Bears

Final thoughts: Will the cold be a factor for Jared Goff and the Rams on Sunday night?

Final thoughts: Will the cold be a factor for Jared Goff and the Rams on Sunday night?

On the surface, the conditions in which Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff had his worst game of 2018 are notable. 
 
Goff completed 14 of 28 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 58.8 on Oct. 14 against the Denver Broncos, when the temperature at kickoff was a brisk 25 degrees at Mile High Stadium. The forecast for Sunday night’s Bears-Rams tilt calls for the temperature to be 27 degrees at kickoff, according to the Weather Channel. 
 
So is there something to the cold being a factor in favor of the Bears on Sunday night?
 
“There were some different things — you want to give credit to Denver, they did a nice job, whether it’s cold or there’s some times where you just miss a throw, that’s an inevitable thing that occurs with a quarterback,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “There’s so many different things, he made some pretty dang good throws in that game as well. But I don’t think that affected him at all and hopefully it won’t be a factor as we continue to move forward and then seeing how the weather is in Chicago this week, we expect to prepare the best of our ability and go play like we can.” 
 
More likely is we don’t have a large enough sample size — one game is hardly predictive — to know how Goff will handle the cold. Then again, the Broncos have the best defense the Rams have faced this year, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. 
 
The NFL’s top defense, by DVOA? The Bears. 
 
Elite talent, elite paychecks
 
One of the reasons why Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders were willing to trade Khalil Mack prior to the season was the contract signed by Aaron Donald in late August. The six-year, $135 million extension signed by Donald was the biggest contract ever given to a defensive player, setting the market for the deal Mack was going to be in line for from the Raiders or whatever team acquired him. 
 
Asked about his reaction to the Donald contract on his first day with the Bears back in September, Mack laughed: “Not saying in front of my parents.” 
 
The Bears topped Donald’s contract with a six-year, $141 million deal for Mack. But beyond their contracts, there’s mutual respect between two of the NFL’s most disruptive pass rushers. 
 
“(Donald’s) of the best in the league,” Mack said. “When you see his play, he just jumps out on film. Hell of a player. Yeah. Hell of a player. For sure.”
 
While Donald is an interior pass rusher and Mack is an outside pass rusher, McVay did draw some similarities between the two players. 
 
“It’s the elite talent matched up with the elite effort and urgency they play with every single snap,” McVay said. “They violently attack the football, I think they both have a repertoire of pass moves, there’s some suddenness, some explosion and some twitch. So I do think you see some similarities even though Khalil is a guy who’s typically coming off that edge, got great length and stuff like that. But you see two great players that find ways to consistently get to the quarterback or disrupt the run game and get the ball back for their offenses. And both those guys are outstanding players.”
 
A final note on Aaron Donald
 
An enjoyable moment from this week’s assistant coach media availability at Halas Hall was when a Notre Dame game from 2013 was brought up to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Specifically: When Hiestand was the Irish offensive line coach that year, his unit held Donald — who played for Pittsburgh — to just one tackle and one quarterback hit in a game in November. 
 
“I don’t know why you’d bring that up,” Hiestand said. “I don’t know what that could possibly have to do with this week.”
 
The answer: Not much, of course. But even though one successful college game five years ago isn’t exactly relevant, Hiestand knew how good Donald was, and would be, back then. 
 
“No, there was no question (he’d be a star),” Hiestand said. “There was no question. You didn’t have to be an offensive line coach to know that. You could be the person in the 50th row and can see that. He has the rare ability to change direction, dissect things, make plays, explode when it’s time to go. He closes space instantly and it’s pretty impressive to watch.” 

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Presenting the optimistic view of the Bears' offensive struggles

Presenting the optimistic view of the Bears' offensive struggles

Consider this a presentation of the best-case outlook for a Bears’ offense that’s slogged its way through two ineffective games to begin the 2019 season. 

It doesn’t mean it’ll definitely come true. But this is the line of thinking being presented around Halas Hall this week: This offense is close to clicking, and when it does click, it’ll be spectacular. 

Digging deeper into that glass-half-full thought, it can be explained by this simple truth: The Bears haven’t found their offensive identity yet. 

That lack of an identity has shown up in the different personnel packages coach Matt Nagy used over the first two games. The Bears are running fewer 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) and 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) packages than they did in 2018, for example.

Also: They’ve already run 22 plays out of 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends, three receivers). In 2018, the Bears ran only six plays using 20 personnel; only the Bears and New England Patriots have run more than four plays out of 20 personnel in 2019. 

“I think when you are where we are at in the last two games and trying to figure out, massage and find out exactly what your identity is, you play through personnels,” Nagy said. “You play through matchups. You play through how guys are playing and how coaches are coaching, myself. So you play through all of that and try to put that puzzle together and then what you do is hope that you continue to stack wins and then you kind of morph by Week 6, Week 7 and you say, okay, you know what, we went through all of that and now know who we are and now let’s go ball out.”

The Bears did this a year ago, though not to as extreme of an extent. They ran just as much 11 personnel in Weeks 1-3 as they did in Weeks 4-17 (with Week 4 being that offensive explosion against Tampa Bay) but wound up using less 12 personnel from Week 4 on than they did over the first three games. A large part of that was personnel-driven, though: The Bears quickly figured out Dion Sims wasn’t cutting it as a “Y” (in-line) tight end, and didn’t have much flexibility to plug in trustworthy receivers behind Allen Robinson/Taylor Gabriel/Anthony Miller. 

Perhaps the perceived improvements made to the Bears’ roster in 2019 — David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson — have allowed Nagy to try more things than he was able to early in the season last year. That could be a double-edged sword, though, as the Bears’ offense showed more signs of life early in 2018 than 2019’s group has.

Perhaps, too, the absence of Trey Burton in Week 1 and the gradual integration of him back into the offense in Week 2 has hurt the Bears’ chances of finding that identity. The more Burton plays, the better shot the Bears may have at getting their offense to click. 

“You just gotta believe this week is gonna be the week,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “So we haven’t been executing the way we want to. There is definitely some things that we are missing on film but we’re coming together and we’re correcting them. 

“The most important thing to me is that my guys still believe in me. I believe in myself and we’re one unit. We’re together. We’re sticking together and we’re gonna do what we gotta do to correct it and we gotta believe that this offense could explode at any minute because of the playmakers and the special guys we have in the locker room.”

So in the confines of playing games without an offensive identity, a team can have more receptions by running backs than wide receivers through two weeks, a clear sign of a team lacking any sort of rhythm or explosiveness: 

Again, this is the optimistic viewpoint, one carrying the implication that the Bears' offense will be fixed once Nagy, Trubisky, etc. can settle on an identity marrying playcalling and execution. Trubisky said he and Nagy are working through that process, with the quarterback acting as a conduit for his playmakers to his coach. 

"I talk the most with coach about what guys are comfortable with, what they’re feeling, what they like and what they don’t like and just where we’re at as an offense and where we wanna go," Trubisky said. "So we kind of had this last year in the beginning of the season where we had some offensive struggles on third down, not clicking, and we got a couple guys in some new spots and obviously we added some new pieces so we’re not clicking the way we want to.

"... I think we have that faith and that strong core that believes if we just continue to do our jobs, like work even harder, get in the film room a little more and study our game plan and just go out there and play the game that we know how to do, and make sure that I am doing my job and getting the ball to the playmakers that we can be the explosive offense that we saw at times throughout last year and that the offensive struggles or whatever you want to call it is a thing of the past. Hopefully that is not us anymore."

The glass-half-empty view of the Bears' offensive issues is troubling, though: Has the league figured out Nagy and Trubisky? Are the Bears' weapons not as good as we thought? Has Trubisky somehow regressed?

While Weeks 1 and 2 have been dismal, it's too early to answer any of those questions in the affirmative. Two weeks is not enough time to slam the panic button, even if it's fair to be moving toward it. 

So all the Bears can do right now is trust and believe that this thing will get fixed. It's early enough in the season to hang on to that hope, and lean on the crutch of not having an identity yet. 

But the clock is ticking. And it won't be long before the Bears run out of excuses. 

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After a decade of battles, the Bears still enjoy the chance to line up against Adrian Peterson

After a decade of battles, the Bears still enjoy the chance to line up against Adrian Peterson

You don't need to remind the Bears' defense who they're lining up against next week. 

It's been four years since the last time Peterson last played against the Bears, when he ran for 86 yards in a 38-17 Week 14 win. 

One torn ACL tear plus two trades later, AD will be Washington's feature back when they meet up at Fedex Field for Monday night football. Peterson's experienced a bit of a career resurgance in D.C., as he rushed for 1042 yards (as a 33-year old) with the team last year. He was a healthy scratch in Week 1, but with starting back Derius Guice out for the next couple months, Peterson's reemerged as a part of their offense.

And even though most of the Bears' defense came to Chicago after Peterson left – the only player from that 2015 loss that's still here is cornerback Kyle Fuller – they're still relishing the opportunity to go up against a first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

"I just like playing against great players," linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "He loves the game of football and has been doing it for a while – [13] years is a long time. He’s still got the juice to take it home, so any time I can play against him, it’s an honor and a privilege." 

"Guy’s been running the ball the way he runs it for many, many years," added Roquan Smith. "So I’m looking forward to that. It’ll be great for our defense, it’ll get us all better." 

For as long as he's been playing, Peterson's been a Bears killer. Through 13 seasons, he's: 

  • rushed for 1652 yards against the Bears, the 2nd-most of any team he's played (1899 vs. Green Bay) 
  • scored 14 rushing touchdowns against the Bears, also the 2nd-most of any team (15 vs. Green Bay) 
  • averaged 111.6 rushing yards/game against the Bears, the most of any NFC north opponent


So while many of the names, and jerseys, have changed, it wouldn't be Peterson-vs.-the-Bears without a little bit of smack talk:

"I love playing against guys with that kind of attitude, that love the game. He fits well with their scheme," Trevathan added with a smile. 

"I’m looking forward to shutting him down and kind of ruining his day."