Bears

To borrow from Tom Moore, are the Packers 'f---ed' without Aaron Rodgers?

To borrow from Tom Moore, are the Packers 'f---ed' without Aaron Rodgers?

Ron Jaworski, in his book “The Games that Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays,” relayed an exchange he and Jon Gruen once had with longtime Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore. The pair of then-ESPN commentators wondered why Peyton Manning was taking all of the team’s practice reps at quarterback leading up to a game — or, to say it another way, why a backup quarterback wasn’t getting some snaps here and there. 

Moore responded: “Fellas, if ’18’ goes down, we’re f***ed. And we don’t practice f***ed.”

So far, the same logic can be applied to the Green Bay Packers since Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone Oct. 15 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers, 0-3 since Rodgers’ injury, seem — in the words of Moore — f***ed without their best, most important player at the most important position in the sport. 

Consider these numbers:

Stat Pre-Rodgers Post-Rodgers
Offensive yards per play 5.3 4.7
Points scored 27.4 14.6
Defensive yards per play 5.3 5.9
Points allowed 22.4 26.3

Those three losses since  coming by a combined 35 points. The opponents have been fairly difficult (Minnesota, New Orleans, Detroit), but losses to the Saints and Lions came at Lambeau Field. A 13-point Monday night loss to Detroit — which would’ve looked worse had it not been for a last-second touchdown — coming off a bye week looks especially worrisome in Wisconsin given the extra time the team had to prepare Brett Hundley for that game. 

Wide receiver Jordy Nelson offered an optimistic line of thinking while on a conference call with Chicago media this week, trusting in Hundley and the offense’s ability to play better around its quarterback. 

“You gotta have urgency, but you gotta be patient,” Nelson said. “It’s nothing that, once Aaron’s out and someone steps in, it’s going to be the same. What I do remember from that year is we eventually got it going. We scored some points, we moved the ball. That’s something here, Week 3 to 4 with Brett as the starter and getting these reps in practice and stuff is an opportunity for us to really show some gains. I think that’s what we’re looking for on Sunday.”

Nelson’s confidence may wind up being proven to be founded, but Hundley hasn’t shown much yet: He’s completed 56 of 96 passes (58.3 percent) for 489 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions since Rodgers’ injury, and has eight rushes for 69 yards with two touchdowns in those three games (which indicates the Packers may not want to run him as much as could be expected for a mobile quarterback who’s struggled to throw the ball). 

The Bears, though, are confident heading into Sunday based on how they feel about their team, not because of the Packers’ struggles without Rodgers. 

“You don’t really look at things like that in this league,” coach John Fox said. “I think our guys understand there’s a lot of capable players. It’s not about one guy. I understand, they understand he’s a special cat. Their team probably understands that better than anybody because they’re with him everyday. But they’re still a dangerous football team.” 

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For all the attention heaped on Roquan Smith in the last 48 hours, he’s not the most important player to determining the success of the Bears’ defense in 2018. 

Rightly, the Bears feel good about their depth at inside linebacker, especially now that the No. 8 overall pick is in the mix. Smith, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski being at the top of the depth chart is solid at worst; John Timu is entering fourth year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and rookie Joel Iyiegbuniwe has some promise. 

This isn’t to diminish the importance of Smith, who represents the biggest (and, arguably, only major) addition to the Bears’ defense made in the 2018 offseason. But if you’re looking for the guy whose performance will be the most critical to the success of this defense, look toward the last Georgia product the Bears took with a top-10 pick. 

Given the upside of Leonard Floyd and where the Bears stand at outside linebacker three and a half weeks before the start of the regular season, that’s your guy. And over the last few weeks, Floyd has practiced and played better and better, providing an encouraging sign for a guy the Bears are betting big on this year. 

“He’s feeling more comfortable,” Trevathan said. “So I’m just happy with the direction he’s heading. It’s just going to make our defense better with Flo flying around.”

The Bears have seen flashes from Floyd in the past, but he’s yet to put together much in the way of consistency when it comes to affecting the quarterback. His 11 1/2 sacks in 1,118 career snaps come out to an average of one sack every, roughly, 102 snaps in 22 career games. For a guy that’s averaged 51 snaps per game his first two years in the league, that averages out to about one sack every two games. 

If you factor in quarterback hurries, of which he has 21 in two years, Floyd is affecting the quarterback once every 34 snaps. Pernell McPhee, who the Bears released earlier this year, averaged a sack or a hurry once every 24 snaps, abeit in a small sample size. Von Miller, who Floyd is sharing practice fields with this week, averaged a hurry or sack once every 26 snaps in the last two years over 1,828 snaps. 

These numbers don’t factor in a lot of things, like coverage assignments or flat-out statistical misses of hurries (for instance, Floyd wasn’t credited with a hurry in last week’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite his pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton forcing a throw Kyle Fuller picked off and ran back for a touchdown). But the overall point is this: The Bears need Floyd to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and be that double-digit-sack guy they envisioned when drafting him two years ago. 

Floyd isn’t putting that pressure on himself, though, and stuck to the usual one-day-at-a-time answer when asked how he achieves better consistency and what his goals are for the season. 

“Going out and practicing and just going as hard as you can, fixing your corrections and just continuing to be better every day,” Floyd said. 

If Floyd was a little reserved about his own expectations for the season, his teammates are more than willing to do the talking for him. 

“Even if he’s not flashy in the way you would want to see your outside linebacker flashing, he’s scaring offenses, you know what I’m saying?” defensive end Akiem Hicks, who tabbed Floyd as a Pro Bowl favorite as early as April, said. “So he already put that intimidation factor in there, and then to come up with the plays on top of that, the sky’s the limit for that guy. You just look at the body of work that he’s had as far as putting it in the past couple years, you’re waiting for that moment where he just takes over the league, and I think it’s this year.”

“He’s more disruptive,” Trevathan said. “I see a sense of him trying to create more big plays. Instead of just a sack, more to it. Sack/caused fumble. Getting the quarterback’s (vision). He’s guarding, dropping back. He’s doing everything that Flo is supposed to do even better now.”

Another positive point in Floyd’s favor is outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley seeing him talking more in meetings and growing more comfortable with his role and position on this defense. While Floyd isn’t going to be a vocal leader in that room — that role is ably filled by Sam Acho — his teammates are starting to notice his performances in practice. 

“I think our guys know that Leonard can do so many things for us,” Staley said. “They lean on him by his example — how he is in the practice field, how he is in the meetings. He's been doing a good job.”

But the most important point on Floyd may be this: The Bears bet big on him, and are betting big on him, based on how they addressed outside linebacker in the offseason. Aaron Lynch was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal, but the injury issues that dogged him in San Francisco have returned during training camp (he’s only participated in one practice due to a hamstring injury). Acho was re-signed to a two-year deal, rewarding him for the stable play he’s provided over the last few years, but he’s only recorded four sacks in 47 games with the Bears. Ryan Pace waited until the sixth round before drafting an edge rusher, giving a flier to Kylie Fitts. Isaiah Irving, an undrafted rookie from a year ago, has flashed in a few preseason games dating back to last year but didn't record a sack in his 41 snaps on defense in 2017. 

Those moves screamed one thing: The Bears believe in Floyd, and believe if he has the kind of season they think he can have, they didn’t need a massive addition to their group of edge rushers. That doesn’t mean Pace won’t make a move for an edge rusher before or after cut-down day in September, but unless he were to pay an exorbitant price to trade for Khalil Mack, whoever is brought it won’t be viewed as the team’s No. 1 edge rushing option. 

That would be Floyd, who’s shown in the last few weeks that he’s past his season-ending knee injury from 2017. It’s now on the third-year player to make that leap in production and play a major role in the success of a Bears’ defense that, other than Smith, largely stood pat this spring. 

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

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AP

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

JJ Stankevitz and The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain break down the Bears’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, including how Roquan Smith looked, some encouraging signs for the offense and an enjoyable sequence of pass-rushing drills involving Von Miller.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: