Bears

Making a little sense of Bears ’15 season, culture change

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Making a little sense of Bears ’15 season, culture change

Of the Bears’ first 14 games in 2015, fully nine have been against playoff teams. The fact that the Bears were 2-7 in whose games says that they weren’t at that level, but it also says a couple of other things.

One is that they generally won’t be well served in strength-of-schedule tiebreakers in whatever draft order they find themselves after next Sunday’s wrap up at home against Detroit. This weekend concluded with six six-win teams. The fact that the Bears managed their six against from a schedule with so many games against playoff teams, unofficially at this point, suggests that the Bears are one of the stronger teams in that group; hence, higher draft slot.

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(For record-keeping purposes, the Bears had wins over Green Bay and Kansas City; and losses to Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Minnesota (twice), Seattle and Washington.)

More important is that while the 5-11 meltdown of 2014 left the locker room and collective psyche in shambles in only Marc Trestman’s second year, the Bears have rarely had total breakdowns.

“We feel it; those [players] feel it,” said coach John Fox. “We’re getting there.”

The Bears played a total of 37 games without core members of their projected No. 1 offense – Martellus Bennett (5), Jay Cutler (1), Matt Forte (3), Alshon Jeffery (6), Eddie Royal (6) and Kevin White (16) – and six different offensive lines in 15 games. So winning six games probably ought to be graded on a little bit of an expectations curve, even if the NFL doesn’t.

But nine wins hasn’t cracked a core group persona: “Playing free and playing with heart and intensity,” said rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman, “and at the same time, trust each other – I think that’s who we are, a group that has character. Of course we have some rough patches. But we can play with anybody.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

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But Fox’s prime directive taking over as head coach was to reform the culture and the level of football along with it. When defensive end Willie Young stood up Saturday night in the team dinner in St. Petersburg, it was an indicator that the culture reformation was coming from within, not just imposed by Fox. And that is when that culture starts to mean something.

“One of the things you try to create is a ‘player-culture,’” Fox said on Monday. “They’re the guys who play the game. Sure, coaches are part of it. We’ve got systems, schemes, but at the end of the day they have to execute.

“The term ‘TEAM’ – Together Everybody Accomplishes More – and doing it for your teammates and doing it for something bigger than yourself helps create chemistry, an edge, whatever word or label you want to put on it. It’s empowering guys to lead. In my experience with different teams, different championship teams, you had that. Whether it’s been here with the Bears or with teams you’ve experienced or I’ve experienced, it’s something you try to establish. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a minute. I think we’re developing that. We’re not a finished product yet by any means.”

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.