Leonard Floyd

Leonard Floyd's 'fairly serious knee injury' further bangs up Bears defense, stalls rising star's growth

Leonard Floyd's 'fairly serious knee injury' further bangs up Bears defense, stalls rising star's growth

You couldn’t really tell watching it live, but the replay told the story: Kyle Fuller’s shoulder pads plowed right into Leonard Floyd’s right knee.

And that’s why last year’s first-round pick was down on the turf at Soldier Field. That’s why the cart came out from the southwest tunnel. That’s why the thousands of fans in the stands watched in silence.

After the game, head coach John Fox said what could have been guessed by most who watched that replay and watched Floyd leave the field on the cart.

“Leonard Floyd left with what looks like a fairly serious knee injury,” Fox said, a somewhat unusual admittance of severity from the oft-secretive coach in an oft-secretive industry.

“I hate to speculate,” he continued, “but usually when you get taken out on a cart, it’s not great. We’ll evaluate it. I’ll talk to our docs more today and tonight, and we will continue to evaluate tomorrow.”

For the Bears and their fans, this kind of news has become all too familiar. The linebacking corps alone has seen injuries to four of its best players: Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Willie Young and now Floyd. Then there are the season-ending injuries to safety Quintin Demps, tight end Zach Miller and wide receivers Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.

And it’s not just the Bears. This is the new normal in the NFL, as the absences of stars like J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers and Richard Sherman have illustrated.

But for the Bears in particular, this is a really tough one to see.

Floyd has been a force for the defense this season, the kind of quarterback’s nightmare that Ryan Pace & Co. envisioned he’d be when they took Floyd with the No. 9 pick in last year’s draft. He entered Sunday’s action with the second-most sacks on the team, and only 29 players in the league had more than his 4.5 sacks.

After missing games and battling concussion issues as a rookie last season — and still recording seven sacks — this was supposed to be the full season from Floyd that would show how much of a monster he could be. Instead, though, it sounds like that season will be cut short, a building block on that side of the ball stalled.

The football implications, though, did not seem top of mind for many Bears players, who offered their well wishes for their teammate. Remember, too, that this is a team that has already been through Miller’s ordeal, the tight end confined to a Louisiana hospital as he recovered from almost losing his leg in last month’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.

“I told him I love him and I’m going to lay it on the line for him,” fellow linebacker Pernell McPhee said when asked what he said to Floyd as the second-year Georgia product was leaving the field.

And that wasn’t all.

As the media was leaving McPhee’s locker, he told everybody to “say a prayer for my boy.”

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

Bear Nation has waited a long time for this. Now it’s here. A time without an excuse that has been conveniently, albeit painfully, there almost back into the time of Mike Ditka.

How many years has the lament resonated that if the Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers, the Packers REALLY aren’t any better than the victim-cast Bears? Well, Sunday in Soldier Field, no Rodgers. And the Packers have never beaten the Bears without Rodgers since he succeeded Brett Favre in 2008, a downturn in Bears fortunes vs. Green Bay because Lovie Smith teams had their way with Favre (8-5), whatever uniform the Packers great donned.

Maybe this game projects as a mini-referendum on Ryan Pace. The general manager has had three drafts and three offseasons to build a roster built ideally to eclipse those of the Packers, Lions and Vikings. He drafted his Clay Matthews/Ziggy Ansah edge rusher (Leonard Floyd). He secured his Mike Daniels/Everson Griffen/Linval Joseph defensive linemen (Eddie Goldman/Akiem Hicks). And now he’s made his play for a franchise quarterback.

All of this doesn’t exactly translate into any sort of made-up “pressure” on the Bears. That’s already there to excess in the form of a 3-5 record and a make-or-break game for any wistful playoff hopes. (Every game for the foreseeable future will be “make or break” in that regard.).

Packers limping sans Rodgers

Forget the point spread, which was up to favoring the Bears by 5 points on Wednesday. That’s basically an opinion poll, based on where the wager money is going, based on what football bettors think.

The facts are that the Packers are a combined 3-10-1 since 2008 without Rodgers taking the majority of the snaps: 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their primary quarterback this year, 2-5-1 in 2013 after Shea McClellin’s tackle turned the first Bears game over to Seneca Wallace, 1-0 in ’11 and 0-2 in ’10.

To expect a walk-over would be a mistake. The Packers did lead the Saints 14-7 at halftime. And the Bears need to demonstrate they can win a second half; they are 3-0 when leading at halftime but 0-5 when tied or trailing at halftime. Best guess for a game plan would a change in general mindset of keeping the game close with defense and ball control. In this situation, keeping the Packers close is higher risk than there needs to be.

Not that Bears World needs any perspective like this, but the Bears know painfully well what Green Bay is feeling right now. Last year the Bears were 3-13 without someone approximating a No. 1 quarterback. Jay Cutler may have been the titular starter, but that arguably was a default setting. The Bears were 1-4 in Cutler starts, 1-4 in Brian Hoyer starts; and and 1-5 with Matt Barkley.

They are already better off (2-2) with a rookie in Mitch Trubisky, in no small measure because of an exponentially better defense. But part of that clearly traces to Trubisky and the Bears overall reducing giveaways from 10 to five in his four starts, vs. the issues during Mike Glennon’s stewardship.

Making a point

Green Bay is 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their quarterback, including the Minnesota game in which Hundley took over when Rodgers was hurt. The Packers have failed to top 17 points and have been outscored by an average of nearly 12 points in the three games against reasonably strong opponents (Minnesota, New Orleans, Detroit).

Ominously for the Packers, the defense appears to have contracted the malaise that Hundley brought to the offense. With Rodgers, the Packers are allowing 22.4 points per game. In the three Hundley games they are giving up 26.3.

The Bears can relate to a quarterback having a ripple effect on other phases. Opponents were putting 26 points per game on the Bears when Glennon started. In Mitch Trubisky’s four starts, opponents have managed just 16.8 ppg., and that with two TD kick returns by Baltimore. Trubisky hasn’t played a defensive snap yet but his effect around the locker room is palpable.

“They’ve done an excellent job schematically tying it all together,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s definitely something that jumps off the tape. [Trubisky] is very smart with his decisions. He can make throws in the pocket, he can make throws out of the pocket. It’s clearly a better offense today than the one we saw going into the first game. They’re taking care of the football and they’re playing old school, hard John Fox football.

“I think they’re playing excellent on defense and they’re doing a really good job running it and taking care of that ball and time of possession is something that hasn’t been where it needs to be for us clearly the last two weeks. It’s a focal point for us.”

Bears handling of Mitch Trubisky, run-pass balance fits a pattern as Leonard Floyd heats up

Bears handling of Mitch Trubisky, run-pass balance fits a pattern as Leonard Floyd heats up

Shaking some last crumbs out of the notebook after the Bears reached 3-4 with their 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers…

The thought that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains somehow needs to loosen the leather restraints he’s put on quarterback Mitch Trubisky may be the head-scratcher of the weekend; more than just this weekend, really.

Set aside the mistaken notion that the only goal of the 2017 season is Trubisky’s development. First of all, that’s an objective, not a goal (winning is a “goal”); and somewhere in all this, the developments of Leonard Floyd, Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair might be at least a little important, but that’s digressing...

Realize that Loggains has been the boots-on-the-ground prime mover behind the plan and program that has had Trubisky on a developmental fast track practically since the quarterback was drafted. And Loggains is a self-professed “’I like to throw it’ guy” even if John Fox isn’t, although the 2016 season is worth a look regarding the latter’s feelings about throwing. More on that in a minute.

More to the play-calling specifically: Carolina was No. 2 in the NFL in sacks and a top-10 pass defense. Baltimore is 12th against the pass and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (10). Loggains and the offense overwhelmingly ran the football against both of those defenses.

Against Minnesota, which is a more workable 17th in passing yardage allowed, the Bears ran 56 plays. Of those, 27 were pass plays, not counting Trubisky running three times.

Fold in this perspective: Loggains was part of the Adam Gase staff in 2015 when the Bears were a 54:46 pass:run ratio offense. Last year, with the quarterback mayhem of Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Jay Cutler-Matt Barkley, Loggains as OC threw the ball 61 percent of the time. Anyone who cared to look really closely at the “why” there would have seen that Loggains didn’t have an in-shape Jordan Howard early, by Howard’s own assessment, or a fully healthy Jeremy Langford late.

Meaning: Loggains has worked with what he had, both last year and now this year, when he doesn’t have Alshon Jeffery and Cameron Meredith, or Markus Wheaton (inactive for four of the seven games) for that matter, for Trubisky (or Mike Glennon) to catch passes. Fox wants an offense that, of its top five priorities, not turning the football is Nos. 1-4, and that’s what Loggains and Trubisky have given him.

The “culture” that’s increasingly evident in and around Halas Hall

Not every fun or revealing locker room quip should be reported. So when Leonard Floyd was bantering not too long ago with Akiem Hicks, the outside linebacker issued a declaration that I thought oughta stay in its corner of the locker room, at least until the young man played up to the bar he was setting for himself.

“I’m hot,” Floyd had informed Hicks, who gave every appearance of dismissing the boast as the overly self-hyping rant of a second-year NFL pup, more intent on finding a missing sock than indulging the youngster. “I…am…hot,” Floyd repeated to ensure that Hicks was on notice.

The good-natured by-play was more than just a little smack.

Floyd and Hicks have a friendly but definitely intense sack competition, Floyd has had four sacks over the last four games, to which Hicks has to up his game with four sacks over the last three. But for Floyd, his year heated up with his first 2017 sack, at Green Bay.

“It was that sack – when I sacked Aaron Rodgers – I felt ‘hot,’” Floyd said on Sunday after the Carolina win, in which Floyd was credited with four tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hits. Floyd did sack Rodgers last season at Green Bay, forcing a fumble that Floyd recovered in the end zone. But “I didn’t have any sacks going into Green Bay [this year],” Floyd said, “so when I sack Aaron Rodgers, I know I can sack anybody."

Not that Floyd is superstitious or anything, but “I’m still wearing the same cleats I wore in that Green Bay game,” Floyd added, rummaging through his bag and extracting the well-worn, good-luck footwear.

Winning makes everything a little more relaxed, although conversely, actually “playing” football not uncommonly leads to winning as well. Whichever is cause and which is effect, something is noticeably different inside a team that not too long ago too many had been given up for NFL dead.