Bears

For Lions' O, something missing - just like Bears'

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For Lions' O, something missing - just like Bears'

Forgive the members of the Bears defense if, while they watch tape of the Detroit Lions, they wonder if someone inadvertently put on film of the Chicago offense.

The dysfunctional Bears offense as run through wide receiver Brandon Marshall this season and slipped down among the leagues worst despite the presence of a Pro Bowl receiver and quarterback (Jay Cutler was one once, in 2008).

The Lions have tilted all season toward Calvin Johnson, the consensus best wideout in the NFL, with Pro Bowl alternate quarterback Matthew Stafford channeling passes Johnsons direction the way that Cutler does to Marshall.

MORE Bears know wounded Lions are still dangerous

(Almost. Marshall has accounted for 32 percent of Chicagos offensive yardage this season; Johnsons 1,892 yards represent 30.4 of Detroits.)

Stafford is throwing it well, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Theyve lost a few guys and theyre still playing at such a high level. Obviously theres Calvin and the guy Stafford is a heck of a quarterback. Theyve got that thing clicking.

Not truly clicking

But for all of the QB-WR firepower, something is not working for the Lions, just as for the Bears.

Johnson has struggled to get into the end zone, with just five touchdowns from his NFL-leading 117 catches. Marshall has scored 11 times.

Stafford is 305 yards short of throwing for 5,000 yards for a second straight season but has a passer rating (79.2) worse than Cutler (80.2).

Charles Tillman effectively earned his way to a second Pro Bowl with his shutdown of Johnson in the first Bears-Lions game, allowing just three catches for 34 total yards. But the defense held the Lions scoreless until 30 seconds to play.

SICK BAY Urlacher back at practice...sort of

That has been the tipping point for Detroit. The gaudy Johnson and Stafford numbers have obscured the fact that the Lions are 16th in scoring with 23.2 points per game.

The only thing people care about is whether youre scoring or not, admitted Lions coach Jim Schwartz. We need to do a better job of getting the ball to other people other than Calvin.

What works, what doesnt

The Bears are 12-5 against the Lions under Lovie Smith, with one obvious thread running through those seasons: The Lions have scored more than 24 points against the Bears just once under Smith (game one, 2007). The Detroit point production increased with the arrival of Stafford in 2009, with four games of 20-24 points but only one of those a victory (game one, 2011) but while the Lions talent ostensibly has improved, the results have not.

The Lions drafted Iowas Riley Reiff with the 23rd-overall pick of the 2012 draft but Reiff has started just seven games, and six of those as a second tight end. He has not been able to unseat 12-year veteran Jeff Backus or right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

Efforts to find a running back to complement Staffords passing netted nothing from a first-round pick in 2010 when Jahvid Best suffered career-threatening concussions, and 2011 second-rounder Mikel Leshoure has not been a true force.

Leshoure has scored nine touchdowns this season despite a mediocre 741 rushing yards and average of 3.7 per carry. But the Lions have vacillated between Leshoure and Joique Bell and failed to achieve anything resembling a challenging run game.

The Lions are 23rd in rushing yards and 17th in average per carry and rushed for 100 yards just once in the past three games (vs. Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta,), all losses by an average of 16 points to teams ranked 23rd, 22nd and 29th stopping the run.

But for Johnson, Stafford and others on both sides of the ball, beating the Bears might serve as some sort of exit validation for lost season.

They have some records, said linebacker Lance Briggs. The Lions have some records that they can achieve here. There is always winning, ending with a W, ending one of their rivals chances of getting in the playoffs. Thats always big.

You want to leave the season with a good taste in your mouth. So they definitely have things to play for.

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

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USA TODAY

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

Second of two parts

Looking ahead to training camp and what everyone will be looking at – it will help to have even a cursory idea of the offensive elements that coach Matt Nagy is incorporating, particularly in the passing game -- because the when, where and how the Bears will be throwing the football is changing. NBC Sports Chicago focuses on a selection of specifics and their origins within that part of the offense that fans will notice, first in Bourbonnais and then in the 2018 season.

Bill Walsh wrote and always insisted that the tight end was the least understood central pillar in his offense. He viewed and used the tight end as a receiver rather than simply an extra offensive lineman, and used the position to exploit matchup problems and open areas of the field created by design.

In a bit of fortuitous timing, the Bears signed and drafted tight ends (Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims) a year in advance of Matt Nagy’s arrival. But how those tight ends project to be used will be substantially changed from their functions last year. The best indication came this offseason when yet another tight end was brought in, one that signaled a critical direction change coming to the Chicago offense.

The Bears invested heavily to land smallish ex-Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton this offseason. He fits a Nagy template.

“He understands this offense and what to do, so there’s not a lot of mistakes,” Nagy said. “When guys see that you’re a player that has experience in this offense and does things the right way, they really gravitate towards that style of leadership. It’s been everything and more with what we thought with Trey.”

In eight of the last nine years Nagy was with Reid, the tight end (Brent Celek in Philadelphia, Travis Kelce in Kansas City) was either the leading or second-leading receiver on the roster.

In the last 37 years, since Emery Moorehead (No. 2, 1985), the Bears have been led in receptions by a tight end just once (Greg Olsen, 2009) or had a tight end No. 2 in catches just three other times (Olsen, 2008, Martellus Bennett 2014-15).

Receiver additions Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson notwithstanding, the role of the tight end in a Bears offense is about to change. Dramatically. And it started literally before Nagy even arrived in Chicago.

“Our first conversation when [Nagy and Pace] were on the plane heading to Chicago the day that I was hired, we discussed that ‘U’ position, the position that we know in Kansas City and we use in Kansas City as kind of the wide receiver/tight end,” Nagy said. “And you play the slot position you can move around, do different things — it’s what we did with Kelce.”

New meaning for “timing” in pass game

Trubisky’s mobility creates a greater threat in action passes and within run-pass options, if only because Trubisky can and will take off with purpose, even as Nagy, Helfrich and QB coach Dave Ragone drill one phrase into the quarterback’s brain: “Get down!”

“We don’t do that all the time but that’s kind of your ‘ball control,’” Nagy said. “There is a mentality that might be a little different in how we’re trying to be aggressive, too. In the classic West Coast there were still times where they were looking to be aggressive and we want that mindset.”

More than that, however, is the threat that play-calling versatility posed by Nagy’s offense. What jumps out is the play-calling balance on first downs:

 

2017 first downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

59/41        51.1/48.9 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.1             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

59.3          68.2

 

The Chiefs had the advantage of a more accurate quarterback (Alex Smith) than the Bears (Trubisky). Coaches are stressing accuracy along with ball security, and improving Trubisky’s accuracy is axiomatic for success in Nagy’s scheme, which is based on the West Coast foundation of high completion percentage and minimizing risk of negative plays in the passing game.

Notably, in true West Coast tradition, with the Reid/Nagy offenses forcing defenses to spread horizontally the Chiefs rushed for a half-yard more than the Bears on first downs.

More notably perhaps, the Chiefs exploited those higher-percentage positive first-down plays, which meant shorter yardage needs on second downs, with more passing, not less. And when the Chiefs did run, they were just as successful per carry.

 

2017 second downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

48/52        40.8/59.2 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.0             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

62.6          72.7

 

West Coast systems typically operate with more drag routes, quick slants and square-in’s, requiring receivers to run precise routes and have the ability to create separation quickly as Trubisky sets up quickly and looks to throw on time.

The “on time” component is critical, because it the timing of breaks and routes are connected to footwork – Trubisky’s – in that the ball is expected to be coming out when he hits the third or fifth step of his drop. The quarterback is not going to sit waiting for a receiver to come open, as in some other programs.

“It's a wide open attack and it's a great offense because there are so many options within it,” Trubisky said. “We know our job and it all comes down to execution for us. There are so many options I can't even begin to say where it starts but Coach Nagy has brought in a great plan.

“I think the system fits the players we have. In particular I feel like it really fits my skill set with the RPO's, the quick game, stretching the ball down the field and then with the running backs we have just pounding it inside and continuously trying to establish the run game each and every game. I just feel like we've got a lot of options, can be really dynamic and on top of that how we understand it and how the coaches have taught it to us since day one is just going to allow us to play faster and execute the plays at a higher rate.”

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

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USA Today

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

The Chicago Bears haven't enjoyed many wins over the last several years, but that hasn't done anything to hurt the franchise's bottom line.

According to a recent report by Forbes, the Bears rank 17th among the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world for 2018. The franchise is valued at $2.85 billion.

17. Chicago Bears

Value: $2.85 billion

1-year change: 6%

Operating income: $114 million

Owner: McCaskey family

Chicago is seventh among NFL teams in the top-17, with Dallas, New England, New York (Giants), Washingon, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Rams) all having higher valuations.

It's no surprise the Bears are this valuable, even without a winning product. They play in one of the greatest sports cities on the planet. And just imagine what will happen to the club's price tag if Mitch Trubisky and the new-look roster actually start winning games.