Bears need early “turnaround” vs. Eagles

Bears need early “turnaround” vs. Eagles

No game is insignificant in a sport where the season consists of only 16 of them, but some games take on added significance for a variety of reasons. And Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles is one of those games, for many of those reasons.

The obvious is to avoid an 0-2 start. The Bears have reached the playoffs after losing two of their first three games (1977, 1994, 2005) but never after losing their first two. And for a franchise still working to shake free of any vestiges of the losing culture of Marc Trestman, the need is there to avoid a second straight start under John Fox losing the first two (first three last year).

One of the ancillary things the Bears did this offseason was to bring in free agents from winning programs (Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England). Ex-Bronco Danny Trevathan never lost a season opener before last weekend. Right tackle Bobby Massie lost only one in four years as a Cardinal. (Josh Sitton and the Packers did lose week one three of the last four years, but with Aaron Rodgers, all of those seasons ended in the playoffs).

“The first game by itself doesn’t matter,” Massie said. “All the games obviously count for the season but in our case, there’s no change, because it wasn’t like we got blown out 60-0 or something. We had opportunities but just couldn’t capitalize on them, and nobody’s down or approaching anything differently.”

The Bears are entering the stretch of their season that offers perhaps the greatest chance for upward movement. The Philadelphia game begins a run of five straight games against opponents without winning records in 2015. After that come the Packers and Vikings, and after the Bears were the only NFC North team not to win in week one, this weekend began with the Bears already looking up at a difficult division.

The mission statement is pretty simple: “We want to limit turnovers, we have to be more efficient on third down, we have to keep the chains moving,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We have to stay on the field.

“We got into a situation there in the second half [vs. Houston] where we got behind and we got in a little bit of a ‘throw’ situation with going against that front… Second down we have to improve on, I thought we were really good on first down, second down we have to get a little bit better in that area. We watched the film, there wasn't anything crazy on there that we have to change.”

Own the middle

With their signing of Sitton, the Bears field a tandem of Pro Bowl guards (Kyle Long) flanking a second-round draft choice. That is the strength of an offense that Fox envisions with a dominant running team.

The problem is that the middle also is a defensive strength of the Eagles, beginning with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and backed by veteran safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod (13 combined seasons). And running their defense is coordinator Jim Schwartz, a Bears nemesis while Detroit Lions head coach.

“The Eagles are strong up the middle,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “’91’ [Cox] is a really good player. The ‘Mike’ linebacker [Jordan Hicks] is a good player and the safeties are both good.

“I worked with Jim Schwartz for multiple years in Tennessee. I know that that’s how he believes in building a football team. Those guys quarterback the defense. They’re smart and you have to make sure what they’re doing and where they’re lined up because they can be a big problem for you.”

Get the rook

The objective of the Bears defense is to be a big problem for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, a rookie making his second start. Wentz benefited last week by his team getting up 10-0 on the Cleveland Browns, who didn’t score until mid-second quarter, and Wentz never played from behind on his way to 278 passing yards and two TD’s without an interception.

But the Bears called unflattering stereotypes of rookie quarterbacks “myths” and one member of the defense has seen Wentz up close.

“Cannon for an arm, not afraid to run it, so he’s not one-dimensional by any means,” said cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, who faced Wentz more than once while playing at Northern Iowa and Wentz was at North Dakota State. “A lot of his check-down passes to his tight ends was what he did a lot of NDSU. He wasn’t running it as much but we definitely know they have it in their system.”

And the winner is…

The Bears’ 1-7 record in Soldier Field was perhaps the biggest mystery of the 2015 season, with glaring late-game mistakes by veterans leading to losses to Minnesota, San Francisco and Washington. The defensive front-seven can take over this game by disrupting Wentz, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s creativity with blitzes in particular have the potential to control the game if the edge rushers can get home more than they did at Houston.

Bears 20, Eagles 13

View from the Moon ’16 record:    1-0

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”