Bears

Can the Eagles save the Bears from themselves?

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Can the Eagles save the Bears from themselves?

Monday, Dec. 27, 2010
1:54 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Philadelphia Eagles can do the Bears a favor by winning Tuesday night. They may be saving the Bears from themselves.

Some teams benefit from bye weeks in playoffs. The Lovie Smith Bears are not one of them. If the Eagles lose, the Bears will have the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which is good, and they would have it in advance of their final game, which is not good.

A little background setup here first:

A Philadelphia win over the Minnesota Vikings in the special weather-induced Tuesday Night Football event is in fact pretty likely. The Vikings have (literally) been traveling around with a thundercloud hanging over them and dumping snow and worse all over them the past few weeks. The dome collapse forced them over to Detroit and a thrashing by the New York Giants (insert joke here).

Then the Bears hang 40 points last Monday night despite Drama Queen Bretts Willis Reed impersonation with the can-you-believe-hes-going-to-start?! Nonsense. Now the perfect storm plays out with the postponement out east.

All of which makes Minnesota that perfect Bears partner.

By losing to the Eagles, the Vikings would ensure that next Sundays flexd Bears game will matter for the Bears quest for a first-round bye in the playoffs. Perversely, this is a good thing, because the Bears have not handled these situations, where because of byes you can rest key players in final regular-season games, at all well recently under Lovie Smith.

The Bears had a first-round bye clinched in 2005, rested Rex Grossman and others against Minnesota, had their week off and then couldnt get the engines re-started in The Great Steve Smith Embarrassment in the divisional round.

In 2006 the Bears rested players in a meaningless sleepwalk against (coincidentally) Green Bay. Then, again they could not get find the On switch after their week off and needed two fourth-quarter defensive stops and overtime to escape at home against the Seattle Seahawks, a team they had beaten 37-6, at home, in the regular season.

The bye week is a good thing. The early clinch and resting players is decidedly not. (And repeating a clarification from earlier this season: The Bears have not had a bye week yet. What they had back in October was an off week. A bye is when you advance in a tournament, like the NFL playoffs).

Predictably perhaps, Smith doesnt see the pitfalls and perils of taking his foot off the gas in last regular-season games.

I think we kept the pedal down then, he said. In 05, we lost. In 06, we went through the same schedule and we won. Either way, you can get the job done. I think the 06 team was better, and thats why we won. I think it still comes down to that.

But that actually makes my point. The 06 team was better, yet barely defeated a team it had previously destroyed.

Still, Smith has lived by things like rotations of players and limits on contact as ways of keeping players fresh, and thats worked pretty well. So hes not likely to deviate from the fresh guys approach at this point.

I think by resting a few guys, I dont think you all of a sudden -- if guys get 20 less plays or something like that in a game -- that all of a sudden they stop playing good football, he reasoned. I just dont see it that way. If we were in a position where we didnt play our guys the entire game, I dont think that has a whole lot to do with what would happen that next week.

Well see. The Eagles can take the issue out of Smiths hands Tuesday night, and they might be doing him a favor ultimately.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Takeaways from Bears ‘18 coordinators: Mitch Trubisky affecting more than offense, kudos to hiring process

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USA TODAY

Takeaways from Bears ‘18 coordinators: Mitch Trubisky affecting more than offense, kudos to hiring process

Head coach Matt Nagy conducted his first press conference on Thursday, introducing the coordinators for his three phases (Mark Helfrich, offense; Vic Fangio, defense; Chris Tabor, special teams). The session was predictably short on hard news, given that the hirings were just completed within the last several days, but some takeaways were there to be had, ranging from impressions to firmer indications of some directions the post-John Fox Bears may be trending:

Mitch Trubisky is going to be one seriously coached young quarterback.

Nagy is a former quarterback. Helfrich is a former quarterback. And the Bears are expected to bring back quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, per Brad Biggs over at the Tribune; “Rags,” as his charges have dubbed him, is a former quarterback.

Forgive Trubisky is he develops neck problems nodding at all the advice he might be getting from three guys who by their quarterback training pretty much have had to know everything about their offenses. But it is a whole lotta QB mindset swirling around the young man.

The coaching corps is still sorting out exactly who does what, which will involve the hands-on coaching of Trubisky. “We’re finishing out the staff,” Helfrich said, “and once we have that, then we’ll start to kind of slot in those responsibilities.”

This kind of concentration of coaches from a similar background is actually a little unusual, the current vogue notwithstanding. Carson Wentz did bloom in his year two under a Philadelphia Eagles staff topped by former quarterbacks Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. And the Los Angeles Rams loosed Jared Goff’s talents with an all-former-quarterback triumvirate in Sean McVay, OC Matt LaFleur and QB coach Greg Olson.

But just for comparison’s sake, back in Kansas City, Nagy mentor Andy Reid was an offensive lineman at BYU. Down in New Orleans, Sean Payton is a former quarterback, but OC Pete Carmichael went through college on a baseball scholarship and QB coach Joe Lombardi was a college tight end, so Drew Brees hasn’t been info-swamped. Bill Belichick was a center and tight end, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy was a college tight end and Case Keenum has flourished under former offensive lineman Pat Shurmur.

Helfrich has been on the job exactly one week and already has done some advanced evaluation of Trubisky, with an eye toward inevitable comparisons with Marcus Mariota, who starred at Oregon while Helfrich was a member of that staff.

“I see a lot [of similarities],” Helfrich said. “Mitchell has a tight release. He’s an accurate passer. They also have a couple things similar that makes them inaccurate. Their feet take them out of position. I sense from talking to a couple of offensive linemen, and this was unsolicited, when your offensive linemen are talking about how hard your quarterback works, that’s a great sign. So he needs to do that and continue to challenge himself and improve."

Football involves ego but not always to a fault

Keeping Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator may not rank yet with the organization retaining Buddy Ryan in that job when Mike Ditka was hired, but some intangibles make this a very big deal and reflect well on a spectrum of individuals.

GM Ryan Pace interviewed but didn’t elevate Fangio to the head-coaching slot. Yet whatever was said during the interview process didn’t alienate or create awkwardness for Fangio or whomever was hired ultimately. Point for Pace. Players made their feelings abundantly clear that they wanted Fangio back, and Fangio did not let a 20-year age difference between Nagy and himself ruin a good thing. Points to a lot of folks.

“I like our [players],” Fangio said. “I think I said it here during the season at a point that I really like coaching the group that we have. My favorite time during the week was being in front of them like I’m in front of you and going over practice watching the opponents’ tape, installing the plan for the week. I really liked being in front of our guys. They’re a good group collectively and as individuals and that part was appealing to me.”

And while Ditka and Ryan barely spoke, relationships in this administration have a different air.

“I am going to be in Vic’s office a lot,” Helfrich said. “He’s going to be annoyed by me trying to get in his head and know what might help me transition from college to the NFL. I would be an idiot if I didn’t walk 24 feet down and ask a guy like that.”

A “Trubisky factor” may be in the offing

Free agents have taken less money to sign elsewhere, as recently as last season. Alshon Jeffery wanted out of Chicago, not so much for the weather (Philadelphia is less than 2 degrees lower latitude than Chicago and not many degrees warmer on average) as for the Bears never getting quarterback and offensive consistency that could max out his talents.

Trubisky already has started to have a positive impact. “Mitchell is a part of the equation,” Fangio said of his own decision to return as coordinator. “Because I think he has a chance to be a really good player, regardless of who is coaching him. So that part was positive.”

And that’s from a defensive guy.

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio took the podium at Halas Hall on Thursday after coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fielded questions for about 30 minutes, and began his press confernece with a classic quip. 

“Alright, let’s continue this lovefest,” Fangio said. 

For a Bears team coming off a 5-11 season — the fourth consecutive double-digit loss season for the franchise — there’s been plenty of positivity pinging around Halas Hall since Nagy was hired last week. But Fangio showed up with a reality check on Thursday, at least as it relates to the defense he’ll return to coach for a fourth year. 

“There’s no doubt strides were made," Fangio said. “Not enough. I think it’s a wrong picture to paint that the defense was great and the rest of the team wasn’t. We were 5-11. 

“If we were a great defense we’d have more than five wins. There’s a lot of room for improvement there — a lot — and we need to do that.”

The Bears opted for continuity in enticing Fangio to return to coach their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense and 9th in points last year, but was 14th in defensive DVOA. This was a good, not great defense that won the Bears a few games (most notably, the 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers) but struggled at times, too. 

A great defense? That’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars, which on the back of one of the league’s best pass rushes and secondaries has vaulted Blake Bortles into the AFC Championship game. A great defense wouldn’t have let Brett Hundley post a 110.8 passer rating against it in Week 10; a great defense wouldn’t have allowed Matthew Stafford to scythe through it on two occasions. 

And that Fangio — who’s generally honest and brings a no-B.S. attitude to his press conferences — acknowledged that eight and a half months before the 2018 season starts was refreshing to hear. It’s almost been easy to forget the Bears lost their 11th and final game of the 2017 season less than three weeks ago with a new, young, offensive-minded coach stepping into Halas Hall. 

There will be plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball — possibly an entirely different receiver corps than was regularly on the field in 2017 — but the defense will have some consistency, starting with Fangio and extending to his defensive coaches, who he said Thursday he expects to be back. This is a group that needs more talent at edge rusher and cornerback, but Fangio is more concerned with developing the guys who are already here — and were why this was a “good” defense last year. 

“Guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. 

“So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

And that approach — more so than his lengthy experience in the NFL — is why retaining Fangio made so much sense for the Bears. Nobody knows the strengths and flaws of the Bears’ defense better than Fangio; and keeping Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Jackson etc., in the same scheme with the same coordinator and same coaches gives this Bears’ defense the best chance to go from being “good” to great.