Bears

Bears Week 3 grades: Offensive line, running backs lead the way for first win

Bears Week 3 grades: Offensive line, running backs lead the way for first win

Quarterbacks: D+

The Bears didn’t ask much of Mike Glennon, with the 22 passes he threw accounting for just 101 yards. The red zone interception he threw was bad, with him either woefully throwing behind tight end Zach Miller or not being on the same page as the tight end, who cut outside instead of sitting down (Glennon, if this were the case, was expecting him to sit down). Either way, that’s another mistake on Glennon’s season resume. 

Glennon might’ve had an opportunity to connect with Markus Wheaton on a deep ball in the first quarter but wasn’t able to move away from pressure quick enough and was forced to throw the ball away. He did make a good throw deep down the sideline to Wheaton later in the game, but that pass was dropped. 

Glennon also almost threw a catastrophic interception in Bears territory with just over a minute left, but it was dropped by safety Mike Mitchell. 

Running backs: A

Jordan Howard, playing through a reported sprained AC joint, continually hit the holes created for him by the Bears’ offensive line and was dangerous in the second level. Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t threatened by any deep passes, so they were able to play up and scheme against the run, but Howard (23 touchdowns, 138 yards, two TDs) was outstanding. Howard also caught all five passes thrown his way for 26 yards. 

And then there’s Tarik Cohen, who ripped off a 36-yard run in overtime that nearly was a game-winning 73-yard run (he thought he stayed in bounds, replays were inconclusive and left the call on the field to stand). Cohen finished with 78 yards on 12 carries and also caught four passes for 24 yards. Add in the three receptions for 23 yards from Benny Cunningham and the Bears’ running backs combined for 35 carries, 216 yards, 13 receptions and 73 yards.

The only thing keeping this group from an A+ was Howard’s fumble in the third quarter, which gave the Steelers the ball deep in Bears territory. That was a mistake, but Howard was so good the rest of the game that he largely covered for it. 

Wide receivers: D+

The negatives from this unit are clear: Glennon targeted his receivers only four times, with Wheaton dropping a deep ball and Deonte Thompson recording the first catch by a receiver with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Wheaton dropped a pass over the middle late in the first quarter, too, but was bailed out on the box score by a roughing the passer penalty. The limitations this group faces with Glennon as the team’s quarterback and Cameron Meredith and Kevin White were clear on Sunday. The Bears only ran 22 snaps with three wide receivers on the field. 

A positive, though: Thompson’s outstanding block on Howard’s walk-off touchdown in overtime. This group as a whole contributed in run blocking, raising their grade from a low D/F to a high D. 

Tight Ends: B

Adam Shaheen caught his first career pass for a two-yard touchdown and Zach Miller’s lone reception was the Bears’ longest completion of the game (17 yards). But while this group didn’t make much of an impact in the passing game, it did well to contribute to the Bears’ run blocking efforts as Dowell Loggains deployed plenty of two- and three-tight end sets. Dion Sims, in particular, did well blocking to set up Howard's penultimate run of the game. 

Offensive line: A

This wasn’t a perfect game from the Bears’ offensive line, but given the circumstances — without Josh Sitton and, during the game, losing Hroniss Grasu to a hand injury that forced Bradley Sowell in at left guard — its play was outstanding. Kyle Long’s return was noticeable, with the three-time Pro Bowler mauling in the run game. Charles Leno Jr., Cody Whitehair and Bobby Massie all blocked well for Howard and Cohen, and fill-ins Grasu and Sowell held their own. Howard and Cohen combined to average 6.2 yards per carry and frequently got to the second level, as good a sign as any that the offensive line did its job blocking on a play. 

Defensive line: B

The defensive line didn’t record a sack, but Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman were key in holding Le’Veon Bell to only 61 yards on 15 carries. The Bears never trailed on Sunday, and the tone for the game was set by the defense holding Pittsburgh to 1.7 yards per play in the first quarter. 

Linebackers: A-

Sunday was another quiet day for Leonard Floyd in the backfield, who had a shot a Ben Roethlisberger but couldn’t hit home. Both Pernell McPhee and Willie Young recorded key sacks in the fourth quarter, though. McPhee was active in stopping the run as he continues to see more snaps (four in Week 1, 24 in Week 2, 28 in Week 3) and put being on PUP during training camp behind him.  

Secondary: B

There were plenty of negatives from this group, but the positives out-weighed those. Let’s start with the negatives: Marcus Cooper was beat by Martavis Bryant on the first play of the game, but the Steelers receiver dropped Roethlisberger’s deep heave. Kyle Fuller missed a handful of tackles. Antonio Brown had too easy a time gaining 45 yards on two receptions to set up Pittsburgh’s field goal attempt at the end of the first half. And Cooper’s holding foul on Brown in the end zone on third and 1 set up an easy touchdown that brought Pittsburgh within three points midway through the third quarter. 

But the positives: Good coverage allowed Bryce Callahan to hit home with a strip-sack on Roethlisberger. Prince Amukamara played well in his return, breaking up a pass in the end zone toward JuJu Smith-Schuster, and was the only Bears’ cornerback to not be flagged for a penalty during the game. Cooper had three pass break-ups — all of which came after his special teams gaffe — and nearly recorded his first interception of the season. 

Overall, while Brown got his (14 targets, 10 receptions, 110 yards, 1 TD), the Bears’ secondary successfully limited Smith-Schuster and Bryant to a combined four catches on 14 targets for 69 yards. 

Special teams: C-

If we’re breaking this down a little further, Sherrick McManis gets an A+ and everyone gets gets an F. McManis beat the man across him to get in a perfect position to recover Eli Rogers’ dropped punt in the first quarter, and his field goal block at the end of the second half was the kind of thing that’ll get him to Orlando for the Pro Bowl again. His impact on a six-point win was significant. 

But the rest of this group made far too many critical mistakes to make up for how good McManis played. Connor Barth missed a 47-yard field goal that would’ve put the Bears up 10-0 in the first half, and Cre’von LeBlanc committed a holding penalty that gave Pittsburgh an extra 10 yards on a kickoff return. Pat O’Donnell had a punt bounce the wrong way, leading to Pittsburgh getting the ball on their own 38 with just over five minutes remaining. 

And then with Cooper, that’s the kind of mistake that gets people fired and loses you games. Fortunately for the Bears, it didn’t cost them a win. But if it did…yikes. 

Coaching: C+

High marks are deserved for coordinators Dowell Loggains and Vic Fangio. The Bears’ offense leaned on the run and designed some good blocking schemes to get Howard going early and often (the Bears called for 12 runs and only two passes on the game’s first two drives, and then didn’t pass the ball at all in overtime). While the defense didn’t blitz much, it shut down the run game and made enough plays in coverage against a potent passing attack and only allowed one extended scoring drive (a 13-play, 77-yard drive in the second quarter). 

But there were too many penalties committed in critical moments, like Leno’s false start on the untimed down from the one-yard line at the end of the first half. Undisciplined play — like those penalties and Cooper easing up and fumbling before the goal line — falls on the coaching staff, which drags this grade down. 

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.