Bears

Bears grades: Inside the complete failure against the Saints

Bears grades: Inside the complete failure against the Saints

QUARTERBACKS: F

Even the most team-centric view of the Bears’ failures on offense has to acknowledge the quarterback play on Sunday was not close to good enough. Mitch Trubisky’s miss of a wide open Taylor Gabriel on a third-and-five pass in the first half was an early gut punch to anyone hoping the 2017 No. 2 overall pick’s issues were going to be fixed after a three-week absence. 

Trubisky’s decision-making looked scrambled when he couldn’t get the ball to Allen Robinson. There were scant few throws Trubisky seemed to make with conviction, and he played like a guy whose confidence is severely rattled. Before putting up some garbage time numbers, Trubisky averaged a horrendous 3.4 yards per attempt. 

The Bears have no choice but to ride things out with Trubisky. But outside of one good quarter against an atrocious Washington defense and two stat-padding possessions late in a blowout loss, Trubisky hasn’t shown any signs of consistency that’d offer hope going forward.

Because the only thing consistent about Trubisky’s play on Sunday, and for most of 2019, has been how suboptimal it’s been.

RUNNING BACKS: F

This group does not get a pass despite only being given the ball five times on handoffs. David Montgomery fumbled on the Bears’ first offensive play of the third quarter — this after the Saints marched downfield to take a nine-point lead — and then, on the Bears’ next possession, the rookie lost a one-on-one pass protection assignment to blitzing linebacker Demario Davis, who sacked Trubisky on second and four.

Montgomery, too, whiffed on a block on a sweep to Anthony Miller that resulted in a fumble being forced by the guy the rookie running back appeared to be assigned to block. He only had two carries, but the Bears needed more out of a guy they traded up to draft six months ago.

Cohen was stopped for one yard on the Bears’ first play of the game, a run that coach Matt Nagy admitted was a “gut punch” of sorts after the game. While he caught nine passes, he only gained 19 yards, becoming only the second player since World War II to average 2.1 yards per reception or fewer with at least nine catches.

Mike Davis, the free agent who the Bears thought was a good fit for Nagy’s scheme, did not play a single snap on offense Sunday.

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

Robinson continued to be the Bears’ only viable offensive weapon, catching 10 of 16 targets for 87 yards with a touchdown (though that score, and some of that production, came in garbage time). Still, no one else on this offense is consistently making plays besides Robinson, which props this group’s grade up.

Miller fumbled on that aforementioned sweep and was sort of called out by both Nagy and Trubisky after the game for running the wrong release on a third down incompletion on which it looked like he might’ve been open. Taylor Gabriel was a non-factor in his return, catching one pass for six yards. An 11-yard first quarter catch by Cordarrelle Patterson was the best play a receiver not named Allen Robinson made until garbage time.

TIGHT ENDS: F

Trey Burton dropped what would’ve been a first down on second and two just after the two-minute warning of the first half — if he catches that ball, the Bears have possession around their own 45-yard line down by two with a fresh set of downs. Not that catching it would’ve definitely sparked the offense, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

Burton had two catches for 11 yards, bringing his season total to 13 and 68 yards in five games.

Adam Shaheen did not appear to be a factor in the Bears’ off week attempt at problem solving. He played 32 percent of the offensive snaps and was invisible until the Saints backed off late in the fourth quarter.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D-

It looked like this group still experienced some communication issues, like when nobody picked up Cam Jordan coming from the edge up the middle to sack Trubisky on a third and four in the third quarter. Nagy does not appear to trust this group’s run blocking ability given how quickly he abandoned the run.

Outside of a few of those communication issues, this group was generally fine in pass protection and did a good job to limit Marcus Davenport’s impact. Charles Leno Jr., in particular, played better (and cleaner, without any penalties) than he did before the off week. Rashaad Coward looked like he held his own at right guard in his first career start.

But offensive lines tend to operate as collectives, and this collective was not good enough, nor was given the opportunity to prove itself good enough in the run game.

DEFENSIVE LINE: D

Akiem Hicks’ absence was felt for the second consecutive game, as this group was handled by a good offensive line that consistently opened up holes for running back Latavius Murray. Bilal Nichols, Nick Williams, Roy Robertson-Harris and Adbullah Anderson (who had his first career sack) all made plays at times, but this group did not generate the consistent run-stuffing push we’ve been accustomed to seeing from it over the last few years.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

The Saints made sure Khalil Mack would not beat them, with Sean Payton frequently committing two and sometimes three players to stop the Bears’ All-Pro edge rusher. Without Hicks on the interior to win matchups, and with Leonard Floyd only impacting a smattering of plays, the strategy proved sound. Mack, in turn, did not come up with a momentum-shifting fumble when provided chances on two Teddy Bridgewater scrambles. That may seem like a high bar, but Mack has set the bar high for his play while in Chicago.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: F

It’s difficult to expect big games from inside linebackers when offensive linemen are climbing to the second level and blocking Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, but those two players share culpability for allowing Murray to carve up 119 yards with two touchdowns (it’s the second consecutive game in which the Bears have allowed a 100-yard rusher in regulation, something this defense did not do in 2018). Smith continued to fall well short of the All-Pro expectations placed on 2018’s eighth overall pick, while there appeared to be some communication errors that may fall in the lap of Trevathan.

CORNERBACKS: D+

Both Buster Skrine and Prince Amukamara did well to break up passes intended for Ted Ginn Jr. in the end zone, but Amukamara lost Ginn on a 45-yard deep ball that wound up sparking New Orleans to a second-half blowout (he probably needed safety help on the play, though — more on that in a bit). While Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in the NFL, this is a unit led by a 2018 All-Pro in Kyle Fuller that should expect to limit Thomas better than it did Sunday (nine catches, 131 yards), especially with Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook out.

SAFETIES: D

It looked like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix bit too hard on play-action on that 45-yard heave to Ginn on the Saints’ first drive of the second half, leaving Amukamara exposed to try to keep up with the speedy veteran. Eddie Jackson has now gone six games without an interception, which may still be because teams are shying away from throwing his direction but has to be frustrating for the 2018 All-Pro (who’s due for a contract extension after this season).

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

Talk about a day of extremes here. The bad: The Saints blocked Pat O’Donnell’s first punt of the game, with O’Donnell smartly knocking the ball out of the end zone for a safety. And later, the Saints tipped one of O’Donnell’s punts, with Zach Line blowing up DeAndre Houston-Carson and getting a piece of the ball.

But the good was Patterson’s mesmerizing 102-yard kick return score, the Bears’ first since 2014 and the first at Soldier Field since…Patterson housed a kick with the New England Patriots in Week 7 of the 2018 season. 

Eddy Pineiro also connected on a 46-yard field goal, his longest at Soldier Field, and the Bears recovered an onside kick late in the game. How odd is it that seven games into the season, the literal least of the Bears’ concerns involve their kicker? 

COACHING: F

That the Bears were so flat, and so bad, after coaches touted all the self-scouting and answers found during the off week, was alarming. Whatever the Bears’ plan for running the ball was, it was abandoned after the 13:44 mark of the second quarter — which was when Cohen picked up nine yards on a first down in Saints territory.

Nagy had Trubisky drop back 13 consecutive times after that run — some of which, to be fair, were in two-minute situations — before Montgomery fumbled on the Bears’ first play of the second half. The seven rushing plays the Bears attempted were a franchise low, besting the eight called by Marc Trestman on Thanksgiving in 2014. And it’s generally not a good thing to be compared to Marc Trestman around these parts. 

Nagy, through six games, has lacked the kind of answers he was able to find for his offense in 2018. The growing theory is the NFL has adjusted to Nagy’s scheme — and Trubisky — and coach and quarterback have not found a counter-adjustment. If that doesn’t happen soon, this’ll be a lost season, one in which one of the worst offenses in the NFL cannot prop up a good, not elite, defense. 

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Seven Bears playing for their jobs over the final six games of 2019

Seven Bears playing for their jobs over the final six games of 2019

The Bears are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but at 4-6 in a loaded NFC, they effectively are. Both 538 and Football Outsiders give the Bears about a 1 percent chance of playing into January. 

So what’s left to play for over the final six games of a cripplingly disappointing season?

“At the end of the day you gotta think of it, guys are playing for their jobs,” tight end Trey Burton explained a few weeks ago, before he was put on injured reserve. “The minute you take a play off is the minute they’re going to put somebody in to fill your spot. 

“And then also, I know from experience when you’re a younger guy and maybe you’re undrafted and maybe you’re on the practice squad, you’re itching to play. You want to play as much as you can. And so the coaches are watching that too and might give him a shot.”

The Bears do have a rather large core of players that will return in 2020 based on their contracts. Khalil Mack, Cody Whitehair, Bobby Massie and Buster Skrine all have dead cap numbers larger than their 2020 cap hits (meaning: They’re not going anywhere). Roquan Smith is not in danger of losing his job, nor is Eddie Jackson. Guys like Charles Leno Jr., Eddie Goldman and Kyle Fuller will be back in their current roles, too, based on their contract statuses. 

But that does leave a fairly large chunk of the roster needing to stay motivated over the home stretch of 2019 to either keep their jobs, or grow their roles in 2020. Consider this a roadmap to watching the Bears the rest of the season, unless you still believe in the 1 percent chance this team can run the table and make the playoffs. 

Mitch Trubisky is an obvious choice here, which we covered on Monday. So we’ll highlight seven other players here whose final six games will have a significant impact on the Bears’ plans this offseason: 

WR Allen Robinson

The Bears could save $13 million against 2020’s cap if they were to cut Robinson before the third and final year of his contract, but he’s been the team’s best receiver and is a guy they love having around Halas Hall. More likely at stake for Robinson is a contract extension, which could lower his 2020 cap number — giving the Bears some flexibility — while keeping the 26-year-old in Chicago for the long term. 

While Robinson had a rough night against the Los Angeles Rams last week — he was blanketed by ex-Jaguars teammates Jalen Ramsey and dropped a pass — he’s been one of the only players on the 2019 Bears to play better than he did in 2018. A strong finish to the season would only help him land a deservedly-large payday sometime next year. 

The Bears, too, could save $4.5 million in cap space by releasing Taylor Gabriel, but doing so would remove the only legitimate downfield threat from the Bears’ roster. Over eight games, Gabriel is averaging more yards per reception than he did last year (11.9 to 10.3) and already has doubled his touchdown total from 2018. 

But things always change when expectations are not met. Which brings us to…

WR Anthony Miller

Miller has not improved on a solid rookie season, and has gone through stretches where he’s been invisible in the Bears’ offense this year. Whether that’s his fault, the fault of the quarterback or a combination of the two is difficult to tell without knowing the exact details of Trubisky’s progressions or Miller’s routes. But guys with 23 catches, no touchdowns and less than 300 yards 10 games into a season don’t usually have much job security. 

Miller will be on the team in 2020, the third year of his rookie contract. But without a strong finish to the season — which means not only production, but avoiding drops and poorly-run routes — he’ll be in danger of losing the starting gig he’s had in the Bears’ 11 personnel-heavy offense the last two years. That could mean increased competition from 2019 fourth-round pick Riley Ridley, or with the Bears bringing in a receiver via free agency or the draft to battle him for snaps and targets. 

OL James Daniels

One of the more glaring disappointments for the 2019 Bears was the ineffectiveness of moving Daniels to center, the position at which he excelled in college. Daniels struggled with getting the Bears’ offense in the right protections — something Trubisky struggled with, too — leading to him being flipped back to left guard and Cody Whitehair taking over at center again. 

The Bears’ offensive line, ideally, would have Daniels at center and Whitehair at guard. The Bears flipped those two before Week 10 in an effort to save their lagging season, and if they’re hoping to get the best evaluation possible of Trubisky over the final six games of the season, will not switch them back (it hasn't resulted in any running game improvements). 

But what if the Bears determine Trubisky’s injury is enough to sit him for a few games, or the rest of the season? Chase Daniel can make protections at the line, and putting Daniels back at center would help give the Bears a better evaluation of where their offensive line needs to improve in 2020. Because that group has to be better, and just getting an upgrade at right guard may not be enough to fix what’s ailed Harry Hiestand’s group. 
This is all to say that, even though Daniels is a talented former second-round pick, his cheap contract could make him a target for competition in 2020. 

