Bears

Bears free-agency analysis: Better does not necessarily mean good

Bears free-agency analysis: Better does not necessarily mean good

This is the last in a series analyzing the Bears' decision-making during the 2017 free-agency period.

From 3/13: Bears free agency analysis: Alshon Jeffery non-deal left an understandable void

From 3/14: Bears free-agency analysis: Offseason OL pattern holds with Tom Compton

From 3/15: Bears free-agency analysis: Ryan Pace overhauls secondary

As the first and second waves of free agency recede, a handful of observations as to the effects the Bears' spate of signings will have on the bigger, 2017 picture, with the overall conclusion that the Bears are better than a year ago, although "better" does not equate to "good," which the Bears need more than a few signings to be.

It would be difficult for the Bears not to emerge from the signing period any worse off than they finished the 2016 season. And while the dozen signings did not carry the splash factor of a handful of others (cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the New England Patriots, defensive lineman Calais Campbell to the Jacksonville Jaguars, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to the Philadelphia Eagles), at the very least the Bears upgraded themselves, if not as much as they or their fan base might've preferred.

But the reality is that at the positions of need, the Bears got incrementally better over where they were in 2016, like the additions or not.

Quarterback: Mike Glennon for Jay Cutler/Brian Hoyer? Cutler and Hoyer are career mid-level NFL quarterbacks at best. Until Glennon proves something, he's not there yet. The Bears are gambling that he has upside that none of their incumbent options had; until then...       +/-? Minus

Defensive line: The Bears defense suffered when nose tackle Eddie Goldman was down with an ankle injury. Opponents averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the six games Goldman played, 4.8 in the 10 he missed, replaced by chiefly by Will Sutton. Bears signed former New Orleans Saints/Seattle Seahawks nose tackle John Jenkins on Friday. Jenkins or Sutton? +/-? Plus

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Cornerback: Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper will not make Chicago forget Charles Tillman anytime soon. And they did not rate on a par with Gilmore, A.J. Bouye or Logan Ryan. But the Bears started Jacoby Glenn, Bryce Callahan, Cre'Von LeBlanc and Johnthan Banks at the corner opposite Tracy Porter. Callahan has upside but the signings are steps up from the 2016 collage. +/-? Plus

Safety: Quintin Demps at 32 is a de facto bridge rather than long-term solution. And with two picks in the first 36, the Bears will be in position to add a top-shelf safety via the draft. In the meantime, Demps or Harold Jones-Quartey? Or Adrian Amos? +/-? Plus

Receiver: Losing Jeffery created a void in the passing offense, taking away a wideout with 304 catches over the past five years. The Bears expect Cam Meredith and Kevin White to provide size on the outside, and went for speed in signings of Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright, who combined for 387 catches over those same five years. +/-? Minus

Tight end: Zach Miller is the usual known unknown, coming back from IR. The Bears already re-signed Daniel Brown. Logan Paulsen among the NFL's most-penalized tight ends, with more infractions (6) than pass receptions (3), including none over the final eight games. Dion Sims graded out as a better blocker and had 26 receptions, including four games with as many or more as Paulsen had all season. +/-? Plus

Offensve line: The offense changed starting offensive lines five times last season, primarily because of injuries at guard (Kyle Long, Josh Sitton). Tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie accounted for a combined 31 of 32 starts, with Mike Adams stepping in at right tackle for one game (New York Gaints). Signing Tom Compton creates competition for Massie in particular, but also puts a proven swing tackle behind the starters. +/-? Plus

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

The Bears winning a road game against a perennial playoff contender, one with a winning record coming in – that’s great.

Winning in Baltimore with a rookie quarterback in only his second NFL appearance – that’s terrific.

Generating more takeaways than giveaways and netting points from them – that’s just outstanding.

And now what?

Because too often under John Fox the Bears have posted a victory and failed to have it mean much of anything because of what followed a week later – a largely self-inflicted loss. The Bears have not posted consecutive wins since midway through the 2015 season, and even then proceeded to unravel on by squandering opportunities sitting squarely within their grasp.

Why should this time be any different? Because if it’s not, and the Bears again fail to stack even one win on top of another, then a dominating performance against the Baltimore Ravens (leaving out special teams, which surrendered in two plays more points than the defense did in 14 entire Baltimore possessions) becomes another meaningless afternoon in the overall for a team determined to reinvent itself.

Coaches typically divide seasons mentally into quarters, and clearly in Fox’s mind, Sunday was part of a different quarter from the 1-3 first quarter. “Really it takes almost four games, it’s almost like the preseason anymore, where you kind of get it figured out,” Fox said. “So just developing that confidence, usually good things have to happen to gain that confidence. And we did some good things.”

But the Bears have done “some good things” in games past and it becomes much ado about nothing, sound and fury signifying less than nothing. So again: Why should this time be any different?

Two reasons, actually. Neither absolute, but neither very complicated, either.

Reason No. 1: Trubisky

Without making too much out of one individual player, the chief reason arguably lies in the person of Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback who already has palpably changed the psyche of a previously languishing team.

“The team didn’t make nearly as many mental errors this week because of his patience,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright, who supported Trubisky with a leaping catch of 18 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

Unlike Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and 2016 Jay Cutler, each of whom won one game and one game only over the past 22, Trubisky delivered the ball security of Hoyer with added impact that none of his predecessors did manage, or arguably even could have managed.

Put simply, the Bears do in fact have a quarterback who even at this point appears able not only to make plays as drawn up, but also to create something out of nothing or at least avert catastrophe.

“Mitch made some great plays,” Fox said. “I mean, if you look at the snap over his head in the end zone, there’s probably only five or six or seven quarterbacks in this league that could get out of that. I go back to the touchdown pass to Dion [Sims, tight end]. He flushed [from the pocket], we adjusted and he dropped a dime in the end zone for a touchdown. And the play obviously at the end where more than likely if we don’t get that, we’re probably punting, the play he made to Kendall. I think Mitch played outstanding… .

“Those are really good decisions. It beats six interceptions, for sure. There’s a 3rd-and-3 play in the red area, low red, sprint out to our left. It wasn’t all perfect but he did the next best thing and that’s throw it away. So those are really, really good decisions that I think sometimes the casual or un-casual fan does not see.”

The noteworthy element in Trubisky’s game was the impact achieved by a Bears quarterback who completed all of eight passes. The reality is that Trubisky doesn’t need to attempt more than 20 passes a game (including the four sacks his protection allowed, which absolutely needs to be fixed).

For perspective purposes: Ben Roethlisberger in his first two seasons averaged 17.4 and 15.9 passes per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers reached the AFC Championship game and won the Super Bowl in those two seasons, running an offense that was just short of 60 percent runs.

Reason No. 2: Mistake reduction

A mistaken notion as to how improvement happens is the belief that it comes from just getting better and better, skill sets rising to the loftiest heights.

Not necessarily. Anyone who has had the good fortune of working their golf handicap down knows that the stroke reductions come less from suddenly adding 30 yards to drives or developing a draw on a 200-yard three-iron, than from eliminating the fluffed pitch shots, the approach shots pushed into traps, the drives into the woods. Cut down the mistakes and good things happen.

So it is with the Bears, who effectively lost the Minnesota game by allowing a 58-yard TD run by Jerick McKinnon, and sealed it with a poor Trubisky pass on a possession with a chance to tie or win. They lost the Atlanta game simply by dropping passes. They aren’t as good as the Green Bay Packers – at least not until Trubisky reaches full extension and proves to be a challenge to Aaron Rodgers.

But only in the Atlanta near-miss did they self-destruct with fewer penalties (four) than they did at Baltimore (five). Sunday was the first time since Atlanta that they threw zero interceptions. And the defense limited the Ravens to three third-down conversions out of 18, one indicator of fewer breakdowns on the most important down.

“As long as we eliminate those mistakes that we’ve been making,” Fox said, “we’re gonna be right there going into the end of the game.”

The Bears have had positive spikes in the past and then collapsed; even after winning three of four in late 2015, the inept home losses to San Francisco and Washington were arguably a tipping point in the Fox era.

The point next Sunday against Carolina is to determine if the Bears are through with their one-and-done ways.