The Bears Will Once Again Be Competing with the Packers to Draft the Same Players in 2016

Its not a surprise but Green Bay would like to move linebacker Clay Matthews back outside full time next year.

“In order to do that, the Packers might have to make it an offseason priority to acquire another starting-caliber inside linebacker. When general manager Ted Thompson did not address that position until the fourth round of last year’s draft, when he took Jake Ryan, it ensured Matthews would play mostly inside again.”

What all of this means is that the Bears, who arguably need two starters at the inside linebacker position, will be competing with the Packers for the same players. The Bears pick far higher in the draft order (11th) but they likely have their eye on one or two prospects, for instance, in the second round that the Packers will be considering with the 27th overall pick.

The situation reminds me of the 2010 draft when the Packers traded up in the third round to get ahead of the Bears to select safety Morgan Burnett. The Bears were left to select Major Wright four picks later. Burnett established himself as a starter with the Packers, and has just competed his sixth season with them. Wright is long gone along with the parade of other safeties the Bears selected in the Lovie Smith era.

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Catching Up with Former Bears Offensive Tackle Jordan Mills

Sal Maiorana at the Democrat and Chronicle reviews the performance of the Buffalo Bills offensive line. What he says about former bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills is of interest.

“Jordan Mills: C-

“Mills played for offensive line coach Aaron Kromer in Chicago, where he was a two-year starter, but he’s nothing more than a journeyman and is no longer starter material. He’s a free agent, and if the Bills decide to re-sign him, he’ll probably be in the mix at right tackle, but the Bills need a better option.”

The left side of the Bills offensive line was very good with left tackle Cordy Glenn, guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood. But the right side of the line was a mediocrity at best with rookie John Miller at guard and Seantrel Henderson at tackle. Henderson was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The fact that Mills couldn’t establish  himself in the starting lineup with these guys as competition is a bad sign.

This is an indication of how far the Bears had to go in terms of upgrading their talent. Next year if Mills can’t make a Bills team with a poor right tackle situation and almost no depth, as seems very possible, there’s a good chance that a guy that the Bears had starting at right tackle will be out of the league in 2016.

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Could the Answer at Guard Already Be on the Roster?

Kevin Fishbain at chicagosports.com reviews the performance of the offensive line in 2015:

“Next for [offensive line coach] Dave Magazu and [general manager Ryan] Pace is finding a starting right guard, whether it’s through the draft, free agency or bringing back [Patrick]Omameh or [Vlad] Ducasse and hoping for improvement. The Bears also have a developmental prospect in tackle Tayo Fabuluje.”

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 03: during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 03: during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

No doubt about it. Almost every position could be improved but right guard is the major hole in the offense right now.

In this regard, Fabuluje is a fascinating prospect. He played extensively in the preseason but very little during the season. Despite that, the Bears kept him on the roster rather than putting him on the practice squad and risking the possibility of losing him to another team. That’s a pretty good indication that the team has plans for Fabuluje.

Most have considered Fabuluje to be a tackle prospect and that’s where he played in August. He’s an enormous man but has quick feet despite that and he has the mobility to be a reasonably good right tackle. But more and more during the offseason we are seeing the suggestion in the press that his future is at guard.

It’s not a bad idea. Right guard is the more difficult of the two guard positions and requires more athleticism than the left. Most teams scheme their line play such that the center and the players on the left block to the left. The right tackle usually turns to the right to take on the right end. That leaves the right guard isolated on whoever lines up over him. So despite being “land locked” with a player on either side, it’s a still position that occasionally requires the player to take on his man one on one in space. Fabuluje may fit the bill. In fact, given the borderline play of both Omameh and Ducasse, it’s a bit of s a surprise that the Bears didn’t move him there late in the season.

Regardless, it seems that after a year on the bench to develop, Fabuluje is going to get his chance to compete at a position of need in 2016. Whether he has the brains and the instincts to go with his athleticism will rapidly become apparent. If he does, along with veteran Matt Slauson, the Bears could have a very good pair of guards on their hands.

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Not the Best Question I Ever Asked

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune responds to a question from this ignorant fan:

“I’ve been hesitant to get behind Dowell Loggains because he was Johnny Manziel’s quarterbacks coach during a miserable season last year. I recognize that by far the biggest reasons for Manziel’s poor performance had to do with Manziel’s actions not those of Loggains. Nevertheless, I have to believe that he was fired for a reason. Can you ease my concerns? — Tom S., Chicago

“I don’t think I would evaluate the work of any NFL coach or assistant based on their time spent with Manziel. If half the reports about his off-field exploits and problems are true, he’s not a young professional fully committed to his job as a football player. The Browns fired Loggains at the end of 2014 after one season and that move came at about the same time offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan asked Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam to be released from his contract. I certainly wouldn’t judge the Browns offensive coaches from this past season based on another dismal performance by Manziel. Plenty of coaches get fired. In fact, it happens to almost all of them at some point. As colorful former Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips famously once said, ‘There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.’ Loggains happened to be fired in Cleveland. The Bears once, not too long ago, ran off defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. I’m not comparing Loggains to Rivera. I’m pointing out coaches get let go regularly. And I sure as heck wouldn’t put a stain on Loggains’ resume because of what did or didn’t happen with Manziel.”

This was a kinder response than this question deserved. My suggestion that Loggains be judged from one year of work wasn’t the best considered opinion I’ve ever expressed. Furthermore, I’d totally forgotten that Shanahan had left and it makes compete sense that Loggains might have been Shanahan’s guy. The new offensive coordinator might very well have wanted his own quarterbacks coach.

Having said that, I’m still concerned about Loggains record. From the outside looking in, it seems to me like Loggains talks a good, smart game. I’m sure he’s very knowledgable. But when its all said and sifted there’s no historical evidence whatsoever that he can get players to actually perform. No quarterbacks that he ever coached before coming to the Bears ever performed above their talent level. No offense he’s ever coordinator ever demonstrably performed better as a team than the sum of its parts. In fact quarterback Brian Hoyer got demonstrably better with the Texans than in 2014 than he was with the Browns. I hate to say it but what I know of Loggains reminds me a great deal of John Shoop.

With more experienced candidates with a history of success available such as Ken Whisenhunt and Pat Shurmur, Loggains is a risk. I’m not saying he won’t work out. But I think there’s a good basis for my concern.

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Cleaner Play, Better Defense the Real Key to Packers Success

Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains what happened on the Packers offensive line in Sunday’s blow out loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

“[David] Bakhtiari is out, [Brian] Bulaga goes down, [T.J.] Lang and [Corey] Linsley both miss portions of what ends as a humiliating 30-point loss for the visitors. The key reserves are once again tested, and the offensive tackles fail in volcanic fashion: 8 1/2 pressures (unofficially) and multiple sacks allowed by Don Barclay; five pressures and a strip sack yielded by Josh Walker.”

That’s quite a test of the Packers’ offensive line depth, even against a Cardinal team that isn’t that good rushing the passer without blitzing. It’s something they’ve been able to adjust to in the past by winning one-on-one match ups with their wide receivers but not this year when they are not only giving the team their usual high number of drops but aren’t producing in other ways as well. Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett has a plan:

“The change could be as simple as asking running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks to chip block on incoming pass rushers, something the Packers have done sporadically this season. Or they may choose to utilize the blocking skills of tight end Andrew Quarless, who returned to the field Sunday after spending roughly three months on injured reserve/designated to return. Or they could move the pocket laterally to take advantage of the mobility of [Aaron] Rodgers, who threw for just 151 yards against the Cardinals and posted a passer rating of 66.2.

“‘Without getting into our scheme,’ Bennett said, ‘we’ll do certain things to put our players in the best position to win.'”

None of this is brain surgery. But with the exception of the last thing on the list, all of them require that the team be in a close enough game to where they don’t have to pass with the Packers usual multiple wide receiver sets. That wasn’t the case on Sunday where the Packers fell behind early in spectacular fashion.

Many will claim that the key to the Packers success this week against the Vikings and in the playoffs after that will be the performance of that much maligned offensive line. But the really essential element is much simpler. The Packers still have Rogers and even though that’s not enough to carry the team as it has been in the past, if they simply avoid turnovers and play good defense, they’ll give the team a chance. If they do that, the necessary adjustments will flow from it and the Packers should be able to move the ball even against a good Minnesota defense, albeit not all that well.

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Buccaneers Game a Highlight for the Coordinators

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reviews the Bears victory over the Buccaneers Sunday:

“I-formation: The Bears used two tailbacks in an I-formation on some short-yardage plays, including both of Carey’s touchdowns.

“Carey was the up back on both scores, with Langford behind him as the tailback. Carey dived in from 1 yard on the first and caught a 1-yard play-action pass on the second.

“Cutler liked how the formation and personnel gave the offense options.

“‘The more dynamic guys you have on the field, the better,’ he said.”

This game was a good one for both coordinators.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, knowing the the was weak at inside linebacker, played predominantly nickel formations in which an extra defensive back was on the field.  He frequently put eight in the box to stop Doug Martin while doing so, stopping the Buccaneers greatest strength while compensating for his defense’s greatest weakness.

And then there was this clever innovation by offensive coordinator Adam Gase. With the Bears weak at wide receiver and with Zack Miller as the only tight end that’s performing well right now, Gase went to two running backs.

No doubt about it. This put his best eleven on the field. Nice work.

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Quick Game Comments: Bears at Buccaneers 12/27/15

Bucs_BearsOffense

  1. Tampa Bay played a familiar Lovie Smith-style bend but don’t break defense but the blitzed more than is usual, presumably to put pressure on the somewhat weak Bears offensive line. It was reasonably effective.
  2. The Bears responded by trying to be patient and limit mistakes in a ball control, run first offensive game plan.
  3. The Bears game took a while to get going, as usual. The Bears have scored only 41 points in the 1st quarter this year.
  4. The offense got going better after the first quarter. The Bucs helped them along to their first touchdown with a timely facemask penalty followed by a pass interference. They also executed better and played cleaner.
  5. The Bears were double teaming Gerald McCoy whenever they could with Vlad Ducasse and Kyle Long. This was particularly evident in short yardage where they ran right over the spot where they double team was. It seems that the Bucs may have been blitzing so often in an effort to prevent this double team by occupying both Ducasse and Long. This led directly to a sack given up by Ducasse isolated on McCoy in the second quarter in the red zone.
  6. The Bears offensive line had a very hard time protecting Cutler against that blitz. Tampa Bay only had one sack but Cutler was constantly under pressure.
  7. The Bears also had some success running to the right with Matt Slauson pulling to that side. This was a good plan against a Tampa Bay defensive line that always works to penetrate and get up field first.
  8. Tampa Bay did a good job on the Bears screen plays. Teams are preparing well for this now.
  9. Matt Forte (11 carries for 54 yards) ran very well today. This great vision was more evident than usual as he cut back and picked out holes. Jeremy Langford didn’t do badly (19 carries for 93 yards) but he looked like he still has some things to learn from Forte in comparison today.
  10. The Bears struggled a bit on third down (6 of 15) as the Bucs came through with some big plays. They also settled for field goals in the red zone when they needed touchdowns, again.
  11. Ka’Deem Carey scores not only a a good, hard run but actually catches a pass for the second touchdown. Who saw that coming? Probably not the Bucs.
  12. Zack Miller (7 catches for 64 yards) had a sneaky good game and led the Bears in receiving.
  13. Jay Cutler didn’t have to do that much but came through when he had to and statistically (20 of 27 for 156 yards, passer rating 100.2) he was excellent.

Defense

  1. Tampa Bay obviously is a run first team and they do it effectively with Doug Martin. The Bears countered with a lot of nickel defense but with eight in the box. This gets an extra defensive back on to the field to prevent those easy throws to running backs and tight ends that have been burning the linebackers so badly lately. That’s a good, smart adjustment that paid off.
  2. The Bears only rushed three in some obvious passing situations, probably in an effort to make Jameis Winston force a stupid throw. Winston did a reasonably good job of not doing that, trying to run out of trouble instead. He’s not dumb, that’s for sure. Having said that, he threw an interception under pressure from Christian Jones on the blitz in the third quarter in the red zone that was pretty bone-headed. So they still have to pound some of that out of him.
  3. The Bears didn’t appear to me to be blitzing much and they weren’t getting much pressure on Winston. This was a major advantage for Tampa Bay as they threw deep a number of times to burn the Bears after Winston was given forever to throw. Never was the need to acquire a pass rusher in the offseason more evident for the Bears.
  4. Harold Jones-Quartey had a good game and made a case for himself as a future Bear. He had a big hit that caused a fumble in the second quarter and stood out occasionally in coverage. His interception in the third quarter with the Bucs driving in the red zone was huge.
  5. Doug Martin (17 carries for 49 yards) had a mediocre first half. He come out after half time and ran very hard as the Bucaneers came out even more determined to run. They ran five straight times until Charles Sims caught a touchdown pass. The Bears responded by keying on the run with renewed attention and did a good job of stopping them.
  6. I’m not sure what the reason for it was but an awful lot of Buccaneers were getting open deep in the second half. Every time you looked up there was a wide receiver running free with a Bears defensive back trailing about three yards behind. That needs to stop. Fortunately Winston also has what appears to me to be a bad habit of under-throwing receivers deep. The Buccaneers would have blown this game wide open in the second half had he connected on more of those throws.
  7. The defense did a good job on third down, allowing just two conversions out of eight tries.

Miscellaneous

  1. Sam Rosen, Matt Millen, Peter Peter Schrager did a reasonably good job. Millen has a bad habit of being wrong and then having to correct himself but he also does a good job of going back to break down plays and show them exactly why they worked. He’s a surprisingly good teacher. I like him.
  2. A blocked Bears punt by Jeremiah George led to a Doug Martin touchdown. It looked like LaRoy Reynolds may have failed to block George. Robbie Gould had a good game, connecting on three field goals. His problems a few weeks ago seem to be over.
  3. Neither team committed that many penalties but some of them were very poorly timed, especially by the Buccaneers.  A false start by Kyle Long turned a third and goal from the four to a third and goal from the nine. A holding penalty by Vlad Ducasse late in the fourth quarter killed a first down. They settled for a field goal. On the Buccaneers side, a big facemask penalty brought back a William Gholston interception. A facemask followed by a pass interference penalty set up the Bears touchdown in the second quarter.
  4. Eddie Royal dropped a touchdown. Mike Evans returned the favor by dropping one in the fourth quarter.
  5. Turnovers were huge here, of course, as the Bears won that battle 3-0. The Bears got a fumble caused by a hit by Harold Jones-Quartey. It was recovered by John Timu. Timu recovered another big fumble in the third quarter at the Bucs 22 yard line. Jon Anderson appeared to make the big hit. Harold Jones-Quartey came up with a big interception in the red zone in the third quarter.
  6. You hate to see injuries, especially to guys like Hroniss Grasu and Eddie Goldman, so late in the season. Grasu eventually returned. Here’s hoping the Goldman injury is similarly minor. Jarvis Jenkins, who has had a reasonably good season, left the game early and would also be missed. The defensive line wasn’t a strength to begin with.
  7. It’s debatable but I thought the Buccaneers were the more talented team, today. But turnovers and a few key mistakes burned them badly and the Bears played cleanly enough to take advantage. That doesn’t sound exciting but its darned important. When the Bears aren’t committing penalties and shooting themselves in the foot, they can win games they shouldn’t be in. Today was a prime example of that.
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The Chip Kelly Conundrum

Darius Walker at nfl.com comments upon the disconnect between the offensive system and running back Demarco Murray, who the Eagles gave a $40 million contract to in the offseason:

Chip Kelly‘s high-powered spread offense revolves around spacing. The majority of snaps take place out of the shotgun formation, with the goal of capitalizing on the gaps created by that alignment. To be successful, Murray must rely on his peripheral vision and react to open lanes throughout the entire line of scrimmage. So if a hole opens up on the back side, he needs to see it immediately and take advantage.

“Unfortunately, he’s never had to do that before.”

“Only a handful of backs can be classified as feature backs, which is to say, someone who does everything well. Most runners fall into one of three categories: one-cut, open-field or third-down.

“Murray is a one-cut guy. He has a rare combination of strength and balance, with an exceptional capacity for attacking downhill. He can completely gash opposing defenses between the tackles and get the tough yards.”

“In Week 5 against New Orleans, the Eagles incorporated more runs from under center. The result was one of Murray’s better outings of the season (83 rushing yards and a touchdown). In order for Murray to be successful, and for the Eagles to leverage their investment, Kelly would have to completely alter the offensive approach.”

Which he’s not going to do. Like running backs, you can classify coaches into two types: those who adapt to their personnel and those who need personnel to fit their system. Kelly is the latter. Unfortunately he had zero NFL experience as a coach before being hired by the Eagles, much less as a personnel man.  He’s paying for that inexperience now.

Murray’s struggles mask the other real issue for the Eagles. It’s poor coaching. When he took on the role of general manager, Kelly was arguably distracted and weakened his strongest suit, his ability to get the most out of players, especially on offense. Connor Orr. also at nfl.com, comments upon one Eagles’ situation their game against the Cardinals as one example of the problem:

“Because they were already trailing the NFL’s fifth-best defense 17-10, Kelly thought that points would be at a premium, so he opted to go for it on fourth down. Following a timeout, Kelly sent out his personnel grouping and the Cardinals immediately countered with a timeout of their own.

“In that moment, Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson noticed that the Cardinals returned with a different defense.

“‘They brought (linebacker Alex Okafor) over and put him over (Eagles tight end Brent Celek),’ Johnson said. ‘That’s basically what they did.’

“Did the Eagles return with a different play call?

“‘Did the play call change? Our call was the same but the defense changed,’ he said.

“So the defense may have anticipated the call?

“‘I think so. It was just a good play by them. We didn’t execute like we should have.'”

“And it wasn’t just moments related to the offense and their seldom-used $40 million player. The defense was drifting into sub packages with their backs against the goal line. Their line and secondary was so scattershot that the Cardinals didn’t even bother taking advantage of the fact that the Eagles were down to their final two healthy cornerbacks, opting to pound the ball with David Johnson.”

Is Kelly in over his head? It sure looks like it. It’s fairly evident that coaching in the NFL is more than just rolling out more talented players than the other team, spreading them out and letting them do the same thing over and over again as Kelly did at Oregon. Its a game of adjustments and re-adjustments over the course of all 16 games. Kelly is likely just realizing that.  Its possible his players are realizing that he’s just realizing it, too.  That doesn’t inspire much confidence or good play.

The Eagles were one of the most interesting teams going into 2015. We all wondered which direction Kelly’s team was going to go in after drastic changes in the offseason meant to give the coach what he wanted to get over the hump. Its now clear that what he wanted was the wrong thing in at least some cases and the Eagles have regressed. The question now is what to do about it.

Once again, the Eagles will be a fascinating team to watch in the offseason. They are left with an unsavory choice. They could quickly tear things down before they get worse. If they choose, instead, to stick with Kelly and let him learn on the job how to both coach and manage personnel in the NFL, the Eagles may well have a ways to go before they bottom out. Kelly is by all accounts a smart man and the likelihood is that he’ll eventually figure it out. But do the Eagles, their players and their fans have the faith and the patience to wait that out? And should they?

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Only Limited Similarity Between John Fox and Lovie Smith

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune praises former Bears head coach Lovie Smith but at the same time under-states the positives of current head coach John Fox by stating that there’s not much difference between the two:

“The praise heaped on Fox comes mostly because he benefits by comparison to predecessor Marc Trestman, the cerebral interloper more suited as a life coach than an NFL head coach.”

“Truth is, Fox re-established credibility at Halas Hall by doing the job much the way Smith did for nine seasons: treating players like men and employing a philosophy built on a strong defense and conservative offense… If Smith could hire offensive coordinators as well as Fox has, perhaps he could have returned to a Super Bowl with the Bears.”

“Fox’s consistency in approach — something that always helped Smith connect with players — gives the Bears hope for the future no matter what their 2015 record is.

“Meanwhile, history gets a little kinder to Smith every week.”

I think everyone recognizes Smith’s accomplishments here and I think everyone recognized them when he left. But we also recognized his faults and there’s no doubt that Fox is a great improvement as a head coach. Fox has almost all of Smith’s positive attributes with out the baggage brought by Smith’s weird combination of both arrogance and insecurity.

It was the arrogance that made him insist on more power over personnel than he should have had in Chicago. It’s what’s gong to end up holding the Buccaneers back with Smith in charge of personnel there.  As former bear general manager Jerry Angelo put it:

[James Winston is] right on the cusp of being a franchise quarterback. They were a really bad team a year ago and they’re not really that much better this year except for him.

My mother could have drafted Winton or Marcus Mariota.

It was his insecurity that caused his poor record of hiring coordinators. Smith insisted they have experience working with him before because he was afraid of the creative tension that might be brought on by someone with a different point of view. He also lived by the tenant that you should never hire anyone good enough to be your own replacement. Even if you discount these speculations the fact remains that Smith couldn’t attract the best coaches.

Fox has none of these problems as demonstrated by the fact that he hired offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the two best available coordinators of 2015. He stays in the background and helps them do their jobs rather than doing it for them as Smith did with the defense after firing Ron Rivera for the sin of occasionally disagreeing with him.

In many ways Smith was a wonderful head coach and despite his flaws he brought some good years to Chicago and I’m grateful. But I don’t miss him. Looking back, the Bears are much better off now than they ever were then.

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Bears 2015 Draft Was Very Good but 2016 Needs to Be Better

Former Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel takes a “first look at the 2016 NFL draft”. It is, in fact, more of a look back at 2015:

“In the 2015 Draft, the Bears got four players who already have given strong contributions to this team. That is a very high number for any draft. As we all know, first-round pick Kevin White has not played, so he will in essence be a bonus addition to the next draft class.

“Second-round pick Eddie Goldman is the starter at nose tackle and has had an excellent season to date. He is, in fact, a better inside pass rusher than was predicted. Third-pick Hroniss Grasu is the starter at center and, while his play has been up and down, he has a bright future. He just needs to add some strength and bulk. That should happen this coming off season.

“Fourth-round selection Jeremy Langford has started some games at running back and right now is splitting time with Matt Forte. He looks like a legitimate NFL running back. Fifth-round selection Adrian Amos has been a starting safety all season and his play has been a pleasant surprise.”

If there was ever a reason for optimism amongst Bears fans, it was the under the radar success of the 2015 draft.

Unfortunately, the only playmaker in the group above is (arguably) Goldman. And that’s projecting a bit. Though all of the players above are valuable contributors, even if White turns out to have the goods the Bears didn’t hit the jackpot with many impact players. Grasu needs to develop, Langford has been good but not dynamic, Amos almost never shows up around the ball in coverage.

That all has to change this year. The Bears have needs all over the field and they are likely to truly take the best available player at their draft position.  General manager Ryan Pace will have had an entire season and offseason to prepare for the draft.  All-in-all, I think the odds are as good as they will ever be that the Bears will select more elite talent.  They’d better.

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