Bears

Bears OL turmoil continues, with possible tipping point coming vs. Browns

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Bears OL turmoil continues, with possible tipping point coming vs. Browns

Sometime ago, based on the premise that the five best offensive linemen would play, it was suggested here the decision on whether to move two-time Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long to right tackle could ultimately turn less on Long, but rather on whether Jordan Mills was a better tackle than Vladimir Ducasse was a right guard.

The makeup of the right side of the Chicago offensive line may come down to just that. Long is not expected to play Thursday against the Cleveland Browns, but Mills and Ducasse, a six-year veteran with 11 starts that included six for the Minnesota Vikings last year, are expected to play enough to make the coaches’ decision for them.

And if neither is good enough, both the Bears’ personnel and coaching staffs need to get seriously innovative. Fast.

[MORE BEARS: Lessons from Bears loss to Bengals, good or bad, impossible to sort out]

As training camp opened it appeared that the core of the offensive line, which functioned with such promise in 2013, was back in place. The Bears were getting the band back together again.

Now with one preseason game and just a handful of practices before the Bears face Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and the Green Bay Packers defense, the band is anything but together.

“We’ve got options,” coach John Fox said. “We’ve got guys we’re looking at. To say it’s perfectly settled at this point, probably not the case, but I think that’s the case at a lot of positions.”

The situation at right tackle is once again an unknown after Charles Leno Jr. appeared to play his way out of the starting job the past two Saturdays. Mills, who lost the job to Leno during training camp, has a chance to reclaim it.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

But the situation is more complicated than that.

Long has taken practice snaps at guard and tackle through this offseason but virtually none at tackle since the start of training camp. That does not preclude Long becoming the Bears’ starting right tackle for 2015, because his coach doesn’t think it’s too late for a change.

“They have to practice before they play.” Fox said, “He’s had plenty of practice at both guard and tackle.”

Loose translation: Fox and staff believe Long is sufficiently up to speed to play either.

Another day, another reason why Bears won the Khalil Mack trade

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USA TODAY

Another day, another reason why Bears won the Khalil Mack trade

Oh, now this is a doozy.

As if it wasn't obvious enough already, the Bears absolutely won the Khalil Mack trade over the Raiders. Not only did they acquire the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, but they did so when the rival Green Bay Packers were also interested. Based on a recent revelation from Packers president Mark Murphy, the extent to which the Bears won the trade is greater than we may have realized. 

In an interview with 105.7 The FAN, Murphy revealed a unique reason as to why the Raiders chose the Bears over the Packers.

"Well the whole Khalil Mack thing. It's not that we didn't try," Murphy said on Thursday. "We were aggressive. We wanted to sign him. I think, ironically, the Raiders took the Bears offer because they thought they would be a better draft pick."

As it turned out, the Packers had a higher first-round pick (No. 12 overall) than the Bears (No. 24) in 2019. This very well could change in 2020, but for the time being, let's get this straight.

Not only did the Bears acquire one of the best (if not the best) defensive players in football, but:

-Their trade package was highlighted by what should be two late first round picks (assuming the Bears remain a playoff team in 2019), and
-Acquiring Mack kept him out of Green Bay.

Talk about absolutely winning a deal. In the end, the Bears have a three-time All-Pro (2015-16, 2018) pash rusher entering his age 28 season. The Raiders and Packers surely cannot say the same thing.

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Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be


How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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