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/

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

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

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

“That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

“That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

"It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

“We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”