Bears

Bears accomplish four key tasks on first day of free agency

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Bears accomplish four key tasks on first day of free agency

Free Agency 2016 began in earnest on Wednesday with myriad signings throughout the NFL. The Bears were active participants, not in terms of gross dollars, but in the more important measure, that of meaningful players.

Beyond the players themselves, the Bears finished Day One with four notable accomplishments:

1. Addressed specific needs

The offseason began with these among the Bears' needs: defensive line, inside linebacker, cornerback, right guard, backup running back, safety, tight end. Four of those seven received attention within the first 90 minutes of free agency:

Inside linebacker — signed Danny Trevathan from Denver Broncos for four years.

Cornerback — re-signed Tracy Porter, their best ’15 DB, for three years.

Right guard — signed RT Bobby Massie from Arizona for three years, freeing up Kyle Long for RG.

Backup running back/special teams — re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers for one year.

Defensive line, safety, tight end and other spots may yet be addressed. But reducing the needs list by four with some known quantities qualifies as a solid first two hours.

2. Improved draft options

The Bears under GM Ryan Pace are committed to the best-player-available philosophy. Typically they will have a smaller target group graded as worth a pick at No. 11 — their pick this year. Within that group of equals, need then becomes trump.

More than a few mock drafts over the past couple weeks would have the Bears at No. 11 grabbing an impact linebacker (UCLA’s Myles Jack, Ohio State’s Darron Lee, Alabama’s Reggie Ragland), tackle (Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley) or cornerback (Ohio State’s Eli Apple).

Any of those may very well be the Bears’ pick on Thursday, April 28. But the level of need in certain spots changed dramatically on Wednesday afternoon.

3. Groups upgraded

Moving Kyle Long to right tackle was not the choice of the two-time Pro Bowl right guard. It really wasn’t the Bears’ first choice either, just a step dictated by need after failures at right tackle. The Massie signing allows Long to move back to guard if that’s the choice. That projects to put a Pro Bowl guard alongside still-learning center Hroniss Grasu in a position group that functions optimally starting its five best, regardless of position.

“Kyle has some position flexibility,” GM Ryan Pace said last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think with our offensive line when I look at that we’ve got some flexibility with some guys there. Our goal is to improve that position, but just acquire the best players and let it all sort out and start the best five.”

Massie was a member of an Arizona line tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed (27) and No. 5 in sack rate. The addition of him at right tackle and Long at right guard upgrades protection as well as the run game to the right side of the offense. Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey just got better.

Trevathan was the leading tackler on an elite 3-4, Super Bowl defense last season. Regardless of what the Bears do with Shea McClellin at the other inside spot, the entire defense just got a boost from a player very familiar with the 3-4 scheme and John Fox, something few on the Bears defense were at this time last year.

4. Culture upgraded

The Bears made their hardest initial pushes on players with track records of winning: Trevathan, holder of two AFC Championship rings and a Super Bowl one from the 2015 season; Massie, starting right tackle for the Arizona Cardinals in three of the last four seasons, including last year through the loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship game.

Trevathan came into the NFL and into the Denver starting lineup under coach John Fox. He hits the ground running.    

Bears-Lions takeaways: A toughening route to the playoffs, a run game defying fixing?

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USA TODAY

Bears-Lions takeaways: A toughening route to the playoffs, a run game defying fixing?

The Bears putdown of the Detroit Lions provided a critically important statement start to the second half of a season that now would stand as a disappointment if the Bears fail to reach the playoffs. Not so much because of the missed-playoffs themselves, but because to misfire now after a pair of three-game win streaks will mean a couple of bad losses.

Or so-called “bad” because of expectations being raised above ground-level. But the Bears face a remaining schedule with some dark corners.

The Bears haven’t beaten a team currently with even a .500 record. No reflection on the Bears; they can only play whoever shows up. But it puts the remaining seven-game race to the postseason under a cloud of justifiable doubt, leaving it to the Bears to prove they belong in the tournament that starts in January.

