Bears

Browns, Giants firings mirror critical Bears need: accountability

george_mccaskey.jpg
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.

As NFL Draft scouting begins, six players for the Bears to watch in this week's Senior Bowl

1-22seniorbowlgeneralview.jpg
USA Today

As NFL Draft scouting begins, six players for the Bears to watch in this week's Senior Bowl

A decade ago, die-hard football fans — at least those who weren’t also big into Conference USA football — were introduced to a running back from Tulane named Matt Forte at the 2008 Senior Bowl. Forte, who rushed for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior year at Tulane, was the 2008 Senior Bowl MVP; the Bears went on to draft him with the 44th overall pick a few months later. 

(The Bears also drafted the 1999 Senior Bowl MVP — Cade McNown — and that pick didn’t work out as well as Forte, to say the least.)

John Fox and the Bears’ coaching staff coached the North team in last year’s Senior Bowl, and from that roster wound up selecting D-II offensive lineman Jordan Morgan in the fifth round. The coaching staffs this year are from the Denver Broncos (Vance Joseph) and Houston Texans (Bill O’Brien), but the Bears will still have a significant presence in Mobile, Ala. to scout prospects this week. 

So as practices begin leading up to Saturday’s game, here are six players for the Bears to watch down in Alabama:

WR Tre’Quan Smith (Central Florida/South Team)

Smith seems to fit the profile of what the Bears lack at wide receiver as the offseason begins: He’s a 6-foot-1, 210 pound explosive playmaker who caught only 59 passes last year…but for 1,171 yards with 13 touchdowns. He may not be a Day 1 or Day 2 guy right now, but if the Bears’ plan winds up being to address their dearth of wide receivers via free agency and the middle rounds of the draft — where value and playmakers can certainly be found — Smith could be someone to circle. 

OLB Garret Dooley (Wisconsin/North Team) 

The Rochester, Ill native doesn’t explode off the stat sheet like fellow ex-Badger T.J. Watt did a year ago (11 1/2 sacks), but Dooley did notch 7 1/2 sacks in 2017. Worth noting here: Wisconsin runs a 3-4, as do the Bears. Getting an up-close look at the 6-foot-3, 246 pound Dooley could begin to show the Bears if he’s worth a late-round flier to help address some of the team’s issues at outside linebacker. 

WR J’Mon Moore (Missouri/South Team)

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Moore has similar size to Meredith (6-foot-3, 207 pounds) and turned in a productive 2017 for the Tigers: 65 receptions, 1,082 yards and 10 touchdowns. If the Bears like what they see in him, he could give them a later-round spin of the wheel at receiver — which could be valuable if they were to pick a receiver in the first or second round. 

CB JaMarcus King (South Carolina/North Team)

The 6-foot-2 King is listed as the tallest corner (along with San Diego State’s Kameron Kelly) at the Senior Bowl, and while he only had five interceptions at South Carolina, he did total 21 pass break-ups in 26 games. As the Bears begin scouting cornerbacks — one of their biggest positions of need — they can begin to find out this week if King’s length could translate into him being a mid-round sleeper in this year’s draft. 

PK Michael Badgley (Miami, North Team) & PK Daniel Carlson (Auburn, South Team)

Both kickers from last year’s Senior Bowl — Zane Gonzalez and Jake Elliott — found regular roles as rookies, with Elliott going to the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears whiffed in their evaluation of Connor Barth, only bringing in Roberto Aguayo for a short-lived competition during training camp, while Elliott was available in September after being waived by the Cincinnati Bengals on cut-down day. The more immediate issue here: Badgley and Carlson each made fewer than 75 percent of their field goals as seniors; Elliott and Gonzalez hit 80 and 92 percent of their field goals in their final collegiate seasons. This may not be as good a pair of kickers in this year’s Senior Bowl, but they’re still worth an early scouting evaluation for a team that needs to get its placekicking situation sorted out. 

Conference championships have their own takeaways for Bears looking to get where these teams are

tom_brady.jpg
USA TODAY

Conference championships have their own takeaways for Bears looking to get where these teams are

The next-to-last weekend of NFL football for the 2017 season (Pro Bowl doesn’t count) and a handful of notelets present themselves with varying degrees of relevance for the Bears...

*                          *                          *

As noted here on more than one occasion, winning football isn’t contingent solely on pristine football from an elite quarterback, but it does turn so often on quarterbacks making or not making a play at a tipping point (which, come to think of it, establishes a quarterback as “elite” or not). The Bears believe they have something special in Mitch Trubisky, but they did not see enough “special” in Trubisky’s late-starting rookie year. To wit:

The New England Patriots are going to another Super Bowl because their quarterback was just a little better than the Jacksonville Jaguars’ when it mattered most. Blake Bortles, who played an otherwise thoroughly stellar game on the biggest stage of his career to date, unable to execute second-, third- and fourth-down throws on the final three Jacksonville Jaguars possessions in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ 24-20 loss to the Patriots. Tom Brady threw for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

GM Ryan Pace traded up for in the last draft because he sees those kinds of fourth quarters in Mitch Trubisky. It’s about an intangible on top of a baseline of ability, and it’s unclear whether Trubisky has that “It” factor. In 12 starts, with a 4-8 Bears record over those games, Trubisky directed one game-winning drive (for the winning OT field goal at Baltimore) but has zero fourth-quarter comebacks on his young and brief resume’.

For (very) loose comparison’s sake, and perhaps a distant foreshadowing: Brady had four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives in the 15 games of his de facto rookie season of 2001 (he’d appeared in mop-up duty in one blowout Patriots loss in 2000). Bortles did have one game-winning drive and fourth-quarter comeback in his otherwise dismal rookie season.

Brett Favre delivered seven of each in his first two Green Bay seasons. Peyton Manning had one of each his 3-13 rookie season but six fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives his 13-3 second season.

Not comparing Trubisky to Brady, Favre or Manning, but fourth quarters are where careers are made and the demarcation line lies between “good” and “great.” Fourth quarters will be perhaps the defining measure of Trubisky’s first year under his new coaching staff.

*                          *                          *

It isn’t a right-away priority for this Bears offseason but an obvious need is for a backup quarterback, assuming that Mark Sanchez’s services as QB caddy are no longer desired. Mike Glennon’s big money is done but his 2017 revealed that he is a not-ready-for-prime-time player. GM Ryan Pace took a flyer on Glennon in a gamble for some hoped-for upside in Glennon, and with that not happening, so presumably is Glennon.

Regardless, stocking the quarterback shelf behind Mitch Trubisky is a requirement. Josh McCown is available (again) but that option got away a while ago. So are Case Keenum (maybe after Sunday), Kirk Cousins and hey, why not Jimmy Garoppolo. Seriously, though, someone will want a job and the money, but it won’t be an attractive sell, backing up a young franchise quarterback for a team coming off four straight double-digit-loss seasons.

*                          *                          *

Get used to the “run-pass option” (RPO) phrase. Coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich speak in those terms, referring loosely to the quarterback having the option of handing off on a called run play, or reading the defensive reaction and taking the ball out and going to a pass play on the fly. Nick Foles executed it effectively, so did Blake Bortles.

Incoming Bears coaches inherit a Mitch Trubisky who has met the NFL and achieved ball security, which impressed his new coaches because of what’s needed – good decisions under pressure – to do that. “I think watching Mitchell, his decision-making, there’s a lot of good stuff there,” Helfrich said.

*                          *                          *

Expect the Bears to go best-available at No. 8 (before Ryan Pace makes his third straight first-round trade, that is), and for Pace to address some combination of offensive line, receiver, cornerback and linebacker in free agency ahead of draft weekend. Whatever the personnel end result, an upgrade to the pass rush is an offseason must-have absolute.

The 50-yard pick-six by Philadelphia cornerback Patrick Robinson traced to pressure from Eagles defensive end Chris Long that forced Case Keenum to jury-rig his throwing motion. A potential scoring drive was aborted by a strip-sack by Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett, with Long recovering the fumble.