Bears' Week 1 in-foe: Pack Smack


Bears' Week 1 in-foe: Pack Smack

So said Bears Head Coach John Fox Monday approaching his first taste of the NFL's oldest rivalry, on Kickoff Sunday vs. the Packers. It came in response to counterpart Mike McCarthy's uncharacteristic proclamation at a civic event last week that his team would "kick Chicago's ass."

You can't blame McCarthy for feeling confident, with his team showing no signs of slowing down its dominance in the series, having won 11 of the last 13 meetings. But prior to that, McCarthy had been the classy victor. It makes one wonder if expectations, and pressure, in Green Bay may have factored into his chest-thumping. There was the NFC Championship meltdown in Seattle, which they'll host in a rematch in Week 2. There's the season-ending injury to Jordy Nelson. And there's the three consecutive seasons of 1-2 starts.

If the Bears are as healthy as possible, combine those factors with any tricks Vic Fangio may have up his sleeve with his new defense, and this could be as good a time as any to jump up and surprise the arch-rival. For what it's worth, McCarthy may have recognized the error of his potential bulletin board material (whether it matters or not) Monday.

"I don't really talk to our football team the way I talk to the Chamber of Commerce," the 10th-year head coach said. "It was all in fun, but I think it's really an example of why you shouldn't say things like that in public. ... I'm sure a lot of worse is said in private about opposing teams and so forth, but it's with great respect."

[MORE: 1-on-1 with John Fox: How Bears coach sees his team, 2015 season]

The Bears may not see it that way. The question is whether they can do anything about it, especially facing a quarterback who threw 10 touchdowns against them in two meetings a year ago, and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers collected half of that total in a span of less than 16 1/2 minutes.

Fangio's defenses have never lost to Rodgers. But that was working with 49ers personnel, not the group he's trying to adjust to a new scheme, is without its best lineman, and features a safety tandem consisting of a fifth-round rookie and a veteran who struggled through the preseason.

After the Packers made the wise decision to re-sign free agent Randall Cobb, he'll be playing with a bum shoulder - if he plays at all - and 4/5 of an offensive line that started all but one game together a year ago were slowed by injuries late in the preseason. It's a group that's helped spring Eddie Lacy for over 2,300 yards rushing his first two seasons.

Still, Rodgers' weapons usually grow up faster than most teams (especially against the Bears), from second-year wideouts Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, to rookie third-round pick Ty Montgomery. And they brought back veteran James Jones Monday after the Raiders released him following a 73-catch campaign and the Giants did the same after a 15-catch preseason. If there are any health or production issues with the Bears' wide receivers Sunday, the sting will be deeper if Jones has a good game.

Dom Capers has certainly had answers for Jay Cutler and the Bears since taking over the Packers' defense the year Cutler arrived here. Can Adam Gase find ways to counter that with the weapons he has? And what weapons will he have as the wide receiver health mystery stretches into Wednesday's injury report? How will Cutler be protected, and by whom? If Kyle Long's kicked outside to tackle, is he ready for Julius Peppers? If he remains inside, B.J. Raji is back, though the Pack's line is weakened somewhat by suspensions to fellow tackle Letroy Guion and end Datone Jones.

[RELATED: Bears’ front seven mix points to need for Vic Fangio creativity]

Then there's always an eye, and an answer, needed for Clay Matthews.

General manager Ted Thompson invested his top two draft picks in defensive backs after allowing two of his top three cornerbacks to get paid elsewhere in free agency, but Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix remain in place.

Remember Ron Zook, Illini fans (who probably would've taken him back over Tim Beckman)? He now runs special teams up north after McCarthy cut loose good friend Shawn Slocum after the late Seattle meltdown in January. Those units struggled in general throughout the preseason.

But in the end, if there are any designs of overcoming the four-time reigning NFC North champs, Ryan Pace and Fox will have to match what Thompson and McCarthy do best: draft. A remarkable 43 of the 53 players on the roster through Monday were there at season's end on that long ride home from the NFC title game. Thompson also wasted no time acknowledging his mistakes on the final roster selections this past weekend, cutting 2014 third- and fourth-rounders Khyri Thornton and Carl Bradford.

The Bears are about to embark on a season of learning what the coaching staff can compensate for and develop what it has, and what it cannot. There's perhaps no greater measuring stick than the first team they face.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the season ahead, Bears fans!]


A moment, now, for a couple of events for your attention this Thursday night, September 10 (if you don't feel like watching the start of the Tom Brady Revenge Tour against the Steelers).

The Bears are continuing a busy Back to Football Week with their Second Annual Super Bears Shuffle 5K, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Soldier Field. If you feel like some exercise with some of the fellow Faithful, there's still room to register. Get more info here.

If you're in the southern suburbs, you can attend a very worthwhile cause from 6 to 11 p.m. at CD & ME in Frankfort. An event that started in the backyard of a friend four years ago to raise money to help build custom-built "smart" homes for catastrophically-disabled veterans has grown to a dining and live music experience that could draw upwards of 1,000 people Thursday night, tentatively including Governor Bruce Rauner. Our fellow citizens who've paid a heavy price serving our country are subject to lengthy waiting lists and astronomic costs for their daily needs to be addressed.

The Bears and other Chicago sports teams have chipped in with auction items. If you buy a ticket and join in on the fun, maybe I'll see you out there. But any assistance for our bravest brethren goes to a wonderful cause. You can learn more here.

First and Final Thoughts: Halfway through the AFC East

USA Today

First and Final Thoughts: Halfway through the AFC East

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 7

J.J. Stankevitz: There’s no shame in losing to the New England Patriots, a franchise that’s lost on average about three games per season over the last nine years. The Bears, meanwhile, have nearly as many losses (26) in the last three years as the Patriots do in that span (28). But the more narrow view of Sunday’s game is more frustrating for this team that feels – and was – only a few plays short of not having to rely on a Hail Mary to Kevin White to even tie things up with time expiring. If Ben Braunecker doesn’t lose his footing on a blocked punt…or Mitch Trubisky leads Anthony Miller instead of underthrowing him in the fourth quarter…or if Prince Amukamara and/or Eddie Jackson tackle Josh Gordon for a 25-yard gain instead of 55…or Khalil Mack doesn’t get handled by Dwayne Allen on the last drive, etc. If the Bears miss the playoffs by a game, they’ll kick themselves more for the losses to Green Bay and Miami, but this one won’t be forgotten, either. 

Paul Aspan: Mitchell Trubisky missed too many throws, the Patriots quick passing game neutralized a hobbled Khalil Mack and the Bears pass rush, and the best team in the NFL for the better part of the last two decades beat a potential up and coming team that showed early signs they might be a playoff contender while still figuring out how to win. If any of this surprised you, you were probably also shocked by the sub 30-degree October temperatures in Chicago. The only real surprise Sunday was that the Bears allowed 14 points off Special Teams plays – the first time a team had allowed that to happen since…you guessed it!  The Bears allowed the Ravens to do it last October (the Rams also scored two special teams TD that same day against the Jags).

The Bears haven’t shown that they’re better than moral victories yet, so accept Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots for what it was. They held their own against a Super Bowl contender in a game they were never going to win whether you looked at it when the schedule first came out or tried to talk yourself into a W after a few too many Old Styles & Malort shots anywhere from the 3-1 Bye week to the 3-3 reality that was Sunday at 4pm. 

Cam Ellis: In more optimistic news, how about Bilal Nichols! He's shown a knack for finding the ball and for making big plays in big moments, which is wild considering he shares a defensive front with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Roquan Smith. He's been an absolute menace in the run game and been one of the few on the Bears' defensive side that have continue to play well as the unit struggles as a whole. He was the best player on the field for long stretches of time against the Patriots, and has seen his snap count go over 30 twice in the last three games, after starting off the year with 11 and six, respectively. Once the Bears' defense gets their act together, the addition of Nichols as a real threat is going to be a game-planning nightmare for other coaches. 

First Thoughts on Week 8

Stankevitz: The Bears *have* to win these next two games against the Jets and Bills – anything less than 5-3 will lead to an awfully uphill climb to legitimate playoff contention. The Jets had won two in a row before the Minnesota Vikings steamrolled them last weekend, but also haven’t played a road game in a month. A purportedly salty defense has allowed 30 or more points in three of its last four games, a stretch that began by allowing over 500 yards of offense to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sam Darnold has had some good moments, but perhaps what this Bears defense needs is to face a mistake-prone rookie quarterback. This week should provide the Bears an ideal opportunity for a bounce-back at home before going on the road to face an atrocious Bills team in Week 9. 

Aspan: Now that I’ve made more than enough excuses for the Bears loss to the Patriots, make no mistake: they have to win the next two games against the Jets and at the Bills if we’re going to take them seriously. The best thing the Jets do is run the ball, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Bears won’t allow Isaiah Crowell and a banged up Bilal Powell to pull a Frank Gore (101 rush yds in week 5) on them (PS: How bout Bilal Nichols!). That leaves the D to feast on a rookie QB, Sam Darnold, who is coming off a 3 interception game and has thrown a pick in all but one of his games this season. 

Speaking of a young QB throwing the ball to the other team….I’m not gonna do the Mitchell Trubisky - Patrick Mahomes comparison, who by the way, also missed enough throws against the Patriots to cost his own team a game, because what’s the point? How’s this for a fair bar to judge Trubisky: there are 10 games left in the 2018 season for the Bears. How many games in a row can he go without throwing a red zone pass that should be intercepted? I’ll set the over / under at 3.5 consecutive games (we’re currently at zero). If Trubisky is in fact learning from the last two weeks as we’re being told he is, then staying away from an awful decision in the red zone for four straight games is the least he can do.

But how many of you are actually taking the over on that bet? Yea, I’m not so sure either. 

Ellis: And now, a Take:

Since the Bears technically lost by one score and got really close to maybe tying the game (and go ask Justin Tucker how automatic PATs are), there was a lot of talk about moral victories in the immediate aftermath. If you want to say it's a moral victory, fine; it's your life and it's just sports and none of it really matters. But moral victories are just actual losses. There may be a good loss in the preseason, when you care more the process than the actual results -- but when your regular season is 16 games long, there is no good loss. The Patriots are good, but they went into Detroit and got smacked around by a Lions team that the Bears will be expected to beat. Chicago didn't play well enough to beat a Pats team that looked extremely beatable on Sunday -- there's no moral victory there. There's also this: 

The Bears are 3-3 and have lead by at least two scores in FIVE OF THEIR SIX GAMES. It's not a moral victory -- or a "new standard" -- when you're blowing three games in which you were up two scores. You're still just losing games. The Bears have the talent to win a division and have played well enough to at times. But there's no victory to be squeezed out of blowing a two-score lead, and there certainly isn't a silver lining to doing it three times in six games. Learn how to finish games. 

Film review: Why wasn't Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?


Film review: Why wasn't Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?

Khalil Mack was not 100 percent against the New England Patriots, a development that became abundantly clear over the course of the Bears’ 38-31 loss.
Mack rushed Tom Brady on only 16 of his 54 snaps, dropping into coverage more frequently (18 times) than he tried to get after the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus. He didn’t record a sack or a quarterback hit, and while PFF credited him with two pressures, his impact was far more limited than it was in the first four weeks of the season.
So what went wrong? Was his ineffectiveness due to a bum ankle, or something Brady and the Patriots did?
The answer is somewhere in between, after reviewing the 15 clear pass rushing snaps Mack had (the 16th came on a pop pass touchdown to James White, and while it technically counts in PFF’s totals, there was no opportunity for anyone to rush Brady given he got rid of the ball in about a third of a second).
The blow-by-blow:
No. 1: Mack is lined up, as he was for almost all of these snaps, over the left side of New England’s offensive line. Tight end Dwayne Allen blocks him on play-action, which delays Mack’s rush a bit. While Brady takes about 2.8 seconds to get the ball out on a short pass to running back Sony Michel, the throw goes away from Mack, and he doesn’t have much of a chance on this play. Still, he isn’t able to beat Allen, which becomes a theme here.
No. 2: Left tackle Trent Brown has Mack singled, and immediately retreats as soon as the ball is snapped. But that’s by design — running back James White leaks out in the flat, and as soon as Mack engages Brown (instead of being responsible for covering White), Brady dumps the ball off to his running back for a gain of 14 yards. There wasn’t much Mack could’ve done differently here, though New England’s first drive of the game ends with Mack missing a tackle on a Julian Edelman touchdown.
No. 3: From the left, White chips Mack, and instead of engaging with Brown, Mack flows back toward the middle of the field as Brady throws a short pass over the middle. Brady needed just a shade under three seconds to get the ball out on this pass.
No. 4: This began as one of Mack’s better pass rushes of the game. With his hand in the ground on third-and-seven, Mack has a strong rush toward Brown and executes a good spin move on the left tackle. But Brown was able to re-set and re-gain leverage on Mack after the spin move, taking Mack out of the play. Leonard Floyd, rushing from the right, pressures Brady and forces him to scramble. But from the time Brady got the snap to when he decided to scramble, about 4.3 seconds go by.
No. 5: This was the fourth-and-one conversion from Brady to Josh Gordon. While Brady essentially stares down Gordon and leaves his blind side exposed to Mack, he throws the pass about 1.5 seconds after receiving the snap.
No. 6. Another quick throw that gets out in a second and a half. By the time Mack engages with Brown, Brady already has got rid of the ball.
No. 7: Allen motions from right to left near the goal line, with his responsibility to block Mack — though Mack doesn’t immediately rush at Allen. By the time Mack beats Allen, Brady — who was rolling to his left, toward Mack — is throwing the ball, though the pass falls incomplete.
No. 8: Mack is able to pressure Brady by knocking Brown back, and Floyd forces Brady to step up in the pocket. Mack dis-engages and goes back toward the line of scrimmage to chase Brady, forcing him to get the ball out quickly for an incompletion.
No. 9: Mack gets doubled on the left and is a non-factor. The sideline mic picks up someone yelling “get him, Leonard” but Floyd slips to the ground while one-on-one with backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Akiem Hicks, though, provides pressure up the middle and forces Brady to throw deep and out of bounds, though he had a little over three seconds to make that decision.
No. 10: Near the goal line, the Patriots go hurry-up from under center, and Mack is barely set when the ball is snapped. Roquan Smith and Bilal Nichols, though, quickly generate pressure up the middle, leading to the Bears’ only sack of the game.
No. 11: On another quick throw — Brady gets it out in about a second and a half — Brown throws his right shoulder into Mack, making sure he has no chance of affecting the play.
No. 12: Mack goes to the inside shoulder of Brown and picks up left guard Joe Thuney on a stunt with Eddie Goldman, which generates some pressure, but Brady makes a short throw a little under three seconds after receiving the snap that’s dropped by White.
No. 13: This was one of Mack’s most disappointing pass rushing snaps. Facing a third and two after Mitch Trubisky’s second interception, Mack is one-on-one with Brown and isn’t able to mount any pressure, allowing Brady to easily pick out White in about 2.2 seconds for a first down.
No. 14: Mack is lined up to the right this time but gets successfully chipped by Allen. By the time Brady throws the ball, Mack is about five yards from the quarterback, and this pass went for 55 yards to Josh Gordon, setting up a touchdown.
No. 15: Mack is one-on-one with Brown and doesn’t mount pressure, though Roy Robertson-Harris does, forcing Brady to make an ill-advised throw that’s picked off by Kyle Fuller.
Some visual evidence:

The verdict: New England did occasionally commit multiple players to Mack, but frequently it was only the left tackle (Brown) or the tight end (Allen) who were on him. And while Brady is a master of getting the ball out quick and protecting his body, he didn’t seem bothered by Mack at all.
The quick throws would’ve been part of New England’s gameplan if Mack were healthy, but chances are the Patriots wouldn’t have singled Mack as much as they did — and almost certainly not with a tight end. That Brown and Allen had the success they did blocking Mack (Allen, in particular, was excellent in blocking Mack while the Patriots were running the ball late in the fourth quarter) speaks to Mack not being 100 percent.
The Bears may not get Mack back to 100 percent in the near future, though Nagy said the highest paid defensive player in the NFL is “kind of a freak in regards to his health and how he goes and pain tolerance.” Chances are, Mack will continue to play — he’s never missed a game in his career — but if he does, the Bears need to get more production out of him, especially when there’s only one player keeping him from the opposing quarterback.