Bears

Bears In-Foe: Thanksgiving showdown with the Packers

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Bears In-Foe: Thanksgiving showdown with the Packers

Okay, so Bears fans have spent much of their time since Sunday's fourth quarter kicking and screaming over John Fox's 4th-and-goal aggressiveness. Ironic, in that the previous employer Fox was trying to beat was the same one that removed him for his perceived conservative approach, that the team didn't go down "kicking and screaming" in its last three season-ending playoff defeats in Denver.

Now, if there was a positive vibe set over the previous six games, the doubters could get louder, depending on performance and outcome Thanksgiving night versus the arch-rival that's owned them. Green Bay proved again Sunday in Minnesota that reports of the Packers' death are greatly exaggerated. The defending four-time division champions go through their bumps (such as a three-game losing streak), but there are enough winners (led by their quarterback) to go into enemy territory and turn down the noise and dreams of a new division champ wanna-be (see the 2013 season finale at Soldier Field).

Don't look now, but the Pack's recent dominance in the series have them a Thursday win of tying up the league's oldest rivalry. The Bears' all-time lead is down to 93-92-6 after dropping the last four, ten of the last 11 and 12 of 14.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

OFFENSE

There's been no question Jordy Nelson's absence from his preseason torn ACL has been a huge adjustment, not to mention a relief to opponents. That didn't stop the Pack from winning their first six before being virtually shut down by Denver's defense, and the Carolina version making enough plays the following week. The real head-scratcher came two Sundays ago at home to Detroit. Call it their wake-up call. Wagons circled.

While Brett Favre gets his uniform retired at halftime, there's no question here the better Packers quarterback will be looking to add to numbers the past three games that read 58-for-78 passing for 806 yards, 13 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 146.7. Even more ominous for the recently slow-starting Bears defense is they way Green Bay has started in those three (despite losing twice): 39 first quarter points, and for the season, they've outscored their foes 82-25 in the opening 15 minutes. They've obviously shown a tendency during their recent slump, to let teams back into the games, but not due to turnovers. Their plus-8 is fourth in the NFL. Their defense has forced at least one turnover per game.

But this section's still about offense, and another good sign for Rodgers and company was Eddie Lacy coming back to life in the win over the Vikings. He hit the 100-yard plateau for the first time in a season after being slowed by an ankle injury. Lacy was inactive versus the Lions the week before, after gaining just 78 yards on 33 carries the four previous games. He and James Starks are both averaging 3.9 yards a carry, but the latter filled in to give them 95- and 112-yard games while catching 26 passes.

Nelson's injury's forced Rodgers to work with a receivers-by-committee approach, evidenced by the only group with a trio that's collected at least five touchdowns each.  James Jones (30-592, 7 TDs) - who reintroduced himself off the waiver wire to Rodgers and the Bears in the season opener - is tied for third in the league with eleven grabs of 25-plus yards. Randall Cobb has six touchdowns on a club-high 47 catches. Tight End Richard Rodgers (36-263, five touchdowns) has become a weapon by necessity, while Davante Adams has started turning it up, with 20 of his 30 catches, and 208 of his 308 yards for the season coming the last three weeks.

[MORE: Bears waive Jimmy Clausen, promote David Fales

DEFENSE

Your first thought on this side of ball is number 52 with the flowing locks. Clay Matthews hasn't let a few aches and pains keep him out of the lineup and the third-leading sacker in franchise history is the face of a Dom Capers defense whose effectiveness gets overshadowed by the greatness of the quarterback. But they locked down on Adrian Peterson Sunday (13-45, TD).

Julius Peppers (remember?) wasn't washed up two years ago here, just disinterested and going through the motions. He's followed up an excellent revival up north a year ago with a team-high 6.5 sacks this season. Teddy Bridgewater heard birds after John Fox's first draft pick in Carolina delivered a second quarter blow. It was one of six sacks Capers' crew delivered after going the previous three games without one. That starting linebacker group also includes Simeon and Illinois State product Nathan Palmer (sixth round, 2013) as its second-leading tackler.  Rookie fourth-rounder Jake Ryan has become the regular at the other inside spot.

Up front, the Bears missed Letroy Guion (suspension) in the opener, B.J. Raji continues clogging, Datone Jones flashed with two of Sunday's half-dozen sacks, and Mike Daniels is tied for sixth among defensive tackles with 16 sacks since 2013.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kyle Fuller will be compared as 2014 first-round draftees, with the Bears selecting Fuller several spots ahead of the Alabama safety. But after an uneven rookie year (and amidst a sideline confrontation in Carolina with Peppers), Clinton-Dix leads thee defense with 82 tackles (20 and an interception in the past two). Micah Hyde originally took the other safety job from Morgan Burnett, but has been sidelined of late by injury. But the real interesting development in the secondary involved this year's top-of-the-draft investments by Ted Thompson after letting Tramon Williams and Davon House depart in free agency. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have earned increased playing time, despite the fact only Richard Sherman has more interceptions since 2010 than Sam Shields. Randall, Rollins, Shields and Clinton-Dix all have two interceptions apiece.

[ALSO: Competitive practices taking a toll on Bears?

SPECIAL TEAMS

Mason Crosby became the first kicker in history to go 5-for-5 in a single game on field goal attempts all beyond 40 yards in Sunday's big win. Ty Montgomery returned kickoffs of 46 and 41 yards in the opener, but while the third-round rookie out of Stanford has battles health issues, Ron Zook may have discovered someone new: second-year speedster Jeff Janis had a 70-yard return versus the Vikes. While the coverage units have shown improvement since the third return touchdown allowed this season, they'll need to be aware of that fresh face Thursday night.

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).

 

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 grade: D+

For these purposes, “management” encompasses the coaching staff and front office. We don’t need a lengthy re-litigation of the failures of the John Fox era, so briefly: The offense was unimaginative, predictable and unsuccessful; there were too many head-scratching coaching decisions, punctuated by that backfiring challenge flag against Green Bay; the defense was solid but not spectacular; special teams had plenty of highs (three touchdowns) and lows (Marcus Cooper’s gaffe against Pittsburgh, Connor Barth’s missed field goal against Detroit). Fox didn’t win enough games to justify a fourth year, even if he left the Bears in a better place than he found them back in 2015. But that 5-11 record drags the management grade down. 

But the larger thing we’re going to focus on here is the hits and misses for Ryan Pace in the 2017 league year. The hits: 

-- Drafting Mitchell Trubisky. Will this be a long-term success? That’s another question. But Pace hitched his future in Chicago to a quarterback last April. For a franchise that hasn’t had a “franchise” quarterback in ages, what more can you ask for? If Trubisky pans out, nobody should care that Pace traded up one spot -- effectively losing a third-round pick for his conviction in his guy -- to make the move. 

-- Moving quickly to hire Matt Nagy. As with Trubisky, Pace identified his guy and made sure he got him. The Bears hired Nagy just two days after the Kansas City Chiefs’ season ended with that playoff collapse against the Tennessee Titans, and with the Indianapolis Colts -- who eventually got burned by Josh McDaniels -- sniffing around Nagy, Pace made his move to hire a young, energetic, offensive-minded coach to pair with Trubisky. It’s tough to argue with any of the coaching hires made by Nagy, who had a head start on the competition: He retained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and that entire defensive staff, kept Dave Ragone to be Trubisky’s quarterbacks coach and hired Mark Helfrich to bring some different concepts as offensive coordinator, and hired a special teams coach in Chris Tabor who must’ve been doing something right to survive seven years and a bunch of coaching changes in Cleveland. Like with Trubisky, it’s too early to say if Nagy will or won’t work out long-term, but it stands out that Pace had conviction in getting a franchise quarterback and a head coach who will make or break his tenure in Chicago. 

-- Drafting Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson in the fourth round. In Cohen, the Bears found an offensive spark (who was nonetheless under-utilized) who also was a key contributor on special teams. In Jackson, the Bears added a plug-and-play 16-game starter at safety who looks to have some upside after a solid rookie year. Both picks here were a triumph for the Bears’ amateur scouting department: Cohen wasn’t on everyone’s radar (special teams coach Chris Tabor, who previously was with the Browns, said Cohen’s name never came across his desk in Cleveland), while Jackson was coming off a broken leg that prematurely ended a solid career at Alabama. These were assuredly two hits. 

-- Signing Akiem Hicks to a four-year contract extension. The Bears rewarded Hicks a day before the season began; Hicks rewarded them with a Pro Bowl-caliber season (despite him only being a fourth alternate) and was the best player on the team in 2017. 

-- Signing Charles Leno to a four-year contract extension. Leno may not be an elite tackle, and still has some things to clean up in his game, but he’s 26 and his four-year, $37 million contract is the 14th-largest among left tackles (for what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Leno as the 20th best left tackle in the NFL). The Bears believe Leno is still improving, and could turn that contract into a bargain in the future. But this is important to note, too: Players notice when a team rewards one of its own, especially when that guy is a well-respected former seventh-round draft pick. 

-- Signing Mark Sanchez to a one-year deal. This wasn’t a miss, certainly, and while it’s not much of a “hit,” Sanchez was exactly what the Bears wanted: A veteran mentor to Trubisky. While Sanchez was inactive for all 16 games, he and the No. 2 overall pick struck up a good relationship that makes him a candidate to return in 2018 as a true backup. 

-- Releasing Josh Sitton when he did. Whether or not the Bears offensive line is better off in 2018 is a different question, but file cutting Sitton on Feb. 20 -- when the team had until mid-March to make a decision on him -- as one of those things that gets noticed by players around the league. 

-- Announcing the expansion to Halas Hall. The plan has Pace’s fingerprints on it, and should help make the Bears a more attractive destination to free agents in 2018 and beyond. 

And now, for the misses:

-- Signing Mike Glennon. That completely bombed out. While the Bears weren’t hurting for cap space a year ago, and Glennon’s contract essentially was a one-year prove-it deal, his play was so poor that he was benched after only four games -- when the initial plan was for him to start the entire season to give Trubisky time to develop. The wheels came off for Glennon on his seventh pass in Week 2, when after completing his first six he threw the ball right to Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander for an interception from which he never seemed to recover. He’ll be cut sometime soon. 

-- Signing Markus Wheaton. After signing a two-year, $11 million deal in the spring, Wheaton struggled to stay healthy, with an appendectomy and finger injury limiting him in training camp and the early part of the season, and then a groin injury knocking out a few weeks in the middle of the season. When Wheaton was healthy, he was ineffective, catching only three of his 17 targets. That places him with eight other players since 1992 who’ve been targeted at least 15 times and and caught fewer than 20 percent of their targets. He’s another one of Pace’s 2017 free agent signings who’s likely to be cut. 

-- Signing Marcus Cooper. The Bears thought they were signing an ascending player who picked off four passes in 2016 and would be a better scheme fit in Chicago than he was in Arizona. Instead, Cooper was a liability when he was on the field and didn’t live up to his three-year, $16 million contract (with $8 million guaranteed). Dropping the ball before he got in the end zone Week 3 against Pittsburgh was a lowlight. The Bears can net $4.5 million in cap savings if he’s cut, per Spotrac. 

-- Signing Dion Sims. Sims isn’t as likely to be cut as Glennon and Wheaton, and even Cooper, but his poor production in the passing game (15 catches, 29 targets, 180 yards, one touchdown) puts a spotlight on how the Bears evaluate how he was as a run blocker in 2017. If that grade was high, the Bears could justify keeping him and not garnering a little more than $5.5 million in cap savings. If it was low, and the Bears are confident in Adam Shaheen’s ability to improve, then Sims could be cut as well. 

-- Signing Quintin Demps. The loss here was mitigated by the strong play of Adrian Amos, but Demps didn’t make much of an impact on the field before his Week 3 injury besides getting plowed over by Falcons tight end Austin Hooper in Week 1. He’d be a decent guy to have back as a reserve given his veteran leadership -- he was a captain in 2017 -- but given how well Amos and Eddie Jackson worked together last year, he’s unlikely to get his starting spot back in 2018. 

-- The wide receiver position as a whole. Kendall Wright led the Bears in receptions and yards, but his numbers would’ve looked a lot better had he been surrounded by better players. The cupboard was bare at this position, and after the worst-case scenario happened -- Cameron Meredith tearing his ACL in August, and Kevin White breaking his collarbone in Week 1 -- the Bears were left with an overmatched and underperforming group of receivers. For Trubisky’s sake, Pace has to work to make sure 2018 isn’t a repeat of 2017. 

-- The kicker position as a whole. Since we’re focusing solely on Pace’s 2017 moves, the decision to release Robbie Gould and replace him with Connor Barth doesn’t fall into this grade. But Barth had struggled with consistency prior to this season, and Roberto Aguayo didn’t provide much competition in his short-lived stint in training camp. The Bears eventually released Barth after he missed a game-tying kick against Detroit in November, then replaced him with a guy in Cairo Santos who was coming off an injury and, as it turned out, wasn’t completely healthy yet. So the Bears then had to move on from Santos and sign Mike Nugent to get them through the rest of the season. Better consistency from this position will be important to find in 2018. 

A couple moves fall into the neither hits nor misses category:

-- Drafting Adam Shaheen. Tight ends rarely make a significant impact as rookies, but Shaheen was only targeted 14 times last year. He did catch three touchdowns and flash some good chemistry with Trubisky before suffering an injury against Cincinnati that wound up ending his season. The gains he makes with a year of experience under his belt and during his first full offseason as a pro will be critical in determining his success in Year 2, and whether or not taking him 45th overall was a hit or a miss. 

-- Signing Prince Amukamara. This was neither good nor bad, with Amukamara playing solidly in coverage but not making enough plays on the ball and committing a few too many penalties. 

Pace still has decisions to make on a few other potential cuts, including right tackle Bobby Massie ($5.584 million cap savings per Spotrac) and linebackers Willie Young ($4.5 million cap savings) and Pernell McPhee ($7.075 million cap savings). Whether or not to place the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller and potentially pay him $15 million in 2018 is another call Pace has to make before the official end of the 2017 league year. 

But for Pace, did the hits out-weigh the misses in 2017? The Glennon signing imploded, but Trubisky showed signs of promise during an average season for a rookie quarterback. Cooper was a bust, but Fuller emerged as a potential long-term option to cover for that. The most glaring misses, then, were at wide receiver and tight end where, after injuries sapped those units of Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller, there weren’t reliable targets for Trubisky. 

We’ll probably need more time to determine if Pace’s “hits” on Trubisky and Nagy truly are “hits.” But if they are, the misses of 2017 -- Glennon, Wheaton, Cooper, etc. -- will be nothing more than amusing footnotes to a successful era of Bears football.