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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NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

Get used to the Bears being connected to just about all of the top tight end prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft as the mock-draft season kicks into high gear.

The latest mock draft from the Draft Wire is no exception. In this two-rounder, the Bears snag Washington tight end Hunter Bryant at No. 43 overall.

Here's how Bryant's game profiles, via The Draft Network's scouting report:

Hunter Bryant should be a dynamic receiving threat at the NFL level. Bryant brings excellent quickness, run after catch skills and versatility to a flex tight end role. Plugging Bryant into a traditional inline role will water down his receiving skills — he's best working off the LOS or as a flexed slot receiver who can serve as a H/W/S mismatch for opposing defenders. If Bryant it put in such a flex role, look for early production and long-term starter status in the pros. 

Sure sounds like the kind of player the Bears could use in the passing game, where the entire tight end depth chart combined for just 44 catches last season. Trey Burton led the way with 14. It was a brutal year at the position.

Naturally, adding a playmaker who can expand Matt Nagy's playcalling toolbox is a critical 'must' for Ryan Pace this offseason, and a prospect like Bryant could be an ideal fit.

In Round 2 of this mock draft, the Bears add Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison. Like tight end, linebacker will be an area of need depending on what happens with free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. It's likely that one of them will return, but even with Trevathan or Kwiatkoski back in the fold, the Bears have to add depth behind the starters. Will they address that need as early as the second round? Probably not, especially with pressing needs along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

If, however, Harrison does end up being the pick, the Bears would be getting a strong run defender who doesn't project as an every-down player at this point in his evaluation. He's likely to slide into the third round, if not later.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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