Bears

Bears offense makes strides as No. 1 unit scores three times

jay-cutler-bears-perry-8-22-15.png

Bears offense makes strides as No. 1 unit scores three times

INDIANAPOLIS – After a three-and-out and field-goal drive on two possessions in last week’s win over the Miami Dolphins, the No. 1 offense again opened with a three-and-out, followed by a field-goal drive. But this time the first unit was sent out twice more and came away with two more field goals.

Touchdowns will be preferred. But the result was an improvement, even if the yardage and point productions were less than Week 1's.

[MORE: Bears push smash-mouth running model to new level in win over Colts]

Quarterback

In another game that coaches hope with be the model for Jay Cutler ’15, the quarterback completed 8 of 9 passes for 69 yards during his four possessions of the first half. Cutler was efficient and for the second straight week went without a turnover; only six total possessions with a turnover, but after leading the league in giveaways last year, this is a clear trend that the Bears have given heightened focus to, and are seeing at least something positive in the way of an early result.

Cutler was not without pressure, being sacked once and needing to scramble away from the rush twice. But in spite of two penalties on his offensive line, Cutler maintained control of himself and the offense, producing scores on three of his four drives.

Jimmy Clausen had an apparent crossed-signals with tight end Dante Rosario on a late second-quarter throw that was intercepted in Bears territory with two minutes to play. But Clausen was crisp and on target with an underneath throw to Josh Bellamy for a third-quarter touchdown. That was part of a 5-for-5 quarter for Clausen.

Running back

The extended use of the running backs as runners continues to be a story of the offense through two preseason games. Regardless of which unit, coordinator Adam Gase has established that the Bears will attack on the ground, and do it in waves.

Matt Forte, who sat out the Miami game, was in the starting lineup and was handed or thrown the ball on four of the Bears’ first eight snaps finished with nine touches and 36 yards and a long run of 11 yards. Workmanlike.

Jacquizz Rodgers is ensconced as first-alternate to Forte, to the point of being sent in for tight red-zone situations. Rodgers netted 34 yards on his nine first-half carries and caught a pass for a two-yard gain.

[RELATED: Jeremy Langford flashes potential as Bears rally to beat Colts]

But Forte and Rodgers may be hearing footsteps, literally, and that is a very good thing for the Chicago offense. Rookie Jeremy Langford broke a 46-yard run in the third quarter, setting up his blocking downfield superbly to extend the run. He topped that with a two-yard, second-effort TD run in the third quarter, starting left, bouncing off the pile and outrunning the Indianapolis defense.

“[The 46-yarder] was an inside run, the linebacker came over the top and the offensive line did a great job of walling him off,” Langford said. “I thought I should’ve scored but it’ll come with experience. But I’m mad about it.”

Offensive line

The line achieved some control of the front through the first half. The yards per carry on designed run plays averaged 3.4 in the first half and Cutler was sacked once, but the Bears were able to mount field-goal drives of 6:30 and 5:20 sustained over 11 and nine plays, respectively, largely because the line was able to do a passable job holding off the Indianapolis 3-4.

That said, three first-half penalties on a group that needs to be the bedrock of an offense intent on being a run-based team continued an alarming pattern from Week 1. The Bears do not want to be forced into a passing game and nothing inflicts that more on an offense than penalties.

[MORE: Cutler, Gould highlight Bears first half against Colts]

Charles Leno Jr. took some snaps at right tackle with the No. 1 offense during practice Thursday, with Jordan Mills working briefly with the 2’s before straining a calf. This was an anticipated position battle before camp but Leno has played primarily behind Jermon Bushrod on the left side. Leno was inserted as the starter Saturday and was not dominant, drawing a hands-to-the-face penalty on his third snap, nullifying a 42-yard completion from Jay Cutler to Josh Bellamy. Bushrod was beaten with a bull rush by linebacker Jerrell Freeman to trigger a sack in the first quarter but overall the Bears were able to run left with some effectiveness early.

Kyle Long drew a holding penalty on what broke down into a Cutler scramble to just short of the end zone. But Long and the middle of the line were stout against an Indianapolis front that knew the Bears were committed to the run. Michael Ola at left tackle turned a third-and-5 into a third-and-10 with a false start that was followed by an interception of Clausen, leading to an Indianapolis field goal at the end of the first half.

Receivers

Josh Bellamy and Eddie Royal were the starting wideouts as the offense was without Alshon Jeffery and will be presumably for the remainder of the preseason as the wideout gets over a calf injury suffered in the days before the Miami game. Bellamy scored on a 12-yard pass from Clausen, running a precise route breaking outside after a clear-out by the outside receiver, taking the ball and beating the defense to the pylon.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a new Bears hat]

Marquess Wilson broke a nine-yard completion on second effort. Wilson was forced to leave with a hamstring injury and his status is unclear. The third-year wideout, who caught two passes for the game, missed time last year with a broken clavicle and the Bears cannot afford both Wilson and Jeffery to be dealing with muscle injuries with rookie Kevin White out due to a shin injury.

Marc Mariani was superb on a punt and kickoff return in the first quarter and likely has secured a roster spot with his return ability on top of some sure-handedness as a receiver.

Martellus Bennett caught all three of the passes thrown to him, one for 20 yards that was the Bears’ longest completion for the game.

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

8-15leonardfloyd.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For all the attention heaped on Roquan Smith in the last 48 hours, he’s not the most important player to determining the success of the Bears’ defense in 2018. 

Rightly, the Bears feel good about their depth at inside linebacker, especially now that the No. 8 overall pick is in the mix. Smith, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski being at the top of the depth chart is solid at worst; John Timu is entering fourth year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and rookie Joel Iyiegbuniwe has some promise. 

This isn’t to diminish the importance of Smith, who represents the biggest (and, arguably, only major) addition to the Bears’ defense made in the 2018 offseason. But if you’re looking for the guy whose performance will be the most critical to the success of this defense, look toward the last Georgia product the Bears took with a top-10 pick. 

Given the upside of Leonard Floyd and where the Bears stand at outside linebacker three and a half weeks before the start of the regular season, that’s your guy. And over the last few weeks, Floyd has practiced and played better and better, providing an encouraging sign for a guy the Bears are betting big on this year. 

“He’s feeling more comfortable,” Trevathan said. “So I’m just happy with the direction he’s heading. It’s just going to make our defense better with Flo flying around.”

The Bears have seen flashes from Floyd in the past, but he’s yet to put together much in the way of consistency when it comes to affecting the quarterback. His 11 1/2 sacks in 1,118 career snaps come out to an average of one sack every, roughly, 102 snaps in 22 career games. For a guy that’s averaged 51 snaps per game his first two years in the league, that averages out to about one sack every two games. 

If you factor in quarterback hurries, of which he has 21 in two years, Floyd is affecting the quarterback once every 34 snaps. Pernell McPhee, who the Bears released earlier this year, averaged a sack or a hurry once every 24 snaps, abeit in a small sample size. Von Miller, who Floyd is sharing practice fields with this week, averaged a hurry or sack once every 26 snaps in the last two years over 1,828 snaps. 

These numbers don’t factor in a lot of things, like coverage assignments or flat-out statistical misses of hurries (for instance, Floyd wasn’t credited with a hurry in last week’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite his pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton forcing a throw Kyle Fuller picked off and ran back for a touchdown). But the overall point is this: The Bears need Floyd to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and be that double-digit-sack guy they envisioned when drafting him two years ago. 

Floyd isn’t putting that pressure on himself, though, and stuck to the usual one-day-at-a-time answer when asked how he achieves better consistency and what his goals are for the season. 

“Going out and practicing and just going as hard as you can, fixing your corrections and just continuing to be better every day,” Floyd said. 

If Floyd was a little reserved about his own expectations for the season, his teammates are more than willing to do the talking for him. 

“Even if he’s not flashy in the way you would want to see your outside linebacker flashing, he’s scaring offenses, you know what I’m saying?” defensive end Akiem Hicks, who tabbed Floyd as a Pro Bowl favorite as early as April, said. “So he already put that intimidation factor in there, and then to come up with the plays on top of that, the sky’s the limit for that guy. You just look at the body of work that he’s had as far as putting it in the past couple years, you’re waiting for that moment where he just takes over the league, and I think it’s this year.”

“He’s more disruptive,” Trevathan said. “I see a sense of him trying to create more big plays. Instead of just a sack, more to it. Sack/caused fumble. Getting the quarterback’s (vision). He’s guarding, dropping back. He’s doing everything that Flo is supposed to do even better now.”

Another positive point in Floyd’s favor is outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley seeing him talking more in meetings and growing more comfortable with his role and position on this defense. While Floyd isn’t going to be a vocal leader in that room — that role is ably filled by Sam Acho — his teammates are starting to notice his performances in practice. 

“I think our guys know that Leonard can do so many things for us,” Staley said. “They lean on him by his example — how he is in the practice field, how he is in the meetings. He's been doing a good job.”

But the most important point on Floyd may be this: The Bears bet big on him, and are betting big on him, based on how they addressed outside linebacker in the offseason. Aaron Lynch was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal, but the injury issues that dogged him in San Francisco have returned during training camp (he’s only participated in one practice due to a hamstring injury). Acho was re-signed to a two-year deal, rewarding him for the stable play he’s provided over the last few years, but he’s only recorded four sacks in 47 games with the Bears. Ryan Pace waited until the sixth round before drafting an edge rusher, giving a flier to Kylie Fitts. Isaiah Irving, an undrafted rookie from a year ago, has flashed in a few preseason games dating back to last year but didn't record a sack in his 41 snaps on defense in 2017. 

Those moves screamed one thing: The Bears believe in Floyd, and believe if he has the kind of season they think he can have, they didn’t need a massive addition to their group of edge rushers. That doesn’t mean Pace won’t make a move for an edge rusher before or after cut-down day in September, but unless he were to pay an exorbitant price to trade for Khalil Mack, whoever is brought it won’t be viewed as the team’s No. 1 edge rushing option. 

That would be Floyd, who’s shown in the last few weeks that he’s past his season-ending knee injury from 2017. It’s now on the third-year player to make that leap in production and play a major role in the success of a Bears’ defense that, other than Smith, largely stood pat this spring. 

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

8-15_bears_broncos_ap.jpg
AP

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

JJ Stankevitz and The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain break down the Bears’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, including how Roquan Smith looked, some encouraging signs for the offense and an enjoyable sequence of pass-rushing drills involving Von Miller.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: