Bears

View from the Moon: Bears win over Ravens has deeper implications than one game

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AP

View from the Moon: Bears win over Ravens has deeper implications than one game

Lots of ways to look at the Bears after their 27-24 overtime over the Ravens in Baltimore, the first road win for the Bears since late 2015. Taken in the context of a season still short of its halfway point, they didn’t exactly clarify definitively whether they’re a bad team with occasional good days, or a team that threatens to be better than expected.

Either way the Bears suddenly could find themselves being a meaningful factor in an NFC North that on Sunday saw the Green Bay Packers (4-2) lose Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone and a game to the Minnesota Vikings (4-2), and the Detroit Lions (3-3) crushed by the New Orleans Saints.

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The best perspective, one that in fact parallels and even rivals the growth and development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky for collective significance, may be that the Bears found a way to win.

To a bigger point, though, the crucial playmakers were overwhelmingly their own draft choices – Trubisky (8-for-16 passing, 113 yards, a touchdown, ZERO interceptions, 94.0 rating), running back Jordan Howard (36 carries, 167 yards), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (six tackles, one for loss), Adrian Amos (90-yard touchdown interception return), Kyle Fuller (three passes defensed, six tackles). Add in defensive end Akiem Hicks (three tackles, one sack) and you have a game won by players who represent the developing foundation of the franchise.

The growth of Trubisky is a prime directive for the 2017 season. But so is Goldman’s. And Howard’s. And Fuller’s. Because if Trubisky progresses but the core does not rise with him, the Bears will have a good quarterback and little more. The Saints and Archie Manning. Or using another position, Joe Thomas and the Cleveland Browns. More than Trubisky matters.

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A cliché, but critical for a team that too often found ways to lose, and this game was there for the losing, the Bears blowing an 11-point lead in the final four minutes.

But they didn’t lose. This is the fourth of their six games that the Bears were in position to win, offensively or defensively, on a final possession (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Baltimore). When the Bears keep games close, they are 2-2. And in the two they lost – Atlanta, Minnesota – they were less beaten by the opponents by themselves with dropped passes (vs. Falcons) or mis-thrown ones (vs. Vikings).

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Trubisky is a sub-50-percent passer through his first two NFL games but a handful of his incompletions in Baltimore were very, very significant. They were indications of the decision-making that is the reason coaches turned to him. On a handful of occasions, Trubisky lofted passes that barely stayed in the field of play but were exactly what coaches want the rookie to do rather than force throws into too-tight windows

On Sunday he became the first of 11 rookie quarterbacks to beat John Harbaugh's Ravens.

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On the not-so-good side:

Coach John Fox had a team meeting early last week and it wasn’t pleasant. Insiders say Fox was fed up with the stupid football being played. The question, however, even after Sunday’s overtime win over the Ravens, in which the Bears squandered an 11-point lead with a little more than four minutes to play, is who was paying attention and who wasn’t. Because not everyone is getting it.

The defense forced and recovered a fumble in the first half and supplemented that with its first interception for 2017 when Bryce Callahan snatched a ball off the hands of Breshad Perriman and returned it 52 yards to set up the halfback touchdown pass by Tarik Cohen.

Trubisky and center Cody Whitehair have some shotgun-snap issues to resolve but the Bears had just two penalties through the first three quarters, neither on the offense. Then Zach Miller was flagged for holding in the fourth quarter and the first possession of overtime effectively was undone when Bobby Massey. Jordan Howard going out of bounds allowed Baltimore time in regulation occasioned flashbacks to Marion Barber.

Worse, special-teams breakdowns gave the Ravens 14 points, one touchdown when no one thought to touch down Bobby Rainey, who got up and completed a 96-yard kickoff return; and another when punt coverage allowed a 77-yard punt return to Michael Campanaro.

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Cornerback may be a priority in next year’s draft but Kyle Fuller continues playing suspiciously like a first-round defensive back (which he of course was). The Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Fuller’s rookie contract last April – understandable given Fuller’s decline over the past two seasons – but no one should be surprised if the Bears make a play to retain Fuller with either an early extension or a push ahead of free agency 

Fuller delivered a textbook one-on-one tackle of 251-pound Ravens tight end Ben Watson and followed that later in Sunday’s second quarter with a pair of superb pass defenses to force Baltimore to settle for a field goal after a first-and-goal situation. And it was Fuller’s technically perfect coverage on Chris Moore that caused the deflected ball that went 90 yards the other direction on Adrian Amos’ first career interception

Prince Amukamara is on a one-year deal and Callahan is a restricted free agent. The Bears have a major positional need, and a chance to keep one of their own draft choices who’s now been three years in the Vic Fangio system.

