Bears

Bears Grades: Fox, staff adjust during win over Chargers

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Bears Grades: Fox, staff adjust during win over Chargers

The line between execution problems and coaching issues is never easy, and the number of mistakes on offense in Monday’s first half was alarming. Penalties, seemingly poor communication, and mistakes at crucial times all came together to waste a constant stream of possessions into the San Diego end.

Adam Gase stayed on message without running back Matt Forte, with 16 runs vs. 17 pass plays in the first half, then necessarily tilting toward the run in the second half when the Bears were behind by two scores. The play design on the Bears’ first TD was superb, with Martellus Bennett run-blocking hard at the snap, then curling into a vacant area of the San Diego end zone.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

San Diego receivers were running uncharacteristically free early as Bears coverages appeared to be exploited by a passing offense that didn’t need any help. But in the fourth quarter the defense dialed up alignments with fresh personnel that enabled the Bears to sack Philip Rivers twice.

Special teams were efficient with the exception of two missed field goals. Both punt and kickoff returns improved field position while the Chargers were able to do no more than fair catch two punts.

Moon's Game Grade: B

 

Special teams has had their nightmares as players have failed to execute coverages in addition to committing too many penalties. But the overall has been a change of culture in all three phases and a team that has gone 3-2 since that opening stretch of Green Bay-Arizona-Seattle.

Adam Gase adhered to a run-based offensive philosophy without being a slave to it, coaching with an offensive line scrambled weekly and without wide-receiver continuity ever since Kevin White’s stress fracture.

[MORE: MNF win over Chargers a 'starting point' for Bears playoff run?]

Vic Fangio has had to make the change to the Bears’ 3-4 with myriad moving parts, losing linemen Jeremiah Ratliff and Ray McDonald to non-football issues and Ego Ferguson to injury. The pass rush is inadequate but the players have a very strong belief in the scheme and directives.

A team is what its record is and the Bears are 3-5. But they believe they should be 5-3, have bought into what the coaching staff is teaching, and that mark or better in the second half of the season is a very real possibility.

Moon's Mid-year Grade: A-

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.