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.”

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context


Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:


On the Bears’ season as a whole:


“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”


On Mitch Trubisky:


“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”


On Tarik Cohen’s usage:


“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.


“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”


On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:


“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”


On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:


“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.


“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”


On Matt Nagy:


“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.


“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.


“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”


While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:


“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”


One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.


The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.


But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: