Bears

Boden: Will 'bold' work for the Bears, too?

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Boden: Will 'bold' work for the Bears, too?

The 49ers and Ravens punched their Super Bowl tickets Sunday. But that route to New Orleans got a shot in the arm during the season with two bold, some would say controversial, moves that couldve rocked each team and blown up this eventual ride.

Oh, those Harbaugh boys.

As the Bears well know, Jim rolled the dice with the Colin Kaepernick-for-Alex Smith swap at quarterback right before that mid-November Monday Nighter. Nine starts later, hell be on the sports biggest stage. Smith was the safe route. The sophomore signal-caller from Milwaukee via Nevada had the higher ceiling. Only Harbaugh seemed to know how quickly he was capable of reaching it. And he probably hasnt yet, but hes gone high enough to get the Niners back in "The Big One."

In early December, John didnt like what he saw in the Ravens offense, either. His move didnt involve Joe Flacco but the (get this, Bears fans) the offensive coordinator. With three games left, Cam Cameron was out, and ex-Colts head coach Jim Caldwell was in. Now, the return to health of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and adjustments to injuries in the secondary are certainly a huge factor, but Flaccos found another level under Caldwell.

Two moves by the Harbaughs to get the most out of their quarterbacks has wound up getting the most from their respective teams.

Rather than look back and debate whether moving Jay Cutlers trusted coach Jeremy Bates into a play-calling position above Mike Tice wouldve saved the season, lets look ahead and talk about Phil Emerys bold decision last week.

His hand-picked man over 13 or 14 other interviewees - Marc Trestman was not even interviewed by any of the other clubs looking for a new head coach. If not for Emery, Trestmans likely preparing for a sixth season running the Montreal Alouettes.

A season wasnt on the line like it was in San Francisco and Baltimore, but Emerys positive reputation (so far) as general manager is, for the NFLs charter franchise. Bears players are publicly buying in to the new man in charge but privately, they have to be wondering why no one else was interested in Trestman, and why hes been MIA from the NFL the past eight years, save for one season advising Sean Payton in New Orleans. Trestman was interviewed in Indianapolis a year ago for the job that eventually went to Chuck Pagano.

Bruce Arians would have been the safer candidate with the more recent proven track record in the league. These Bears can see what he did with the Colts and Andrew Luck, and prior to that, Ben Roethlisberger. But Trestman won the interview sweepstakes with Emery, and hell have to win the Lovie-lovin Bears players over, through OTAs and minicamps before they even report to Bourbonnais. And well see if Emerys bold, reputation-staking hire is the right one.

That brings us to next season. The Bears that got Lovie Smith fired won 10 games. Would fans - and the organization view anything less in 2013 as a disappointment? Would missing the playoffs again be more acceptable if noticeable offensive strides are made under Trestman, but a defense facing turnover at certain spots (while generating fewer turnovers) cant match what it did this year? That wouldve been difficult even if Smith, Rod Marinelli, and that staff remained intact.

But its something Bears fans should probably begin grasping. First-year turnarounds arent uncommon these days. The Harbaughs did it in their first seasons in Baltimore and San Francisco. Is that what youre expecting after Emerys bold decision? And is that fair? Thatll no doubt be Trestmans goal, but how much rope will you give the man if hes like every other first-year Bears coach since George Halas, and fail to make the playoffs?

What will you be saying and thinking a year from now if thats what happens?

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman remains unsigned after being released earlier this offseason following a 2019 season that totaled 14 games and a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

Freeman, who earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl in 2015-16, was at one time considered one of the NFL's top dual-threat running backs. His best season came in 2015 when he ran for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding another 578 yards and three scores as a receiver. In 2016, he ran for a career-best 1,079 yards and 11 scores.

Injuries derailed what was a promising start to his career. He hasn't played a full 16 games in any of the last three years and in 2018, he missed 14 games with foot and groin injuries. 

Are Freeman's best days behind him? Maybe. Running backs tend to decline the closer they get to 30 years old, and at 28, Freeman is inching closer to the end of his career than its beginning. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have value for a team like the Bears, who lack any semblance of depth behind starter David Montgomery.

Chicago's running back depth chart is void of any real NFL talent behind Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, and let's face it, Cohen is more of a satellite weapon than he is a true running back.

So what's stopping the Bears from pursuing Freeman? Money.

Freeman is holding out for a reasonable payday that, apparently, involves demands beyond what the Seahawks offered in May (one-year, $4 million). The Bears, who still have in-house business to take care of, including an extension for wide receiver Allen Robinson, aren't going to offer Freeman a contract in that range. And they shouldn't. Montgomery is the unquestioned starter and that won't change even if a player like Freeman is added. As a result, he'll get a contract consistent with what's paid to a backup with starter's upside.

Remember: Freeman signed a five-year, $41.2 million extension with the Falcons in 2017, and like most players who believe they still have a lot left in the tank, he doesn't appear willing to lower his value by such an extreme amount.

Still, the market will determine Freeman's next deal. And if he's still hanging around and unsigned as training camp approaches, the Bears could find themselves in a favorable position to land an extremely talented running back at a mega-discount.

Chicago's offense will hinge on how productive the running game is in 2020. It would make sense to improve its chances of success by adding more talent. Freeman could be that guy, at the right price.

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

“We’re gonna do the shuffle then ring your bell,” sang Gary Fencik back in 1985. 

The updated lyrics in 2020 would be: “We’re gonna do the shuffle then get a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.” 

Football today is a largely different game compared to when the Bears won their only Super Bowl in franchise history. You’ll see that when Super Bowl XX is aired on NBC this Sunday at 2 p.m. CT. But as I went back and watched some highlights ahead of catching the full game on Sunday, I wondered: What from the ’85 Bears would still work in the NFL today?

MORE: 10 crazy stats about the 1985 Bears

Talent, of course, transcends eras. Walter Payton would still be a great running back in 2020. Richard Dent would still be one of those pass rushers offenses have to gameplan around. Mike Singletary’s versatility, toughness and instincts would make him one of the league’s top linebackers. But that’s not what I was wondering. 

The Bears’ first offensive play of Super Bowl XX — on which Payton lost a fumble — came with two wide receivers, one tight end, one running back and one fullback on the field, otherwise known as 21 personnel. There was nothing odd about it back then. 

Only 8 percent of the NFL’s plays in 2019 used 21 personnel. 

The San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings were the only two teams to use 21 personnel on more than 20 percent of their plays, and both teams made the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo, remember, threw eight passes while the 49ers throttled the Green Bay Packers on their way to the Super Bowl back in January. 

Payton and Matt Suhey would’ve been just fine in today’s NFL running from under center quite a bit. But consider this: Jim McMahon’s passer rating in 1985 was 82.6, good for seventh-best in the league. Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating in 2019 was 83.0, ranking him 28th. 

How about Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense? 

I dug up this video we did a few years ago with Rex Ryan explaining his dad’s defense — which, while it turned out to be great at stopping the run, was actually designed to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Check it out:

The Bears’ defense in 1985 is, arguably, the best in NFL history. The Bears held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry and 12.4 points per game, the lowest averages in the league. Dent led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks and, maybe the most mind-blowing stat of all: The Bears’ defense allowed 16 passing touchdowns and had 34 interceptions. 

But putting eight guys in the box doesn’t seem like a sound strategy in today’s pass-happy, 11 personnel-heavy league — a league that often forces defensive coordinators’ base packages to be in nickel. To wit: San Francisco’s Tevin Coleman faced the highest percentage of “loaded” boxes in 2019, with 40.2 percent of his 137 rushing attempts coming with eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage. 

The Bears’ defense only had to defend multiple backs (i.e. a running back and a fullback) on 120 plays in 2019. 

So the 46 defense might not work in 2020. Then again, who would doubt Ryan’s ability to coordinate a good defense against today’s modern NFL landscape?

This is all building to my overarching feeling thinking about the 1985 Bears: They'd be fine in today's NFL. Greatness can transcend era. It might take a few tweaks and they wouldn't look the same as you'll see on NBC Sports Network on Sunday afternoon. 

But who am I to say one of the greatest teams of all time wouldn't be great in any era? 

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