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Bears fall to rival Packers, eliminated from playoff contention

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Bears fall to rival Packers, eliminated from playoff contention

GREEN BAY, Wisc. And then it was justover.

A season that saw the Bears on the brink of the playoffs just a month ago at 7-3 effectively ended Sunday night in Lambeau Field with a 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

It was the Bears fifth straight defeat, the longest losing streak under Lovie Smith. Not since 2002 under Dick Jauron had the Bears lost five straight and this one was particularly painful.

It eliminated the Bears from the postseason that seemed all but assured even as quarterback Jay Cutler was going down with a fractured right thumb against San Diego, the last win for the Bears (7-8).

It just hasnt gone the way we wanted it to, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. The last five weeks we havent played well enough to win and we lost all five games. Im not happy about where we are.

The season will be over next week. Thats good.

The loss was also the fourth in the same calendar year to the Packers (14-1), following a game-16 loss last season, the NFC Championship defeat and the week-three loss in Soldier Field this season. Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Bears put up their biggest yardage total (441 yards) of the year despite using a quarterback in Josh McCown who hadnt started a game since 2007, and running backs in Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen who were third- and fourth-string not all that long ago but who helped the Bears rush for 199 yards on the day.

Its encouraging the amount of yards our offense put up, said Bell, who had 121 on 23 carries. But yards without points dont mean anything. There were a couple times we stalled in the red zone and thats just disappointing.

The Bears indeed had chances, getting inside the Green Bay 35 three times in the first half but netting just three points. And after drawing to within four points at 14-10 early in the third quarter, breakdowns in the secondary turned a close game into a rout, and by the fourth quarter, the only question was Green Bays winning margin.

Aaron Rodgers was out of the game by mid-fourth quarter with 21 completions in 29 attempts, five touchdown passes and 281 passing yards.

It was good to bounce back from last weeks loss to Kansas City and play better and know that the Super Bowl run has to go through Green Bay, Rodgers said.

The bad news

A few actual positives on offense, like the performances of Bell and McCown, were more than offset by problems on defense.

Safety Major Wright was guilty of significant mistakes, including failing to maintain deep coverage on Jordy Nelson that allowed the Green Bay wideout to gather in a 55-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers. That score, coming after the Bears had pulled to within 14-10, seemed to take the life out of the defense.

Zackary Bowman, starting at cornerback over Tim Jennings, was beaten cleanly for two TD passes from Rodgers to James Jones on short strikes. Bowman was beaten by Nelson for a 25-yard completion.

Rodgers is going to put it in places for those guys to catch it, Bowman said. Our job is just mainly to get in front of the receivers and make Rodgers hold the ball. With the quick slants and stuff like that, it cant just be an easy pitch-and-catch.

The Bears have only two cornerbacks under contract for next year (Charles Tillman, D.J. Moore) and the play of Bowman and Jennings over the past two games all but assures the Bears moving to overhaul their corners in free agency and the draft.
Early battering

Rodgers and the Packers went through the Bears defense with embarrassing ease for an opening-drive touchdown. Then, with McCown throwing an occasional pass to break up the steady pounding by Bell and Allen, the offense made three straight drives into the Green Bay end of the field.

But with an interception and missed field goal, two of those drives produced nothing.

The Bears did many things right in the first half and still went in trailing 14-3. Green Bay scored on the opening possession of the game on a Rodgers pass to Jermichael Finley, then scored on their last possession of the half when Jones beat Bowman on a slant from the 2-yard line.

In between, it was largely a Bears half. Three times they reached inside the Green Bay 35-yard line and only came away with one field goal. They had the ball more than 19 minutes of the half and outgained the Packers 207-162.

Quirky half

The Packers put McCown and the offense under immediate pressure as Rodgers completed all eight of his pass attempts on the opening possession, accounting for 77 yards on an 80-yard drive. That finished with a two-yard touchdown pass to Finley.

It was Finley who destroyed the Bears with three TD catches in game three. And it was a virtual match for the way the Packers started against the Bears in Chicago, when they also went 80 yards for a TD on the opening possession.

The offense answered with a strong drive, nearly all of it on Bells back. But the push to the Green Bay 33 then went the other direction with penalties for delay of game and an illegal shift, and Robbie Goulds field goal try from 49 yards was wide right.

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be


How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: