Bears

Bears defensive free agent options include familiarity with John Fox

derek-wolfe-broncos-0108.png

Bears defensive free agent options include familiarity with John Fox

If you caught our final Sunday of Bears Pre- and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet, you may have seen the graphics that included some of the potential free agents hitting the open market this off-season. Dan Jiggetts, Jim Miller, Lance Briggs and I didn't get a chance to dive into those options too deeply, so if you missed it, here's a list of some of the defensive players we showed.  We'll do a separate post later this weekend for offensive players. We narrowed these lists of players to those 30 years old or younger, with the linemen and linebackers having played on teams using a 3-4 base.

DEFENSIVE ENDS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Muhammad Wilkerson Jets 7.0
Letroy Guion Packers 2.5
Cedric Thornton Eagles 2.4
Andre Branch Jaguars 1.6
Jared Crick Texans 1.6
Malik Jackson Broncos 1.6
Derek Wolfe Broncos 1.4

Wolfe and Jackson are second- and fifth-round picks from Fox's 2012 draft class in Denver, collecting 5.5 and 5.0 sacks, respectively this season, showing they can get to the quarterback on top of their assignments to free things up in the trenches for their linebackers to make plays (more on that below).  Wilkerson had another monstrous 12-sack season, but broke his leg in the season finale.  Branch (4.0 sacks this season) is a former Clemson teammate of Jarvis Jenkins.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!

DEFENSIVE/NOSE TACKLES TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Terrance Knighton Redskins 4.0
Damon Harrison Jets 2.4
Ian Williams 49ers 1.5
Jaye Howard Chiefs 0.66

Knighton played for Fox in Denver, as well, before signing a one-year deal in Washington. His impact should never be diminished, but he's 29 going on 30. The Jets (who drafted Leonard Williams last April) have to choose either Wilkerson or Harrison, whose stats don't do justice to how the 6'4, 350-lb. undrafted free agent shuts down the run. Ex-Notre Damer Williams has a history with Vic Fangio, but has struggled with injuries, while Hroniss Grasu can tell you all about Howard, who had 5.5 sacks. Eddie Goldman is almost certain to be the future at this position, but should the Bears feel he's capable of moving to end to make room for one of the above, these are outstanding options.

 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Von Miller Broncos 9.7
Mike Neal Packers 4.25
Nick Perry Packers 2.4
Courtney Upshaw Ravens 1.7

Pretty slim pickings here, since Miller's almost certain to get at least franchise-tagged, while Neal and Perry have never lived up to hopes and expectations in Green Bay.  Upshaw's not the type to keep heads of opposing quarterbacks on a swivel (2.0 sacks this season). If Willie Young and Lamarr Houston aren't seen as long-term options, this might have to be addressed through the draft, or pursue 32-year-old Tamba Hali of the Chiefs on a shorter-term deal, as Kansas City hopes to make room for Dee Ford while dealing with money issues on this side of the ball (further below).

[MORE: What you - and the Bears - should be watching for in the playoffs]

INSIDE LINEBACKERS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Sean Witherspoon Cardinals 3.9
Demario Davis Jets 1.7
Danny Trevathan Broncos 1.6
Keenan Robinson Redskins 0.765
Michael Wilhoite 49ers 0.660
Brandon Marshall Broncos 0.585

Fox's two inside `backers in Denver led the Broncos with 109 and 102 tackles. Trevathan added two interceptions and six passes defensed. Marshall is a restricted free agent. Both guys do exactly what the Bears desperately need at the position. The Jets also must decide how rich to make Davis amidst all their other decisions, and Fangio threw Wilhoite into the fire in 2014 and he responded as the Niners linebackers were ravaged by injuries.

 

SAFETIES TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Eric Weddle Chargers 10.0
Eric Berry Chiefs 8.4
Tashaun Gipson Browns 2.4
Rashad Johnson Cardinals 2.1
George Iloka Bengals 1.6
Ricardo Allen Falcons 0.435

Weddle and Berry provide the track record, albeit with concerns. Weddle is 30 but is a leader and will have a huge chip on his shoulder to prove San Diego erred in not even trying to negotiate with him. Berry's amazing return from Hodgkin's lymphoma this season to return to Pro Bowl status has been unfortunately somewhat overlooked. Gipson combined for 11 interceptions in 2013 and `14, but slipped to just two this season. Johnson really emerged in Arizona, highlighted by five picks.

[ALSO: Playoff field provides some lessons for the Bears going forward

CORNERBACKS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Sean Smith Chiefs 7.0
Prince Amukamara Giants 6.9
Jerraud Powers Cardinals 5.4
Trumaine Johnson Rams 1.7
William Gay Steelers 1.7
Josh Norman Panthers 1.6
Janoris Jenkins Rams 1.6
Jeremy Lane Seahawks 0.700

Norman? No.  A big payday looms either via a long-term deal with Carolina, or a franchise tag. The 6'3 Smith was instrumental in rookie Marcus Peters' outstanding rookie season at the opposite corner. The 6'2 Johnson has the size and has been a playmaker: seven interceptions this year, and 15 in his four years.  He came into the league in the same Rams draft as the smaller Jenkins, who has ten career picks, three in 2015.

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

trubisk.jpg
USA TODAY

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

First things first, getting some ancient history out of the way but also looking at it in a different light….

Turns out Dowell Loggains may not have been an idiot or John Fox an offensive restrictor plate, either, in the matter of using and developing Mitchell Trubisky. They in fact appear to have known some things that Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are finding out about one young NFL quarterback: that Trubisky simply isn’t particularly accurate or effective going downfield with his passes. At least, not yet.

The Bears did their ongoing due analytics through Trubisky’s rookie year. In the requisite pursuit of putting a player in the best chance to have success, they determined what he wasn’t good at, and trimmed back much of the field from his scripting and play rolodex early. The sense now is that Nagy also may be doing just that with Trubisky.

Something never made complete sense, that Loggains, had thrown the ball around Soldier and other Fields more than 61 percent of the time with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Yet with a talent like Trubisky, he was calling only a more-balanced 53 percent passing. The accuracy reality helps you understand some of the reason why; The young QB just hadn’t really thrown accurately down the field, or anywhere, for that matter, looking at his 59.4-percent completion rate even with the top of the field dialed back.

Downfield accuracy can be a quirky thing. Rex Grossman, for instance, was quixotically more accurate when passes were directed longer than 15 yards, yet maddeningly scattershot on, say, bubble screens. Trubisky is not that, most quarterbacks aren’t, but positive plays are the objective, wherever they lie for the particular thrower.

But all of that’s not really important now, just looking at Trubisky with some perspective; the downfield accuracy that’s a true work in progress wasn’t there then. And best guess is that Fox, Loggains and the rest of the staff weren’t going to tell Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Cody Whitehair or anyone else on offense to get their bodies pounded just so the kid could learn how to throw deep. The point was, and is, to win the game (thank you, Herman Edwards).

More to matters of more recent perspective….

Using the right evaluation scales

One simple (well, maybe not completely simple) fact is that Mitch Trubisky is improving, and in many respects, substantially, even as frustration and dissecting continue.

First, a note of explanation: Evaluating Trubisky against expectations, even for a No. 2-overall pick, isn’t useful. Neither is evaluating him strictly vis’a’vis other young quarterbacks.

What is useful is evaluating Trubisky vs. Trubisky, No. 1, and No. 2, more important, is the team winning with him?

The answer to No. 2 is “yes.” Two wins in three games, being within on defensive stop of having his team 3-0—that’s a “yes.” He had his team 2-1 last year after three starts, albeit against better competition (Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina), so he is at least as win’ish as he was as a rookie.

As to No. 1, the footwork isn’t where he or his coaches want it. Neither is his decision-making. Nor the accuracy thing.

But evaluating Trubisky against Trubisky and not Allen, Mahomes, Watson or anyone else, the point is signs of improvement. Consider:

In his first three starts last season, Trubisky barely qualified for “inaccurate” or “productive.” In his first three starts this season, he’s earned both, even with his distance issues:

 

                           2017                                    2018

 

                  Cmp.     Yards                    Cmp.      Yards

 

Gm 1         48.0%       128                    65.7%       171

 

Gm 2         50.0%       113                    73.5          200

 

Gm 3         57.1%       107                    68.6          220

 

Even with a couple of untoward throws and interceptions, his INT rate is still a respectable-if-not-great 2.9 percent.

Trubisky’s meaningful arrows are pointing up when compared to where he finished that rookie season, when he went out 1-2 with declining performances:

Gm 14      67.4%       314

 

Gm 15      60.9%       193

 

Gm 16      55.6%       178

Putting a final assessment of Trubisky is still quite some weeks off for 2018, and quite sometime longer for what he is big-picture. But in the meantime, comparing Mitch Trubisky ’17 to Mitch Trubisky ’18, the new one is better.

Bears film breakdown: Two red zone plays show where Bears need to improve, and how they can be effective

mitcharob1.jpg
.

Bears film breakdown: Two red zone plays show where Bears need to improve, and how they can be effective

The Bears had three possessions enter the red zone in Sunday's 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but only managed 10 points on those drives. Another pair of possessions stalled just outside the red zone, leading to Cody Parkey attempting four field goals, making three. 

With explosive plays hard to come by for this offense, an emphasis this week will be converting long drives that get into the red zone into touchdowns, not field goals. Against Arizona, though, we can see in two different plays, two quarters apart, how far the Bears have to go in the red zone but also how this group can find success. 

We'll start with a play that caught some attention on Twitter during the game: 

At the top of the screen, three Cardinals defenders are lined up across from a group of four Bears — Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen — in a diamond stack formation. At the bottom of the screen, Allen Robinson is lined up in single coverage against Cardinals cornerback Jamar Taylor. 

Trubisky takes the snap and doesn't look to his right, only identifying Robinson in single coverage and lofting a pass to him on a fade route. Coming down with jump balls/50-50 balls in the end zone are a strength of Robinson's, but Trubisky's throw doesn't give him the best opportunity to make the catch. 

It's worth noting that linebacker Josh Bynes (yellow arrow) does immediately break left when the ball is snapped, and even if the play was blocked well by the other three guys on that side of the field it wouldn't have been guaranteed to be a touchdown. 

"There are some advantage throws, there’s some choices on that play," Nagy said. "So that’s where he decided to go with the ball, and so we didn’t execute that play. We gotta regroup and pick another one."

****

Alright, on to a well-called and well-executed play in the red zone. 

Trubisky lines up in the shotgun with Cohen (blue arrow) to his right and Benny Cunningham (green arrow) to his left, with Robinson (yellow arrow) on the near side. Trubisky takes the snap and flows to his right, and Bynes (white arrow) drifts that way. Center Cody Whitehair (red arrow) gets two yards beyond the line of scrimmage and has to determine if he's going to block Bynes or linebacker Gerald Hodges. 

By the time Cohen accelerates near the line of scrimmage, Hodges (white arrow) is too far away to make the play. Whitehair (red circle) blocks Bynes. 

"You gotta read the most dangerous guy and make your decision from there," Whitehair said. "I felt like the guy a little bit to my left (Bynes) was the most dangerous guy with the misdirection play."

Cunningham (green circle) lands a strong block on safety Antoine Bethea, which triggers the play. 

"I knew as soon as he called it that I could trust in Benny Cunningham to make the most important block, so when he made that block I knew I had to cut off that and just keep running for the end zone," Cohen said. 

Worth noting: Had Hodges not been fooled by the misdirection on the play, he could've been able to crash toward the line of scrimmage and make a stop. 

"It was a good setup by coach Nagy," Whitehair said. "... If a defense is flowing hard like they were, it was a good time to use it."

Cohen, meanwhile, reads that Robinson's momentum in his block of Taylor is going to the sideline, so he cuts back over Robinson's inside shoulder, even with safety Tre Boston (black arrow) crashing down on the play. 

Boston gets his hands on Cohen around the four-yard line, and Cohen is eventually tackled at the one for a gain of 17 yards. Jordan Howard finishes the drive off on the next play with the Bears' only touchdown of the game. 

Still, "I was supposed to get in there," Cohen said. "I smelled it."