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Takeaways from Super Bowl 50: Templates there for Bears

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Takeaways from Super Bowl 50: Templates there for Bears

For anyone doubting that the Bears can win a Super Bowl with Jay Cutler as their quarterback, the Denver Broncos won one with a quarterback (Peyton Manning) taking five sacks, throwing an interception and zero touchdown passes, and a rating of 56.6 while directing an offense to exactly 194 total yards, the lowest output ever by a Super Bowl winner.

Even Rex Grossman managed to throw for a score and a 68.3 rating in the Bears’ losing Super Bowl.

But the mission statement for GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, not that this is anything other than precisely what they were following already, is to develop a defense that may not assure wins on its own (Grossman’s couldn’t), but one that ensures that the Bears are always in positions to have chances at wins.

[MORE: Broncos ride suffocating defense to Super Bowl victory over Panthers]

Eight teams have gone into Super Bowls with the No. 1 defense of their season. Seven of those won rings.

John Elway specifically alluded to the fact that the Broncos drafted defense with their past five No. 1 picks, beginning with Von Miller in Fox’s first year there (2011). It would be no great surprise if the Bears went exactly that route, in free agency and the draft, beginning in 2016 with multiple impact disruptors in the front seven.

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Cam Newton was crushed, myriad ways. He’ll be a long time answering questions about why he didn’t dive in after his fourth-quarter fumble, the strip-sack by Miller that turned into the true coup de grace when the Panthers had the football with four minutes to play and a chance to drive for a potential winning score.

[GALLERY: Broncos crowned Super Bowl 50 champions]

The postgame pouting was bothersome. This was Bill Laimbeer or Marshawn Lynch spitting in the face of the moment. It happens; Walter Payton hid in a broom closet after a WINNING Super Bowl because he was so down about his own performance. The real questions Newton needs to answer are from teammates, why a guy very comfortable with grabbing the flag and saying, “Follow me,” was so leadership-lite at the game’s most critical moments.

But best guess is that Newton, who has exactly the coach he needs in Ron Rivera, won’t behave that way the next time he’s in a Super Bowl postgame situation. Because he’ll be there again.

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Whichever team would have won, the Most Valuable Player was going to come from the defensive side. Miller was the clear choice for the Broncos. Had Carolina prevailed, had the Panthers not bumbled virtually every opportunity, Kony Ealy takes the award.

Ealy had three sacks, two tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble. For what it’s worth, Ealy was there in the second round of the 2014 draft.

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Anybody else love the way the Denver offensive linemen pushed entire piles forward, including on D.J. Anderson’s game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter? Anderson was stopped by linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, but center Matt Paradis and guard Louis Vasquez just caved in the Panthers with second effort after they’d already executed their initial blocks.

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Fox’s straightforward reasoning for preferring the 3-4 scheme to the 4-3 is the built-in disguise options that come with three down linemen and rush-capable linebackers flanking them, a virtual 5-2 (the defensive scheme the Bears ran before Bill George took his hand off the ground, stood up and created the middle linebacker position).

But the foundation, after the obvious universal of every defense needing at least three pass-rush threats, is in those three down linemen. The Bears landed one in the second round of the 2015 draft with nose tackle Eddie Goldman.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Watching Sunday’s game again, the defensive force that jumps out is what Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe and the Denver down-three brought against the Panthers. Jackson recovered a Newton fumble for a touchdown and Wolfe was a silent partner on one of Miller’s sacks with a beautifully choreographed outside loop that took away Newton’s escape route to the right.

Note here: Jackson was a Denver fifth-round draft choice (2012) and is now a free agent. Wolfe was a No. 2 in the same draft. Goldman was a No. 2. So was Ego Ferguson (remember him? The Bears missed him). Meaning: There is gold (and Goldman) beyond that No. 11 pick that the Bears have right now.

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The head-scratcher of Super Bowl 50 was the Broncos winning while converting exactly one of 14 third downs. And that one came on Denver’s first third down on the game’s first possession. And the Broncos won?

