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. 

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

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.