Bears

Bears In-Foe: Tampa (Year) 2 for Lovie Smith

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Bears In-Foe: Tampa (Year) 2 for Lovie Smith

The Bears had visions of crashing the NFC playoff party three weeks ago after their upset win in Green Bay on Thanksgiving brought them to 5-6, with a couple of winnable home games on the docket. 

The Buccaneers had won three of four themselves and had to be thinking the same thing, sitting at 6-6 with a couple of sub-.500 foes next - the Saints at home and the Rams on the road.

Both teams have come up empty since. Both John Fox and Lovie Smith have a lot of young guys who've learned the difficult way that nothing's given, and square off Sunday trying to regain their balance after some rude body blows that punched them out of the post-season. Lovie's roster-gutting and makeover (after his 2-14 debut season by the Bay) is currently a step ahead of Fox's job.

OFFENSE

Jameis Winston spent Wednesday's conference calls with Chicago reporters saying the same things about Smith that his Bears players heaped upon him during his nine seasons here: He wouldn't be where he is now without Lovie's guidance and leadership.

Based on his distraction-, red flag-filled, spectacular career at Florida State, there was the concern in some corners that despite his impressive skill set, Winston just might become Ryan Leaf II to Marcus Mariota's Peyton Manning, circa 1998.  Both have been outstanding, but it's Winston who needs only 317 yards passing to match Manning's rookie passing yards total (which is third all-time, behind Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, his 2012 and 2011 predecessors as the top overall pick). His 363 yards a week ago in St. Louis set a career-high, and after a sluggish first half he put the team on his back and rallied them back in it versus a pretty talented defense, before falling 31-23.

The league's fourth-ranked rushing attack is the perfect complement for Winston. Doug Martin's 1,305 yards is only nine behind Adrian Peterson for the league's top mark and will provide and interesting storyline the final two weeks over who'll win the title. If the Bears did anything last week, it was help Martin's cause by limiting Peterson to 63 yards, though mainly because Teddy Bridgewater was almost perfect. But Charles Sims has come in and provided nearly 900 scrimmage yards, split almost evenly between rushing and receiving.

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They run behind an offensive line that GM Jason Licht needed to rebuild, and invested a pair of second-round picks in immediate starters Donovan Smith (LT) and (RG) Ali Marpet from Division III Hobart. Former Patriots guard Logan Mankins (knee) did not practice Wednesday, so that may be something to watch. Eight-year veteran Gosder Cherilus has anchored the right side on a line that's allowed just 24 sacks, well below the 52 it gave up last season, with help from Winston's legs.

6-foot-5 second-year tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins remains erratic (16 catches, 230 yards, 3 touchdowns) and is often bumped from the starting lineup by blocker Luke Stocker.

Another second-year target is doing much better. Mike Evans has already eclipsed 1,000 yards with five 100-yard games (9-157 vs. St. Louis). He and Vincent Jackson (who didn't practice Wednesday due to a knee injury that kept him out of the Rams game) rank fourth and second, respectively, this season in first-down catch percentage. Not good for a Bears team that's allowed opponents to convert 58 percent of third-down chances during this losing streak. Adam Humphries is an undrafted rookie free agent and is starting to evolve as a threat in the slot after six catches for 60 yards last Thursday (26-250 for the season).

DEFENSE

Word is Lovie (and defensive coordinator Les Frazier) are being more aggressive than your normal "Cover 2" because they lack all the necessary pieces to run it. Their 21 takeaways are tied for 13th in the league (-1 turnover ratio). But they certainly have a couple of studs, with the potential for more.

Despite last November's Bears win at Soldier Field, Gerald McCoy absolutely dominated, which isn't unusual. He revealed this week he's been playing with a torn rotator cuff since Week 2, then has also fought through a surgically-repaired broken hand suffered November 29. But his 7.5 sacks is still fourth among defensive tackles this season, and he was just sent to another Pro Bowl. Former Illini Akeem Spence and ex-Bear Henry Melton are in the interior rotation, combining for three sacks. Jacquies Smith is starting to emerge in his second season and third team after being picked up off the waiver wire in September 2014. He's second on the team with seven sacks.

Lavonte David remains a tackling machine at weakside linebacker, with 126 stops. Since entering the league four years ago, he's second in tackles, tackles for loss, and interceptions among linebackers. Rookie fourth-rounder Kwon Alexander started in the middle from Week 1 and was actually keeping up pretty well with David in the tackles tally, until being suspended for PED use a couple of weeks ago. In his absence, veteran ex-Cowboy Bruce Carter (who was the projected starter after signing a four-year free agent deal) moves in, with Danny Lansanah on the strong side.

Smith hasn't been afraid to replace seemingly-established veterans and that's what he's done at cornerback. Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks have taken a seat behind Sterling Moore, who couldn't convince cornerback-strapped Dallas to keep him, and undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah.

It seemed only a matter of time that every Bears fan's favorite whipping boy the last two years, Chris Conte, landed back in Lovieville. He did. He's been the strong-side starter. He's third on the team in tackles, with a pair of interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles, but was limited in Wednesday's practice with a knee injury in St. Louis that looked a whole lot worse than what it turned out to be. His former partner in crime here, Major Wright, backs up at free safety behind Bradley McDougald.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kevin O'Dea assisted Dave Toub during a stretch in Lovie's Bears tenure and is his man in charge in Tampa. Their punt and kickoff return units rank fifth and 17th with Bobby Rainey having yet to return one all the way. Connor Barth replaced Kyle Brindza a month into the season and has connected on 22 of 26 field goal attempts (3 of 6 from 40 to 49 yards, 3 of 4 from 50-plus yards).

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests. 

No, it actually doesn't make sense for the Bears to trade for Patrick Peterson

No, it actually doesn't make sense for the Bears to trade for Patrick Peterson

Things around the NFL got real  interesting this morning: 

Between Paterson's strong language and the fact that the Cardinals are one of the three-worst teams in the NFL this season, it seems like a pretty safe bet that this trade happens. 

As is tradition, each NFL team's fanbase started tweetin' about it: 

The guess here is that this trade caught Bears fans at exactly the wrong time. Between Brock Osweiler's 380 YDS, 3 TD game and Tom Brady's 277 YDS, 3 TD performance, people aren't exactly clamoring to buy stock in the Bears' passing defense right now. 

As of Week 6, however, the Bears pass defense ranked 1st in DVOA. No one was better. Granted, that's not where they'll be when DVOA is updated to reflect the last two games, but bailing on the Bears' pass D after two games (although a case could be made that their pass D wasn't THAT bad against New England) is foolish. There's also the fact that the Bears' secondary is already super-talented, highlighed by Bryce Callahan and Eddie Jackson both making it onto Pro Football Focus' first quarter All-Pro team. Granted, Kyle Fuller's had a slow start and Prince Amukamara hasn't been able to stay on the field, but the depth and talent of the Bears' secondary won't be their downfall. 

Positional need aside, the money just doesn't make sense for Chicago. First and foremost, the Bears just probably don't have what they'd need to bring in Peterson. According to Sportrac, the Bears have roughly $5.4 million in cap space this season - good for 23rd in the NFL (not that rank really matters, but just to give you an idea). 

That's not technically a deal breaker when it comes to Paterson, whose $11 million base salary is actually around $5.2 million once you prorate it for the first eight weeks of the year. So, if the Bears *wanted* to make a move for Peterson, the space is there. 

With that said, Peterson would come at a price that the Bears most likely don't have the luxury of affording. As of today, the market for trading top-tier secondary players has probably been set by this winter's Marcus Peters deal. In that trade, the Chiefs sent Peters and a sixth-round pick for one 4th-round pick this year and a 2nd round pick the following. As it stands, the Bears don't currently have anything better than a 4th-round pick until 2021. They definitely don't have the draft capital to match the Peters deal -- which was actually considered a light return at the time. 

And sure, the Bears could come at the Cardinals with a package built around current players, but why would that interest Arizona? Would a rebuilding team be THAT interested in Leonard Floyd, or some sort of Kevin White-Proven Vet combo? There's no incentive for the Cardinals to listen to any offer that doesn't include high round draft capital, and the Bears can't offer that. Paterson on the Bears would be an embarrassment of riches, but not one that the Bears can realistically swing.