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The smackdown of Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 falls way, way, way short of true embarrassment. Elway knows that feeling. His Denver teams scored just 10 points in Super Bowl losses to Washington (1987) and San Francisco (1988), and the Broncos managed just eight in their loss to Seattle in the 2013 finisher.

Bears confirm OLB Leonard Floyd underwent surgery to repair fracture in right hand

Bears confirm OLB Leonard Floyd underwent surgery to repair fracture in right hand

Bears head coach Matt Nagy confirmed to reporters on Monday that OLB Leonard Floyd underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his right hand he sustained in the first quarter of Saturday's 24-23 preseason win over the Denver Broncos.

The good news is, the Bears are optimistic that Floyd will be available to play in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers. The bad news is, he'll likely have to play with a cast on until his injury fully heals.

"I don't think it's going to be healed, I think he's going to have to end up playing through it," Nagy said. "It might require something in regards to having a cast or a club-type deal. There's been evidence of guys that have had that and been productive, so that's what we're hoping." 

TE Adam Shaheen, who suffered a right ankle sprain on the first drive of the game, is still being evaluated and it's unclear whether or not he'll be ready by Week 1.

"We're not sure there yet," Nagy said. "We're hoping. We'll probably know more later today after the tests come back."

Bears position battles: Do the Bears have enough talent at outside linebacker?

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears position battles: Do the Bears have enough talent at outside linebacker?

The Bears didn’t immediately know the severity of Leonard Floyd’s hand injury following Saturday’s 24-23 preseason win over the Denver Broncos, but merely the fact that it happened brought to the fore a concerning question. 

What do the Bears do without their ostensibly No. 1 pass rusher?

Last week, we wrote that Floyd is the most important member of the Bears’ defense in 2018, but for that to be the case, he has to be able to stay on the field. And that hasn’t been part of his resume — Floyd missed four games his rookie year due to concussions and six games last year thanks to freak knee injury. Not only do the Bears need Floyd to be productive, they need him to be healthy, too. 

The best-case for the Bears is that Floyd’s hand injury won’t lead him to miss any time once the regular season starts Sept. 9. But in the event Floyd does have to miss time, there’s a wide-open competition to see who will start next to Sam Acho in Green Bay. And that’s where we’ll start our review of where some key position battles stand after the Bears’ third preseason game:

1. Outside linebacker: Isaiah Irving vs. Kylie Fitts vs. Aaron Lynch vs. Kasim Edebali vs. Elijah Norris

Irving didn’t do much on Saturday, and neither did Fitts, who didn’t record a pressure or a sack on 16 pass rushing snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Lynch didn’t play against the Broncos and hasn’t practiced since suffering a hamstring injury the first day of camp. The Bears took a one-year flier on Lynch back in March to see if reuniting him with Vic Fangio — his defensive coordinator his rookie year with the San Francisco 49ers — would nail a low-risk, high-reward type addition, but the injury issues that plagued him the last two years haven’t gone away. His Week 1 roster spot is hardly assured, and the Bears will have to see him at least practice, if not play, before they determine if he’s worth keeping on cut-down day. 

But that being said, this group of outside linebackers looks underwhelming. Irving has flashed at times, and so has Fitts, but neither has produced in the last two preseason games (Irving missed the Cincinnati game with an injury). 

Edebali could be a guy to watch in this battle, though. He had a sack on Saturday as well as a pressure and a tackle for a loss, and as recently as 2015 had five sacks with the New Orleans Saints. But the 29-year-old only played 102 defensive snaps last year with the Broncos and Lions and needed to try out to make the Bears back in May. Could he be a diamond in the rough? Sure. But counting on him, or Norris — an undrafted free agent — to be a significant part of this outside linebacker rotation could be dangerous. 

The Bears were already likely to be looking at acquiring another outside linebacker, either by trade or waiver claim, before Floyd’s injury. Depending on the severity of it, those efforts may have to be doubled. 

2. Center: Cody Whitehair vs. James Daniels

The Bears haven’t characterized this as a true competition yet, and until further notice remain committed to keeping Whitehair at center. A poor center-quarterback exchange that led to a safety on Saturday was the fault of Mitch Trubisky (“I just dropped it,” he said) and otherwise Whitehair’s snaps were not a problem. 

While the Bears may seem a little hard-headed regarding Whitehair sticking to center, this coaching staff is going to play the five best offensive linemen it has in Week 1. If Harry Hiestand believes his offensive line will be better off with Daniels at center and Whitehair at left guard, instead of Whitehair at center and Eric Kush/Earl Watford at left guard, then that’s how this thing will shake out. 

This coming week will be telling for the Bears’ Week 1 plans. If we see Daniels all of a sudden elevated to the first team offensive line, that’s probably the combination of five we’ll see rolled out in Green Bay. The Bears need to establish continuity up front, preferably by kickoff on Saturday. 

3. Defensive end: Jonathan Bullard vs. Roy Robertson-Harris vs. John Jenkins vs. Bilal Nichols vs. Nick Williams

With Akiem Hicks held out, all five of these players got some run with the first-team defense on Saturday. 

Robertson-Harris had another strong game, recording a sack on which he used his length and strength to stay with Broncos guard Ronald Leary and stretch his arm out to bring quarterback Case Keenum to the ground. He was credited with half a sack, too, and for what it’s worth he leads all defensive players with 3 1/2 preseason sacks and is second with six hurries. The impact he’s made this preseason has pushed him from being a rotational piece to, potentially, being a Week 1 starter. 

The Bears like Bullard’s steady play and his ability to play anywhere on the defensive line, and while Robertson-Harris could be in a position to start over him, he should play plenty this year. 

That leaves, likely, two open spots down the depth chart for the remaining three defensive linemen here (Jenkins, Nichols, Williams). Nichols has two sacks and three hurries, not that the fifth-round pick was ever really on a roster bubble, but that production has confirmed some of the things the Bears saw in him coming out of Delaware. Jenkins has played all over the place but would be a natural replacement for Eddie Goldman should something happen to the fourth-year nose tackle. That leaves Williams as, likely, the odd man out here if the Bears choose to keep six defensive linemen. 

4. Cornerback: Marcus Cooper vs. Doran Grant vs. Kevin Toliver II vs. Michael Joseph vs. John Franklin III

As things stand right now, four cornerbacks are locks for the Week 1 roster: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis. LeBlanc is probably on the roster, and had a solid game Saturday despite fielding two punts inside the five-yard line (Nagy wasn’t too worried with that after the game, saying LeBlanc was only returning punts because of lack of bodies to do so). 

So that leaves, realistically, one spot open for five guys. It was worth noting Grant and Toliver were the first two cornerbacks to come in off the bench, and both got some reps against the Broncos’ first-team offense. Rookie wideout Courtland Sutton burned both of them, with Sutton drawing a pass interference foul near the goal line on Grant and then beating Toliver on a quick strike up the seam for a touchdown. 

Toliver, though, led the Bears in snaps played and gave up one yard after the three catches he allowed. Cooper didn’t play, while Joseph did and recorded six tackles. 

This is a battle that’ll likely come down to the last preseason game, or be pre-empted by a waiver wire transaction on cut-down weekend. The edge right now may be to Toliver, depending on how Ed Donatell and Vic Fangio grade his performance on Saturday. 

5. Wide receiver: Marlon Brown vs. Javon Wims vs. Bennie Fowler vs. Tanner Gentry vs. DeMarcus Ayers

It’s worth noting that Brown received plenty of work with the first-team offense on Saturday, though his only catch (a 30-yarder) came with Chase Daniel in the game. The 6-foot-5, 214 pound Brown does have some special teams experience in his career and caught seven touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie in 2013, but hasn’t played in the NFL since 2015. 

Wims still may have the upper hand in this group just based on him being a draft pick, but more than likely this spot will come down to who 1) Has the biggest upside as a receiver and 2) Can successfully contribute on special teams. Production on Saturday between Wims, Fowler and Gentry was relatively equal, while Ayers missed the game due to an injury. Like the cornerback battle, this will go down to the last week of preseason, most likely.