Bears

Bears grades: How much of Sunday's loss to San Francisco is on the coaching staff?

Bears grades: How much of Sunday's loss to San Francisco is on the coaching staff?

QUARTERBACKS: C-

Mitchell Trubisky’s 117.2 rating was a career high, and he showed good timing and accuracy when he threw the ball, especially on slants. But he only attempted 15 passes and threw for 102 yards, and fumbled twice in the span of three snaps. His longest pass traveling about 15 yards past the line of scrimmage — which was his eight-yard touchdown to Dontrelle Inman in the back of the end zone. Perhaps this was a function more of an ultra-conservative gameplan and less on his decision-making, but when presented with a free play due to an offsides 49ers defender, Trubisky didn’t suck the ball downfield and take a shot at the end zone. 

RUNNING BACKS: D-

Jordan Howard, with 38 yards on 13 carries, struggled to make an impact against a 49ers defense that entered Sunday allowing 123.9 rushing yards per game. Only 30 percent of Howard’s runs came against a loaded box, though, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats. The Bears needed Howard to carry the offensive load on Sunday, and he wasn’t able to do that. Saving this grade from an F, though, is Tarik Cohen, who caught all four of his targets for 39 yards but still was under-utilized, only playing 43.2 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps (which is still his third-highest percentage of the 2017 season). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D-

Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright each caught both of their targets, combining for 46 yards and a touchdown, but the lack of production from this group was once again noticeable. 

TIGHT ENDS: F

Dion Sims struggled as a run blocker — had he executed his block on a Cohen run in the first quarter, it very well could’ve led to a 56-yard touchdown; instead, it was a one-yard gain. Sims also dropped one of the two passes thrown his way. Adam Shaheen played nine snaps (24.9 percent) and has combined to be on the field for 26 offensive plays after turning in his most productive game as a pro Nov. 19 against the Detroit Lions. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: D

Trubisky was largely kept upright and unbothered by the Bears’ offensive line, with the 49ers managing two sacks and two pressures on 19 drop-backs. But the Bears’ run blocking was uneven and didn’t do many favors for Howard, and Charles Leno’s holding penalty negated what would’ve been a 25-yard pass to Cohen that would’ve given the Bears the ball at midfield early in the second quarter. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: D+

Akiem Hicks had two pressures and was solid against the run, as usual. But this group didn’t contribute to the meager pressure put on Jimmy Garoppolo (five hurries, two sacks), who was able to pick apart the Bears’ defense from a largely clean pocket. Roy Robertson-Harris’ unnecessary roughness penalty, when he hit Garoppolo going out of bounds, could’ve hurt more had the 49ers not settled for one of their five field goals a few plays later in the first quarter. 

LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan’s return not only brought 11 tackles and one TFL, but it elevated the play of Christian Jones, who had a productive day with 13 tackles, one sack, one hurry and two TFLs. Nick Kwiatkoski dropped Carlos Hyde for a loss of seven, and Lamarr Houston returned to Chicago with a sack, hurry and TFL. But the lack of a consistent edge rushing presence from this group continues to hurt the Bears’ defense, and the lack of pressure on Garoppolo falls even more on this unit’s shoulders than the defensive line’s.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+

This grade is not indicative of the play of Kyle Fuller, who had an excellent game with six tackles, one TFL, two pass break-ups and his first interception since 2015, which came when he ripped the ball away from 49ers wide receiver Louis Murphy. The rest of the Bears’ secondary struggled, though, with Garoppolo finding it easy to attack the middle of the field against first-time safety pairing Eddie Jackson and Chris Prosinski (Adrian Amos, out with a hamstring injury, was missed). 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Tarik Cohen’s 61-yard punt return touchdown — on which he ran 127 yards, according to the CBS television broadcast — was the most exciting play by a Bears player in a long time. That it came against a 49ers punt coverage team that had allowed only 2.5 yards per return entering Sunday makes his twisting, winding run even more impressive. Cohen nearly broke another explosive return in the fourth quarter, but his 67 yard return was called back due to an illegal block above the waist penalty on Ben Braunecker. 

COACHING: F

John Fox’s conservative approach to Sunday’s game wasn’t surprising, but should be highlighted for a three-win team with, seemingly, nothing to lose. The Bears had a fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line early in the second quarter and punted; what would’ve been the harm in seeing if Trubisky and the offense could convert that? Granted, the offense didn’t show a whole lot to instill confidence outside of one drive, but the gameplan for it seemed conservative, too. Fox’s reasoning for not allowing the 49ers to score with about 100 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter won’t instill much confidence in the Bears’ offense, either: Fox said he felt good about the team’s ability to block Robbie Gould’s game-winning chip-shot. Following that logic, Fox felt better about his team’s ability to block a field goal — which they’ve done once in 54 field goal/PAT attempts this year — than Trubisky’s ability to drive for a chance to win the game. Also worth questioning: Why was Shaheen only on the field for nine of 37 offensive snaps, and why did Prosinski play over the recently-activated Deiondre’ Hall at safety?

Under Center Podcast: What did win over Bengals mean for John Fox and Ryan Pace?

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AP

Under Center Podcast: What did win over Bengals mean for John Fox and Ryan Pace?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin debate what the Bears’ blowout win in Cincinnati meant for John Fox and Ryan Pace. Plus, how can Mitchell Trubisky and Adam Shaheen grow from how well they played on Sunday?

Listen to the latest episode here:

What was it like to coach against Devin Hester? 'You hold your breath'

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AP

What was it like to coach against Devin Hester? 'You hold your breath'

Jeff Rodgers had to gameplan for Devin Hester twice in his career as a special teams coordinator under John Fox: First, in 2010 with the Carolina Panthers, and second, in 2011 with the Denver Broncos. 

“You're holding your breath,” Rodgers, who’s in his third year as the Bears’ special teams coordinator, said. “There's been nobody like him in my generation.”

Neither of those games were necessarily the most memorable performances by Hester, who set an NFL record with 19 special teams touchdowns (14 on punt returns, five on kickoff returns). But the fact that Rodgers — like every other special teams coordinator from 2006-2016 — had to gameplan for Hester was notable in and of itself. 

“He was really the first guy that you really game-planned for and you saw different people take different approaches,” Rodgers said. “You see people try to punt the ball out of bounds. Well, defenses can combat that with some of the rush scheme so you may have to change that. Saw people try to kick fair catch balls and short because the reality is, if you played Chicago when he was rolling and you came out of the game with a 35 or 36 punt, which isn't great, but against him, you're usually taking that every time. He's as good as it gets.”

In that first meeting, on Oct. 10, 2010 in Charlotte, Rodgers’ strategy was to punt out of bounds or away from Hester to prevent him from fielding anything. 

At first, it didn’t work: Hester ripped off a 50-yard return on the first punt he fielded.

“We tried to punt the ball out of bounds and our punter put the ball about four inches from the sideline,” Rodgers said. “He reached in and got it and shot straight up the sideline.” 

From there, punter Jason Baker largely succeeded in kicking away from Hester, with his next six punts not being fielded or being fair caught. But the downside to that strategy was the Bears frequently received good starting field position — though having drives begin between the 40s was preferable to Hester ripping off a big return to set up a drive beginning in the Panthers’ red zone. 

A year later, Rodgers again had to figure out how to mute Hester’s success with the Denver Broncos. He was more successful in this Dec. 11, 2011 meeting, with Hester returning one kickoff for 25 yards and gaining 36 yards on two punt returns. Hester fair caught four punts, and one went out of bounds.

But Hester still notched returns of 26 and 10 yards despite Denver’s strategy to kick the ball as high as possible. 

“In Denver, we tried to hang it up there,” Rodgers said. “Did a good job on the first couple. Actually the best ball that our punter hit that day, that was the 2011 game, the best ball our punter hit that day with hang time and distance, he kind of circled around, went backwards, sideline, all of a sudden he turned a corner and you're holding your breath. We were able to get him on the ground, but he's a game-changer.”

The game-changing success Hester found as a return specialist should get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, unless the rather strange stinginess on special teamers in Canton continues. But there’s no doubt in Rodgers’ mind when it comes to how great Hester was — and how maddening it was to scheme against him. 

“I'd say (he) changed the game on both kickoffs and punts,” Rodgers said. “He's the best that's ever done it.”