Bears

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests. 

With free agency in his future, Robbie Gould says he 'will always be a Bear'

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USA TODAY

With free agency in his future, Robbie Gould says he 'will always be a Bear'

Robbie Gould will always be popular among Bears fans, but his name is popping up a bit more frequently after Cody Parkey’s tipped/missed decisive field goal in the playoffs.

Gould, who was with the Bears for 11 seasons, was on the Prostyle Podcast with fellow former Bear Earl Bennett. Bennett asked Gould about a number of hot topics, including Gould’s view on Parkey’s miss and what’s in Gould’s future as a free agent this offseason.

For starters, Gould said he harbors no ill will about his exit from Chicago and still lives in the city.

“I’m not mad about it at all,” Gould said. “At the end of the day, football is a business. Unfortunately as a player you don’t get to say when your type is up at a place. More often than not the organization is your employer, just like other businesses. They get to tell you where, when, how, why and for what reason. As a player you have the opportunity to say yes or no and you have to make those decisions. They made a decision to go in a different direction. I’m happy that they got back to the winning ways this year.”

Gould attended the playoff loss to the Eagles with his kids. Bennett asked Gould if he believed he would have made the crucial kick. Naturally, Gould wasn’t about to step on another kicker and played it safe in his answer.

“We’re talking about a hypothetical,” Gould said. “I wasn’t out there. I didn’t get a chance to kick it. Obviously I feel for Cody Parkey and what he went through on Sunday. I have a lot of respect for him, not only as a person, but also as a kicker. We’ll never know.”

Gould went on to recall his missed potential game-winning kicks in his career. He rattled off five different kicks and some details on all of them, which shows how scarring missing a game-winning field goal is for a kicker.

Then, the big question: would Gould rejoin the Bears? It sounds like the Bears are going to move on from Parkey, both for his on-field performance and the ensuing Today Show appearance, which didn’t seem to endear him to coach Matt Nagy.

Gould said the 49ers have exclusive rights to negotiate with him until the middle of March. He is focusing on spending time with his family in the meantime. Earlier in the interview he talked about the 49ers and their future as if he would be a part of it, but went politically correct when asked about Chicago.

“I love Chicago,” Gould said. “I live here. I still live here. Whether you go to the grocery store or whether you go to the restaurant, that’s the question everyone is asking me. I get it, right? I understand it, but Cody is their kicker right now. He’s the guy on their roster. He’s the guy that I think can rebound and have a great season and do some big things for the Bears down the road. For me, Chicago will always be home. I love the Bear fans. I love this city. I’ll always be a Bear, no matter what team I’m on or where I’m going or whatever happens. One day I’ll probably retire a Bear and you know it’s one of those things, free agency is much out of your control.”

 

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For the Bears, the 2018 rookie class is yet another cornerstone of the Nagy/Pace era

For the Bears, the 2018 rookie class is yet another cornerstone of the Nagy/Pace era

Depending on who you ask, one might be surprised to hear that on the NFL's best defense -- one with 4 All-Pros -- the leading tackler was rookie Roquan Smith. 

Smith, who was the Bears' first-round pick in 2018 and whose contract-holdout was the hot topic of preseason, led the team in both combined (120) and solo (89) tackles. While there's a dark corner of Bears fans who weren't happy with Smith's 2018 (and kind of aren't happy about anything ever), the 8th overall pick out of Georgia's first season was subjectively a success. 

"You know, you talk to Roquan and you can just feel him, no different than any player, just feeling comfortable in the defense," GM Ryan Pace said. "So now he's not thinking as much, he's just playing with his instincts, and he's playing fast. And you guys know Roquan. Those are his greatest strengths - his instincts and his speed. So the sky's the limit for him."

"It's just exciting to see him grow. And I think you saw a glimpse of what he's going to be, especially in the later part of the season." 

Smith may be the headliner, but don't let that undercut how productive the rest of the group was. James Daniels, Anthony Miller, and Bilal Nichols each had their moments throughout the year, showing off what looks like back-to-back stellar draft classes in Pace/Nagy era. In fact, Smith, Daniels and Nichols all made ESPN's All-Rookie team. 

"I like [the group] a lot," Matt Nagy added. "The guys that we brought in, we were talking about it a few weeks ago -- you never know how many you're going to hit on. And so and I don't know if we even truly know right now, but from what we've seen we feel really confident with that group, see a lot of high ceiling with these guys." 

Daniels, taken in the 2nd round out of Iowa, appeared in 16 games this season and was a starter in the final 10. He didn't allow a single sack all season, and according to Pro Football Focus, only allowed 20 total pressures on his 432 pass-blocking attempts. His work against Rams' All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald may be one of the more impressive performances from any Bears player on the roster all year. 

"That was one of the biggest challenges that he’s ever going to have," Nagy said the morning after the Bears' 15-6 win. "I thought his technique was really good last night. He never lunged too much, he stayed balanced. One of James’ biggest strengths is if he happens to lose a little leverage he can recover, but for the most part he was very consistent. And man, for being such a young kid, very calm, composed and that was one of the big things we talked about as a team was to stay calm and composed and next play mentality, he did that."

For Miller, who came out of Memphis with a whole bunch of Antonio Brown comparisons, being stashed behind Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton didn't stop the rookie from scoring seven touchdowns, the most for a Bears' rookie since 1983. For the year, Miller hauled in 33 receptions for 423 yards, averaging out at 12.8 yards per reception. If you don't count Kevin White and his four receptions, Miller's 12.8 YPR was good for 3rd best on the team. He also showed a commendable amount of toughness, battling through most of the season with a left shoulder that popped out on multiple occasions and will eventually need surgery. It's also worth noting that Miller is already well-liked inside of Halas Hall - it's not a coincidence that he was one of the first people Allen Robinson named when asked why someone would want to join the Bears in free agency. 

As for Nichols, the rookie out of Delaware started six games and appeared in 14 and played well next to Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. He put up three sacks, two forced fumbles and 28 tackles, five of which were for a loss. Like Smith and Daniels, Nichols was consistently lauded for having a maturity beyond his age. 

"We’ve got some mature rookies," linemate Akiem Hicks said. "I noticed that from OTAs and off the top of my head, Roquan Smith and Bilal Nichols, just knowing their role and their place and trying to meet every expectation of themselves and from their peers and coaching staff and just knowing that there’s a lot to lose whenever you step on the field. They take advantage of it and so as a veteran player you look at that and you say, ‘We’ve got a great nucleus here, something that can propel us forward into the playoffs and so look at us now.'" 

The other three members of the 2018 class had quieter opening acts, though reasons to be optimistic remain. Javon Wimms put on a clinic in preseason and may be one of the more exciting Breakout Season candidates come next August. Kylie Fitts appeared in six games this season and fits well with what you need in a linebacker in 2019. Joel Iyiegbuniwe was a strong contributor to special teams over 16 games. 

The list of the players drafted during Pace's tenure now includes (but isn't limited to): Mitch Trubisky, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Smith, Daniels, Miller, and Nichols. In other words, their starting QB, safety, running back, inside linebacker, offensive guard and defensive tackle. So what's behind such successful drafts? 

"I think that it's just a credit to these guys, Ryan and his guys," Nagy added. "They put in a lot of hard work and we collaborate together. And when you do that and you get guys that believe in everything, that's what happens."

"If we could go back and do it again, I'd do it again."

Hard to blame him.