In the small and big picture, it’s the same old story for the last-place Bears

In the small and big picture, it’s the same old story for the last-place Bears

John Fox’s message to his team after Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers was familiar: We’re competitive enough to keep games close, but we have to win when we get a chance.

Losses to the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and now Green Bay Packers have all been by eight points or fewer. The Bears do have overtime wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, but too often this year, the Bears have stayed within striking distance only to never strike.

Sloppy play has been a common thread in those losses, be it in the form of turnovers, pre-snap penalties, negative offensive plays or anything else that fits the bill of a self-inflicted mistake. This team knows they don’t have much margin for error, yet those errors continue to happen.

“That’s just been the theme this year,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said “When we’ve had enough, it’ll stop. But we have to make a decision.”

But even if the Bears make a decision and figure out how to stop making those self-inflicted mistakes, it likely will be too late to make a difference in the outcome of the 2017 season.

This is a 3-6 team that’s lost every game it’s played against a divisional opponent and just lost to a Packers team that, in the first 15 minutes of Sunday’s game, fielded a punt in the end zone (!) and took a mystifying timeout when the game clock could’ve ticked down to the end of the first quarter (!!). But the Packers were able to clean things up as the game went on, and despite their deficiencies on offense and defense, were a late missed 35-yard field goal away from a comfortable two-score win.

Meanwhile, the Bears were officially penalized eight times, but had four other flags declined. Negative plays and sacks continued to mar the offense, and the Bears’ defense couldn’t come up with the kind of impact plays it so consistently made in October. That this kind of game happened after an off week of self-scouting and physical/mental rest seems disappointing.

“Lack of focus,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said of the Bears’ penalties and mistakes. “It seemed uncharacteristic for us because we were locked in and ready to go. I guess were weren’t focused at that moment. We’re going to analyze that, because we know it’s one of (our) weaknesses. We’re only hurting ourselves. It’s nothing they’re doing schematically, it’s just everyone has to lock in, do our jobs and get better.”

The Bears are a better team than they were in 2016 and may win a close game or two in these final seven games. They’re better than the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom come to Soldier Field in December. But this was a team that, at 3-5 coming out of its bye week, had a chance to be competitive in a parity-stricken NFL landscape.

That chance — no matter how good or slim you may have thought it was — is probably gone.

“Everyone has their own interpretation, but we had an opportunity to win that game,” Fox said. “Like some of the games before, not necessarily coming out of or into a bye, we just came up short.”

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall


Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

Matt Nagy has roundly impressed his players during minicamp this week, and has done so in a way that carries some importance.

John "Moon" Mullin and JJ Stankevitz dive into how quickly Mitch Trubisky is picking up Nagy’s offense, why Jordan Howard may be feeling refreshed and if the Bears can expect anything out of Kevin White.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here:

Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

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Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

We’re a little under five months away from the first meaningful snap of the Matt Nagy era, but since it’s April, it’s a good time to daydream about what the Bears’ offense could look like in 2018. 

So let’s add to that what Tarik Cohen had to say on Wednesday about his early impressions of Nagy’s offense.

“It can be dominant,” Cohen said. “… We have a whole lot of pieces on offense. It could get real crazy this year.”

At this time of the year, just about every player and coach is naturally “excited” by the prospect of a fresh start on a new season, especially with a new regime taking over. But these aren’t empty platitudes put forth by the players who’ve been available to the media this week.

Cohen said one of the first things he saw after the Bears hired Nagy was that the Kansas City Chiefs, while running his new coach’s offense, had two 1,000-yard pass-catchers (Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce) and a 1,000-yard running back (Kareem Hunt). 

“I was like, ‘I don’t know how that ball’s getting around like that,’” Cohen said. “But I know it’s going to be a good thing because we have as many weapons as we do, to know that everybody’s still going to be able to get the ball and get the yards, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Cohen said he’s worked this year on his route-running and receiving skills, which could make him an interesting candidate to back up the similarly-diminutive Taylor Gabriel at the “Zebra” receiver spot in Nagy’s offense. And while Cohen can be used there, that may sell short his skills as a running back, which will remain his primary role. 

“He just needs to understand he’s not a receiver, so there’s a lot of details that the receivers themselves are putting into it,” Nagy said. “He’s a running back. So whatever we can do in the specific routes he’s going to (run) — his route tree is not going to be quite as big. So that ones that he does have, he can hone in on those and understand the specifics of that. Coach (Charles) London will do a great job of teaching him that. But then also remember, too, we need you to run the ball, too. If you become one dimensional a certain way, now it’s advantage defense.”

Cohen, for what it’s worth, said he’s gained about 10 pounds and now weighs 190 pounds (“all muscle, solid,” he quipped), which should help him stay on the field as his role grows as a second-year pro. 
Cohen’s versatility, though, fits with the bigger-picture offensive scheme that Nagy and his coaching staff are in the nascent stages of installing this week. The inside zone and run-pass options concepts that are a big part of Nagy’s offense are familiar to Cohen, too — “that’s really how I got all my yards in college,” he said. 

But even while the Bears operate a basic version of the offense they’ll eventually use, there’s a certain excitement level around Halas Hall about how things could look come September. And how those things look should help Cohen get closer to — or reach — his goals after a strong rookie debut. 

“I just have this attitude like I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Cohen said. “I wasn’t in the Pro Bowl, really not like a definite household name yet, so I feel like I have a lot more to prove. Didn’t have any 1,000-yard season in any phase of the game, so I feel like I have a lot more to do.”