Bears, John Fox using preseason games for more than just evaluations


Bears, John Fox using preseason games for more than just evaluations

INDIANAPOLIS — Word inside Halas Hall is that coach John Fox has made it clear that in addition to improvement and evaluations, he also wants wins this preseason, believing that those games represent a chance to start changing a culture of negativity and losing that had taken hold inside the Bears over recent seasons.

Fox considers winning to be in no small part about attitude; same with losing. He is not waiting until the regular season to push for wins and in the process eradicate any stench of losing from Halas Hall.

Coaches have not radically altered allocation of playing time for starters in preseason games; preseason will always be about evaluation. But the Bears are 2-0, and the mood upgrade from last year through the locker room is palpable. And Fox never had a sub-.500 preseason in four Denver seasons, all Broncos playoff years.

Not that 2-0 starts necessarily foreshadow regular-season success. The Bears started 2-0 last preseason, too. Before that, 2-0 in 2007, when they missed the playoffs.

[MORE BEARS: Jobs still at stake as Bears head to third preseason game]

But Fox is not the first to target preseason as part of a culture makeover.

When Dennis Green took over in 1992 as coach of the Minnesota Vikings, he explicitly said that the Vikings would play to win their preseason games because believed they needed to relearn being a winning team. Green drove the Vikings to his first objective of a 4-0 preseason goal and then to 11-5 in the regular season, shaking loose from the ennui of 6-10 and 8-8 finishes before Green.

Not that it always works. Jimmy Johnson had done some of the same as Dallas Cowboys coach. In 1989 the Cowboys went 3-1 in preseason with the only loss coming in overtime. That team went 1-15.

But players have talked positively of the personality change Fox and staff have wrought on and off the field. That wasn’t happening in the early months of the previous regime.

[MORE BEARS: Rookies already upgrading Bears’ No. 1 defense in win over Colts]

One inescapable conclusion, based on things said and on general manager Ryan Pace’s history with New Orleans, is that all members of the Bears’ opening-day 53-man roster are not on the current depth charts.

From various conversations, the Bears are expected to recruit and add upgrades and/or depth from the cut from 90 to 75 after Game 3 and from 75 to 53 after Game 4.

Wide receiver and inside linebacker have been suggested as the likely target areas — receiver because of how thin on experience the group is, and inside linebacker because Jonathan Bostic and Mason Foster have not flashed the way coordinator Vic Fangio is used to seeing inside ‘backers pop (not that either was going to be confused with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, but you get the point).

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

USA Today

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

Remember that time when the Bears tried out like 47 kickers and put them through a wide variety of arbitrary tests all while fan favorite Robby Gould was using the team's desperation as leverage to become the NFL's highest-paid kicker? Classic! 

It's been like three months since those totally-sane summer days, and reader, things have not gone so hot for Gould: 

Meanwhile, Eddy P is not only 8/9 on the season, but is already well on his way to becomming a fan favorite. We're already calling him Eddy P! After 5 games! 

That said, we won't truly know if the Bears made the right decision until Piñeiro beats out several Hall of Famers -- including someone credited for literally starting the NFL -- on the path to winning an offseason bracket-style fan vote.