Bears

Bears In-Foe: 'How much do you like me now?' Not as much

Bears In-Foe: 'How much do you like me now?' Not as much

The "How much do you like me now?" quote by Kirk Cousins after trouncing Green Bay a month ago was the latest end-of-game declaration by the Washington quarterback that went viral (see:"You like that?! You LIKE that!!," circa 2015).  It came on the sidelines to general manager Scot McCloughan as the team moved to 6-3-1 and Cousins kept stacking up numbers in his bid for a long-term contract after getting franchise-tagged for $20 million this season.

While Cousins had another 300-yard passing game Monday night and didn't necessarily hurt his cause (he'd get $24 million if tagged again this offseason), the Redskins were held below 23 points for just the fourth time, and had their worst offensive output in a 26-15 home defeat to the Carolina Panthers. Suddenly, Washington fell from holding the second NFC Wild Card spot, to eighth, and needs help to get into the postseason for a second consecutive season. Will they be devastated, or angry "elves" on Christmas Eve?

Here's the good news for them: Despite the quick turnaround for Saturday's game at Soldier Field, they have have four days off, not the three they had in having to go on the road to Dallas on Thanksgiving after that Sunday night win over the Packers. They're also not playing on Monday night, where they've now lost 16 of their last 17. And they're playing the Bears, whom they've beaten six straight times, including a 24-21 win on the lakefront a year ago.

Cousins has done his part to earn his payday, and there's no way management can let him go. He's second in the NFL in passing yards, third in completions, fourth in attempts, fifth in completion percentage, sixth in passer rating, and a partridge in a pear tree. The touchdown-to-interception ratio is 23-to-10, even though he was picked off and also fumbled on the opening snap of the second half Monday night (sound familiar to Sunday's Bears game?). One of the league's better offensive lines (which survived four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams' recent four-game suspension for missing a drug test), couldn't get anything going on the ground (13 rushes, 29 yards, with Cousins leading the way via 11 yards on two carries). They were just 2-of-12 on third down (where they still rank fourth in the league). Their 335 net yards were 70 below their third-ranked NFL average. Cousins has been sacked just 18 times.

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That ground game is 18th, as undrafted free agent Robert "Fat Rob" Kelley has rushed for almost 600 yards, though just eight of them came vs. the Panthers, on only nine carries.  He burst on the scene in that Green Bay win, with 137 yards on 24 carries after second-year back Matt Jones (460 yards at the time), went down with a knee injury. Chris Thompson offers a change of pace (331 yards rushing, and 42 receptions for 295 yards).

More than Washington's fleet receiving corps, Jordan Reed has done the most damage in his two career games against the Bears (18 targets, 18 catches for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns). The undersized (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) tight end has been a nightmare for other teams, too, when he's been healthy.  He's missed 18 games in his four-year career, including three this season as he now battles through a third-degree separation of a shoulder. He had just one catch last night before being ejected in the third quarter for throwing a punch at Carolina's Kurt Coleman. That came as the offense had finally gotten inside the Panthers' 10-yard line. That left Reed with 61 receptions this season, five for scores.

McCloughan used his first-round draft pick last April on wideout Josh Doctson of TCU, knowing 30-year-olds' DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon will become free agents this offseason. But Doctson had just two catches before an achilles injury that wouldn't go away finally landed him on injured reserve two months ago. That after water bug Jamison Crowder delivered 59 catches a year ago — only Amari Cooper had more receptions among 2015 rookies than the fourth-rounder from Duke. Crowder has surpassed that with 64 grabs (828 yards) and seven touchdowns, to go with Garcon's 71 (851 yards) and the injury-hampered Jackson's 49 (857 yards for a fourth-ranked 17.5-yard average, and four TD's). 

So, yes, the Bears defensive backfield will have its hands full Saturday, looking to rebound from the way Sunday's loss ended.

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

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USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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John Fox says Bears had worst offseason in the NFL

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ESPN

John Fox says Bears had worst offseason in the NFL

John Fox is now more than a year removed from his tenure with the Chicago Bears, but he still has some strong opinions about the team.

Fox, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, fired a shot at the Bears during a segment of NFL Live on Monday. Fox was among a panel asked which team had the worst offseason in the NFL. Fox chose his former employer.

"I think when you're going to play defense, you're going to lean on your takeaways to help a young offense and you don't have a kicker, a reliable kicker that you're going to need those points from after some of those turnovers," Fox said. "I think the kicking question is really big right now in Chicago and I think that might be a problem going into the season."

That is sure to earn some eyerolls from skeptical Bears fans who weren't happy with Fox's 14-34 record with the Bears.

Fox wasn't the only one to pick the Bears. Damien Woody, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots as part of his 12-year career, actually picked the Bears before Fox.

"I think losing Vic Fangio... is huge," Woody said. "That Chicago Bears defense, it literally fueled their offense. It's the identity of the Bears and when you lose a talented defensive coordinator like that, I think there's going to be some slippage there."

 

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