Bears

Bears kick off season with dominating win

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Bears kick off season with dominating win

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 4:10 p.m. Updated: 8:45 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
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READ: High marks across the board
Profiling Bears' legend Mike Ditka
The Bears are perfectly happy to be disrespected. They clearly relish reminding doubters of their doubts.

They will now have a thoroughly told-ya-so week after Sundays 30-12 smashing of the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) , the defending NFC South champions and 2011 favorites after their 13-3 mark in 2010.

The three top-rated teams in the supposedly elite NFC South all fell to NFC North teams in the first week of the NFL season. Besides the Bears defeat of the Falcons, the Green Bay Packers turned back the New Orleans Saints last Thursday and the Detroit Lions were a TD better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.

The Bears (1-0) travel to New Orleans to face the Saints next Sunday before hosting Green Bay in game three.

Its one win, said coach Lovie Smith, whose record in first home games improved to 6-2. Were excited about it. We have a long ways to go. There were a lot of mistakes we made. Normally thats the case the first game.

The Falcons made runs at the Bears at various points, as late as midway through the fourth quarter. With quarterback Matt Ryan completing 31 of 47 passes for 319 yards, Atlanta out-gained the Bears 386-377 and had 20 first downs to the Bears 17.

Dominant performance

But be in no doubt: This was a domination almost from the outset. The Bears never trailed and most of the afternoon was spent simply arriving at a final score; the winning team was evident early.

The yardage totals are meaningless. The Bears defense allowed exactly 2 field goals to an Atlanta offense that scored 25.9 points per game last season. The Bears sacked Ryan five times and hit him six more. The defense was credited with 11 tackles for loss.

"It was great to have everyone pitch in, said defensive end Julius Peppers. It was impressive. Guys get hungry and want to get to the quarterback.

They did. The defense forced three turnovers and had points off all three: a pair of field goals and Brian Urlachers fourth career touchdown when he picked up a Ryan fumble caused by sack pressure from Peppers, who had two sacks to go with two by defensive tackle Henry Melton and one by tackle Amobi Okoye.

We cant relax offensively there in the fourth quarter, said Jay Cutler, who was 22 of 32 for 312 yards, two TDs and a rating of 107.8 despite being sacked five times. The Bears had zero first downs on their final three possessions following an Atlanta interception and TD return.

Our defense kept the clamps on all year long in 2010. We still have to play up to the defenses level, Cutler said. They are still carrying us.

Early breakaway

The offense struck immediately with conversions of 23 yards on their first two third downs, one a Cutler pass to Roy Williams and the second on a dump-off underneath to running back Matt Forte, with both receivers having no defender within 10 yards of them in the first of numerous well-designed plays. The drive stalled and Robbie Gould put up the first points of the season for the Bears on a 41-yard field goal.

Before an opening-day crowd of 59,808, the Bears built a 16-3 halftime lead on a 56-yard catch-and-run by Forte, who broke tackles behind downfield blocks by receiver Johnny Knox and fullback Tyler Clutts and outraced the Atlanta secondary into the right side of the end zone.

The rest of the first-half scoring was provided by Gould on field goals of 23 and 26 yards. The two kicks represented failed red-zone possessions on which the Bears had first downs at the Atlanta 17- and 10-yard lines.

What the offense didnt do, however, the defense more than made up for as the Bears stretched their lead to 30-6 before the Falcons did some brief fourth-quarter damage.

"The defense line got great pressure, Urlacher said. They played their butts off. We played great all training camp. The Falcons didnt run at all the second half, besides that gash the first series. Our guys were able to make plays.

Ill take that

A serious Bears concern throughout the preseason was the lack of takeaways by the defense. That abruptly changed in the first half Sunday as takeaways ended three possessions for one of the NFLs elite offenses.

A corner blitz by D.J. Moore, who never lost control and bore straight in on Ryan without going for any fakes, pressured Ryan into a weakened throw. That was picked off by a diving Urlacher at the Chicago 35, one possession after the Falcons scored their only points of the half, on a 48-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

The defense struck again on the next Atlanta possession. Major Wright, whose tackling issues in preseason put his job in jeopardy, drilled running back Michael Turner with a helmet on the football and allowed Charles Tillman to make another strip and forced fumble. That turnover also occurred in the Chicago end of the field, this time recovered by Peppers.

Crusher
Any percolating momentum for the Falcons seemed to be met with a defensive stop. Three plays after tight end Matt Spaeth scored on a one-yard TD pass, Ryan was forced to spin away from pressure from Peppers off the Atlanta right. Ryan lost the ball, which lay on the ground briefly at the Atlanta 16. Peppers beat Ryan to the ball but couldnt control it.

That was a good thing.

Urlacher picked up the loose ball at the 12 and went into the end zone for his fourth career TD and a 30-6 lead late in the third quarter.

"I thought Pep had it, Urlacher said. Luckily it bounced to me. Even if I dont get it, it was third down and long or still down towards our goal line.

The Falcons attacked the Bears with a no-huddle offense from the outset, keeping the Bears from subbing in particular on the defensive line. But the Bears defense, apart from occasional breakdowns, limited the potent Atlanta offense to 170 total yards and 3 points in the first half.

The Atlanta defense was not going to go quietly. Defensive end John Abraham deflected a Cutler pass up into the air where it was gathered in by Kroy Biermann. The defensive tackle rumbled 50 yards for touchdown to put some life back on the Falcons side.

The try for the two-point conversion failed with a sack of Ryan by Julius Peppers, leaving the score 30-12.
Positioning

With Goulds kickoffs and aggressive coverage, the Falcons had starting position from their 20 four times, their 15 and their 6 (after a penalty) on possessions starting with a kickoff.

But the defense had a breakdown on the last of those, costing the Bears not only field position but also points.

On a third-and-one at the Atlanta 15, Turner burst through the middle and galloped 53 yards before a TD-saving tackle by Tim Jennings ended the embarrassment. Instead of potential field position after a punt, the Bears had to take consolation in a third-down pass defense by end Nick Reed forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal and a 16-6 score.

Closing burst

But then the offense attacked again. Forte carries, including a nifty jump-cut to get outside the left side where he picked up a block from Earl Bennett, set the ball at the Chicago 46. Another well-designed misdirection play got a Cutler pass to Devin Hester on the short right and he twisted his way through the defense all the way across the field and toward the Atlanta end zone.

Hester was forced out of bounds at the Atlanta 1 (the spot was unsuccessfully challenged by the Bears. From there Spaeth caught his first TD pass as a Bear and the Bears led 23-6 with just under 7 minutes to play in the third quarter.

That went to 30-6 three plays later on the Urlacher TD run-in with the recovered Ryan fumble.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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.