Bears

2015 Grades: Bears coaching staff walks the walk

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2015 Grades: Bears coaching staff walks the walk

The NFL doesn’t grade on a curve, only pass-fail, as in win-loss. The Bears won only one more game under John Fox than they did a year ago in Marc Trestman’s second year. But more than one game’s worth changed inside the Bears because of coaching in 2015.

The Bears offense went into its final game with six of its top seven receivers either on injured reserve or simply injured. And the defense came in with exactly one lineman who’d been on the roster in training camp. Injuries are part of every team’s season but that kind of sick list is something else entirely.

That the Bears won six games may be surprising that it was so few, or so many, given not only the catastrophic injury clusters at certain positions, but also that the coaching staff was doing what it had to do while installing new schemes on offense, defense and special teams. Reshaping the culture of the team was a primary goal and that was clearly accomplished regardless of the win total.

"I think the confidence [John Fox] brings, the excitement he brings, the accountability he brings, the discipline and all those things he started the moment he walked through the door really show up in the everyday work and on Sundays,” said wide receiver/returner Marc Mariani, one of the coaching victories, someone who’d caught five passes in three career seasons before 22 this year. “He's going to tell you, ‘We're going in the right direction. We're doing things right.’ It's exciting to be a part of it. We all see it and it's not just talk. It's what he brings. It won't be long. We're going to be playing a lot longer [than 16 regular-season games] in years to come."

The change effected in the game of quarterback Jay Cutler was the obvious major individual coaching achievement of coordinator Adam Gase. Cutler posted career-best’s in passer rating and other areas, even with three interceptions in the Detroit game.

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One overall in the philosophy of Fox’s was a strong running game, and coordinator Adam Gase put the plan into practice. The 2014 Bears ran the football 25 or more times just five times all season; the 2015 Bears had just two of 16 games in which they did NOT rush at least 25 times.

Gase surprised opponents at times with a two-back personnel grouping. Against Detroit, he unveiled a package with all three of Ka’Deem Carey, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford on the field at the same time, Forte and Langford split out right as receivers and Carey the lone runner with Jay Cutler in the backfield. Carey popped the play for a 10-yard run. Given the shortage of proven wide receivers, the scheming was a reasonable gambit.

That Gase was able to develop more of Jay Cutler’s game despite the whirlwind of receivers and changing offensive line personnel was an accomplishment of near-epic proportions.

“I think we’ve handled it pretty good,” Gase said. “The hardest thing for us is just practice, trying to get that rhythm, more for down-the-field throws. “We’re close to hooking up on a lot of these but we just don’t quite have the timing we need and that comes through guys being in and out and just not being able to develop that kind of timing.”

The defense under Vic Fangio completed its makeover as a 3-4 despite having limited player resources specifically suited for the scheme as designed. Yet the defense improved from 30th to 14th in yardage allowed and from 31st in points allowed to 20th, even with three return touchdowns given up. The run defense allowed about 125 yards per game vs. the 113 per game last season some of that traces to a 2014 defensive line that underwent few changes due to injury.

“It’s improved,” Fangio said of his unit. “That’s for sure, and really improved from the start of the season throughout.”

Special teams had myriad breakdowns early in the season and too many inexcusable penalties for a group that needed to be more disciplined.

Bears coaching season grade: A

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”