Bears

Mullin: Will Cover-2 be successful vs. Falcons?

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Mullin: Will Cover-2 be successful vs. Falcons?

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011
Posted: 9:47 a.m. Updated: 10:16 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
READ: Barber likely out vs. FalconsREAD: Forte giving away the game plan?WATCH: Forte disappointed extension didn't happen

Taking shots at the CoverTampa-2 defense of Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli as being passe and behind the NFL times may be fashionable. Its also off target. Facing the offense of the Atlanta Falcons by way of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, thats notable.

In three of the last five seasons the Bears ranked in the top four in scoring defense. When the Philadelphia Eagles and their West Coast offense of Andy Reid (why is it that the West Coast never seems to go out of style?) faced the Bears last year, it seemed to me an intriguing match between two classics, because like it or not, the Cover-2 works and has worked for a long time.

Why thats important is that in 13 of 18 games last season the Bears held the opposing quarterback below, sometimes far, far below that QBs passer rating for the season. The ones they didnt included Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck (twice), advanced practitioners of West Coast schemes.

The ones they did, however, included Eli Manning, Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers (three times). And these results were achieved without a year marked by pass-rush pressure close to sufficient by Bears standards.

Where all of this is going is toward dealing with Ryan and the Atlanta offense. The Falcons have scored 21 and 22 points in their two Ryan games against the Bears, so scoring can occur against the SmithMarinelli scheme. But not usually enough to win, which would be a big part of the reason the Bears are the only NFC North team to have four winning seasons over the past six.

Packers vs. Saints

If you want to establish some sense of what the Bears 2011 early road looks like, the NFL has been kind enough to put the New Orleans Saints together with the Green Bay Packers Thursday night in Lambeau Field.

These are the last two Super Bowl winners and also the second and third teams appearing on the Bears schedule. This is distantly reminiscent of the Bears hosting the New York Giants to start the 1987 season (won decisively by the Bears) and is maybe the biggest must-see of this season outside of the Bears schedule.

Whats a notable element in these first three teams on the schedule, plus the Bears, is that all four were playoff teams and returned established cores with a stable coaching situation. Teams that had coaching changes, besides being bad anyway (which, after all, is usually why you make a coaching change), were further hurt by the lockout and lost offseason for scheme installations, personnel orientation and all the rest.

And add one other thought, one that doesnt bode well for the Bears: The Packers believe they actually benefitted from the lockout.

Check out what Aaron Rodgers told longtime pal Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com. Alex was up in Green Bay as part of his annual North American Tour of camps, sat down with Rodgers, who told him, In a way I think this lost offseason was a blessing in disguise. We didnt have to keep re-living the 2010 season...You dont start with that momentum.

Maybe not. But you couldnt prove it by Rodgers preseason: 78.7 percent competion, 4TDs, 0 interceptions.

Just keep telling yourself: It was only preseason, It was only preseason, It was only preseason...

Can Bears stop the run?

Nice to visit with Dan McNeil on our regular Thursday A.M. hit on WSCR-AM 670s "McNeil and Spiegel Show" this morning with Lawrence Holmes sitting in for Matt Spiegel. Lawrence and I sit at neighboring work slots at Halas Hall and share a lot thoughts anyway.

The Packers-Saints was an obvious talking point, and my thought here is that Green Bay is an easy pick at home but this is anything but an easy game, and a Saints win to me is very, very possible given the explosiveness of a New Orleans offense that can score on just about anybody. A Saints win would be a huuuuge bonus for the Bears, because tiebreakers decide playoff qualification in lots of years and a conference loss for the Packers would be a good thing.

Danny has some concerns that the Bears wont really stop the run against the Falcons, and hed also done his homework (reading View from the Moon I like this McNeil guy) and noted that the Bears havent sacked Matt Ryan even once in two games despite him throwing 30 and 33 passes in those games.

The reality is that this is the NFL and, as Jay Cutler saw fit to mention Wednesday, there are no D-2 schools out there on the schedule. So anybody can run on you (unless youre the Pittsburgh Steelers), and the Falcons have Michael Turner and his 1,371 yards and 12 rushing TDs as a one-man credential for their run game.

But one reason I have been consistent in seeing this Bears team as better than most observers do is that there are simply too many good players (Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Anthony Adams, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris) for this defense to be bad. Somebody will run on them; somebody will throw on them. The Falcons could do both. This is the NFL. The Falcons are not D-2.

Lawrence agrees with me on not believing the Detroit Lions hype; show me were his exact words. Just thinking about it here, its funny how easily everyone seems to believe that the Lions, who have won nothing for a long, long time, will be good and no one seems inclined to believe that the Bears, who have four winning seasons in the last six years, more than any other NFC North team, might actually be good.

10-6 or better - thats the prediction for record, again.

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.

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.