Game Comments: Bears at Rams 9/12/21

Was this really unexpected?

I mean, really, did anyone outside of Halas Hall think this team was going to win this game?

Its the “outside of Halas Hall” part of that question that is most relevant to the Bears team and its fans. Since January 2019 every single move that the Bears as an organization has made has said one thing: “we are a Super Bowl contender.” They’ve used every resources at their disposal to accomplish that one goal. They use all of their cap space and borrow well into the future. They trade future draft picks. They exhaust every future resource. All in order to accumulate the best possible players for the present time. You only do that when you think you are contending for a Super Bowl.

Many fans have wondered why general manager Ryan Pace kept his job in January. They wonder why rookie Justin Fields isn’t the starting quarterback. Well, a good part of the reason is because he has been telling team president George McCaskey that this is a Super Bowl contender and they aren’t ready to concede games while a rookie quarterback gets his feet under him. Pace told him that that this team was a contender after the 2018 season. He told him that after the 2019 season. And he told them that again after the 2020 season. Every team transaction tells you that.

And McCaskey has chosen to to give him one more chance to prove that 2019 and 2020 were not representative of what this team is. The entire organization said after each season that they were disappointed that the team was 8–8 and that the team was better than that. And they really believe it.

And there lies the problem. Because outside of her Halas Hall, everyone – and I mean everyone – knows that this simply isn’t the case. Mike Sando at The Athletic polled NFL executives around the league and found that the Bears ranked 14th out of 16 NFC teams in their opinion this year. In 2019 and in 2020 almost every single time the Bears came up against a winning team they failed to perform to a competitive standard. The result today was completely in line with that.

And this is why, against all apparent logic, Bears fans should know that the result tonight is a good thing. Because every single time the Bears lose to a team that actually is competitive, it hammers home the fact of who they actually are – again. And hammering home that fact one more time is the key to getting better.

The famous American playwright Eugene O’Neill once wrote:

“If a person is to get the meaning of life he must learn to like the facts about himself – ugly as they may seem to his sentimental vanity – before he can learn the truth behind the facts. And the truth is never ugly.“

This is a process that has already begun at Halas Hall. And this is why Bears fans should embrace the result tonight.

Because this game emphasizes who are the Bears actually are and understanding who they are is the key to team eventually becoming something that we can all be proud of.

Here are some specific comments from the game:

Defense

  • The performance of the office in this game was no surprise. But the performance of the default defense has to be a major disappointment to most fans. It was hope that new defensive coordinator Sean Desai would bring back the days of Vic Fangio’s defense. But the new regime definitely got off to a rough start. They didn’t stop either pass or the run and things looked pretty grim for most of the night.
  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quoted a scout last week
    on why pass rusher Leonard Floyd had so much success with the Rams last year:>
  • “What they did last year better than probably any team in the NFL was scheme their pass rushers and put Floyd in situations in which he could win more favorable one-on-ones. They also used plenty of games and stunts off the edge to get him easier rush paths to get home to the quarterback.”

    This is completely consistent with what the Bears under Fangio did with Floyd. And what Chuck Pagano didn’t do. And this is why there was some hope going into the game that the Bears under Desai might generate more pass rush. Didn’t work out that way as they had only one sack. The problem, of course, is that when you play games upfront in order to generate a pass rush it takes time. Which means you have to be able to cover. The Bears did a poor job. The pass defense was horrific allowing 11.6 yards per pass.

  • I think the Bears were surprised that Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled out as much as he did and it threw them off and made it a bit more difficult for them to get a pass rush on him. Stafford wasn’t under that much pressure very often and he handled it well.
  • Marqui Christian is your nickel cornerback and Kindle Vildor played much of the night on the outside. You wonder if that might change in the near future. It was a tough night.
  • As they did on occasion during the preseason, the Bears Missed quite a few tackles this game. That is simply something they are going to have to clean up or it’s going to be a very long year.
  • The Bears decisively won time of possession in this game having the ball just over 35 minutes. Usually that’s a good sign. But unfortunately in this game it means that the Rams scored so fast that they didn’t need to keep the ball very long or run that many plays. It was a funny statistical anomaly.
  • Given the time of possession stat, I wasn’t too pleased to see the Rams steam roll the Bears in the fourth quarter to close out the game. Frequently when this happens it’s because the defense has been left out on the field too long. But there were no excuses this game. I’m not too sure this wasn’t just lack of heart.

Offense

  • David Montgomery start of the game off with a good long run at 41 yards. That would be his long for the entire game unfortunately. So at least the Bears weren’t bad statistically at 5.2 yards per rush. They had 26 attempts. Give credit to Montgomery for showing the contact balance that he supposedly had when he was drafted and looking pretty good tonight.
  • The problem, of course, is that if they couldn’t pass the ball. At 4.4 yards per pass the Bears were off the charts bad in this area. And although we are all proponents of running the ball effectively, it’s a passing league and you need to be able to use the run to set up the pass. So it’s no mystery as to why they couldn’t move the ball.
  • As Cris Collinsworth pointed out very well on the broadcast, the Rams were playing a lot of deep zone to limit the big play. Big plays are at a premium in this situations and it forces teams to execute. The Bears struggled with that. As they often do.
  • Marquise Goodwin emerged as the queer number three receiver behind David Robinson and Darnell Mooney. Those three receivers accounted for more than half of the Bears pass receptions. It’s also evident that the Bears are going to rely more on Cole Kmet this season at tight end. Jimmy Graham had only one reception and wasn’t much of a factor.
  • The Bears struggled a bit with pass protection. The Bears generally got the ball out quickly and I wouldn’t say that Andy Dalton was under siege but Jason Peters definitely struggled on the left side as he returns to the league at an advanced age. He didn’t last the first half before leaving the game with an injury. He was replaced y fifth round rookie Larry Borom. Then Borom went down near the end of the third quarter and he was replaced by Elijah Wilkenson. This could be problematic.
  • Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor talked last wee about the Bears troubles on third down and in the red zone in 2020 and what they were doing this year to improve it:
  • “We tried to zero in on the concepts in practice that we felt confident we could carry through the year,” Lazor said. “Not every concept’s good against every defense. But if you start with your staples, things you feel like you have an answer versus everything and get really good at those and build confidence in it, they can carry the bulk of your red zone throughout the year.”

    The Bears were two of three in the red zone but only five of 11 on third down And 0 for 4 on fourth down.. So I’d say more work still needs to be done there.

    Thought it was interesting that head coach Matt Nagy chose to bring in Justin Fields while the team was in the red zone on the first set of downs. It occurred to me that it could be an indication that he thinks he needs an extra boost in that area and that Field’s mobility might help him with that. Sure enough Fields came in near the end of the third-quarter and ran for a touchdown. It looks like Nagy might be using him as a red zone weapon while he develops.

  • Not a big fan of criticizing play calling. But it did frequently look to me like the Rams knew what the Bears were going to run before the place started. There’s definitely the possibility that the league has caught up to Matt Nagy. And passed him and left him behind.

Miscellaneous

  • Khalil Herbert had a 50 yard kick return to start the game. Looks like he’s going to be there kick returner at least in the near future.
  • Distantly this was a pretty clean game penalty wise. The Bears had only three penalties. The Rams had only four. Call commence fall start on the first set of downs didn’t help. You could argue that it played a major factor in leading to the interception in the endzone that took place there.
  • The Bears lost the turnover battle with a fumble and an interception. The game was all downhill after Dalton threw the interception in the endzone in the first set of downs.

A Few Comments on the Bears-Bills Preseason Game

I never do a full commentary on pre-season games. But here are a few thoughts on the game against the Bills.

