Bears

Bears handling of Mitch Trubisky, run-pass balance fits a pattern as Leonard Floyd heats up

Bears handling of Mitch Trubisky, run-pass balance fits a pattern as Leonard Floyd heats up

Shaking some last crumbs out of the notebook after the Bears reached 3-4 with their 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers…

The thought that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains somehow needs to loosen the leather restraints he’s put on quarterback Mitch Trubisky may be the head-scratcher of the weekend; more than just this weekend, really.

Set aside the mistaken notion that the only goal of the 2017 season is Trubisky’s development. First of all, that’s an objective, not a goal (winning is a “goal”); and somewhere in all this, the developments of Leonard Floyd, Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair might be at least a little important, but that’s digressing...

Realize that Loggains has been the boots-on-the-ground prime mover behind the plan and program that has had Trubisky on a developmental fast track practically since the quarterback was drafted. And Loggains is a self-professed “’I like to throw it’ guy” even if John Fox isn’t, although the 2016 season is worth a look regarding the latter’s feelings about throwing. More on that in a minute.

More to the play-calling specifically: Carolina was No. 2 in the NFL in sacks and a top-10 pass defense. Baltimore is 12th against the pass and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (10). Loggains and the offense overwhelmingly ran the football against both of those defenses.

Against Minnesota, which is a more workable 17th in passing yardage allowed, the Bears ran 56 plays. Of those, 27 were pass plays, not counting Trubisky running three times.

Fold in this perspective: Loggains was part of the Adam Gase staff in 2015 when the Bears were a 54:46 pass:run ratio offense. Last year, with the quarterback mayhem of Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Jay Cutler-Matt Barkley, Loggains as OC threw the ball 61 percent of the time. Anyone who cared to look really closely at the “why” there would have seen that Loggains didn’t have an in-shape Jordan Howard early, by Howard’s own assessment, or a fully healthy Jeremy Langford late.

Meaning: Loggains has worked with what he had, both last year and now this year, when he doesn’t have Alshon Jeffery and Cameron Meredith, or Markus Wheaton (inactive for four of the seven games) for that matter, for Trubisky (or Mike Glennon) to catch passes. Fox wants an offense that, of its top five priorities, not turning the football is Nos. 1-4, and that’s what Loggains and Trubisky have given him.

The “culture” that’s increasingly evident in and around Halas Hall

Not every fun or revealing locker room quip should be reported. So when Leonard Floyd was bantering not too long ago with Akiem Hicks, the outside linebacker issued a declaration that I thought oughta stay in its corner of the locker room, at least until the young man played up to the bar he was setting for himself.

“I’m hot,” Floyd had informed Hicks, who gave every appearance of dismissing the boast as the overly self-hyping rant of a second-year NFL pup, more intent on finding a missing sock than indulging the youngster. “I…am…hot,” Floyd repeated to ensure that Hicks was on notice.

The good-natured by-play was more than just a little smack.

Floyd and Hicks have a friendly but definitely intense sack competition, Floyd has had four sacks over the last four games, to which Hicks has to up his game with four sacks over the last three. But for Floyd, his year heated up with his first 2017 sack, at Green Bay.

“It was that sack – when I sacked Aaron Rodgers – I felt ‘hot,’” Floyd said on Sunday after the Carolina win, in which Floyd was credited with four tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hits. Floyd did sack Rodgers last season at Green Bay, forcing a fumble that Floyd recovered in the end zone. But “I didn’t have any sacks going into Green Bay [this year],” Floyd said, “so when I sack Aaron Rodgers, I know I can sack anybody."

Not that Floyd is superstitious or anything, but “I’m still wearing the same cleats I wore in that Green Bay game,” Floyd added, rummaging through his bag and extracting the well-worn, good-luck footwear.

Winning makes everything a little more relaxed, although conversely, actually “playing” football not uncommonly leads to winning as well. Whichever is cause and which is effect, something is noticeably different inside a team that not too long ago too many had been given up for NFL dead.

Postcard from Camp: Adam Shaheen's ankle injury puts a halt on the solid growth he's made this preseason

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Postcard from Camp: Adam Shaheen's ankle injury puts a halt on the solid growth he's made this preseason

Bears coach Matt Nagy wasn’t sure on Monday if Adam Shaheen’s right ankle sprain would keep him from playing Week 1 in Green Bay. If it does, though, it would represent the fourth consecutive regular season game the second-year tight end would miss dating back to last year. 

In a coincidental connection, too, it would mark the second straight year Shaheen wouldn’t be able to immediately build off a strong showing against the Cincinnati Bengals. Last December, Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards with a touchdown in the Bears’ 33-7 win in Cincinnati; he caught all three of his targets for 53 yards against the Bengals in Aug. 9’s preseason game. 

Shaheen suffered a chest injury during that Bengals game last December and was inactive for the Bears’ final three games of the season. Coincidences aside, Shaheen’s ankle injury represents another speed bump in his developmental path, depending on the severity of it. 

But the good news, perhaps, is that Shaheen has made strides this training camp and preseason. We’ll look at one specific play against the Bengals that stands out below. 

To set it up: Earlier this month, Shaheen talked about how he’s improved at reading coverages and how that’s helped him improve as a route runner. That’s something that has come with experience as he enters Year 2 in the NFL. 

“It’s a big part of this offense as a receiver, recognize the coverage and where you need to be,” Shaheen said. “How you get there is everything.

“… There’s a little more not-so-much focus on, like, a perfect square cut. It’s more, like I said earlier, against this coverage you need to be in that hole at the right time. You might just be in that hole just pulling a defender another way to open up your teammate. That’s a big part.”

That growing savviness was on display in Cincinnati on Aug. 9. Specifically, this play:

Shaheen runs a drag over the middle on third-and-four but encounters linebacker Hardy Nickerson (red circle) standing in his way.

Instead of keeping strictly to the route and trying to run through or beneath Nickerson (yellow arrow), Shaheen faced up to the Bengals’ linebacker, did an inside-out juke move and goes to Nickerson's outside shoulder (blue arrow).

Shaheen is then able to use his strength and athleticism to gain leverage on Nickerson and work his way into the open field. 

The whole play took all of two seconds to develop, and by the time Chase Daniel releases the ball, Shaheen has a step on Nickerson. The result is not just a first down, but a 29-yard completion. 

“Some routes are locked in, and other ones we’ve got a little wiggle room to work,” Shaheen said. “Those ones are obviously very good to see a linebacker over there because you know you can really have an opportunity to get the ball and work him.”

Those little things will continue to grow Shaheen’s game with more experience. The potential is there for Shaheen to play a significant role in the Bears’ offense in 2018 — provided he’s healthy for the start of it. 

Construction and nature of Bears pass rush adds to potential impact of Leonard Floyd hand injury

Construction and nature of Bears pass rush adds to potential impact of Leonard Floyd hand injury

Measuring the impact and domino effect of Leonard Floyd’s fractured right hand suffered in the weekend win over the Denver Broncos is next to impossible at this juncture simply because what Floyd’s effectiveness will be in a cast isn’t remotely clear. Coach Matt Nagy noted Monday that players have functioned with a “club” for a hand but the Bears need more than Floyd just playing.

The injury, which required surgery, affects Floyd’s fingers, and irrespective of the specific injury, those requiring casting and club-like encasement have dramatically affected effectiveness in even the game’s top pass rushers: Clay Matthews in Green Bay (2013); Jason Pierre-Paul with the Giants (2015); J.J. Watt in Houston (2016).

Nagy used the word “relief” in talking about Floyd’s situation; good word choice. Because the Bears have lost elite linebackers to season-ending thumb or wrist injuries (Bryan Cox, 1996; Brian Urlacher 2009).

But any diminishing of Floyd’s effectiveness projects to a potential catastrophe for a Bears defense wanting to start fast and help an offense that will be learning to stand fully upright through its first season under Nagy. Pass rushers, particularly speed rushers, need their hands. And fingers.

The reason is more than simply Floyd. It’s the construction of the Bears defense and its rush options. Because in the Bears’ case, numbers can obscure the true nature – and degree of vulnerability – of the Bears’ pass rush.

The defense posted 42 sacks in 2017, ranking an eminently respectable tied for seventh despite being without a single defender with more than Akiem Hicks’ 8-1/2, and better than Arizona (17th) with Chandler Jones (17 sacks), for example.

That is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that a top-10 defense was not based on one individual rush terror – a Matthews, Watt, Von Miller. Consider it a rush-by-committee, with Floyd, Hicks, Sam Acho, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young or any of more than a half-dozen threats capable of delivering one of the single most devastating defensive plays other than a takeaway.

But that is also the bad news. Because the Bears lost McPhee, Young, Lamarr Houston and the players who produced more than one-third (14-1/2) of the 42 sacks.

This is more than a simple headcount issue; it’s an integrated-whole problem. The Bears had so many potential impact rushers, their scheme was able to bring pressure from different places and players. The rush may not have had one elite pocket disruptor, but it did have quantity to the point where double-teaming any one created opportunities that non-elite rushers exploited.

Acho benefitted from Young benefitted from McPhee benefitted from Hicks benefitted from Floyd benefitted from... You get the idea.

The point is that no Bears rusher was, or now, is, capable of exerting consistent dominance by himself, as great pass rushers do. Dan Hampton benefitted from Richard Dent, but Hampton was a Pro Bowl rush threat before Dent arrived. Watt had 20 1/2 sacks in 2012, before the Texans drafted Jadeveon Clowney, and 20 1/2 in 2014 when Clowney only played four games.

The Bears situation is not necessarily a crisis; the whole being greater than the sum of the parts is by definition the antithesis of crisis. But the Bears lost a significant number of those parts. Liken it to the Bears having a great offensive line and losing a couple of starters: The remaining starters could the better members of the “great” group, but unless the lost players are replaced with talent equal to or greater than the losses, the chances of the group achieving anywhere near what it was when it had all its components are slim.

Hicks is coming off a career year. But the Bears did little to replace Houston, McPhee and Young, who contributed both to Floyd’s development and his production. Now the pass rusher drafted to be a linchpin of the Bears defense has a significant impairment.

So does the entire defense.