Bobby Massie

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

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USA TODAY

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

The Bears committed nine penalties (eight of which were officially assessed, since one was offsetting) against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. This isn’t a new trend: The Bears were flagged eight times against the Green Bay Packers, 10 times against the Pittsburgh Steelers, eight times against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four times against the Atlanta Falcons. 

So since Week 1, this has been a problem. Given the Bears’ offense gets easily bogged down when it’s behind the chains and the defense doesn’t have a penchant for takeaways, almost every one of these penalties has hurt. 

Against Minnesota, here’s the breakdown:

No. 1: Holding on center Cody Whitehair. The penalty wiped out Tre McBride’s 26-yard reception, which would’ve moved the Bears inside the 10-yard line. Instead, the Bears were moved from the Vikings’ 35 to 45-yard line and ran a screen to Benny Cunningham on third and 20. Pat O’Donnell then punted. 

No. 2: Delay of game on Mitchell Trubisky. This was less on the quarterback and more on the coaching staff — John Fox tried to confuse the Vikings by faking sending his punt unit out, then the offense on fourth and 2. But Trubisky got to the huddle with about 12 seconds on the play clock and couldn’t get a snap off on time. While the play may have worked — Josh Bellamy was uncovered — Trubisky didn’t have enough time to get the snap off. 

No. 3: Holding on Markus Wheaton. The call may have been questionable, but it wiped out what would’ve been a Jordan Howard 42-yard touchdown run. The Bears instead were faced with a first-and-17. 

No. 4: Offensive pass interference on McBride. This was on the very next play and was by far the most questionable penalty assessed on the Bears, with McBride ostensibly being flagged for making contact with cornerback Terence Newman’s face mask. “I went and looked at the film and I couldn’t really see what triggered the call but that’s above my pay grade,” McBride said. “I just gotta roll with the punches on that.” Worth noting: Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd did something similar to cornerback Kyle Fuller later in the game and wasn’t penalized. Either way, it put Trubisky in a first and 27 spot at his own 41-yard line. 

No. 5: False start on Charles Leno Jr. This came after Trubisky found Dion Sims for a 17-yard gain following the McBride penalty and backed the Bears up from the Vikings’ 42 to 47-yard line. 

No. 6: False start on Bobby Massie. The Bears went from second and 8 to second and 13 deep in their own territory, and while they picked up a first down thanks to a Minnesota penalty, they still had to punt. 

No. 7: Holding on Josh Sitton. This offset a Jaleel Johnson facemask and re-played a second and 7 down. The Bears went three-and-out. 

No. 8: 12 men on the field on Eddie Goldman. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum astutely snapped the ball as Goldman was chugging off the field. 

No. 9: Holding on Leonard Floyd. This allowed Minnesota to extend the drive that led to their game-winning field goal, but it was questionable at best. When asked what got in the way of Floyd on the flag, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said: “The officiating.”

The first six of these penalties — all on the offense — came in the first half. The holding flags on Whitehair and Wheaton kept the Bears out of the red zone and end zone, and every one of the first-half flags put the Bears’ offense in a difficult situation. 

“That puts us in passing situations and makes it a bit more complicated for Mitch,” Massie said. “But just don’t do it and we won’t have the problem.”

The Bears held a meeting on Wednesday addressing this concerning penchant for penalties, but there isn’t necessarily a way for the players to fix those problems outside of maintaining better focus in practice and games. 

“You can’t do anything different aside from dial into what you’re doing better individually,” tight end Zach Miller said. “There’s no way to drill that aside from do it right.”

Teams penalized as much as the Bears routinely are slapped with an “undisciplined” label, which doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. The players can talk about renewing their focus during practice, but it’s also on the coaching staff to figure out a solution. 

“I think a lot of it is in preparation,” Fox said. “It’s making sure we don’t have that occur in practice. It’s not like we haven’t emphasized it. Some of the same things I talked about last week popped up again, so we just continue to work at it. 

"In some cases we change people. In some cases we change how we practice. So you’re always looking to try to get that."

It’s an issue that has to be fixed, though, as long as this team struggles to overcome penalties. Fox pointed out the Vikings were penalized more than the Bears on Monday night, but “they overcame it a little bit better than we did.” That trend is likely to continue so long as the Bears continue to commit penalties. 

“No game will ever be completely perfect,” Massie said. “There’ll always be something. That’s just something that’s stood out multiple times in multiple games. It’s just something we gotta clean up.”

Bears Week 1 grades: Long looks needed for Mike Glennon, secondary

Bears Week 1 grades: Long looks needed for Mike Glennon, secondary

Quarterbacks: C+

Credit is due for Mike Glennon given what he did on the Bears’ final drive, even if it didn’t get in the end zone. With Atlanta head-scratchingly playing plenty of off coverage against an offense that barely tried to stretch the field throughout the game, Glennon took what was given and marched the Bears within five yards of the end zone with time running out. And Glennon, for what it’s worth, could’ve been a hero had Jordan Howard not dropped his pass and backed into the end zone on second-and-goal (more on that later). 

Another point in Glennon’s favor: Not only was he not intercepted on Sunday, he didn’t make any cringe-worthy throws that could’ve easily been picked off. 

But the Bears’ offense until late in the fourth quarter was “fine” at best, save for some flashes of brilliance from Tarik Cohen (again, more on him in a bit). Glennon was 7/9 for 41 yards at halftime, and the Bears ran 20 plays between completed passes at one point during the second and third quarters. 

Running backs: A-

Tarik Cohen was outstanding, sparking the Bears’ offense with a 46-yard scamper and a 19-yard touchdown when the team needed it the most (both those big plays came after Atlanta had scored a touchdown). Jordan Howard had 52 yards on 13 carries, but his drop on the 1-yard line of a possible game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter lowers this unit's grade a bit. 

Wide receivers: D-

This unit was targeted by Glennon only two more times (14) than Cohen (12) was, and the only deep ball Glennon threw was to the speedy rookie running back. The production just wasn’t there for this group, which combined to catch nine passes for 82 yards as it struggled to get open on deeper routes. Kevin White, prior to his injury, had a rough drop on a quick slant. Saving this group from an F: Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy combined for four catches and 45 yards — so about half the unit’s total production — on the Bears’ final drive. 

Tight Ends: C

Zach Miller received the second most targets of any player (six) and had four catches for 39 yards, and Dion Sims caught two passes for 31 yards. This unit can be better, especially with the Bears possibly without their top two receivers in White and Cameron Meredith, but also didn’t do a lot wrong on Sunday. 

Offensive line: C-

Even if you allow for Glennon missing a protection here or there, the offensive line bears the most responsibility for the four sacks Atlanta totaled. None were more important than the last one, when Brooks Reed raced around Bobby Massie to sack Glennon (Massie, arguably, wasn’t overtly beat on it, but Glennon didn’t have room to step up — overall, the Falcons were able to sustain good pressure on the play). 

Cody Whitehair committed two penalties that put the Bears behind the sticks, which was a tough place for an offense lacking the ability to stretch the field, and a low snap while Glennon was in the gun led to a wasted play in the fourth quarter. There shouldn’t be a long-term concern about this unit — especially when Kyle Long returns — but it struggled at times on Sunday. 

Defensive line: A-

Akiem Hicks had two sacks, Roy Robertson-Harris generated some good pressure and batted down a pass and this group led the effort to hold Devonta Freeman to only 37 yards on 12 carries. Hicks in particular played at an elite level a day after signing a four-year contract extension, though the roughing the passer foul he committed in the third quarter led to a Falcons field goal. 

Linebackers: B-

This unit was the other half of the equation to stopping the highest paid running back in the NFL, with Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan both doing well to mute the run. Freeman did well in covering tight end Levine Toilolo late in the fourth quarter, preventing what would’ve been a game-clinching touchdown. Leonard Floyd didn’t get much pressure on Matt Ryan but broke up a pass and was solid as a tackler. 

Defensive backs: C-

The Bears allowed an 88-yard touchdown pass, and Austin Hooper’s 40-yard gain on third-and-10 late in the fourth quarter was rough (Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson missed tackles on that play). On the 88-yard score, the Bears were still getting set right up to the snap, and it looked like linebacker Jerrell Freeman thought he could hand off Hooper to a safety, but Quintin Demps went toward the far sideline to help Fuller with Julio Jones, leaving Hooper wide open over the middle. After the game, Demps took responsibility for the broken coverage. 

This grade isn’t completely ruined by those plays, though, because Marcus Cooper and Fuller combined to do well in limiting Julio Jones to four catches for 66 yards — and Matt Ryan only looked Jones’ way five times during the game. Even if Jones was merely a decoy on some snaps, that’s still a solid showing for these DBs against one of the best receivers in the NFL. Not only did Cooper and Fuller throw plenty of different looks Jones’ way, but they succeeded in making those looks successful. An example: with Atlanta facing a third-and-goal from the 10-yad line, Fuller re-routed Jones and took him out of a play that ended with an incompletion. Another one: Cooper came awfully close to a pick six in the fourth quarter when he aggressively jumped a throw toward Jones, settling for a pass break-up. 

Nickel Bryce Callahan deserves a mention for solid coverage and, on a blitz, drawing the attention of right tackle Ryan Schraeder, which freed up Hicks to envelop Ryan for his second sack of the game.

Special teams: B

Connor Barth tied a career high with a 54-yard field goal, his only non-PAT attempt of the game, but it’s enough to boost this grade. Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff late in the fourth quarter that the Bears, fortunately, recovered. 

Coaching: B

This was a relatively clean game for the Bears penalty-wise, though the three committed (two on Whitehair, one on Hicks) certainly hurt. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains deserves praise for hiding Cohen during preseason play — he wasn’t even targeted in three games — and unleashing him against a Falcons defense that looked caught off guard by the running back’s skillset at times. And the Bears responded well to Atlanta delivering what were two gut-check touchdowns, equalizing the game at 10 after Atlanta scored in the second quarter and getting within three points after the 88-yard calamity in the fourth. 

Perhaps Fox should’ve called timeout with the defense struggling to get aligned properly before Hooper’s touchdown, but he said after the game it wasn’t clear the coverage was going to be a problem until after the play began. 

Bears sign Charles Leno Jr. to four-year extension

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USA TODAY

Bears sign Charles Leno Jr. to four-year extension

The 2017 season will no longer be a "prove it" year for Bears offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr.

The Bears announced on Wednesday they have signed Leno to a four-year contract extension that will keep him in Chicago through the 2021 season.

Leno's extension is expected to be worth $38 million with $21.5 million guaranteed, according to the Chicago Tribune. His average annual value of $9.5 million would tie him with Detroit Lions right tackle Ricky Wagner as the NFL's 15th highest paid offensive tackle (in terms of AAV).

Leno will become the second offensive lineman that Bears GM Ryan Pace has extended in the the past 12 months. The Bears signed Kyle Long to a four-year, $40 million contract extension just days before the 2016 season opener.

Leno, who was selected by the Bears in the 7th round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Bosie State, has started 29 straight games at left tackle after taking over for Jermon Bushrod in Week 4 of the 2015 season.

The Bears now have all five of their starting offensive lineman locked in for the next two years (Josh Sitton and Bobby Massie's contract's expire following the 2018 season).