We Forgot What a Good Running Back Looks Like and Other Points of View

  • Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly on the current state of the Bears roster:

    “For all the early excitement brought by the arrivals of rookies Mitch Trubisky and Tarik Cohen, it’s hard not to feel a bit letdown after the Bears’ final cuts of the preseason Saturday.”

    “With only five wide receivers – realistically only three you’d want on the field – and five tight ends plus a fullback currently, it’s clear there will be a few more changes to the team’s 53-man roster, most likely prior to the opener against Atlanta.

    “That’s a good thing. Because for the moment, this group leaves you feeling a little flat at best.”

    I have to agree. Way too much of this roster looks exactly like it did last year. Even at positions where there were changes like cornerback I question whether the team is actually any better than last year.

    The Bears are essentially relying on better health and better play from their previous draft picks for improvement. I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to provide significant improvement.

  • Brad Biggs, Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune all bemoan the Bears lack of talent as they examine the 53 man roster after the cut downs over the weekend. From Campbell:

    “Defensively, the lack of star power puts a ceiling on what to expect. The Bears remain the only NFL team without a defensive player who has been to a Pro Bowl. The other 31 have a least one defensive Pro Bowler from the last two seasons. In other words, the Bears are trailing in the personnel department, which showed last season in their NFL-record-low 11 takeaways.”

    Of course, I agree. But if you are looking for a bright side I’d say that the Bears do have potential Pro Bowl talent in some of their recent draft picks, namely Leonard Floyd and Eddie Goldman.

    By far the biggest problem that the Bears have is the fact that wide receiver Kevin White hasn’t developed. It’s left them totally bereft of a passing game and, though the running game looks strong, there’s a only so much that you can do against good teams without a legitimate passing threat to go with it.

    You can’t hit on every draft pick. But if anything has doomed the Bears to an – at best – mediocre season, that’s it.

  • Many reports are pointing out the fall that running back Jeremy Langford took over the course of one year. The Bears were looking to him to be their starter this time last year. This year he was cut.The truth is that this isn’t a fall for Langford. The talent at running back is simply so much better that it leaves the average observer wondering, “What were we thinking?”

    Langford is just a guy. We just didn’t recognize it because we forgot what a good running back looks like.

  • Kevin Seifert at ESPN wonders why there have been so many trades this offseason:

    “What’s going on here? Has the NFL embarked on a new era of next-level wheeling and dealing? Or are we overreacting to what history will judge as a bunch of relatively inconsequential moves?”

    “As the ESPN Stats & Information chart shows, NFL teams have made 30 trades since Aug. 1 through late Sunday afternoon. That’s already more trades than we saw between Aug. 1 and the first game of the regular season in each of the previous nine years. The average during that period was 13.3 trades.”

    “Of course, teams have always tried to trade players before releasing or waiving them. So the biggest question to ask here is this: Why are teams giving up draft choices, albeit low-round picks in most cases, for players they could probably have acquired on the open market if they were patient?

    “In some cases, a general manager might feel that the available player is either better or better in his system than the profile of a player he might draft if he holds on to the pick. He might also consider the pick a small price to avoid a bidding war or even a free-agent courtship should he wait for an eventual release.”

    It’s just a guess but the way the salary cap is handled nowadays may have a lot to do with this.

    First, the cap has been rising and many teams probably have more space than usual to work with.

    But, probably more importantly, many of the NFL deals in recent years have been front loaded with guaranteed money to make sure that there’s minimal dead space if the player doesn’t work out.

    That means that there’s less dead guaranteed money accelerating onto the cap when many of the players are being traded. This was, of course, the biggest reason why trades haven’t been that common in the past.

  • I was amused by this prediction from Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:

    Mitch Trubisky’s first start will come … against the Browns in Week 16. The Bears will stubbornly cling to [Mike] Glennon as their starter throughout the season. Not until they finally are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs will they turn to the future and give Trubisky a shot in a comfortable spot: a home game against the wretched Browns.”

    If the Bears aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until week 16, I think we’re all going to be reasonably satisfied regardless of when Trubisky finally plays.

  • Kickers have way too much time on their hands:

Don’t Hold Your Breath on the Bears Drafting Their Quarterback of the Future

When the question of whether the Bears will take a quarterback in the first round comes up, the answer is almost always something on the order of “doubtful”. And I would agree for a number of reasons.

I wrote not long ago that head coach John Fox is all in on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, letting a proven, productive coach in Mike Groh go in favor of Loggains and new quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. But the truth is that Fox is really all in on Jay Cutler. Keeping Loggains as coach is largely to cater to Cutler in an effort to try to keep him comfortable. Those of us who are Cutler doubters know where this has led in the past. But Fox and general manager Ryan Pace haven’t been here watching Cutler for the six years he was here prior to their arrival. If all you really thought you knew of Cutler was what you saw last year, you might think that this was the smart move. We shall see.

In any case, from Fox’s point of view, Cutler’s your guy. But he’s aging, you say, and the Bears need to start developing a starter behind him sooner rather than later. Well, I agree with the developing part if for no other reason than past history tells me not to trust Cutler to perform consistently at a high level year in and year out. I also am constantly reminded every year that the Packers took Aaron Rogers when they still had a more than very functional Brett Favre playing.

The problem is with the “aging” part of the above thinking. Cutler will only be 33 years old when the 2016 season starts. That’s not that old and you can figure most quarterbacks now a days will have a minimum of three or four more good years left. If you are Fox and you are really all in with Cutler and you don’t buy into the “draft a quarterback even though your starter is still good” philosophy (which most teams don’t), drafting a quarterback at number eleven overall is at or near the bottom of your list.  The Bears have needs everywhere and Fox and Pace are almost certainly much more focused on getting better in other areas with that pick right now.

But having said all of that, let’s imagine that the Bears will, indeed, seriously consider one of the top three quarterbacks in the first round.

It’s very, very early to be speculating on how this draft will go but I’ll go ahead and throw out a theory and we’ll see how it turns out.

I think Carson Wentz and Jared Goff are your top two quarterbacks and that they are long gone before the Bears pick. Cleveland will almost certainly take one of them and one of the teams I’m about to mention will take the other. I think the Bears maybe – might – have a shot at Paxton Lynch being there when they pick in the first round. From what I’ve seen, Lynch needs more work than Wentz and Goff.  Teams that want a starter who is lower risk and closer to a finished product right now might not want to draft such a project. The above aside, with Cutler around for a few years yet, the Bears might be willing to look ahead and draft Lynch to develop into a franchise guy.

Here’s the problem. The San Diego Chargers draft third. Like the Bears, they’ve still got a 34 year old Philip Rivers to start in front of a project for a while if they really like Lynch. The Cowboys draft 4th. Tony Romo is 35. The Giants draft 10th. Eli Manning is 35… I’m sure you see the problem. All of these teams might be thinking that they might never draft this high again and that they’d better draft the future now in the same way that you and I are thinking the Bears should.

I think we have to start looking at those second and third round quarterbacks. And so far… well, I’m very unimpressed. I haven’t seen anyone yet that I think might develop into a starter no matter how much time you give them. One name to keep in mind that might give you some hope is former Arkansas Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen. As Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com points out in this video, Allen is someone who apparently stood out at Senior Bowl practices (along with Wentz, naturally). What I saw during the game backed that up. Allen is supposedly only 6’1″ but he certainly doesn’t look like a short quarterback when he plays. And I’ve pointed out before that if there’s a general manager in the NFL who might be inclined to take a risk on a shorter prospect to develop, based upon his background it’s Pace.  The guess here is that Pace is one of a number of general managers going back to the college tape to take a closer look at Allen after his performance last week.

The problem is that Pace may well have to draft Allen with the Bears second round pick if he wants him. I could be wrong but I can’t see him doing that. But if he trades back a bit or if Allen falls into the third round, you might see him go to the Bears.

But the truth is that’s unlikely.  And I’m sorry to say that with the commitment to Cutler along with needs in other areas all over the field, I think we may be looking at another draft that goes by without the Bears drafting their future at quarterback.

Who Would Replace Adam Gase? Probably Someone Good.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions. This one is about whether the Bears will hire within if offensive coordinator Adam Gase leaves to become a head coach:

“If Gase departs, coach John Fox will have to consider what is best for the offense and is the best fit for his staff in 2016. Obviously, the quarterback has a lot to do with that but you can’t let one player dictate what you are going to do. Quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains would seem like a potential candidate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox considered former Titans and Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. We’ll see what happens if Gase is hired as a head coach elsewhere in January.”

A few thoughts here:

  1. Gase is a good offensive coordinator but I feel compelled to point out that statistically the Bears offense isn’t that good. The Bears rank 20th in total offense and 25th in points. They’ve also struggled in the red zone. Don’t get me wrong. Gase has done a good job maximizing the talent he has available with a patchwork offensive line and patchy availability for most of his receivers for most of the year. But if I’m looking for a head coach, those statistics aren’t going to get me or my fan base excited. The favorites for head coaching jobs in November aren’t always the same ones that you see getting interviewed in January.
  2. Dowell Logains was Johnny Manziel‘s quarterbacks coach last year. Enough said.
  3. It seems likely to me at this point that Mike McCoy will be fired in San Diego at the end of the season. Should that happen, I would expect him to be a strong candidate here. Hes worked with Fox before and had enough success to get a head coaching job. He’d be a good choice.
  4. One of the most important jobs of a good head coach is to attract good assistants. It might be the most important job, especially if you are John Fox, who apparently gives his assistants plenty of room to do their jobs. Fox’s recent history has proven that he can do this. I think the odds are good that whoever he hires will be good for the team.

The Bears Linebacking Corp Needs Major Work in Coverage

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune talks up undrafted free agent linebacker Jonathan Anderson. Anderson is asked about the fact that he was given the helmet with the headset in it on Monday night to call the plays instead of Christian Jones:

“‘I feel like they trust me a little bit more and that is why I got a little more action,’ Anderson said. ‘I was out there trying to do my job.’

“In press box statistics, Anderson was credited with a team-high 11 solo tackles and 12 total. It will be interesting to see how coaches grade him. The Chargers did some damage underneath in the passing game. Jones was second on the defense with seven tackles. When [SheaMcClellin is cleared to return, I’d expect him to regain some playing time from the younger players.”

That first comment was a blunt assessment that won’t score him points for tact in the locker room. But If Jones doesn’t like it, he should perform better.

Regardless, the bet here is that none of the linebackers is scoring many points with the coaching staff. As Biggs points out, San Diego running back Danny Woodhead did major damage in the underneath passing game and the old man at tight end, Antonio Gates, had a good game against them as well.

You have to play mistake free football to take advantage of that kind of weakness and the Chargers obviously weren’t up to the task. But if the Rams don’t execute well enough to take advantage of that weakness, I can guarantee you that the Broncos will and then the Packers will on Thanksgiving.

Outside Linebacker Position Up for Grabs as Acho Steps Out and Houston Steps Up

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune celebrates Lamarr Houston after he got two sacks late in the second half against the Chargers:

“‘I was out there trying to work hard,’ Houston said, ‘and see if I could get something done.'”

Houston and Willie Young almost both saw opportunity knocking after starter Sam Acho had a lousy night where he gave up a touchdown on a blown coverage and was otherwise a non-entity. The Beras have gotten almost no pass rush opposite Pernell McPhee with Acho getting the bulk of the snaps and they obviously were in search for more in the second half on Monday night.

This will be a position to keep an eye on as it’s obviously a place that is waiting for someone to step up and take it.

Game Comments: Bears at Chargers 11/9/15

monday-night-football-bears-vs-chargers-score-results Offense

  1. Though it wasn’t all through the air, the Bears spread it out a bit more than usual early with fewer double tight end sets and with Martellus Bennett in the back field rather than right at the line of scrimmage. The Bears apparently wanted to use the pass to set up the run tonight. I thought they ran the ball a bit more in the second half.
  2. The Bears offensive line was doing a good job of moving the San Diego defensive line in the run game. They won the line of scrimmage for the most part tonight.
  3. Martellus Bennett had a good game. He looked like he reacted by coming back to play full speed after catching some criticism last week for his low numbers in the passing game.
  4. The Chargers used line stunts to try to get pressure on Jay Cutler with limited success. It’s probably something the offensive line needs to work on.
  5. The Chargers also liked to blitz, especially on third down. The Bears went to the screen game in response with some success in the second half. Jeremy Langford did a good job picking up the blitz as well.
  6. That was a wonderful long catch by Jeremy Langford to pick up a first down in the first quarter. He’s appears to have good hands. Langford had a good night.
  7. Jason Verrett played an excellent game as he shut down Alshon Jeffery and had an interception for a touchdown. Once Jeffery ended up on Steve Williams in the second quarter the Bears tried to feed him with some success.
  8. If Jeffery had a good night, it would have been nice to have seen Marquess Wilson have a better one along side him. He had a tough time getting open against man coverage.
  9. That was a wonderful play action pass call on the one yard line to get Martellus Bennett a touchdown in the second quarter.
  10. Magnificent catch by Zach Miller for what turned out to be the game winning touchdown.

Defense

  1. San Diego was winning the line of scrimmage early with their offensive line. Bears linebackers were having a hard time getting off blocks.
  2. The Bears had a tough time getting pressure on Philip Rivers and eventually resorted to doing more blitzing than usual with limited success.
  3. The Bears may have gotten a little more pressure on Rivers in the third quarter and there were more tipped passes which makes me wonder if the Bears coaches didn’t say something about getting their hands up on the line of scrimmage at half time. TO my eye, Willie Young came out with some fire. He may be seeing a chance to show the coaches something with poor play o that side by Sam Acho.
  4. Speaking of Acho, that was a bad blown coverage on Danny Woodhead to give up a San Diego touchdown in the first quarter.
  5. San Diego took advantage of the Bears linebackers by sending their running backs out into patterns from the backfield. The Bears had a tough time handling it.
  6. The Bears defensive backs didn’t fare much better than the linebackers in coverage as there appeared to be big gaps on occasion for the Chargers to take advantage of. The Bears appear to me to play particularly poor zone defense, perhaps because they lack speed.
  7. Melvin Gordon is a huge disappointment to me. Going into the NFL draft I thought he might have been even better than Todd Gurley. But he looks like an average back with average vision to me right now.
  8. Does Philip Rivers ever shut up?
  9. With a lot of injuries the Chargers certainly welcomed a good performance from Antonio Gates.
  10. The defense really came through with some nice plays on the last San Diego possession. A couple nice sacks on the last drive by Lamarr Houston. I wish he wouldn’t celebrate like that…

Miscellaneous

  1. These have to be two of the worst special teams units in football. Robbie Gould missed a field goal in the first quarter and in the third quarter. The ball may have been tipped on the first one. San Diego missed an extra point in the second quarter. There was also a poor punt by Mike Scifres late in the second quarter.
  2. This was a sloppy game with too many penalties on both sides. San Diego had an illegal formation in the first quarter. Matt Slauson had a false start with the ball at the 10 yard line near the beginning of the second quarter. Lamarr Houston had an offsides penalty in the second quarter and a bad one in the fourth quarter on the final San Diego drive. That was followed by an offensive pass interference, a holding call and a false start as San Diego shot themselves in the foot. Kyle Long got a stupid unsportsman-like conduct penalty late in the second quarter to take the Bears out of field goal range. Long also had a holding penalty that the Bears could ill afford late in the third quarter with the team down nine points. Jarvis Jenkins had a killer roughing the passer penalty to put the Chargers in field goal range on the drive to end the first half. Stevie Johnson had a terrible delay of game penalty in the fourth quarter with the Chargers in the red zone after he spiked the ball in the field of play. That was followed by a damaging ineligible man down field penalty by D.J. Fluker that took a touchdown off the board. Those penalties arguably cost the Chargers the game in the end.
  3. Dropped passes weren’t really a factor.
  4. It wasn’t a good night for Cutler as far as turnovers are concerned. A Cutler fumble on the 20 yard line gave the ball to San Diego and ruined a trip into the red zone in the second quarter. In the same quarter the Bears recovered a fumble in San Diego territory but Cutler threw it back to them for a pick six.
  5. Jay Cutler giveth and Jay Cutler taketh away in what was really a sloppy game on both sides tonight. Too many turnovers and far too many penalties, especially on the San Diego side of the field. The Bears continue to have coverage issues in the defensive backfield and, especially, with their linebackers and I think we can expect to see plenty of short passes, especially to running backs out of the backfield, in the near future. It wasn’t pretty but a win is a win.

 

A Matter of Common Sense. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts the Bears at the bottom of his power poll. Once again, I can’t argue but I have some hope that they’ll be better than the Saints by the end of the year. The Bears are rebuilding but the Saints look like dead men walking to me.
  • I was surprised the Bears ended up tied for second in the waiver wire order. The tie breaker is strength of schedule and the first three games have been pretty rough in that respect. I would have thought they’d have been behind all of the other 0-3 teams. Apprently there are nuances that aren’t evident.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune quotes head coach John Fox on the depleted Bears passing attack:

“‘We’re missing some integral parts that hopefully at some point we get back,’ coach John Fox said Monday. ‘But the good news is that we’ve gotten to look at some other people and see how they react in those situations. And hopefully we’re learning some stuff that will help us moving forward.'”

He’s talking about you, Jimmy Clausen and Marquess Wilson. And so far it’s not a good look.

Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times suggests an interesting Raiders to keep an eye on Sunday:

“RG J’Marcus Webb

“The former Bears tackle has moved inside and become a starter for the Raiders, who have Mike Tice as their line coach. The Bears will attack Webb.”

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

I know that the game seems like it was ages ago but for those of you who are still stuck on it, Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com rips the NFL for not reversing the ruling on the field that a Chicago punt didn’t hit the Seattle punt returner’s leg last Sunday:

“‘Does this ball really jump that far to the right where we think the ball clearly hit his leg?’ [NFL V.P. of officiating Dean] Blandino asks. ‘It’s reasonable to assume that it hit his leg. But, again, we cannot make a decision based on the ball changing direction. We have to see clear evidence that the ball absolutely touched his leg.'”

“If that’s the standard the league intends to apply to replay review, that’s fine. But we should all remember this standard moving forward, because there inevitably will be occasions when a decision is made not based on what is absolutely clear and patently obvious to the eye, but which is absolutely clear and patently obvious based on the application of common sense.

I’m not going to sit here and blame poor officiating for a 26-0 loss to the Seahawks. But Florio’s point is well taken. If this is the standard that the league is going to set for replay review, we’re going to see some pretty bad calls stand under his watch.

Quick Comments from Selected Late Sunday NFL Games

Some quick observations on some of the games that I caught late in the day after the Bears game was over.

Broncos – Ravens:

There was a huge question about Peyton Manning‘s arm before their game against the Ravens this weak. Manning has been struggling with his arm strength all preseason and has put up some ugly game tape. Pre-game reports that he’d been putting more zip on the ball after starting to wear a glove on his throwing hand, something he didn’t do in the preseason. However, I’m inclined to attribute more of it to the huge windup he’s developed in an effort to get more behind his throws. He was also much more inaccurate than he has been in the past.

Manning actually didn’t do too badly. But that long release may haunt him all season, as it did on a Jimmy Smith pick six on Manning’s first throw of the second half.

On the other side Denver constantly harassed Joe Flacco with a ferocious pass rush. Both Denver and Baltimore struggled to protect their quarterbacks and I’m now officially concerned about both of these offensive lines.

Finally, Terrell Suggs‘s torn achilles will keep him out for the year. That’s bad news for my Ravens Super Bowl pick.

Titans – Buccaneers:

The Jameis WinstonMarcus Mariota match up looked very much like you’d expect it it.

Mariota looked far more pro-ready, being in command of the offense the entire game against that nice, standard cover-two defense. He threw four touchdowns in the first half alone.

Winston was far more up and down, mostly down, as he was in the preseason. Winston has quit a way to go before he’s going to be a competent NFL quarterback and its going to be a long season for the Bucs.

Another thing to keep an eye on is that Buccaneer running game, which looked very effective. If Winston develops at all, he’s going to get a lot of help from some wonderful running by Doug Martin.

The Bears play the Buccaneers on December 27.

Chargers – Lions:

Preseason reports had people wondering if Chargers first round running back Melvin Gordon was headed towards bust territory. I wouldn’t say that Gordon looked bad so much as he looked disappointingly nondescript. But as expected, the Lions Ameer Abdulla was the guy to watch in this game. His tendency to accelerate through his cuts and continue to gain momentum is rapidly putting him into an upper class of running backs.

There should be concern about that Lions defense without Ndamukong Suh. The Chargers dissected them in the second half both in the running game and with the pass. They made it look far too easy for any Lions fan comfort. Or for the comfort of the Bears, who are going to be visiting San Diego in November.

I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with Matthew Stafford but he looked awful in this game. You might generously say that he wasn’t on the same page with his receivers but his accuracy was very suspect. This is a situation to keep an eye on in the competitive NFC North.

Cardinals – Saints:

The Bears next opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. My initial impression watching them beat up on the New Orleans Saints is that this is a rough, tough team up front on both sides of the ball. If the Bears run on this team like they did on the Packers in the first half, more power to them. I have my doubts.

The Saints looked completely flat. I’m really surprised as offseason reports indicated that they were muscling up to become more physical. If they did, they didn’t show it. Sean Payton didn’t have this team prepared to play in this game. The Saints have to pick it up.

Cowboys – Giants

Tony Romo had ages to throw the ball in this game. That Dallas offensive line is a wall. No one got close. And they road graders blocking the run. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better offensive line.

The Cowboys are a tough team. Which why I was shocked that the Giants were actually ahead at half. They were badly out played and the statistics were sick – they only had the ball for about 8 minutes of the half. But the Cowboys kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and but you have to give the Giants credit. They hung tough.

The Giants offensive line wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Cowboys but Erik Flowers looks like he’s going to turn out to be a pretty good pick at left tackle. And of course, they have Odell Beckham, who drew a safety rolled to his side all night. I was also impressed by their coverage teams on special teams. But they were out classed you figured that they were eventually going to lose – and they did.  But the Cowboys did everything they could to give it away.

Should Being a Big Ten Running Back be a Red Flag in the Draft?

Tom Krasovic at the San Diego Union-Tribune is concerned about Melvin Gordon in light of fellow Wisconsin alumnus Montee Ball‘s profesional struggles.

“Do Wisconsin running backs peak in college? Should frontline Big Ten running backs come with a warning label? Is it wise to invest premium draft picks in a running back?”

I think Krasovic’s concerns are much ado about nothing. But I will say that I’m surprised that Gordon struggled so much in the preseason. I honestly thought he was the top runningback in the 2015 draft (ahead of Todd Gurley). Gordon still has time for the light to come on but my evaluation isn’t looking good right now.