Bears

Lovie: We will have more balance

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Lovie: We will have more balance

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 8:18 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin Lovie-speak

The Bears coach had some things to say on Bears Insider Monday night with play-by-play man Jeff Joniak on WBBM-AM 780. The matter of playcalling balance was among the first things brought up and it sounds like Mike Martzs passing fancy wont be allowed to continue for seven games the way it did in the 2010 season.

Its always concerning when you have that amount of rushes, Smith said. You need to have more and we will have more.

Smith looked at the Bears scoring a field goal just before halftime and another by Robbie Gould to bring the score to 16-13 before Jay Cutler was sacked and forced into a fumble that became a New Orleans touchdown five plays later. That turnover really hurt us, Smith said.

But while the offensive line has taken hits on and off the field, between injuries and criticism, Smith was clear that the problems are not all with the front five.

You definitely just cant blame the offensive line, Smith said, citing the receivers, quarterback, tight ends and backs. Its a combinationall of the above.

Receivers coach Darryl Drake joined Joniak and Smith and didnt have a lot to talk about. Not because of anything game-related, just because hes down two wideouts with the injuries to Earl Bennett (chest) and Roy Williams (groin).

I was really pleased with the way Dane came in and stepped up.

What Drake did have was an extended look at undrafted rookie free agent Dane Sanzenbacher, pressed into service after Bennett went down in the first quarter. For his first game with as many plays as he played, Drake said, I thought he did a good job. Sanzenbacher had a drop but managed to catch 3 of his 7 pass opportunities.

Keeping Cutler upright is not just the job of his blockers, as Drake highlighted. Receivers have evolving responsibilities as plays unfold and they can help with giving the quarterback the proper short-term options.

Just understanding whats going on, when pressures coming, when youre a hot receiver, just seeing those things and reacting fast, Drake said. Because theyre going to bring one more pass rusher than you can block, you have to handle that with receivers.

Devin Hester was unfairly credited with being thrown to nine times, and he caught only one. The numbers arent always what they appear.

There really werent nine times he was targeted, Drake said. Sometimes the quarterback is just throwing the ball away. That can sometimes be very misleading.

You might see that it says Devin Hester was targeted nine times and he only caught one, Drake said. Thats so far from the case.

The view from afar

Peter Kings Monday Morning Quarterback is always a worthwhile read, and hes got an interesting quick hit (pun intended) with respect to the Bears (http:tinyurl.com6bes6h9).

Peter still has the Bears in his Fine 15 (at No. 15) and right now he ranks the Packers (2), Lions (5) and Bears in his top 15 teams. One oddity, though, is the Bears being down at 15 and the Atlanta Falcons, whacked by the Bears, are up at No. 9 after beating Philadelphia after the Eagles lost Michael Vick to injury.

Bad timeing

Underscoring (and correcting by 2 seconds) a point made yesterday, one of the real casualties of the Mike Martz runpass program Sunday was the Bears defense. After the Bears controlled the ball for 5:29 on a TD drive in the first quarter, no Chicago possession lasted longer then two minutes 29 seconds for the rest of the game.

Only three of the final 11 possessions lasted even two minutes total. That is putting the defense back on the field too soon and too often when its Drew Brees on the other side.

Lovie Smith touched on special-teams shortcomings in the area of returns, with good reason. Besides the Bears getting just one meaningless takeaway, they started none of their 13 possessions in plus territory, the opponents side of the 50.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only a few at that level (Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

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.