Bears

Bears In-Foe: The "Animal Bowl" for third place

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Bears In-Foe: The "Animal Bowl" for third place

The Lions have won five straight meetings in this long-running (171 games) cage match with the Bears. The October 18th matchup at Ford Field was particularly frustrating in the first of three swings this season at the .500 mark. The 0-5 Lions didn't have Joique Bell, Eric Ebron or Brandon Petttigrew on offense. They didn't have Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy or James Ihedigbo on defense. The Bears even led 31-24 midway through the fourth quarter. But they needed a Robbie Gould field goal as time expired to force overtime, then played two possessions conservatively before a bomb to Calvin Johnson set up Matt Prater's winning field goal with four minutes remaining.

The Lions would go on to lose twice more amidst the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and their offensive line coach, and the front office firings of president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew (replaced, respectively, by Rod Wood and Sheldon White, the latter on an interim basis).  While Martha Ford's taken control from the rest of the family in overseeing the team, the future Jim Caldwell (and his 17-14 record over two years) hangs in the balance until Mayhew's permanent replacement is found. But the team has rallied to win five of seven, making Sunday's finale at Soldier Field decide third and last place in the NFC North.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!

OFFENSE

This 5-2 run began a week after quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter was elevated to offensive coordinator. Check out quarterback Matthew Stafford's numbers before and after:

  Completion percentage Pass yards/game TD/INT Rating
Last 7 games 69.7 269 16/2 108.7
First 8 games 64.5 260 13/11 84.1

Keep in mind the first meeting between these teams came during those first eight, and Stafford chewed the Bears up by going 27-of-42 for 405 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Matter of fact, before last Sunday in Tampa Bay, it was the only other game this season the Bears had three takeaways, and they couldn't take away a victory. Stafford also ran six times for 37 yards that afternoon.  He ranks in the top ten in all the major passing categories, but is the seventh-most sacked signal-caller, going down 40 times. The Bears could only get him down twice in Motown, and despite some youth and talent on the interior, the edges remain shaky - and old friend Michael Ola has taken over at right tackle for LaAdrian Waddle, who was released.

Rookie Ameer Abdullah has run for 553 yards (4.2 average) while catching 24 balls out of the backfield and losing two of his four fumbles. Bell is averaging 3.5 a carry, totaling 302 yards and four touchdowns. But the biggest weapon out of the backfield is Theo Riddick, who had a crushing 34-yard reception late in regulation back in Week Six. He leads all NFL running backs with 76 receptions for 668 yards (a franchise record for a running back).

Golden Tate's controversial scoring reception in the first meeting was one of six TD's and 86 receptions (ninth in the NFL). Ebron is starting to come around (42-512, four TD's) but Pettigrew is done for the season. T.J. Jones out of Notre Dame has stepped into playing time after Lance Moore was injured in Week 12 and has ten receptions for 132 yards.

Then there's Megatron. As he turns 30, his salary cap hit for next season is $24 million, so a decision on his future, or a renegotiation, looms. He's still productive (78-1,077, eight touchdowns) and remains a focus for opposing defense's, opening things up for Stafford's other weapons. The 57-yard bomb versus Harold Jones-Quartey set up the deciding field goal. The rookie hadn't started again until his strong performance last Sunday, leading HJ-Q to state afterwards he was looking forward to his rematch with Johnson this week. Okay. Have at it, kid.

[MORE: Making sense of the culture change surrounding the Bears in 2015]

The Lions lead the league in red zone touchdown percentage (68.1) but are 30th in opponents red zone TD percentage (64.9).

 

DEFENSE

Ziggy Ansah has stepped into the defensive spotlight vacated by Ndamukong Suh's departure. He's third in the league with 13.5 sacks. The only marks he made on the stat sheet versus Charles Leno, Jr. in Detroit were two quarterback hits. Devin Taylor (six sacks, including 3.5 in the last five) is taking snaps on the opposite end from Jason Jones (4.5 sacks). Ngata is back in the lineup, while Ivy Leaguer Caraun Reid starts at the other tackle after Tyrunn Walker landed on injured reserve.

That's also where stud linebacker Levy is after playing in just one game (17 snaps) this season before surgery for a hip injury sustained shortly after signing a four-year, $33 million contract extension in August. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is their tackles leader, flanked by Tamir Whitehead and Josh Bynes.

[ALSO: Goldman's ankle injury won't require surgery]

The talented safety tandem of Ihedigbo and Glover Quin (three interceptions) is back in place, but Darius Slay now works in tandem with Nevin Lawson at cornerback after Rashean Mathis was lost for the season with an injury. Sixth-round rookie Quandre Diggs is just 5'9, but has four pass breakups and 14 tackles his last four games.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

The weekly Burn Notice the Bears' Teams experienced early in the season came in the form of a 30-yard gain by Isa Abdul-Quddus on a direct snap out of punt formation with the Bears trying to protect that 31-24 fourth quarter lead.  Jones struggled filling in for Abdullah (who was dealing with a hand injury) in the first meeting, but Abdullah's now leading the NFL with a 30.7 kickoff return average (no touchdowns) while Tate averages 7.5 per punt return.  Prater went 3-for-3 in the first encounter and has connected on 21 of 22 field goal attempts on the season.

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

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USA TODAY

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

About this time a year ago the Bears were setting up for the annual NFL beauty pageant in Indianapolis, sitting with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and with myriad roster decisions to address with both that draft and free agency. Because of the Bears’ lofty draft position, even more scrutiny and attention swirled around the college prospects (Deshaun Watson, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, not enough on Mitch Trubisky as it turned out, a testimonial to GM Ryan Pace’s ability to keep a secret).

But what was developing in free agency was arguably of even greater significance in what was then the short term, at least for John Fox, as it turned out. And the changed landscape this year bodes considerably better for Pace and the Bears. At least in one important respect.

First, a perspective from last year’s pre-Combine period...

Because of the unsettled quarterback situation – the Bears were working toward Mike Glennon and cutting Jay Cutler two weeks later – and concerns about a possible lame-duck situation for Fox, free agents and their agents were willing to look at the Bears but only if the Bears would pony up excessive guaranteed dollars. The worry any time a coach is heading into a tipping-point year is that if things go badly, the coach and staff are gone, and the resulting changes will alter the job situation of that particular veteran player.

So the likes of cornerbacks A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore opted for less total money from Jacksonville and New England, respectively, because the Bears weren’t offering higher guarantees to compensate for the uncertainty.

(One of the reasons then-President/CEO Michael McCaskey stated to this reporter for firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season was a concern over the negative pall Ditka cast over playing for the Bears as the NFL prepared for the 1993 start of free agency. A quarter-century later, Pace didn’t fire Fox because of free agents’ aversion to Fox, but the overall wasn’t making Pace’s job any easier.)

Would Alshon Jeffery have stayed if...

On a slightly different tack: Would Alshon Jeffery have given the Bears a more receptive look had the quarterback position been addressed sooner in the Fox/Pace tenure? Jeffery took less from the Eagles in a one-year prove-it deal, not because Philadelphia was so much warmer than Chicago, but in large part because of where the offensive arrow was pointing in Chicago with Fox, Dowell Loggains and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Not insignificantly in the Jeffery case: Jeffery had four choices – Bears, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The Colts weren’t sure about Andrew Luck, coming off shoulder surgery and ultimately missing all of ’17. The Vikings were resting then on brittle Sam Bradford, whose knee broke down early, and Case Keenum wasn’t CASE KEENUM at that point. The Bears with Loggains and Glennon? Jeffery didn’t go with Philadelphia, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz only for the money, which did come anyway.

The Bears have “fixed” all of those issues in the year that’s played out since Jeffery signed with the Eagles almost concurrent with the Bears moving on from Cutler. None of that matters now in the least with Jeffery, Bouye, Gilmore or any other options that demanded too much guaranteed money or spurned the Bears back then, but it does matter going into the run-up to free agency over the next couple weeks.

Why this in fact matters more than the draft is that, while sound organizations are grounded in quality drafting, the reality is that in virtually every offseason, more starters for that season are acquired via free agency than the draft. Last year’s draft centerpiece was Trubisky, though he wasn’t supposed to start last season. But free agents Glennon, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were.

The money pit

Longtime Bears and NFL personnel chief Bill Tobin once remarked back in the beginning of free agency, “Just because you pay a guy $2 million doesn’t make him a $2-million player.” That still applies, adjusted for inflation. And that could make this free agency dicey for the Bears.

Because price isn’t always determined solely on quality; it’s a matter of supply and demand. And while the Bears are among those with the greatest estimated space under the projected cap of $178 million, the others way up on the list include Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Jets, Houston and Tampa Bay – all teams with five or fewer wins in ’17 and expected to be the most aggressive in using free agency to fix gaping holes. The Bears have a lot of money to spend, but so do a whole lot of others.

Meaning: A lot of dollars will be chasing a select few players, which will make some of them overpaid, not unlike Glennon was last offseason (how many apparently better options were there?) or a couple of others, who will be paid like $2 million players even if they aren’t, adjusted for inflation.

The result is another offseason of brinksmanship for Pace, this time in need of better results than his first three free agencies if the outcome for his second head coach is to be better than it was for his first.

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

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USA TODAY

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

The Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there may be one available.

The Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Tuesday, in a move that many believe signals the team's desire to deal him instead of losing him in free agency for nothing.

Landry put up excellent numbers last season, catching 112 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the league in catches and was fourth in touchdown receptions but was just 17th in yards. His yards per reception ranked 108th of 139 qualifying players.

Still, it's no secret he'd be an upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver. Though they'll get Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injury, the corps largely struggled and didn't give rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky much help.

Luckily, they may be interested in Landry, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

"There are a couple teams that we should keep an eye on as far as a potential Jarvis Landry landing spot......the Chicago Bears are looking for receviers," he said.

Rapoport also mentioned the Titans, Panthers and Saints as options for Landry. The franchise tag will pay Landry about $16 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019 (or has the franchise tag used on him again).