Bears

Bears collapse at QB, in multiple areas during beatdown by Redskins

Bears collapse at QB, in multiple areas during beatdown by Redskins

Some bad things happened to the Bears Saturday afternoon in their 41-21 pasting in Soldier Field at the hands of the Washington Redskins, which shouldn’t be altogether surprising for a 3-12 football team.

(Theoretically some good things happened, too, if you count losing this game as holding steady on course for a top-five draft pick, for which the Bears remain in contention, if that’s the right word for it).

But the Bears, who had taken some positive steps forward at the quarterback position and in their cultural reformation, staggered backwards in both areas against Washington (8-6-1).

Quantitatively the Bears were done in by the two things that have defined their on-field problems and the reasons they are 3-12: failure of the defense to take footballs away from opponents, and failure to generate sufficient firepower out of the quarterback position, a problem of some long standing, far beyond just this season.

The Bears lost the football five times on interceptions to a Washington defense that have only eight total picks in the previous 14 games. As they have in five of the last six and six of the last eight games, the Bears did not have a single takeaway, and are now a minus-16 in turnover ratio for the year.

Couple that with Matt Barkley’s five interceptions, including ones on each of the Bears’ first four possessions of the second half, and the outcome was inevitable, only the matter of score to be arrived at.

But for the first time in quite a few games the Bears appeared to be going through motions, something out of what had been taking shape as the Bears’ football character. Coach John Fox took issue with any notion that the Bears lacked effort.

“I thought they were just as competitive as we’ve always been,” Fox said. “The kind of game we kind of saw was [Washington is] a very high-octane offense, and we were going to try to keep them off the field.

“Five giveaways to none, kind of spoiled that plan. I think it had nothing to do with effort for those kinds of things.”

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Maybe. But even when a late first-half score on a Barkley-to-Cam Meredith set the halftime margin at 24-14, any sense that the Bears were going to stage the kind of closing effort they had against Tennessee, Detroit and Green Bay was illusory. The fire was missing early and never appeared as Barkley’s interceptions killed.

A 61-yard touchdown run for the final Washington points, with running back Mack Brown being virtually untouched by any member of the dispirited defense somehow was an appropriate summary statement in a game that saw the No. 3 sack-percentage team never take down quarterback Kirk Cousins and only even hit him three times on 29 dropbacks – none of the hits credited to the Bears’ supposed sack threats Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee or Willie Young.

The game in one respect set up as something of a matchup of fourth-round draft picks, the Bears behind Barkley, Washington led by Cousins. The similarities largely began and ended there.

Cousins took advantage of the non-existent Bears pass rush to pile up 31 points and 377 yards in three quarters, while Barkley threw into coverage and was intercepted continuously, three times in Washington’s end to squelch scoring chances, once inside his own 30, and never ignited any of the late-game spark.

The results fueled Cousins’ case for a long-term contract coming out of his franchise tag. Barkley’s performance cooled some of the buzz for what he might offer in the way of a future in Chicago, which had been spiraling upward into notions that he was on pace to move in as Bears starter.

With his four turnovers against Green Bay, Barkley turned the football over nine times in 16 possessions over his last seven quarters of football.

“On some plays I just tried to win the game on that play,” Barkley said Saturday. “I just tried to do too much.”

Notably, it was not only the quantity of Barkley’s interceptions, but also the quality.

The disturbing aspect of the plays, besides the obvious loss of possession, was where Barkley’s mistakes occurred. There is never a good place for an interception but some are worse than others, and Barkley’s were in areas where better quarterbacks exercise more, not less, care with the football.

Four of Barkley’s interceptions occurred with the Bears moving in Washington’s end, effectively taking potential points off the scoreboard. The fifth involved underthrowing Alshon Jeffery at the goal line in the fourth quarter, denying Jeffery a chance to compete for the football in the kind of one-on-one battle that favors the Bears’ receiver.

Barkley this week had allowed as nothing was really holding him back from becoming perhaps what he was once regard as, which was a No. 1 NFL quarterback. This day there was one thing, one big thing.

“I think I was standing in my way today,” Barkley said, inadvertently speaking for more than just the quarterback position this time.

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

Get used to the Bears being connected to just about all of the top tight end prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft as the mock-draft season kicks into high gear.

The latest mock draft from the Draft Wire is no exception. In this two-rounder, the Bears snag Washington tight end Hunter Bryant at No. 43 overall.

Here's how Bryant's game profiles, via The Draft Network's scouting report:

Hunter Bryant should be a dynamic receiving threat at the NFL level. Bryant brings excellent quickness, run after catch skills and versatility to a flex tight end role. Plugging Bryant into a traditional inline role will water down his receiving skills — he's best working off the LOS or as a flexed slot receiver who can serve as a H/W/S mismatch for opposing defenders. If Bryant it put in such a flex role, look for early production and long-term starter status in the pros. 

Sure sounds like the kind of player the Bears could use in the passing game, where the entire tight end depth chart combined for just 44 catches last season. Trey Burton led the way with 14. It was a brutal year at the position.

Naturally, adding a playmaker who can expand Matt Nagy's playcalling toolbox is a critical 'must' for Ryan Pace this offseason, and a prospect like Bryant could be an ideal fit.

In Round 2 of this mock draft, the Bears add Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison. Like tight end, linebacker will be an area of need depending on what happens with free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. It's likely that one of them will return, but even with Trevathan or Kwiatkoski back in the fold, the Bears have to add depth behind the starters. Will they address that need as early as the second round? Probably not, especially with pressing needs along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

If, however, Harrison does end up being the pick, the Bears would be getting a strong run defender who doesn't project as an every-down player at this point in his evaluation. He's likely to slide into the third round, if not later.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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