Bears

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

John Fox’s hopes for this preseason game No. 3 actually were fairly modest: show improvement. The Bears gave their coach pretty much the exact opposite in a dismal 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which wasn’t really even as close as that score.

Tellingly perhaps, Fox was moderately damning with faint praise: “I don’t think it was all bad,” Fox said. “It might have looked like that but so do a lot of preseason games.”

And any presumed correlation between Saturday’s woeful performance and how the season may be a stretch. Five of the last six times the Bears have lost their third preseason game, they finished .500 or better, last year’s 34-6 drubbing at Cincinnati being the lone time the game-three result foreshadowed the course of the season.

But Fox was accurate in how the 2016 game-three loss looked. With quarterback Jay Cutler and the No. 1 one offense – or what was healthy of it – played into the third quarter, by which time the Chiefs were leading 20-0, had out-gained the Bears 331-94 and had allowed the Bears into plus-territory just once in seven possessions and with the Bears picking up zero first downs on five of the seven “drives.”

“It was good and bad, like anything else,” Cutler said.

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Concerning perhaps, while not easily quantifiable from a distance, the play by too many players looked lethargic and disinterested, whether it was the cause or the result of repeated breakdowns that killed Chicago drives and extended Kansas City ones. Whether success grows out of confidence or confidence follows from success is a relevant question but one that really doesn’t matter until the Bears have at least one or the other.

“I’ve never had a problem, whether it was all of last year or this year, as far as effort,” Fox said. “Our guys try hard and work hard. Now it’s just crossing that gap to having it happen under pressure. I think with young people sometimes that’s the growing pains. We’ve got the talent to do it. Now we’ve just got to execute better."

Cutler appeared frustrated on more than one occasion, which in the past has been a source of problems. Some of it clearly was with teammates and failed assignments. But this is a young Bears team still in a molten state and frustration, even when justified, can be an accelerant for tension.

This is still only preseason, but the critical trust relationship between Cutler and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is still a work in progress. The No. 1 offense has done less than nothing – 29 total points from 12 quarters of work – other than a brief burst early in New England. History suggests that Cutler is among those who need success to believe in his chief architect, and if Cutler’s attitude is fraying even a little bit, the danger is that it spread without something positive.

“We’ve got a great attitude,” Cutler insisted. “We’ve got a good team. Coach Fox put together a heck of a staff. Dowell and his staff are doing everything possible. Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] is a proven vet… . It’s just up to the guys.”

[RELATED: Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games]

The game was one of the poorer examples of complementary football, with no phase of the Bears – offense, defense, special teams – doing anything remotely setting up another in field position, momentum or whatever. That is unsettling, since it is unusual for a game to be marked by none of a team’s units performing well.

The offense went without a first down on its final four possessions going into halftime. That was capped off by an abysmal final three trips to the line of scrimmage that produced a false-start penalty, incomplete pass to a wide-open receiver and a sack.

The defense, which wasn’t getting much recovery time from those brief series, failed to stop any of the Chiefs’ possessions through three quarters without at least one first down. The Chiefs had six drives of 40 yards or longer and had the ball approaching 30 minutes to the Bears’ 15 through three quarters.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points, but the Chiefs had three different punt returners with at least one runback of 10 yards or longer.

As far as what might be positive in all of that: “It IS preseason,” Fox stated.

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.