Bears

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

There is never – well, pretty much never – a time without at least some modicum of personal pressure in the NFL, whether it’s to win, develop, save money, whatever.

But some times are more pressurized than others or involve different pressures. So it is for Bears GM Ryan Pace.

Because one of the realities of sport, or lots of other endeavors for that matter, is that it is so often more difficult to stay at the top than to reach it a first time. Complacency can set in after success; opponents and other forces can chip away at what worked on the way up. Worst (or best) of all, expectations rise.

It is arguably much easier to go from three wins to six than to go from, say, 12 to 13.

When Pace was hired to replace Phil Emery, there were the obvious pressures: first-time GM, need to overhaul turn around a roster and culture, all that stuff. But expectations weren’t outlandish; short of abject collapse or some aberrant new level of dysfunction, the true expectations were not to reach the playoffs in 2015, for instance.

And every indication was that Pace was going to get a second coaching hire anyway if bridge-hire John Fox didn’t work out. Pace got an extension with the same win-loss record that got Fox fired.

The pressure then ratcheted up several notches with Pace investing the draft capital he did in Mitchell Trubisky, then hiring his own head coach in Matt Nagy. A consultant and senior management weren’t directing things in either of those cases. Those are on him.

So then Pace’s coach and quarterback went and won 12 games and were within a kicking malfunction of winning a playoff game. Accordingly, with all that, they sent the franchise into a draft (Pace’s first) without top-10 picks in early draft rounds. Pace has not gone into a draft holding fewer than two selections in the top 45 (2017).

This year, with the added expectations from a 12-4 season, Pace starts with none in the first 86.

Pace said this week that the pressure feels the same to him, and it probably does; no one puts more pressure on Pace than he does on himself.

But the expectations are there, or more accurately, the overall need is there, definitely there. After the better part of a decade without any, the Bears have some organizational momentum now and losing that invites dark thoughts.

“I feel like I feel like with fewer picks and with later picks, the onus is on us as scouts to hit on these picks, and to keep this momentum that we’ve got,” Pace said. “I feel like we have this momentum. To keep this momentum going…we need to nail this draft.”

But what if they don’t?

There are no unimportant drafts, or seasons, for that matter. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world that is the NFL, getting it right does matter. A lot.

The Oakland Raiders went 12-4 in 2016 largely on the fruits of GM Reggie McKenzie draftees Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack. McKenzie was Pro Football Writers of America’s NFL executive of the year and had a contract extension. (Pace received both of those in a 14-month span.)

The Raiders fell off to 6-10 in 2017, fired coach Jack Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden, who traded away Cooper and Mack, and had McKenzie fired a week after the Raiders were the first AFC team mathematically eliminated from the 2018 playoffs.

Much closer to home, the Bears went to the NFC Championship game in 2010 with a team built by then-GM Jerry Angelo. They again stood atop the NFC North at 7-3 in 2011, at which point Jay Cutler broke his thumb and the Bears lost five of their final six.
Angelo was fired two days after the final ’11 game – a win at Minnesota, the last one of those before finishing 2018 with a victory up there.

Emery was fired after three seasons of decline from 10 to 8 to 5 wins from 2012-14.

Pace is in less than zero danger. Indeed, if the Fox hiring process vs. that of Nagy’s taught Bears management anything, it would start with the presumption that, left to his own devices, Pace is better at picking head coaches than a lot of other people around Halas Hall.

And the fact that 10 of the 12 Bears Pro Bowl’ers or alternates were Pace draft picks or trade/free agent acquisitions suggests that he has improved exponentially from first-draft selections of Kevin White and Hroniss Grasu.

Now all he has to do is do it again. And then again. And then….

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Bears grades: Tough questions need to be asked after reviewing Week 2 for Mitch Trubisky

Bears grades: Tough questions need to be asked after reviewing Week 2 for Mitch Trubisky

QUARTERBACKS: D

Two over-arching concerns here as the Bears search for answers following Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos: 

1. Trubisky averaged 4.4 yards per attempt (16/27, 120 yards) despite Matt Nagy committing to a good run-pass playcalling balance. Trubisky handed off 28 times and threw 27 times a week after that balance was wildly out of whack. 

2. Trubisky was not sacked, with the Bears’ offensive line and offensive scheme neutralizing the Broncos’ elite pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He looked more comfortable in the pocket and wasn’t under duress as much as he was in Week 1…and yet, didn’t produce much in the way of positive results. 

One other point: The Bears’ only touchdown drive consisted of eight running plays and one passing play, with that passing play resulting in a Broncos penalty and fresh set of downs near the goal line. 

So while Trubisky, at least from the eye test, looked better than he did against Green Bay, the actual results from Sunday’s game don’t show much progress other than him not throwing an interception. And that was with two of the things that failed the Bears' in Week 1 being much better. 

And as Nagy argued, again, it’s not all on Trubisky. He needs more help from his receivers on certain plays, and credit Denver’s defense for making a few good plays (like safety Justin Simmons’ pass break-up on a deep ball to Tarik Cohen). And what Trubisky did on his final throw of the game to Allen Robinson was impressive. 

But things were set up much better for Trubisky on Sunday and he still didn’t do much. Also: Yes, it came against a defense coached by Vic Fangio, who knows Trubisky well. But the NFL is a copycat league. Every defensive coordinator in the league will see what Fangio did against Trubisky — with a less-than-full strength defense, no less — and try to replicate it. 

It’s still early in 2019, but Trubisky and Nagy need to find answers. Fast. 

RUNNING BACKS: B

David Montgomery had a workmanlike 62 yards on 18 carries, though those numbers are skewed by Montgomery attempting three carries from the one-yard line as he tried to get the Bears their first touchdown of 2019. Take those goal-line carries out and Montgomery averaged a little over four yards per carry, which sounds about right. His shiftiness, patience and contact balance all make him an productive, if not explosive, member of this offense. That's exactly what the expectations were for Montgomery before the season began. 

Tarik Cohen carried four times for 18 yards after not having a rushing attempt in Week 1, though he lost nine yards on a reception while trying to do too much as the Bears’ offense got bogged down deep in its own territory. 

Mike Davis has apparently entered the Taquan Mizzell zone of being a running back who doesn’t touch the ball much (three carries) but every time he does, there’s an amount of consternation on social media that doesn’t equal his role in the offense. 

One other note here: Credit Cohen with some good pass protection on the Bears’ game-winning drive, picking up a blitzing Josey Jewell and giving Trubisky a chance to make a throw (though he then dropped a pass shortly after). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Fangio made sure to keep Allen Robinson from having a big game, with veteran corner Chris Harris doing a fantastic job of muting his impact until the final offensive play of the game. Without knowledge of the ins and outs of the routes expected from these players, it’s hard to have a full picture of just how well or poorly Mike Furrey’s unit played when they weren't targeted much. Trubisky missed an open Taylor Gabriel on what should’ve been a shot-play-turned-chunk-play, but Gabriel and Anthony Miller were targeted only three total times. 

Patterson’s 46-yard run was the Bears’ most explosive play of the season, and sparked the team’s first touchdown of the season. Gabriel followed with a 14-yard run, too. 

TIGHT ENDS: C+

Trey Burton played his first game of 2019 but the Bears are still bringing him along slowly. 

“I think you could see as he got in there and stuff, he did as best as he could,” Nagy said. “We'll monitor him to see where he's at. Volume-wise, rep-wise, he's not what he was last year, so we'll work through that. But I liked the week of practice that he had and we just want to see him keep growing there at that position.”

Adam Shaheen caught all three of his targets and showed some impressive toughness to pick up a first down on a third and long late in the first quarter. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

Credit both the Bears’ offensive game plan and the five guys up front for keeping both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb — who combined for 26 1/2 sacks in 2018 — quiet throughout the afternoon. The biggest game-wrecking play either made was when Chubb brought down Trubisky late in the fourth quarter and was mind-numbingly whistled for roughing the passer (the Bears, of course, were happy to get that officiating break). Trubisky was not sacked and was only hit twice on 27 drop-backs. 

This group’s run blocking was better, too, though not perfect. The commitment to running — especially with Montgomery — seemed to help Harry Hiestand’s unit get in a better rhythm than they were in during Week 1. While this group didn’t win in the trenches on every play, it produced some excellent downfield blocking on a screen to Cohen in the second quarter and then on Patterson’s gazelle-like dash in the third quarter. 

Left tackle Charles Leno was whistled for two penalties four plays apart in the third quarter — one an illegal use of hands that was legit, and the other a holding penalty (Nagy said the penalty was the result of a point of emphasis by officiating crews this year, even if it didn’t appear to be a blatant hold). Those were the only two penalties assessed to the Bears’ offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Losing Bilal Nichols to a wrist injury in the first half was a blow for a unit that needed all hands on deck to rotate during the second half, but credit this group for hanging tough with a four-man rotation. Akiem Hicks played 66 snaps (80 percent), an incredible testament to his conditioning and desire to stay on the field. Nick Williams, the six-year veteran, recorded his first career sack. 

Eddie Goldman was whistled for roughing the passer when he landed on Joe Flacco, a penalty that was the correct application of a bad rule. When asked after the game if he could’ve done anything different on that play, Goldman said: “Yeah, not land on him. … I mean, that’s the rule.”

Still, that’s a penalty the Bears probably won’t hold against Goldman. The Bears’ front did their part against the run, with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combining for just 3.8 yards per carry. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack took advantage of a bizarre one-on-one matchup against rookie tight end Noah Fant and dropped Flacco for his first sack of 2019 (and 11th in nine games against the Broncos). He played well, generating eight pressures, per Pro Football Focus, but was among the players who looked gassed at the end of the game — Mack was on the field for 71 snaps (87 percent). 

Leonard Floyd did well against the run and was flagged for a ridiculous unnecessary roughness penalty in the in the first quarter (there was no other way he could’ve tackled Fant after blowing up a passing play). He didn’t have a sack but did get after Flacco for a hit. 

Aaron Lynch had a tackle for a loss and read a pass to the flat well, breaking it up right after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. His TFL helped stem some of Denver’s momentum after Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-

Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith played all 82 defensive snaps and combined for 21 tackles and only one missed tackle, per PFF. Trevathan had a pair of effective blitzes and Smith made a handful of big tackles. 

CORNERBACKS: B+

Kyle Fuller’s interception near the goal line nearly was a game-saving play — that is, until the Bears’ four-minute offense sputtered and gave the Broncos the ball back to drive back downfield against a gassed defense. Courtland Sutton didn’t make his first catch until early in the fourth quarter, while Buster Skrine affected a couple of Flacco’s drop-backs with well-timed and well-executed nickel blitzes. 

Prince Amukamara, though, was whistled for a pair of penalties. And Fuller was beat on a quick out route in the end zone by Emmanuel Sanders for Denver’s go ahead two point conversion with just over 30 seconds to go. The Bears' plan was to play off coverage, it appeared, and keep everything in front of them and make tackles. That plan, for the most part, worked until this defense wore down as its snap count reached the 70's and 80's in the altitude and heat of Denver. 

SAFETIES: B

Eddie Jackson flew around the field and, anecdotally, had his hardest-hitting game since joining the Bears in 2017. He also made a couple of important plays on Flacco throws down the stretch as the Bears tried to muster the energy to keep the Broncos out of the end zone. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played every single snap, too, though he only made one tackle while missing another, per PFF. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

What other grade could this be? Eddy Pineiro banged in a game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired, but let’s not overlook the rookie also connecting from 52 yards earlier in the game, too. Pat O’Donnell ripped a career long 75-yard punt and also drilled a 61-yarder, helping flip field position in both instances. 

This wasn’t all perfect, of course — Buster Skrine’s offsides penalty was horrendous, leading to the Broncos converting a two-point try instead of missing a game-tying PAT. But come on. Pineiro hit an absolutely massive kick for the 2019 Bears. That relegates everything else to minutiae. 

COACHING: C+

Nagy may have lost the chess match to his former defensive coordinator when it came to the Bears’ passing game, but he did more than commit to running the ball — he committed to some well-designed running plays. A well-executed toss sweep to Patterson and a fancy flip to Gabriel chewed up 60 yards in the span of three plays, powering the Bears from their own 32-yard line to the Broncos’ five-yard line. 

Give Nagy’s scheme some credit, too, in making sure Miller and Chubb didn’t make an impact. Things have to be better passing-wise, and Nagy will need to find answers knowing the rest of the NFL has plenty of tape on ways to slow down his offense. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Analytics: Mitch Trubisky had 5th-lowest grade on offense in Bears' win over Broncos

Analytics: Mitch Trubisky had 5th-lowest grade on offense in Bears' win over Broncos

Super Bowl contenders are usually made up of a blend of top-tier quarterback play and a consistent, if not great, defense. The Chicago Bears have half of that equation going for them in 2019. 

The defense, led by Khalil Mack, has allowed just 24 points over two games, including Week 1's 10-point performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Normally, defensive performances like the Bears' would result in a 2-0 record. But with the offense led by Mitch Trubisky struggling so mightily, they're lucky to be sitting at 1-1.

Chicago won Week 2's nail-biter against the Broncos thanks in large part, once again, to Mack and the defense. Add a last-second field goal by Eddy Pineiro, and the special teams unit is doing their part too. Trubisky, on the other hand, remains a work in progress.

In fact, Trubisky was the Bears' fifth-lowest graded player on offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 53.1 grade ranked ahead of only Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen, James Daniels and Trey Burton.

Davis and Burton played a combined 41 snaps, so an argument can be made Trubisky was actually one of the three worst starters on the offensive side of the ball. It's never a good thing for the starting quarterback to score that poorly.

You don't have to be an analytics-truther to conclude Trubisky wasn't at his best Sunday. He completed just 59% of his passes, totaled just 120 yards and failed to throw a touchdown for the second-straight week. He was inaccurate at times and again struggled with his composure and pocket presence.

He did save his best for last, however. His 25-yard strike to Allen Robinson with time expiring in the fourth quarter set up Pineiro's game-winning field goal and may have been the confidence-building moment he needed to turn the corner this season. 

Through two games, Trubisky has a putrid 48.9 grade from PFF, which ranks second-worst on the team.