Bears

Takeaways from Super Bowl LII: Bears have bigger needs but backup QB a franchise priority

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USA TODAY

Takeaways from Super Bowl LII: Bears have bigger needs but backup QB a franchise priority

What the Philadelphia Eagles accomplished in no small part because of retread and backup quarterback Nick Foles – winning two pivotal late-season starts, then winning two playoff games to get the Eagles to the Super Bowl, then winning the Super Bowl as the game’s MVP – should serve as a template for the Bears’ offseason work to secure their No. 2 quarterback situation.

The fact that the fate of the New England Patriots franchise turned on a late-round draft choice for a backup quarterback – Tom Brady – just puts another underscoring line for the position. So does what Case Keenum did to get the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bears are set at No. 1 with Mitch Trubisky. But enough of the playoff teams got to where they were because of attention paid to the No. 2 quarterback to serve as an object lesson for any team entertaining any sort of run at a postseason.

No shortage of options for backups to choose from for the Bears this offseason. And the organization clearly understands the need for a complementary presence in the quarterback room (the reason Mark Sanchez remained on the roster all year), and merely adding a just-a-guy accomplishes little.

And while the standard line of “it’ll take some time” is making the rounds at Halas Hall, “time” is a fluid concept (more on that later). Do the Bears deep-down envision a stunner 2018? If the Bears in fact believe that Matt Nagy can accomplish the turnaround that John Fox couldn’t, then the target should be a composite backup quarterback – like Foles and Keenum – who can win in relief as well as mentor/mind-meld with Mitch Trubisky.

That’ll be a philosophical decision: Go for upside, or for security behind Trubisky?

New England may rue the decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo but in the meantime brought in Brian Hoyer after the 49ers released him after the Garoppolo trade. What the Patriots do with Hoyer this offseason remains to play out, and Hoyer didn’t get a sniff of offer from the Bears last offseason, which didn’t sit well. Never mind that GM Ryan Pace went for a shot at upside with Mike Glennon; it would take a hug to get Hoyer interested in Chicago again.

Plenty of so-what to choose from: Chase Daniel (but he wants to start). Matt Moore. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jay Cutler (just kidding!).

And then there’s Josh McCown. The only thing “wrong” with McCown is that he’s apt to find a team that grades him good enough to be signed as a starter, whether interim or longer term. He’s 38, but over the recent past, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have shown 38 to be the new 28.

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There are no “bad” Hall of Fame classes; just doesn’t happen when the discussion is about deciding on degrees of excellence.

But the 2018 class of Brian Dawkins, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Brian Urlacher, plus seniors Robert Brazile and Jerry Kramer, and contributor Bobby Beathard ranks with the all-time “WOW!” groups ever headed to Canton, maybe the best ever.

This reporter always thought the ’04 group with Bob Brown, Carl Eller, John Elway and Barry Sanders was the perhaps the best of the small classes. Or at least in a tie with the ’73 class that included Frank Gifford, Forrest Gregg, Gale Sayers, Bart Starr and Bill Willis. The ’13 was the best of the big classes, taking in Bill Parcells, Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp and Curly Culp.

But the group this time – with tipping-point individuals top to bottom – ranks even that. One measure is the level of players who didn’t finish in the obligatory top five: Tony Boselli stands as one of the three or four greatest left tackles, just with the misfortune of playing in small-market Jacksonville; guards Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson. All of those offensive linemen will be in as early as next year, but for the time being, limits on how many can go in are the only reason they’re not first-ballot inductees.

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“Dynasty” always sounds dominant, and it is to a degree if only because of the longevity component. But it’s only applicable when championships are won and as such is very much a hard-earned designation. Always realize the thread-thin line between great and near-great, often the thickness of exactly one play. Of the eight New England Super Bowls with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, none were decided by more than one score, and six of the eight were adjudicated by three or four points, the first two of them turning on Adam Vinatieri field goals in closing seconds.

The two the Patriots lost (to the New York Giants) came as the result of spectacular, improbable catches: the “helmet catch” of David Tyree after Eli Manning escaped a swarming sack, and the other by Mario Manningham on a perfect pass with Manningham making the reception so close to the sideline that Bill Belichick lost a timeout challenging the call at that late fourth-quarter point. The Patriots needed the Seattle Seahawks to eschew a goal-line run by Marshawn Lynch and call a pass that Malcolm Butler could intercept to win their fourth Super Bowl with a closing-seconds play.

And New England is far from alone in the close-call-dynasty class. San Francisco got by Cincinnati in Super Bowl 23 only with a flawless 92-yard drive and Joe Montana’s winning TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds to play. The mighty ‘70s Steelers won four Super Bowls, two of them by four points over the Dallas Cowboys, in which they broke up an end-zone Roger Staubach pass to save the win (Super Bowl X) and in which all-alone Dallas tight end Jackie Smith dropped a pass in the end zone.

Not that the Bears belong in any talking point involving the phrase “Super Bowl” or “dynasty,” not even the ’85 group since it only even reached one Super Bowl.

No, the real point is that thread-thin margin in a league designed for parity, where you can have a Rams team go from 4-12 to 11-5 with a second-year quarterback and young first-time offense-based head coach (the Bears have one of each of those). You can have the Philadelphia Eagles come off two straight 7-9 seasons, the second a year ago when they finished last in their division, and go to 13-3 with a second-year quarterback.

And then they go and win a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback.

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.

    In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.

    Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.