Bears

Moon: Musings from around the league

Moon: Musings from around the league

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011Posted: 10:45 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Around the NFC North

The division is in danger of slipping irretrievably away from the Bears (1-2) after their loss to the Green Bay Packers and the continuing ascendancy of the Detroit Lions. Losing to both New Orleans and Green Bay has the Bears two games down in any tiebreaker in the NFC and the pressure is building for a winning streak, not just winning one game.

Detroit (3-0) goes to Dallas next and if the Lions have exceeded expectations, the Cowboys and Tony Romo are the dictionary definition of over-hyped. An early guess is that the Lions will be a head-shaking 4-0 when the Bears see them in Detroit on Monday night Oct. 10. The Lions started 6-2 in 2007 and proceeded to lose seven of their last eight. Their offensive coordinator then was Mike Martz. QB Matthew Stafford put up a passer rating of 108.8 despite taking 5 sacks.

Green Bay (3-0) was the class of the division coming into 2011 and has done nothing to lose that distinction. The Packers have won a division game on the road and are 3-0 in the NFC. If something jumps the tracks at some point (the Packers wont go 16-0), they are building up an edge with head-to-heads over two potential playoff contenders in the Saints and Bears. Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL with a passer rating of 120.9.

With all of the passing firepower the Packers possess, Green Bay has handed the ball to both Ryan Grant and James Starks 32 times, tied for 28th in the NFL. Matt Forte is down at No. 26 with just 35 total carries in three games.Cam Newton has 25 carries, Michael Vick 24.

The Bears are not the only division team with bizarre decisions in the run game. Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier gave the ball to Toby Gerhart for a fourth-down, fourth-quarter run against the Lions instead of Adrian Peterson, and despite the Vikings taking a 20-0 lead into halftime, Peterson got exactly five carries in the second half. If Christian Ponder is not the Vikings starting quarterback by the time the Bears get Minnesota in Soldier Field on Oct. 16, something is wrong. Ponder was the No. 12 pick of the draft and Cam Newton is putting the lie to the notion that quarterbacks are useless in their rookie years.

Fun look

Longtime bud Peter King over at Sports Illustrated, as always, has a Monday Morning Quarterback thats worth a look. Peter takes a peek at Henry Melton, a former running back at Texas who switched to the defensive line and has 3 sacks this season, his first as a starter. The numbers are a little misleading from a distance because Melton was invisible in the New Orleans loss and was ineffective too often at gap control vs. the Green Bay running game.

Peter mentions a Tweet by Tom Crabtree as the Packers tight end was leaving on the team buses from Soldier Field after Sundays game. Via @TCrabtree83: Sad to see all these folks in Chicago missing every finger except the middle. I think theyre trying to wave to us.

Around the schedule

Something to keep in mind is that no team in the NFL played a tougher first three games than the Bears three playoff teams in Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay. The reality is that anything less than an excellent early burst was going to be trouble and not a lot of analysts had the Bears a lot better than the 1-2 they are after playing three teams with a combined 34-14 record.

Michael Vick is taking more of a beating in Philadelphia than Jay Cutler is in Chicago, and he had something to say about officiating that has allowed him to be a target of hits that would draw roughing flags if they were against a lot of other NFL quarterbacks. Dream Team because of a bunch of free-agent signings? Ummmm.

The Panthers were less a concern when Cam Newton was throwing for 400-plus yards in his first two games than when he managed the weather and engineered a comeback win over Jacksonville. Newtons passing total was a modest 158 yards but highlight after highlight was of him fighting off pressure and getting the ball to his playmakers rather than over-relying on his athleticism to tuck it and run.

Kyle Orton is under pressure (still, always) after Denvers 1-2 start and now the Broncos have to go to Green Bay. Orton is just 4-12 as a starter since leaving the Bears and a surprise will be for the Bears to see him under center when they go to Denver Dec. 11. John Fox inherited a quarterback controversy between Orton and Tim Tebow when Fox took over as head coach and he has no investment in either.

The Bears have been anything but dominant against the run after seeing all three of their 2011 opponents rush for at least 100 yards against them. They can look ahead to seeing the NFLs No. 1 and No. 2 runners on the dance card in the persons of Oaklands Darren McFadden (131 yards per game, 6.4 yards per carry) and Philadelphias LeSean McCoy (115 yards per game, 6.1 yards per carry). Before those two, they have Adrian Peterson, No. 6 at 98.7 yards per game and 5.1 per carry.

Rooting interest
Members of the media arent supposed to be fans and I usually dont have a rooting interest in outcomes (I do have a favorite team but Ill keep that to myself). But there are individuals you like to see do well and Rex Grossman is one of those.

Rex endured more abuse in Chicago than just about any player I have ever covered, yet was unfailingly personable and accommodating even to some of the worst abusers. A decent person and one of those people you privately want to see do well, not because he was good to the media, but just because thats what should happen.

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.

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

The first two years of the Matt Nagy era can be boiled down to this: First, a tremendously fun year in which the Bears blew past expectations; and second, a tremendously un-fun year in which the Bears fell short of expectations.

So what will 2020 be closer to: The unbridled joy of 2018 (until the last kick of the wild card round), or the numbing disappointment of 2019 (despite still winning eight games)?

To answer that question, we should start by laying out some expectations for 2020. Broadly: The Bears should compete for a spot in an expanded seven-team playoff field. More narrowly: The Bears’ offense should be, at worst, league-average – about where it was in 2018. And the defense, led by a mauling pass rush, should be one of the best in the NFL even without Eddie Goldman.

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But how do the Bears get 2020 to feel more like 2018 than 2019? Here are three key factors:

The tight end question

Trey Burton did not miss a game in 2018’s regular season, and the Bears’ offense was better because of it. While Burton’s numbers weren’t eye-popping (54 catches, 569 yards, 6 TDs) his steadiness at the “U” tight end spot allowed the Bears’ offense to create mismatches, especially with Tarik Cohen.

Burton never was healthy last year, playing poorly in eight games before landing on injured reserve. The Bears didn’t have quality depth behind Burton, and the “Y” spot was a disaster. The lack of any good tight end play wasn’t the only reason why the Bears’ offense cratered in 2019, but it might’ve been the biggest reason.

The starting point to the Bears’ offense in 2020 is, certainly, figuring out who’s playing quarterback. But the Bears need Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris to be the fixes their tight end room sorely needs. Just average play from those guys will help the Bears’ offense be closer to what it was in 2018 (which, again, was merely good enough), if not better.

MORE: Where Cole Kmet stands as Bears get to know their rookies

And if the tight end room is a disaster again? It might not matter who starts at quarterback.

Good luck and/or good depth

The 2018 Bears were incredibly lucky in dodging significant injuries early on. Adam Shaheen began the year on IR but returned in November; Kyle Long went on IR after Week 8 and came back Week 17. Depth pieces like Sam Acho and Dion Sims were lost, sure, but the Bears did well to make their absences footnotes to the season.

Even when slot corner Bryce Callahan was injured in Week 14, veteran special teamer Sherrick McManis did incredibly well in his place. Eddie Jackson’s season-ending injury in Week 15 was the most costly, as the Bears missed him in that wild card game against Foles and the Eagles.

But overall, the Bears were both lucky in terms of staying healthy and good in terms of replacing those injured guys in 2018.

The Bears saw some depth shine in 2019 – specifically defensive lineman Nick Williams and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski – but even still, the defense struggled to dominate without Hicks on the field. And the aforementioned tight end position was a disaster without a healthy Burton. Long never was right, and the offensive line without him (or veteran backup Ted Larsen) never was either. Taylor Gabriel’s off-and-on availability due to multiple concussions hampered the offense, too.

2020 inevitably will be a year of attrition not only for the Bears, but for the entire NFL. In addition to avoiding football injuries before and during the season, teams will have to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities. Training and personal responsibility can go a long way in avoiding injuries and illness, but it’ll take a lot of luck, too, for teams to stay mostly healthy.

MORE: Fragility of 2020 season constantly on Bears players' minds

The teams with the best depth will have the best chance of making the playoffs. Will the Bears be among that group? Maybe. But a shortage of draft picks in recent years might be costly. We’ll see.

Betting on pressure

The Bears had one of the best defenses of the last decade in 2018 because of, first and foremost, outstanding coverage from its secondary. The ability of Fuller/Jackson/Callahan/Adrian Amos/Prince Amukamara to disguise their coverages confused most opposing offenses, who by the way also had to deal with Hicks pushing the pocket and Mack marauding off the edge. Hicks and Goldman opened up gaps for Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to snuff out any attempt at establishing the run. It was a perfect formula.

The 2019 Bears’ defense took a step back not only because Vic Fangio (and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell) left for Denver, but because of player attrition, too. Last year’s defense was good, but not great.

The formula for the 2020 Bears’ defense won’t be the same as it was in 2018, though. The signing of Robert Quinn, coupled with jettisoning Leonard Floyd, hints at a defense predicated on a dominant pass rush. Holes in the secondary were addressed on the cheap, be it with Jaylon Johnson or Tashaun Gipson.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A trio of Mack/Hicks/Quinn seems impossible to contain. If the Bears’ defense re-emerges as one of the best in the NFL, it’ll be because those three guys lead the way in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  

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Mitch Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky's tenure in Chicago since being the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft hasn't been great. It hasn't been terrible, either. It's been a blend of good and bad which has led to an incomplete picture of who he is as a quarterback entering his fourth year in the league. It's the main reason why the Bears traded for Nick Foles; Trubisky can't be trusted (yet) to be the unquestioned starter for a team that on paper has playoff potential.

The fact that Trubisky can't be trusted contributes to the narrative that he's the team's biggest liability. Even if he wins the Bears' quarterback competition, will he really have the unconditional confidence of his coaches and teammates? Will Bears fans have the kind of faith in Trubisky that fans of other contenders have in their quarterbacks? Probably not. There's no reason why they should. Trubisky hasn't been consistent enough through nearly three seasons as a starter to deserve that level of trust.

According to a recent breakdown of every team's biggest liability, it was Trubisky, of course, who took the title for the Bears.

If new Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles can beat out Mitchell Trubisky and play well in 2020, the Bears might be a playoff team. If he cannot, Chicago might be looking at a lost season.

While the Bears roster is very talented, Trubisky has been anything but a steady presence under center. He has struggled to push the ball down the field—he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt in 2019—and has limited what head coach Matt Nagy is able—or perhaps, willing—to do on offense.

Chicago ranked 29th in passing yardage last year and declined Trubisky's fifth-year option this offseason.

If the Bears are again one-dimensional, they're going to find it difficult to be relevant in the tough NFC North.

I ran a poll on Twitter that asked Bears fans who they prefer as the starting quarterback with just over one month to go before the season kicks off. The results were predictably close, but the nod went to Foles (56%). It feels safe to assume a big reason why fans hope Foles ends up QB1 is because of his proven track record in big moments. Even if he's a boring player with a limited regular-season ceiling, he has ice in his veins during the game's biggest moments. He's steady. He's consistent. He's pretty much the anti-Trubisky.

Is it fair to say Trubisky is a liability? Of course, it is. If he fails, the Bears will be set back for several seasons. Even if Foles salvages the team's short-term outlook, the long-term success of the franchise depends on Trubisky living up to his scouting report and becoming a franchise quarterback. And there just isn't enough evidence to prove he's capable of doing that.

If we don't know by now whether Trubisky can turn the corner and be a top-tier starting quarterback in the NFL, it's probably safe to say he can't. 

 

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