Bears

Did the Bears screw up by flying to London so close to Sunday's game against the Raiders?

Did the Bears screw up by flying to London so close to Sunday's game against the Raiders?

LONDON — The Bears’ sluggish first half in their 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium might seem like it was because Matt Nagy decided to have his team fly to England Thursday night instead of spending the entire week abroad, as Jon Gruden had his side do. Jet lag is real, after all, as is difficulty sleeping on planes. 

But Nagy was quick to dismiss any chatter about the Bears’ travel plan being the reason why they fell behind, 17-0, to the Raiders in the first half. 

“It had nothing to do with when we came here and when didn’t,” Nagy said. “It’s about playing football.”

Perhaps. The Bears were quick to swat away heat-related excuses in the immediate aftermath of their Week 6 loss to the Miami Dolphins last year, a game in which the heat absolutely played a factor. Later in the season, Chase Daniel fumbled four times in a sloppy overtime loss to a bad New York Giants team. That it was cold and rainy wasn’t an excuse after the game. 

And after the Bears almost lost to the Denver Broncos in Week 2, the heat and altitude in Colorado that week wasn’t an immediate explanation, either. Players and coaches don’t like to make excuses in the aftermath of defeats. 

Cornerback Prince Amukamara understood why some would make the jet lag excuse for the Bears, though ultimately did not buy it. 

“I think it’s a right statement to make because I’m sure you guys didn’t think we were the same defense you saw back in the states,” Amukamara said. “I’m sure people want to, okay, how come they’re coming out flat? I feel like that’s a right statement to make. 

“But for me personally I don’t think that was it. If you do that I think you kind of discredit what Oakland did scheme-wise. I felt like they just had a great cause and that first series, they punched us in the mouth and it just seemed like we weren’t able to recover in that first half.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe, though, that the Bears’ suboptimal first half was not the product of jet lag. First: This team stormed back in the second half, taking a 21-17 lead before the third quarter was even over. Their defense gave up a game-sealing touchdown, yes, but it came after a deflating running into the kicker penalty and an ensuing fake punt conversion (on which the Bears, too, thought they’d recovered a fumble before replay overturned it). The effort was there, and the energy certainly was there, in the second half. 

Perhaps more importantly: There are plenty of examples of teams coming to London later in the week and winning. The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in 2018 while following the same travel plan Nagy’s Bears did. The Kansas City Chiefs, with Nagy on staff in 2015, flew over Thursday night, practiced Friday and beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday. 

And Amukamara’s Jaguars landed in London on a Friday in 2016 and beat an Indianapolis Colts team coached by Chuck Pagano that had been in England all week. 

“I don’t think the sleep has anything to do with it, for me,” Amukamara said. “But I’m sure each guy is different.”

Plus: The Bears’ game Sunday kicked off at 6 p.m. local time — noon back in the central time zone. So even if the Bears’ internal clocks were messed up, they still played during a normal window. 

The better explanation is the Bears just got beat on Sunday, especially in the first half. Maybe the Raiders are better than expected. The Bears have sure looked worse than expected — as in a Super Bowl contender — through five games in 2019. 

So actually, it would be a good thing if the Bears lost today because they were tired from an inconvenient week of travel. Because the alternative is far more unsettling. 

Bears' offense ranks among the NFL's worst analytically, new study finds

Bears' offense ranks among the NFL's worst analytically, new study finds

The Bears' offense was bad last year. I know that. You know that. The Bears (hopefully?) know that. 

But *extremely 30 For 30 voice* what if I told you just how bad they really were? Would you be interested in that? You wouldn't be? Sorry, got a quota to hit. 

In a fascinating new study written by Rotoworld's Hayden Weeks, the lack of modern wrinkles in Chicago's offense are made painstakingly clear. Weeks took an analytically-slanted look at every NFL offense, and friends, it's a rough read: 

4th Down Aggressiveness: 23rd
Pass Rate on Early Downs: 9th
Pass Rate While Trailing: 13th
Play-Action Rate: 27th
Downfield Pass Rate: 16th
Middle of the Field Pass Rate: 5th
Pre-Snap Motion Percentage: 30th
Outside Run Rate: 20th
Shotgun Run Rate: 5th
Offensive Pace: 22nd

Overall, Weeks ranks the Bears as the 22nd best offense in football based on the above metrics. If there's any hope whatsoever, it comes from his short write up of Nagy's offense – but still, temper your expectations: 

If I incorporated the front office, the Bears would be much lower, but I think Nagy holds his own in terms of in-game analytics usage. He’s just been dealt a horrible hand at quarterback and with the offensive line. Nagy opted for a decent pass rate on early downs (9th) and while trailing (13th), plus uses shotgun a lot and targets the middle of the field (5th). There are a few things holding him back from jumping into Tier 3, however. The Bears weren’t aggressive enough on fourth downs (23rd) and didn't use play action (27th) or pre-snap motion (30th) nearly enough. Maybe the quarterback change sparks change.

Bears: Use play action! Just try it! I promise you'll like it. 

Did Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal actually leave money on table?

Did Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal actually leave money on table?

Patrick Mahomes forever altered the sports contract landscape with his landmark 10-year, $450 million extension that became official this week. It made all the sense in the world to lock up the 2018 MVP whose team could very easily be coming off back-to-back Super Bowl titles if not for a nail-biting loss to the eventual-champion Patriots in the 2019 AFC Championship game. But Brad Spielberger, who does extensive salary cap research and writing for OverTheCap.com, believes Mahomes could have massively cashed in again if he took a different approach to these negotiations

Coming in, we knew this was going to be a groundbreaking deal in some respects... I really didn’t think he was going to give up that many years of control – it’s basically a lifetime contract. Again, I know it’s maybe up to half a billion dollars, so it sounds crazy to maybe question his thinking there, but in 5, 6, 7 years down the road, he probably could have gotten another deal that would have made this one look small in comparison.

Every team in the league would love this deal… every front office in the NFL would say, the fact that they have this much time on this deal is the best part about it. Again, it’s a monstrous deal and there are outs at certain points so it’s not so strict as to say he can’t get out of it or he can’t work with it. If I’m his agent, I would push for 5 years, $200M fully guaranteed; let’s go mega-Kirk Cousins on steroids, let’s change the game, and then let’s see if we can sign a deal for $50M a year when that one runs out.

The scenario painted there is an interesting one, and might have allowed Mahomes to reset the quarterback market twice in a decade… but we’ll never know. For more from Spielberger, including how the Mahomes deal impacts the Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson negotiations and what the Bears’ offseason moves tell him about the mindset of Ryan Pace’s front office, listen to the most recent edition of the Under Center podcast here or below.