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

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.