Bears

Kyle Long: 'Bears fans will like' the way Jeremy Langford runs the football

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Kyle Long: 'Bears fans will like' the way Jeremy Langford runs the football

Kyle Long spends most of his game days paying very close attention to defensive linemen and linebackers, whether he is protecting Jay Cutler or blocking for Matt Forte. But Long, who has been part of Forte’s escort service in two different positions, has had time to notice something about Jeremy Langford.

The rookie running back, who will take over for Forte after the latter’s knee injury in the Minnesota game, is different from Forte. And Langford is different in ways that Long thinks Bears fans will take to.

Forte has his own, distinctive style of running, a mix of slashing and tackle-avoidance that has improved with age. Langford, the Bears’ fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Michigan State, has shown his blockers something different.

"Langford's a guy who can pick and choose from different guys' repertoires,” Long said on Tuesday. “He's a guy who can run very hard downhill with surprising burst that you see on film. Once he gets through the line, he can just shoot out there.

“So I think from a linear standpoint, you'll see a guy who's running downhill, and I think Bears fans will like it. I know I like the guy a lot. He runs hard, and he's a tough kid."

[MORE: Bears' John Fox tough on his coaching tree; Chargers’ McCoy next]

The mix of toughness and speed (he posted a '40' time of 4.42 sec.) was apparent at Michigan State, where he was understudy to Le’Veon Bell, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Langford finished his Spartan time with eight straight 100-yard games as a junior and 10 straight as a senior.

Langford broke a 46-yard run in the Bears’ preseason game at Indianapolis, then followed a possession later with a two-yard smash into the end zone running over a Colts safety.

But Langford, who started the season playing on multiple special-teams unit but now has seen those duties dramatically reduced, has a different idea of his first mission from what college stars typically think their job is.

“My job is to protect the quarterback,” Langford said. “And really it was that way in college – you didn’t want to see your quarterback hit, and you want him to trust me to make my block.”

Langford had spots of protection difficulty last Sunday in the Minnesota loss. But Cutler was sacked just once, and not on Langford’s watch.

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And the offense did not go into a rushing shell with Langford and not Forte. The Bears gained 103 yards in the first half, 202 in the second. Langford carried 12 times for 46 yards, all in the second half, as the Bears stayed with a balanced game plan that had 16 running plays and 20 passes with Langford.

“I like his football character,” said coach John Fox. “It’s not too big for him. He’s very willing. So his mindset is to learn. I think Stan Drayton, his position coach, has done a tremendous job with him. And a lot of it is he’s very receptive. I call it football character. He picks things up very well for a young player."

The last – and only previous – time Forte went down with a knee injury of any significance – 2011 – the Bears immediately found out what they did not have at running back beyond their franchise tailback.

The week after Forte was hurt in Soldier Field against the Kansas City Chiefs, Marion Barber stepped out of bounds to give the Denver Broncos, in their first year under Fox, clock time for a tying field goal. Then he fumbled in overtime to set the Broncos up for a winning field goal.

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The expectation now, even with a rookie versus a veteran like Barber, is considerably different.

“In the NFL the game’s different than college football, particularly in the passing game,” Fox said. “They’re not just handing off to him. The protection element, routes, sometimes some of the things you see are a little bit more exotic. So he’s adapted to that very well as a rookie coming in from college to the NFL.”

First and Final Thoughts: The Chargers could be a good bounce-back game ... right?

First and Final Thoughts: The Chargers could be a good bounce-back game ... right?

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on the Week 7 

J.J. Stankevitz: The Saints represented a measuring stick for the Bears against one of the best teams in the NFC, and, well, you know what happened. The Saints are a great team that was able to sustain not having Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook, while the Bears’ defense did not handle the absence of Akiem Hicks well. The offense didn’t help, of course, and that defensive line needs the most help to get breathers with first downs from the offense, not three-and-outs. There are so many concerning developments for the Bears in the aftermath of the worst loss of the Matt Nagy era, but none more so than a general feeling that this team doesn’t have what it takes to fix things. I may be proven wrong there, but it’s awfully hard to see how a team with so many flaws can get things right. 

Cam Ellis: There are a half dozen bigger issues that need to be addressed first, but Roquan Smith's performance against the Saints was discouraging in a way that's stuck with me. His legs looked a little heavy against Oakland, but considering that it was his first game back and also played on another continent, a quiet day was understandable. Last Sunday's tape against New Orleans was arguably worse, and Matt Nagy spoke bluntly about his performance during Wednesday's press conference, saying "he can definitely play better, and he knows that." 

Nagy also couldn't say whether he thought the personal issue was still affecting Smith's performance. It's entirely possible that he just played poorly the last two weeks – he certainly wouldn't be the only one. With that said, Nagy's non-answer was telling in its own way, and cryptic tweeting from Smith over the last couple days only adds fuel to the conspiracy fires. Calling for Nick Kwiatkoski still feels a little too Takey, but there's no denying it's been a rough season. 

First Thoughts on Week 8

Stankevitz: If you think the Bears are disappointing, imagine being a Chargers fan (insert rimshot here). Los Angeles is 2-5, and while getting offensive tackle Russell Okung back this week is a boost, Derwin James is still out and this team hasn’t re-captured the mojo it had a year ago. The Chargers are 22nd in DVOA, four spots behind the Bears. This is a game the Bears should win, and if they do, afterwards you’ll probably hear a lot about it being a “spark.” But the real test for the Bears awaits in a week when a trip to Philadelphia looms. Win that — even with the Eagles nearing self-destruction — after beating the Chargers and maybe we can start talking about saving the season then. 

Ellis: The Bears should be the better team on Sunday, which bodes well for Nagy's theory (with some strong anecdotal evidence, granted) that even one good performance can a spark season-defining winning streak. They took advantage of a bad Buccaneers secondary last year to jumpstart an offense that would score at least 25 points in the next six games, so maybe something similar's possible against a Chargers defense that's ranked 28th in DVOA? You also can't help but wonder how another anemic performance from the offense on Sunday would affect Ryan Pace's approach to the trade deadline two days later.  

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Can the Bears' get a spark from a worse-than-expected schedule?

Can the Bears' get a spark from a worse-than-expected schedule?

Matt Nagy last week mentioned the upcoming stretch of the NFL season will see the league's good teams separate from the not-so-good teams. The Bears are 3-3; there’s a strong chance we’ll know for sure if this team is a viable playoff contender by the time they take off from LAX after playing the Rams in mid-November. 

Going a little further into the Bears' schedule, though, it doesn't look as difficult as it did before the season started:

The Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles are not the Super Bowl contenders many predicted they'd be two months ago. The Chargers are 2-5, while the 3-4 Eagles are dealing with a horrendous defense and a volatile locker room

Are the Detroit Lions good? They’ve been competitive, and were a few yards and a few atrocious officiating decisions away from beating legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. But they're a team trending toward separating to the bottom of the league. 

The Rams have been a mess recently, even with their blowout win over the full-fledged tire fire that is the 2019 Atlanta Falcons. The New York Giants? They’re not good, though they get Saquon Barkley back this week. And the Dallas Cowboys are less than two weeks removed from losing to the New York Jets. 

But aren’t those six teams looking at the Bears and saying “hey, they’re not as good as we thought” too?

Nagy believes one victory can be a spark, the kind of thing that could set off a 10-game winning streak — a belief based on his experience with the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs starting 1-5 before ripping off 11 wins in a row, including in the playoffs. 

But the Eagles or Rams or Chargers or Lions believe the same thing, and can reasonably view a worse-than-expected Bears team as an ideal opponent for that spark. Nagy is leaning on the culture built inside Halas Hall to make sure the Bears are the one to harness that energy, and not those other underperforming teams. 

The Bears can hope for that spark, but there’s also evidence the separation between 2019’s contenders and the Bears has already begun. 

The Bears are 18th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, ahead of two future opponents (the Chargers at 22, the Giants at 27) but behind the Eagles (15), Lions (13) and Rams (11). The Bears’ final four opponents are all currently ranked in the top six by DVOA: Dallas (4), Green Bay (5), Kansas City (3) and Minnesota (6). 

"There are a bunch of teams in the NFL going through struggles right now and the expectations are high because of everything we did last year," quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. "But reality is we’re in the same spot – 3-3 – we were in that spot last year." 

This is different than last year, when the Bears were in DVOA’s top 10 after a Week 7 loss to the New England Patriots dropped them to 3-3. That team had the luxury of facing teams that had already separated themselves into the non-contender pool in the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Lions. Their final four games came against a bad Giants team, a Packers team that’d just fired its coach, an even worse 49ers team and then a listless Vikings team. 

“Last year we were 3-3 and went 12-4,” wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “So that's just us thinking positive, going throughout this week, being positive, grinding and even working harder, I feel like we'll be OK.”

Maybe all the Bears need is to beat the Chargers and Eagles to jump-start this season and navigate an easier-than-expected schedule through the end of November. But maybe all the Chargers and Eagles need is to beat a worse-than-expected Bears team to jump-start their seasons, too. 

Because the time for separation is near in the NFL, and that may not be a good thing for the Bears. 

“The message that we’ve had is get tighter, believe in one another, keep trusting, right, and bond together and then when you get that one win, it just sparks,” Nagy said, snapping his fingers. “It’s crazy. It’s just absolutely crazy how that works. So we gotta do that.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.