Bears

Moon: Cleaning out the notebook the day after...

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Moon: Cleaning out the notebook the day after...

Monday, Nov. 29, 2010
10:14 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Any doubt about the absolute importance of the Bears running the ball often as much as well, hopefully in Mike Martzs mind, should be forever dispelled after what the offense did to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Matt Forte ran for 117 yards on 14 carries and now has a rushing average of 4.2, something that has been the case too seldom in his two-plus year career. But Sunday was his seventh 100-yard rushing game, it was the first 100-yard rushing game against Philadelphia this season, and the Bears are 7-0 in games when Forte runs into triple figures.

Dont for a moment dismiss the yardage total because 61 of the yards came on one run and 28 on another, meaning that Forte averaged 2.3 on the other 12 runs. Big runs come because they have enough chances to happen and Martz is giving his tailback enough chances.

And also dont dismiss entirely the lack of production from Chester Taylor, who had minus-3 yards on 6 carries. The 6 carries and pass protection were contributions and thats what the Bears need from their backs. The yards will come, either passing or running, if the offense shows it can and will do both.

Nice calls

Compliments to old buddy Jay Glazer, NFL maven for FOXSports.com, who told CSNChicago.com back in training camp that the Bears were his NFC darkhorse. Glaze also had the Miami Dolphins as a quiet one to watch in the AFC. The Dolphins problem is being stuck in an AFC East with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, but thats a team that is 5-1 on the road and managing to play with huge injury issues at quarterback.

Lets not be too hard on another good friend, Peter King, for still ranking the Green Bay Packers (No. 4) ahead of the Bears (No. 5) in his excellent Monday Morning Quarterback". Peter still has doubts about the Bears offensive line, which is reasonable. But Peter somehow doesnt seem to have significant questions about Green Bays ability to run the football and he still sees the Packers playing in the NFC Championship game.

Peters in-depth look at the goofy Josh McDaniels-videoGate situation in Denver, plus Ron Riveras great job in San Diego, are definitely worth looks.

Stat-ing

On the subject of handling the football

Martz called 16 pass plays in the first half vs. 7 handoffs to Forte and Taylor. Jay Cutler was sacked four times and ran twice. In the second half, with a run game established in the form of Fortes 61-yard excursion, Martz had Cutler throw 11 times vs. Forte, Taylor and Devin Hester (handoff from Wildcat QB Earl Bennett) running ball 14 times. Cutler wasnt sacked, although he did set off on runs five times, which ultimately takes a toll on defensive linemen forced to pursue and put that threat in the minds of opposing secondaries.

Of those 11 second-half passes, five went to other than wide receivers, who were the only targets in the first half. Tight ends were 2-for-2 with Greg Olsen scoring on his one catch and Brandon Manumaleuna creating a first-and-goal with his. Forte was targeted three times in the second half, meaning that Cutler threw six times to wideouts in the second half and five times elsewhere. Good distribution.

Cutler morph

Jay Cutler has been a passer throughout his career. What he has become over the past four games is a quarterback. Theres difference, a huge one.

As Ive stated previously, Cutler is in no way a game manager, which has wrongly been assigned a negative connotation by some. (No one calls Tom Brady or (usually) Peyton Manning a game manager but are there any better ones?) Kyle Orton wasis a game manager and the Bears went 10-5 behind him in 2005 so thats not a bad thing necessarily.

But Cutler becoming a quarterback is without question the most significant development of 2010, bigger even than the signing of Julius Peppers. Taking a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in Sundays fourth quarter for continuing a rant at an officials non-call was beneath stupid and beyond immature. But Cutler has grown up as a football player as this season has gone on. And if he can grow up as a football player, finally, the suspicion would also be that he can grow up as a person as well, which is what being a quarterback and a leader is all about.

Hell be back?

Could Brett Favre be swayed into coming back for one more year one more time? Theres suddenly a little buzz coming out of Minnesota with the elevation of class guy Leslie Frazier to head coach and all Favre ever seems to need is a little buzz from somewhere.

Frazier earned a Gatorade shower (the invention of the 1984 Bears, by the way, not the New York Giants) with the Vikings win over Washington. Next they have the Buffalo Bills coming, a probable win in the first of three straight home games. After that they host the New York Giants and finally the Bears on MNF.

The Minnesota answer doesnt lie in Tavaris Jackson. I dont see Frazier or any more teammates traveling to Mississippi to beg Favre back this time, but Favre leaving on a down note (which his 010 has been) somehow doesnt seem like the gimme it did a little while ago with Brad Childress there.

Ya never know, ya know?

Hell be back!

A little bit of your football heart has to go out to Buffalo Bills wideout Steve Johnson, who has been nothing short of an emerging star playing to the limit for a team with nothing to play for each week. Johnson had and dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown against none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday and was near tears standing up to the questions afterwards.

Ill never get over it, said Johnson, who burned the Bears for 11 catches and 145 yards up in Toronto. Ill never get it. Ever.

Just guessing, but Johnson will. And you want him to. Hes never stopped caring and thats a good thing.

Oooops

Still think the Bears should have gone after Randy Moss so they could finally have a true No. 1 receiver (whatever that is)? Call the Tennessee Titans; you can probably still get him. Moss line: three games, all losses, 4 receptions, zero TDs.

Sad story

Sympathies go out to those close to the young man who died in a fall at Soldier Field Sunday. Police were still investigating late Sundayearly Monday but regardless of circumstances, that puts a sad pall over the day.

Lez talk

Probably one or two things to e-talk about tonight on the Monday night chat, 7-8 p.m. on CSNChicago.com. Let me know what you think.

Will check in about 4:40 p.m.with Larry and Don and central Illinois on SportsRadio 1450 WFMB-AM in Springfield for our weekly Bears catch-up. Always fun with the guys and that area of BearsNation.

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.

Another day, another reason why Bears won the Khalil Mack trade

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USA TODAY

Another day, another reason why Bears won the Khalil Mack trade

Oh, now this is a doozy.

As if it wasn't obvious enough already, the Bears absolutely won the Khalil Mack trade over the Raiders. Not only did they acquire the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, but they did so when the rival Green Bay Packers were also interested. Based on a recent revelation from Packers president Mark Murphy, the extent to which the Bears won the trade is greater than we may have realized. 

In an interview with 105.7 The FAN, Murphy revealed a unique reason as to why the Raiders chose the Bears over the Packers.

"Well the whole Khalil Mack thing. It's not that we didn't try," Murphy said on Thursday. "We were aggressive. We wanted to sign him. I think, ironically, the Raiders took the Bears offer because they thought they would be a better draft pick."

As it turned out, the Packers had a higher first-round pick (No. 12 overall) than the Bears (No. 24) in 2019. This very well could change in 2020, but for the time being, let's get this straight.

Not only did the Bears acquire one of the best (if not the best) defensive players in football, but:

-Their trade package was highlighted by what should be two late first round picks (assuming the Bears remain a playoff team in 2019), and
-Acquiring Mack kept him out of Green Bay.

Talk about absolutely winning a deal. In the end, the Bears have a three-time All-Pro (2015-16, 2018) pash rusher entering his age 28 season. The Raiders and Packers surely cannot say the same thing.

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

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. 

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