Bears

Return of the Monsters of the Midway: Bears defense has huge day in win over Panthers

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USA TODAY

Return of the Monsters of the Midway: Bears defense has huge day in win over Panthers

Are the Monsters of the Midway back?

You wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that way after watching yet another strong performance from the Bears’ defense in Sunday’s 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.

Highlighted by Eddie Jackson’s pair of 75-yard turnover-return touchdowns, the Bears’ defense had a second straight highlight-reel display on Sunday. In addition to Jackson’s takeaways, the defense also added a fourth-quarter interception for a third takeaway, sacked Cam Newton five times and kept the Panthers completely out of the end zone.

For those keeping score at home: That’s two full games without allowing an offensive touchdown.

And they did it all while constantly being on the field. Thanks to Jackson’s touchdowns, the Bears’ offense got to stay on the sideline more than usual, the Bears’ offense possessing the ball for fewer than 7 minutes in the first half and only 21 minutes and 25 seconds on the game overall. And when the offense did take the field, the results were poor, meaning a quick turnaround for the defense.

The overworked defense didn’t always keep the Panthers from marching down the field, but the Panthers never found the end zone, Newton’s inaccuracies assisting the terrific play of the Bears’ defense, which technically forced four turnovers, if you count a third-quarter turnover on downs.

And that’s all before mentioning that the defense supplied almost the entirety of the Bears’ scoring output for the day on Jackson’s first-quarter fumble-return touchdown and his second-quarter interception-return touchdown. Both went 75 yards as Jackson, playing a year to the day from the end of his collegiate career with a broken leg at Alabama, became the first defensive player ever to have two 75-yard-plus return touchdowns in an NFL game.

If you’re having flashbacks to the last decade, when Lovie Smith’s defenses had a habit of being bigger scoring threats than the offense, you’re not alone. Twitter lit up with Mike Brown comparisons for Jackson.

Great day for the rookie, great day for the defense.

No offense to be found

Meanwhile, the Bears’ offense did next to nothing on a day when the defense was excellent.

Mitch Trubisky was mostly silent in his third career game, the obvious exception being his 70-yard heave to Tarik Cohen. Trubisky’s deep ball landed in his fellow rookie’s hands, and Cohen did the rest scampering all the way down to the 5-yard line.

Of course, the Bears’ offense failed there, unable to cover five yards in three plays for a touchdown. Trubisky attempted to rush in on third down, racing to the pylon and diving for the score. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but a replay review determined he was down short of the goal line. The Bears settled for a field goal on that drive, and it was the only scoring drive the offense engineered all day.

In the end, the numbers were disgusting. The Bears accumulated just 153 yards, picked up just five first downs, went 2-for-11 on third downs and scored just three points. Trubisky barely even threw the ball, completing just four of his seven passes for 107 yards.

Good thing the defense was so good — and scored 14 points — because the offense was practically non-existent.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.