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. 

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.