OLB Leonard Floyd

Floyd’s $13.2 million fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only, and that’s a lot of money for someone with only three sacks so far in 2019. Floyd, of course, does a lot of other things the Bears like — he’s good against the run, he can drop into coverage, etc. — but while Khalil Mack has been consistently double- and triple-teamed, Floyd has not won his one-on-one pass rushing matchups, allowing teams to continue to over-commit to blocking Mack without any negative repercussions. 

Floyd has been the league’s second least-productive pass rusher among edge rushers with at least 200 pass rushing snaps this year, per Pro Football Focus. He has not developed his athletic and physical tools into being the kind of do-it-all defensive force the Bears thought he’d be when they drafted him in 2016, and while it’s not easy — or cheap — to find edge rushers, Floyd may be running out of time to convince the Bears he’s worthy of that salary in 2020. 

CB Prince Amukamara

Amukamara is in the same realm as Robinson and Gabriel, in that he’s been an effective player but doesn’t have much dead money left on the contract he signed before the 2018 season. Cutting him would save $9 million in cap space, though his ability to play physical press coverage without getting penalized much (he’s only had one flag thrown against him since Week 3) is not easy to replace. He’s only allowed one touchdown this year, per Pro Football Focus. 

Also, only six players with at least 250 coverage snaps have been targeted less than Amukamara, a nod to how well he’s played in coverage. 

Still, Amukamara does not have an interception this year, and had a multi-year drought before a pick-six in Week 2 of the 2018 season. Perhaps the Bears look to sign him to an extension to lower his 2020 cap number and give him a little more security in the future. But $9 million is a lot of cap space for a team needing changes that’ll be up against it this offseason, so a strong finish to 2019 would go a long way toward Amukamara staying in Chicago in 2020 and perhaps beyond. 

S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

One of the few impending free agents on this roster, Clinton-Dix signed a cheap one-year prove-it deal with the Bears in March and has largely made good on his end of the “prove it” part. He only has four missed tackles this year — never more than one in a game, per PFF — and has a pick-six on his resume. Quarterbacks have a 43.8 passer rating when throwing Clinton-Dix’s way, seventh-lowest among safeties with at least 200 snaps in coverage. 

Clinton-Dix has set himself up for a multi-year contract this offseason, especially given how shallow the safety market looks to be in comparison to 2019’s. He just needs to continue playing at a good level over the final six games to earn that contract, even if it’d be a surprise if it were with the Bears. 

PK Eddy Pineiro

Pineiro’s job may already be on the line after he missed two kicks against the Los Angeles Rams and seemed to lose the trust of coach Matt Nagy in the first quarter of the Bears’ 17-7 loss on Sunday. While Nagy said the Bears won’t bring in competition for Pineiro, the Bears need to be thinking about who their kicker will be in 2020. 

The Bears may see Pineiro’s rookie year — in which he’s made 70.6 percent of his field goal attempts and missed one PAT — and see the value of patience, as the franchise did 13 years ago when Robbie Gould made 77 percent of his kicks (and only three of eight from 40 or more yards) as a rookie. Or they may look at what he’s done and determine he’s not someone Nagy can trust in 2020, setting off a fresh cycle of kicker questions in Chicago. 

Every miss will bring questions about Pineiro’s future in Chicago from here on out, but every made kick will help bolster his case for at least sticking around for a competition in 2020. Few players may have more on the line in the immediate future than Pineiro. 

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Alex Brown: 'There are some clowns on this team and I don’t like it'

Alex Brown: 'There are some clowns on this team and I don’t like it'

On the Football Aftershow following the Bears Week 11 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Alex Brown called out the Bears players for clowning around. You can watch the clip from the show here.

“We got to figure out who loves football because the ship will turn back again and the guys that really love football, those are the only guys you really want on the team,” Brown said. “There’s some clowns on this team. There’s some clowns and I don’t like it.”

The former Bears defensive end and Football Aftershow host isn’t one to mince words, but the harsh callout to the less-than-inspiring 2019 Bears may be reflective of how many fans are feeling at this point in the season.

Brown’s reasoning behind his clown comparisons is that the Bears only want to take ownership when they play well, but dodge responsibility whenever things go wrong.

“Anything that goes good, they want to say ‘oh I did it, its me.’" Brown explains. “You score a touchdown, get back, yes I want you to be excited, be excited with your team, but get back to the huddle.”

With so much going wrong this season, the Bears can’t avoid taking responsibility for much longer. 

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