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.

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame


Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.