Bears

The problem areas the Bears cleaned up vs. Buccaneers

john-fox-1228.png

The problem areas the Bears cleaned up vs. Buccaneers

After near-weekly miseries of allowing opposing offenses a first-possession touchdown drive to get warmed up, the Bears’ defense not only finally stopped an opponent’s opening possession without a touchdown but also kept Tampa Bay out of the end zone altogether for the first 33 minutes other than with the help of a blocked punt giving the Bucs the ball at the Chicago 4.

Tampa Bay came into Sunday standing No. 2 defensively in rushing average, allowing a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. The Bears pushed around the Buccaneers front for 174 rushing yards and at a clip of 4.5 yards per carry. Notably, it was done with no carry longer than 16 yards (one each of those by Jay Cutler and Matt Forte).

And in spite of a team from December Chicago playing in 86-degree temperatures, the Bears got physical early and carried the fight to Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and the rest of Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 defense. The Bears were physical from the outset and never backed off. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase called five runs in the first quarter, 14 in the second, seven in the third and 13 in the fourth. Backs averaged 3.2 yards per carry in the first quarter, 5.6 in the second, 4.0 in the third and 3.9 in the fourth.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

One of the reasons Gase was able to exercise that offensive option was an about-face on penalties from the Minnesota debacle. The Bears had zero penalty yards assessed on eight of their 11 possessions, meaning Cutler and the offense weren’t working from behind the chains, nor from behind on the scoreboard because of the play on defense.

The Bears began the game with the NFL’s highest holding-penalty total (33) and did have three on Sunday but only two assessed: one on wide receiver Deonte Thompson and the other against guard Vladimir Ducasse.

The Bears didn't take a negative approach by chanting something like “Don’t hold, don’t hold, don’t hold, don’t hold.” Rather they took a positive one, focusing on what to do and what not to do.

“We still had more penalties than we would’ve liked,” guard Matt Slauson said. “We talked all week about mental toughness, and that’s in your heart and your mind that you’re not going to be the one to get a penalty, my guy isn’t going to be the one that makes the play.

“When we put it in terms like that, it helps guys tighten up all the screws, just really focusing all week, focusing on the keys, the techniques, growing in the knowledge of the game. Guys worked hard at that all week.”

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

ryan_pace.jpg
USA TODAY

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

About this time a year ago the Bears were setting up for the annual NFL beauty pageant in Indianapolis, sitting with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and with myriad roster decisions to address with both that draft and free agency. Because of the Bears’ lofty draft position, even more scrutiny and attention swirled around the college prospects (Deshaun Watson, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, not enough on Mitch Trubisky as it turned out, a testimonial to GM Ryan Pace’s ability to keep a secret).

But what was developing in free agency was arguably of even greater significance in what was then the short term, at least for John Fox, as it turned out. And the changed landscape this year bodes considerably better for Pace and the Bears. At least in one important respect.

First, a perspective from last year’s pre-Combine period...

Because of the unsettled quarterback situation – the Bears were working toward Mike Glennon and cutting Jay Cutler two weeks later – and concerns about a possible lame-duck situation for Fox, free agents and their agents were willing to look at the Bears but only if the Bears would pony up excessive guaranteed dollars. The worry any time a coach is heading into a tipping-point year is that if things go badly, the coach and staff are gone, and the resulting changes will alter the job situation of that particular veteran player.

So the likes of cornerbacks A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore opted for less total money from Jacksonville and New England, respectively, because the Bears weren’t offering higher guarantees to compensate for the uncertainty.

(One of the reasons then-President/CEO Michael McCaskey stated to this reporter for firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season was a concern over the negative pall Ditka cast over playing for the Bears as the NFL prepared for the 1993 start of free agency. A quarter-century later, Pace didn’t fire Fox because of free agents’ aversion to Fox, but the overall wasn’t making Pace’s job any easier.)

Would Alshon Jeffery have stayed if...

On a slightly different tack: Would Alshon Jeffery have given the Bears a more receptive look had the quarterback position been addressed sooner in the Fox/Pace tenure? Jeffery took less from the Eagles in a one-year prove-it deal, not because Philadelphia was so much warmer than Chicago, but in large part because of where the offensive arrow was pointing in Chicago with Fox, Dowell Loggains and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Not insignificantly in the Jeffery case: Jeffery had four choices – Bears, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The Colts weren’t sure about Andrew Luck, coming off shoulder surgery and ultimately missing all of ’17. The Vikings were resting then on brittle Sam Bradford, whose knee broke down early, and Case Keenum wasn’t CASE KEENUM at that point. The Bears with Loggains and Glennon? Jeffery didn’t go with Philadelphia, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz only for the money, which did come anyway.

The Bears have “fixed” all of those issues in the year that’s played out since Jeffery signed with the Eagles almost concurrent with the Bears moving on from Cutler. None of that matters now in the least with Jeffery, Bouye, Gilmore or any other options that demanded too much guaranteed money or spurned the Bears back then, but it does matter going into the run-up to free agency over the next couple weeks.

Why this in fact matters more than the draft is that, while sound organizations are grounded in quality drafting, the reality is that in virtually every offseason, more starters for that season are acquired via free agency than the draft. Last year’s draft centerpiece was Trubisky, though he wasn’t supposed to start last season. But free agents Glennon, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were.

The money pit

Longtime Bears and NFL personnel chief Bill Tobin once remarked back in the beginning of free agency, “Just because you pay a guy $2 million doesn’t make him a $2-million player.” That still applies, adjusted for inflation. And that could make this free agency dicey for the Bears.

Because price isn’t always determined solely on quality; it’s a matter of supply and demand. And while the Bears are among those with the greatest estimated space under the projected cap of $178 million, the others way up on the list include Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Jets, Houston and Tampa Bay – all teams with five or fewer wins in ’17 and expected to be the most aggressive in using free agency to fix gaping holes. The Bears have a lot of money to spend, but so do a whole lot of others.

Meaning: A lot of dollars will be chasing a select few players, which will make some of them overpaid, not unlike Glennon was last offseason (how many apparently better options were there?) or a couple of others, who will be paid like $2 million players even if they aren’t, adjusted for inflation.

The result is another offseason of brinksmanship for Pace, this time in need of better results than his first three free agencies if the outcome for his second head coach is to be better than it was for his first.

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

jlandry.png
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).