Bears

The Bears' issues with run defense start with Akiem Hicks, but that's not where it ends

The Bears' issues with run defense start with Akiem Hicks, but that's not where it ends

The Bears' defense didn't allow a rushing touchdown through the first three games of 2019. Over that stretch, teams (Green Bay, Denver, Washington) averaged 3.06 yards per carry against them, and the Bears held all three under 100 yards rushing. It looked like this: 


Sharp Stats

Those numbers represent how much success Green Bay, Denver, and Washington had running the ball in certain directions. That's a lot of red (and one weird green?) on the interior, where Akiem Hicks was lined up for 147 snaps. It's a small sample size, but the Pro Bowl defensive tackles influence is noticeable. It's even more noticeable, though, in the same chart for the following seven weeks: 

Teams were averaging 3.4 yards per carry (YPC) in Hicks' direction through the first three games. After that, Hicks played eight more snaps before being put on IR, and that YPC has shot up to 4.1. Since then, the Bears have also allowed eight rushing touchdowns, with at least one in every game except for last week's Detroit win. Over the last six weeks, they've given up 169 yards (OAK), 151 (Saints) and 146 (Eagles) on the ground. So is that just because Hicks isn't there?

"We’ve kind of opened up a can of worms, and until you put that fire out, you’re going to continue to get the same type of schemes," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. 

"So it’s just a matter of being consistent. I thought our guys did a nice job for the most part, except for a few of those. It’s really those scramble yards that get you."

Pagano mentioned that, somewhat ironically, the Rams' offense wasn't the only historically-great unit that got exposed during that Sunday night game last December. It falls on him, he said, to put players in better schemes – especially now that teams can afford to throw more attention at Khalil Mack in Hicks' absence. Much of that falls in the hands of Nick Williams and Nick Kwiatkoski, who both have been unexpected bright spots this season. Pagano praised 'Kwik' using all the normal buzzwords (grit! toughness!) and mentioned how pleased he was with Williams' steady, incremental performance. 

"[Williams] is a big talented guy," he said. "He’s learning on the run and he’s getting some more burn like you said. I think he played his best game to date this last one. He’s really disruptive and he did get the one sack. He’s doing a nice job and he’s playing better against the run.”

Based on when he was put on IR, Hicks would be elligble to return for the final three games of the Bears season, starting Dec. 15 in Green Bay. Until then, he's taken on a bit of a de facto assistant coach role. 

"He’s a guy who’s in our meeting room," said defensive line coach Jay Rodgers. "He can speak the same language as me. We’ve been around together for 4 seasons now. He has great insight in terms of understand what offensive lines are trying to do to particular defensive setups.

"He’s an alpha personality and people gravitate towards him. When he speaks, he’s not just blowing hot air. What he says, he means it. And that’s valuable to the team."

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Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

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USA Today

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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Bear PAWS: Overcoming bad mojo in Green Bay

Bear PAWS: Overcoming bad mojo in Green Bay

When we think about or hear the number “13,” it makes us reflect on any number of negative things that could possibly happen in a given situation. We imagine black cats crossing our path and shattered mirrors creating bad luck environments. Even Jason Voorhees, a boogeyman character from the “Friday the 13th” franchise, enters our mindset, unnerving us with portents of doom and unfortunate circumstance.

Thirteen generates an apprehension similar to the feeling most Bears fans get when the team goes to Green Bay and “has” to win important, playoff-qualifying games. Sometimes numbers, the stars and our fates align with the weird and unexplainable, producing outcomes that are inexplicable. Fortunately, we can use P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Statistics) to explain how No. 13 and Green Bay may disrupt the Bears’ immediate future.

After 13 games this season, the Packers are ranked 13th both in scoring offense (300 points) and defensive points allowed (270). Coincidence? I think not! Mysteriously, this year’s first game — played to kick-start the NFL’s 100th season —  ended with a grand total of 13 points scored collectively between the rivals. Strangely, the Packers produced 13 first downs in a victory, while Chicago generated 16 first downs, yet still lost. During the same game, Packers running back Aaron Jones led all rushers with 39 yards on...13 carries! Conversely, the Bears’ passing attack led to 13 targets for wide receiver Allen Robinson (102 yards, no touchdowns), coupled with an interception in the endzone that cemented the outcome.

Looking further down the rabbit hole, we find Packers’ wide receiver Allen Lazard, who wears jersey No. 13. Sure, he’s only seventh on the team in receptions (24) and fifth in receiving yards (349), but he’s second on the team in yards per reception (14.5) among players with 15 or more passes caught. Eerily, Lazard had his best pro game during Week 13, amassing 103 yards on three receptions (34.3 YPC), and one receiving touchdown. Yes, it's almost time to cue the shrieking violin music followed by inaudible whispered voices.

All is not gloom and doom for the Monsters of the Midway, as the Bears can still positively impact their playoff fate by beating the Packers on Sunday. Although Green Bay is 13th in scoring average (23.8 PPG), Chicago averaged 24.7 PPG over their last three games to rank 12th in the league during that span. The Packers are completing passes at 64.5 percent, 13th in the NFL. The Bears completed exactly 70 percent of passes thrown in their last three contests, winning each game.

Green Bay, too, has its struggles with 13 and its negative effects. When it comes to third down conversions, the Packers are 13th-worst, converting only 35.7 percent of their chances. The Bears convert at a higher rate on the road (38.9%) and over the last three games, the Bears’ 43.2 percent conversion rate is top 10 in the NFL. The Packers have noticeably struggled stopping the opposition’s running attack. The Packers rank 25th in stopping the run, allowing 122.8 yards per game and are even worse at home, giving up 139.3 yards per contest at Lambeau Field.

Friday was Dec. 13, and while that may raise the hackles on one’s neck — or increase the number of goosebumps — each team must rise above superstition in order to win. The Bears can either look around for good omens to reveal themselves or they can beat the Packers by:

● Taking advantage of a Packers pass defense ranked 21st in passing yards allowed per game (245.1) - the Bears are ranked 13th, allowing 230.2 yards per game.

● Improve in red zone completion percentage. Last year, Mitch Trubisky was 13th in the league at 64.1 percent, while this season he has a lowly 53.2 percent rate (33rd in the NFL). 

●Stop or at least contain Jones. He’s averaging 13.5 rush attempts per game, and it’s the first time in his career he’s started all 13 games. The Packers are 14-11 when he starts.

Just like Jason Voorhees, Rodgers and the Packers are hard to finish off. The Bears must overcome this constant horror show by playing to their capabilities and not succumbing to indecision and thoughts of past failures. It’s far past time to put this Rasputin-like team to rest.

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