Bears

Bears Week 1 grades: Long looks needed for Mike Glennon, secondary

Bears Week 1 grades: Long looks needed for Mike Glennon, secondary

Quarterbacks: C+

Credit is due for Mike Glennon given what he did on the Bears’ final drive, even if it didn’t get in the end zone. With Atlanta head-scratchingly playing plenty of off coverage against an offense that barely tried to stretch the field throughout the game, Glennon took what was given and marched the Bears within five yards of the end zone with time running out. And Glennon, for what it’s worth, could’ve been a hero had Jordan Howard not dropped his pass and backed into the end zone on second-and-goal (more on that later). 

Another point in Glennon’s favor: Not only was he not intercepted on Sunday, he didn’t make any cringe-worthy throws that could’ve easily been picked off. 

But the Bears’ offense until late in the fourth quarter was “fine” at best, save for some flashes of brilliance from Tarik Cohen (again, more on him in a bit). Glennon was 7/9 for 41 yards at halftime, and the Bears ran 20 plays between completed passes at one point during the second and third quarters. 

Running backs: A-

Tarik Cohen was outstanding, sparking the Bears’ offense with a 46-yard scamper and a 19-yard touchdown when the team needed it the most (both those big plays came after Atlanta had scored a touchdown). Jordan Howard had 52 yards on 13 carries, but his drop on the 1-yard line of a possible game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter lowers this unit's grade a bit. 

Wide receivers: D-

This unit was targeted by Glennon only two more times (14) than Cohen (12) was, and the only deep ball Glennon threw was to the speedy rookie running back. The production just wasn’t there for this group, which combined to catch nine passes for 82 yards as it struggled to get open on deeper routes. Kevin White, prior to his injury, had a rough drop on a quick slant. Saving this group from an F: Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy combined for four catches and 45 yards — so about half the unit’s total production — on the Bears’ final drive. 

Tight Ends: C

Zach Miller received the second most targets of any player (six) and had four catches for 39 yards, and Dion Sims caught two passes for 31 yards. This unit can be better, especially with the Bears possibly without their top two receivers in White and Cameron Meredith, but also didn’t do a lot wrong on Sunday. 

Offensive line: C-

Even if you allow for Glennon missing a protection here or there, the offensive line bears the most responsibility for the four sacks Atlanta totaled. None were more important than the last one, when Brooks Reed raced around Bobby Massie to sack Glennon (Massie, arguably, wasn’t overtly beat on it, but Glennon didn’t have room to step up — overall, the Falcons were able to sustain good pressure on the play). 

Cody Whitehair committed two penalties that put the Bears behind the sticks, which was a tough place for an offense lacking the ability to stretch the field, and a low snap while Glennon was in the gun led to a wasted play in the fourth quarter. There shouldn’t be a long-term concern about this unit — especially when Kyle Long returns — but it struggled at times on Sunday. 

Defensive line: A-

Akiem Hicks had two sacks, Roy Robertson-Harris generated some good pressure and batted down a pass and this group led the effort to hold Devonta Freeman to only 37 yards on 12 carries. Hicks in particular played at an elite level a day after signing a four-year contract extension, though the roughing the passer foul he committed in the third quarter led to a Falcons field goal. 

Linebackers: B-

This unit was the other half of the equation to stopping the highest paid running back in the NFL, with Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan both doing well to mute the run. Freeman did well in covering tight end Levine Toilolo late in the fourth quarter, preventing what would’ve been a game-clinching touchdown. Leonard Floyd didn’t get much pressure on Matt Ryan but broke up a pass and was solid as a tackler. 

Defensive backs: C-

The Bears allowed an 88-yard touchdown pass, and Austin Hooper’s 40-yard gain on third-and-10 late in the fourth quarter was rough (Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson missed tackles on that play). On the 88-yard score, the Bears were still getting set right up to the snap, and it looked like linebacker Jerrell Freeman thought he could hand off Hooper to a safety, but Quintin Demps went toward the far sideline to help Fuller with Julio Jones, leaving Hooper wide open over the middle. After the game, Demps took responsibility for the broken coverage. 

This grade isn’t completely ruined by those plays, though, because Marcus Cooper and Fuller combined to do well in limiting Julio Jones to four catches for 66 yards — and Matt Ryan only looked Jones’ way five times during the game. Even if Jones was merely a decoy on some snaps, that’s still a solid showing for these DBs against one of the best receivers in the NFL. Not only did Cooper and Fuller throw plenty of different looks Jones’ way, but they succeeded in making those looks successful. An example: with Atlanta facing a third-and-goal from the 10-yad line, Fuller re-routed Jones and took him out of a play that ended with an incompletion. Another one: Cooper came awfully close to a pick six in the fourth quarter when he aggressively jumped a throw toward Jones, settling for a pass break-up. 

Nickel Bryce Callahan deserves a mention for solid coverage and, on a blitz, drawing the attention of right tackle Ryan Schraeder, which freed up Hicks to envelop Ryan for his second sack of the game.

Special teams: B

Connor Barth tied a career high with a 54-yard field goal, his only non-PAT attempt of the game, but it’s enough to boost this grade. Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff late in the fourth quarter that the Bears, fortunately, recovered. 

Coaching: B

This was a relatively clean game for the Bears penalty-wise, though the three committed (two on Whitehair, one on Hicks) certainly hurt. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains deserves praise for hiding Cohen during preseason play — he wasn’t even targeted in three games — and unleashing him against a Falcons defense that looked caught off guard by the running back’s skillset at times. And the Bears responded well to Atlanta delivering what were two gut-check touchdowns, equalizing the game at 10 after Atlanta scored in the second quarter and getting within three points after the 88-yard calamity in the fourth. 

Perhaps Fox should’ve called timeout with the defense struggling to get aligned properly before Hooper’s touchdown, but he said after the game it wasn’t clear the coverage was going to be a problem until after the play began. 

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.