Bears Grades: Defense shares part of the blame for loss to Texans

Bears Grades: Defense shares part of the blame for loss to Texans

HOUSTON – Much of the focus in the wake of the Bears’ 23-14 loss to the Houston Texans was on what the Chicago offense failed to do. That served to overshadow a potentially more ominous failure by the Bears’ defense, which wasn’t supposed to have the kind of day it did against the kind of offense it faced in Brock Osweiler and the Texans.

Indeed, the fate of the 2016 Bears has been expected to rest heavily in the hands of a massively made-over defense, at least while a revamped offensive line and new coordinator settle in. Instead, a major share of the responsibility for Sunday’s nine-point loss fell squarely on the defense, which was notable through much of this offseason for its swagger and attitude, but was more notable Sunday for its wobble and vulnerability.

A game that saw the defense take some control early with an interception by cornerback Tracy Porter on the Texans seventh play from scrimmage deteriorated into a mishmash in which the Texans converted 60 percent of third downs and a rookie wide receiver (Will Fuller) put 100 yards on the Bears’ secondary in just the second half. The Bears had one takeaway on Houston’s seventh play and none on the next 65.

“It’s time of possession, moves the chains,” coach John Fox said of his defense’s failure to get third-down stops. “Usually it results in points when you move the chains, whether it’s explosive plays or moving the chains on third down. It’s arguably the most important down other than fourth down.”

The defense held Houston, which scored a franchise-record 102 points in preseason, to 13 points through the first 47 minutes. But Houston was converting more than 50 percent of third downs to that point, and any sense of the Bears’ defense controlling the game was somewhat illusory. The Texans were on the field for more than 18 minutes of the first half, and matched that in the second, meaning that the Bears simply did not do a winning job of staying on the field or getting off of it.

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“I feel like we could start faster,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “The ‘pick’ in the beginning was great but there were some things we let slip at the start of the game. Those are things we need to be better at.”

Defensive line: D

Houston set out to scheme the Bears into nickel personnel, meaning two down-linemen, and the Bears could not stanch the bleeding up front as tailback Lamar Miller ran the ball 28 times for 106 yards.

“We started fast with the turnover but just couldn’t stop the ‘leaky’ yardage,” Goldman said. “Whether we’re in nickel or not, we’ve got to stop the run.” Goldman was initially credited with all or part of six tackles and a shared sack with linebacker Leonard Floyd.

Akiem Hicks forced a fumble that escaped the Bears but resulted in a crucial five-yard loss that effectively ended a third-quarter possession. Mitch Unrein was a force early, with a flush and hit of quarterback Brock Osweiler in the first quarter, followed later by drawing a holding penalty that effectively ended Houston’s second possession.

But the line rarely managed to take any sort of control of the line of scrimmage, and pressure on Osweiler was inconsistent when it wasn’t invisible.

Linebacker: D+

The edge rush was nearly invisible, with a Danny Trevathan inside blitz accounting for the only sack in the first half. Jerrell Freeman’s diagnosis and tackle-for-loss on a first-quarter Houston screen pass was a possession-stopper, and Freeman broke up a pass inside the Chicago 5 in the second quarter to force the Texans to settle for a field goal.

Rookie Leonard Floyd was used extensively but was slow to register impact initially, being too often neutralized in runs to his side and getting little pressure on quarterback Brock Osweiler. Floyd, getting the start in his first NFL game, beat Houston left tackle Chris Clark with an outside rush to share a sack with Eddie Goldman and was credited with six sacks in initial post-game stats.

[RELATED: Bears Talk Podcast: Positives and negatives of loss to Texans in season opener]

But Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were generally non-factors, Houston getting a hit on Osweiler, Acho one tackle and Young failing to register any impact plays of note.

“The way guys are flying around, unwillingness to stay blocked with the big guys up front,” Freeman said by way of identifying positives. “I am telling you, flying around and being relentless. Playing hard, guys knowing what they are supposed to be doing. We are a well-coached team, Vic [Fangio, coordinator] puts us in a lot of positions where we just got to play. We got to make a play when it comes to you.”

Secondary: D

The pass defense allowed just one completion of longer than 12 yards in the first half, setting something of a tone against a receiving group that has been explosive. But rookie Will Fuller, the Texans’ first-round pick out of Notre Dame, eventually rolled up 107 yards on just five catches, while Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins had a quiet 54 yards on five catches, but also scored on a 23-yard pass from Brock Osweiler.

Tracy Porter’s interception against Hopkins was textbook, both for coverage and winning the 1-on-1 for the football. Porter also drew a pass-interference flag on Hopkins in the end zone.

“[But] it’s a game of halves and a game of quarters, so you have to play for four full quarters, and you have to play for two halves,” Porter said. “And you don’t do that, you only play for one half, then the other team has the ability to come back, much like what happened today.”

Rookie cornerback Deiondre Hall was pressed into service in the second half and managed two pass breakups in the end zone. But the Bears generally were unable to neutralize Fuller, who had 100 of his yards in the second half.

Special teams: B+

Eddie Royal, pressed into service as a punt returner, broke a 31-yard return in the first quarter, although the offense failed to exploit the plus-territory field position.

Punter Pat O’Donnell launched seven punts for an average of 42.3 yards, including two inside the Houston 20. Deonte Thompson, rebounding from injuries during preseason, brought back five kickoffs an average of 20.5 yards – unspectacular but solid.

Kick coverage was spotty. The Texans returned three kickoffs an average of 24.3 yards with a long of 28 yards.

Connor Barth was not called on for any field-goal attempts.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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Kyle Long talks Bears offensive struggles on NFL Total Access

Kyle Long talks Bears offensive struggles on NFL Total Access

Recent NFL retiree and social media enthusiast Kyle Long recently appeared on NFL Total Access and spoke about the Bears’ recent offensive struggles.

Long emphasizes the blame for the 2019 season shouldn’t entirely rest on Trubisky’s shoulders, but entire offensive line. Long’s not just trying to let Trubisky off the hook here, football is a team sport after all, and if you look at the Bears’ offensive report card for this past season, you’ll see that the problem is not just under center. Some of the weight of the lack of OL production falls on Long himself, who continued to be plagued by injuries before retirement and needing to be replaced by Rashad Coward. Long brings this up himself in the interview, stating “I hold myself responsible as somebody who wasn’t able to stay healthy.”

Besides Long, Bobby Massie earned the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of his career (63.2), while Charles Leno, Jr. earned his second-worst (58.6) at tackle.

So, while it’s easy to point fingers at Trubisky and make him a scapegoat, the reality of the situation is that the Bears’ 2019 offensive struggles weren’t born in a vacuum, and there is a lot of room for improvement before the 2020 season begins.

You can read Long’s full quote below:

If the Bears can’t run the ball, they’re not able to pass the ball, and that holds true for any team in the league. You take the pressure off the quarterback with the run game and you keep the opposing offenses off the field.

When Mitch was drafted, he came into a team with a power back that was an All-Pro and you had two pro bowl guards and you had a litany of people around him on the outside and the coaching staff that made his job relatively easy. Granted he was a young player, he had tremendous success, so the expectations were high. Coming into the 2nd year, there was a change in scheme, now you’re looking at a different offensive coordinator in his 2nd year as a starter. With (Mark) Helfrich and the run game and injuries up front, it made it really difficult for Mitch to be able to settle in and have that comfort level to be able to fire the ball where he wants to, when he wants to.

You can watch the whole interview here.  


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