Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune
answers the question of what Justin Fields must do to take a step forward.
Biggs: Start hitting on the easy throws and short completions.
That would put the offense in better down-and-distance situations and keep drives alive. Fields began making some of the “cheap completions,” as [Luke] Getsy termed them, in the Week 5 loss at Minnesota, but there weren’t a lot against the Commanders when he completed 14 of 27 attempts.
Another question in this article was “What is the Bears biggest problem on offense?” The Tribune writers disappointingly copped out and all three basically answered “everything”. But that’s not really true. Everything is, indeed, a problem. But the biggest problem is Justin Fields. He has the balls in his hands every play and decides what to do with it. And there are ways to work around the other problems.
Fields is dealing with a problem that he’s not surrounded by great talent. We all agree on that. When you’ve got an offensive line that is struggling to protect, the one thing you absolutely positively must do is read the defense, drop back and get the ball out quickly. When you are dealing with wide receivers that aren’t particularly talented, you must throw them open with timing, anticipation throws on those short routes. Fields seems to be constitutionally unable to do this.
Good quarterbacks make the players around them better. Fields compounds their problems.
It is no coincidence that most of the Bears fans that I know came away from the Minnesota game encouraged despite the loss and despite the miserable performance in the first half. It was because they thought Fields look good in the second half. When Fields looked his best he was dropping back hitting his back foot and getting the ball out on shorter passes, as big points out above. This is what he must do in order for the Bears offense to move. If he can’t do that, then he’s not going to be the future for the Bears.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune gives us four takeaways from the Bears practice Thursday. He discusses potential changes to the offensive line.
If [Lucas] Patrick slides to center, that would leave the Bears with maybe three options at left guard:
- Michael Schofield has 81 career starts, by far the most experience of any interior lineman on the Bears with the exception of [Cody] Whitehair. Schofield struggled in training camp and preseason and was released in the roster trim to 53. The Bears re-signed him in Week 2 when Alex Leathewood was placed on the non-football illness list.
- Leatherwood last week began a 21-day window for the team to evaluate him in practice after he was sidelined four weeks with mononucleosis. The Bears can put him in action once he’s moved to the 53-man roster. Leatherwood played exclusively on the right side at tackle and guard as a rookie last season with the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s fair to assume the Bears will want to look at him at some point this season, but he has had fewer than 10 practices with the team. “We like where he is,” [Matt] Eberflus said. “Mentally in the meetings and giving feedback to C-Mo (offensive line coach Chris Morgan) and our offensive line coaches. It’s been great. And he’s in a good spot. He’s working himself back in there, and we’ll see where it goes physically. But we’re certainly excited to have a talent like that and really start to evaluate where he is.”
- Rookie seventh-round pick Ja’Tyre Carter is on the active roster, so in theory he’s a potential candidate. It’s unlikely coaches would want to have rookies alongside each other on the left side of the line. A more likely scenario would be the Bears waiving Carter to create a space on the 53-man roster for Leatherwood and then re-signing the rookie to the practice squad.
I thought it was notable that Biggs didn’t mention the possibility of moving Sam Mustipher from center to guard. Before Patrick’s injury, this was the lineup that they were using in training camp with Mustipher at right guard, ahead of Schofield and Carter on the depth chart.
The Bears obviously saw the undersized Mustipher as the primary backup at guard and center heading into the season. I’m not sure why that would change based upon what we’ve seen from Schofield and Carter, both of whom have played poorly during the chances that they’ve gotten to play. Although Mustipher hadn’t been great at center, its entirely possible that he’d do better not having to worry about snaping the ball.
Seeing as they signed Patrick as a center, I have to believe that they would rather be playing him there. It is indeed going to be interesting to see what they do at guard when that happens. Of course, the best thing will be for Whitehair to get back as soon as possible.
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.
What are the benefits to trading Roquan Smith vs. compensatory draft pick formula if the Bears let him walk in free agency? — @sfgore
Well, trading him before the deadline would get the Bears a draft pick in 2023. A compensatory pick for losing Smith in free agency — which would not be guaranteed if GM Ryan Poles is a big spender in free agency next year — would not come until 2024. I doubt the Bears will entertain the idea of trading Smith in the next few weeks. Offloading their best player would make it very difficult to sell the idea of culture in the locker room for the remainder of the season. The players need to feel like the team is doing everything it can to win every week. Dealing away Smith for a draft pick would make it clear the team is not doing everything it can to win now, and that would create a stir in the locker room.
