Bears

Mullin, Florio talk Urlacher, Bears

791928.png

Mullin, Florio talk Urlacher, Bears

Its always a great chat with Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk.com and today was no exception. Few reporters have as strong a sense of the NFL overall, and Mike and I have successfully visited on the Bears in the past.

Among the issues Mike brought up and we covered on ProFootballTalk Live!:

Brian Urlachers status, injury and contract-wise

Urlacher is getting time off from full practice to do some rehab running on the knee injured during the final week of the season. A leg injury of any sort is a concern with a veteran player, especially one whose speed is key in his play and the defenses, but Urlacher and the Bears are being smart about this and he will be used judiciously throughout training camp. Id be surprised if he plays at all in game four, possibly even in game one of the preseason.

The Bears have taken care of Urlacher contractually with a couple of extensions. Best guess is that they will not send him into free agency when his deal is up after this season. Thats just bad PR with a pillar of the franchise.

And the Bears also have no succession plan in place, and that's perhaps another indicator of where they envision being with No. 54. Nick Roach can plan the Mike spot but thats a second-tier option. Nothing is done until its done, but an added year for Urlacher will make sense, as well as something for Lance Briggs as well.

The new Bears offense

Mike noted that some speculation is that the offense under Mike Tice will resemble the Minnesota offense when Tice was head coach there. He then added, Im not sure that would be a good thing.

Mike also wondered about the Bears becoming a more pass-oriented offense, which is a reasonable thought given the addition of receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and quarterback coach Jeremy Bates, who was with Marshall and Jay Cutler in Denver.

But as Ive noted before, and Marshall did as well, that Denver offense didnt win anything. The numbers were big; the key wins were not.

Lovie Smith is in a must-win year (another topic Mike raised) and he is not going to allow the offense to lose its compass as it did at the outset of both years under Mike Martz. The Bears now have the clear ability to be a big-game passing team but Smith wants sanity and balance. Tice brought that the past two years, and its unlikely the offense sets out to be an airshow.

But its a comfort for the Bears to know that they could be.

Biggest area of concern?

Based on this being the end of the offseason, with minicamp through Thursday, Mike wanted to know what was perhaps the one biggest area of concern. He and I have discussed in some depth the offensive-line situation, but I said that the tackle position on offense is not the one of most concern.

It would be the defensive tackle situation.

With Gabe Carimi, JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams, the Bears may not have incumbent Pro Bowlers. But all three tackles have started.

One defense, however, where Smiths scheme demands interior disruption from the three-technique, the Bears have only Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Matt Toeaina. Melton is in a contract year and flashed at times last year (seven sacks) and Paea started to show up later in the season.

But it is a perilously thin depth chart at a crucial spot, and Paea had knee problems last training camp. Best guess is that the Bears will be looking hard a cuts later in August for a fourth player, a veteran, to fortify what they have in front of Urlacher.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

9-5mitchtrubisky.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

Hub Arkush, Sam Panayotovich and Ben Pope join Kelly Crull on the panel.

0:00- Mitch Trubisky practices again and he got all of the first-team reps. So will his return help the Bears upset the Saints on Sunday?

8:30- KC Johnson joins Kelly to discuss Luol Deng retiring a Bull, Wendell Carter, Jr.'s thumb injury and to preview the Bulls' preseason finale.

14:00- Ben has the latest on the Blackhawks including Jeremy Colliton's goaltender plans for the week. He also tells us if we should be worried about Jonathan Toews' slow start to the season.

21:00- Will Perdue joins the panel to talk about the importance of a good start this season for the Bulls. Plus, he has his

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

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe:

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per SharpFootballStats.com, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better.