How will Carson Wentz handle Vic Fangio's 'tricks' against Bears

How will Carson Wentz handle Vic Fangio's 'tricks' against Bears

Since Bears cornerback Deiondre Hall' had played fellow Eagles rookie qaurterback Carson Wentz twice in college when Northern Iowa would match up against North Dakota State, I asked Vic Fangio this week whether or not he would tap into a rookie's experience when it comes to game-planning for the No. 2 overall pick Monday night. The man who's in his 17th season as an NFL defensive coordinator and 30th as an assistant coach had a quick answer.


Our John Mullin wrote earlier in the week about how the Bears don't pencil in an automatic win just because they're matching up against a first-year signal-caller. And Fangio himself was effusive in his praise for Wentz, not tamping down the enthusiasm coming out of Philadelphia after last week's successful debut against the Browns, or the hype from ESPN, which is airing the game.

The thing is, while Fangio can disguise pre-snap looks, like any defensive coordinator he prefers, and his defenses operate best, when they can effectively rush just four men to the quarterback. As the ingredients in his base 3-4 grow and improve, the question is whether he has that yet on this roster. Or whether they're ready to do that yet. They only sacked Brock Osweiler twice, and hit him just eight times last Sunday. That Texans offensive line was without two starters, and these Eagles blockers are better than the group they faced in Houston.

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The Tribune's Rich Campbell wrote Friday that Fangio's defenses are 5-2 against rookie quarterbacks since he joined the 49ers in 2011, with a 57 percent completion rate and an 84.3 rating.  For perspective, members of that 2011 defense included five Pro Bowlers that season (Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson) along with Ahmad Brooks, and would add two more Pro Bowlers over the next two seasons in Aldon Smith and Eric Reid.

Here's a closer look at how those rookie quarterbacks fared individually in those seven games:

2011 Andy Dalton (CIN) 17-32 157 yards 0/2 1 40.8 SF, 13-8
2012 Russell Wilson (SEA) 9-23 122 yards 0/1 2 38.7 SF, 13-6
2012 Ryan Tannehill (MIA) 17-33 150 yards 1/0 2 74.1 SF, 27-13
2012 Russell Wilson (SEA) 15-21 171 yards 4/1 1 115.3 SEA, 42-13
2013 Mike Glennon (TB) 18-34 179 yards 2/1 4 75.5 SF, 33-14
2014 Derek Carr (OAK) 22-28 254 yards 3/0 1 140.2 OAK, 24-13
2015 Jameis Winston (TB) 15-29 295 yards 2/1 1 96.2 CHI, 26-21

Winston's performance last December is the only exhibit of Fangio's Bears defense against a rookie, and he posted the most passing yards in the seven examples, with a better deep threat in Mike Evans and more established running back in Doug Martin than the Eagles' tandem of Jordan Matthews and Ryan Mathews. It should also be noted that Houston's offensive playmakers are generally regarded as a better group than the Eagles group that comes to town, even moreso without injured tight end Zach Ertz. 

The unexpected rise a year ago from 30th in overall defense to 14th was a pleasant surprise and a credit to the brain power and experience of Fangio and his defensive staff. We'll see Monday night if they can bring the Eagles and Wentz back to earth.

*Programming note: Join Boden, Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller at a special earlier time Monday night for "Bears Pregame Live," from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on CSN*

Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.

Former CFL star Tre Roberson has chance to emerge in Bears' secondary

Former CFL star Tre Roberson has chance to emerge in Bears' secondary

The Chicago Bears' decision to release veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara has created a void in the starting lineup on defense, one that recent CFL free-agent signee Tre Roberson will be given a chance fill. The Bears are expected to add more candidates for the job over the next couple of months, but Roberson (who was courted by nine teams this offseason) will have his shot.

“I just feel real comfortable there,” Roberson told Bears All Access about why he chose Chicago. “When I came on my visit to the Bears, my workout just felt like I was at home. They made sure I was real comfortable in every aspect of the trip. I just feel like a great place to be is close to home. I’m from Indianapolis, so it’s not too far away.

"We’ve been to Calgary, so it’s a long way from home. So I just feel like it was the best place for me, and I feel like I can help the organization get to the next level, which is winning the Super Bowl.”

Roberson's two-year, $1.235 million deal is a low-risk, high-reward transaction for GM Ryan Pace. At worst, Roberson turns into a contributor on special teams and a solid depth cornerback. But if the Bears catch lightning in a bottle and Roberson emerges as a legitimate and reliable starting cornerback, his contract will turn into one of the biggest bargains in the league.

Roberson had 10 interceptions during his two seasons in Canada, including seven in 2019. He was considered the top CFL free agent making the jump to the NFL this offseason and was rewarded with the most lucrative contract a Canadian League star has received since Cam Wake.

Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine (slot) have two of the three cornerback gigs locked up, and Kevin Toliver will likely get the first crack at replacing Amukamara (assuming the Bears don't add a veteran free agent this March). Even if they select a rookie early in the 2020 NFL draft, Toliver should have the first opportunity to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. He logged 175 snaps in 2019 and looked like an ascending talent.

By the time the regular season rolls around, however, it could be Roberson who goes from starting in Calgary to lining up as a starter in Chicago.