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.

Tarik Cohen admits losing Jordan Howard ‘hurt me a little bit’

Tarik Cohen admits losing Jordan Howard ‘hurt me a little bit’

The Jordan Howard trade was tough for Tarik Cohen.

The two Bears running backs had formed a backfield bond over the last two seasons, and Cohen was there to support him during the rumors and eventual move to Philadelphia.

“I was really following after him as soon as I came to the Bears because I was one year behind him, so he could tell me everything to do because he had already been through it,” Cohen said Monday. “Losing him, it hurt me a little bit. I’m not going to lie. It hurt me, because that’s like my brother.”

Both running backs understand football is a business as they go their separate ways. Cohen’s “brother” will get to work in the city of brotherly love, while the North Carolina native continues to go out in his adopted community.

Cohen and Bears chairman George McCaskey met with members of Heartland Alliance’s Rapid Employment and Development Initiative in Chicago as part of the team’s effort to combat gun violence.

“I wear a ‘C’ on my helmet every Sunday, and every time I play a game,” Cohen said. “So I feel like it’s necessary for me to get inside the community and see what’s going on, and to help any way I can.”

With Howard exchanging his “C” for green wings, Cohen is now the running back a year ahead in Matt Nagy’s offense as Mike Davis joins the backfield.

The former Seattle Seahawk is just getting to know Halas Hall in the first phase of the offseason program, but he and Cohen had already connected through a mutual friend — fellow North Carolina native Todd Gurley.

“Mike, he’s like one of the guys,” Cohen said. “He’s already fitting in the locker room. Everybody’s already getting along cool.”

Just like that, life moves on without Howard in Chicago. Cohen expects Ryan Pace to add a rookie to the backfield too, and then it’ll be his turn to be the mentor.

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Why tight end is a significant need for the Bears in the NFL Draft

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USA Today

Why tight end is a significant need for the Bears in the NFL Draft

Most of the focus surrounding the Bears leading up to this week’s NFL Draft has, understandably, been on running backs. The Bears have to find more consistent production out of that unit, which is why general manager Ryan Pace is likely to draft a running back in addition to signing Mike Davis and trading Jordan Howard. 

But those necessary running game improvements don’t need to solely come from Tarik Cohen, Davis and a draft pick. There are other ways to help out the Bears’ running backs. And drafting a tight end may be a start. 

From a purely depth-based point of view, the Bears need to add more tight ends to their roster: Heading into this week’s NFL Draft, only Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker man that position. Drilling down further: Burton is a “U” tight end, Shaheen is a “Y” and Braunecker can play both positions. 

So adding at least one more body to that room seems like an important task for Ryan Pace. But this is an issue that goes just beyond the number of players on the depth chart: The Bears, as an offense, would do well to be more effective when operating out of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). 

The issue for the Bears in that personnel grouping began in mid-August when Adam Shaheen hurt his foot in a preseason game against the Denver Broncos, which kept him sidelined until November. Dion Sims took his place and didn’t play well, both as a pass-catcher and run-blocker. When Shaheen came back, he wasn’t 100 percent — and, in his first game back, suffered a concussion against the Minnesota Vikings. 

So here’s how the Bears fared in 12 personnel compared to the league average, via SharpFootballStats.com:

  Play% Pass% Run% Pass. RTG TD/INT YPA YPC
Bears 17% 49% 51% 85.0 5/3 5.9 3.4
NFL Avg. 17% 49% 51% 101.9 145/53 8.1 4.3

A few things to unpack here: First, the Bears don't necessarily need to use more 12 personnel, they just have to be better when using it. Averaging 3.4 yards per carry with two tight ends ranked fourth worst in the NFL, behind the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins. More disappointing, though, is the Bears’ average of 5.9 yards per pass, lower than only the Jacksonville Jaguars (5.3). 

It's worth noting, too, that the league average passer rating is about 10 points higher when running 12 personnel compared to 11 personnel (which the Bears used on nearly two-thirds of their plays in 2018). 

A large part of the Bears' issues, again, were due to the “Y” tight end personnel after Shaheen’s injury. The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles — relevant here for the Andy Reid connections to Matt Nagy — had much better personnel at tight end (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz) and ran 12 personnel 28 and 36 percent of the time, respectively. No team used it on a higher percentage of their offensive plays than the Eagles. 

The best-case scenario is the Bears didn’t have the personnel to operate successfully with 12 personnel in 2018, and it doesn’t take much of a deep dive into the film to see why (Sims, who was released this spring, remains unsigned). Nagy and his offensive brain trust likely can scheme some better ways to utilize 12 personnel as well. 

The issue, then, is how the Bears go about improving their tight end personnel. 

The first step would be for Shaheen to not only stay healthy, but to consistently build on the potential the Bears saw in him two years ago. Shaheen has missed 13 games in two seasons and has only been targeted 20 times in the 19 games he’s played. That makes him much more of a projection in 2019 not just from a passing game perspective, but from a blocking one as well. 

“It will be important for him to stay healthy for 16 games, number one, as they talk about your best ability is your availability,” Nagy said. “We've got to have that, that's important. He got better at holding the line of scrimmage. I thought, as a Y tight end, holding the end of the line of scrimmage and the point, he can do that, he's a big guy. Then route running, he's not going to give you the wiggle-wiggle that some of the U tight ends do. But he's a bigger type person. They should be able to play faster this year because they know where they're going.”

Still, given that projecting Shaheen isn’t an exact science, the Bears should target a tight end at some point in this year’s draft, specifically someone who can play that “Y” position. While the Bears are confident in Braunecker’s ability to play both tight end positions — important given how poorly the offense responded to losing Trey Burton prior to losing to the Eagles in the playoffs — drafting someone who can play the “Y” would seem like a smart move. 

The Bears aren’t going to land one of the clear-cut two best tight ends in this year’s draft — Iowa’s duo of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant — but there are a handful of tight ends who could interest the Bears in the middle rounds of the draft. San Jose State’s Josh Oliver (No. 95 on Pro Football Focus’ top 250) profiles as someone with the flexibility to play both tight end positions; Stanford’s Kaden Smith comes from the new “Tight End U” and could be had later in the draft. Those are just two names; perhaps it’s better to wait until after the Bears pick a tight end (if they do at all) to project how they could fit within the offense. 

Rookie tight ends rarely make significant impacts, especially those who fall to the middle rounds of the draft. But even if the Bears can improve blocking-wise from 12 personnel, that would have a positive impact on their ability to run the ball. 

And running the ball better means more opportunities for play action, which means more opportunities for open throws, which means more opportunities for Mitch Trubisky to lead scoring drives, which means more points. Everything works together — which is how drafting a tight end could help the Bears push toward the overall goal of scoring more points.