Bears pass protection at risk of second Aldon Smith nightmare


Bears pass protection at risk of second Aldon Smith nightmare

He’s baaaacckk.

The last time the Bears saw linebacker Aldon Smith he was abusing tackles Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb on the way to sacking former Bears quarterback Jason Campbell 5.5 times in a 2012 blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Smith added seven quarterback hits and four tackles for a loss, plus two forced fumbles. One game later Carimi was out of the lineup and two games later he was a guard.

That was the last time the Bears saw Smith — until Sunday.

The No. 7 pick of the 2011 draft — which put him under the direction of then 49ers coordinator Vic Fangio — signed with the Oakland Raiders this offseason after serving a nine-game suspension last season, and being released in August by the 49ers following a DUI arrest.

[MORE BEARS: Jay Cutler practices again, says he's 'day-to-day']

The problem for the Bears is that the problem is not just Smith. The Raiders used the No. 5 pick of the 2014 draft for rush linebacker Khalil Mack, creating the same kind of pass-rush peril that Smith and Justin Smith brought to bear in the 2012 humiliation of the Bears.

John Fox saw Mack up close twice last season as coach of the Denver Broncos.

“I saw him last year as a rookie,” Fox said. “He’s a tremendous young player. That’s why he was such a high selection. He’s got great speed off the edge. He converts speed to power as well as anybody. He’s an outstanding player.”

The 49ers put Carimi, Webb and the protection schemes in distress by flipping Smith back and forth, changing sides, and the Raiders are doing the same with Mack and Smith. Depending upon who lines up where, Mack or Smith will be the problem right in front of novice tackle Kyle Long.

“They do a good job of rotating those guys,” Long said. “If Aldon Smith’s off the field, then Khalil’s on the other side and they bring somebody else in. They have a lot of options and when you have good edge rushers it gives you a lot of options.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears vs. Raiders brings old coaching friends head-to-head]

The Bears’ situation may move from difficult to dire if left tackle Jermon Bushrod is unable to play or even hampered. Bushrod, bothered by back issues, could not finish the Seattle game and has not practiced this week because of what are now listed as concussion and shoulder injuries.

Without Bushrod the left side of the protection against Mack, Smtih and whatever else coach Jack Del Rio and the Raiders devise will fall to Charles Leno, Jr., who was unable to hold down the right tackle spot to coaches’ satisfaction this preseason.

“All these guys know they are one play away from being the starter,” Fox said. “It doesn’t matter which position you are talking about. That’s why you keep 53 men. You have 46 in uniform on Sundays. We’ll address that as the week wears on.”

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

USA Today

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

Remember that time when the Bears tried out like 47 kickers and put them through a wide variety of arbitrary tests all while fan favorite Robby Gould was using the team's desperation as leverage to become the NFL's highest-paid kicker? Classic! 

It's been like three months since those totally-sane summer days, and reader, things have not gone so hot for Gould: 

Meanwhile, Eddy P is not only 8/9 on the season, but is already well on his way to becomming a fan favorite. We're already calling him Eddy P! After 5 games! 

That said, we won't truly know if the Bears made the right decision until Piñeiro beats out several Hall of Famers -- including someone credited for literally starting the NFL -- on the path to winning an offseason bracket-style fan vote.