The Bears, like every other NFL team, are just trying to take the NFL's officiating issues in stride

USA Today

The Bears, like every other NFL team, are just trying to take the NFL's officiating issues in stride

The Bears don’t have to look back more than 48 hours, in their own division, to see what type of impact NFL officiating is having on the outcome of games this season. They could look at some of the questionable calls that gave Green Bay enough extra life to pull out a one-point win over Detroit on Monday night. They could also look at Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who said on Wednesday that, “the last few weeks when we’ve had an explosive play, I basically stop and look around, assuming that it’s coming back.”

Whether it’s the inconsistency of holding calls, the apparent uselessness of the league’s new pass interference challenge, or the QB protection rules that basically everyone hates, the refs have been squarely in the spotlight since last season’s NFC Championship (and probably earlier than that). It’s an aspect of the game that is, at this point, something the Bears spend time during the week planning for. 

“We review who the crew is and then where they rank in the calls that they make,” Matt Nagy said on Wednesday. “Some crews, they do a lot more this call than another call than other groups of referees.” 

The Bears’ own issues with penalties have been well-documented. They rank 17th in calls against (43), though starting left tackle Charles Leno is the most penalized player in football (8). The offensive line as a whole has struggled with flags, and the unit is responsible for almost a quarter of the team’s total number. 

“I'm not going to be critical of the officials, but some of them are phantoms, honest to god,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said on Tuesday. “[Leno] had a couple that were clearly penalties, but (not) as many as the number. It was a point of emphasis for [the officials] to start out the season doing it. Then they were calling them all over the place, then they backed off. I can't win commenting on that.”  

And after (unsuccessfully) testing out the new ability to challenge pass interference in the preseason, Nagy has yet to try it since – and for good reason. Of the 40 pass interference calls that have been challenged this season, just seven have been overturned. It’s gotten even more drastic over the last month, too: teams are 1-21 since Week 3. 

The Bears themselves haven’t had much of a pass interference issue, with the defense tied for 19th (3) and the offensive tied for 22nd (2). Both starting cornerbacks have already been flagged for it once already, but given the league’s seemingly-arbitrary approach to enforcing the penalty, coaching with the refs in mind isn’t something that comes up in secondary meetings. 

“Man I just want my guys not to touch it,” said Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend. “That rule stuff is out of my hands. As long as we go out there and play with good technique – it’s always a human decision. Who knows which way it goes? It’s not mine. Mine is to teach the guys to move with their feet, play with great eyes and we’ll be fine.”

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Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

The Chicago Bears have a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs in 2019 after falling to 4-6 following Sunday night's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, it's time to start looking ahead to 2020 and the necessary moves GM Ryan Pace must make in order to take advantage of the Bears' already championship-worthy defense.

Pace will face some obvious challenges in the offseason, most notably the salary cap where the Bears won't have much flexibility. According to Spotrac, Chicago will be in the bottom-five teams in the league in cap space which will make shopping in free agency a limited endeavor. 

But as we've seen many times in the NFL, creative general managers can move money around in ways to free up the dollars for new contracts to make sense, and it's on Pace to make sure he does that in order to land at least two big-ticket free agents to fix two of this team's most pressing needs.

The NFL draft will also provide Pace with a great opportunity to add young, starting-quality talent in the second round. The Bears will end up with two of this year's top-60(ish) players and they have to make those picks count.

Here are four players Pace should target in order to turn the 2020 Bears into the contender they were supposed to be this season.

Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)

Bridgewater would be the perfect target for Pace and the Bears in free agency to bring stability and reliability to the quarterback position. The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings has resurrected his career after a devastating knee injury in 2016. Now three seasons removed, Bridgewater proved he's ready to take on a starting job after playing five games in relief of Drew Brees after the future Hall-of-Famer suffered a hand injury.

Bridgewater won all five starts and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes along the way. He racked up 281 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 against the Bears and displayed the kind of accuracy and decision-making that Matt Nagy's offense calls for.

The Bears won't be the only suitors for Bridgewater's services, but the appeal of starting in Chicago with a defense that's proven it can win games on its own will at least be enticing for the former Lousiville star.

Sign TE Austin Hooper (Falcons)

Hooper will command a contract similar to what Chicago paid Trey Burton in 2018 (four years, $32 million), so it will be hard to justify tying up that much money in the tight end position. But as 2019 has proven, there's no way for Nagy's offense to reach its potential without a weapon at tight end in the passing game.

Hooper missed Week 11 with an MCL injury and could be on the shelf for a few more weeks, but he's been one of the league's better playmakers at tight end this season. He has 56 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns and has shown steady improvement over each year of his career. He had 71 catches for 660 yards and four scores in 2018.

Draft OT Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) in 2nd round

It'll take a little bit of luck for 'Prince' to fall to the Bears' first of two second-round picks, which right now sits at No. 46 overall. But the Bears have to be aggressive in upgrading the offensive line this offseason. While Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are serviceable offensive tackles, a player like Tega Wanogho has the kind of traits that could eventually develop into a top-tier starter on either side of the offensive line.

The Bears could decide to prioritize the interior of the offensive line in the draft, and that's fine. But the best (and cheapest) way to land a high-end offensive tackle is through the draft, and Pace has to swing for the fences on a pick like this in 2020.

Draft EDGE Yetur Gross Matos (Penn State) in 2nd round

Pass rushers like Gross Matos are often pushed up the draft board because of the premium placed on the position, but with several teams expected to take a quarterback in the first round and with the number of ridiculously talented wide receivers in the 2020 class, a player like Gross Matos could suffer a bit of a fall.

Gross Matos has six sacks so far this season, which is a respectable total but has fallen a tad short of expectations entering the year. He had eight sacks in 2018 and was a popular pick to explode as a sack artist this fall. Still, he has the athletic profile Pace loves in his pass rushers and would be an instant upgrade over Leonard Floyd, who's failed to live up to his first-round billing since joining the Bears in 2016.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: What happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward?


Sports Talk Live Podcast: What happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward?

Hub Arkush, JJ Stankevitz, and Ben Finfer join the birthday boy on today's show.

0:00 - Sunday's debacle in L.A. continues to dominate headlines. So what happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward? Is Matt Nagy's offense fixable? And how did a team that was one of the favorites for the Super Bowl fall apart this quickly?

16:00 - Jeremy Roenick joins Kap to talk about Kirby Dach's hot streak and if the Jeremy Colliton saved his job by making one tweak to his scheme.

24:00 - Dave Wannstedt joins Kap to discuss the fallout from Sunday's Bears loss to the Rams. How would Wanny handle Eddy Pineiro's confidence? Plus he talks about how to keep a team motivated with the playoff hopes essentially gone.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast