2020 Bears Roster Review: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and then what?

2020 Bears Roster Review: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and then what?

Bears Roster Review is a weekly conversation about the state of the 2020 Bears roster from JJ Stankevitz and Cam Ellis. This week: wide receivers. 

CAM ELLIS: JJ, hello. Last week we talked about the Bears' running backs – all two of them. (1.5?) Today, it's wide receivers, which is exciting because there are lots! And they're good! Mostly. So when I say 'Bears' WRs' what is the VERY first thing that crosses your mind?

JJ STANKEVITZ: How good Allen Robinson is at football. He's a legit No. 1 receiver in this league - I won't hear any arguments he's not among the 10 best at his position - and the Bears are lucky to have him for his impact both on and off the field. 

Like, let's not take Allen Robinson for granted. He's an incredible route technician and has the size, speed and physicality to put up 1,000+ yards every year - like he did in 2019!

ELLIS: It was an *exceptionally* quiet 1000+ yard season, which is probably par for the course on an 8-8 team. So I'll just dive into my ARob take right now: why would he re-sign with the Bears? Maybe he likes Chicago, and maybe he sees a future here and that's enough for him. Totally fine! But he's going to get PAID, and the team's immediate future feels like it's a lot closer to 2019 than the season before. I just have always wondered why we're all assuming it's going to happen. 

There are good teams –– actually good teams that don't need to rely on historically great turnover rates –– that would happily pay for him. 

STANKEVITZ: Yeah, the pandemic and the concerns teams have about the 2021 salary cap might also have something to do with why A-Rob hasn't signed an extension yet. I think it's an interesting question as to WHY he would want to re-up with the Bears, though. On one hand, yeah, he's caught passes almost exclusively from Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky in his career. I don't think anyone could blame him if he wanted to go play for a team that has a top-tier quarterback in place. 

But on the other hand, he tore his ACL in a contract year in 2017. I also wouldn't blame him if he wanted the security of a contract extension and lots of guaranteed money three years after that. A-Rob really does hold all the cards here - if he wants to stay in Chicago, the Bears will make it happen. If he wants to leave, there are a bunch of teams that would love to have him. 

ELLIS: It just has begun feeling more and more like a leap in logic to me that he'd happily sign away the last of his prime without ever trying to see what life with a competent passing game is like. But it's time he got his due, and he is, frankly, the least of that room's concerns. I can't decide what is, though: Anthony Miller's progression, or someone stepping up into WR3. Miller finding consistency would be a scary thing for NFC North secondaries, but the depth in the Bears' WR group hasn't quite developed at the speed people thought they would. Javon Wims and Riley Ridley (and to a lesser extent Cordarrelle Patterson) would be making me nervous if I were a Bears fan right now. 

STANKEVITZ: I think Miller taking that Year 3 leap is the biggest concern here. We'll get to the depth later (especially when it comes to speed) but having an explosive, reliable No. 2 WR should help give this offense an important dimension. From Week 11-15, Miller averaged about six catches for 86 yards in that stretch. In his other 11 games Miller averaged about a catch and a half for 20 yards per game. 

Miller clearly has the talent but hasn't been able to quite harness it consistently enough in his career. The Bears have to hope having two years of experience will help him finally make the leap we were expecting him to make in 2019. And I sorta am confident he will! He's a guy I'm going to be watching closely in training camp, provided we're actually on-site for training camp. 

ELLIS: I was struck by the tone that WR coach Mike Furrey took when talking about Miller. It was ... harsh. He more or less implied that Miller's "professional development" was to blame for any lack of early-season production, which is a courteous (albeit thinly-veiled) way of questioning effort. As someone who was also 25 not too long ago, it doesn't concern me that much. As someone who sees how Allen Robinson leads that WR room, it DEFINITELY doesn't concern me that much. Miller's bum shoulder is a bigger hindrance to any future successes than his attitude; you get him inbetween the lines and, according to all his coaches and teammates, he's as competitive as they come. 

But that shoulder just will NOT stay in, and I think it's an issue. 

STANKEVITZ: Yeah, Miller having another surgery on his shoulder this offseason is worrying. I give him credit for playing through it with a certain toughness - I don’t think I would be so flippant about my shoulder popping out, I’d probably faint. But I do think there’s a mental aspect Miller does still need to grasp. Just because he gets open doesn’t mean he always runs the right route, which is something Furrey alluded to him needing to learn during the 2019 season. Last year’s offense was such a thorough disaster, though, he like everyone else might benefit from a clean slate in 2020.

ELLIS: The Rams game from 2019 is a great example of that, I think. The big interception that sort of sealed the game/Trubisky's benching came on a route that Miller broke off way too early –– a somewhat critical aspect of the play that, unsurprisingly, got swept under the rug in favor of grand QB statements. That's life, though. OK, it's time: let's talk about Riley Ridley. Be careful what you say because Twitter WILL find this. 

STANKEVITZ: It kind of feels like Bears Twitter is hoping Ridley is a secret weapon in 2020, doesn't it? That's not a bad thing, but I kind of doubt it. 

And that's nothing specifically against Ridley. I just haven't seen enough of him -- or really anything of him at the NFL level -- that suggests a zero-to-60 breakout season is coming. Can Ridley be a solid No. 4 receiver in 2020? Sure. That'd represent a successful season for him, as a guy who can be counted on to step in as a backup. And for a former fourth round pick, that'd be pretty good!

ELLIS: Yeah that seems reasonable, which is probably why Bears' Twitter so adamantly refuses it. I just ... don't know where the volume for him to suddenly become a star is going to come from. ARob's getting his balls, as is Miller, and Jimmy Graham, and Cole Kmet, and Cohen/Montgomery. Patterson and Ginn will get their numbers called every once in a while, and the Bears might even try running the ball too! I think Ridley's ceiling this season is, not unlike you said, a backup or special teams guy. Special teams are made for guys like him. 

I didn't even mention the rookie! Who arguably brings a more important dynamic to the offense than Ridley does right now. 

STANKEVITZ: So, I sort of like what the Bears did in replacing Taylor Gabriel - who, by the way, was a better receiver than I think he might've got credit for being. But adding three speedy dudes - Darnell Mooney, Ginn and Trevor Davis - should give the Bears at least one guy who can reliably stretch defenses once or twice a week. 

Now, the quarterback still has to hit those throws - poor Gabriel was overthrown on deep balls way too much - but going cheap to find one trait isn't a bad idea!

ELLIS: I saw an interesting Tweet thread talking about Ginn's (lack of) real production. Of all WRs who ran at least 30 'go' routes in 2019, Ginn's EPA (expected points added) was the worst in football. The worst!  It sort of goes against what we've been told all this time about how He Still Has It. I love a good Eye Test vs. Stats debate, so what say you? Is Ginn going to be a legit option, or is he just going to get paid to run away from Allen Robinson? 

STANKEVITZ: I guess if he's getting paid to run away from Allen Robinson, he's not getting paid much, so who cares? All the Bears need is for him to catch a couple deep balls over the course of the season for his impact to be worth it. I think the combination of him and Mooney, most likely, will produce that - meaning there isn't too much put on the shoulders of a fifth-round rookie or a 35-year-old vet. 

ELLIS: Is it one or the other? plenty of 5th rounders haven't made the roster, but I'm not sure I agree with the line of thinking I see that implies there's only room for Ginn or Mooney. Maybe Mooney ends up on the practice squad to start the season, but I think the Bears would be foolish to think they only need one deep threat and therefore will choose between the 35 year old and the 5th rounder from the AAC. 

No disrespect to the best logo in college football, though.

STANKEVITZ: Oh no I think they're both on the roster, Ginn and Mooney. I think your WR depth chart is Robinson-Miller-Patterson-Ginn-Mooney-Ridley. That leaves Javon Wims on the outside looking in.

ELLIS: Tough look for Javon. OK, so wrapping this up. What is your hottest Bears WR take going into 2020, and what is your most reasonable Bears WR take going into 2020?

Hot: Anthony Miller is going to have the most 100+ yard receiving games in 2020.
Mild: Ted Ginn Jr. finishes with less yards than last year (421). 

STANKEVITZ: Hot: Allen Robinson has 1,300 yards and 12 TDs. 

Mild: Riley Ridley is a serviceable backup, nothing more, nothing less.

ELLIS: You certainly know your audience!

STANKEVITZ: I'm here for the Riley Ridley hive!

ELLIS: Yeah so stop yelling at JJ, you all!

Anthony Miller is hyped about Nick Foles' knowledge of Bears' offense

Anthony Miller is hyped about Nick Foles' knowledge of Bears' offense

One of the main reasons the Bears targeted Nick Foles in an offseason that was overflowing with quality quarterbacks to challenge Mitch Trubisky for Chicago's starting job is his familiarity with Matt Nagy's offense. The Bears knew what they were getting when they traded a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for the former Super Bowl MVP, and in the current COVID-19 reality, that knowledge of who Foles is as a quarterback is more valuable than the team could've ever imagined.

So is Foles' comfort with the playbook. 

Unlike traditional offseasons when players have a chance to acclimate themselves with their new city, teammates, coaching staff, and offensive system, the novel coronavirus has thrust the Bears' quarterback competition into a shotgun four-week run that Foles is oddly equipped to handle. He's already made a positive early impression on wide receiver Anthony Miller.

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“You can definitely tell that Nick has been playing this game for a long time, and he knows this offense very well," Miller said Friday during a Zoom call with reporters. "He’s very detailed in practice, you can catch him in the back of an offensive play going through his progressions and he’s not even in, so that’s just the type of player he is, and I can’t wait to see him live action to see what he really can do.”

It feels like the Trubisky vs. Foles showdown has been underway since March, but the reality is it's just getting started. Padded practices begin next week and will give Chicago's coaches and players their first real opportunity to evaluate which quarterback gives the team the best chance to win.

According to Miller, the starting gig is up for grabs.

“This is going to be an interesting competition to see and the best man is going to get the job.”


Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

First, the good news: The Bears can win Super Bowl LV.

Why not? It’s August.

If Matt Nagy can find the right quarterback and Ryan Pace’s play to overhaul the tight end room pays off, this offense could be a ton of fun to watch. And if the addition of Robert Quinn gives the Bears the sort of fearsome pass rush we expect it will, this defense should be among the best in the NFL – and more than good enough to win a Super Bowl.

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There’s absolutely no part of me that’s going to tell you the Bears cannot win a Super Bowl before we’ve seen them practice, let alone play a game, in 2020.

“We want to win a Super Bowl,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “Every day we come into the facility, all our meetings and things like that, I think that our coaches are doing a really good job for everybody to keep that in mind and that's the main thing.”

Okay, but you’re probably waiting for the bad news. I just didn’t want to start with it. Because while it's not impossible for the Bears to make a Super Bowl run, there's a big reason why it feels unlikely. 

The Bears’ formula for winning in 2020, seemingly, is pairing a good enough offense with an elite defense. It’s what got them to the playoffs in 2018 as NFC North champions. It’s what could get them back to the playoffs again this season.

But an “eh, it’s fine” offense coupled with an awesome defense is not a formula that wins you a Super Bowl in 2021. As the last 10 Super Bowls tell us, it pays to have a great offense – and doesn’t matter if you have a great defense.

The last 20 Super Bowl participants, on average, had the sixth-best offense in a given year as ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The average ranking of their defenses was about 12th.

It’s been even more pronounced over the last four years. On average, a Super Bowl team in that span ranked fourth in offense and 16th in defense.

Only two teams in the last decade reached a Super Bowl with an offense outside the top 10 in DVOA (Denver in 2015, Baltimore in 2012 – notably, both teams still won). Eleven of the last 20 teams to make a Super Bowl had a defense outside the DVOA top 10, including last year’s Kansas City Chiefs.

MORE: Why you shouldn't worry about Allen Robinson getting a contract extension

So the Bears, as currently constructed, do not appear built to win a Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done – we’re not all that far removed from the 2015 Broncos hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with the No. 25 offense and No. 1 defense – but recent history suggests it’s unlikely.

That is, unless Nagy can find the success his former peers (Doug Pederson, Andy Reid) had with his offensive scheme. Make no mistake: Offense leads Super Bowl runs, with defense a supporting character. Not the other way around. And it feels like the Bears have it the other way around.