Bears Grades: Too early for conclusions about offense

Bears Grades: Too early for conclusions about offense

HOUSTON – The debut of Dowell Loggains as Bears offensive coordinator did not go as planned; any game that ends in a loss by definition did not go as planned.

But against one of the NFL’s premier defenses, particularly in the front seven, the Bears did manage two extended touchdown drives in the first half. Then in the second half, they managed no possession longer than 24 yards.

Conclusion? Insufficient data.

“I don’t know,” conceded quarterback Jay Cutler. “You don’t see defenses like [Houston’s] week in and week out. Just going to get home [pass-rushing] with four or five. They’re going to play a couple of coverages. It’s not that hard, but the guys that they have are really, really good at it.

“We’re going to get a lot better but I don’t want to pin exactly what this offense is going to be or what direction we’re going to go until we get a little more involved.”

Quarterback: B

Jay Cutler’s line – 16-for-29 passing, 216 yards, one TD, one INT – was decidedly mediocre taken overall. But he was a stellar 10-of-13 in the first half for 156 yards, meaning something happened in the second half. Or rather, didn’t happen.

Cutler’s receivers stopped catching key passes and running correct routes in crucial situations. He was 0-for-5 in the third quarter, one pass being intercepted, and in the fourth quarter, with the game slipping away, Cutler was sacked three times and hit on other occasions.

Cutler too often held the ball long enough for the rush to get home. But equally too often his receivers were not gaining sufficient separation from a pressing Houston secondary, and Cutler could be excused for having confidence questions about inexperienced wideout Kevin White in particular.

Running back: C-

The post-Matt-Forte era began with Jeremy Langford rushing for 57 yards on 17 carries (3.4 ypc.) against a very good Houston defense. Langford managed no run longer than 15 yards and did contribute two pass receptions, with a 19-yard screen pass wiped out by an interference call against tight end Zach Miller.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

The Bears expect to run the football more than 18 times with their tailbacks (Ka’Deem Carey carried once for four yards), and the plan is to rotate backs. But Houston controlled the ball more than 36 minutes and “we didn’t need to spell him a whole lot because of the [defensive] fronts we were seeing,” said coach John Fox.

Receiver: D+

One grade – A- –  for Alshon Jeffery, another – D – for the rest of the receiver group. Jeffery, who blew up the Houston secondary for 105 yards in the first half, set an early tone with a back-shoulder catch for 29 yards, followed by drawing a pass-interference flag two snaps later, to set up the Bears first TD. Jeffery then embarrassed the Texans pass defense for a 54-yard catch on the drive that finished with a 19-yard Eddie Royal TD catch just before halftime.

But other than Jeffery and the Royal catch, Jay Cutler did not get much help from any of his receivers while the quarterback contended with the rush from a strong Houston front. Cutler was forced to hold the ball too long, commonly a reflection of a lack of confidence on route-running.

Kevin White had a very poor NFL debut, with a false-start and two catchable balls off his hands in the first half, then failing to break a route back outside on the Bears’ first possession of the second half, resulting in an interception by safety Andre Hal. A defensive stop held Houston to a field goal off the turnover, but the chance for momentum was squandered by the Bears.

“You can’t change what happened,” White said. “So we have to move on and just get ready to play the Eagles [next Monday at Soldier Field].”

Zach Miller negated a big gain on a screen pass to Jeremy Langford with an offensive pass-interference call.

Offensive line: D+

Facing one of the NFL’s elite front-seven’s, the Bears acquitted themselves passably if unspectacularly for the most part through three quarters, particularly with an offensive line that had never taken the field as a group before. Houston scrambled looks with All-Pro J.J. Watt moved to all points on the front and eventually finished with five sacks after a jail-break period in the fourth quarter with the Bears down two scores.

“It’s probably those struggles that occurred a little bit more in the second half,” said coach John Fox. “Especially when you get into backyard football where you have to throw to catch up. Whenever you get one-dimensional like that, I think it’s problematic for anybody.”

Jay Cutler took a number of significant hits but was only occasionally sent scrambling; Cutler’s problems were more from receivers not gaining separation.

Cody White got the expected start at center, pitting him against veteran nose tackle Vince Wolfork. Whitehair handled himself reasonably well in his first NFL start at a position.

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

“I felt comfortable,” Whitehair said. “Jay helped me with stuff and had me feeling comfortable out there. Obviously there were a few mistakes but we’ll get those cleaned up.”

Bobby Massie and Charles Leno were each beaten cleanly to the outside for third-down sacks by Whitney Mercilus.

Coaching: C

The offense was unable to break out other than two 75-yard drives in the first half. The problems were compounded by three dropped passes in crucial situations, and coordinator Dowell Loggains was able to keep the offense balanced through three quarters (17 runs, 20 pass plays) before needing to resort to catch-up passing in the fourth quarter.

“I thought Dowell put a heck of a game plan together,” Cutler said. “There was nothing out there that we weren’t prepared for or weren’t ready for. [The Texans] did exactly what Dowell and coaches said they were going to do. We’ve just got to execute.”

Houston did what a number of Bears opponents did last season, that being to show nickel personnel to get the Bears out of their base 3-4 defense and into nickel with two linemen and two linebackers, then running the football. The result was Houston grinding out 131 rushing yards, albeit needing 35 rushes to do it.

But the lack of pass rush was a critical problem, and the Bears were unable to bring looks that upset the Houston offense often enough. Blitzes were rare but could have helped getting into run gaps as well.

Special teams created openings and got an average of nearly 21 yards per kickoff return, plus a punt return of 31 yards by Eddie Royal to give the offense good field position.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

USA Today

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

The Chicago Bears logo has withstood the test of time. In a sports era full of uniform changes, the Bears have maintained the classic orange 'C' for most of their nearly 100 years in Chicago.

Unfortunately, tradition doesn't equate to popularity.

Chicago's logo ranked 28th in the NFL, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 football fans. Only the Redskins (29), Bengals (30), Jets (31) and Browns (32) were worse.

I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.

Bears fans will take exception with the results. Wins have been hard to come by in recent seasons, but there's still something special about seeing the familiar navy and orange on Sundays in the fall. The 'C' is arguably the biggest part of that. Sure, it's not a complex design overflowing with colors, but it represents a long and storied history. 

It's interesting that each of the bottom five teams have struggled to string together winning seasons. On the flipside, teams like the Saints, Falcons, Rams, Vikings and Eagles rank in the top six. Maybe it's recency bias.

In the NFC North, the Lions rank No. 2 (which is a shocker) and the Packers are No. 20.