Bears

Joe Flacco a Bear? Very, very long shot, but...

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Joe Flacco a Bear? Very, very long shot, but...

Thoughts that occur watching conference championship games

If the Ravens put their franchise tag (not the exclusive-rights one) on Joe Flacco, would you consider giving up the No. 1s for him and cutting your losses with Jay Cutler?

The Bears gave up two No. 1s for Cutler, whod never been to the playoffs, so what do you trade for a quarterback who beat Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in this postseason alone and has never not been in the playoffs?

MORE: Ravens, Niners headed to the Super Bowl

GM Phil Emery wont make that deal; hes already without a third-round pick because of the Brandon Marshall trade. And the Ravens know what theyve got with Flacco.

But neither Emery nor Marc Trestman have skin the Jay Cutler game. So

Overrating weapons

Matt Ryan did not get any further with Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White than Jay Cutler did with Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. When you are guilty of an interception and unforced fumble within 20 minutes of a Super Bowl, its not about weapons; its about the plays you make or dont make when it matters

Dont forget Matt Forte in 2013

Three of the final four teams ranked in the top 11 for rushing (San Francisco 2nd, New England 7th, Baltimore 11th). Atlanta had some success but could not hold a 17-0 lead and were out-rushed 148-81

Accuracy wins

Colin Kaepernik completed 76.2 percent of his passes (none to the Falcons). Matt Ryan completed 71.4 percent of his (one to the 49ers). The difference may not seem significant except that in virtually every game of the postseason, the team with the most accurate quarterback won. Add in a running game and you have the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl instead of the Atlanta Falcons.

And up in Foxboro, Joe Flacco flat out-played Tom Brady and is going to the Super Bowl he would have been to last season if Lee Evans catches a pass

Will Trestman change Cutler?

Staying with the accuracy theme and applying it to the Bears and Jay Cutler:

A major positive for Marc Trestman was the names of quarterbacks on his resume: Rich Gannon, Bernie Kosar, Steve Young in particular. But a valid question to consider is just how much Trestman improved the play of his quarterbacks, since Trestman and QB coach Matt Cavanaugh getting more from Jay Cutler is a franchise directive.

RELATED: Cavanaugh hired as quarterback coach

Teams with Trestman on staff and handling quarterbacks frequently reached playoffs. But Gannons first two Oakland seasons with Trestman were the two most accurate of his career. His two with Trestman in Minnesota were decidedly pedestrian despite having Anthony Carter and Cris Carter as his receivers.

Youngs two seasons with Trestman were very good but neither were as good as the 1994 season before Trestman or 1997 after Trestman. Bernie Kosar had a Pro Bowl 1987 with Cleveland but 1988 was right about Kosars career averages for passer rating, completion percentage, etc. as he lost some time to injuries.

A quick look at the quarterbacks at Trestmans various NFL stops:

Quarterback (Team)
YearComp.
Steve DeBerg (Tampa Bay)
198757.8Bernie Kosar (Cleveland)
198860.2198959.1
Rich Gannon (Minnesota)
199052.1199159.6Steve Young (San Francisco)
199566.9199667.7Scott Mitchell (Detroit)
199757.6Jake Plummer (Arizona)
199859.2199952.8200056.8Rich Gannon
200165.6200267.6200355.6

Conclusion:

Check back in October or November. Trestman and Cavanaugh have a seven-year NFL quarterback on their hands. How much they can alter his course likely comes down to how much Cutler buys into the ways of coaches who may not necessarily create great quarterbacks but certainly know what those look like.

MORE: Trestman's GPS has the Bears en route

Tightening up

The Bears need dramatically more at tight end over what Kellen Davis, Evan Rodriguez (as a fullback) and Matt Spaeth gave them. Baltimores Dennis Pitta is expected to be an unrestricted free agent, but the draft is an option for savvy talent evaluators.

Pitta and New Englands Aaron Gonzalez, like Rodriguez, were fourth-round draft choices.

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

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USA TODAY

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

The Bears are at rest right now. The weeks between the end of the final minicamp and the start of the “season” that runs from the start of training camp through the final game represent the last time most if not all players will be truly 100 percent until early 2019.

In not too many days the Bears will begin their training camp, upshifting the pace, depth and urgency of formation of the 2018 team. Along with that comes the annual dilemma, not unique to the Bears, of balancing practice and strength training to achieve the football maximum while simultaneously staying within a plan calculated to minimize what has become a Bears curse since the departure of the Lovie Smith staff:

Injuries.

Injuries not confined to camp and practices, but also to creating a landscape that results in minimizing injuries throughout the season. And it is a complex equation that the Bears are trying to balance, one that reaches beyond football and involves complicated factors.

Matt Nagy is putting a small fingerprint of his own, instituting an 8:15 a.m. start time for the vast majority of Bourbonnais practices, “to keep guys out of the heat for the most part,” Nagy said.

Practice limitations have been mandated by virtue of collective bargaining agreements. The quirk for the Bears has been that as practice intensity has been legislated downward, injury totals (using players on IR as an apples-to-apples measure) have risen. The debate then has gone to whether lessened practices in fact saves players or ironically results in more injuries in games because players have not been sufficiently hardened for the intensity spike that games are.

