Bears

John Fox, Bears leave more questions than answers in aftermath of loss to Packers

John Fox, Bears leave more questions than answers in aftermath of loss to Packers

John Fox admitted that, in hindsight, he “probably would not challenge that if I were given the opportunity again,” with the “that” being Benny Cunningham’s stretch to the pylon that resulted in a lost fumble — and not a touchdown — in the Bears’ 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. 

The Bears initially didn’t consider the possibility the replay may show Cunningham losing control of the ball as his toe was dragging out of bounds, and neither did Cunningham, who said he went to the sidelines to tell Fox to challenge whether or not he got in the end zone. In communicating with his coaches looking at the replay, Fox said “they saw it pretty much how I thought I saw it.

“We’ll leave it at that,” Fox continued. “We have to ultimately kinda go with what the officiating crew goes with. In hindsight I would not have challenged it, because it took points — however many points we don’t know — but in my opinion it hurt our cause.”

That play stands as a pivotal one in a seven-point game, with the Bears believing that Jordan Howard and the offense could’ve punched the ball into the end zone from the two-yard line had Cunningham not fumbled. Had the Bears not challenged the call, the Packers still could’ve, but the play would not have been automatically reviewed because it was not ruled a touchdown on the field.

“If we put points on the board, we will review it via our replay system upstairs and in New York,” explained referee Tony Corrente in a statement. “So in this case it was not a reviewable situation until the coach wants to challenge it. (Fox) actually did win the challenge because (Cunningham) didn't step out of bounds, so he was not charged a timeout.”

While Fox offered his explanation for the backfired challenge on Monday, there were plenty of other questions that were left unanswered during his day-after press conference. He didn’t entertain a question about why Tarik Cohen only played 13 offensive snaps, but did say:

“He's involved you know quite a bit, you know I think defenses are doing more to take him away. I think there were situations in that game yesterday that were he was doubled so it's, you know, we had to go to somebody else.”

If Cohen is being double-teamed, though, shouldn’t that create opportunities for someone else on the field to make a play? 

As for Kyle Long, who was active but only played one snap, Fox said the Bears "didn't have a lot of alternatives,” in the form of other reserve offensive linemen. Tom Compton (ankle) was inactive on Sunday, but the Bears opted against playing Long, who suffered a finger injury Oct. 29 against the New Orleans Saints. Fox wouldn’t commit to Long necessarily being ready for this weekend’s game against the Detroit Lions, either. 

“I think time will tell,” Fox said. “I think last week I didn’t feel like he was quite able to practice in a full speed to be prepared. He’s physically capable of being active. But again, this is a game where you have to practice to get ready for a game in a lot of cases. So he was active, so he was healthy enough, but I’m not sure he was going to be healthy enough to take 70 snaps in a game.” 

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

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USA Today

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

Maybe this is what happens when a team is coming off a 5-11 season and has won only 14 games over three years. Maybe it's just another example of the Chicago Bears being overlooked and underrated. Regardless of the 'why,' a recent poll of NFL experts has provided more fuel for the Bears in 2018.

ESPN's Field Yates asked 43 insiders and former players for their list of the top under-25-year-old starters in the NFL and not a single Chicago Bear made the cut.

No Jordan Howard. No Mitchell Trubisky. No Allen Robinson.

Not a single Bear.

The most shocking omission is Howard, who finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2016 and sixth last year despite facing defenses that focused their entire game plan on stopping him every single week. At only 23 years old, he's clearly one of the top young running backs in the NFL and warranted a spot on this list. 

Instead, the Rams' Todd Gurley, Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott and Giants rookie Saquon Barkley got the nod.

Howard has more rushing yards than Gurley over the last two seasons and trails Elliott by only 179. Barkley has yet to take a snap in the NFL.

The Bears were recently named the most underrated team in the league heading into 2018 and this is just another piece of evidence justifying that claim. A winning season will change the national perception of players like Howard, who with another year of high-end production should find himself at or near the top of many of these lists next offseason.