- I never do a full commentary on pre-season games. But here are a few thoughts on the game against the Dolphins.
Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic writes about how the defense believes that it will improve. He particularly addresses Robert Quinn‘s situation. Quinn is threatening to be the biggest free agent bust in franchise history:
- I thought Deon Bush showed up ready to play. He wants a job. If he keeps playing fast he’ll have one.
- Alec Ogletree is fighting an uphill battle for an inside linebacker job as the Bears would almost certainly have to keep an extra-linebacker to keep him. But he’s definitely showing up on defense. He was everywhere against the run but maybe showed his weakness against the pass when Dolphins TE Mike Gesickie burned him badly. In fairness, not many linebackers in the league can cover Gesickie and if he’s in man coverage with one, its because someone called the wrong defense. He’s going to have to show up on special teams.
- The Bears wide receiving corp is a very weak group (see below) and they struggled badly against a good group of Dolphins defensive backs in man coverage. Let’s hope this isn’t a season preview because its going to be miserable to watch if it is.
- The Bears did a good job of stopping the run and a decent job of getting pressure on Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa. But its worth noting that the Dolphins offensive line is a poorly rated group that they hoped would be better this year. It didn’t show this game, especially when blocking the run.
Having said that, OLB Trevis Gibson stood out. Now let’s see it against some good starters.
- Rookie QB Justin Field‘s first series. Third and 8. Two penalties. Third and 18. You aren’t at Ohio State anymore, my man.
- I thought Fields had a good outing for a first preseason game. He was accurate enough but he struggled due to his poor receiving unit and the good Dolphins coverage. His mobility showed and he used it to his advantage to open up receivers while looking down field. My only complaint? He has to go down sooner. You can’t be held up helplessly by one defender while a second one flies in to wallop you. He won’t last long if he keeps dong that.
- Tagovailoa looks noticeably better than he did last year. The accuracy that he showed at Alabama was finally on full display and he went down field rather than constantly checking down. So far so good for him.
- OLB Sam Kamara showed up late ion the game. For all of these guys like him a lot comes down to special teams. I didn’t notice him if he played.
Providing hope for a Quinn rebound is the team’s switch at defensive coordinator.
“I mean, if you want to be honest, if you’ve known my career, if you know me, you know where I like to be,” Quinn said. “I think (new defensive coordinator Sean Desai) knows where I’m most dominant at. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what best fits the team but also what best fits the players to get the best out of the player.”
This sounds suspiciously like finger pointing to me. I’m having a hard time believing Quinn’s miserable two sacks last year was a result of former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano not putting Quinn in a position to succeed. He put him out at outside linebacker on passing downs and said, “Go get the quarterback”. When a guy is getting paid what Quinn is, that should be all it takes.
Its hard to understate how badly Quinn hurt the Bears defense last year. Teams basically have two choices. They can sink their money into defensive backs to cover while they take their time, playing games up front to rush the passer. Or they can sink their money into the pass rush. The Bears did the latter. And it didn’t work, largely because Quinn couldn’t beat a man one-on-one to get a sack, leaving Khalil Mack to get hung out to dry with triple teams on the other side.
Pass rush opposite Mack is the most important defensive need this year. Hopefully Quinn can recover and provide it. But if he can’t, it has to come from somewhere else or they will never be anything more than a good defense that’s another year older.
Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times says that center Sam Mustipher is bigger this year:
By his listed weights, the 6-2 Mustipher is virtually unchanged from 2020 — from 311 pounds to 314. But he likely was lighter than 311 last year and is a much more fit 314 this year. Working with Bears sports-science coordinator Jennifer Gibson, Mustipher not only got bigger, he got stronger and in better shape.
“I don’t think it’s the weight as much as it is muscle,” Mustipher said. “I think I’m at the highest amount of lean body mass that I’ve ever had in my life, which was huge.
Mustipher is very popular with the Chicago media after playing reasonably well against poor competition down the stretch at the end of the season last year. The problem that I have is that I can’t find anyone outside of Chicago with a good work to say about the guy. He rated 28th out of 32 center at Pro Football Focus heading into the current season.
If he doesn’t do better than that, offensive tackle may not be the only problem the Bears face along the offensive line.
Potash also addresses head coach Matt Nagy‘s self-improvement goals for the year. But before you can do that, you have to define the problems:
Since he rode the wave of a fabulous defensive performance in 2018 and looked like an inventive offensive coach ready to take the Bears’ offense to the next level, Nagy has struggled in almost every facet of managing the offense. He failed to develop Trubisky. He struggled to outfox opposing defensive coordinators. He just looked out of sync and consumed by the immense challenge of turning a bad offense into a good one.
Nagy’s made a lot of poor decisions over the last 3 years. to his credit he’s learned from them. But that simply isn’t good enough.
The Bears have a bad habit of hiring inexperienced first time HCs. Dave Wannsedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman were all first timers. Recently, hiring hot shot young, “innovative” offensive head coaches is the league trend.
But Nagy can’t just make all kinds of mistakes and correct them. He has to start making more decisions right the first time. You can’t always be learning the hard way. All head coaches, no matter their level of experience, are confronted with unique problems. At some point your instincts have to tell you the right thing to do. Otherwise, you may just have to face the fact that you weren’t cut out to be a head coach.
Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times predicts the 53 man roster:
They’ll likely keep: 5
He’s in: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Dazz Newsome
He’s on the bubble: Riley Ridley, Javon Wims
He’s out: Rodney Adams, Justin Hardy, Thomas Ives, Jon’Vea Johnson, Chris Lacy, Jester Weah
The lowdown: The Bears have spent years waiting for regular contributions from Wims and Ridley; instead, they have 38 catches over five combined seasons. This is the year one of them joins Anthony Miller on the list of receivers the Bears can’t wait around for any longer.
They said it: “He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s simple. He knows his role. He’s fast. He’s a smooth runner.” — Nagy on Byrd
The Bears have a problem at wide receiver.
Robinson is definitely a number one on any team. He’s middle of the league as number one receivers go. But he’s definitely a top guy.
They’re depending a lot on Mooney taking the next step to be a legitimate number two. But I’ll say that the potential is there.
But after that its a bunch of speedy guys who are about 5’9″ and who have been average in their best years in terms of production.
So its Robinson and a whole lot of desperate hope. The depth is deplorable.
Colleen Kane at the Chicago Tribune reports that some of the Bears are wearing helmets with padding on the outside at practice.
I always wondered why they never tried this. I doubt that it would actually decrease the number of concussions but I do think that it would likely decrease the number of injuries caused by helmets to other players.
Fishbain and Adam Jahns note that Nagy is adding some new kinks to practice:
Nagy is here to challenge Desai and his defensive coaching staff, too. That played out late in practice Saturday, where their communication was tested.
“You could see more coaches on the sideline trying to figure out the personnel we were in,” Nagy said. “We just don’t script, so we’ll just play it out. We call it a play-it-out series. They’ve got to adjust to what our personnel is, and then I script the down and distances and the situation going into the practice and then those guys, it makes them think.
“Sean loves it because he’s never called a game before, at least in the NFL, so he’s got to be able to adjust and adapt, and I think that helps him get to that point”
To Nagy’s credit, he seems to e doing more this year to make his players and coaches think on their own. He’s also
added the “sudden change” drills where he suddenly stops practice and sets up a situation for players to perform in with no scripting for the players or coaches.
I think that’s a mature change to Nagy’s coaching style. We’ll see if it helps.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
With both tackles temporarily out and the roster being shy of solid tackle backups, why hasn’t Ryan Pace brought in a veteran as insurance? It would seem to be a priority. — Marc B., Nashville, Tenn.
Definitely a fair question and one that will become more pressing if Teven Jenkins misses more time or if the backup plans begin to falter. I would say a couple of things in regard to this. First, the shelves at the left tackle store are pretty much bare. It’s not like there’s product the Bears can go out and buy right now. Second, it makes sense to look at the depth the team has built on the offensive line. Would the Bears prefer to be evaluating Jenkins right now? You bet. But they’re getting looks at other players getting a lot of reps, and that will speed the evaluation process across the board.
The only tackles out there are going to cost more than they are worth and the Bears have little cap space and won’t have much next year either. I think we’re looking at picking up line depth in the final cuts right before the season starts.
Another quote from Biggs:
What struck me Tuesday morning before the practice at Soldier Field was coach Matt Nagy talking about the turning point for the Bears offense a year ago when it started to put up better numbers in the final six weeks or so.
“It was really simple for me,” Nagy said. “We got that offensive line in sync. Done. It was really that easy.”
Yeah, it wasn’t that easy. The ears finished their schedule against some of the worst teams that they saw all year.
I’m not saying that the offensive line wasn’t better. They just weren’t all that much better.
One Final Thought
Biggs quotes QB Nick Foles as the Bears seek a trading partner for him:
“I don’t want to just go somewhere where I don’t know them, I don’t know the offense,” he said. “I’ve gone done that road before and it’s not fun. There are plenty of quarterbacks that go down that road. You’ve got to be in something that you know, something that you’re comfortable with, so you can pull that trigger as fast as you can.”
As I read this article a couple things occurred to me.
First of all, he had all of those things when he came to the Bears. It didn’t work out too well.
Second, and more importantly, Foles doesn’t exactly come across as a guy who is preparing to overcome adversity. And overcoming adversity is what the game is about. Things are rarely perfect. For any of us.