The schedule has three A-list games: two against Minnesota, which has won four of its last five and comes to Soldier Field on Sunday following an off-week; and one against the Rams, the highest-scoring team in the NFC.

Three games are against bottom-feeders – the Lions again, the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. The problems here are: 1) all three games are on the road and 2) those teams will beat someone over the final the final seven weeks.

And the seventh of the remaining games is against the Green Bay Packers, who’ve lost all four of their 2018 road games but have a quarterback who hasn’t lost to the Bears in Chicago since 2010.

Tiebreakers are likely out of play for the division, with Green Bay and Minnesota having a shared tie. But winning the division outright seemed a given, as it does now, in 2012 when the Lovie Smith Bears had an elite defense and stood 8-3.

Run game redux

Concern over the Bears inability to run the football may come off as nitpicking or saying nay about an offense leading a team that is on pace to set a franchise scoring record.

But it does matter that of the 10 teams with six or more victories this season, the Bears, Patriots, Saints and Texans are the only ones not in the top 15 in rushing average. Houston and New Orleans, however, rank in the top 11 for rushing yardage, and New England does have Tom Brady in addition to being tied for third with 12 rushing touchdowns.

The overarching point here is if the Bears hope to challenge for a spot among the NFL’s elite, it behooves them to fix this weakness in an offense without many.

The bigger point is whether the Bears can fix it. Put another way, they may not be able to within the parameters of the offense as being designed and operated by Matt Nagy. He has a No. 1 back who needs carries to build a game, yet he is a coach who does not run his offense through a featured back.

Nagy didn’t isolate blame for his team’s running woes on Jordan Howard, the offensive line, coaches or anyone else. Nor should he, because the problem indeed lies with none of them and all of them.

With a Detroit gameday roster with five backs and three tight ends, the result was the lowest rushing total (54 yards) and average (2.5 yards per carry) of this season and came a week after the previous lows (64 yards, 2.6 yards per carry).

But the issue is more than one back (Howard). It’s the group of running backs (leaving the offensive line out of this point purposely), none of which are likely ever going to give Nagy the identity or consistent production that he wants for this element of his offense.

For one thing, no back is likely to see anywhere near the workload that ostensibly is needed to get Howard “lathered up.” Nagy doesn’t lather anybody up, and until a back emerges who can do a microwave impersonation and heat up in a huge hurry, the Bears rushing upside is hazy.

Using the template Nagy most relates to, Kareem Hunt has gotten 20 carries in just seven of 26 career games as a Kansas City Chief, only once in a 2018 season that has the Chiefs at 9-1.

Run-run-run is simply not in the Nagy offensive DNA, nor is it anything close to a dominant philosophy, even among teams who have been its leading practitioners. Nor is there a consistent formula for winning with an integrated run-pass offense.

The NFL’s three top rushers – Todd Gurley, Rams, 9-1; James Conner, Steelers, 6-2-1; Hunt, Chiefs, 9-1 – come from teams that went into this weekend running the football 46.6 percent of their snaps (Rams), 36.3 percent (Steelers) and 40.5 percent (Chiefs).

The Nagy Bears have in fact been at the high-run end at 45.1 percent, while the coach and staff have struggled for a run-game identity. But that includes nearly 30 percent of the rushing yardage coming from Mitchell Trubisky – not exactly the preferred run-game identity.

NFL Week 11 Power Rankings: We're going to put someone else at #1, just for fun

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USA Today

NFL Week 11 Power Rankings: We're going to put someone else at #1, just for fun

FINALLY. 

It's been 10 weeks of LA-based Power Rankings domination. The Rams -- and to a slighly-less amount, the Chargers -- have dominated the top of these here Power Rankings for far too long. 

This week? A new #1 reigns. It's New Orleans' time to shine. 

We didn't forget the Bears, obviously, who sprinted their way straight into the Top 10. 

How'd your team do this week? You can find out right here.