Bears

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

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USA TODAY

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

The 31-28 overtime Bears loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday had myriad authors on the Chicago side of the ledger. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky correctly assessed the defeat as a team loss, which is pretty much the case in any NFL loss, but particularly so in this case.

“Growing pains” only goes so far in explaining the variety of problems that befell all three Bears phases in the heat of south Florida. And while devastating mistakes are inevitable for young, inexperienced head coaches and players, it falls to those coaches and players to demonstrate that Sunday in Hard Rock Stadium was an anomaly.

Because after five 2018 games, it is not clear that the Miami missteps are indeed exceptions, on the parts of players or coaches, both in fact. Regardless of whether the fault lies with offense or defense (special teams get a pass; Sunday should never come down to Cody Parkey needing to make a field goal from 53 yards).

The Bears have gone into four 2018 fourth quarters with leads and lost two of those games. The late-game defensive collapses at Green Bay and Miami should suffice to put a sock in mentions of the ’85 Bears defense and the ’18 iteration in the same conversation.

And the fact that the Bears offense has not scored more than 7 points in any of the five 2018 fourth quarters says that more than just the defense lacks a consistent finishing kick.

Coaching not to lose?

There is a fourth “phase,” and not the one (fans) that Lovie Smith once cited. It is coaching, which is intricately interwoven with each of the three main units but is its own phase. How well this fourth phase performed in Miami is a matter of some hazy perspectives.

“I’m a big boy; I can handle criticism,” Nagy said Monday. “You talking about the 53-yard field goal? No, I’m fine with that. I have no issue at all with the criticism. That’s where people are? That’s their own opinion. I felt good with what we did and, shoot, we’re all in this thing together and I trust our guys.”

Beginning with relative minutiae: Two flags were thrown (one declined) in Miami for illegal formations, in both cases for leaving the right tackle uncovered. A delay-of-game penalty on a second-and-3 at the Miami 44, led to a punt when the offense only made up seven of the resulting eight yards. That sloppiness pointed to issues on the sideline rather than in the huddle.

On multiple occasions coach Matt Nagy strongly defended Trubisky during training camp when interceptions occurred, the coach considering those acceptable temporary losses in the greater quest for his quarterback learning to stay aggressive in learning his limits and capabilities.

Yet in more than one situation Sunday, it was Nagy who dialed back the aggressive edge that he’s spoken of seeking to install in his quarterback and team. It left at least a small question as to whether Nagy lacked confidence in himself or his quarterback or his team to deliver in a critical moment.

Did Nagy second-guess himself the morning after? “Nope.”

Shaky confidence?

Whether the Bears were properly prepared coming into Sunday was an issue. A team on a three-game high came out of an off week with its poorest first-half performance of the season.

But it is what happened, or didn’t happen, later that warrants the some scrutiny.

As in: Nagy’s playcalling with the game there for the winning – the overtime possession starting from the Chicago 20, needing only a field goal for a win.

The point is not second-guessing a specific call or calls, but rather what may be at work with Nagy’s overall thinking and propensities.

After a short, high-percentage throw to Trey Burton on first down, Nagy called five straight runs. The first two, runs of 19 and 15 yards by Jordan Howard, worked. Howard went out for a two-snap break, then was back for a final run on third-and-4, which failed, leaving the ball at the Miami 35, Nagy’s minimum for attempting a field goal.

Beyond the obvious conservatism, the overall put the Bears in position of not only needing to convert a 53-yard field goal, but also leaving the Dolphins with field position at their 43 if the kick missed, which it did, although NFL kickers convert from 50-plus yards at a rate approaching 62 percent.

“To me, that 35-yard line [was the minimum], a 53-yard field goal, I have ultimate trust in [kicker Cody Parkey] making that,” Nagy said. “But at the same time, every yard that you get brings the percentage up a little bit.

