Bears

Bears buy in to coaching staff reaching new levels

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Bears buy in to coaching staff reaching new levels

Last week before the Bears faced the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving, which marked the second short-week road game in less than one month, coach John Fox let his young team know that they didn’t really have it so rough. After all, he’d seen worse.

“Foxy said, ‘Well, last year we played Sunday Night Football and had a Thursday game,’” said tackle Kyle Long. “So we’re thinking, ‘Well, it could be worse. Foxy’s been in the league so long, so he’s been in situations before.”

(Of course, Foxy left out the fact that his Broncos got to play both of those games at home. But, hey, no reason to spoil a good story for the kids, right?).

The operative thought there, however, wasn’t the time between games. It was that Fox, and by extension his staff, has been in situations before.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears have bought in to the mentorings of John Fox and his coaching staff pretty much since the group was hired in the weeks after the demoralizing end of the 2014 season. Unlike the Marc Trestman staff that was rife with assistants on their first NFL job, It was a staff that came with cred.

And that cred has spiraled upward through a recovery from an 0-3 start to winning five of the eight games since then.

Very little has worked for the Bears against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, for example. But coaches made tactical tweaks that broke from the conventional wisdom of caution vs. Rodgers and the result was the second-fewest points scored by Packers against the Bears since the beginning of the Rodgers era.

“We stayed focused, did what was taught all during the week and just got it done,” said defensive end Jarvis Jenkins.

[MORE: How the Bears changed their tactics vs. Rodgers]

Salary cap rules prohibit unofficial bonuses for accomplishments but it’s unlikely that Fox is going to face any NFL disciplinary action for the perk he presented his team after Thursday’s 17-13 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“He just said, ‘See ya Monday!’” tight end Zach Miller said, laughing.

Three complete days off, a de facto mini-bye week late in the third quarter of the season, only adds a little light burnish to the steadily growing esteem in which Fox and his staff are held by a team that has believed in since their arrival. Now that respect – “buy in” – is going to another level after the results of the game plans in all three phases at Green Bay.

The chemistry between units, something Fox has fostered since the beginning of the preseason, where each unit feels committed to supporting the other two, is building.

“Offense gave us a chance to close the game,” Jenkins said, “and in the past couple weeks we didn’t do that.”

Bears reportedly expect Akiem Hicks to come off injured reserve in eight weeks

Bears reportedly expect Akiem Hicks to come off injured reserve in eight weeks

The Bears expect to activate Akiem Hicks off injured reserve as soon as they can — which would be for their Week 15 game against the Green Bay Packers — according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

The NFL requires players placed on injured reserve to spend eight weeks on it before they can be activated. While losing Hicks for half the season certainly presents a significant challenge to the Bears’ defense, that he does not need surgery and is expected to return in 2019 is at least a silver lining. 

The Bears officially placed Hicks on injured reserve Tuesday and promoted offensive lineman Alex Bars from their practice squad. 

While Hicks won’t be on the field for a while, he will be present around Halas Hall and Soldier Field as the Bears, defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. 

“He’s going to be with us throughout the gameplanning, he’s going to be with us on game day, he’s going to be on the sidelines, all those kinds of things,” Rodgers said. “You’re going to feel the presence of him on the sideline and everything we do from here to whenever that is.”

Bears can feel Trey Flowers' pain with NFL's over-emphasis on hands to the face penalties

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USA Today

Bears can feel Trey Flowers' pain with NFL's over-emphasis on hands to the face penalties

The Detroit Lions felt victimized by two brutal hands to the face penalties assessed to defensive end Trey Flowers on Monday night, flags which significantly contributed to the Green Bay Packers kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired. Those two penalties sparked yet another officiating firestorm for the NFL to put out. 

But while those two fouls came in high-leverage, fourth quarter situations — and helped the Packers score 10 points on their way to a division-best 5-1 record — they were just two fouls. The Bears have been flagged for illegal use of hands/hands to the face a mind-numbing eight times in 2019, easily the highest total in the league. 
No other team has been flagged more than four times for it. 

The Bears, collectively, were flagged twice for illegal use of hands in 2018 (defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Akiem Hicks were the offenders). 2019’s breakdown encompasses three units and quite a bit of frustration: Cornerback Prince Amukamara (3), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (2), and right guard Kyle Long, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and outside linebacker Isaiah Irving (1). 

So on Tuesday, we asked around the Bears’ position coaches to get their take on why all these hands to the face penalties are occurring in Chicago, and also their thoughts on the high-profile mistakes made by Clete Blakeman’s officiating crew in Green Bay on Monday. 

“You just gotta avoid it,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “There’s times where it happens, times where it doesn’t happen, especially when you get your hands on sweaty, slippery guys in the fourth quarter, it’s going to happen.”

Long, prior to his season-ending injury, said officiating crews previously would mete out warnings of sorts for hands to the face. Perhaps baked into those were an understanding of what Rodgers said — sometimes, these things just happen unintentionally in such a physical, fast-moving sport. 

Now? Seemingly any contact with a player’s face — facemask or helmet — is whistled. 

“Those guys don't seem to get it as far as people's heads are moving all the time,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “What I read this morning, one of the things that was important about it is that (a player’s hand) stays there and that it's kind of an act of getting an edge by doing it. You just want to prevent that.”

Still, even while some of these hands to the face fouls aren’t preventable or are just straight up blown calls, there are coaching points for these players on both sides of the ball. 

“You just gotta watch the release of that receiver, keep (your) eyes down,” cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. “Sometimes it’s incidental when a guy ducks his head, but you gotta focus on putting your eyes where they should be and that’ll force him to keep his hands down.”

So that’s the coaching point for Amukamara, at least. For Rodgers’ defensive linemen and Ted Monachino’s outside linebackers, it’s similarly all about hand placement. 

Rodgers said a lot of the rushes he teaches his players involve hand strikes near an offensive lineman’s armpit, which if executed correctly won’t allow for the possibility of a hands to the face penalty. And for guys like Mack, Monachino said they need to be aware of keeping their hands more toward the middle of a lineman’s numbers and not anywhere higher near the collar or facemask. 

Because while the second of the hands to the face penalties called on Flowers was admitted as a blown call by NFL VP of operations Troy Vincent, his hand was close enough to left tackle David Bakhtiari’s face that a blown call became a possibility based on what he’s coached to do. 

“As a protector, they’re taught to keep their face out,” Monachino explained. “So as he’s getting driven back, he’s got his head back so he can do that. From the side, that doesn’t look very good, right? But that pass rusher, Flowers, he wasn’t the reason that his head was back. It was because David Bakhtiari is a good player. He wants to get his face out of there so he can have a chance to recover.”

So it wasn’t like Bakhtiari flopped or sold the penalty like he was suited up for Manchester United and not the Green Bay Packers. But with the NFL making hands to the face a point of emphasis in 2019, anything that looks remotely like it is liable to be called. 

Monachino said he’ll use those two calls against Flowers as coaching points this week, not to remind them of how sub-optimal the league’s officiating has come across this year, but to remind his players of where their hands need to be to make sure officiating mistakes don’t happen, let alone reasonably-called penalties. 

And at some point, the Bears’ string of hands to the face penalties aren’t just on the officiating crews calling their games or random bad luck. They’re on the coaches and players for not getting the league’s message that anything contact close to an opponent’s face isn’t acceptable. 

“Those are judgements now,” Hiestand said. “Their eyes are on that a little bit, so we've got to do a better job.”

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