Past is prologue? Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace bring similar histories to first draft as Bears tandem

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AP

Past is prologue? Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace bring similar histories to first draft as Bears tandem

At the outset of this year’s Combine, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was about two months removed from hiring Matt Nagy (who turns 40 on Tuesday). But Pace was very, very clear about what was critical in their relationship, and what is now of the absolute highest priority as the Bears swing onto final approach for Nagy and Pace’s first draft together.

“I think when mistakes are made in organizations, it's when the personnel department and the coaches are not on the same page,” Pace said. “That continuity is important; that chemistry is important. I think it's already naturally existing with us in the concept dialogue that we have, and I think you eliminate mistakes when you do that.

“If you share a vision for a player, then it helps eliminate some of those mistakes.”

But with the Bears on the clock at No. 8 next Thursday evening, will there be a true shared vision of the player whose name will be on a card carried up to the Commissioner?

Differences of opinion are inevitable, and desirable. If everyone in the room thinks alike, then at least half of them probably don’t need to be there.

The 2018 draft presents some intriguing decisions, but also contain a very solid positive: “There are some positions that align this year that are very deep in this draft that happen to be positions of need for us,” Pace said.

But the process of factoring that “need” in with player grades and position values has to arrive at agreement and consensus. Whether coaches in 2015 wanted edge rusher Vic Beasley but Pace and the draft board dictated Kevin White; or whether coaches wanted Deshaun Watson last year and Pace targeted Mitch Trubisky – those sorts of thing are difficult to establish conclusively in hindsight, and don’t really matter unless coaches are being handed players they deem less than optimal for their purposes. Only the results on the field ultimately matter.

Pace and staff will go into next weekend with a fully formed “cloud” of players graded as worth the No. 8 pick of the first round (and for the No. 7 pick of Round 2, and so on). Since that cluster of desirables will have been arrived at in concert with Nagy and his staff, some characteristics of their experiences are worth noting.

Studying Nagy, Pace draft “roots”

This may be Nagy’s first draft experience as a head coach. But between his time in Philadelphia and Kansas City, he has been around 10 drafts and learned from Andy Reid (in both places) what it takes to build a winning team. Of those 10 combined seasons, Nagy has been through exactly one losing year.

Pace was a member of the New Orleans front office from 2001-2014. During those 14 years he experienced only one season with fewer than seven wins.

What do the histories of the two centermost figures in Bears football operations have common on draft weekends, in particular with round one’s? And even more in particular, with selections of offensive linemen and front-seven defensive players, given the prominence of Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith?

O-line’ing for Nagy, Pace

During Nagy’s decade of observing Reid’s team-building under various general managers, only twice were No. 1 picks used on offensive linemen: guard Danny Watkins, the Eagles’ 2011 selection at No. 23 and a bust; and Eric Fisher, the first-overall pick of the 2013 draft, a tackle and solid performer, coincidentally the same draft in which Kansas City selected current Bears guard Eric Kush in the sixth round.

In Nagy’s 10 drafts, his bosses took only one offensive lineman (KC guard Mitch Morse, 2015 Round 2) higher than the fourth round. That includes two-time Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce, Philadelphia’s sixth-round pick in 2011.

Down in New Orleans, Pace and the Saints were going offensive line No. 1 just once in 14 years – tackle Jamaal Brown, 13th overall in 2005. The Saints did use No. 2's on the offensive line –  center LeCharles Bentley, tackle Jon Stinchcomb, tackle Charles Brown. But the Saints had their biggest scores later: guard Jahri Evans and tackle Jermon Bushrod in fourth rounds, guard Carl Nicks in a fifth – all three eventual Pro Bowlers and core elements of New Orleans’ Super Bowl champions. A key for the Saints was offensive line coach Aaron Kromer; the Bears believe they have that grade of O-line coaching firepower in Harry Hiestand.

Through his three Chicago drafts, Pace has not ignored the offensive line, addressing with at least one pick every year, in a fashion consistent with his New Orleans model: one offensive lineman in a second round (Cody Whitehair, 2016), one in a third (Hroniss Grasu, 2015), one in a fifth (Jordan Morgan, 2017) and one in a sixth (Tajo Fabuluje, 2015). Not a high success rate but fitting a pattern in line with his and with Nagy’s from KC and Philadelphia.

Conclusion: Using the No. 8 overall pick on a guard/Nelson would run contrary to what Nagy and Pace have seen as a successful construction philosophy in their previous draft experiences.

Priority “D”

Pace traded up in 2016 to ensure getting Georgia rush linebacker Leonard Floyd with his first-round pick. He also has staffed coordinator Vic Fangio’s front seven with a No. 2 (nose tackle Eddie Goldman), No. 3 (defensive end Jonathan Bullard) and No. 4 (linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski), plus five DB’s in Rounds 4-6.

Front-seven talent was a priority with the Eagles during the time of Reid/Nagy: Philadelphia drafted five defensive linemen or linebackers within Rounds 1-2 in the five drafts from 2008-12.

During Nagy’s five Kansas City years, the Chiefs had seven picks in Rounds 1-2. Three of the seven picks were invested in the defensive front seven. Additionally, the Chiefs used three third-round picks on cornerbacks. Meaning: Reid and Nagy may be rooted in offense, but they and their GM’s (John Dorsey 2013-16, Brett Veach 2017) fully grasped the import of reaching for an elite defense.

Conclusion: The 2018 draft contains talent at the top of Round 1. Both Nagy and Pace come from cultures that made quarterbacks and offense a priority (Trubisky, Drew Brees, Pat Mahomes, Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith). But the top need for the 2018 Bears is pass rush, that typically necessitates a top-10 pick, and Nagy and Pace come from organizations that have acted on that priority.

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

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Associated Press

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

The report on Kevin White from this week’s voluntary veteran minicamp was that Matt Nagy thought he looked “sharp,” played “fast” and, most importantly, was healthy. But that doesn’t mean the Bears will no longer have some difficult conversations with, and about, their 2015 first-round pick. 

The Bears have until May 3 to decide whether or not to pick up White’s fifth-year option, which would be worth $13.9 million, according to CBS Sports. If Ryan Pace wasn’t willing to commit $9.6 million over two years for Cameron Meredith over concerns about his 2017 knee injury, chances are he won’t be willing to commit more money than that for a guy in White who’s only played in five games over three pro seasons. The prudent thing for Pace to do would be to decline to pick up White’s option, setting him up for unrestricted free agency 11 months from now. 

Depending on what transpires in next week’s NFL Draft and then through OTAs and training camp, White still may have to earn his way on to the Bears’ 53-man roster, too. But that's looking too far into the future for a guy who’s suffered three serious injuries and has struggled to stack good practices when he's been healthy. 

“Sometimes you’re going to take a step backwards to go two steps forward — that’s kind of where he’s at,” Nagy said. “He’s a kid (whose) confidence hasn’t been where it needs to be. But what I can tell you is that from what I’ve seen so far, if I was somebody that was coming into this building and facility that didn’t know anything about him, you’d never in a million years know it from what we’ve seen recently.”

White made a handful of good plays during this week’s non-padded practices, for what it’s worth. The Bears need to see White continue to flash here and there on a regular basis, and then build up to having consistently solid practices throughout the offseason program and into the summer. The fresh start he’s afforded with a new coaching staff and new offense could benefit him, especially from a mental standpoint.

“His confidence is there,” linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who’s been a teammate of White’s since their days at West Virginia, said. “He’s ready to get back on the field.”

This sort simmering positivity about White around Halas Hall is fine, but it’s only April, and nobody is — or should be — getting ahead of themselves. Yes, the prospect of a healthy and effective White is mouth-watering, and would be tantamount to the Bears having two first-round picks this year (running back Tarik Cohen said the offense could be “dominant” with White and Robinson as outside threats). 

But Nagy is taking a narrow view of White’s outlook, one that won’t expand to the bigger picture until — for better or for worse — sometime during training camp, most likely. This is going to be a long process for the Bears to get the most they can out of White, and then they’ll have to hope the 25-year-old doesn’t suffer another cruelly-unlucky injury. 

“If any of us were in that situation and you have a fresh start — forget about the whys of what happened, forget about that,” Nagy said. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is about right now. He’s young. He has a big ceiling. 

“Now, we can try to do it as much as we can as coaches and try to pull it out of him, but he’s got to work hard. He’s got to put time in the playbook. He’s got to put in the extra work after practice when he can. And then when the game comes, he’s got to make plays. When you do that, his confidence will slowly get better and better. 

“The physical tools, forget about it. He’s got all that. It’s just a matter of him mentally, right now, seeing it happen and stacking them play by play in each practice.”