Bears

Bears Week 6 in-foe: A Motown mess

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Bears Week 6 in-foe: A Motown mess

Can Ndamukong Suh mean so much? And the way things are going for both since their divorce, might they want to turn back the clock, take their chances, and continue the relationship?

It would be unwise for the Bears, after two hard-fought, undermanned victories, to think they can walk into Motown, simply throw their pads on the field and beat the 0-5 Lions. The playoff team from last year is beaten down, and probably angry as the Bears eye their bye week with a potential (and improbable) 3-3 record. You can bet John Fox and his coaching staff will be emphasizing the need to be ready, and fight as hard as they have the past two weeks to avoid a two-week-long bad taste. We'll see if the pupils follow those orders in a game there for the taking, but one they'll need to earn — especially early against a desperate Detroit team. Things were just fine for the first quarter-and-a-half of their opener in San Diego, exploding to a 21-3 lead. Then they lost, 33-28. More recently, it's a team that played like the stunning disappointment of their Monday night loss-from-the-jaws-of-victory at Seattle a little more than a week ago lingered six days later.

OFFENSE

The "Hot Mess" starts with an offense that's averaging 49 yards rushing per game. That's 20 yards fewer than the NFL's second-worst unit on the ground, Suh's Dolphins. Over the past four drafts, the Lions have used two first-round picks and two third-rounders on their offensive line. The results on the ground thus far certainly haven't warranted the investment. After running for 860 yards and catching 34 passes last season, it seemed as if all Joique Bell needed was a change-of-pace sub. They seemingly got that in the second round last April in Ameer Abdullah. Bell has missed the last two games with an ankle injury after "gaining" 22 yards on 20 carries the first three weeks, and they haven't committed to Abdullah (40 carries, 132 yards). It got to the point in Sunday's blowout home loss to Arizona that they handed off ten times to undrafted free agent Zach Zenner of South Dakota State, compared to six for Abdullah.

[MORE BEARS: How Adam Gase's 'plan' for Bears QB Jay Cutler is working]

One of the problems with finishing 0-16 (in 2008) without a franchise quarterback is whether you "reach" for one with the top overall pick. Detroit may have done that with Matthew Stafford. Things looked good in 2011, when he threw for over 5,000 yards. But that bar has been difficult to reach since, and has declined each of the past three years, to the point it seems Stafford's been standing in place since. This year's been a step back, for several reasons. But his eight interceptions (against six touchdown passes) leads the NFL, and his 74.8 passer rating ranks 33rd (albeit a notch above Andrew Luck). Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi thought his first year with Stafford was too conservative, and vowed to be more risky, taking shots downfield. It's shot them in the foot so far.

Calvin Johnson isn't battling the ankle problems that plagued him all of last season, but just one of his 32 catches have gone for a touchdown. Golden Tate caught 99 balls a year ago while Megatron limped around, and has 26 through five games (with no TD's) this season. 2014 first-round pick Eric Ebron disappointed as a rookie (25-248, TD in 13 games), and had 15 grabs through the first four games this season, but injured his knee two weeks ago at Seattle and that kept him out of the Cardinals game.

DEFENSE

Here's The Suh Factor:  They've sunk from 2nd to 22nd in overall defense from a year ago. The top run defense (69 yards a game) is now 27th (126.6). The pass defense has dipped five spots to 18th so far this season.

[MORE BEARS: Frustration growing around injury status of Alshon Jeffery]

Making matters worse, the unsung hero, weakside linebacker DeAndre Levy could be done for the year. Head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday he'd leave that in doctors' hands after last season's second-leading tackler in the NFL (first in solos) missed the first four games with a hip injury. He tried coming back Sunday, then left after 17 snaps when he re-aggravated it. Josh Bynes has done his best attempting to fill Levy's shoes.

Suh wasn't the lone departure up front. Nick Fairley joined St. Louis' deep D-Line, while rotation guys C.J. Mosely and George Johnson were also allowed to leave. One of the replacements, former Saint Tyrunn Walker, is already done for the year due to injury. The bright spot up front has been 2013 first-rounder Ziggy Ansah (who concussed Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 last December), who's tied for the league lead with five sacks. He'll be Charles Leno Jr.'s next challenge. But Haloti Ngata (the five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle acquired from Baltimore to replace Suh),  has had trouble staying on the field at age 31. After missing all of training camp with a hamstring pull, he sat out last weekend with a calf injury sustained six days earlier in Seattle.

The safety tandem of Pro Bowler Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo certainly benefited a year ago from that up-front dominance, combining for 11 interceptions. The entire secondary has three thus far (including a Quin pick-six), and, with the help of Sunday's six turnovers, is minus-five in that ratio.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

SPECIAL TEAMS

While the Bears units settled down Sunday in Kansas City versus one of the elite overall units in the league run by Dave Toub (and actually "won," considering Pernell McPhee's blocked field goal), they'll need to be spot-on in kickoff coverage. That's where Abdullah's been his most dangerous thus far, ranking second with a 31.6 average. Amazingly, through five games, the Lions have attempted just three field goals, with Matt Prater connecting each time, the longest from 41 yards.

*Get the latest from Bears practice during the week with Dan Jiggetts and Chris Boden. Tune in Wednesday's at 4:30 p.m. for "Bears Huddle," when you'll hear from John Fox, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and several players. Then come back Thursday at 4 p.m. this week for "Bears Blitz," with the latest from Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Jay Cutler and a handful of other players, previewing Sunday's matchup in Detroit*

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

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USA TODAY

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 NFL.com'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.