“We just hit a [19]-yard run, we just hit a 15-yard run, and then we had a couple more runs right behind that. That’s just the decision we ended up making. Now, [if] he makes that kick and we’re good. He doesn’t and it’s ‘could you get a little bit closer?’ It would have helped, but at the same time I think Cody would be the first to tell you that he knows he can make that.”

One problem: Were Nagy’s defense playing at the level it had in the three previous games, he could be excused for trusting his defense to deliver a stop even with the Miami starting point. But the Dolphins had pushed the defense backwards for 344 total yards over the prior six possessions. There should have been no reasonable expectation that the defense, which already had driven backward 74 yards before a fumble on the first overtime possession, would suddenly rise up for a stop.

Nagy’s tactics also hint a lack of convinced confidence that his quarterback and offense could pull off an aggressive, under-control possession at that point. Exactly what Nagy is likely to stay in-house. His offense had scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions of the second half, when the Bears never punted.

But Trubisky had thrown an inexplicable interception from the Miami 13 and Tarik Cohen had lost a fumble at the Chicago 45 on the fourth-quarter possessions on either side of the final Bears touchdown. So by the time the overtime possession arrived, Nagy had seen turnovers by all three principle members of his backfield – Cohen, Howard and Trubisky.

Whatever his reasoning, Nagy flashed defensive in the face of questions on his calls – “You go ahead, you throw it and then [media] are here asking me why you took a sack” – a response loosely suggests that Nagy either cares what people think (unlikely) or that he was mad at himself and/or his players (more likely).

That Nagy alluded to Trubisky taking a sack recalls sacks that the quarterback has taken that cost his team yardage before a missed field goal (Arizona) and other sacks incurred trying to force a play. Nagy sidestepped a question as to whether he would play that situation differently at such time as when Trubisky and his offense are more mature.

An erudite non-answer answer.

Fatigue factor

Running back Tarik Cohen mentioned his own failure to deal sufficiently with fatigue in Sunday’s second half, mentioned it in connection with his lost fourth-quarter fumble. Whether fatigue being allowed to reach a red-line level falls on coaches or player is debatable; players owe coaches honest self-assessments, and coaches had balanced snaps reasonably well for Cohen (34) and Howard (36) for the game.

Cohen is a young player. Nagy and most of his staff are young, and heat-management is not usually at the top of game-planning sheets. The last time (1994) the Bears played a day game in Miami, Cohen was still a year away from being born and Howard was two weeks old. Trips to Tampa the past three years don’t qualify for carryover conditioning; besides, one of the three was in December, a second in November.

But in the absence of player restraint/moderation/discretion/whatever in the face of in-game physical decline, it falls to Bears staff to monitor conditioning. The clear fall-off by the defense was more than apparent in the form of ebbing effort, missed tackles and generally flagging performance.

“I want to say that I’m not sure that our training staff and sports science staff could have done a better job in that situation,” Nagy said. “It was absolutely phenomenal. They were unbelievable, with how they handled the hydration and the cramping with our players. It was unreal. And so, that’s a credit to them for being prepared and getting our guys right.

“That was a long game. And when you play an extra period, or extra quarter in that heat, that’s a lot. For our guys to do that, that’s another part of the challenge that they battled through and that was everybody collectively — not just the players, but our staff as well.”

Looking to upgrade RB, Bears have more options than draft alone

Looking to upgrade RB, Bears have more options than draft alone

If the 2018 offseason is any sort of indicator, the question before the Bears heading into the unofficial “start” of the offseason – the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis – is less which position group they upgrade – the surprise will be if running back is not priority No. 1 – but how they go about it.

By way of background perspective, first consider what was done last offseason in terms of starter-grade moves:
 
QB2          Chase Daniel
WR           3: Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Allen Robinson
TE             Trey Burton
OL             James Daniels
DL             Bilal Nichols
OLB          Khalil Mack
ILB            Roquan Smith.
And there was also the matter of head coach.

Missing from the list is the secondary, although the pricey re-signings of Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller more than count toward commitment to roster-building; and running back, although whispers around the NFL was that the Bears were open to dealing Jordan Howard, which obviously didn’t happen.

The Bears have operated with the requisite “best player available” philosophy in drafting and other personnel acquisitions. How they accomplish that at running back will be among the most closely watched roster efforts of this offseason.

Some options

With no draft choice currently before the third round, the roll call and mock workups coming out of the Combine will feature a spectrum of players rather than one or two, the way if has been with the Bears picking in the top-10 range in the last four drafts.

But GM Ryan Pace has been the picture of aggressive with draft choices, specifically dealing them en masse for deals the included moving up for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, to a lesser extent for Leonard Floyd, and dramatically in the trade for Khalil Mack.

The trade possibility should be watched, once the draft begins, and before.

The Cleveland Browns struck dramatically with the signing of Kareem Hunt, which abruptly gave them a crowded backfield of starter-grade talent: Nick Chubb, 23, coming off averaging 5.2 ypc in his rookie season; and Duke Johnson, 25, never a full-time starter but who’s averaged 4.3 ypc in four seasons with a very bad football team.

But Pace hasn’t used his actual No. 3 the past two drafts, dealing away his 2017 and 2018 No. 3’s as part of the move for Trubisky. This time he has a No. 3, but the surprise would be if he uses it where it now sits.

Would the Browns part with Chubb or Johnson for a No. 3? How about for a 4 or 5?  

Moving up?

The biggest reason to stay tuned in the second round when the draft arrives is Pace’s willingness to target and trade up to go get a player. He did it with Floyd and Trubisky in first rounds. He did it for wideout Miller in last year’s draft, dipping into 2019 to do it in the form of giving this year’s second-rounder (plus a No. 4) to move up from No. 70 (third round) to 51 (second).

Maybe Pace had some idea what would play out last season and its effect on this next draft. The 2019 Bears No. 2, now belonging to New England, is way down at 24th in the round after the 12-4 season (and would’ve been even lower if Cody Parkey makes his last kick vs. Philadelphia).

The Bears’ first scheduled pick in round three happens to be the 24th pick of the round; not high. Pace stayed put in the third rounds of his first two drafts, taking Hroniss Grasu (2015) and Jonathan Bullard (2016).

Brad Biggs over at the Tribune did a nice workup of some prospects likely to be around late on day two when the Bears’ turn comes at some point in the mid rounds. These become relevant because Pace and his staff have established an aptitude for finding NFL talent at running back down in the draft:

2015, 4th round           Jeremy Langford, now with Atlanta after stops on the Ravens, Jets and Dolphins practice squads;
2016, 5th round           Howard;
2017, 4th round           Tarik Cohen.
 

It sure sounds like the 49ers have plans to keep kicker Robbie Gould

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USA Today

It sure sounds like the 49ers have plans to keep kicker Robbie Gould

The Robbie Gould Redemption Tour may be short-lived afterall. 

Today, NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco wrote about 49'ers plans for kicker Robbie Gould. In the piece, Maiocco makes some assertions that surely won't sit well with Bears fans looking for a reunion: 

If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year contract extension with kicker Robbie Gould, it would be a major surprise if the club did not use the tag to restrict his ability to sign with another team. The 49ers have not used the franchise tag designation since 2012 with safety Dashon Goldson. The 49ers have plenty of salary-cap space to absorb a significant pay raise for Gould. The club is expected to have $67.5 million in cap room at the start of the new league year, according to figures from the NFL Players Association and overthecap.com. The franchise tag for a kicker is expected to be approximately $5 million for one season. Gould signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency in 2017.

Though the assumption is more speculatory in nature than actual reporting, it stands to reason that Maiocco would know the inner workings of San Fransisco's front office. It also echoes several other reports that the Niners plan on using the franchise tag on Gould. Sorry Bears fans! 

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