Bears

Offensive concerns exist at season's end

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Offensive concerns exist at season's end

DETROIT The Bears had five possessions reach at least the Detroit 30-yard line in the first half alone and netted just one TD, that with help from a third-down pass interference call against the Lions. The 20-10 halftime margin should have been double.

No better measure of the 2012 woes of the Bears offense needs to be found than the first possession on Sunday when the first possession opened with a 55-yard pass from Jay Cutler to rookie Alshon Jeffery. Then, with the ball at the Detroit 27, the Bears netted just two yards on a first-down pass to Evan Rodriguez, nothing on a second-down run by Matt Forte, and less than nothing when Cutler ran around and eventually dropped the ball, leaving the Bears out of field-goal range.

Throw in a timeout needed to avoid a delay of game flag and a false start on tackle Jonathan Scott and you have the 2012 Chicago offense.

Add to that a fumble recovery at the Detroit 24 on a subsequent kickoff return in the quarter, and the offense getting just nine yards on a three-and-out to settle for a field goal. The result, plus a missed field goal, was the Chicago offense getting exactly three points from three early possessions inside the Detroit 25-yard line.

QUARTERBACK C

Jay Cutlers 55-yarder to Alshon Jeffery to open the game was a perfect throw; his handling of matters immediately after that was something of a mess. But his use of Earl Bennett on a swing pass was good for a 60-yard touchdown, although he too frequently was just treading water waiting for someone to get open and did not get the ball out of his hands quickly enough.

Cutlers decision-making with the game on the line was pivotal. With a third-and-4 he opted for a deep sideline throw toward Brandon Marshall that was incomplete.

Cutler was 4-of-5 in the first quarter; 4-of-10 in the second; 7-of-9 in the third; and 3-of-7 in the fourth. His passer rating of 95.8 was very respectable but misleading. His execution on third downs was poor with the Bears converting just four of 15 opportunities.

RUNNING BACKS A-

Matt Forte showed no ill effects from his ankle injury of last week, rushing for 43 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Forte finished with 103 rushing yards, just the third time this season he has run for 100-plus this season.

Forte also punched in a one-yard run for a second-quarter touchdown and picked up tough yards with 24 total carries in a game where the Detroit front needed to be made to pay attention to the run. Forte also caught both passes thrown to him for 21 total yards, giving him 26 touches for a net 124 yards.

Kahlil Bell provided some light relief with three carries for 12 total yards and was serviceable in pass protection with limited recent experience there.

RECEIVERS A-

Wide receivers turned in two of the Bears three longest plays for 2012 in less than half the first quarter. Alshon Jefferys 55 yards on the games first play should have resulted in points. (It did not.) Earl Bennett went 60 yards with a swing pass on the second possession, showing outstanding speed. Key to the TD: Brandon Marshalls block on two Detroit DBs.

Bennett finished with 109 yards and his long touchdown catch-and-run.

OFFENSIVE LINE B-

Jonathan Scotts false-start penalty on the first possession cost the Bears a scoring shot. Jay Cutler was sacked twice and hit five other times but the O-linemen did not feel their protection was good enough. However, the run game produced some results throughout the game even with too many small breakdowns that cost yards.

COACHING B

Play selection remains a question at times but the commitment to the run was consistent and survived some shaky execution in multiple areas.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.