Bears

Bears Grades: Matt Barkley interceptions doom Bears in 20-point loss to Redskins

Bears Grades: Matt Barkley interceptions doom Bears in 20-point loss to Redskins

Matt Barkley began the game as a subject of discussion with respect to how far up the Bears’ 2017 depth chart the young quarterback might rise. He finished it the day with five interceptions, meaning nine turnovers in his last 16 possessions, and not quite as ripe a prospect as quite a few had hoped.

“Everyone wants to look at the quarterback, which he sometimes deserves, sometimes not,” said coach John Fox.

The offense generated 458 total yards and 21 points, with Barkley passing for 323 yards. It marked the third time in five starts that Barkley has topped 300 yards (all losses, all with at least two interceptions) and the fifth time this season the offense has netted more than 400 yards and the fourth time in five starts that that the Bears have scored 21 or more points behind Barkley.

Quarterback: F-

Matt Barkley’s pattern of calming down and putting the pedal down in second halves of games came to an appalling end Saturday. He threw an interception on each of the Bears’ four possessions of the second half, and his five interceptions matched the total put up by Jay Cutler at San Francisco in 2009.

Barkley’s throw into triple coverage toward Josh Bellamy on the first play of the second quarter was a disaster, intercepted to end a promising drive by turning football over unnecessarily. He was nearly intercepted a series later when he locked onto Alshon Jeffery on a quick throw that was telegraphed.

The Barkley mistakes continued in the third quarter when he tried to get off a throw as he was going down to a sack. But the throw had nothing on it and was intercepted by cornerback Josh Norman in Washington territory to squander a potential scoring opportunity. Barkley began the fourth quarter by badly overthrowing Jeffery and being intercepted by Washington safety Will Blackmon and returned 75 yards to set up a score.

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Barkley showed some pocket awareness early, sensing pressure but not panicking deep into plays. But his play deteriorated and his fundamentals broke down as he forced throws and appeared rattled at times despite being under only moderate pressure, sacked once and hit one other time.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Barkley said. “It’s kind of one you want to forget. ... It’s just that the glaring mistakes stand out and those are the ones that hurt.”

Barkley finished with 24-of-40 passing, two touchdown passes but five interceptions and a 62.8 passer rating, his lowest among his five starts.

Running back: B

Jordan Howard put up his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the year (119), albeit with some garbage-time rushing yards after the Bears were down three scores in the second half. With his nine receiving yards, Howard’s 128 yards from scrimmage marked the 10th time in 12 NFL starts that Howard has netted more than 100 total yards.

Howard did deliver repeated runs getting to the second level for double-digit yardage gains and averaged 6.6 yards on his 18 carries. Howard had four runs of 10 yards or longer.

“As a team we don’t care what our record is,” Howard said. “We might be losing but we’re going to come back and fight and give it our best shot.”

Jeremy Langford punched in from a yard out for the Bears’ first touchdown.

Receivers: C

Wideouts and tight ends accounted for 22 receptions, led by Cam Meredith’s nine for 135 yards. But receivers in multiple situations appeared to be lackadaisical in chances to break up balls that were intercepted and cut short on routes.

Alshon Jeffery gave the offense a spark with a leaping grab over Washington cornerback Josh Norman for 67 yards late in the second quarter, which was followed by Meredith working free in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.

Meredith delivered a tough catch for a 21-yard gain after a hold negated a first-down run in the first quarter. He later took a slant 32 yards with yards after the catch and had the 21-yard catch for the Bears’ first TD.

“I think for the most part we were moving the ball, making plays,” said Meredith, whose game was his second straight and fourth this season with 100 receiving yards. “We were just shooting ourselves in the foot.”

[RELATED: Bears Grades: Defense shredded in second straight 400-yard mauling]

Josh Bellamy had little chance to catch the first Barkley pass in the second quarter but failed to do the No. 2 thing of making sure an opponent didn’t. Bellamy did not break the pass up and Washington intercepted it to end a scoring chance.

Offensive line: B+

Washington committed early to stopping the run and the O-line was able to provide provide adequate pass protection for the most part in addition to opening enough creases for 138 rushing yards by backs.

Josh Sitton was flagged for holding to nullify a successful screen pass in the third quarter. The setback put the Bears in a passing situation, with Barkley being intercepted on the next play.

But Matt Barkley was sacked only once and hit one other play. The problems at quarterback were not protection-induced.

