Bears’ front seven mix points to need for Vic Fangio creativity


Bears’ front seven mix points to need for Vic Fangio creativity

Every bit as interesting this weekend as the Kyle Long saga is what decisions that Bears coaches and GM Ryan Pace made within the team’s defensive front seven, collectively the obvious tipping points for a must-be-better defense in 2015.

The Bears at this point will be going into the Green Bay game next Sunday with just five defensive down-linemen. One of those (Cornelius Washington) is a bulked-up marginal 4-3 end whose chief value is projected on special teams.

They also begin Packer week with nine linebackers, high even by most 3-4 measures. But there’s the interesting point. The Bears are a hybrid 3-4 scheme under coordinator Vic Fangio, but how much time will they be in a true 3-4, or even can they be?

Coach John Fox has said that 60-70 percent of NFL snaps are in nickel/passing personnel. A looming issue for the Bears will be forcing teams into passing situations. The Bears appear at this point to be considerably better equipped to play those, although when you don’t stop the run, you don’t get to rush passers.

[MORE: Long at RT? Jeffery back? Fox says wait and see]

Strictly coincidentally, the Packers after cutdowns also left themselves five defensive linemen and nine linebackers for their 3-4 scheme. And they, like the Bears (Jeremiah Ratliff), also have a reserve/suspended lineman, two actually (Datone Jones, Letroy Guion).

For comparison purposes, all five Packers down-linemen are 310 pounds or bigger. Of the Bears’, only Eddie Goldman and Jarvis Jenkins have that kind of mass.

[MORE: Bears announce 10-man practice squad]

The problem is that of the Bears’ nine linebackers, only Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee are bigger than 257 pounds. Green Bay linebackers aren’t especially huge, but the threesomes in front of them are, and one of them is Julius Peppers (287).

Which suggests that as their defensive roster is constituted, the Bears are significantly more staffed to rush the passer than to stop a power running game. Which is perhaps not insignificant given the hammer-backs coming up with Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) and Seattle (Marshawn Lynch).

The No. 1 word used by his players to describe Fangio is “creative.” He is renowned for blitz variations, part of the reason Fox, a career 4-3 coach, has switched to a 3-4 preference. With the nine-player pool of linebackers, most of them with pass-rush credentials, “creative” may be a survival skill.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”