Bears no longer in learning-curve 1st quarter under John Fox staff


Bears no longer in learning-curve 1st quarter under John Fox staff

KANSAS CITY – Coach John Fox described his approach to the NFL season as one shared by myriad other coaches, that of thinking in terms of quarters. As convinced as he was of the Bears ability to achieve more than the common predictions of mediocrity for his team, he acknowledged in an exclusive interview with that the first quarter of the season would involve some sort of learning curve, and it has, for players, coaches and beyond.

The first quarter of 2015 is now over, despite the preseason feel that some sectors continue to struggle through. The expectation bar is now raised, certainly from standpoint of schedule:

The Bears’ next two opponents are a combined 1-7; none of the Bears’ second-quarter opponents are above .500; and at this early quarter-pole, the remainder of the schedule has just 4-0 Denver and Green Bay as the only teams currently with winning records.

[MORE: Bears injuries make rookie Hroniss Grasu last man standing]

After the loss in Seattle, where special teams gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and a long trick punt return, where the short-handed offense barely threatened midfield, let alone the Seahawks end zone, Fox was candid:

“Really, we’ve got young guys, whether they’re young or not because it’s all new. Our special teams, offense and defense are all new systems to these football players. It’s not an excuse.”

He wasn’t using that excuse then and he won’t now.

Offensive line positions are still at issue, and Jay Cutler has yet to throw to a fully healthy and staffed group of wide receivers.

“It does get challenging,” Cutler said. “Even this week, a bunch of new guys, we have some guys banged up, so getting through practice, just getting everyone on the same page communication's gotta be good.

“I think from the OC on down, everyone's done a great job; coaching staff, players locking in during meetings... Mistakes are going to happen out here but we'll just try to eliminate them.”

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And that is really the crux of it now. The Bears are done one-fourth of their first season under Fox, coordinators Vic Fangio, Adam Gase and Jeff Rodgers, and while injuries and a learning process inevitably continue, the mistakes by members of all three phases that have been the reasons for a 1-3 start can no longer inevitable.

The suspect defense in supposed transition has made exponential leaps, with more expected with the play of Jarvis Jenkins, Pernell McPhee, Eddie Goldman and anticipated return of Jeremiah Ratliff.

The offense has outgained three of the Bears’ four opponents (excepting only Seattle when coaches drastically dialed down the game plan to “safety” for Jimmy Clausen). The Bears have as many 20-yard pass plays (14) as their opponents, and more 10-yard running plays (16) than their opponents (12).

But the Bears also have more giveaways (six) than takeaways (four), and they have been penalized 33 times to opponents’ 28, getting back to the “mistakes” issue.

Special teams have held a punting edge on opponents (47.3 yds. avg. gross vs. 44.7) and Robbie Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. Lengthy returns remain an issue until they’re not (Oakland had a kickoff return for 37 yards and punt runback of 22) but the disasters of the first three games were at least scaling back.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

All of which points to a Bears team that has had its John Fox learning-curve quarter. The Kansas City Chiefs have beaten only 1-4 Houston and allowed 30-plus points in their last three games, all losses. The Bears are presumably not what they’re going to be with more time under the Fox regime but they are done with time for excusing elementary mistakes as just part of doing business.

“I think there has been parts of those games where I think we’ve been competitive,” Fox said. “We just haven’t done it for the long haul yet, for all 60 minutes.”

And that’s what the second “quarter” is about.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the blame in the Bears loss to Miami?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the blame in the Bears loss to Miami?

David Haugh, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel. The Bears lose a rough one in Miami as Matt Nagy goes conservative at the end zone. Does the rookie coach deserve all of the blame? Dave Wannstedt joins the guys to discuss.

Plus the guys discuss the Cubs’ newest hitting coach/scapegoat, Brandon Saad’s upcoming healthy scratch and Bobby Portis betting on himself this season. 

Listen here or in the embedded player below!

Akiem Hicks makes Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after strong game against Dolphins


Akiem Hicks makes Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after strong game against Dolphins

The Bears defense was not its usual self in their overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The pass rush was minimal and tackling looked optional, and Brock Osweiler threw for almost 400 yards.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but a few individual defenders had success while their teammates struggled.

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks made the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week for Week 6 with a 92.2 overall grade.

He recorded seven tackles that resulted in a defensive “stop,” the most of any defensive lineman according to PFF.

Chicago’s next highest-graded player was cornerback Kyle Fuller (78.2), who intercepted Osweiler twice but also missed two tackles.

Offensively, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel led the way with a 76.9 mark. PFF credited four of his five catches coming against Dolphins cornerback Torry McTyer in coverage.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Khalil Mack had the lowest-graded game of his career (47.8), while linebacker Danny Trevathan (29.9) and safety Adrian Amos Jr. (47.5) each had their second-worst games.

Some of the Bears’ best players were at their worst in Miami. They’re going to need to get their act together for the New England Patriots on Sunday.