Bears

Super Bowl lessons

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Super Bowl lessons

Super Bowls finish off the playing portion of the NFL year. They also serve as standards for measuring your team, your players, your coaches, whatever, in terms of where you stand vis--vis the elite in the league, and they point to some things you may need to do to get to that level.

1 - Let-em-score touchdowns just arent a good idea.

The Green Bay Packers and Mike Holmgren lost a Super Bowl when they let the Denver Broncos score a go-ahead touchdown in a fourth quarter in order to give themselves more time for an answering score. That didnt happen.

The New England Patriots appeared to go into a matador mode on Ahmad Bradshaws six-yard run for the winning points Sunday. Bradshaw tried not to go all the way into the end zone, stopping just short of the goal line but falling in when he couldnt stop his momentum.

The Patriots lost this Super Bowl when they, like the Packers, could reply with points to overcome the Bradshaw score.

It seems to make sense at the time. But the teams that have done it in the biggest game of all have lost. Not sure how else to really judge the strategy.

2 - Get a high-impact wideout, no matter what it costs.

New GM Phil Emery said he wont be talking about needs or players but the two teams in Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI each had wide receivers that decide games, and the Bears simply dont have any at this point.

Not a new assessment but the Bears dont have a Hakeem Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. Or a Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Rob Gronkowski (more on that later).

But a point here is that these types of gamers dont come through one portal. They can cost, however, and Emery and the Bears will need to shop aggressively.

Nicks was a No. 1 draft choice. Cruz was an undrafted free agent nugget (sort of a Dane Sanzenbacher thing) who almost was cut prior to this season. And Welker cost the Patriots second- and seventh-round draft picks in a 2007 trade.

The Bears have the No. 19 pick of this years draft. They have four picks in the first three rounds. And the free-agent receiver market includes Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson and Dwayne Bowe.

Jerry Angelo disliked investing No. 1s in wide receivers. Emery said at his introductory press conference that he and Angelo were different. How different, and how much he thinks an elite wideout is worth, will be a factor in whether the Bears are in a Super Bowl discussion a few months from now.

3 - Just get in the playoffs. Period.

The Giants won this Super Bowl after a 9-7 season. The 9-7 Arizona Cardinals were within a historic Santonio Holmes catch of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple Super Bowls ago. The Packers at 10-6 won Super Bowl XLV after qualifying for the playoffs via tiebreaker.

Coaches and players always say just make the playoffs and anything is possible. Couldnt have said it any better.

4 - This is enough Manning for a while. A couple days, anyhow.

Eli Manning said some months ago that he thought he deserved to be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the game. Well, it aint braggin if you back it up.

Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP award and pulled past brother Peyton in the ring race. And Peyton is a longshot to be contending for one anytime soon if for no other reason than the condition of his neck and nerves in his right arm.

Eli completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown, without throwing any interceptions despite being pressured enough for three sacks by the Patriots.

And Eli did this with another fourth-quarter comeback, a true measure of quarterback greatness; talk of that is going to running amok for a long time now.

We played smart, Manning said, refusing to get too into personal buzz from the award. There at the end when we had an opportunity in the fourth, quarter, wed been in those situations and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score and guys stepped up and made great plays.

A problem now is that Peyton will start up again in his taffy pull with Colts owner Jim Irsay. Theyll meet this coming week about Mannings health and whether the Colts will pay the 28 million Manning is due by Mar. 8 or he becomes a free agent. The heavy leaning is toward his release by the Colts.

In the meantime, Manning elder Archie was not about to buck family tradition and be quiet.

I dont know anything about the Hall of Fame, Archie said when asked about the possibility of being the father of two Hall of Fame QBs. Eli is in his eighth year and I know one thing: He might have said earlier in the year that he belonged with the elite quarterbacks. He will not be saying that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Well see on that one.

5 - One play doesnt win or lose a game. Also Period.

Unless its one where a Jay Cutler breaks a thumb, that is.

Welker was near tears talking about the fourth-quarter pass that went off his hands deep in New Yorks end of the field with four minutes to play. Instead of a clinching touchdown or crucial lead-building field goal, the Patriots were forced to punt.

It hit me right in the hands, Welker said. I mean, its a play I never drop, I always make. Most critical situation and I let the team down.

Hell put himself in the Hall of Shame somewhere between Scott Norwood and Jackie Smith in the Goats Gallery, but hell be wrong.

Wes was running down the field, it looked like they messed up the coverage a little bit and I threw it to him and he just couldnt come down with it, said quarterback Tom Brady. Hes a helluva a player. Ill keep throwing the ball to him as long as I possibly can.

One play isnt why we lost today.

Big picture: The Patriots did not score in the second half. That isnt all on Welker.

6 - Chicago should never be without a star tight end.

The modern tight end began with Mike Ditka. The Bears may not ever have a Hall of Famer at the position but they are at without one at an elite level when they are all over the NFL as never before.

The Mike Martz tenure in Chicago may have seen the Bears reach an NFC Championship. But the transformation of the tight end position on his watch set the Bears behind the NFL, helped tie the hands of successor Mike Tice and cost Jerry Angelo, who never wanted him running the offense in the first place.

The work of Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski for New England has been over-covered. But the Bears had their 6-6, 255 tight end and Martz had no use for him. So Greg Olsens value dropped to the point where he had no future in Chicago and he was dealt to Carolina.

On the flip side, Martz wanting Brandon Manumaleuna cost the Bears millions of wasted dollars, which did Angelo no favors with the accounting department, besides contributing absolutely nothing to the offense. Along with that, Kellen Davis was elevated to a level of expectation that he has never hit before.

Nothing is irreversible but Emery and the Bears will be playing catch-up at a position where they had someone who fit the mold that is working against the type of secondary players that struggle against big tight ends.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

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.