Bears' Week 1 in-foe: Pack Smack


Bears' Week 1 in-foe: Pack Smack

So said Bears Head Coach John Fox Monday approaching his first taste of the NFL's oldest rivalry, on Kickoff Sunday vs. the Packers. It came in response to counterpart Mike McCarthy's uncharacteristic proclamation at a civic event last week that his team would "kick Chicago's ass."

You can't blame McCarthy for feeling confident, with his team showing no signs of slowing down its dominance in the series, having won 11 of the last 13 meetings. But prior to that, McCarthy had been the classy victor. It makes one wonder if expectations, and pressure, in Green Bay may have factored into his chest-thumping. There was the NFC Championship meltdown in Seattle, which they'll host in a rematch in Week 2. There's the season-ending injury to Jordy Nelson. And there's the three consecutive seasons of 1-2 starts.

If the Bears are as healthy as possible, combine those factors with any tricks Vic Fangio may have up his sleeve with his new defense, and this could be as good a time as any to jump up and surprise the arch-rival. For what it's worth, McCarthy may have recognized the error of his potential bulletin board material (whether it matters or not) Monday.

"I don't really talk to our football team the way I talk to the Chamber of Commerce," the 10th-year head coach said. "It was all in fun, but I think it's really an example of why you shouldn't say things like that in public. ... I'm sure a lot of worse is said in private about opposing teams and so forth, but it's with great respect."

[MORE: 1-on-1 with John Fox: How Bears coach sees his team, 2015 season]

The Bears may not see it that way. The question is whether they can do anything about it, especially facing a quarterback who threw 10 touchdowns against them in two meetings a year ago, and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers collected half of that total in a span of less than 16 1/2 minutes.

Fangio's defenses have never lost to Rodgers. But that was working with 49ers personnel, not the group he's trying to adjust to a new scheme, is without its best lineman, and features a safety tandem consisting of a fifth-round rookie and a veteran who struggled through the preseason.

After the Packers made the wise decision to re-sign free agent Randall Cobb, he'll be playing with a bum shoulder - if he plays at all - and 4/5 of an offensive line that started all but one game together a year ago were slowed by injuries late in the preseason. It's a group that's helped spring Eddie Lacy for over 2,300 yards rushing his first two seasons.

Still, Rodgers' weapons usually grow up faster than most teams (especially against the Bears), from second-year wideouts Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, to rookie third-round pick Ty Montgomery. And they brought back veteran James Jones Monday after the Raiders released him following a 73-catch campaign and the Giants did the same after a 15-catch preseason. If there are any health or production issues with the Bears' wide receivers Sunday, the sting will be deeper if Jones has a good game.

Dom Capers has certainly had answers for Jay Cutler and the Bears since taking over the Packers' defense the year Cutler arrived here. Can Adam Gase find ways to counter that with the weapons he has? And what weapons will he have as the wide receiver health mystery stretches into Wednesday's injury report? How will Cutler be protected, and by whom? If Kyle Long's kicked outside to tackle, is he ready for Julius Peppers? If he remains inside, B.J. Raji is back, though the Pack's line is weakened somewhat by suspensions to fellow tackle Letroy Guion and end Datone Jones.

[RELATED: Bears’ front seven mix points to need for Vic Fangio creativity]

Then there's always an eye, and an answer, needed for Clay Matthews.

General manager Ted Thompson invested his top two draft picks in defensive backs after allowing two of his top three cornerbacks to get paid elsewhere in free agency, but Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix remain in place.

Remember Ron Zook, Illini fans (who probably would've taken him back over Tim Beckman)? He now runs special teams up north after McCarthy cut loose good friend Shawn Slocum after the late Seattle meltdown in January. Those units struggled in general throughout the preseason.

But in the end, if there are any designs of overcoming the four-time reigning NFC North champs, Ryan Pace and Fox will have to match what Thompson and McCarthy do best: draft. A remarkable 43 of the 53 players on the roster through Monday were there at season's end on that long ride home from the NFC title game. Thompson also wasted no time acknowledging his mistakes on the final roster selections this past weekend, cutting 2014 third- and fourth-rounders Khyri Thornton and Carl Bradford.

The Bears are about to embark on a season of learning what the coaching staff can compensate for and develop what it has, and what it cannot. There's perhaps no greater measuring stick than the first team they face.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the season ahead, Bears fans!]


A moment, now, for a couple of events for your attention this Thursday night, September 10 (if you don't feel like watching the start of the Tom Brady Revenge Tour against the Steelers).

The Bears are continuing a busy Back to Football Week with their Second Annual Super Bears Shuffle 5K, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Soldier Field. If you feel like some exercise with some of the fellow Faithful, there's still room to register. Get more info here.

If you're in the southern suburbs, you can attend a very worthwhile cause from 6 to 11 p.m. at CD & ME in Frankfort. An event that started in the backyard of a friend four years ago to raise money to help build custom-built "smart" homes for catastrophically-disabled veterans has grown to a dining and live music experience that could draw upwards of 1,000 people Thursday night, tentatively including Governor Bruce Rauner. Our fellow citizens who've paid a heavy price serving our country are subject to lengthy waiting lists and astronomic costs for their daily needs to be addressed.

The Bears and other Chicago sports teams have chipped in with auction items. If you buy a ticket and join in on the fun, maybe I'll see you out there. But any assistance for our bravest brethren goes to a wonderful cause. You can learn more here.

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry


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'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.