Coaching: D

The energy level of the team is open to debate, although hard to measure. The Bears did not appear to be playing with the same urgency and intensity as previous games, but had a chance to pull within one score on the first possession of the third quarter and didn’t when a Matt Barkley pass was intercepted.

Mistakes ultimately are made by players on the field but coaching decisions continue to be puzzling, particularly for an offense that is using a first-time starter with little NFL experience. The Bears remain a pass-heavy offense, including passing twice inside the Washington 5-yard line in the first quarter, after reaching that point on two Jordan Howard runs totaling 28 yards. The Bears then settled for a field-goal try, which was blocked.

“It wasn’t frustrating to me,” Howard said. “I just go with whatever the coach calls. I’m always going to have faith in whatever he calls is going to work.”

The failed throws did not mean poor planning, in John Fox’s opinion. “Hindsight is 20/20, let’s make that totally clear,” Fox said. “I think we did the same on a later drive and scored a touchdown. Sometimes it’s what the defense is doing and what we are capable of in our matchups. It comes down to execution, not just what play it is.”

With Roquan Smith and others, Bears moving closer to elite defense in a hurry

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With Roquan Smith and others, Bears moving closer to elite defense in a hurry

As encouraging as some elements of the 2017 season was for the Bears defense, it wasn’t enough. Ranking in the top 10 in fewest points and yards allowed left linchpins like lineman Akiem Hicks setting “top five” as a declared goal.

With what has happened within the last 13 days – from the first preseason game vs. Baltimore through the long-anticipated arrival of Roquan Smith – the Bears have had arguably seen a handful of developments that could put “elite” within reach of a defense intent on being just that.

The developments have been the play of linebackers Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving, and now topped off by the Smith addition. The reasons are obvious – a linebacker-dependent defense (as all 3-4’s inherently are) has moved to the brink of realizing impact from not one, not two, but possibly three.

None is being given a leading role in an already good defense. But what they all represent are high-speed additions in a sport where speed rules and rivals pad-level in importance. Fitts and Irving have flashed off the edges, and Smith was the No. 8 pick of the draft for his speed in getting to targets, followed of course what he does to them when he gets there.

How any change occurs remains to play out, and Vic Fangio has used rotations in his front seven’s. One scenario could be Smith easing in as part of nickel packages, where the Bears have used a 4-2 front and would have Smith and Danny Trevathan as their ILB’s. Likewise, Fitts and Irving present edge options in that package as well as in base 3-4.

Perspective, please

Understand: No criticism of any sort is directed at either of the incumbents. No knock on Nick Kwiatkoski, who has in two seasons and this training camp established himself as an NFL inside linebacker. Nor is it a diss of Sam Acho, who is a physical edge presence with some pass-rush pop. The Bears need both, REALLY need both. 

But the 1983 Bears ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed with Al Harris as part of a linebacker corps that included Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson. Jim Finks drafted Wilber Marshall in the 1984 first round and Ron Rivera in the second. Harris remained the starter but the Bears also jumped to third in points allowed with Marshall and first the two years after that.

Elite.

Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton said years later that Marshall – nicknamed “Pit Bull”by teammates – was the single best individual player on that elite defense, and the player that took things to another level entirely. And as Marshall told Hall of Fame NFL writer Rick “Goose” Gosselin, who created the special-teams ranking system used by every NFL team and now hosts "Talk of Fame Radio:”

"They had Mike [Singletary] sitting on the sidelines when I’m playing middle linebacker on third down. So I wasn’t just a rush guy, like the guys on the end that you see them go 90 percent of the time."

Sounding like a bill of particulars for Smith.

Best guess that Smith – wearing the No. 58 that Marshall wore – will have a new level of impact for a defense that just added a piece with a chance to earn the designation of “elite.”

Fitts and Irving are younger, faster options on the edge. Fitts is bigger and faster (4.69 sec. 40) than Irving, but one can never be too rich, too thin or have too many edge rushers.

And Smith, who had 6.5 sacks last season at Georgia (his only credited sacks in three seasons there), projects to be the fastest Bears linebacker with a documented 4.51-sec. time in the 40 – faster than Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and…well, you get the point.

And speed is the route to “elite.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How much pressure is on Roquan Smith now that he is finally in the fold?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: How much pressure is on Roquan Smith now that he is finally in the fold?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh, Mark Gonzales and Leon Rogers join David Kaplan on the panel.

Roquan Smith’s holdout is over. How much pressure is on him now that the first round pick is finally in the fold?

Plus, the panel discusses how Joe Maddon can use grand slam hero David Bote down the stretch and if Tiger Woods is a lock to win a major in 2019.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: