Bears

Bears let their pass rush slip this offseason…or did they?

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USA TODAY

Bears let their pass rush slip this offseason…or did they?

Maybe all of the hand-wringing over the Bears’ “issues” in the area of pass rush is misplaced concern or something possibly just a little out of context. Some members of the Chicago defense think so.

Of course, maybe not, since the Chicago defense is approaching the 2018 season without the players who accounted for more than one-third (14.5) of the team’s 42 sacks last season. Sacks might be an overrated stat (thank you, Greg Blache), but seven of the top-10 teams in sacks were in the postseason and an eighth (San Diego) had 9 wins and missed the postseason in a tiebreaker.

And in life (with apologies to Mike Ditka), at least in NFL life, a problem can be that if you’re not getting better, then you’re getting worse.

But two points to consider in the matter of Bears pass rush:

Looking at takeaways holistically

One is that the pass rush doesn’t exist in some sort of isolation. The Bears were a plus-7 in turnover ratio in the 12 Mitch Trubisky starts, a significant indicator that the rookie quarterback grasped the notion of ball security. For the year, while they were a dismal tie for 29th in interceptions with a historic third straight year with just 8 interceptions, the Bears led the NFL in fumble recoveries and tied for eighth in fumbles forced.

“The biggest thing in my opinion on why we were so good at takeaways is that we really focused on it,” said outside linebacker Sam Acho. “The year before we were last in takeaways, so we made it a really big emphasis, almost every single day, on taking the ball away. We worked techniques and different strategies for taking the ball away, and kept believing that it would come.

“And the fumbles started to come, the recoveries started to come, and we believe the interceptions’ll come as well, the more pressure we get on the quarterback, the tighter the coverage is, the more we understand what the concept of the defense is.”

Even without anything close to dominance in the form of interceptions, the defensive unit finished top 10 in allowing points (9th), total yardage (10th) and passing yards (7th), on top of sixth in sack percentage and tying for seventh in total sacks.

Pass-rush upgrade

The Bears chose wide receiver Kevin White over edge rusher Vic Beasley in the 2015 draft, but had made rush-linebacker Pernell McPhee their priority signing in that offseason’s free agency. GM Ryan Pace traded up in 2016 to draft Leonard Floyd No. 9 in the first round. Last year Pace stayed the course with Acho, Floyd, McPhee and Willie Young as edge rushers, and retrieved Lamarr Houston when injuries were taking down Floyd, Young and Isaiah Irving.

This year, with a thin crop of rush talent in the draft, Pace opted for inside linebacker Roquan Smith over a lesser-rated edge rushers Tremaine Edmunds, Marcus Davenport or Leighton Vander Esch (absolutely no way could Pace have taken another rush linebacker from Boise State).

This after taking a flyer on former San Francisco outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who had 6 sacks as a rookie under now-Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Lynch promptly missed time with an ankle injury in the Bears’ initial minicamp with veterans but is back for OTA’s and with a purpose.

“I’m going to bring, as far as skill set, a person who loves to compete,” said Lynch, who fits the template for outside linebackers in Fangio 3-4 schemes. “I pride myself as a pretty good pass rusher and can stop the run. I know this defense because I’ve played in it, so it’s bringing somebody in who has a background in this defense, and I know what I’m doing each and every play.”

Acho, whose 18 quarterback hits were second only to Akiem Hicks’ 20, also does not echo any sentiments that the Bears did not address their pass rush this offseason to offset Houston, McPhee, Young and others leaving.

“I think Aaron Lynch is a pretty awesome pass-rushing ‘specialist,’ to be honest,” Acho said. “I remember watching him when I was in Arizona, he was playing in San Francisco, and I was thinking, ‘Man, this dude is a beast.’ He reminded me of Aldon Smith, with the raw athleticism. So I’m happy they brought him in, Isaiah [Irving] is growing, Leonard is a beast.

“And I’m pretty good,” he added with a laugh. “And the young guys can contribute. But Aaron is pretty awesome.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

“That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

“That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

"It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

“We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”