Bears

15 on 6: Bears Beat Themselves in Red Zone

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15 on 6: Bears Beat Themselves in Red Zone

Sunday, October 18th
Bears Let One Get Away

Literally, the Bears two years in a row let the Falcons get the best of them. They were not beaten physically, they were not out schemed offensively or defensively, they beat themselves with critical mistakes at key moments. They dominated all statistics, just not the one that matters.

Red Zone Efficiency

What did I last write in the Detroit Lions Blog? When you have an opportunity to score in the Red Zone, you have to make it count. The Bears failed in this area of the field and were only 25 in Red Zone efficiency. An interception, a fumble, and a crucial off sides penalty were the main reasons the score was not 28-21 and the Bears walk away with a 4-1 record.

It started rocky for Jay in the first half with two interceptions. I want to break down the first interception on the Bears opening drive as it directly affected the Bears ability to score. It could have been an easy completion and the Bears at minimum walk away with three points. The Bears team I was a part of called the play "772 Z Drive". The Flanker or called the "Z" (Devin Hester) runs a shallow cross or is driving across the field at five to seven yards depth. His responsibly is to run away from man coverage or hook up in zone coverage on the far hash while occupying the middle and weak linebackers. The tight end (Greg Olsen on this play) drives up the field 10 to 12 yards depth and runs an "in cut". If Devin influences the LB's and Greg beats the front side safety, he will get the ball as the number two receiver in the read. The running back (Matt Forte) checks protection to the strong side (TE side) for the SLB. If he does not come, he hooks up two yards up field and two yards outside the tight ends original alignment on the line of scrimmage. He is your number three.

The coverage was a zone, "quarters look", typically seen in the NFL in the Red Zone. The four defensive backs occupy a 14 of the field. It was 3rd and nine situation for the Bears and no one is designed to occupy the back side safety. In this case, it was Thomas Decoup of the Falcons. As a quarterback, you are trying to work this inside triangle between the flanker, tight end, and the running back. That is your progression. Jay thought he could squeeze it in to Devin, when if he simply moves on in his read, his number three receiver was wide open for a completion.

The old clich holds true. "Never beg a receiver to get open!" Jay has completed a throw like that to Devin many times in Denver versus the exact same coverage. But when windows to throw get tighter down in the Red Zone, if it is at all "harry", move on in your read. Especially, on the road and it's the opening drive. If the Bears walk away with three points, everyone is feeling pretty good and it silences the crowd early.

The last two points are what quarterbacking is all about. We forget Jay is still young in his quarterbacking career. We expect miracles because he is so talented. If he harnesses the mental part of the game and weighing the risks and rewards, he will truly be a multi time Pro Bowler. There is much to learn young Jedi. I believe Jay is up for the task.

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman remains unsigned after being released earlier this offseason following a 2019 season that totaled 14 games and a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

Freeman, who earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl in 2015-16, was at one time considered one of the NFL's top dual-threat running backs. His best season came in 2015 when he ran for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding another 578 yards and three scores as a receiver. In 2016, he ran for a career-best 1,079 yards and 11 scores.

Injuries derailed what was a promising start to his career. He hasn't played a full 16 games in any of the last three years and in 2018, he missed 14 games with foot and groin injuries. 

Are Freeman's best days behind him? Maybe. Running backs tend to decline the closer they get to 30 years old, and at 28, Freeman is inching closer to the end of his career than its beginning. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have value for a team like the Bears, who lack any semblance of depth behind starter David Montgomery.

Chicago's running back depth chart is void of any real NFL talent behind Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, and let's face it, Cohen is more of a satellite weapon than he is a true running back.

So what's stopping the Bears from pursuing Freeman? Money.

Freeman is holding out for a reasonable payday that, apparently, involves demands beyond what the Seahawks offered in May (one-year, $4 million). The Bears, who still have in-house business to take care of, including an extension for wide receiver Allen Robinson, aren't going to offer Freeman a contract in that range. And they shouldn't. Montgomery is the unquestioned starter and that won't change even if a player like Freeman is added. As a result, he'll get a contract consistent with what's paid to a backup with starter's upside.

Remember: Freeman signed a five-year, $41.2 million extension with the Falcons in 2017, and like most players who believe they still have a lot left in the tank, he doesn't appear willing to lower his value by such an extreme amount.

Still, the market will determine Freeman's next deal. And if he's still hanging around and unsigned as training camp approaches, the Bears could find themselves in a favorable position to land an extremely talented running back at a mega-discount.

Chicago's offense will hinge on how productive the running game is in 2020. It would make sense to improve its chances of success by adding more talent. Freeman could be that guy, at the right price.

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

“We’re gonna do the shuffle then ring your bell,” sang Gary Fencik back in 1985. 

The updated lyrics in 2020 would be: “We’re gonna do the shuffle then get a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.” 

Football today is a largely different game compared to when the Bears won their only Super Bowl in franchise history. You’ll see that when Super Bowl XX is aired on NBC this Sunday at 2 p.m. CT. But as I went back and watched some highlights ahead of catching the full game on Sunday, I wondered: What from the ’85 Bears would still work in the NFL today?

MORE: 10 crazy stats about the 1985 Bears

Talent, of course, transcends eras. Walter Payton would still be a great running back in 2020. Richard Dent would still be one of those pass rushers offenses have to gameplan around. Mike Singletary’s versatility, toughness and instincts would make him one of the league’s top linebackers. But that’s not what I was wondering. 

The Bears’ first offensive play of Super Bowl XX — on which Payton lost a fumble — came with two wide receivers, one tight end, one running back and one fullback on the field, otherwise known as 21 personnel. There was nothing odd about it back then. 

Only 8 percent of the NFL’s plays in 2019 used 21 personnel. 

The San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings were the only two teams to use 21 personnel on more than 20 percent of their plays, and both teams made the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo, remember, threw eight passes while the 49ers throttled the Green Bay Packers on their way to the Super Bowl back in January. 

Payton and Matt Suhey would’ve been just fine in today’s NFL running from under center quite a bit. But consider this: Jim McMahon’s passer rating in 1985 was 82.6, good for seventh-best in the league. Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating in 2019 was 83.0, ranking him 28th. 

How about Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense? 

I dug up this video we did a few years ago with Rex Ryan explaining his dad’s defense — which, while it turned out to be great at stopping the run, was actually designed to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Check it out:

The Bears’ defense in 1985 is, arguably, the best in NFL history. The Bears held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry and 12.4 points per game, the lowest averages in the league. Dent led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks and, maybe the most mind-blowing stat of all: The Bears’ defense allowed 16 passing touchdowns and had 34 interceptions. 

But putting eight guys in the box doesn’t seem like a sound strategy in today’s pass-happy, 11 personnel-heavy league — a league that often forces defensive coordinators’ base packages to be in nickel. To wit: San Francisco’s Tevin Coleman faced the highest percentage of “loaded” boxes in 2019, with 40.2 percent of his 137 rushing attempts coming with eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage. 

The Bears’ defense only had to defend multiple backs (i.e. a running back and a fullback) on 120 plays in 2019. 

So the 46 defense might not work in 2020. Then again, who would doubt Ryan’s ability to coordinate a good defense against today’s modern NFL landscape?

This is all building to my overarching feeling thinking about the 1985 Bears: They'd be fine in today's NFL. Greatness can transcend era. It might take a few tweaks and they wouldn't look the same as you'll see on NBC Sports Network on Sunday afternoon. 

But who am I to say one of the greatest teams of all time wouldn't be great in any era? 

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