Bears NFL Draft Preview: 2016 draft rich in DL talent but what are Bears looking for?

Bears NFL Draft Preview: 2016 draft rich in DL talent but what are Bears looking for? Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2016 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

One reality with the Bears’ 3-4 scheme is that the line between defensive ends and linebackers gets a little blurry; maybe not in “I’m an end, not a linebacker” mind of Willie Young, but for the rest of us.

That’s actually part of the idea, however, behind why a career 4-3 coach like John Fox tilted toward the different scheme. Offenses are tasked with some sorting out who’s rushing, who’s dropping and who’s just kinda hangin’ out, lurking. Fox likes offenses guessing.

The problem for the 2015 Bears is that they were doing too much of the guessing, playing Game 16 with just one defensive lineman (Will Sutton) active who had been with the team in training camp, and just Sutton and Mitch Unrein starting as linemen (plus Young and his identity crisis).

Ray McDonald didn’t work out; neither did Jeremiah Ratliff. Ego Ferguson was a 16-game rotation player as a 2014 rookie but played just four games last year before going on IR with knee surgery. Jarvis Jenkins started the first 15 games at defensive end, then was inactive for Detroit with an ankle injury.

The play of Eddie Goldman at nose tackle was a franchise-grade positive, a second-round pick who finished fourth among rookies with 4.5 sacks and establishing himself as the anchor of the defensive front.

Personnel then went after and landed massive (325 pounds) defensive end Akiem Hicks, drafted by New Orleans while Ryan Pace was Saints pro scouting director. Unrein re-signed with the Bears and Ferguson was on a rehab pace that impressed his bosses.

“This guy’s been rehabbing, working every single day, might be the most consistent performer since the season ended,” Fox said. “We’ll see. I don’t know what that means, I just know that’s a good thing.”

Sutton went from an undersized tackle on a roster bubble going into training camp to a spot starter at both end and nose tackle, and one of the keys in D-line coach Jay Rodgers’ rotation and finishing second in tackles to Goldman among defensive linemen.

Bears draft priority: High

Fox has been adamant about the need for more pass rushing, and he watched his former Denver Broncos team knock around the Carolina Panthers with pass rush — edge and interior — for a Super Bowl win. The Bears passed on costly line signings like Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon and targeted Hicks.

But the other starting defensive end is unsettled, given the status of Ferguson in particular. Sutton and Unrein are solid but not viewed as top front-line impact forces.

The 2016 draft class has been cast as one of the best and deepest groups ever for defensive linemen. One will clearly be available at No. 11 in the first round, probably more than one.

But which one? And are the Bears looking for an end/5-techique in the Hicks (325) mold or someone akin to a Justin Smith (285) that achieved All-Pro for Vic Fangio in San Francisco? A true tackle like Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson (315) who can work all three line spots, or a hybrid like Clemson’s Shaq Lawson (280)?

The Bears under Pace have been committed to best player available. Based on who lasts beyond the Top 10, that decision may be made partially for them.

Keep an eye on ...

Shaq Lawson, Clemson: ‘Tweener at 275 pounds who had 12.5 sacks and 25.5 TFL’s in ’15. Would need to add bulk to play 5-technique, which doesn’t always translate well. Out of the Pernell McPhee mold.

Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State: Elite-level pass rusher with 24 sacks, 34 TFL’s, PD’s over past 2 years, has size and speed to play DE or OLB.

Jarran Reed, Alabama: Shorter (6-3) than ideal but an aggressive down-lineman capable of playing multiple spots with some pocket-push.

Roy Robertson-Harris, Texas-El Paso: Willie Young-type tall (6-7, 255) pass rusher without huge numbers but possible steal in mid rounds.

A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: Young (21) power player similar to Goldman (5.5 sacks in ’13, 3.5 in ’15) with huge upside who will only get better with NFL conditioning.

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
2. Multiple weapons
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
3. History repeating itself
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.” 

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

The Bears were getting used to life in the big chair. Chicago was favored in each of their last four games, but it all came crashing down at the hands of Brock Osweiler in overtime last week.

The Miami Dolphins pulled off the upset, and now the Bears return home to take on one of the best teams in the league.

Even if they had won in Miami, Chicago likely still would have been underdogs to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but as it stands, Bill Belichick and company are favored by three on most major sportsbooks, according to Vegas Insider.

The line initially opened at Patriots by 2.5, but it would seem that money placed on New England pushed the spread a little more in the Bears’ favor.

Vegas is expecting another higher-scoring game for both teams, with the over/under sitting at 49. Given that the Patriots have scored at least 38 points in each of their last three games, the Bears’ defense may have some trouble keeping this game low on the scoreboard.

In Week 6, home underdogs went 4-1 against the spread and 3-2 straight up. According to Bet America, home underdogs have covered in 20 of their 30 games this season, which bodes well for a Bears team facing a tough task at Soldier Field.