15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 15 - Taylor Gabriel

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 15 - Taylor Gabriel

What a difference one offseason has had on the complexion of the Chicago Bears offense. 

Last season, Mitch Trubisky and the Bears struggled to complete passes longer than 10 yards downfield. That’ll change this year, and a big reason why is free-agent addition, Taylor Gabriel.

Gabriel will play the zebra position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, the same role that turned Tyreek Hill into a star with the Chiefs last year. Gabriel has many of the same traits as Hill with the most important being his blazing speed. But don’t expect "Turbo" to be a one-trick route-runner; he’ll be targeted downfield as often as he is on bubble screens and short routes that give him a chance to make plays after the catch.

Gabriel can be a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands. He proved that in Atlanta with limited opportunities behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. His best season came in 2016 when he averaged 16.5 yards per catch and scored six touchdowns. He was a threat to flip the field every time he touched the ball, and he’ll present the same challenge to opposing defenses this year with even more targets and a bigger role in Chicago.

Gabriel is a critically important piece to the Bears’ offensive puzzle in 2018. If he makes good on his projection and brings a presence to the passing game that defensive coordinators are forced to respect, he’ll make Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Kevin White and Trey Burton that much better. In fact, his impact will go beyond his statistics. A few big plays early in the season will keep defenses honest all year, giving Trubisky the ability to thrive in the mid-level passing game.

Signed to a four-year, $26 million contract in free agency, Gabriel has one of the highest salary cap figures on the roster this season (second-highest receiver behind Robinson). He’s being paid to produce and the Bears will give him every chance to prove he’s worth his big contract. 

Gabriel is a bit of a projection, however. He's never had more than 621 yards in a season (his rookie year) and it's yet to be seen how he'll respond to facing more attention from better cornerbacks as a full-time starter. Still, speed like Gabriel's is hard to find and if Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich can gameplan ways to put him in favorable situations, his impact should be significant and immediate.

Eddy Pineiro's mental edge is exactly what the Bears need

Eddy Pineiro's mental edge is exactly what the Bears need

Back when the Bears traded for Eddy Pineiro on May 6 — following that nine-kicker rookie minicamp circus — his old kicking coach offered some analysis that now looks particularly prescient.

“He. Is. The. Man,” kicking coach Brandon Kornblue texted NBC Sports Chicago. “He has the mental edge. Not afraid of anything.

“I think he is perfect for this situation.”

Four months later, Pineiro drilled a game-winning 53-yard field goal against the Denver Broncos. He won the team’s kicking competition, then won a game. This is the outcome the Bears hoped they’d realize though all the 43-yard tries and Augusta silences and dealer’s choices in the spring and summer. 

But beyond just making the kick, what stood out is how badly Pineiro wanted the ball on his foot to end the game. 

“I was praying on the sidelines that I was able to get that moment,” Pineiro said. “I was like please, God, give me this opportunity, I want to get in this spotlight to make this happen for the team.”

Mental edge. Not afraid of anything. Perfect for the situation. 

The stakes of Pineiro’s kick were massive — maybe not as dire as John Fox might’ve thought — given the discouraging track record of teams that begin a season 0-2. The moment was not too big for him, since it was the exact moment he wanted. 

“I knew I was ready for it,” Pineiro said. “From all the things that I’ve been put through, the Augusta silence, the kickers getting cut left and right, I feel like I was ready for it.”

There’s something to be said for a kicker wanting to be in that moment. It’s easy to get the impression that’s the case with Pineiro; it would’ve been a lot harder to come to that conclusion with Cody Parkey a year ago, even before the double-doink. Parkey missed a game-winning field goal in Week 6 against the Miami Dolphins, then hit the upright four times against the Detroit Lions, and even a week before the playoff game booted a PAT off an upright against the Minnesota Vikings. 

The Bears now know they can trust Pineiro in those kind of moments. Because the next time they need a game-winning kick, they’ll know their guy is not just confident he can do it. He wants the opportunity to have the ball on his foot with time expiring, and wants it badly. 

“He definitely craves the pressure,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “And that's something that coach Nagy has talked about for a long time, craving pressure and being in those pressure situations. We’ve been there before, now how do we deliver?”

Pineiro delivered. And the Bears can count on him to deliver again. 

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Bears are road favorites in Week 3 vs. Redskins

Bears are road favorites in Week 3 vs. Redskins

For the second week in a row, the Chicago Bears are road favorites heading into Monday night's showdown with the Washington Redskins.

The Bears were a rare road favorite in Denver for the Broncos' home-opener in Week 2, and are a four-point favorite against the Redskins at FedEx Field Monday.

This point spread represents a decent amount of confidence that Chicago will come away with a win Monday night. Home teams normally get a three-point edge by default, so for oddsmakers to like the Bears by four points suggests it should be a game they win by a touchdown or more.

Whether the Bears can pull off a victory is only part of the story in Week 3. It's already the second game Chicago will play in front of a national television audience, and no player needs a breakout performance worse than Mitch Trubisky. He has to change the narrative that's crystallizing around his career, one that suggests he's a game manager who the Bears win in spite of. He needs a breakthrough game that announces his arrival as a franchise quarterback, and there's no better time to do that than on Monday Night Football.

As for the rest of the NFC North, the Packers are eight-point favorites at home against the Broncos, the Lions are seven-point underdogs on the road against the Eagles and the Vikings are 7.5-point favorites at home against the Raiders.


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