Bears

Browns, Giants firings mirror critical Bears need: accountability

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AP

Browns, Giants firings mirror critical Bears need: accountability

The actions of This Week in the NFL – the New York Giants firing GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo on Monday, the Cleveland Browns firing EVP Sashi Brown on Thursday (but not coach Hue Jackson) – were noteworthy as much for their timing as for their result, that of pushing out high-level individuals in their respective organizations.

The word for it is “accountability,” and the question that it all immediately calls to mind is: What is the accountability plan of Chairman George McCaskey for the Bears, short-term and longer-term?

The short term accountability passed this week when no changes were made in aftermath of a four-game nadir since the off-week (the one-score loss at New Orleans before the break was at least respectable, with 300-plus yards, three scoring drives of 65 yards or longer, against a very good team). One scenario might have been a dramatic statement stroke to make clear exactly how unacceptable the last four games have been. But the Bears stayed their traditional franchise course of no in-season coaching changes, which is of course not to say that something precipitous couldn’t happen if there are embarrassments at Cincinnati or vs. Cleveland.

The longer Bears accountability term will be determined by the results of the next four games, collectively or individually. No one admits to dealing in hypotheticals, but no one at the coach, GM, president or chairman levels DOESN’T deal in hypotheticals in the form of planning if-then scenarios. Mock drafts are hypotheticals; does anyone think those are the only ones?

The Bears obviously won’t make a cataclysmic move just because the Browns and Giants did. But it’s a small NFL football universe, and “copycat league” doesn’t refer just to offensive or defensive schemes. And GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have dramatically poorer results over three years than McCaskey’s two previous GM’s had before they were fired.

Whether McCaskey is inclined – again – to move to unwind his most two biggest football hires is simply speculation around the NFL at this point. But McCaskey was installed as chairman in May 2011 and changed out general managers in January 2012. Interestingly perhaps, with what the Giants did this week, in the course of firing Angelo, McCaskey said, “look at the Giants. They had confidence in their people, their coach, their plan, and it bore fruit."

Erratic “accountability”

The Bears have imposed accountability on their football operations. But it is a history with sometimes erratic applications of “accountability,” sometimes to the point of “it-ain’t-necessarily-broke-but-we-fixed-it-anyway.” It is a history marked – marred? – by inconsistency, which in this sport is perhaps the cardinal sin and harbinger of failure.

If the past is any sort of prologue, precipitous firings have occurred with considerably less on-field miseries than the current three-year run under Pace and Fox.

McCaskey fired Angelo after a .500 season in 2011, one year after the Bears coming within a touchdown in the NFC Championship game of upending eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay. The Angelo firing came after a season in which the Bears were 7-3 when they lost quarterback Jay Cutler for the season and fell to 8-8 under primarily Caleb Hanie. The Cutler injury did not temper McCaskey’s dissatisfaction.

McCaskey OK’d the hiring of Phil Emery to succeed Angelo and signed off on firing Lovie Smith after a 10-win 2012 season. Emery and coach Marc Trestman were jettisoned after an embarrasciubg  collapse in 2014, one year after an 8-8 mark in 2013 and starting out 2-1 and 3-3 in 2014.

Looking back further organizationally, Mike Ditka was fired after one bad season (5-11 in 1992) that had been preceded by two playoff seasons, one (1990) that included a postseason win.

The Bears played near-toxic hardball with Dick Jauron after Jauron taking the 2001 team to 13-3 and the postseason. Angelo had been hired to replace Mark Hatley in 2001 and inherited Jauron coming off six- and five-win seasons. Angelo expected to be allowed to replace Jauron, but an unexpectedly trip to the postseason complicated matters. After some extremely acrimonious negotiations, Angelo and the Bears were stuck with Jauron for two more losing seasons.

Cleveland, New York templates

What the Browns did – firing the personnel boss but keeping the coach – goes against the notion that the incoming GM will want to hire his own head coach. But in fact, looked at another way, that new football boss will have a year to assess Jackson and presumably have the juice to go another direction after 2018 if he doesn’t want Jackson for performance or any other reason. Not ideal, but it does some form of twisted internal logic.

Unless of course Jackson leads a turnaround/up-surge, which actually wouldn’t be all that difficult from where the Browns are. Then the new GM might want to consult and commiserate with Angelo.

The Cleveland and New York firings do allow them to begin executive searches openly, without offending incumbents. Look for lines to form for Philadelphia’s Joe Douglas, who came out of the Baltimore with a personnel pedigree from the Ozzie Newsome tree, spent a year as college scouting director with the Bears before going to the Eagles as VP of player personnel.

Best guess is that no decision has been reached at Halas Hall, with four games remaining. A finishing kick could reflect the kind of progress McCaskey laid out as his requirement of staff for 2017. A finishing tailspin confronts him with the need to impose accountability.

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

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USA TODAY

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

With new coach Matt Nagy in place, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky starting Year 2 from the get-go, and a cadre of offensive upgrades, expectations are exponentially higher than they were through the decline and fall of the John Fox regime, which was intended to be a turnaround and bridge to a culture and performance change from the nadir under Marc Trestman.

But the reality is that the Bears could very well be among the most improved teams in the NFL and still finish last in the NFC North for the fifth straight year and under their third different head coach.

Improving on the 5-11 of 2017 will not be all that assured, either. Of their 16 games, six are against teams that reached last postseason. Two each of those are against the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers missed nine games last year, something that isn’t likely to repeat, making the Packers their usual force – and the Bears couldn’t beat Green Bay even with Brett Hundley in for Rodgers.

The Packers get Rodgers back. The Lions got a new coach. The Vikings got a new quarterback. If you stand still, you’re slipping backwards.

The schedule formula has given the Bears an unintended standard for gauging whether they have gained or lost ground on the league. Half of the games on the 2018 schedule are against teams played by the Bears in 2017 – Detroit (2), Green Bay (2), Minnesota (2), San Francisco and Tampa Bay – and the Bears were 0-8 in those games last season. If Nagy and Pace don’t improve on that…

With game times after Week 4 subject to flex scheduling:

Week 1: at Green Bay (7-9) Sunday, Sept. 9, 7:20 p.m.

The only two times the Bears have beaten the Packers since 2010 have been in Green Bay but Aaron Rodgers has become to the Bears of the last decade what Brett Favre was to the years before Lovie Smith.

Moon’s call: L

Week 2: Seattle Seahawks (9-7) Monday, Sept. 17, 7:15 p.m.

The monster team that came within a TD of reaching three consecutive Super Bowls has let go of defining members (Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman) and has injury issues hanging over others. A team at a fork in its road.

Moon’s call: W

Week 3: at Arizona Cardinals (8-8) Sunday, Sept. 23, 3:25 p.m.

Bruce Arians retired after averaging nearly 10 wins over five AZ seasons. Steve Wilks is a defensive coach and becomes the latest to try winning with QB Sam Bradford, who’s missed 42 games over the last five seasons.

Moon’s call: W

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) Sunday, Sept. 30, Noon

Bucs’ season start was disrupted by Hurricane Irma but not enough to prevent their blowing out Bears in a delayed game one. Bears and Bucs are meeting for fifth straight year and Bucs have won the last two by 26 and 22 points. Trade for Jason Pierre-Paul should help “D” but Jameis Winston needs to step up to elite.

Moon’s call: W

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: at Miami Dolphins (6-10) Sunday, Oct. 14, Noon

Jay Cutler won’t be back, but Adam Gase hired Dowell Loggains as OC and Jeremiah Washburn as O-line coach so Bears-‘Fins matches up a lot of young offensive coaches with a Chicago connection. Miami getting QB Ryan Tannehill back from ACL tear remains a question.

Moon’s call: W

Week 7: New England Patriots (13-3) Sunday, Oct. 21, Noon

Super Bowl hangover? Maybe. Pats just escaped Jacksonville in AFC title game and then were soundly beaten by Eagles in Super Bowl. And internal scratchiness may help opponents. But Tom Brady still tops 4,500 yards. Trading away Jimmy Garoppolo and Brandin Cooks netted high draft picks that Pats need hits with to stay on top.

Moon’s call: L

Week 8: New York Jets (5-11) Sunday, Oct. 28, Noon

Like Bears, Jets have struggled mightily to get QB position right after two straight 5-11 seasons that have Todd Bowles on the coaching bubble. Jets re-signed Josh McCown and will try ex-Bears assistant Jeremy Bates as OC.

Moon’s call: W

Week 9: at Buffalo Bills (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 4, Noon

What Buffalo does from No. 12 in this draft order will be noteworthy, with Bills holding five picks in top 65, in dire need of a quarterback after dealing Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron, but having upgraded front seven with Trent Murphy for edge rush and Star Lotulelei for interior strength.

Moon’s call: L

Week 10: Detroit Lions (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 11, Noon

From a one-time patsy, Lions have won nine of their last 10 vs. the Bears, six of the last seven decided by six or fewer points as part of a disturbing Bears trend toward not making plays on offense or stops at tipping points. Detroit prioritized keeping Ziggy Ansah’s pass rush, although he has just 2 sacks and 10 tackles in seven games vs. the Bears while muscling up the defensive interior with Sylvester Williams and the run game with LeGarrette Blount.

Moon’s call: W

Week 11: Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Nov. 18, Noon

“Minnesota Miracle” was THE highlight of ’17 for a team that came up a game short of the Super Bowl. Of concern for the NFC North,  a 13-3 team upgraded at its most vital position: The Kirk Cousins Era is upon the Bears and the division. Cousins is 2-0 career vs. Bears, and an elite Vikings “D” got better with addition of DT Sheldon Richardson.

Moon’s call: L

Week 12: at Detroit Lions (9-7) Thursday, Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m.

What the Lions will be under new defense-based head coach Matt Patricia is anyone’s guess. But the Bears have lost five straight in Ford Field and haven’t won there since Lovie Smith’s final year. Matthew Stafford is becoming the poor-man’s Brett Favre for Bears purposes: Stafford hasn’t missed a game vs. anyone in seven years, is 9-1 vs. Bears over last five years and has passer ratings of 115.0 or better in four of his last Bears games.

Moon’s call: L

Week 13: at New York Giants (3-13) Sunday, Dec. 2, Noon

With the No. 2 draft pick, Giants widely expected to grab either RB Saquon Barkley or DE Bradley Chubb, either projected as impact rookies. But NY grappling with declining Eli Manning and four losing seasons out of the last five, double-digit losses in three of last four.

Moon’s call: W

Week 14: Los Angeles Rams (11-5) Sunday, Dec. 9, Noon

The runaway NFL darlings of ’17 responded to a playoff upset by going all-in with signing Ndamukong Suh, and trades for CB’s Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib for a “D” already boasting Aaron Donald. QB Jared Goff played like a first-overall pick and Rams added Brandin Cooks to on NFL’s highest-scoring offense.

Moon’s call: L

Week 15: Green Bay Packers (7-9) Sunday, Dec. 16, Noon

The Packers were needy enough to make a run at Kyle Fuller to improve their secondary, and decided Jordy Nelson didn’t have enough good football left to warrant keeping him. But the Bears couldn’t beat the Pack with Brett Hundley, Aaron Rodgers is now back, and he has a motivated TE Jimmy Graham to throw to.

Moon’s call: L

Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers (6-10) Sunday, Dec. 23, 3:05 p.m.

Two teams with coaching upheaval this decade. Bears-49ers meet for fifth straight year and sixth in last seven, Bears under their fourth head coach in that span. Another chance to vet GM Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitch Trubisky rather than trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, who had ‘Niners 5-0 once he became the starter.

Moon’s call: L

Week 17: at Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Dec. 30, Noon

Bears haven’t won in Minnesota since ’11 and last three L’s there were by 21, 28 and 13 points, as Vikings have been on the rise and Bears on the decline both during recent seasons and as competitive franchises. Bears desperately need prove-it road “W” to start regaining relevance in NFC North. Bears have ended three of the last four seasons with losses in Minnesota.

Moon’s call: L

Season prediction: 7-9

The hype is real for the 'natural' Matt Nagy-Mitch Trubisky relationship

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USA Today Sports Images

The hype is real for the 'natural' Matt Nagy-Mitch Trubisky relationship

For Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy’s offense just makes sense

Mitch Trubisky is still in the nascent stages of learning Matt Nagy’s offense, with this week’s three voluntary minicamp practices beginning to introduce Bears players to the basic concepts of it. 

But this is an offense that, as Trubisky put it, feels more “natural” to his skillset. The frequent use of the shotgun, the RPOs and some of the reads already appear to be a better fit for Trubisky than the conservative, dour offense he ran a year ago (that, to be fair, had lesser personnel). 

“That’s definitely why I love this offense and the coaches and how they’re handling this process,” Trubisky said. “We’re really starting from ground bottom and we start each play with why; this is what it’s good against and if we don’t get this type defense then these are our options to go off that. So this is what we want and if we don’t get this, this is how we adjust from there. They do a great job teaching it, and it’s not only me, all the other positions know the whys of the offense, so everybody will be on the same page. We’ll all have answers and we’ll be able to click as an offense because everybody knows our jobs and what we’re looking for.” 

This is about as important as a development you’ll find in mid-April. The Bears hired Nagy to tether to Trubisky; in turn, Nagy hired a quarterbacks guy in Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator and retained Dave Ragone to be Trubisky’s position coach. Then Ryan Pace signed Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray to back up Trubisky, providing the 2017 No. 2 overall pick with two guys who know the intricacies and language of Nagy’s offense from learning it during their respective years with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

“I feel like these last three days, I’ve been coached more than I ever have,” Trubisky said. That’s not necessarily a shot at last year’s coaching staff, to be fair — there just wasn’t a similar structure in place centered around him. 

It’s not just that the Bears have hired a bunch of quarterback coaches and signed a few veteran backups, though. It’s that all of these moves, from Nagy to Bray, have been tailored to giving Trubisky the best chance to succeed. So, it’s telling that the early returns on those efforts are so positive. 

“He played so much shotgun in college at Carolina,” Nagy said. “So much, and the stuff that we do is easy for him. Now he has to just take that language that he learned in North Carolina, put it into our language, and then what's going to happen is you're going to see an evolution to him. 

“Right now, calling the plays in the huddle is easy. That is not one concern at all for him, calling plays. To me, that's a step forward, because he's ahead of the game, because when he's at the line of scrimmage now, now it's his first wide vision of just understanding the defense and seeing what's coming at him.”

Running back Tarik Cohen said this week that Trubisky was already calling audibles in the huddle during practice, which is another sign that this offense is coming naturally to Trubisky. Trubisky’s teammates talked this week about how he’s taken an even greater command of the Bears as a leader even in the early stages of the offseason program, a role he’ll continue to grow into as he gets more comfortable with the language of Nagy’s offense. 

Does this mean you should start carving out weekends in January to watch the Bears in the playoffs for the first time in eight years? Of course not. But the 2018 season is all about how Trubisky develops as a quarterback. 

And right now, in mid-April, all the signs emanating from Halas Hall indicate that process is going well. 

“It’s exciting,” Trubisky said. “I think that’s why (Nagy) gives me glimpses and previews and we have those side conversations. Just knowing what we’re going to be in the future. First things first, you have to master the basics and build off and go from there. But it’s just exciting to talk about and know that’s where we could be down the line.”