Notebook: Bears 'needed a spark,' and a decision to make at TE during a season not beyond saving

Notebook: Bears 'needed a spark,' and a decision to make at TE during a season not beyond saving

The Bears 20-13 win over the Detroit Lions did not by any means save their 2019 season, although a fifth straight loss would’ve effectively ended it.

As it is, “only” nine teams now stand ahead of the Bears with fewer than five losses (last week that number was 10, so it was indeed a good weekend). And since four of those likely figure to be division winners, which the Bears clearly won’t be, that loosely translates into the Bears needing to playing roughly well enough to just slip by four other teams to squeeze into the second wild-card slot.

How’s that for creative accounting?

None of which really means much unless can play significantly better than they did in barely getting past a depleted bottom-feeder in the Lions without quarterback Matthew Stafford and other starters. Sunday’s performance pointed to several significant factors in bringing that to pass.

Matt Nagy’s bold go-for-it on fourth-and-one at the Chicago 29 worked and might’ve been something of a turning point, maybe for more than just the Detroit game. But something is disturbing that, in the midst of a season on the brink, in a division game, trailing and within sight of a fifth straight loss, Nagy felt, “we needed it. We needed a spark. We needed a spark.”

The organization – front office plus coaches – need to set aside any ego or face-saving thoughts and make a change at tight end. Actually, more like settling in with the one they did make Sunday, designating under-achieving Adam Shaheen as an inactive and folding Ben Braunecker into the offense.

Shaheen was a reach as a second-round pick in 2017, so demoting him can’t make GM Ryan Pace’s Sunday. But the Bears did invest some guaranteed money in their two-year, $2.7 million extension with Braunecker last offseason, making him unofficially a dramatically better call over not only Shaheen, but also Trey Burton, a largely non-factor in the second year of his four-year deal topping out at $32 million.

Braunecker is arguably a better receiver than Shaheen and a better/bigger blocker than Burton. For an offense desperate for production from a key position, like Braunecker’s TD catch on Sunday, switching left guard (Cody Whitehair) and center (James Daniels) is likely not the last change.

Lady Bad Luck could scarcely have picked three more critical Bears to take down than Akiem Hicks, Kyle Long and now Danny Trevathan. The three are team emotional linchpins besides being the best players in their position groups, when healthy, which they aren’t, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that the season began unraveling roughly about the time Long first, then Hicks went down.

Think the Bears have quarterback issues?

The Rams haven’t been as visible locally but while attention around here was on the Bears losing four of their last six, the Super Bowl runner-up Rams were busy doing the same thing, with franchise quarterback Jared Goff struggling even more than buddy Mitch Trubisky. 

Goff, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft, has put up five straight games with completion rates below 60 percent; Trubisky has at least topped 60 in four of his last five. But Goff’s season passer rating is a pedestrian 82.7 while Trubisky’s is a slightly less middling 85.2. And Goff has thrown 11 TD passes vs. nine interceptions; Trubisky’s three vs. Detroit put him at 8/3, with a serviceable interception rate of 1.3 percent, barely half of Goff’s 2.5 percent.

And the Bears didn’t give their quarterback a four-year extension topping out at $134 million, with $110 million guaranteed. Based on Trubisky’s recent play, whether they ever do is problematic.

The Bears did not put completely to rest their kicking concerns when they decided on Eddy Pineiro out of a cast of seeming thousands. Pineiro missed a PAT on Sunday, leaving the scoreboard within reach of the Lions on Detroit’s final possession, and has converted just 12 of 15 field goals (80 percent, T-16th), including the missed 43 yarder vs. the Chargers with the game on the line.

And this is before the weather really turns surly.

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LOOK: Nick Foles signs Bears contract

LOOK: Nick Foles signs Bears contract

The Chicago Bears struck quickly after the new league year kicked off on March 18 when they traded a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for quarterback Nick Foles. The deal was agreed to during the legal tampering period but didn't become official until Tuesday when it was finally announced by the NFL.

Part of the delay in all of this offseason's transactions getting finalized is the social distancing required to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. Team facilities are closed. As a result, free-agent deals and trades are taking longer to process.

But the wait for Foles becoming a Bear is finally over, and he shared the moment he put pen to paper on Twitter.

Foles, 31, is expected to compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting job in 2020 with most in football media expecting him to ultimately win the duel. He brings a resume of playoff success to Chicago, including a miraculous Super Bowl run (and victory) during the 2017 season.

Foles' stint in Jacksonville lasted just one season after signing a four-year, $88 million contract in 2019. Foles started four games (all losses) and finished the year with 736 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He was replaced in the lineup by Gardner Minshew, who took the league by storm as a mustache-wearing sixth-round pick from Washington State.

He'll get a fresh start in Chicago and if he has any sort of success in 2020, he'll be a Bear for a long time.

2020 NFL Draft Report: Jake Fromm

2020 NFL Draft Report: Jake Fromm

The 2020 NFL draft gets underway on April 23 and will look a lot different than it has in recent years. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the NFL to audible its planned three-day extravaganza in Las Vegas and will instead likely hold a studio show without the fanfare that normally accompanies the realization of a lifelong dream for the more than 250 prospects who will hear their name called.

In this running series, we'll profile several of those players. Up next: Georgia quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Fromm, 21, attended Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia, where he threw for 12,745 yards and 116 touchdowns during his decorated five-star career. Fromm chose Georgia after originally committing to Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. He was rated a top-10 quarterback in his recruiting class. While he goes by 'Jake,' his first name is actually William.

Fromm's career as Georgia's starter came in Week 1 of his freshman season (2017) after replacing fellow draft prospect Jacob Eason after Eason suffered a shoulder injury. Fromm would remain the starter for the rest of the year and threw for 2,615 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was steady and consistent as the Bulldogs' starter the following two seasons. In 2018, he threw for 2,761 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions and finished last season with 2,860 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. He was named Georgia's MVP in 2019.

Physically, Fromm meets the minimum requirements for an NFL quarterback. He checked-in at 6-2, 219 pounds at the NFL Combine and has a thickly built frame that should help him absorb the kind of contact that naturally comes with playing the position. 

Athletically, Fromm isn't the fleetest of foot. He won't be a dual-threat as a pro nor will he be the kind of quarterback who can keep plays alive for long once the pocket breaks down. He has enough lateral movement skills to side-step oncoming pass rushers and won't just crumble in the face of pressure, but he'll need an effective offensive line to maximize his skill set as a passer.

Fromm's best trait is his decision-making, which is something NFL teams will value. His accuracy is above-average too, but his lack of arm strength will hinder his ability to make window throws int he NFL. His passes hang in the air too long; harmless incompletions in the SEC will turn into interceptions in the NFL because of his lack of velocity. 

Fromm isn't an incredibly challenging evaluation. He's a smart and instinctive quarterback who does most of his damage before the snap. He'll make the right reads and he'll target the right receiver. He's an on-target passer who needs time in the pocket to allow his receivers to gain an extra step of separation to make up for his lacking arm talent. Fromm has starter's upside as long as the rest of the offense can compensate for his shortcomings; he'll need twitchy route-runners who can separate on intermediate routes. If Fromm is forced to throw into tight coverage or down the field (aside from an occasional home run shot or busted play), he won't last long with the first team.

Fromm appears destined to be a backup with spot starter's ability. I wouldn't entirely count him out, though. Guys like Fromm -- players who win above the shoulders -- tend to make it in the NFL despite their apparent physical limitations. If he lands in a system that plays to his strengths, he could be a surprisingly effective NFL starter. But he shouldn't be drafted to be that guy. Instead, his best chance for success is to join a roster as an unassuming backup with a chance to outwork and outplay an incumbent starter.

GRADE: 4th round