Bears

For defensive players, rules change overdue

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For defensive players, rules change overdue

The NFL owners meetings have addressed a number of rules changes, as per annual custom, and among them is one involving safety of defensive players, too often disregarded.

The concept of defenseless players is usually applied to receivers stretching to make a catch. But now it is being expanded to include defensive players against crackback blocks to the head and neck.

One of the loud grievances voiced by defensive players is how the preponderance of concern is given to the offense by a league seeking to protect points-producers. Now it is illegal to deliver a blow to the head or neck of a defenseless defender, to go with it being already illegal to deliver a crackback blow to the knees.

Overprotective? No. These are life-altering hits in a sport filled with enough of them already. And the league sends a statement to its defensive players that their safety counts, too, which a number of them have long seriously doubted.

Several other measures of note came up for decisions as well:

No more one-possession OT games. The playoff test for according both teams scoring opportunities in overtime was judged a success and now it will apply in regular-season games. A team can win outright with a kickoff return for a TD but not a field goal, without the opposing team having a possession to answer.

Replay for all turnovers. Turnovers are the single biggest determinant of game outcomes. Now they will all be given a look to confirm. Ideally that happens quickly but now it will commence without an unnecessary stall for coaches to hear from their own booths and throwing the red flag.

Replay stays with field officials. The notion was advanced to have all decisions reside with an official in the replay booth. The final call will stay with the referee on the field, where it ultimately belongs.

After critical missed field goal, Bears waive Connor Barth and sign former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos

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USA TODAY

After critical missed field goal, Bears waive Connor Barth and sign former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos

After Connor Barth's critical missed field-goal try in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions, the Bears moved on to a new option at kicker.

The team announced Monday afternoon that it waived Barth and signed former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.

Santos, a Tulane product who the Bears met with just last week, spent parts of the past four seasons with the Chiefs, including three games earlier this season. Santos has made 89 of his 105 field-goal attempts in his career and 125 of his 130 extra-point tries.

Santos was waived by the Chiefs earlier this season after being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. He was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals and a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points in the three games he played with the Chiefs earlier this season.

Barth's accuracy was a problem throughout his season and a half with the Bears, but perhaps no miss was bigger than what happened Sunday. After Mitch Trubisky drove the Bears into position for a game-tying field goal, Barth's 46-yard attempt with eight seconds left was far right, and the Bears lost the game 27-24.

In two seasons with the Bears, Barth missed 10 field-goal tries in 26 games. He was 11-for-16 so far in 2017 after going 18-for-23 in 2016.

Bears grades: No rookie 'freebies' for Trubisky, mid-game lulls reflect poorly on coaches

Bears grades: No rookie 'freebies' for Trubisky, mid-game lulls reflect poorly on coaches

QUARTERBACKS: B-

Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line was fine, and merely "fine:" 18/30 (60 percent) for 179 yards and a touchdown, and six rushes for 53 yards and a lost fumble (that turned into a Detroit Lions touchdown). There were some outstanding throws and decisions made by the rookie, like his touchdown toss to Adam Shaheen and his athletic, instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth and 13 in the dying embers of the fourth quarter. But there were too many poor decisions and missed throws — for example, two incompletions were the result of low, inaccurate passes (to Benny Cunningham near the goal line in the first quarter and to Daniel Brown on third and six midway through the third). Trubisky was only sacked once after being dropped 16 times in his previous five games, which was an encouraging improvement. He did some good things but admitted after the game he has to be better, and being a first-year starter isn’t an excuse: “You don’t get a freebie because you’re a rookie,” Trubisky said. 

RUNNING BACKS: A

Jordan Howard sparked a big day with a 50-yard run in the first quarter, and averaged a staggering 8.3 yards per carry (15 attempts, 125 yards). Outside of that explosive run, Howard was efficient and effective, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and getting in the end zone on a well-blocked and well-executed 12-yard run. Tarik Cohen played 31 snaps — he played 31 snaps combined against the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers — and was effective both with the ball in his hands and as a decoy to draw coverage toward him on others. His 15-yard touchdown run and subsequent leap into the end zone tied the game in the fourth quarter, and he caught four of six targets for 44 yards. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

There weren’t any egregious mistakes from this group, but Dontrelle Inman, Kendall Wright, Tre McBride and Markus Wheaton combined for 13 targets, seven receptions and 82 yards. That fewer than half of Trubisky’s pass attempts were intended for his wide receivers is disappointing, yet it's not surprising given the struggles this group has had all year. Inman ran a good in-cut route and connected with Trubisky on it to set up Connor Barth’s missed game-tying field goal, which was the highlight of the day for this unit. 

TIGHT ENDS: B+

Shaheen caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown, and displayed some impressive chemistry with Trubisky, his roommate when he arrived in Chicago in the offseason. The Bears need to continue to involve their second-round pick more in the offense — him not being on the field during that last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter was strange given his production, and the wide receivers' lack of production, in the game — and he blocked up Howard’s 12-yard touchdown run well. Daniel Brown caught two of his five targets for 23 yards, including a 13-yard catch on third and 10 that sprung the Bears’ opening-possession scoring drive in the first quarter. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

This group kept Trubisky upright, allowing only that one sack and scattering four pressures on Trubisky’s 30 pass attempts. But it was the run blocking from this group that stood out: Beyond the explosive ground gains it set up, the Bears only had two negative running plays on Sunday. Dinging the grade here are two penalties on Kyle Long, especially an unnecessary roughness flag that negated a 15-yard Trubisky scramble right before he lost that fumble for a touchdown. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Detroit wasn’t able to run the ball, with Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Agnew combining for 62 yards on 21 carries (a shade under three yards per carry). But the defensive line didn’t do enough to disrupt Matthew Stafford’s rhythm, with Mitch Unrein recording the only sack and one of two hurries (Eddie Goldman had the other) from this unit. 

LINEBACKERS: B

Nick Kwiatkoski made the biggest play of the day for the Bears’ defense with his sack-strip of Stafford in the first quarter, and Christian Jones chipped in with a sack as well (Jones’ sack was key in that it forced the Lions to kick a field goal, keeping the Bears’ deficit within one possession in the fourth quarter). Both inside linebackers played well, the outside guys didn’t make as big of an impact: Leonard Floyd had four tackles, two hurries and one tackle for a loss, Pernell McPhee had three tackles and Sam Acho had one tackle and one hurry. The lack of a pass rush from the guys expected to be pass rushers kept Stafford comfortable in the pocket, allowing him to pick apart a Bears’ secondary that didn’t have its best day on Sunday. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D-

Kyle Fuller missed a tackle on Detroit’s first drive and was benched for Marcus Cooper in the second quarter. Cooper struggled mightily, though, playing too soft of coverage on T.J. Jones on a third-and-15, allowing a conversion that sparked a Lions scoring drive that ended with Marvin Jones burning Cooper with a double move for a 28-yard touchdown. Prince Amukamara was flagged for a pass interference penalty for the second consecutive week, too (last week’s against Green Bay was a questionable penalty at best, to be fair). Fuller re-entered the game and dropped an interception, too. The lack of game-breaking plays and the 120.2 passer rating compiled by Stafford combine to earn this unit the lowest mark on the team from Sunday. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Barth’s missed 46-yard game-tying field goal wiped out some good things Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units did on Sunday. Explosive Lions punt returner Jamal Agnew returned three of Pat O’Donnell’s four punts for only 23 yards, and he averaged 18 1/2 yards on four kick returns. But the Bears, as a team, couldn’t overcome Barth’s miss — and at the start of that drive, Cohen probably should’ve taken a knee in the end zone instead of returning the kickoff from five yards deep in his own end zone to the Bears’ 17-yard line. 

COACHING: D+

Dowell Loggains opened up the playbook for Trubisky (and Cohen), and the result was the Bears’ best offensive effort of the year. At times, this looked like a completely different offense than the one the Bears’ ran in the first 10 weeks of the season, with some zone reads, plenty of shotgun snaps and well-designed plays to spring a 24-point effort. But as John Fox said after the game, the Bears are still susceptible to “siestas,” with those mid-game lulls proving difficult to overcome. The Bears have played 10 games in 2017, and not one of them has been a complete, four-quarter effort. That bigger-picture look falls on the coaching staff, and has greater implications than some questionable personnel decisions (like why Shaheen/Howard/Cohen weren’t on the field for the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter).