Bears

Remember when folks wanted a free-spending owner like Dan Snyder for the Bears? No, really, they did

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USA Today

Remember when folks wanted a free-spending owner like Dan Snyder for the Bears? No, really, they did

Be careful what you wish for – you just might get it. Fortunately, some Bears fans didn’t get their wish.

About this time 20 years ago, Daniel Snyder was taking over as owner of the Washington Redskins. This came several months after then-Chairman Michael McCaskey had made the Bears an NFL laughingstock with the cataclysmic mishandling of hiring Dave McGinnis as head coach (and no, the real story had nothing to do with that premature press release). McCaskey was “demoted” to chairman only and Ted Phillips succeeded him as president.

The two events occasioned some intense civic longing for “an owner like Snyder,” who breezed in and began throwing money around at major free-agency names while Chicago was mucking about after the McGinnis fiasco for several years, making multiple mistakes in free agency and living down to their rep of operating on the cheap.

But those laments of “Chicago needs an owner like Dan Snyder?” Really?

No.

Washington’s record for the Snyder era is 139-182-1, and that includes a 10-6 mark in 1999 when Snyder took over the team after free agency and the draft were already behind them. The Bears during these same 20 years were slightly better – 156-166 – but have authored nothing close to the organizational humiliations wrought by Snyder on Washington.

Those include suing season ticketholders who couldn’t come up with funds during the 2008-09 recession, despite Snyder claiming to have a waiting list of more than 200,000; creating a firestorm around use of “Redskins,” just to cite a couple.

The Bears could feature Virginia McCaskey as the centerpiece of their 100th anniversary fan lovefest. Washington didn’t come into existence until 1932, and then as the Boston Braves (that at least explains the “Redskins” thing a little). But whenever the franchise turns 100, Daniel Snyder may not get an invite.

Both the Bears and Redskins have made the postseason five times over the past 20 years. But Washington has never advanced beyond the divisional round while the Bears at least reached a conference championship (2010) and a Super Bowl (2006).

Matt Nagy is the Bears’ fifth coach since 1999. Jay Gruden is Washington’s eighth. Snyder fired Marty Schottenheimer after one year and Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn after two years each.

But the allure for some of BearNation was Snyder’s apparent willingness to spend money. The phrase “false god” comes to mind, however, with Snyder missteps having ripple effects in the salary-cap era that the Bears have mercifully avoided.

Snyder signed Deion Sanders in 2000 for $55 million and got one season and four interceptions out of Prime Time, who then retired. Not stopping there, Snyder then signed Jeff George for $19 million over years, which shortened to two after George went 1-7 in his Washington starts.

Continuing in 2000 to binge on big-name, near-the-end veterans, Snyder gave defensive end Bruce Smith a five-year deal topping out at $23 million. Smith, well past his Buffalo Bills prime, was gone in three years.

Snyder’s big strike (in more ways than one) was defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, signed in 2009 to a seven-year, $100 million contract, with Snyder guaranteeing $41 million. Washington got two years, 20 games, 53 tackles and 6.5 sacks from Haynesworth for the money.

Snyder also lavished capital on safety Adam Archuleta and receiver Brandon Lloyd, but Chicago can’t scoff too hard at those since both became Bears for one years after their abysmal (but brief) stops in Washington.

The capstone – there were so many, both on- and off-field – may have something to do with Snyder essentially empowering quarterback Robert Griffin III in situations with head coach Mike Shanahan, which led to egomania for RGIII and an exit for Shanahan after going from a wild card appearance to last place in Shanahan’s two years with Griffin.

Washington may upset the Bears this weekend. But the good news is that come Tuesday, Daniel Snyder will still be in Washington, not Chicago.

 

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Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per SharpFootballStats.com, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better. 

Bears Injury Report: Trubisky practices in full Thursday

Bears Injury Report: Trubisky practices in full Thursday

It appears like Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky will, in fact, make his return to the starting lineup Sunday against the New Orleans Saints after practicing in full Thursday as he recovers from a left shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and defensive end Bilal Nichols (hand) were also full participants and both should return to action in Week 7.

Guard Ted Larsen was limited on Thursday and all indications suggest Rashaad Coward will start in place of Kyle Long, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week.

As for the Saints, running back Alvin Kamara did not participate in practice as he rehabs knee and ankle injuries. His status is likely to be a game-time decision.

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