Bears

Moon: How the Bears will win 10 games in 2016

Moon: How the Bears will win 10 games in 2016

When the final pieces of the 2016 Bears schedule clicked into place (last-place opponents for a last-place NFC North team), and directions were becoming apparent based on personnel changes, this reporter posited a 10-6 forecast for a team that had the misfortune of being in the same division with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Now after a second full offseason, training camp and (this year, lurching) preseason under coach John Fox, that prediction is under intense scrutiny.

For many and good reasons.

One disclosure: This reporter considers predictions between 7-9 and 9-7 to be little better than going with the chalk in every race. My cat Bailey could make that prediction, and that’s even after I’d had to put the little guy down three weeks ago.

Just looking at the past five seasons, fractionally more than one-third of the NFL finishes between 7-9 and 9-7. Bold. Like picking the New England Patriots to win the AFC East.

And if your humble and faithful narrator was in fact sure that the Bears would finish in the great mosh pit of the NFL, he would so predict.

But he doesn’t. And here’s why:

Every year a small segment of the NFL population vastly under-achieves. In 2014 that group included the Bears after standing 8-6 late in 2013. Last year the Indianapolis Colts were prohibitive favorites to win the perennially weak AFC South and missed the playoffs at 8-8. That sort of thing.

And some go far, far beyond their typecasting. No one saw the Carolina Panthers going 15-1. (That’s not the same thing as “overachieving,” because there is no such thing as overachieving. But that’s for another discussion.)

The Bears will be one of those latter teams in 2016, because:

- Their schedule is nothing like last year’s, which started with Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle and which put them against five playoff teams in their first seven games. The Bears may represent a winnable game for every one of their opponents, but the reverse is equally true.

- Whether the Bears are “good” or “bad” is a meaningless discussion. The NFL grades on a curve — are you better than the Packers/Vikings/Cowboys/Eagles/etc. or not? — so the question is not necessarily “who are the Bears’ playmakers?” so much as, who are everybody else’s you face? The Bears had just four games decided by more than one score last season. The Bears were closer to 8-8 than to 4-12.

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- The Bears made major upgrades to their defense; major, including two starting linebackers and a defensive lineman, plus investing No. 1 and 3 draft picks on defense. Defense travels, and the Bears of John Fox already were good on the road (5-3 in 2015). Before this season is over, the Bears will contend with the Vikings for the NFC North’s No. 1 defense.

All of which brings us to this point: I expect the Bears to win nine games. But picking 9-7 is simply too boring. Therefore the 2016 Bears will be: 10-6.

As for the rest of the NFL divisions and playoffs:

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

NFC East: New York Giants

NFC South: Carolina Panthers

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals

Wild cards: Seattle Seahawks, Bears.

Conference champion: Cardinals

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC East: New England Patriots

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

Wild cards: Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals

Conference champion: Steelers

Super Bowl LI champion: Cardinals

Postcards from Camp: Bears Matt Nagy understands what coaching interns are going through

Postcards from Camp: Bears Matt Nagy understands what coaching interns are going through

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Dear Stacey –

Well, I wanted to be head coach of the Chicago Bears and here I am, in charge of my first training camp, worrying about everything from Mitch Trubisky’s RPO footwork to whether Kyle Long is going to fall off his bike sometime in the course of camp. Probably don’t need to worry about Kyle – he’s always so safe about everything, and it’s not like he’s had all kinds of surgeries or anyth-- ….oh, wait, nevermind…

Besides all of that, we’ve got six coaches here as part of the Bill Walsh diversity coaching fellowship. They’re seeing how we do things and helping us out, and this is special. Remember back in Philadelphia when Andy Reid brought me into this profession through that program? Now it’s 11 years later and here I am, and this really represents a little pay-it-forward for me – I can understand where these coaches are because that was me once upon a time. Somebody gave each one of us a break that helped us along the way so our staff is more than delighted to have these fellows here.

Everybody was really pleased that some of our top vets – Mitch Trubisky, Allen Robinson, Chase Daniel, others – came down to camp early when the rookies reported. The coaches didn’t order that, and it says something about what you hope is forming inside the locker room. The young guys see the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 1 wide receiver coming in early and it sets both a standard and an example. When your best players are your hardest workers, then you’ve really got some leadership.

The pads’ll be on tomorrow (Saturday) so we’ll start seeing hitting by the fronts on both sides of the football, which takes the speed of everything up a notch. I’m going to pay close attention to how everyone is performing but also to how they’re holding up physically – circumstances set up beautifully for us, with an extra minicamp because I’m a new coach, then an extra practice week to go with the extra game Aug. 2 for the Hall of Fame.

Hope you and the boys are getting all the Chicago arrangements in place. Now, if I can just find my sunblock before practice…

Your coach husband,

Matt

*                          *                          *

In search of an empty sick bay

After the obvious workload entailed in installing a new offensive system and coaching regime, Matt Nagy’s No. 1 concern is injury, which has plagued the Bears on an annual basis since the 2012 departure of Lovie Smith. So while Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt once made no secret of their approach using epically physical practices as a means of culling the roster, Nagy has laid out a balancing act between physical practices and knowing when to back off.

“The biggest thing that any coach in the NFL will tell you is that you want to come out healthy,” Nagy said. “That’s a big one. So you have to know where you’re at on that one. You have to have some luck involved in that. There’s some unfortunate injuries and there’s some that happen for certain reasons. Health is the biggest concern for us.”

Sadly, some position competitions and lineup decisions are inevitably dictated by injuries. A season-ending leg injury to Kevin White in 2016 opened a starting job for Cameron Meredith, who’d been the No. 5 wideout on the depth chart. Meredith’s own preseason season-ender made Deonte Thompson a starter. Safety Adrian Amos had fallen from two-year starter to backup by this time last year, and only started again because Quintin Demps suffered a fractured forearm in Week 3.

If there is a major health positive right now, it is that three pivotal starters – linebacker Leonard Floyd, guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Allen Robinson – all approach the start of practices fully cleared. Those represent two Pro Bowl players (Long, Robinson) and one the Bears expect to be (Floyd).

“One of the traits we look for in players is durability and availability,” said GM Ryan Pace. “Leonard is a very talented player with a lot of natural pass rush ability. But in order for him to reach that production, he needs to be on the field. I know he’s worked a lot on his body, he’s worked a lot on his techniques, so we just feel that if he can stay healthy, the production’s going to be there.”

*                          *                          *

Weather or not….

Matt Nagy’s first practice as Bears coach came under a cloud – literally – as the threat of rain and thunderstorms had the team waiting until the last minute to determine whether the session would be held on an outdoor field as planned or indoors at a gymnasium on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University.

*                          *                          *

The outlook for Roquan Smith when he signs….

Training camp has begun without the presence of No. 1 pick Roquan Smith as his agents and the Bears work out contract details. Few expect a protracted impasse and Smith’s development may be delayed but unlikely denied. Smith had been cycled in with the No. 1 defense, as were a number of the top newcomers to the ’18 Bears. That process is expected to resume whenever Smith’s deal is concluded.

Extended holdouts are never positive, for either side, but are not necessarily career-impacting. Quarterback Cade McNown missed the initial 11 days of his first (1999) training camp, eventually started, but whether because of shoulder injuries or talent shortcomings, or both, never played to his status as the 11th-overall pick. Cedric Benson’s rookie season (2005) was dramatically undermined by his 36-day holdout, but he had two more seasons after that and needed a move to Cincinnati where he averaged more than 1,000 yards over four Bengals seasons.

Defensive end Joey Bosa missed the first four weeks of the Chargers’ 2016 camp, then missed four weeks with a hamstring injury, but came off of that to be named defensive rookie of the month for October and finish with 10.5 sacks and defensive rookie of the year honors.

 

Training Camp Daily: Maintaining the balance between physicality and health

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USA TODAY

Training Camp Daily: Maintaining the balance between physicality and health

It is Day 1 of practice in Bourbonnais. Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin and producer Paul Aspan discuss how Matt Nagy's desire for a physical camp reconciles with the No. 1 goal of all training camps: stay healthy.

Plus, why there are only two real questions for the Bears in this camp - and they both involve QBs. And Akiem Hicks is one of the best Chicago free agent signings ever...but let's slow down with the Legion of Boom comparisons in the secondary.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: