Bears

Bears Grades: Defense shares part of the blame for loss to Texans

Bears Grades: Defense shares part of the blame for loss to Texans

HOUSTON – Much of the focus in the wake of the Bears’ 23-14 loss to the Houston Texans was on what the Chicago offense failed to do. That served to overshadow a potentially more ominous failure by the Bears’ defense, which wasn’t supposed to have the kind of day it did against the kind of offense it faced in Brock Osweiler and the Texans.

Indeed, the fate of the 2016 Bears has been expected to rest heavily in the hands of a massively made-over defense, at least while a revamped offensive line and new coordinator settle in. Instead, a major share of the responsibility for Sunday’s nine-point loss fell squarely on the defense, which was notable through much of this offseason for its swagger and attitude, but was more notable Sunday for its wobble and vulnerability.

A game that saw the defense take some control early with an interception by cornerback Tracy Porter on the Texans seventh play from scrimmage deteriorated into a mishmash in which the Texans converted 60 percent of third downs and a rookie wide receiver (Will Fuller) put 100 yards on the Bears’ secondary in just the second half. The Bears had one takeaway on Houston’s seventh play and none on the next 65.

“It’s time of possession, moves the chains,” coach John Fox said of his defense’s failure to get third-down stops. “Usually it results in points when you move the chains, whether it’s explosive plays or moving the chains on third down. It’s arguably the most important down other than fourth down.”

The defense held Houston, which scored a franchise-record 102 points in preseason, to 13 points through the first 47 minutes. But Houston was converting more than 50 percent of third downs to that point, and any sense of the Bears’ defense controlling the game was somewhat illusory. The Texans were on the field for more than 18 minutes of the first half, and matched that in the second, meaning that the Bears simply did not do a winning job of staying on the field or getting off of it.

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“I feel like we could start faster,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “The ‘pick’ in the beginning was great but there were some things we let slip at the start of the game. Those are things we need to be better at.”

Defensive line: D

Houston set out to scheme the Bears into nickel personnel, meaning two down-linemen, and the Bears could not stanch the bleeding up front as tailback Lamar Miller ran the ball 28 times for 106 yards.

“We started fast with the turnover but just couldn’t stop the ‘leaky’ yardage,” Goldman said. “Whether we’re in nickel or not, we’ve got to stop the run.” Goldman was initially credited with all or part of six tackles and a shared sack with linebacker Leonard Floyd.

Akiem Hicks forced a fumble that escaped the Bears but resulted in a crucial five-yard loss that effectively ended a third-quarter possession. Mitch Unrein was a force early, with a flush and hit of quarterback Brock Osweiler in the first quarter, followed later by drawing a holding penalty that effectively ended Houston’s second possession.

But the line rarely managed to take any sort of control of the line of scrimmage, and pressure on Osweiler was inconsistent when it wasn’t invisible.

Linebacker: D+

The edge rush was nearly invisible, with a Danny Trevathan inside blitz accounting for the only sack in the first half. Jerrell Freeman’s diagnosis and tackle-for-loss on a first-quarter Houston screen pass was a possession-stopper, and Freeman broke up a pass inside the Chicago 5 in the second quarter to force the Texans to settle for a field goal.

Rookie Leonard Floyd was used extensively but was slow to register impact initially, being too often neutralized in runs to his side and getting little pressure on quarterback Brock Osweiler. Floyd, getting the start in his first NFL game, beat Houston left tackle Chris Clark with an outside rush to share a sack with Eddie Goldman and was credited with six sacks in initial post-game stats.

[RELATED: Bears Talk Podcast: Positives and negatives of loss to Texans in season opener]

But Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were generally non-factors, Houston getting a hit on Osweiler, Acho one tackle and Young failing to register any impact plays of note.

“The way guys are flying around, unwillingness to stay blocked with the big guys up front,” Freeman said by way of identifying positives. “I am telling you, flying around and being relentless. Playing hard, guys knowing what they are supposed to be doing. We are a well-coached team, Vic [Fangio, coordinator] puts us in a lot of positions where we just got to play. We got to make a play when it comes to you.”

Secondary: D

The pass defense allowed just one completion of longer than 12 yards in the first half, setting something of a tone against a receiving group that has been explosive. But rookie Will Fuller, the Texans’ first-round pick out of Notre Dame, eventually rolled up 107 yards on just five catches, while Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins had a quiet 54 yards on five catches, but also scored on a 23-yard pass from Brock Osweiler.

Tracy Porter’s interception against Hopkins was textbook, both for coverage and winning the 1-on-1 for the football. Porter also drew a pass-interference flag on Hopkins in the end zone.

“[But] it’s a game of halves and a game of quarters, so you have to play for four full quarters, and you have to play for two halves,” Porter said. “And you don’t do that, you only play for one half, then the other team has the ability to come back, much like what happened today.”

Rookie cornerback Deiondre Hall was pressed into service in the second half and managed two pass breakups in the end zone. But the Bears generally were unable to neutralize Fuller, who had 100 of his yards in the second half.

Special teams: B+

Eddie Royal, pressed into service as a punt returner, broke a 31-yard return in the first quarter, although the offense failed to exploit the plus-territory field position.

Punter Pat O’Donnell launched seven punts for an average of 42.3 yards, including two inside the Houston 20. Deonte Thompson, rebounding from injuries during preseason, brought back five kickoffs an average of 20.5 yards – unspectacular but solid.

Kick coverage was spotty. The Texans returned three kickoffs an average of 24.3 yards with a long of 28 yards.

Connor Barth was not called on for any field-goal attempts.

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.