Bears

Bears In-Foe: Washington defense added Josh Norman, but still just normal

Bears In-Foe: Washington defense added Josh Norman, but still just normal

A defense that ranked 28th in 2015 (26th vs. the run, 25th vs. the pass) hadn't been able to make a splash in the first month of free agency until the Carolina Panthers made a business decision to part ways with star cornerback Josh Norman. In swooped owner Daniel Snyder, whose team needed to do SOMETHING to boost that side of the ball to help out an emerging offense. 

Five years, $75 million. $50 million guaranteed. Norman has one interception, 14 passes defended, and came under early criticism for staying locked in on the right side, no matter where the opposition's best receiver went. And Washington's 2016 defense still ranks no higher than 22nd in any of the following categories: points per game, rushing, passing, total yards, third-down percentage and red-zone TD percentage. Suddenly, after Monday's 26-15 home loss to Carolina showed his unit can't overcome a down day from the offense, coordinator Joe Barry's future is in further question.

There's a need for deeper talent, especially in the secondary. Bashaud Breeland, safeties' Donte Whitner and Will Blackmon, and nickel back Quinton Dunbar (who beat out third-round rookie Kendall Fuller, Kyle's brother) have combined for just three interceptions to go along with Norman's one, which are secondary numbers Bears fans are all too familiar with.

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It's not like there's not talent on the second level. Washington's gotten most of its 36 sacks right there in the 3-4. Underrated Ryan Kerrigan is tied for fifth with 11 sacks this season, though he left Monday game with an elbow injury.  Former second-rounder Trent Murphy finally rounded into form in his third season with eight sacks, while last year's second-rounder Preston Smith has four takedowns. That trio sandwiches inside `backers Will Compton (who remained at a team-high 101 tackles despite missing Monday's game with a knee injury) and Bears 2015 training camp castoff Mason Foster (99 tackles). They also rotate in hybrid safety Su'a Cravens who was sidelined vs. the Panthers with his own elbow injury. Based on the secondary's troubles, he could well be moved to the back full-time next season.

Up front, steady free agent-to-be end Chris Baker has 4.5 sacks, but after nose tackle Kedric Golston's early season-ending injury, Ziggy Hood, who had a cup of coffee with the Bears at this time last season, is their usual man in the middle. Veteran Cullen Jenkins was brought in early in the season to start at left end. Junior Galette, who had 22 sacks over two years in New Orleans, is spending his second straight year recovering from an offseason achilles tear, one in each leg. But in another similarity to the Bears' fate vs. the Packers, Washington was gashed for 148 yards rushing in its Monday night loss.

Special teams

Chris Thompson matches the Bears' Deonte Thompson with a 21.2-yard kickoff return average. The biggest weapon is second-year slot/punt returner Jamison Crowder, whose 13.1-yard punt return average ranks second in the NFL and includes a touchdown, is quite the test for the Bears' 30th-ranked punt coverage squad. Kicker Dustin Hopkins is 31-of-38 this season, but missed his third extra point of the season against the Panthers/

The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

America got a taste of live sports on Sunday via The Match, a charity golf outing pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. The competition raised $10 million for coronavirus relief.

It also offered Manning the chance to take a friendly jab at Brady, long his competitor on the gridiron, using new Bears quarterback Nick Foles.

In a mid-match interview, Manning noted how it's difficult to get to Brady's head on the field. The former Colts and Broncos quarterback then named two potential caddies he could have brought to disrupt Brady's focus: his brother, Eli Manning, and Foles.

"Do you bring Eli? Could do that," Manning said. "Do you bring Nick Foles? Maybe."

"Cheap shot," Brady said in response, grinning.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII two years ago, with Foles, a backup turned starter, leading the charge. Based on Brady's comment, Manning may have struck a nerve with the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Foles got in on the fun on Twitter:

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2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

The game

The Bears will make a late-season visit to Jacksonville on Dec. 27. The last time the Bears faced the Jaguars, Jacksonville prevailed 17-16 on Oct. 16, 2016, thanks to a late TD pass from Blake Bortles to former Fighting Illini wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Rest assured, there will be some extra motivation on the sideline this time around, as former Jaguars Nick Foles and Allen Robinson face their ex-teammates.

Player to watch

The Bears will be facing the man who replaced Foles as Jaguars starting QB last season, Gardner Minshew. In 14 games, he threw for nearly 3,300 yards with 21 TD and 6 INT, but Jacksonville ranked just 26th in the league in total scoring and limped to a 6-10 record. Entering his first full season as the unquestioned starter, Minshew will have DJ Chark as a top target after the wideout exploded onto the scene last season.

RELATED: Bears 2020 schedule: Game-by-game predictions

Additions and subtractions

One defensive standout to keep an eye on is Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville’s best pass-rusher who had the franchise tag placed on him but has repeatedly demanded a trade. Whether or not a trade partner is found will be the biggest issue facing the team as they head toward training camp, whenever that may be. Jacksonville also added talented but injury-plagued tight end Tyler Eifert in free agency.

Key storyline

Since their tough loss in the 2018 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, the Jaguars have torn their roster to shreds as they move into the next era of their franchise. Standout players sent packing over the last year or so include Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and of course, Nick Foles.

New GM David Caldwell is nearly done purging the roster, and that means this Jacksonville team will be playing the long game and likely setting themselves up for a top pick in next year’s draft.

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