Can the Bears' offensive malaise by cured by a bad Lions defense?

Can the Bears' offensive malaise by cured by a bad Lions defense?

If the Bears’ offense is a bad cold, then the Detroit Lions’ defense is a bottle of Robitussin. Take the medicine and the symptoms will be masked for a few hours on Sunday, but it won’t eliminate the virus. 

The Bears need to grab that bottle and take a dosage of medicine with these active ingredients: 27 points per game (27th in the NFL), 6.1 yards per play (27th), 288 passing yards per game (31st) and an interception rate of 0.96 (29th). 

Detroit’s offseason spending spree has not resulted in Matt Patricia having a better defense. While there are some new faces, this is largely the same defense Mitch Trubisky lit up for a career high 355 yards in the Bears’ 34-22 win at Soldier Field last November — and the Bears know that. 

“It was a really good game for us and you saw there were some nice chunk plays in there,” Nagy said. “… We felt like the guys were really executing well and schematically we felt well. So without getting — you know, it's hard to say exactly why we like what we like but you go back and you watch that game on tape and you see man, it's pretty.”

There was an optimistic current running under Nagy’s remarks, as in: The Bears believe some of the things that worked last year can carry over to Sunday’s game, even if their offense has been one of the worst in the NFL in 2019.  

The Lions are still allowing those big chunk plays, too, with opposing teams averaging 15 plays of 10 or more yards against them per game (the Bears’ offense is averaging 8.5 plays of 10 more yards per game). Their run defense is suboptimal, too, allowing an average of 4.7 yards per carry (26th). 

(As an aside: It’s ironic that the Lions hired Patricia, the defensive mind, and don’t have a good defense…while the Bears hired Nagy, an offensive mind, and don’t have a good offense.)

The Lions have only once held an opponent under 20 points in eight games this year; the Bears have only scored more than 20 points twice (not counting the garbage-time-fueled 25-point effort vs. New Orleans). Something, then, will have to give on Sunday: Either a bad Bears offense beats out a bad Lions defense, or a bad Lions defense beats out a bad Bears offense. 

If the Bears’ offense does feel better on Sunday, though, remember: One dose of Tussin doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long road to recovery, even if this team believe it’s close to getting over its offensive malaise. 

“Right now there’s been more frustration than success, and we want to be able to understand the why part,” Nagy said. “Well, we’re hammering through that and we do really feel like we’re right there, we do. We believe it’s close.”

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NFL and NFLPA reportedly making progress towards new labor agreement

USA Today

NFL and NFLPA reportedly making progress towards new labor agreement

According to a report by Mark Maske of The Washington Post, the NFL and NFLPA “have made meaningful progress towards a new labor agreement.” 

There is plenty to unpack as negotiations progress, but the most significant tidbit from this news is that there is reportedly a real possibility the eventual agreement will expand the NFL’s regular season schedule to 17 games (while eliminating games from the preseason).

Such an agreement would represent a compromise between the league and the NFLPA. According to Maske, owners had been pushing for an 18-game regular season, but the players union has remained reluctant to budge off the current 16-game schedule. Maske flagged the league’s rookie compensation scale and current marijuana policy as areas in which the owners could give ground in order to persuade the players to agree to an expanded schedule.

The report also lists a 14-team playoff field as a potential inclusion in the agreement.

The current NFL CBA — which was agreed to in 2011 — is valid through the end of the 2020 season, but Maske reports that there is “optimism” a new agreement might be reached by the end of the 2019-20 postseason.

There’s something special going on at the University of Illinois — take it from those who know head football coach Lovie Smith best

There’s something special going on at the University of Illinois — take it from those who know head football coach Lovie Smith best

For the first time in the Lovie Smith era, Illinois is bowl-eligible. 

It’s been a long, strange trip here for Lovie and the Illini. In his first three years at the helm of the program, the team failed to top four wins in a single season, amassing a combined record of 9-27 (4-23 B1G). But something about this 2019 group, which currently sits at 6-4 (4-3 B1G), feels different.

Take it from those who know Lovie best.

“They’ve bought in,” Alex Brown, who played under Smith for six years with the Bears, recently said. “Lovie is changing the culture down there, and he’s getting everybody to believe.”

That belief was on full display in the Illini’s matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing last Saturday — a comeback victory of historic proportions that clinched the program a bowl berth for the first time since 2014. At one point trailing 28-3, the visitors rode a number of big plays, turnovers and big-play turnovers to storm back and snap a 37-34 victory from the jaws of certain defeat.

“When you play for Lovie, everybody is motivated… You’re never out of [a] game,” Matt Forte, five years a student of Smith in Chicago, said. “You can be down, and he knows that one play by anybody can start the turn of events.”

Olin Kreutz was with the Bears for seven of Smith's nine years coaching the team. “It was awesome to see Coach Smith get that win, because you know how hard he works at it,” he said. “And for his team to do it in a way that’s kind of ‘Lovie Ball’... It’s just what you expect from Coach Smith because that’s what he preaches.”

Illinois turned Michigan State over four times on Saturday, including a fourth quarter pick-six that cut the Spartans’ lead to just one point with 4:53 to play. On the season, the Illini lead the FBS in total turnovers (26), defensive touchdowns (6) and are second in turnover margin (1.4). Add those gaudy figures (and a bowl appearance) to a campaign already highlighted by a last-second victory over then-No. 6 Wisconsin, and suddenly, it might be time to start thinking about a full-blown resurgence in Urbana-Champaign.

“The most dangerous thing for that whole conference is a team that has bought into the Lovie system,” Lance Briggs, who spent eight years as a linebacker under Smith in Chicago, said. “The players that are going to come and play at the University of Illinois know now that they’re walking into a team that believes in what they’re doing, and when they believe in what they’re doing, great things are going to continue to happen.”

Smith has certainly proven in the past — and to the people of Chicago, no less — that he’s capable of executing this type of turnaround.

“I’m sure you guys have heard this story about our '05 team and how we started out 1-3, and then all of a sudden. Boom. It just happened,” Brown said. “That is exactly what I see happening with U of I right now.”

All the program has accomplished in 2019 is a great step, but the hope is that even greater things are on the horizon.

“You wait ’til next year. They are going to compete, and they’re gonna beat — I’m calling that right now — they’re gonna beat either Michigan or Ohio State next year,” Brown continued. “They have the people there. More importantly, they have the belief that they can beat ’em.”

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