Along with that is the need to truly learn schemes and plays in live action.

“I think football is a game, like many games, that you have to get calloused to,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said during minicamp. “It’s like when we go out the first day of training camp with pads on, and guys are hitting a little bit. You’re going to be taken aback and get mad that the guy just hit you too hard. But then by a week or two later, you’re getting hit like that and don’t even realize it. You gotta get calloused.

“So I do believe, even though you couldn’t prove it objectively or quantify it, I do believe that it’s a problem.”

Do the Bears need to rest more?

Nagy has seen the value of rest. Andy Reid, the head coach when Nagy worked in Philadelphia and Kansas City, is a lofty 16-3 in games after off-weeks during his coaching career. Last year his Chiefs did lose a road game post-bye, but Reid was 4-0 in Kansas City’s other games coming off more than the normal six days between games.

Other than the Bears, the five teams with the greatest number of schedule-created off days in the 2017 season appeared to put the time to good use:

Team Off days 2017 record (*playoffs)
Kansas City 12 10-6*
Buffalo 8 9-7*
Chicago 8 5-11
San Diego 8 9-7
Philadelphia 7 13-3*

A case can be made that recovery days are often as important as the effort days, that athletes perform better after their bodies have had even a brief window to heal. Coaches, too. As one Tour de France cyclist told this writer, people go too hard on the easy days, so they don’t fully recover, and too easy on the hard days.

Two-a-day, padded full-go practices were once the norm. Now consecutive padded practices don’t happen in-season, and even in camp, the objective is not as it once was, to weed out, but to develop. “I think back in the day you could say that it was ‘super-hard,’” Nagy said. “Now I’m not sure you’d consider it ‘super-hard.’”

The correlation between rest and results is far from exact. Marc Trestman was adamant about players getting off their feet after practices, and yet few teams sustained the level of injury, particularly on defense, that his Bears did. Lovie Smith’s practices were in the heat of the days, camp and other, with occasional night practices as prep for night games.

Year Coach Camp practice Year-end IR
2012 Lovie Smith 2/2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (three) 6
2013-14 Marc Trestman 9 a.m., 3:15 p.m. (three) 6, 10
2015-17 John Fox 9:35/11:15 a.m. 12, 21, 19

Apart from any empirical or other scientific information, anecdotal evidence suggests that rest is a significant factor in influencing outcomes. The most elementary casual indicator is the importance teams, coaches and players universally assign to in-season off-weeks. The break period is utilized for self-scouting, which is going on constantly anyway, but also for getting healthy.

If the cluster of a few days off (players are routinely given the off-weekend plus the preceding day or two to themselves) has some demonstrable physical benefits, then any structuring of normal weeks to build in recovery time stands to reason as a step toward healing during a 17-week stretch that leaves no one completely healthy.

But it’s not that simple, particularly in-season. “They’ll have off on Monday, then be back on Tuesday,” Nagy said. “And with the game-planning, you have to build that in, obviously.”

Positive offseason

At the risk of installing a jinx here, the Bears came through the offseason program without apparent severe injuries, and with key players (Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, Allen Robinson) being brought along conservatively in their returns from ’17 season-ending injuries. At the same time, the requisite work was put in installing a new offense and reigniting a returning defense.

Training camp and preseason now are next-level intensity, and the Bears lost offensive linemen Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan, receiver Cam Meredith and long snapper Pat Scales in the time frame between the start of camp and the start of the regular season.

The objective moves to another level of managing the balance between preserving bodies for when it matters and getting done the work that has to be covered. Some of that was accomplished with some understandings of historical perspectives.

“I told the guys the analogy the other day, the history of training camp in the NFL where there was no such thing as OTA’s years ago,” Fangio said. “But years ago there were six preseason games and two-a-days for all that time. Then it went down to four preseason games and two-a-day’s. And when I say ‘two-a-days,’ they were two-a-days several days in a row.

“Now we’re to one-a-day’s with some legislated days off in there. These [offseason] practices are those practices that we’re missing that teams from the past had gotten. We view them as very, very important, and our guys have had good focus. So we’re working on the same stuff we always have, but I try to tell them that this isn’t an ‘OTA practice;’ this is a training camp for the guys of yesteryear without pads on.”

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

The Chicago Bears are entering 2018 with one of the best young backfields in the NFL. The combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will give defenses nightmares all season long, especially when both players are on the field at the same time. Howard brings a physical and grinding running style while Cohen can take it the distance from anywhere on the field.

Cohen's field-flipping ability makes him especially dangerous in the return game. He's so dangerous, in fact, that he was named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team as a returner.

Cohen contributed in every which way for the Bears in 2017, bringing an explosive element to Chicago's run game, pass game and return game. He finished in the top 10 in punt-return and kick-return average.

Cohen ended his rookie season with 87 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added 53 catches for 353 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. He gained 272 yards and a touchdown on punt returns and 583 more on kick returns, bringing his season totals to 1,583 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

First-year coach Matt Nagy has been smitten with Cohen since the offseason workouts began. He's expected to use the second-year back a lot more than John Fox and Dowell Loggains did in 2017 which should give the 'human joystick' even more opportunities to make the kind of plays that will make him one of the NFL's most feared offensive weapons.