This might not make sense to everyone, but this dynamic is real and I would wish coach Matt Eberflus good luck in selling a message that players need to bust their butts every day if the team were to trade Smith. Why not see how Smith evolves in this scheme, which is still new to him, and consider your options at the end of the season, when the Bears will have cap space and cash? It’s not like they have a linebacker ready to step into his place.
It doesn’t make sense to me for the Bears to trade Smith before the trade deadline unless they are absolutely sure that he is not part of their plans for the future. In my mind, what that means is a completely performance-based judgment. You don’t make that move because you’re not sure you can sign him in the offseason.
The Bears can franchise Smith next year. If they do that, they have a choice of coming up closer to his price to come to a deal or to seek to trade him. If they can get a third round pick from a team that’s willing to meet Smith’s price at the same time, they’ve already won. The highest compensatory pick you can get is a third rounder. And as Biggs points out, if the Bears spend in free agency, they might not get any pick at all, let alone the maximum.
I see no reason to be in a rush to trade Smith away now you’re absolutely positive that you don’t want to resign him anyway. Otherwise, its worth waiting to see how negotiations go and if you trade him then, you may well get the same compensation or better in the offseason.
- The Vikings won the coin toss and chose to receive rather than defer as is normally the case. We rapidly found out why. Minnesota’s game plan was evident from the get-go in this game. The first drive was almost entirely running the ball with Dalvin Cook and feeding Justin Jefferson on play action passes. Jefferson had four receptions for 55 yards Cook had a touchdown in less than a half of a quarter of play. The game couldn’t have started better for the Vikings.
- Bears game plan was obviously to sit back, stop the run, and keep everything in front of them. Essentially they were counting on Minnesota beating themselves and shooting themselves in the foot. The problem is that Minnesota wasn’t doing that. They were executing to perfection. Kirk Cousins’ first incompletion of the day came with 3 minutes left in the first half. That was obviously a big problem.
- It was very obvious from the first pass that the Bears did not have a defensive back on the field that could reliably cover Jefferson one-on-one. The Vikings wide receivers were running routes that were turning the Bears defensive backs every which way and upside down. It was like a circus back there. The Vikings passed for 312 yards and 7.3 yards per pass.
- Just after the beginning of the second quarter was the first time that color man Mark Schlereth used the term “bad eyes” to describe a Chicago Bear. It was when Jaylon Jones got sucked in to the interior of the defense and allow Cook to get outside of him to score the Vikings second touchdown. It was far from the only time that Schlereth could have used this phrase or something similar. The Bears are definitely a work in progress and are still cleaning this up.
- The defensive line once again wasn’t getting penetration against the run and the linebackers weren’t playing down hill. The Vikings ran 117 yards. The Bears also had a very difficult time getting pressure on Cousins despite the fact that they used a variety of different stunts upfront. They generally avoided blitzing, especially in the first half.
- Once again the Bears came back and played some sneaky good defense in the second half. It’s tough to tell exactly what they were doing differently. Although they were doing a lot more run blitzing, Cook was still running over them and they were still giving the Viking receivers plenty of room. One thing was very evident – the Vikings weren’t playing as well as they did in the first half. In that respect, they definitely let them back into it. At minimum, give the Bears credit for holding steady through adversity to allow this to happen.
- The Bears offense came out looking very discombobulated. Fields was either late with Dante Pettis or early with Darnell Mooney. It’s hard to tell who’s fault for these missed connections. But it’s fairly obvious that the offense was very disjounted at times.
- It wasn’t a good sign when Khari Blasingame got on the field late on the very first drive and the Bears took a delay of game. And then Justin Fields had the ball snapped into his gut when he wasn’t expecting it as he was trying to perform a check at the line. That was the first play of the second “drive”. The performance was barely professional.
- In fairness, it did occur to me that Justin Fields may have been trying to throw with anticipation on some of these plays that weren’t connecting. If so, that’s a good sign. He needs to be able to do that if he’s going to succeed and it may take time for it to come together.
- As Schlereth so aptly put it, the Vikings were “establishing a new line of scrimmage” upfront. The Bears offensive line simply got whipped much of the time. The Bears ran for only 78 yards and 3.3 yards per carry. Allot of the was Fields. This is becoming a recurring theme.
- Heck of a 39-yard catch by Mooney late in the first half. It was a one-handed grab falling backwards to the ground. One of the best catches that I’ve ever seen. It set up a David Montgomery touchdown.
- Fields did a lot of damage on the ground today again. He ran for 47 yards on eight carries. The Vikings did a poor job of keeping him in the pocket the way that the Packers did a couple weeks ago and it burned them. I thought that this played a major role in bringing a little bit of offensive competence for the Bears to this game. It was a major factor in allowing them to come back in the second half. The timing in the passing game got a little better, as well.
- On a related note I fear for Field’s health.
- Adam Amin, Kristina Pink and Schlereth were your announcers. Schlereth does a good job in my book though I do understand why some people might not be fans. He usually points out the salient points during the game, which is a bare essential, but he specializes in talking about blocking technique and line play. Its something that no one else gives you and I appreciate it though I know that its not for everyone. Amin is a rising star and he always does a good job, especially for hometown Chicago.
- The Bears onside kick in the second half was an interesting call. My first thought was, “What are they doing? They’re only five points down with plenty of time left?” But on the other hand, are the Bears really headed to the playoffs or something? I mean what do they have to lose, right? So I say good for Matt Eberflus. What the heck.
- Ditto with going for it on fourth and four with three minutes left in the third quarter.
- Certainly helps except the failure of the onside kick knowing that the Bears did a nice job of blocking the Viking field goal attempt that followed. Good work there.
- The Giants win over the Packers was a good game. That’s two weeks in a row for London. Good for them. They deserve it after some of the crap that they’ve seen over the years.
- The Bears tied the Vikings with a turnover a piece and had fewer penalties (six versus seven). But a block in the back by Ihmir Smith-Marsette brought back a 52 yard touchdown run by Fields. And, of course, Cameron Danzler stripped Smith-Marsette for the game winning turnover.
This was a fascinating game to me in that it encapsulated the Bears season to this point and likely in H and H the season to come. The Bears aren’t talented to beat many teams. In fact they may have beaten the only team that they could and the Texans a few weeks back. But they are capable of allowing you to come up against them and beat yourselves.
The first half of this game the Vikings were virtually perfect. They executed their offense against the Bears defense, moved the ball like a knife through butter and scored almost at will. The third quarter and for part of the fourth quarter, however, they made numerous errors and didn’t play as well. The Bears blew it in the end but for most of the second half they laid back and before you knew it, they were a head in the game.
So far, to my eye, they come up against some teams that have played reasonably well at home. I’m convinced that eventually they’re going to come up against some teams that are going to take them too lightly or who are going to simply have a bad game. Those games have a good chance to be wins. It will be interesting to see how many of them there will be.
You can find Tom Shannon on Twitter @bearingthenews
Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.
What should the top priority be? Wins this year or developing the team/culture for the future? — @dmaz2488
I’m a firm believer that your culture is about as good as your record. You know which teams consistently talk about their culture and how it’s getting better? Teams that are trying to dig themselves out of big holes. What do people talk about with the excellent teams that are consistently in the postseason picture? They analyze the strength of the roster and how good the players are.
Nothing develops players and a roster better than winning. It raises the level of buy-in. It’s a heck of a lot easier to coach corrections in a week coming off a victory than coming off a loss. Everything in the building is better when a team is winning. If the Bears are able to achieve modest success this season, it would be with young players who are improving and making a difference. Why wouldn’t you want to see the Bears win this season?
I’m not sure the Bears can improve by prioritizing development while making winning a secondary goal. I never will understand that line of thinking and I will take it one step further: If the players in the locker room don’t sense that the coaches are doing everything in their power to put them in a position to win every week, those coaches are going to lose the locker room in a hurry. Players put in work to win games. No other messaging will connect with them.
I will never understand people that claim that tanking is the way to long-term winning in the NFL. I understand the desire to get a better draft pick but when you tank, all you do is teach your players to lose. That is not the way to develop a team and that is why tanking never works in the NFL. Never.
If you’ve got a good front office and a good coaching staff then it doesn’t matter where you draft. You can always find good players and even good quarterbacks. The Green Bay Packers are A good example of this. On the other hand, if you don’t have a good front office, it won’t matter where you pick. You’ll never pick enough of the right ones to be any good.
Tanking is a scourge upon sport. It hurts everyone from the players to the league that is trying to sell tickets to games that aren’t competitive. Organizations should never do it.