Bears

Bears expect 49ers to try to 'run the ball down our throats'

ronniehillmanbearsrund120315.png

Bears expect 49ers to try to 'run the ball down our throats'

The defense may be an emerging strength of the Bears, but “not in the run game,” scoffed linebacker Pernell McPhee. “We [aren’t] doing good in the run game right now so hopefully we can tighten up the screws. I think our secondary is doing a great job of covering; they did that all year.

“But we just got to get better in the run defense and that's what our focus got to be on. Because San Fran is going to come in here and probably try and run the ball down our throats.”

The Bears have made good on their stated commitment to run the football, ranking seventh in rushing attempts through 11 games and 16th in yards.

But the prime directive in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s philosophy is to interdict opponents’ efforts to run, at which they are succeeding arguably not all, yet stand on the brink of .500 after winning three of their last four games.

[MORE: Bears' WR Kevin White 'pushing' to play in 2015]

The Bears have held only three opponents to less than 100 yards, all victories (Oakland, San Diego, St. Louis). They were dramatically out-rushed by both Kansas City (87-117) and Green Bay II (101-177), yet won both of those. They managed to substantially out-rush the Packers (189-133) in Week 1, yet lost.

“It hasn't been good enough, but we've been able to overcome it,” Fangio said. “It's a little bit of everything. It starts up front. We haven't been consistently good enough up front. We haven't been consistently good enough at the linebacker position. And your secondary is involved in run defense, too, and there's been plays where they haven't been consistent enough. So it's been a little bit of everything and…we've got to get it rectified.”

They need to. And soon.

The Bears stand 29th in rush yards allowed per game, 30th in rushing average. If there is a concern coming into Soldier Field with the San Francisco 49ers, it’s that the one thing the 49ers do with even modest ability is run (20th in yards per game).

The 49ers crushed the Minnesota Vikings 20-3 in Week 1 with 230 rushing yards (168 by Carlos Hyde) while holding the Vikings to 71, with Adrian Peterson tallying 31 of those. Meaning: It can happen.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The Packers rushed for their 133 and 177 yards in part by utilizing a nickel package as their base offensive personnel group, forcing the Bears into nickel as well and then running against the lighter lineup that uses only two true defensive linemen.

Hybrid linebacker/end Willie Young, who played only seven snaps as recently as the Minnesota game last month and is primarily a nickel pass rusher, played 59 of Green Bay’s 78 snaps last Thursday while the Packers were rushing for those 177 yards.

Lamarr Houston, after playing four snaps vs. Minnesota, played 38 of Green Bay’s snaps (49 percent).

The anomaly of the victory: In something of a rope-a-dope vs. the run, coaches freed the front four to focus less on containing and more on rushing Aaron Rodgers, who escaped for 33 yards. Rodgers was pressured into his poorest passing game in two years. The tactic effectively conceded some running opportunities to the Packers, but other than by Rodgers scrambles, the defense was gashed for only one running play longer than 10 yards.

Two of San Francisco’s three wins (Minnesota, Atlanta) came with the 49ers’ best rushing games (230, 133).

“We’ve got to do a great job staying in our gaps,” McPhee said. “We got a lot of young guys on the inside and a lot of guys new to the system. I just think everybody’s got to communicate a little better and stay fitted in their gap.”

First and Final Thoughts: The Brady Bunch are in Town

First and Final Thoughts: The Brady Bunch are in Town

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 6

J.J. Stankevitz: On the surface, losing a game to your two previous offensive coordinators (Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains) and a punchline quarterback (Brock Osweiler) is rough. And undoubtedly, it is – Bears players still seemed frustrated by Sunday’s 31-28 loss to Miami on Tuesday, which would break the usual “24-hour rule” implemented by coaches. But the Bears won’t play in 88-degree temperatures all year, and their next two outdoor road games are in Buffalo (cue the lake effect snow) and East Rutherford, N.J. So that’s the good news: The Bears will have plenty of opportunities to prove that giving up all those yards and points to Miami was an aberration. This defense is far better than what it showed on Sunday.

Offensively, this is a quicker thought – Mitch Trubisky is going in the right direction, and that he was able to come out and have a strong second half (minus the end zone interception) after an uneven first 30 minutes was impressive.

 

Paul Aspan: “Everything points to the Bears beating the Dolphins – which scares the hell out of me.” That sentiment only grew with the news that Brock Osweiler would replace the injured Ryan Tannehill on Sunday morning. Maybe this wasn’t a trap game until that happened, but it became exactly that. The Akiem Hicks goal-line strip sack in overtime is the season-changing type of play that unlikely playoff runs are made of, but even that wasn’t enough. A pretty brutal offensive PI call turned a two score game into a Murphy’s Law spiral of turnovers, poor  no tackling, and another 4th quarter / OT let down - and not at the hands of Aaron Rodgers - by the typically stout Bears defense.

 

The end zone interception can’t happen, but Mitchell Trubisky showed that he is continuing to trend in the right direction especially with the go-ahead, 6-minute TD drive to give the Bears the lead with just over 3 minutes to play. As for Matt Nagy, I guess I get trying to escape with a 53-yard field goal, but if he’s going to preach “We’re going to be aggressive” all offseason, he’s gotta be more aggressive than settling for that.

 

Cam Ellis: Mitch Trubisky can throw the ball down field a little bit. He still leaves too many throws on the field, and yeah, that interception in the end zone was dumb; he's also only played in 17 games. Later on Sunday night, I watched Tom Brady and his 259 career games scramble around a huge pocket for like, 15 seconds before getting strip sacked and losing the ball. Mistakes are always going to happen. With that said, Trubisky's deeps balls are *gorgeous*: 

 

 

He throws into double coverage (yeah, I know, whatever) and places that ball perfectly into Taylor Gabriel's hands. The window for that pass to be completed is absurdly small, and a bunch of today's NFL QBs couldn't make that throw. And yeah, if all you had to do to be an NFL QB was throw a pretty deep ball, Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell would be Hall of Famers. But for all the flack that Trubisky gets -- a lot of which is deserved -- it's worth recognizing that he can do some things really well. 

 

First Thoughts on Week 7

 

Stankevitz:  I’ll be very interested to see on Sunday how much scheming Matt Nagy can carry over from his days in Kansas City against New England. The Chiefs ripped of 42 points against the Patriots in their season opener last year, and the Patriots’ defense doesn’t look much better this year. The Bears, of course, have different personnel, but perhaps there are certain plays or concepts that’ll work as well as they did in Kansas City in Chicago on Sunday. 

The Bears’ offense nearly picked off the defense on Sunday, and depending on Khalil Mack’s ankle may have to do so again on Sunday. And I’ll leave it at this: The NFL is weird. Just because a team looks like one of the two or three best in the league doesn’t mean they’re invincible. The Patriots are more likely to win than the Bears, but don’t discount the Bears putting together an airtight game and emerging from Tom Brady’s final trip to Chicago with a win.

Aspan: Every (rational? objective? realistic?) Bears fan circled this one as an L before the season started, but hey if the Lions can do it! Khalil Mack not being at full strength is an obvious concern, and Bill Belichick against a young QB is always going to favor New England. But we saw what the Chiefs offense just did to New England and the Bears certainly have a better defense (even if they looked like Kansas City in the second half trying to tackle Albert Wilson). One issue for the D in both losses this season has been opponents getting the ball out quick - and New England does do that quite a bit.

The most intriguing part of this matchup for me is that the Patriots are basically facing the same offense for the second straight week, while Matt Nagy has the phone-a-friend advantage. You have to imagine Nagy and Andy Reid have spent some considerable time on the phone the last two days, and if I were Nagy I would have dialed up his old OC Doug Pederson as well. As much as no one wants to talk about moral victories, playing the Patriots tough, even in a close loss, could set the tone for a strong second half against a pretty weak schedule. As far as this game is concerned, at the end of the day I still think Trubisky misses too many throws (not unlike Patrick Mahomes) to beat the Patriots.

Ellis: The Pats' offense is outstanding, and we all know what the Bears' defense brings. I think this game is going to be won on the other side of the ball, where both teams are fairly medicore. The Bears' offense ranks 14th in passing DVOA and 11th in rushing DVOA; the Pats' defense ranks 19th in pass DVOA and 13th in rushing DVOA. Can the Bears get better production in the red zone? Right now they rank a paltry 20th in points per red zone appearance (PT/RZ) at 4.72. New England has long employed a bend-don't-break defense that gives up huge chunks of "meaningless" yards before buckling down and holding teams to three. If I had to pick one specific thing that wins this game for the Bears, it'd be a smart, creative red zone game plan. You can put up points on this Patriots defense -- but settling for field goals all game is how you lose. 

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

tb-bro.jpg
USA TODAY

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.