Bears

Bears Week 4 in-foe: Silver & Black on the way back?

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Bears Week 4 in-foe: Silver & Black on the way back?

Since Monday became a night of Bears becoming ex-Bears, we begin our preview of Sunday's matchup with Oakland with this: J'Marcus Webb is the Raiders' starting right guard. For offensive line coach Mike Tice. More on that later.

While John Fox, Adam Gase and Jeff Rodgers were last year's head coach and two of three coordinators in Denver, the Broncos' defensive boss got his second NFL head coaching opportunity in his virtual hometown. Jack Del Rio, who tied Tom Coughlin for most wins and longest tenure in Jacksonville Jaguars coaching history, became Oakland's eighth head coach since 2004. They haven't made the playoffs since losing in the Super Bowl 13 years ago. They come to town coming off their first back-to-back wins in three years, during which they totaled 11 wins. They're above .500 for the first time in four seasons, as they begin to finally bear fruit from GM Reggie McKenzie's most recent drafts. Sound like a blueprint Ryan Pace hopes to follow?

Offense

The offense ranked last overall in the NFL a year ago, also ranking 32nd rushing and 26th passing. Through their 2-1 start, those respective rankings are seventh, 17th, and seventh. Their comeback win two Sundays ago vs. Baltimore on a last-minute touchdown drive represented the first time in five years they've scored as much as 37 points a game.

[MORE: Bears trade Jared Allen to Carolina Panthers for draft pick]

Last year's second-round pick Derek Carr started every game as a rookie, with 21 touchdowns and a dozen interceptions, but a league-low 5.46 yards per attempt. He had one 300-yard passing game. He's doubled that already this year, thanks to the arrival of April's fourth overall pick Amari Cooper, performing as expected. It's been a decade since the Raiders last had a 1,000-yard receiver (Randy Moss). Cooper has 20 catches for 290 yards thus far, eight of those for 134 Sunday against a pretty good cornerback, Joe Haden. The other targets are ex-49er Michael Crabtree, who signed a one-year deal late in the offseason to go across the Bay, 6-foot-4 jump-ball specialist Andre Holmes and Seth Roberts, an undrafted free agent a year ago who has two touchdowns among his first seven NFL receptions this season. Those are the kinds of uncovered contributors Pace and Fox need to find moving forward.

As the ground game sputtered a year ago behind Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, 6-foot-3, 230-pound Latavius Murray was given a shot in December and the former sixth-round pick (yes, sixth) showed something - just as he did Sunday in Cleveland, with his career-high 139 yards, landing him fourth among league rushing leaders entering Monday night. The 587 combined passing-receiving-rushing totals by Carr, Cooper and Murray is the largest by an under-25 trio in NFL history.

Tice inherited a line in which left tackle Donald Penn excelled last season after Tampa Bay dumped him after 2013 (yes, excelled coming off the scrap heap). He lines up next to Gabe Jackson, whom McKenzie selected in the third-round a year ago, and they solidified center by stealing Rodney Hudson away from division rival Kansas City in free agency. When right tackle Menelik Watson tore his ACL in training camp, Austin Howard slid over to the outside and was replaced at guard by Webb, reunited with Tice. The Raiders have allowed three sacks in three games.

[RELATED: Bears QB change not ruled out, but also not likely]

Defense

Khalil Mack was too good to last until the fifth pick of the 2014 draft. But he did, and Oakland's gift proved it by being Pro Football Focus' top-rated outside linebacker in his rookie campaign. Del Rio, like Vic Fangio, is in the process of turning the Raiders' 4-3 into a 3-4, and using Mack more in outside rushing mode, a la Von Miller in Denver. The recently-signed Aldon Smith is being gradually worked into the system as he awaits word on NFL discipline for his numerous off-field issues, but IF he ever finds a way to clean up his act, looms as a scary edge rushing complement to Mack. Two free agent signees hold down the other linebacker spots: tackling machine Curtis Lofton (at least 100 in each of his first seven seasons in New Orleans and Atlanta) and Super Bowl MVP castoff Malcolm Smith.

Another important free agent signing came up front, as run-stuffer Dan Williams was snatched from Arizona to pair with last year's impressive fourth-rounder, Justin Ellis (that draft/uncovered gem theme again). Ex-Giant and Golden Domer Justin Tuck led the lagging pass rush a year ago with five sacks, but Mario Edwards, Jr. - drafted four picks before the Bears chose ex-Florida State teammate Eddie Goldman - is pushing for playing time under defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., the former Seahawks linebackers coach.

He hopes this is the year 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden plays a full season after the corner played in just eight games his first two seasons. He lines up opposite another draft success story. T.J. Carrie was a seventh-rounder last year, moved into the starting lineup late, and forms a "D.J. and T.J." cornerback tandem. But the secondary's shots are called by 18-year veteran safety Charles Woodson. With his game-sealing pick Sunday, he has an interception in every season, dating back to 1998, and 61 for his career. Only Hall of Famer Darrell Green has more consecutive seasons with an interception (19). It was after Jay Cutler's four-interception performance in 2012 when Woodson played for the Packers that he said afterwards, "It's the same old Jay. We just need to be in position. Jay will throw us the ball."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Special Teams

Uh-oh. Rookie returners have burned the Bears each of the first three weeks, so what did the Raiders decide to do Sunday? Use Cooper on punt returns. The results were ordinary but Del Rio indicated Monday he may stay there after Carrie was the primary returner with backup running back Taiwan Jones returning kickoffs (fifth in the league with a 30.3-yard average). Sixteen-year veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski needs five more field goals of 50-plus yards to take the all-time lead in that category, but while his kickoff distance has slipped, his overall accuracy has improved (24-of-27) since the start of last season.

**Get the latest weekday Bears news on Comcast SportsNet Wednesday and Thursday afternoons at 4:30 p.m. Join Chris and Dan Jiggetts for "Bears Huddle" Wednesday, as we hear from Vic Fangio, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and various players. Adam Gase highlights "Bears Blitz" on Thursdays, along with the starting quarterback and other players.**

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings: Outside the top, no clear picture yet

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings: Outside the top, no clear picture yet

Last night's 43-40 game between the Patriots and Chiefs said more about the NFL than it did either team playing in it. 

Through the first seven weeks, there are pretty clearly three very good NFL teams: the Rams, the Pats, and the Chiefs. 

After that? Who knows. The Chargers look strong, but have looked strong for years -- and have what to show for it? After a good start, the Jaguars have looked actively terrible. The Steelers are rounding into form and yet still find themselves in third place. All three of the NFC East's contenders are sitting at .500 or barely better. 

How'd your probably-mediocre team do in our Power Rankings this week? 

Wait no longer! You can find out right here. 

Bears grades: Defense falls flat, and a longer look at Matt Nagy’s decision-making

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Bears grades: Defense falls flat, and a longer look at Matt Nagy’s decision-making

QUARTERBACKS: B

There’s a lot to unpack here. Mitch Trubisky’s first half was bad, with him completing nine of 14 passes for only 89 yards (6.4 yards/attempt), and while he wasn’t picked off he was sacked twice. His decision-making wasn’t good beyond checking into a quarterback sneak on third down here and there, and he missed a wide open Anthony Miller on the Bears’ first offensive possession of the game. 

But the second half was completely different — Trubisky threw for two touchdowns in the third quarter and made an outstanding throw to Taylor Gabriel for a 54-yard gain that set up Tarik Cohen’s rushing score. Really, everything Trubisky did in the second half was excellent…except for the interception he threw in the end zone. Trubisky has to take care of the ball in that instance, with the Bears leading by eight and in position to at least go up by a two-score advantage with a field goal. Instead, Trubisky thought he had looked off safety T.J. McDonald, who easily picked off a pass intended for an already well-covered Ben Braunecker. 

Trubisky’s final line of 22 completions on 31 attempts for 316 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 122.5 looks like he followed up his magnificent Week 4 with a strong performance. And while his resiliency should be praised for how he operated the offense in the second half, that one interception was a critical turning point in a three-point overtime loss. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Talk about a game of high and lows for this unit. Cohen had a 21-yard touchdown and caught seven of nine targets for 90 yards, including an outstanding route, catch and run on a 50-yard reception. Jordan Howard carried 14 times for 69 yards, and he gained 34 yards on back-to-back runs in overtime that set up Cody Parkey’s game-winning attempt (which he missed).

But both running backs lost fumbles in critical spots. Howard coughed up the ball on the Dolphins’ one-yard line in the first half, making sure the Bears didn’t score in the first 30 minutes. And Cohen lost a fumble on the Bears’ 45-yard line with the score tied late in the fourth quarter — while Miami didn’t turn that into points, the way the Bears’ offense was going, had Cohen not fumbled they probably would’ve at least got into range for Parkey to attempt a go-ahead field goal without much time left on the clock in regulation. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A-

Gabriel made a phenomenal catch on a 47-yard gain and caught a 54-yarder to pace his five-catch, 110-yard day, while Allen Robinson caught five of six targets for 64 yards with his second touchdown of the year. Miller only caught one of four targets, though that was for a 29-yard touchdown and he should’ve had a big-chunk gain on the Bears’ first drive when Trubisky overthrew him. The talent in this group has been apparent for a while, and was again on Sunday. 

TIGHT ENDS: B-

Trey Burton did some good things in the run game — he landed a perfect block to set up Cohen’s touchdown run — and caught a shovel pass for a touchdown as one of his four receptions for 23 yards. Nagy felt like Burton couldn't have -- and shouldn't have -- done anything differently on his rub route that was flagged for pass interference. Also, if you’re wondering who Burton raced over to give the ball to on his touchdown, it was his brother. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: C+

Bobby Massie and Kyle Long were credited with sacks allowed, per Pro Football Focus, and the Bears’ offensive line wasn’t consistent enough blocking for Howard and Cohen. This wasn’t an issue of defenses stacking the box, either — only 7.7 percent of Howard’s 14 runs came with eight or more defenders in the box, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The James Daniels-Eric Kush rotation, though, wasn’t an issue, and Charles Leno Jr. did play well, especially in the second half. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

For whatever reason, this group didn’t get a consistent push on a Miami offensive line missing its starting left guard and center — and even with those guys, this wasn’t a particularly impressive group. Frank Gore (15 carries, 101 yards) and Kenyan Drake (13 carries, 57 yards) were given plenty of opportunities to get to the second level, and Brock Osweiler was rarely pressured, too. This group is better than what they showed on Sunday. Akiem Hicks does get a mention here, though, for forcing a miraculous fumble on the one-yard line in overtime that gave the Bears a chance to win the game on Parkey’s field goal attempt. Roy Robertson-Harris did make a nice play to break up a pass in the first half, while Goldman crucially recovered Hicks’ forced fumble. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: F

Khalil Mack suffered an ankle injury during the first half and was the recipient of plenty of extra attention from Miami. (“I don’t know,” Miami coach Adam Gase said when asked how his team was able to stop Mack. “We had about four guys blocking him.”) Mack recorded one pressure, per Pro Football Focus, as did Leonard Floyd. Floyd was flagged twice — his suplex of Danny Amendola earned a 15-yard flag (“I just keep trying to play football. I feel like he was trying to gain more yards. I had to stop him,” he said) as did a bizarre roughing the passer call when it appeared he grazed Osweiler after the Dolphins quarterback threw the ball (“Now that I don’t know how that was called. I don’t even think I touched the quarterback,” Floyd said). Either way, there wasn’t close to enough pressure on Osweiler from this group. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: D+

Roquan Smith racked up 13 tackles and made a few good stops, but he took a bad angle on a late overtime pass to Drake, winding up chasing the Dolphins running back on a play that set up Miami’s game-winning field goal. Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski combined for half of the Bears’ four quarterback hurries, which speaks to how non-existent the pass rush was for most of the game. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+

While Kyle Fuller had two interceptions, those were about the only big-time positive plays from this group. Safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson had rough games, missing far too many tackles and not containing Albert Wilson on both of his big catch-and-run touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Prince Amukamara left with a hamstring injury and Kevin Toliver II was beat on an extended play by Kenny Stills for a game-tying two-point conversion. The big-chunk plays allowed by the Bears were especially concerning for this unit, given that’s been a common thread between the Week 1 loss to Green Bay and Sunday’s loss in Miami. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Parkey missing the game-winning 53-yard field goal earns this unit a failing grade. No matter how difficult the kick was — and 53 yards is hardly easy — the Bears guaranteed Parkey $9 million in march to hit kicks like that. There wasn’t much else on which to evaluate this group — that was Parkey’s only field goal attempt, and while he had touchbacks on all six of his kicks, if he makes that 53-yarder the Bears win. 

COACHING: C-

There’s a lot to evaluate here. Some broad points: The Bears’ offense was flat in the first half, with an over-reliance on using speed to get to the edge against an athletic Dolphins defense. But the second-half surge was a major positive for Nagy, who was able to scheme up plenty of throws Trubisky was able to make, leading to touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Maybe Burton could’ve been coached up better on his rub route that was whistled for pass interference, but Trubisky’s end zone interception wasn’t Nagy’s fault. 

Continued: Why did Nagy wait about 20 seconds before calling timeout prior to Miami punting with under a minute left in the fourth quarter? Nagy’s explanation was that he didn’t know what Miami would do, and if he calls timeout quickly and the Dolphins go for it, they have more time to drive into field goal range. That’s fair. 

And, most notably — the decision to run Howard on third-and-four with a 50-plus-yard field goal looming deserves added scrutiny. Nagy said he had “ultimate trust” in Parkey’s ability to hit a 53-yard field goal — and, it’s worth noting, Parkey had hit seven of eight kicks from 50 or more yards in his career before Sunday, including a 54-yard game-winner for the Dolphins last year. 

But from a larger picture, placekickers have hit 57 percent of attempts from 53 or more yards since 2008, while the Bears were eight of 12 (67 percent) on third down on Sunday. Nagy brought up a concern of getting sacked on third down and taking the Bears out of field goal range, but if that were to happen, the Bears would’ve punted and probably wound up with a tie, not a loss. 

The over-arching point here, though, is that the Bears came out flat and got conservative in a spot that brought about plenty of second-guessing outside the walls of Halas Hall. Nagy likely will learn from this one, just as he did following Week 1’s loss to the Packers.