  • Once again, I’m impressed by Justin Fields. His throws were generally on the money. He just doesn’t have the talent around him to make plays. But his mobility gives him something to use against a defense that Andy Dalton just doesn’t have. So far so good.
  • Its easy to talk about keeping Fields in the pocket. But its not too easy to do. He backs out of the pocket and runs around the ends sometimes in the same way that Patrick Mahomes does. You can do that when you have a good strong arm to throw from deeper in the back field like Fields does.
  • The Bears starting offense once again struggled in press man coverage. I’ve a feeling that once again we are going to see a lot of that this year. The Bears don’t have the talent at wide receiver to beat it.
  • The Bears offensive line was not good. The run blocking was especially poor. They occasionally had protection issues. Elijah Wilkinson just isn’t a left tackle. If Jason Peters doesn’t still have it at almost 40 years old or if he gets hurt, the Bears are in deep trouble.
  • This wasn’t a good game for Damien Williams. He wasn’t gaining much and the fumble near the end of the first quarter wasn’t a good look. His roster spot probably isn’t in danger, though.
  • Rodney Adams looked good again with a nice touchdown pass from Dalton.
  • Once again, tight end Jesse James showed up to play today. He’ll add good depth to the only room on offense where you can feel good about the depth.
  • Personally, I didn’t think Dalton looked bad. But he’s surrounded by bad talent and he’s not the kind of quarterback that is going to be able to overcome that.
  • Both teams broke the mold and neither played defense as vanilla as the Bears and Dolphins did in the first pre-season game. The Bears were blitzing with some frequency as were the Bills, who were also disguising their coverages. Obviously the Bills handled it far better.
  • By far the biggest issue defensively was missed tackles. The Bears were poor all over the field. That has to get cleaned up before the season starts.
  • The Bears also had a few busted coverages that didn’t help. That needs to be cleaned up.
  • Alec Ogletree had a poor game after a good showing last week. The Bills offensive linemen were getting to the second level and took him out of the game.
  • Duke Shelly played nickel back while Kindle Vildor spent his time outside. Neither did anything special. The Bills completed a lot of slant passes, especially to whoever was lined up off of the line of scrimmage.
  • To their credit, the Bears defense wasn’t too bad against the run. Khyiris Tonga had a good showing and was solid in the middle. They may need him as Eddie Goldman has had a flaky camp. And they occasionally got pressure on Trubisky. But the Bills carved up their defensive backfield. Its going to be a long year if this is an indication of how the regular season will go.
  • Charles Snowden showed up again today with some nice pressures in the second half He’s a guys to keep an eye on. Sam Kamara got a coverage sack. That’s two weeks in a row that he’s showed up. On the other hand, Trevis Gibson didn’t have a great first half with the starters as he looks to take the next step this year. GM Ryan Pace traded up for him two years ago and right now it doesn’t look like a great move.
  • I thought Mitch Trubisky looked good. He hit the wide open receivers and made a throw or two into tight windows. He got less accurate late in his appearance.
  • Khalil Herbert got a good look on kick returns and didn’t impress. He bobbled one in the second quarter.
  • It wasn’t a good day for special teams. Once again the punt coverage was atrocious and the Bears failed to clean that up from last week. They gave up a 54 yard return in the second quarter and a 79 yard touchdown in the third. They had a blocked extra point.
  • Man, this was a long game. They should disallow coaches challenges in pre-season games. It was almost 3 hours in and there were still 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. There’s no excuse for a pre-season game lasting this long.
  • The first boos were heard in Soldier Field mid-way through the second quarter of the second pre-season game. And the Bears deserved every bit of it. Talent-wise, this doesn’t look like a good team and what talent they have out there isn’t performing well right now.

Some Thoughts on the Bears Pre-season Game against the Dolphins. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • I never do a full commentary on pre-season games. But here are a few thoughts on the game against the Dolphins.
    1. I thought Deon Bush showed up ready to play. He wants a job. If he keeps playing fast he’ll have one.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Having said that, OLB Trevis Gibson stood out. Now let’s see it against some good starters.
    6. Rookie QB Justin Field‘s first series. Third and 8. Two penalties. Third and 18. You aren’t at Ohio State anymore, my man.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
  • 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:
  • 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:
  • Wide receiver

    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.

Too Early for Alarm. But Keep an Eye on Fields’ Accuracy. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune comments on the performance at quarterback in the Bears first training camp practice on Thursday:
  • [Andy] Dalton is much crisper [than Justin Fields] with his reads, especially when he scans the entire field. Fields was a little late with some of his decisions and a little off with more than a few throws.

    This should not be alarming and certainly in another three weeks, Fields probably will be crisper. It’s an example of the learning curve for rookies — highly drafted rookies — face when they enter the NFL. The action happens faster, the windows are smaller (and aren’t open for as long) and the rush is at a different level.

    Adam Jahns concurs a day later while adding in a complement.

    Two practices in, the misses have outnumbered the hits for Fields, but he does seem to produce at least one throw in every practice that features a tantalizing quality or two.

    Glad to hear it. But the knock on Fields has been that his foot work isn’t up to snuff and that it causes him to miss short throws that should be relatively easy completions. That makes his early struggles with these balls particularly significant.

    Cause for alarm? No. Something to keep an eye on? Absolutely.

  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times doesn’t seem to be too impressed with what the Bears got for wide receiver Anthony Miller:
  • The Bears’ return for receiver Anthony Miller was predictably paltry.

    The trade, agreed to on Saturday, became official Monday. The Bears will send Miller and their 2022 seventh-round pick to the Texans for their 2022 fifth-round pick.

    Actually, that sounds like a pretty darned good return to me. It seems that GM Ryan Pace agrees. Via Colleen Kane at the Chicago Tribune:

    “‘It just became a situation where, hey, both parties can benefit,” Pace said. ‘Once I realized we could get a fifth-round pick out of this — we’ve had a lot of success in that area of the draft.'”

    The last I heard, the compensation was likely going to be for a switch of late round picks. A fifth round pick, which could net, and has netted on the past, a starter, is far more valuable than a seventh rounder. Especially given that the Texans don’t look like a very good team on paper and the pick could be reasonably high in the round.

  • The writers at the Chicago Tribune answer four questions before training camp. One had to do with the most interesting position battle:
  • Biggs: Third wide receiver job.

    Turning to the slot receiver position, if the Bears are going to become more potent offensively, they’re going to need more productive playmakers. Former second-round pick Anthony Miller was cast off to the Houston Texans, and since his arrival Damiere Byrd has been the logical candidate to join Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney… Byrd should emerge ahead of Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Marquise Goodwin, Dazz Newsome and others, but keep an eye out for someone excelling in the next several weeks.

    When I looked at The Athletic‘s 2021 Bears fan survey, one of the questions addressed the third wide receiver. I couldn’t believe how paltry the list was. Frankly, my answer would have been none of the above had it been an option.

    On paper this looks like the weakest position on the team. And that’s saying something because I am not overly impressed with what I see at cornerback beyond Jaylon Johnson.

  • Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic has thoughts as training camp gets under way:
  • “Coming off a disappointing first season in Chicago — 15 games, two sacks and six QB hits — veteran edge rusher Robert Quinn didn’t participate in OTAs or minicamp.

    “The 31-year old showed up to Halas Hall early for training camp, and Pace feels good about a player who last year looked like one of the team’s worst signings.

    “‘He’s been working hard,’ Pace said. ‘He’s looked good, and (outside linebackers coach) Bill Shuey’s doing a great job with him, so you guys will see him out at practice when you get out there and we feel good about him right now.’

    “Now, this is the most optimistic time of year for NFL teams. Every player is in the ‘best shape of his life.’ Every team is confident. But the simple fact that Quinn has been in the building for a few extra days is a good sign.”

    If the Bears are going to have any success this year, Quinn simply has to come through.

    Some teams like the Patriots and the Dolphins build from the back to the front, spending resources on the defensive backs and counting on good coverage as the defensive line wins with time consuming games and stunts up front. But the Bears are the opposite. They’re resources are tied up in their pass rush and it has to get home for them to have any success. Its as simple as that.

  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune passes on the fact that Elijah Wilkinson will be the primary competition for rookie Tevin Jenkins at left tackle.
  • Wilkinson has primarily played right tackle in the NFL. Add that to the fact that most draft experts had Jenkins as a right tackle and you have to right tackles competing for the left tackle job.

    We haven’t seen anyone in pads on the field yet. But I just can’t imagine that this can be good.

  • If I haven’t made it clear yet, it ill be in the coming months. I’m not a big fan of this roster on paper. Having said that, Bears QB Andy Dalton does have some valid thoughts on this topic:
  • “In Cincinnati when I got there, everybody predicted us to not win a game. And we ended up making the playoffs that year. So you can’t worry about what went on before you (arrived). Put your head down and focus on what you can control.”

    Fair enough. The Bears, in my opinion, are going to have to be very healthy and they’re going to have to have almost everything go right for them this year if they are going to be competitive for a playoff spot.

    But its true. You never know.

  • Jahns and Fishbain quote tight end Cole Kmet on what he picked up working with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce in the offseason:
  • “The big thing with Travis is don’t run the line in the book, and that’s a big deal with him. Stay on the quarterback’s timing and be where you have to be, but be creative with your routes just as long as you’re on that quarterback’s timing and you get in the right spot and you’re open, I mean, no one’s going to say anything.”

    That sounds a lot easier said than done to me. Freelancing and then getting to the righ tspot at exactly the same time every time sounds like something a Travis Kelce can do. I’m not so sure about a Cole Kmet.

    We’ll see.

One Final Thought

“When I think about like, ‘Yeah I did this.’ You know, ‘I’m so great. I had 30, I had 25-10-10,’ or whatever the case might be. Because you’re going to think about that. … Usually the next day you’re going to suck. Simple as that. Like, the next few days you’re going to be terrible. And I figured out a mindset to have that, when you focus on the past, that’s your ego.”

“And when I focus on the future, it’s my pride. ‘Yeah, the next game, Game 5, I’ll do this and this and this. I’m going to dominate.’ That’s your pride talking. Like, it doesn’t happen. You’re right here. I try and focus in the moment. In the present. And that’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectations. That’s going out there and enjoying the game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo before Game 5 of the NBA Finals earlier this month

Tevin Jenkins May Fit Well With the Bears

Adam Jahns at The Athletic on new Bears offensive tackle Tevin Jenkins:

In a Zoom call with Chicago media, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy continuously stressed that challenging Jenkins would be crucial to his development and success at the NFL level.

“He’s just started to really get into football over the last 18 months,” Gundy said. “Now I know that sounds funny, but when you’re as gifted and talented as he is, you can get by being a good college football player without having that grit and toughness like he’s just developed over the last 18 months. So he really brought that to our program just recently.”

The Bears will want it as soon as he settles into his locker at Halas Hall. Gundy’s comments did have a “red flag” vibe to it. Dan Pompei, a national writer for The Athletic, wrote on Monday that some teams had questions about his commitment level before his final season at Oklahoma State. Scouts surveyed by Bob McGinn before the draft raised concerns, too.

“This year, he played mean,” a scout told McGinn. “In 2019, there were times you scratched your head and said, ‘What the hell are you doing, man? Get after it.’ He’s got kind of a soft personality, but if you watch the 2020 film, he’s not soft. Talent-wise, it’s there.”

Gundy indicated that a change in Jenkins on and off the field occurred.

“You look at him and you say it took that long for (him) to realize that (he was) a special talent and it really did with him, because he had such a laid-back personality and I don’t think he ever saw himself being that good of a football player,” Gundy said. “That’s why I’m saying, ‘Within the next couple years, the NFL is going to be really shocked at what you have.’ Because when we asked him and challenged him to be as good as he can be and dominate a player, we had a lot of success with him on those days.”

These comments do, indeed, have a “red flag vibe”. But I’m going to say that the Bears were thinking about Jenkins fit with them specifically when they drafted him and that may have made this a good pick.

The hunch here is that the Bears had offensive line coach Juan Castillo in mind when considering Jenkins. Unlike his predecessor, Harry Heistand, who was reputedly more of a technician, Castillo is a motivator. Two minutes of listening to him talk tells you that.

I do have concerns about Jenkins. Most evaluators saw him as strictly a right tackle and the indications are that the Bears would like to see him start on the left side. Along with the selection of huge fifth rounder Larry Borom,it seems that the Bears are going size, strength and aggressiveness over mobility on the outside and that makes me wonder about what speed rushers will do to them.

And, personally, I haven’t been overly impressed by Castillo and I don’t think he got the most out of the Bears offensive linemen last year. But I think there’s a good chance that he can get the most of out Jenkins and that could make the difference.

Why Is Jimmy Graham Still a Chicago Bear?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Is Jimmy Graham due any roster bonuses and is there a date the Bears will have to make a decision on him? There was lots of speculation of him being cut, so pretty surprised Graham is still on the roster. Hopefully it’s not because of the Russell Wilson dreams. — @luckyneckbeards

Graham has a straightforward contract for the final year of his deal. He has a base salary of $6.9 million for this season and will earn $100,000 in a workout bonus for total compensation of $7 million. Other than a no-trade clause in the deal, that’s about it. His roster status has been somewhat of a question, but at this point I expect Graham to be on the team. If the Bears were going to part with Graham, they would have done so by now. They have a high level of respect for him and wouldn’t wait to part with a veteran of his stature, something that would make it more challenging for him to land elsewhere. So it’s a fair bet that he is in the team’s plans for this season. I wondered if the Bears potentially got a slight pay cut from Graham, but as best as I know, that has not happened. Graham led the team with eight touchdown receptions last season and had another in the playoff loss in New Orleans. With the Bears banking on improvement at quarterback, I would bet they similarly are counting on greater production from Graham. He has been considered a fantastic teammate everywhere he has been and has certainly been a positive influence on Cole Kmet. Yes, $7 million seems like a lot to pay for those intangibles, but that’s the value the Bears have placed on Graham and it looks like he will get that from them this year. As far as Wilson goes, I would bet Graham has put in a good word about the Bears to his former Seahawks teammate, but it’s hard to imagine his presence could facilitate a deal.

Actually, I don’t think Graham is still on the roster just for his intangibles.

The Bears had a lot of trouble scoring in the red zone in 2018 and 2019 without the use of gadget plays. If you gave head coach Matt Nagy a shot of truth serum, he’d probably tell you it was because he didn’t have the mismatches on the roster that he needed to get the ball into the end zone with a short field. Having a good, playmaking tight end is a key to solving that issue.

Graham doesn’t have the wheels to help you a great deal in the open field anymore but he was a reliable red zone target in 2020 with 8 touchdowns. Given his value in that area, the Bears probably don’t think they are over paying him even if the rest of the league does.

Why Are Bears Fans Angry? It Has Little to Do with Russell Wilson.

Dan Pompei at The Athletic gives his view point on the Bears quarterback situation and why the reaction from fans has been so negative:

Andy Dalton is what happens when you draft Mitch Trubisky instead of Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, get rejected by Tom Brady, and your trade offer for Russell Wilson isn’t enough to entice the Seahawks.”

“The story had been told that quarterback-needy teams like the Bears had many options going into this week.

“The story was a fairy tale.

Dan Patrick reported the Seahawks rejected the Bears’ offer for Wilson of three first-round picks, a third, and two starters, saving the Bears from themselves. So Wilson was not available for an attainable price. And If Wilson were a realistic option for anyone, why did three of the teams on his shortlist sign other quarterbacks, and the fourth verbally recommit to the one it already had? The answer is he wasn’t an option.

“As for Watson, the Bears couldn’t match the resources of other likely suitors, and they knew it. Besides, he may not have accepted a trade to the Bears. So he wasn’t an option either.”

“The public disappointment about Dalton is understandable because the myth perpetuated by the uninformed and the gullible was the Bears could acquire a quarterback who could rise above their sad history at the position.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I love Pompei. But he’s way off base if he thinks Bears fans were hanging their hopes on acquiring the likes of Wilson while the Seahawks ate a $39 million cap hit. Like many of those associated with the NFL, Pompei is under-estimating the average non-casual football fan, probably because he’s been listening to too many meat heads calling into sports talk radio.

In any case, most Bears fans are angry for reasons based closer to reality. Starting with how the Bears got into this situation in the first place.

Pompei mentions that the Bears missed on Trubisky. Fair enough. But we all understand that those things happen. He forgot to mention that the Bears signed a quarterback in Nick Foles last year who flat out can’t stand in the pocket in the face of a pass rush anymore. But along the same lines, we all know that talent evaluation in the NFL isn’t an exact science. We, or at least I, can forgive that too.

But here’s what I can’t forgive. The Bears offered three first-round picks, a third, and two starters for Wilson because that’s what franchise quarterbacks in the NFL are worth. If that’s the case, how do you only draft one quarterback in six years? And that one was drafted more or less out of a desperate and immediate need.

Sure the chances of hitting on one are low. But if you do hit on one, you hit the jackpot. And you can’t win if you don’t play.

Bears moves leading up to free agency and since it started indicate one thing. That there has been no plan for the future beyond the current year at any time.

Pace has spent two years squeezing out every dollar of cap space and pushing off hits into the future to win now. He has traded away future picks to move up to draft the likes of Anthony Miller and Trevis Gipson. But the thought of reaching just a little to draft a player that couldn’t help in the current year was repugnant.

And now the bill has come due.

Pompei contends that there were no realistic options that better than Dalton. I disagree. Strongly.

Dalton is 33 years old and we know who he is. The odds that he’ll be better with the Bears than he was last year with a more talented Cowboys offense are miniscule.

For argument’s sake, let’s take the possibility of a trade off the table because it takes two teams to make one and we don’t know what the situation is with other teams.

On the same day that the Bears signed Dalton, a 28 year old Jacoby Brissett signed as a back up for the Dolphins. Is Brissett better than Dalton? No. But there’s at least the possibility that with a change of scenery and a new coach, the light could come on.

Similarly, Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the Washington Football Team. Fitzpatrick is 39 years old but has been far better than Dalton the last two years as he essentially carried a terrible Dolphins offense.

Each of these players offered something that Dalton doesn’t. The possibility, however remote, that the Bears could have been better in 2021.

As it is, the Bears are a team that wasn’t close to being able to compete with good teams for a championship is 2020. They have Dalton, an older and, at least statistically, less capable replacement for Trubisky. And there is the distinct possibility that the team, with a history of drafting for the moment and with a front office and coaching staff under pressure to win in 2021, won’t draft a quarterback.

The fans of the 31 NFL teams that don’t win the Super Bowl live on hope. Now I ask you. If you are a Bears fan under these circumstances, what hope is there?

I’ll hang up and listen for your answer.

Desai Hiring a Notable Change of Attitude for Bears Management

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the changes in the 2021 Bears coaching staff:

When [head coach Matt] Nagy had to hire Fangio’s replacement, he took two days.

When he hired [Chuck] Pagano’s replacement, he took 10.

With a more deliberate tack — and leaning on experience from two years ago — Nagy interviewed nine candidates.

“That was different than the first time,” he said. “And then there were a lot of great ones.”

Nagy picked [defensive coordinator Sean] Desai because he admired his conviction and confidence. Desai is the rare NFL coach who didn’t play college football, but players still have an “unbelievable connection” with him, Nagy said.

A couple thoughts here.

First, the fact that Nagy felt that he had to interview 9 candidates is not exactly a vote of confidence in Desai. You certainly want to do due diligence but 9?

Nagy is, for all practical purposes, a lame duck head coach. You have to wonder how many of those candidates turned him down before he settled for Desai.

In fact, one of the first things I thought when Nagy hired Mike Pettine as a senior defensive assistant was that he might well have made him defensive coordinator had he been available to him at the time he filled the position.

The second thought I had was more positive.

Finley already pointed out that Nagy basically had decided to hire Pagano the minute Fangio left.

Four years ago, general manager Ryan Pace fell in love with Mitch Trubisky and decided to draft him almost to the point where he basically excluded all other possibilities out of hand. He notoriously didn’t even meet with Deshaun Watson. It turned out to be the wrong move.

In both cases I’m sure Bears management thought that they were moving with “conviction” a term both Nagy and Pace love to use. Most notably in the case of Trubisky, people have wondered with some justification if Pace made up his mind too quickly and didn’t do the thorough evaluation of the other prospects that he should have.

The methodical approach to interviewing defensive coordinator candidates, though it may have been a excessive, could be an indication that Bears management have learned their lesson and don’t plan to make any hasty moves without considering all of the possibilities in the future.

Tough Cap Decisions Will Tell Us A Lot about Where the Bears Think They Stand

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune talks about how the Bears might create space under the reduced salary cap in 2021:

Free safety Eddie Jackson is a prime candidate for a restructure to lower his cap hit of $11.45 million. Maybe the Bears will take a similar approach with outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who has a $14.7 million cap hit but has a fully guaranteed base salary of $11.5 million. The Bears could attack the problem by moving cap commitments into future years when the overall cap number is expected to rise, especially after the NFL finalizes new television contracts and the pandemic is in the past.

The problem with extending contracts is that, obviously, it connects you at the hip to players for the future. The same goes, to a lesser extent, with converting salary to bonuses, which spreads the cap hit out over future years but which also makes it harder to part from a player in those future years.

Jackson is, indeed, a prime candidate for this and I consider it to be almost a certainty that the Bears will do something here if they can. Kyle Fuller is another player who is in line for an extension. Both are still in the prime of their careers and, though it was a bit of a down year for both as play makers, I think pretty much everyone still considers them to be cornerstone pieces for the defense. As Biggs points out, this might be easier said than done, however. Agents will know that the Bears are desperate to create space and this will give him leverage.

The problems come after that. Quinn is a great example of a player who is a real quandary. He didn’t live up to his massive contract last year. To top it off, the contract was back loaded which means that the Bears are paying the price for it this year in terms of the cap hit. When they put the contract together, I’m certain it was with the idea that they would do a restructure this year. But now you have to wonder if that’s still the plan.

Quinn carries $23.9 million dollars in dead cap if the Bears cut him this year as the contract stands. That obviously makes doing so prohibitive. However, that falls to $9.3 million if they cut him is 2022 and the cap savings would be $6.7 million.

So the Bears have a decision to make with Quinn. Do they want to restructure his contract and move money into future years, making it more difficult to cut him later? Doing so would be betting that he recovers to be a better player and earn the money in his contract. But that’s a bet I think it would be difficult to make based upon what we saw this year. You have to wonder if they would be better off leaving the contract as it is, which would leave them to option of separating from him later if necessary.

The Bears are in a similar situation with Akiem Hicks, who is entering the last year of his contract. Hicks is 31 years old and has been injured a bit more often than anyone would like the last couple years. On the other hand, the defense isn’t anywhere near as good without him. Extending Hicks would essentially be betting that he maintains a high level of play for at least a few more years, something the Bears should be hesitating to do with a declining player on the wrong side of 30.

Other options for creating space include cutting Bobby Massie and Jimmy Graham. Each older player has his flaws. Each has his strengths. Cutting each creates another hole in the lineup that has to be filled with someone else.

Connecting yourself to the younger players above like Fuller and Jackson for future years is a no brainer. But its what the Bears do with the other players that will tell us a lot about where they are at.

Disconnecting from these players would be what the Bears would want to do if they think that the current team needs a major overhaul. But it they continue to connect themselves with older players that they could replace, especially those like Massie and Graham, that tells the world that they continue to think that the current team is good enough to contend. That’s something that many, including myself, might question considering the Bears performance against some of the better teams in 2021.

One way or the other, the Bears have to create space under the cap in order to make the moves at quarterback, wide receiver and other positions where holes exist in the current lineup. But its going to involve some tough decisions that are going to tell us a lot about where the Bears think they are at and that will have implications far into the future.

Nagy Says Team Has Lost Its “Edge”. Fixing It Will Be a Challenge.

Dan Wiederer quotes Bears head coach Matt Nagy in an interview with the Chicago Tribune:

“What I’ve learned the most from the past two years — and I put this on me — is I think we lost a little bit of that (edge) with those standards,” Nagy said. “You just think they’re going to happen naturally from the culture that you built. And when I say that, I’m talking about practice habits. It’s starting with me making sure that every single play, we are going 100 mph. And if you’re tired? Get your tail out. That’s going to be a mindset and an attitude that then goes onto the playing field on Sundays.

“I feel like when some things didn’t happen (for us), it was more us just saying, ‘OK, when is it going to happen?’ Instead of making it happen. I have to be better as a head coach on the front end on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in practice of making sure that we are the best practice team in the NFL. … I feel like the last two years, that slipped a little bit.”

First of all, kudos to Nagy for this incredibly honest response. In it, Nagy confirms something I think most of us suspect about the natural order of things in the NFL.

For most new head coaches, the first year is relatively easy. Everyone on the team is on edge and concentrates just a little bit more because they aren’t familiar with the coaching staff and they’re on uncertain ground. Relationships with the previous coaching staff are now gone and suddenly you are wondering how safe your job is. IN 2018 when Nagy and his staff were new, this is the position the Bears players found themselves in. As often happens that first year, they got very good results.

The problem is that rarely lasts. Players establish new relationships with coaches. Coaches get to know and trust the players. Everyone eases up a bit. That’s the position the team is in now.

Nagy has a real problem here, one that might be more serious than he thinks. Its hard for any coaching staff to maintain that edge that natural circumstances created in that first year. Almost no one manages to do it. But once you ease up, its mighty tough to go back to the way things were. Players resent it and it can create a bit of a toxic atmosphere.

I’m not saying Nagy can’t do it and I’m certainly not saying that he shouldn’t try. But it will be interesting to see if he can be one of those rare types of managers who can pull it off.