Bears can change course by playing not to lose

Bears can change course by playing not to lose

“Playing not to lose” is usually a precise recipe for the very thing it is intended to stave off – losing. In the Bears’ case, however, it may in fact be the only way the Bears can turn a slipping season around.

Not becoming conservative; being careful.

Consider: The Chicago offense under Brian Hoyer amassed 522 yards, with Hoyer becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to post three straight games of 300 passing yards, all with zero interceptions. And yet the point totals stay stubbornly low – 23 at Indianapolis – with the 522 ranking as the fifth-highest in team history, yet the only one of the top five with fewer than 47 points scored.

The biggest reason for the Bears’ arrested scoring development lies in the mirror.

In the first half alone at Indianapolis, the Bears committed five penalties and fumbled twice. Touchdown situations were knocked backwards into field goals, and not all of those were made. For the game, the offense was tagged with seven penalties on snaps within the Colts’ end of the field.

The core of the game plan for next Sunday vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars then becomes, first, the avoidance of pain and self-destruction.

“Nobody is going to just go out and beat a team by 21 just on paper and have it happen on the field,” said guard Kyle Long. “So you’ve got to go out and minimize your mistakes and find ways not to lose.

“Essentially you don’t want to play not to lose, you want to play to win. But in order to win you have to limit the things that make you lose and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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The concern is that the self-destruction is coming from so many players. In last Sunday’s first half, four different offensive players drew penalties (tight end Logan Paulsen had two) and two others put the football on the turf. In the second, Hoyer contributed a delay of game and the offensive line committed holding at the Indianapolis 25 on the final drive, turning a third-and-5 into third-and-15, which the Bears failed to convert.

“There’s different things,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “When you have seven penalties inside the 40-yard line – it wasn’t one play that defined you. It’s those seven to eight plays in a game that you don’t know which one is going to be the difference.”

And those seven to eight plays that define a team. The Bears could have won the game had Hoyer read the Indianapolis coverage and gone to Alshon Jeffery rather than Cameron Meredith. But that play did not cost the Bears the game; seven penalties inside the Colts’ 40-yard line and three fumbles did that.

Applying the descriptor “game manager” to a quarterback is damning with faint praise. It is a quarterback who doesn’t turn the football over and takes the percentage play, operating on the time-honored bromide that “you never go broke taking a profit.”

But it is inaccurately used to categorize the quarterback as someone not really possessed of the talents to win games, only to not lose them. The job is all about risk-reward and that has been a hallmark of Hoyer’s play, with the yardage taking care of itself as long as right decisions are made play by play.

“They’re all calculated,” Hoyer said. “It’s something that as the game goes on, you’re contemplating, you’re thinking about that.”

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”