Bears' Week 2 in-foe: Bruce and the Birds


Bears' Week 2 in-foe: Bruce and the Birds

What could've been?

At least until things kick off Sunday, Bruce Arians' return to Chicago - perhaps for the first time since being told to go home in the coaching interview process in January 2013 - will spur thoughts of where the Bears would be now had they chosen Arians over Marc Trestman.

As detailed by our own John Mullin following Phil Emery's firing last December, a reported "mock press conference" in the interview process, a desire to retain Rod Marinelli (instead of Arians' preference, current Jets head coach Todd Bowles), and then ignoring Marinelli's opinion after asking for it has gotten the Bears to where they are now. The Optimism Button has since been re-set with the Emery/Trestman tear-down coinciding with the franchise's next "swing" with Ryan Pace and John Fox. Arians has since won a second Coach of the Year Award and guided the Cardinals to a 22-11 record.

That includes a 1-0 mark this season after Carson Palmer became the first Cardinals quarterback to win seven straight games since Jim Hart, and 14 of his last 16 starts. In between, there was a second left ACL surgery within a decade. Arizona was 9-1 at the time Palmer crumbled last November, before finishing 11-5 when the signal-calling injuries became contagious.  But the 35-year-old eclipsed 300 yards in his return Sunday against the Saints while working without two of his projected starting offensive linemen; right tackle Robert Massie will serve the second of a two-game substance abuse suspension Sunday, and big ticket, nasty free agent Mike Iupati continues recovering from a preseason knee injury. April's first-round pick, D.J. Humphries, couldn't beat out Earl Watford to slide in for Massie. Arians looked to the Bay Area two off-seasons ago to sign Jared Veldheer away from Oakland to protect Carson's blind side.

[RELATED: Bruce Arians has no hard feelings at being passed over for Bears job]

The 31st-ranked rushing offense came back with Andre Ellington as its starter, but the third-year pro was again bit by the injury bug Sunday, suffering a knee sprain that's projected to keep him out the next two or three games. So Arians must choose between ex-2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson and almost-as-fast third-round rookie David Johnson to pick up the slack. The latter returned a kick 43 yards Sunday before turning a short pass from Palmer into a "next-gear" 55-yard touchdown to seal the 31-19 victory.

Speaking of speed, 2014 third-rounder John Brown turned four of his five touchdowns as a rookie into game-winners a year ago. Then there's the youngest receiver to reach 700, 800, and 900 career catches, the now-32-year-old Larry Fitzgerald. After being virtually ignored following Palmer's injury, he led the Redbirds with six receptions for 87 yards Sunday. And as Michael Floyd works his way back from preseason finger surgery, Palmer worked tight end Darren Fells into the mix with a touchdown catch among his four grabs for 82 yards.

For as much praise as Bowles' defense got before he moved on, it's at least a statistical lie. The Cards finished 24th overall a year ago, 29th against the pass despite the great Patrick Peterson, the continued rise of Tyrann Mathieu and the presence of Antonio Cromartie, who went with Bowles to the Jets. Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long will have to contend with arguably the top 5-technique in the league, 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell. Whether they can find a suitable replacement for Dan Williams (Oakland) remains to be seen.

[MORE: Grading John Fox's debut as Bears head coach]

Alex Okafor, after his stock slipped to the fourth round of the 2013 draft, is now the consistent presence in the 3-4 linebacking corps. Larry Foote retired and now coaches that group, which brought his former Steelers teammate Lamarr Woodley over after an underachieving, injury-shortened year in Oakland. That option was chosen over retaining current Bear Sam Acho by ex-linebackers coach James Bettcher, who took over as defensive coordinator. Arizona also rolled the dice with the talented Sean Witherspoon, who missed all of 2014 in Atlanta with a torn ACL, and drafted fellow-Mizzou alum Markus Golden in the second round, which is where they selected their other inside starter, Kevin Minter, in 2013.

Besides the threat of David Johnson returning kicks, special teams includes kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who hit his first 17 field goal attempts as a rookie last season. Then there's punter Drew Butler (Kevin's son), who was brought in as Pat O'Donnell's training camp relief in last year's Bears camp, and may have outperformed the sixth-round pick at the time. Butler wound up second in the league last year with 42 punts downed inside the 20.

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.