Bears

Bears grades: Brian Hoyer brings some life to offense, but too little, too late

Bears grades: Brian Hoyer brings some life to offense, but too little, too late

ARLINGTON, Tex. – Comparisons in football are rarely exact because personnel and other factors are involved. But by any measure, even with its largest yardage (390) and points (17) outputs of the year, the Bears’ offense remained a muddled phase of the game, failing until too late in a lost cause to show meaningful progress Sunday night in a 31-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The offense last year, playing against Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle, averaged 294 yards over than 0-3 stretch, and that was including the 146-yard debacle against the Seahawks behind Jimmy Clauson. Through this year’s 0-3 start, the Bears have topped 300 yards just once, the 390 against the Cowboys, but with only 114 total yards in Sunday’s first half, and 188 of the total came in the fourth quarter after they were down 24-10.

[MORE GRADES: Defense reaches low in loss to Cowboys]

Even in defeat the Bears last year averaged 30 rushing attempts behind a far poorer offensive line than the 2016 edition should be based purely on supposed talent. For Sunday’s first half, the Bears attempted six runs vs. 12 pass attempts. For the game the Bears attempted just 12 runs by backs and continue to look like anything but a competent rushing offense.

The Bears attempted to run more in the third quarter but by that time were behind by more than two touchdowns. The offense failed to convert any of its first six third downs and was unable to stay on the field and shift some pressure from the Bears defense to the Dallas defense when the game was still in question.

Quarterback: B+

Brian Hoyer’s first start as a Bear will not make anyone forget Josh McCown but it may raise some intriguing questions about the position as the year goes on. Hoyer was serviceable, completing eight of 12 passes in the first half and 30 of 49 for 317 yards for the game, fourth-highest yardage total of his career.

Hoyer injected some life into the offense, which picked up from a halftime deficit of 24-3 to threaten the Cowboys at least a little in the fourth quarter.

“I thought he was good,” said coach John Fox. “All parts [of the offense] were alive. We pass-protected better. We are still hit and miss with the run game. We’d pop a big run, then we’d lose minus-2.”

Running back: C-

The problem is still that whatever the Bears might have in the running game, it isn’t making its way into any coherent, consistent part of the offense.

Jordan Howard, who provided some flashes in last Monday’s loss to Philadelphia, got chances earlier this week and ripped off a 36-yard run in his first carry. Howard had a 14-yard carry in the third quarter and built a strong case for himself to take over the role of starter going forward.

Howard finished with nine carries for 45 yards as the Cowboys stacked to take his running lanes away as the first half played out and the Bears fell further behind.

“A young guy learning to figure out our system and play better,” said coach John Fox. “I think he’s done well with it and will continue to improve.”

Jeremy Langford continues to start but was ineffective early, with a missed handoff on the first series and a juggled pass on the second. Langford left in the third quarter with an ankle injury but not before getting loose for a 23-yard run, his longest carry of the season.

Receiver: B

Alshon Jeffery and Zach Miller provided what receiving firepower the Bears had, with Miller catching all four balls targeted for him in the first half, eight of nine for the game, including second-half touchdown catches of 2 and 6 yards. Miller finished with 78 yards, with a long-gainer of 26 yards.

Jeffery caught five passes for 70 yards but was blanketed with double coverage much of the game. Kevin White had a 32-yard reception but still is not breaking loose, targeted 14 times but only catching six, for a total of 62 yards.

Cameron Meredith fumbled away a first-down completion in the third quarter with the Bears starting to generate a little offensive momentum.

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Offensive line: C

The line was difficult to assess because of curious play-calling not facilitating the offense in general establishing any rhythm. The best play of the night appeared to be Kyle Long and Bobby Massie creating a gaping seam on the right side for Jordan Howard’s first run.

But against an average defensive front, the Bears failed to gain any consistent advantage up front. What the line did do, however, is keep Brian Hoyer from being sacked on 49 dropbacks, with only one hit of Hoyer according to preliminary stats.

“I thought we protected the passer way better tonight,” said coach John Fox.

Coaching: D

That the Bears’ first play, supposed to be a simple handoff, was botched and left Brian Hoyer running with the ball points to coaching and preparation. Hoyer blamed himself for the play, a run-pass option on which he said he should’ve handed off, but the importance of a solid start in a road game cannot be overemphasized, and the Bears didn’t get that, from any possession of the first half.

The choice of a dump-off to Jeremy Langford short of the sticks on third-and-3 on the Bears’ second series was mystifying, one of the third-down plays on which receivers were put in position of needing to pick up the yardage with the football with the Dallas defense closing. With two supposed Pro Bowl guards, the Bears worked the edges of the Dallas defense early and got nothing.

The defense was hampered without its two best players (nose tackle Eddie Goldman, linebacker Danny Trevathan) but the Cowboys did generally whatever they wanted against a reeling defense that allowed 10- and 9-play drives on the first two Dallas possessions. The Cowboys were able to get ultra-quick receiver Cole Beasley in single coverage vs. linebackers (Christian Jones, Jerrell Freeman), and soft coverage allowed Dallas receivers uncontested releases with the Bears then unable to close once the ball was out.

Special teams discipline was non-existent, with a false start called on long snapper Patrick Scales prior to a field goal, then a recovered onside kick nullified by a member of the coverage team offsides.

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

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AP

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.