Bears

Jeremy Langford flashes potential as Bears rally to beat Colts

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Jeremy Langford flashes potential as Bears rally to beat Colts

As was the case in last week's preseason opener, the Bears opened the second half trailing, but Jimmy Clausen and his depth chart brethren rallied and finished things off in the 23-11 win over the Colts, to improve to 2-0 on the preseason.

The biggest post-intermission star was Jeremy Langford. The under-the-radar fourth-round draft pick was squarely on the radar on a pair of second half-opening touchdown drives. On a fourth consecutive carry, after gaining two tough yards on a third-and-1, Langford used his toolbox on a 46-yard run: strength, vision, balance, and second-level speed to help set up a Clausen 12-yard touchdown pass on third down to Josh Bellamy, who tightroped the sideline and dove in to cap off a 10-play, 88-yard drive and put the Bears on top for good, 16-11.

While Bellamy scored the touchdown, another wideout made a couple of important plays earlier: Northwestern product Rashad Lawrence, who had a 12-yard catch-and-run to get the Bears out from inside their own 10. He then took a quick toss from Clausen on the next play for a five-yard gain on third-and-3.

[MORE: Cutler, Gould highlight Bears first half against Colts]

Lawrence would also deliver an important block early on the next scoring drive, allowing Cameron Meredith a 13-yard gainer. Important stuff in the wake of the Kevin White, Alshon Jeffery, and now Marquess Wilson injuries.

Langford was then the workhorse to finish the drive: runs of 15 and two yards to get the offense down to the Colts' 2-yard line. The rookie then bounced off would-be Colts tacklers at the line to spin outside and win a race to the end zone for a 23-11 lead. At that point, the Bears' rushing attack had 156 yards on 29 carries (5.4 average). Exactly the kind of production you only hope could translate into the regular season, albeit against a middle-of-the-pack Colts defense, playing its backups. Langford finished with nine carries for 80 yards.

Defensively, Sam Acho made an impact play for the second straight week, a strip-sack of Matt Hasselbeck while getting low and using leverage to beat a lineman, and the ball rolled into the arms of rookie Eddie Goldman, who had another positive showing throughout the night.

We mentioned Willie Young helping Will Sutton with a first half sack (which was credited fully to Sutton), and Lamarr Houston also saw his first game action since a serious injury of his own. He showed burst and explosiveness at outside linebacker - a little too much on an offsides call.

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David Bass had a sack and a pass defended, as well.

While it's preseason, I think most Bears observers are looking for steps in the right direction, week by week. Who knows how this game would've turned out if it were the regular season.

But the first-string offense and defense took those steps Saturday night, and the special teams was overall solid, establishing field position in the first half, and utilizing the running game to eat some clock. It sounds like a formula that'll work when it starts for keeps in three weeks. And the roster competition is on.

Five fixes the Bears need to save their season

Five fixes the Bears need to save their season

As large swaths of the Chicagoland area succumb to full-blown panic about the 3-3 Bears, there’s one sanctuary from all that anger/disappointment/frustration felt by a city that, two months ago, expected its football team to compete for a Super Bowl. 

Inside the walls at 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest, there’s an understanding of why those on the outside are worried. But players who spoke to the media upon returning to Halas Hall Tuesday didn’t project any concern about their ability to fix a season critically close to falling short of expectations. 

“I understand the panic from the outsiders,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They're not in it. They don't see what's going on. And plus (the media) want answers, you guys have questions, I'm assuming because you guys are thinking like, Why, this is almost the same team as last year, what's going on? 

“From our side, we're on the inside, we know what's going on. Even though we might give you guys the PC answer, we're still hurting inside, (it’s) still frustrating but we know what's going on and the reason why we're not panicking is because we're confident we're going to fix it.”

So those inside Halas Hall are confident in their collective ability to turn this season around. But how can they do it? Here are five critical ways:

1. Quarterback play raises all boats

Nothing can do more for an entire team than good quarterback play. It’s the sort of thing the team talked up while evaluating quarterbacks prior to drafting Mitch Trubisky in 2017, that ability to “raise all boats,” as then-coach John Fox put it. There’s some truth to that. 

Would Mitch Trubisky making better decisions and throws help Eddie Jackson get his first interception of 2019? Not necessarily. But the Bears are averaging 71 defensive snaps per game, fourth-highest in the NFL behind another bad offense (Washington) and two of the most explosive passing offenses in the NFL in the Lions and Chiefs (Detroit is second and Kansas City is sixth in that category, per Sharp Football Stats). 

The Bears’ offense is struggling to stay on the field and give its defense a breather. Only four teams — the woebegone Steelers, Dolphins, Washington and Jets — are averaging fewer first downs per game than the Bears’ 17. 

And it’s notable how the Bears’ defense has faltered late in games (fourth quarters against Denver and Oakland, and the second half against New Orleans) when it’s been subjected to a high volume of snaps. 

Better play from Trubisky would mean more first downs and more touchdowns, and less pressure on a defense missing Akiem Hicks to win games week in and week out. 

This isn’t meant to completely absolve the defense — more on them later — but the lack of any consistency on offense is absolutely not helping Chuck Pagano’s group. Notably, Nagy admitted after Sunday's game that the Bears' offensive struggles are starting to impact the defense. 

2. A better commitment to the run

We touched on this yesterday, but David Montgomery has been at his best when he’s been given consecutive carries. Even if he only picks up one yard on first and 10, Nagy needs to stick with him to give Montgomery and the offensive line a chance at establishing a rhythm in the run game. 

Trubisky has not proven to be good enough to pass to set up the run, as Nagy said he hoped he could accomplish against the Saints. This run game may not prove to be very good, either. But it at least needs a chance on a week-to-week basis to prove it can be a reliable part of this offense, and in turn help Trubisky do the things he needs to do to be that boat-raiser the Bears have wanted for two years. 

"I'm not an idiot," Nagy said Monday. "I know we need to run the ball more."

3. Take the invisibility cloak off the tight ends

Trey Burton is averaging 5.2 yards per reception this year, exactly half his 2018 average. The Bears guaranteed Burton $22 million for him to be an “adjuster” in their offense, the kind of guy who helps Trubisky identify coverages while also being a weapon for which defensive coordinators have to account. 

But because Burton hasn’t shown much of anything this year — his longest reception is 11 yards — opposing defenses don’t need to be deeply concerned with his ability to impact a game. Burton hasn’t looked fully healthy since missing Week 1 with a groin injury (this after he underwent offseason sports hernia surgery), and worryingly did not look any better after resting up during the Bears’ off week. 

Still, the Bears need to get more out of Burton both as a receiver and run blocker. The same goes for Adam Shaheen, though that he only played 32 percent of the Bears snaps against the Saints — after an off week of coaches self-scouting — does not offer much a sign of encouragement. 
At some point, Burton is what he is in 2019, and Shaheen is what he has been since debuting in 2017. 

4. Unlock Tarik Cohen’s explosiveness

Cohen’s average of 2.1 yards per reception was the second-lowest in NFL history for a player with at least nine catches, per Pro Football Reference’s Play Index. The Bears’ most explosive offensive weapon is now averaging 4.0 yards per touch — which, for reference, is over a yard lower than his average in 2017 with Dowell Loggains and John Fox designing the offense. Also for reference: Jordan Howard averaged four yards per touch in 2018. 

This is mostly, but not all, a coaching and quarterback matter. It’s true Nagy has tried to get Cohen the ball downfield, with his quarterback not coming close to connecting on those throws:

But Cohen is averaging 5.4 yards after the catch per reception, per PFF tied for 165th in the NFL. Cohen averaged 7.4 yards after the catch per reception in 2018. A lot of that falls on coaches not unlocking his explosiveness, but some of it falls on the diminutive running back getting the ball and seeking out the sidelines. 

Whatever the reason, the Bears’ offense will not operate near full capacity if Cohen is basically 2018 Jordan Howard when he has the ball in his hand. 

5. More big plays on defense. 

Worse turnover luck does not fully explain why Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson — who were No. 1 and No. 2 in the NFL last year with seven and six interceptions, respectively — only have one interception between the two of them through six games. Those two guys need to harness the route-jumping aggressiveness they had in 2018 and bring it back to a defense in 2019 that sorely needs it. 

Similarly: The Saints in all likelihood offered a preview of how opposing offenses will block up Khalil Mack going forward, by committing two or three players to No. 52 on every passing play. Without Hicks to dominate in the interior, and without Leonard Floyd winning one-on-one matchups with much consistency, Pagano may need to find different ways to scheme pressure on opposing quarterbacks (though Mack remains good enough to beat those double/triple-teams on occasion). 

This Bears defense is still good, but in the absence of major offensive improvements it needs to be great for this team to have a shot at contending for a playoff spot. 

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Trubisky or not, Matt Nagy should be the lead voice on future Bears QB decisions

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USA Today

Trubisky or not, Matt Nagy should be the lead voice on future Bears QB decisions

The play of Mitch Trubisky in his season-and-a-half under coach Matt Nagy is, for better or worse, an unfinished work. Whatever the final result, after this season or the next, the latter of which looming as a decision point on a long-term contract for Trubisky, the Bears may be best advised going forward to make Nagy the decision-maker on quarterback calls rather than GM Ryan Pace.

Pace owes his head coach a leading voice and vote in finding a quarterback (or two) in the Bears’ 2020 draft and/or offseason. Because a simple NFL fact is that Matt Nagy deserves a chance to develop his own quarterback, not simply have his tenure defined by a quarterback (Trubisky) that he inherited.

Plus, Nagy has arguably better credentials and experience for quarterback evaluations than Pace.

Nagy learned his craft from Andy Reid, whose head-coaching career began in Philadelphia with the 1999 drafting of Donovan McNabb. Reid also drafted four more quarterbacks during McNabb’s run, including A.J. Feeley (2001) and Nick Foles (2012), as well as bringing in Michael Vick to deepen the depth chart.

When Reid went to Kansas City (and brought Nagy with him) in 2013, the first thing he did was to trade for Alex Smith from San Francisco; Reid (and Nagy as QB coach) groomed Smith into a three-time Pro Bowler. But while Smith was being brought along, the Chiefs also drafted three more quarterbacks in the four drafts following the Smith trade. The third of those quarterbacks was Patrick Mahomes, whom Nagy had a one-year hand in developing before taking the Bears job.

Pace, who said at the outset of his GM reign that ideally the Bears would be able to draft a QB every year, has largely ignored the quarterback pipeline, as noted previously. Trubisky has been the only quarterback among Pace’s 32 picks over five drafts.

Nagy has been involved in acquisitions of Nick Foles, Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes. Pace’s efforts have been toward Marcus Mariota (the Titans wanted too much for the 2015 No. 2 slot), Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon and Trubisky. Regardless of how Trubisky develops or doesn’t through the rest of 2019, Pace owes his coach a leading place in the quarterback-selection process from start to finish.

The search for depth or an upgrade from Trubisky may circle back to Mariota, who has now been benched in Tennessee and has never been the same player after suffering a broken leg in late 2016. Mariota played for Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon and obviously had high grades from Pace coming into the NFL.

Trubisky is largely the same QB he was for John Fox

Trubisky may yet prove to be the solution for the Bears quarterback situation. But results over his three – not just the two in Matt Nagy’s system – seasons say he is pretty much what he looks to be.

The cliché narrative, never particularly refuted by Trubisky, was that the young quarterback was shackled by a combination of John Fox’s conservatism and Dowell Loggains’ supposed incompetence. Two points suggest otherwise:

One, is that his first brace of coaches knew Trubisky’s limitations, both in general as well as those from simply being a uber-green rookie with only 13 college starts. Trubisky was deemed to have accuracy issues in the mid and deeper range, which has repeatedly proved to be the case, as recently as Sunday.

The second is that, in 2017 after his first three rookie games getting settled in, Trubisky in fact threw slightly more passes (31.3 per game) over his final nine starts under Fox/Loggains than he did through his 14 starts under Nagy in 2018 (31.0).

Parenthetically, in those first three in 2017, a governor was in place, with Trubisky throwing 25, 16 and 7 passes. The Bears also won the latter two. 

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