Bears

Meriweather progressing, will play vs. Atlanta

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Meriweather progressing, will play vs. Atlanta

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 9:42 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin Brandon Meriweather is expected to be inserted in spots at free safety Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons despite only being signed over the weekend.

Meriweather is receiving a crash course in the Bears scheme based on a go-now program and from Day 1, we were trying to get him game ready as soon as we possibly could, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Thursday. We have thrown a lot at him, but hes picked it up quickly. But when youre a pro, youve been around, you have some different terminology, but most of the coverages are similar. He knew a little bit about how we play ball, so well see. Hes right on pace.

Meriweather played his way to two Pro Bowls as a member of the New England Patriots and coaches have not been shy about throwing him into the defense and into plans to go against one of the NFLs elite offenses.

Hes a real smart guy, said coach Lovie Smith. I think he understands everything were doing. But now its just doing it; the repetition of doing it, the run fits and all those things Were trying to get him up to speed as fast as we can.

Meriweather may not be the only very new guy making an impact on just a few days practice. Fullback Tyler Clutts, signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad, played on all four Browns special teams and is expected to be on more than one as a new Bear.

Sick bay

Running back Marion Barber was out of practice again Thursday, all but guaranteeing he will be sidelined for the Atlanta game because of a calf injury suffered in the Tennessee game. Nose tackle Anthony Adams (calf), receiver Sam Hurd (ankle) and defensive end Corey Wootton (knee) practiced on a limited basis. Adams is expected to be ready Sunday but Wootton is a longer shot, coming back from knee surgery.

Bears skeptic

As you can probably deduce from previous postings, Im curious why there is such widespread low-balling of the Bears, not just locally but also nationally. This isnt a fan speaking; I have no personal rooting interest here, and my 10-6 or better prediction for the second straight year is simply my guess on what actually will happen, not what I somehow wish would happen (except that, as my wife knows, I seriously love being right).

But Jason LaCanfora over at NFL Network calls himself a Bears skeptic rather than a Bears hater and explains why. Not a lot of surprises, including the observation that the Bears are getting older at a number of spots on defense.

A curious thing, though, is why investing a No. 1 draft choice in a tackle (Gabe Carimi) isnt considered doing much to fortify the offensive line, which also has left tackle JMarcus Webb going into a second NFL season and Chris Williams doing the same at left guard. Unless they mysteriously backslide, those are upgrades-in-place.

If Frank Omiyale was a starter last season and is not good enough to this year, that means your offensive line is better (no slight of Omiyale here). If Chris Spencer, a starter in Seattle, is not good enough to start, the Bears line is better.

Jason does raise a good question regarding Meriweather, whom the Bears signed to a one-year contract worth more than 3.2 million. It would seem that they couldve traded a draft choice for him (New England was shopping Meriweather) and paid less, although Meriweather had reached some contract escalators, so the Bears wouldve been paying quite a bit more than the 1.6 million in Meriweathers rookie deal.

Plus, two other factors: The Bears do not treat late-round picks lightly. They have two seventh-rounders starting on their offensive line (Webb, Lance Louis) and a sixth-rounder (Chris Harris) starting at safety.

And thats what the market said they needed to pay for a two-time Pro Bowl safety.

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.

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be


How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: