Bears

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

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USA TODAY

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

The Bears committed nine penalties (eight of which were officially assessed, since one was offsetting) against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. This isn’t a new trend: The Bears were flagged eight times against the Green Bay Packers, 10 times against the Pittsburgh Steelers, eight times against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four times against the Atlanta Falcons. 

So since Week 1, this has been a problem. Given the Bears’ offense gets easily bogged down when it’s behind the chains and the defense doesn’t have a penchant for takeaways, almost every one of these penalties has hurt. 

Against Minnesota, here’s the breakdown:

No. 1: Holding on center Cody Whitehair. The penalty wiped out Tre McBride’s 26-yard reception, which would’ve moved the Bears inside the 10-yard line. Instead, the Bears were moved from the Vikings’ 35 to 45-yard line and ran a screen to Benny Cunningham on third and 20. Pat O’Donnell then punted. 

No. 2: Delay of game on Mitchell Trubisky. This was less on the quarterback and more on the coaching staff — John Fox tried to confuse the Vikings by faking sending his punt unit out, then the offense on fourth and 2. But Trubisky got to the huddle with about 12 seconds on the play clock and couldn’t get a snap off on time. While the play may have worked — Josh Bellamy was uncovered — Trubisky didn’t have enough time to get the snap off. 

No. 3: Holding on Markus Wheaton. The call may have been questionable, but it wiped out what would’ve been a Jordan Howard 42-yard touchdown run. The Bears instead were faced with a first-and-17. 

No. 4: Offensive pass interference on McBride. This was on the very next play and was by far the most questionable penalty assessed on the Bears, with McBride ostensibly being flagged for making contact with cornerback Terence Newman’s face mask. “I went and looked at the film and I couldn’t really see what triggered the call but that’s above my pay grade,” McBride said. “I just gotta roll with the punches on that.” Worth noting: Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd did something similar to cornerback Kyle Fuller later in the game and wasn’t penalized. Either way, it put Trubisky in a first and 27 spot at his own 41-yard line. 

No. 5: False start on Charles Leno Jr. This came after Trubisky found Dion Sims for a 17-yard gain following the McBride penalty and backed the Bears up from the Vikings’ 42 to 47-yard line. 

No. 6: False start on Bobby Massie. The Bears went from second and 8 to second and 13 deep in their own territory, and while they picked up a first down thanks to a Minnesota penalty, they still had to punt. 

No. 7: Holding on Josh Sitton. This offset a Jaleel Johnson facemask and re-played a second and 7 down. The Bears went three-and-out. 

No. 8: 12 men on the field on Eddie Goldman. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum astutely snapped the ball as Goldman was chugging off the field. 

No. 9: Holding on Leonard Floyd. This allowed Minnesota to extend the drive that led to their game-winning field goal, but it was questionable at best. When asked what got in the way of Floyd on the flag, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said: “The officiating.”

The first six of these penalties — all on the offense — came in the first half. The holding flags on Whitehair and Wheaton kept the Bears out of the red zone and end zone, and every one of the first-half flags put the Bears’ offense in a difficult situation. 

“That puts us in passing situations and makes it a bit more complicated for Mitch,” Massie said. “But just don’t do it and we won’t have the problem.”

The Bears held a meeting on Wednesday addressing this concerning penchant for penalties, but there isn’t necessarily a way for the players to fix those problems outside of maintaining better focus in practice and games. 

“You can’t do anything different aside from dial into what you’re doing better individually,” tight end Zach Miller said. “There’s no way to drill that aside from do it right.”

Teams penalized as much as the Bears routinely are slapped with an “undisciplined” label, which doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. The players can talk about renewing their focus during practice, but it’s also on the coaching staff to figure out a solution. 

“I think a lot of it is in preparation,” Fox said. “It’s making sure we don’t have that occur in practice. It’s not like we haven’t emphasized it. Some of the same things I talked about last week popped up again, so we just continue to work at it. 

"In some cases we change people. In some cases we change how we practice. So you’re always looking to try to get that."

It’s an issue that has to be fixed, though, as long as this team struggles to overcome penalties. Fox pointed out the Vikings were penalized more than the Bears on Monday night, but “they overcame it a little bit better than we did.” That trend is likely to continue so long as the Bears continue to commit penalties. 

“No game will ever be completely perfect,” Massie said. “There’ll always be something. That’s just something that’s stood out multiple times in multiple games. It’s just something we gotta clean up.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.