Bears Grades: Defense finishes 2016 season with third straight game giving up 30-plus points

Bears Grades: Defense finishes 2016 season with third straight game giving up 30-plus points

MINNEAPOLIS – If the Bears were once, and not too long ago, among the top 10 defenses in the league, that distinction was not reflected in the final days and hours of the 2016 season.

The 38-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was the third straight game with the Bears allowing 30 or more points. With struggles against Green Bay (30 points), Washington (41) and now Minnesota, the Bears allowed an average of 36.3 points per over the final three games of a lost year.

Still, “I’m not frustrated right now,” insisted linebacker Willie Young. “There’s a lot of upside to look at.”

Not all of the points Sunday came on the defense’s watch. But the overall was another game marked by poor tackling, poor execution and a general lack of anything resembling NFL-grade football.

Minnesota scored on four of its first six possessions and piled up 244 yards to go with 24 points in the first half, with the Bears repeatedly suffering individual breakdowns at points of attack, and no one making impact plays, particularly in the back-seven, which was exploited throughout the game by quarterback Sam Bradford (25-of-33 passing for 250 yards, 3 touchdowns and a meaningless late interception) and a variety of receivers.

The defense was given less than no help by the offense and special teams, which turned the football over five times, including two possessions that permitted the Vikings to score 14 points needing to cover only 56 yards total in the first half.

Defensive line: D-

Akiem Hicks delivered another strong game in a lost cause, with disruptions and pursuit in multiple situations. But Bradford was never sacked and hit only once, while a very average Vikings run game netted 124 yards on 28 carries, including a 24-yard scramble by Bradford when discipline in rush lanes broke down.

Nose tackle C.J. Wilson led linemen with three tackles, one for a loss. But the Bears never gained any dominance along the front and were able to convert 6 of 12 third downs.

Linebacker: F

Jerrell Freeman had a team-high 10 tackles and 2 passes deflected. But he and Nick Kwiatkoski were too often a step slow getting off toward tackle targets, and too often unable to get off blocks in time to force plays. Kwiatkoski and Freeman were ineffective in coverage, particularly against tight end Kyle Rudolph, who finished the game with 11 catches for 117 yards and a 22-yard touchdown grab.

Sam Acho was beaten around the edge by Jerrick McKinnon for a 10-yard touchdown run off a Wildcat formation in the fourth quarter. Willie Young was in on 3 tackles but had no quarterback hits and was without a sack for the sixth time in the last seven games.

Pernell McPhee not making the trip because of the shoulder injury suffered last week against Washington did not help, particularly with Leonard Floyd inactive. The absence of two of the Bears three best pass rushers had a predictable effect. Christian Jones logged considerable time at outside linebacker in 4-3 nickel packages but got little pressure on Stafford in rush situations.

“What it comes down to is each individual doing his job to the best of their ability,” Young said. “Do your job, dominate the one-on-one battles and everything else will take care of itself.”

The problem was too many players too infrequently winning those battles.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Secondary: F

Team leader and No. 1 cornerback Tracy Porter overslept and was penalized by being left out of the starting lineup at the outset. The bigger problem was that too many of the other defensive backs appeared to sleep during the game.

The poor play and breakdowns that characterized too much of the secondary’s play against Green Bay and Washington resurfaced early. Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc allowed Cordarelle Patterson to break behind him on a third-down play on the opening possession, giving up a 39-yard completion into the Bears red zone.

Then safety Adrian Amos was slow to react and then took a bad angle on a swing pass to running back Jerrick McKinnon, who scored from 21 yards out. Amos was out of position and lost the football on McKinnon’s fourth-quarter touchdown run.

Safety Harold Jones-Quartey made a failed flying tackle try that allowed Rudolph to get into the end zone for the Vikings second TD. Jones-Quartey missed a one-on-one tackle in the open field on McKinnon, contributing to a 26-yard burst in the fourth quarter.

Special teams: D-

Bralon Addison was brought in for a look in the return game and damaged things by mishandling a second-quarter punt in the Chicago end, leading to a Vikings TD and 24-7 lead, when a return and score potentially changes the game. Instead of the Bears getting the football at their 25 with time for one drive before halftime, the Vikings got the ball at the Chicago 21 and turned it into points.

Deonte Thompson returned a late-second quarter kickoff 64 yards to set up a field goal but little else was positive in special teams, something the Bears needed to be at least even with the Vikings. But Thompson failed to bring two fourth-quarter kickoff returns even to the 20, somehow an effective emblem for the all-around futililty of the game.

Punt coverage was woeful in allowing a 36-yard return by Marcus Sherels in the second quarter. Cordarrelle Patterson took advantage of slow kickoff coverage that appeared to assume Patterson would keep the opening boot in the end zone. Thirty-five yards later the Bears figured it out that he hadn’t.

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

"We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.

How Matt Nagy's 'urgency' could foreshadow a Bears quarterback change

How Matt Nagy's 'urgency' could foreshadow a Bears quarterback change

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears don’t look likely to sign or trade for a true starter to replace Mitch Trubisky, and Ryan Pace made clear he expects the 2017 No. 2 overall pick to be his starter in 2020. 

Let’s add an addendum to that, though, based on something Matt Nagy said: Just because Trubisky begins 2020 as the Bears’ starting quarterback does not mean he’ll hold on to that gig for the whole season, or even for half a season. 

In talking about the need to find an offensive identity in 2020, Nagy offered a response that leads you to believe job security won't be close to where it was in 2019:

“We got to figure out what our identity is and that's going to be an objective for us,” Nagy said. “And then last year you heard me say, sometimes it takes five or six weeks. I feel like personally that's always the case, but there's a sense of urgency for us going into this year. It needs to happen sooner.”

It needs to happen sooner. What happens if Trubisky doesn’t show any improvement through the first three or four games of 2020, and the Bears’ offense is lacking an identity at the end of September?

If there truly is a sense of urgency to find solutions on offense, then the Bears should consider something they didn’t last year: Changing quarterbacks. 

Chase Daniel was not on the roster to push Trubisky for playing time. He was brought in for his knowledge of the offense as “a little bit of an assistant coach,” as Nagy put it. The Bears figured surrounding Trubisky with as many resources as possible would help him thrive in Nagy’s complex offense. 

What the Bears need — and have indicated they want — is more competition in their quarterback room. That does not necessarily mean, again, luring someone like Teddy Bridgewater to Chicago to start. 

But it does mean adding someone to the roster who at least has a chance to be a better option than Trubisky, if Trubisky doesn’t show any improvement. 

Case Keenum could be that guy. Marcus Mariota, too (although Mariota sharing agents Bruce Tollner and Ryan Tollner with Trubisky could complicate any interest in him the Bears might have). Maybe there’s a trade to be made for Andy Dalton after all, if the Cincinnati Bengals are willing to bend to make the money work. 

A free agent signing along those lines and/or a draft pick — it doesn’t have to be a second rounder, either — would put someone on the roster who could be viewed as a legitimate replacement for an ineffective Trubisky. 

“If you're not creating competition around your whole roster, you're not pushing your own guys,” Nagy said.

The Bears didn’t do that at quarterback the last two years. 

But all signs are pointing to that changing in 2020. And while that may not mean an immediate change at starting quarterback, it means a switch during the season could become a real possibility. 

“If we all think that that’s what we want from (Trubisky), from last year, we’re fooling ourselves,” Nagy said. “He knows that and we know that. 

“But at the same time, we need to be real. What’s around him? And that’s where we’re at. I know it’s hard sometimes for all of us to understand that, and you see what’s going on with the instant gratification now, but there is a process for us. I do know that Mitch is very hungry. 

“He understands that we want him to play better, he understands that we want to coach better. So now we cannot worry and dwell about what happened last year. If you do that, you get stuck in the mud. We can’t do it. 

“It’s a clean slate. Now we’ve gotta get better for this year.”

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