have more capable options in the vertical passing game. The hope is that Kenny Stills, acquired in the offseason by trade from the New Orleans Saints, and first round draft pick DeVante Parker may provide a one-two punch of downfield threats and finally force defenses to play a little further back, opening up everything else in the process.

Parker is out with a foot injury and the hope is that he’ll be ready for at least limited snaps by the opener.  Nevertheless, how often the Dolphins throw deep and how effective they are at it will be a point of interest to keep an eye on Thursday night. We will also want to keep an eye on how Wallace does with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback under offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Minnesota this season. Between the two, much will likely be determined in Miami about the reasons for the limitations in their offense, past and/or present.

One last note on the Dolphins’ receiving game. The Dolphins signed Jordan Cameron at tight end while losing Charles Clay in free agency. Clay accounted for a lot of yardage last year but wasn’t particularly effective at scoring touch downs in the red zone where tight ends can become such a huge factor in the game. The hope is that Cameron, a former Pro Bowler, can improve this area of the game and it will be interesting to see if that is evident on Thursday night.

Line Dancing

Lack of a deep threat aside, there has been much offseason hand-wringing amongst fans and media in Miami about the offensive line.  And with some justification.

The Dolphins use a zone blocking scheme, something the Bears will be doing more of this year and it will be interesting to observe their technique along the line. At least where they have the talent to play there.

The Dolphins are well-established at right tackle, where Ja’Wuan James is a solid starter, and at center, where Mike Pouncey is a star. The problems come when you look virtually everywhere else.

They start at left tackle where Branden Albert is normally the best player in this group.  But he has undergone a knee reconstruction. He’s supposed to be ready for the season opener but he hasn’t seen the practice field and no one knows if he’ll be the same coming off of the injury. Jason Fox is supposed to be starting at left tackle in his place but he didn’t play in Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage and may be injured. Donald Hawkins reportedly is not playing well at the position as Fox’s backup. It will be a bad sign if whoever plays outside linebacker for the Bears on Hawkins’ side on Thursday night, likely either Jared Allen or Pernell McPhee, doesn’t dominate.

Both guard positions are arguably an even bigger problem. Albert at least is a very good player when healthy. But the right guard is Billy Turner, a virtual nobody. How big of a nobody? When looking for biographical information about Turner on the Dolphin’s website the only notation was “No data available”. Other sites where they apparently care more about Turner than the Dolphins do indicate that he was drafted in the third round in 2014 by the team.

Turner has been competing with (and understandably losing to) newly signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. In fairness, a likely guess is that, for the purposes of practice in camp, the Dolphins have been often leaving Turner to single block Suh, something that no sane offensive coordinator would do very often in a real game. It will be interesting to watch Turner against the lesser talent along the Bears defensive front to see how well he can be expected to play against normal competition.

The left guard competition is between Dallas Thomas and rookie Jamil Douglas. It sounds like the third year veteran Thomas is winning the competition but that’s not very comforting to many Dolphins fans. Veteran football writer Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald calls Thomas “only good enough to be embroiled in a full-blown competition with a rookie fourth-round pick who is still learning the offense”.

The Dolphins are painfully aware that they have a problem at guard. They sent a committee of players to woo guard La’el Collins, the undrafted standout from LSU, but they were unsuccessful. They were amongst the first teams to call Evan Mathis after the Eagles released him but they are reportedly far apart on money. Still, no one would be surprised if something is done on this front before the season starts.

Bottom Line

The Dolphins are going to be a good opening opponent for the Bears defense with their newly minted 3-4 scheme. Problems along the Miami offensive front should give fans a good idea of where the Bears are in terms of their front seven. Given the Bears’ inexperience in the scheme and the apparent lack of talent in this area, the Miami offense should still be significantly better but not overly so. They should offer just the right degree of competitive challenge to allow some individual Bears players to perform without the team overall being completely buried by a much superior unit.

Points to bear in mind while watching:

  1. How well will the Bears outside linebackers do against a team that should be badly hurting at left tackle?
  2. How will the Dolphins competition at left guard between Thomas and Douglas grade out? How will right guard Turner grade out against fair competition?
  3. How will Bears rookie Eddie Goldman, who shows a fair prospect of starting at nose guard, do facing a Pro Bowl-quality center in Pouncey?
  4. Will Tannehill be able to effectively throw the deep ball against a mediocre Bears defensive backfield that is unlikely to do anything fancy on Thursday night?
  5. Will the Bears linebackers and/or safeties be able to clamp down and keep tight end Cameron out of the end zone?

Bears May Look to Miami as a NFL Draft Trading Partner and Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Will Brinson at CBS Sports rates wide receiver David Terrell as the worst Bears first round draft pick in the last 25 years. I don’t see how he beat out Michael Haynes and Cade McNown but it must have been close.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com continues to claim that the Bears have a “screaming need” for a number one receiver. I’m not too sure that they don’t have one in Alshon Jeffery. In fact, I’m going to be mildly disappointed if he’s not. I look around the rest of the league at what other teams have and I’m not too sure the need at receiver is as great as some Bears commentators seem to think it is. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune agrees here.  Don’t get me wrong – another playmaker would be welcome and you won’t hear any complaints from me if they draft one. But with Marquis Wilson and Eddie Royal, with Martellus Bennett at tight end and Matt Forte at runningback, I think that the Bears have plenty of receiving talent. The “need” might be for depth.
  • Arkush has the Bears selecting runningback Todd Gurley in his latest mock draft. I would hope the Bears would desperately try to trade back if Gurley is their guy.

    Arkush has been pushing runningback as an underrated need for the Bears for quite a while now. He’s got a point but this might be over doing it. The draft has plenty of depth at runningback and Stanford OT Andrus Peat, Iowa OG Brandon Scherff, Michigan State CB Trae Waynes and West Virginia WR Kevin White – picks 9-12 in Arkush’s mock – all look like better picks to me in that spot.

    The guess here is that Arkush is just having a little fun with it and that he doens’t seriously believe that the Bears will take Gurley at seven.

  • The Bears best free agent signing? For my money its linebacker Mason Foster, signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (profiled here by Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times). Foster wasn’t a great fit for the cover two but I think he’s perfect for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Football outsiders points to the Bears struggles at linebacker in coverage as a major problem in 2014, one that they think Foster could help solve. Jon Bostic in particular looked lost in space last year.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

For those of you wondering what Brit McHenry did to get herself suspended from ESPN, the video of this media darling is below. McHenry’s car was towed by a company that is, by most accounts, pretty shady. Note that she is warned immediately that she is on camera.

I get that she’s upset and I would be, too. But taking it out on the employee at the front desk, especially in this manner, is not a good look.

Ineptitude, Thy Name Is “Dolphins”

miami-dolphins-3d-1024x768

Want to know what a dysfunctional franchise looks like? Ordinarily I’d point to the Browns but sometimes I think the way the Dolphins are structured at the top with competition and rivalries amongst coaches and front office personnel make for a better example. In this case, Adam Beasley at the Miami Herald reports that there is a “spirited debate” about where to play linebacker Koa Misi. Head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle want him at middle linebacker. So what’s the problem? The “personnel department” has apprently made it known that they think Misi should play outside and that Kelvin Sheppard should be tried in the middle.

In most organizations, the coaches make this determination and that’s the end of it. But in the corporate environment that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has allowed to develop in the organization, Philbin is seen as being in a weak postion and, therefore, front office personnel apparently feel free to insert themselves into the process.

Occasionally I’ll point out that the Bears are lucky to have the McCaskeys as owners of the Bears. Consider the Dolphins as yet anouther reason why. This is no way to run a franchise.

Is Mike Wallace the Final Piece of the Vikings Puzzle?

Mark Craig at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wonders whether the Vikings signing Mike Wallace was a good idea:

“For a guy who scored 60 million bucks a couple of years ago, Mike Wallace sure sounds like he spends way too much time complaining.

“He complained about Todd Haley’s offense at the end of his four-year stint in Pittsburgh. He complained often about his role while cashing $27.1 million worth of Dolphins checks the past two years. Heck, there were reports that then-Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had to escort a visibly angry Wallace off the field after he caught one pass for 15 yards in a 23-10 win over the Browns. And that was after his FIRST game as a Dolphin!

“And, yes, not surprisingly, there are now reports that he’s not too happy about trading in South Beach for Eastern Eden Prairie. I’m sure the Dolphins were chuckling about that possibility when they traded for Saints deep threat Kenny Stills and were looking for places to send Wallace on a one-way go route.

“So if you were to ask me what I think about Wallace joining the Vikings, I’d have to say, ‘I’ll let you know.’ I’ll let him determine whether he’ll be the No. 1 receiver the Vikings covet for Teddy Bridgewater’s next step or a moody malcontent who threatens to be a drag on the second-year quarterback’s promising progression.”

I’ve a sneaking suspicion that this signing is going to work out pretty well for both the Vikings and Wallace. Wide receivers are a different breed and sometimes diva behavior comes the the territory.  Head coach Mike Zimmer isn’t the kind of guy who is going to put up with much nonsense. Wallace is going to find himself fitting into the middle of quite a bit more structure and discipline than he likely had with the Dolphins under Joe Philbin.

Wallace was a star with the Steelers. He averaged yards 19.4 yards per catch as a rookie in 2009 and increased that number to 21.0 in his second season. But his performance plummeted with the Dolphins and that could be a concern.

I’m inclined to cut Wallace a break here. He was stuck with one of the worst deep throwing quarterbacks in the league in Ryan Tannehill in Miami and, as a result, the Dolphins rarely threw the long ball, Wallace’s specialty. The guess here is that he’ll do considerably better with Bridgewater in Norv Turner‘s offense. All in all this could be an opportunity to revive his career and I’m sure he knows that.

You have to like the direction that the Vikings are headed in. With Wallace to boost the passing game and the likely (in my opinion) return of Adrian Peterson, they are going to be a problem for everyone in the NFC North. With the Detroit defense falling apart up front and very possibly in the midst of a similar transition to the 3-4 to what the Bears are undergoing, they look like the primary challengers to the Packer’s dominance of the division in 2015.

Head-Scratcher? And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • According the Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune the Bears signed free agent guard Vlad Ducasse. Ducasse was drafted in the second round in 2010 by the Jets and played well but has struggled ever since. He shows flashes of ability but this is one of those signings where you wonder if the team wasn’t better off with Eben Britton. Perhaps the Bears believe Britton has topped out and that Ducasse has more potential if they can find a way to bring it out. In that respect, he’s a bit of a boom or bust signing. At 6-5, 326 pounds he’s at least got the look of a road grader that might come in handy in a run first offense.

    John Mullin at csnchicago.com thinks the signs point to Kyle Long moving to left tackle in part because the Bears have apparently been looking strictly for help on the interior line in free agency. I tend to agree.

  • Marc Sessler at nfl.com on Bears left guard Matt Slauson‘s comment that Jay Cutler can be “every bit of a Tom Brady, a Peyton Manning, an Aaron Rodgers“:

    “Where do we begin? Our friend Slauson has boarded a rocket ship into the bizarre, taking us to new frontiers of insane offseason hype.”

  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com goes over the Bears draft options at wide receiver:

    “In the debate between [Amari] Cooper and former West Virginia receiver Kevin White, coaches seem to prefer the former, while scouts tend to give the edge to the latter. That’s primarily because coaches view players with an eye toward them helping right away, while scouts take more of a long-term perspective.”

    This was a funny statement only because my experience is exactly the opposite. Coaches tend to like the physically gifted, less developed prospects (like Johnny Manziel) because they think they can coach anyone with the necessary physical skills to be a star. Scouts, on the other hand, tend to go with the Teddy Bridgewaters of the world. IMO they also have a bad habit of being right. Anyway, Wright goes on to quote Cooper:

    “You don’t want to give the defensive back any signals about what route you’re going to run. Every time I run a route, I try to make it seem like I’m running a different route than I’m actually running so I can get open.”

    If the Bears go in this direction, they certainly have an interesting choice. White is both bigger and faster but Cooper has the look of a football player. Which choice he makes (if available) may tell us something about Bears general manager Ryan Pace.

  • The Bears attended a private workout by Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell had four forced fumbles in 2014, an unusually high, Charles Tillman-like number. Via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • How do you beat Aaron Rogers and the Packers in the NFC North? Probably the same way that Houston is trying to beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in the AFC South. From Zak Keefer at the Indianapolis Star.
  • Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com points out the Bears need for a tightend:

    “The Bears were interested in Virgil Green, who re-signed with the Broncos, and [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase used two tight ends a decent amount in Denver’s offense the past two seasons. It’s a weak tight end draft, and there’s not much left on the free-agent market, yet this is a position group that should grow in the coming months.”

    The Bears are going to want the option of using two tight ends in a run-based offense. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find one that could block somewhere. The draft actually is a viable possibility here if all you want is someone who can block and catch a ball only every occasional blue moon.

  • The Bears sit at 25th in Elliot Harrison‘s NFL power rankings at nfl.com. I thought that was surprisingly high until I looked at the teams below them: Jets, Redskins, Jaguars, Browns Buccaneers, Titans, and Raiders. You could debate whether the Jets are worse than the Bears but with their quarterback situation I’m inclined to agree with Harrison. Even with a terrible defense in transition to a 3-4, the Bears belong at 25th in a miserable bottom portion of the league.

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com wonders about the success of the teams in the AFC East as the spend to try to catch up with the Patriots:

    “[H]ow does [Bill] Belichick buffer his offense to face off against three brutal front-sevens twice a year? What will his counter be to all the noise being made by his counterparts in free agency? Perhaps the Patriots will be a sleeping tiger now that the market is officially open and they’ll load up for one last (reasonable) title shot in the Brady-Belichick era.”

    Doubtful. Because they don’t have to load up.

    The point about building the front-seven is well taken. The best thing to do is to mimic the Baltimore Ravens who give the Patriots the most trouble year in and year out.

    But the problem with the AFC East generally right now is that the other teams are playing fantasy football, over-paying talented players and winning in March when, in fact, what counts is winning in January. The Patriots win football games because they get players to hit the grass every week and do their jobs. The other teams in the division can spend gross national product but until they get that part down, it’s the Patriot’s devision to lose.

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com reports that DeMaurice Smith has been re-elected as NFLPA executive director. This is good news for fans. Smith faced eight challengers the most vocal of which was Sean Gilbert, who wanted to sue the NFL for collusion and to force the league to re-open negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement. Gilbert’s election probably would have meant labor trouble, something no fan wants. Gilbert may have shot himself in the foot by advocating an 18 game season, which the vast majority of players clearly don’t want.
  • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com thinks Adrian Peterson will most likely stay in Minnesota. Why? Follow the money.
  • Chris Wesseling, also at nfl.com speculates that Phillip Rivers might be traded, perhaps to the Titans. All indications are that Rivers will play out his contract in 2015. Similar to the situation in New Orleans with Drew Brees, I doubt very much that San Diego could get what it would want for the 33 year old Rivers. He’s worth more to them than anyone else at this point.

    A lot of teams are going to be looking to develop young talent behind aging quarterbacks this offseason. The Bears arguably need one worse than anyone else and if they have their eye on anyone in particular, they may have to over draft him. Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, also at nfl.com, has the Bears taking Marcus Mariota with the seventh pick in the draft. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  • The Dolphins had the smash hit signing of the year when the added Ndamukong Suh. But you have to wonder if the price of crippling the rest of the team with the cap implications is going to prevent them from winning and defeat the purpose. From Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald.
  • Mike Rodak at ESPN.com suggests that the Bills are spending recklessly in free agency rather that looking for value. Personally I think situations like this almost always end in disappointment as performances in December rarely meet expectations generated in March.

One Final Thought

Rosenthal considers the signing of Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal to be one of free agency’s biggest “head-scratching” moves:

“In a relatively depressed receiver market, the Bears gave $10 million guaranteed to a receiver that has topped 800 yards once in his seven-year career. It was just a random move, and felt a little more painful after the Bears grudgingly swallowed paying Jay Cutler big money into 2016.”

I think the Bears offensive coaching staff sees Royal as a Wes Welker-type of player. The Bears have never gotten the most out of these types of slot receivers but if anyone knows how to do it, it should be Gase. This could be a better signing than most people think.