Bears

Bears grades: Brian Hoyer brings some life to offense, but too little, too late

Bears grades: Brian Hoyer brings some life to offense, but too little, too late

ARLINGTON, Tex. – Comparisons in football are rarely exact because personnel and other factors are involved. But by any measure, even with its largest yardage (390) and points (17) outputs of the year, the Bears’ offense remained a muddled phase of the game, failing until too late in a lost cause to show meaningful progress Sunday night in a 31-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The offense last year, playing against Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle, averaged 294 yards over than 0-3 stretch, and that was including the 146-yard debacle against the Seahawks behind Jimmy Clauson. Through this year’s 0-3 start, the Bears have topped 300 yards just once, the 390 against the Cowboys, but with only 114 total yards in Sunday’s first half, and 188 of the total came in the fourth quarter after they were down 24-10.

[MORE GRADES: Defense reaches low in loss to Cowboys]

Even in defeat the Bears last year averaged 30 rushing attempts behind a far poorer offensive line than the 2016 edition should be based purely on supposed talent. For Sunday’s first half, the Bears attempted six runs vs. 12 pass attempts. For the game the Bears attempted just 12 runs by backs and continue to look like anything but a competent rushing offense.

The Bears attempted to run more in the third quarter but by that time were behind by more than two touchdowns. The offense failed to convert any of its first six third downs and was unable to stay on the field and shift some pressure from the Bears defense to the Dallas defense when the game was still in question.

Quarterback: B+

Brian Hoyer’s first start as a Bear will not make anyone forget Josh McCown but it may raise some intriguing questions about the position as the year goes on. Hoyer was serviceable, completing eight of 12 passes in the first half and 30 of 49 for 317 yards for the game, fourth-highest yardage total of his career.

Hoyer injected some life into the offense, which picked up from a halftime deficit of 24-3 to threaten the Cowboys at least a little in the fourth quarter.

“I thought he was good,” said coach John Fox. “All parts [of the offense] were alive. We pass-protected better. We are still hit and miss with the run game. We’d pop a big run, then we’d lose minus-2.”

Running back: C-

The problem is still that whatever the Bears might have in the running game, it isn’t making its way into any coherent, consistent part of the offense.

Jordan Howard, who provided some flashes in last Monday’s loss to Philadelphia, got chances earlier this week and ripped off a 36-yard run in his first carry. Howard had a 14-yard carry in the third quarter and built a strong case for himself to take over the role of starter going forward.

Howard finished with nine carries for 45 yards as the Cowboys stacked to take his running lanes away as the first half played out and the Bears fell further behind.

“A young guy learning to figure out our system and play better,” said coach John Fox. “I think he’s done well with it and will continue to improve.”

Jeremy Langford continues to start but was ineffective early, with a missed handoff on the first series and a juggled pass on the second. Langford left in the third quarter with an ankle injury but not before getting loose for a 23-yard run, his longest carry of the season.

Receiver: B

Alshon Jeffery and Zach Miller provided what receiving firepower the Bears had, with Miller catching all four balls targeted for him in the first half, eight of nine for the game, including second-half touchdown catches of 2 and 6 yards. Miller finished with 78 yards, with a long-gainer of 26 yards.

Jeffery caught five passes for 70 yards but was blanketed with double coverage much of the game. Kevin White had a 32-yard reception but still is not breaking loose, targeted 14 times but only catching six, for a total of 62 yards.

Cameron Meredith fumbled away a first-down completion in the third quarter with the Bears starting to generate a little offensive momentum.

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Offensive line: C

The line was difficult to assess because of curious play-calling not facilitating the offense in general establishing any rhythm. The best play of the night appeared to be Kyle Long and Bobby Massie creating a gaping seam on the right side for Jordan Howard’s first run.

But against an average defensive front, the Bears failed to gain any consistent advantage up front. What the line did do, however, is keep Brian Hoyer from being sacked on 49 dropbacks, with only one hit of Hoyer according to preliminary stats.

“I thought we protected the passer way better tonight,” said coach John Fox.

Coaching: D

That the Bears’ first play, supposed to be a simple handoff, was botched and left Brian Hoyer running with the ball points to coaching and preparation. Hoyer blamed himself for the play, a run-pass option on which he said he should’ve handed off, but the importance of a solid start in a road game cannot be overemphasized, and the Bears didn’t get that, from any possession of the first half.

The choice of a dump-off to Jeremy Langford short of the sticks on third-and-3 on the Bears’ second series was mystifying, one of the third-down plays on which receivers were put in position of needing to pick up the yardage with the football with the Dallas defense closing. With two supposed Pro Bowl guards, the Bears worked the edges of the Dallas defense early and got nothing.

The defense was hampered without its two best players (nose tackle Eddie Goldman, linebacker Danny Trevathan) but the Cowboys did generally whatever they wanted against a reeling defense that allowed 10- and 9-play drives on the first two Dallas possessions. The Cowboys were able to get ultra-quick receiver Cole Beasley in single coverage vs. linebackers (Christian Jones, Jerrell Freeman), and soft coverage allowed Dallas receivers uncontested releases with the Bears then unable to close once the ball was out.

Special teams discipline was non-existent, with a false start called on long snapper Patrick Scales prior to a field goal, then a recovered onside kick nullified by a member of the coverage team offsides.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.