View from the Moon: Bears loss to Denver a bad early statement

View from the Moon: Bears loss to Denver a bad early statement

Definitive conclusions – positive or negative – are never usually possible out of first preseason games. Or seconds. Sometimes even thirds. After all, the last two times the Bears went to the playoffs – 2006 to the Super Bowl, 2010 to the NFC Championship game – they lost their first preseason games by double digits.

But these games tell coaches about their teams collectively and players individually. And Thursday’s 22-0 loss to the Denver Broncos was a jolt for the Bears, who didn’t see themselves as road kill, even for a reigning Super Bowl champion, particularly one that they were within a failed two-point conversion of taking to overtime last November.

“Obviously I was disappointed and our team was disappointed,” said coach John Fox. “We were expecting more. I don’t know that we executed as well as any of us expected. It is preseason, you don’t game plan, it’s pretty basic, but there’s plenty room for improvement.”

There’s always room for improvement, but after adding some veterans at key spots, even with the losses of Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and coordinator Adam Gase, the expectations were – and should have been – far beyond this performance.

The fight that was present in too many practices this training camp was conspicuously absent from Soldier Field Thursday night. Since teams seldom game-plan or do any opponent-based scheming for first preseason games, one conclusion is that the Denver Broncos even with pedestrian quarterbacking are vastly superior to the Bears in straight-up football, no tricks.

The need now is for the jolt to sink in, and fast, with a booster shot next week against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

“Obviously as a competitor you don’t want to look up and see a 22-0 score in the fourth [quarter],” said guard Kyle Long. “I know this group of guys. We’ve been in some fights with this group beyond the field. I know what they’re made of.

“We’ve got to be better. We understand that and we know what it’s going to take.”

Perhaps. At least many of the players – linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie – come from successful programs.

But knowing what it’s going to take and doing what it takes are not the same thing. And fighting on the practice field says nothing about a football team or football character…

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The woeful performance of the offensive line – seven sacks, two of Jay Cutler on the Bears’ first two third-downs, suggests that all the pieces may not be in place for a group with multiple changes coming into training camp and then losing center Hroniss Grasu to a knee injury.

“We didn’t execute as well as we need to, or as well as we should have,” Fox said. “Part of it’s recognition, getting it communicated, and we didn’t do that as well as we should have.”

The Bears are not a staff that panics. But the Bears went all the way through preseason trying to find a right tackle from between Charles Leno Jr. and Jordan Mills and were forced to jam Long into that spot at the start of the week leading to the Green Bay game.

Whether Larsen solves the post-Grasu problem remains to play out. And GM Ryan Pace has signed veterans as backups, albeit ones with health concerns (guard Amini Silatolu, knees; tackle Mike Adams, back).

Rookie Cody Whitehair started at left guard, then moved to center in place of Larsen. The rookie, who spent virtually zero time at center during training camp, proceeded to suffer through a sequence of holding and hands-to-the-face penalties, a sack allowed followed by a snap nearly over the head of quarterback Brian Hoyer.

But Whitehair spent more snaps at center than he did at guard. How coaches grade the film and how both practice and play at New England project to settle a situation that looked very unsettled on Thursday night.

“Really you use these preseason games for young people, particularly rookies. He played guard and center, and that’s a lot to ask for a rookie learning a new offense. But those were learning experiences and good lessons”…

…Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery played, which puts him ahead of last year’s pace at this time. He caught one pass, on the Bears’ first play.

But Jeffery’s production is a distant second to his availability as far as a pivotal factor for the Bears offense. Now questions about him move to New England and the Bears’ joint practices, followed by a game next Thursday, with the Patriots.

And the Bears are still without injury prone Zach Miller at tight end and Eddie Royal at wide receiver, both with concussions, and even No. 2 tight end Greg Scruggs. But seeing Kevin White take the field for the first time was a franchise boost, even with White catching only one pass, a flanker screen in a trips-left formation, for three yards.

“I thought it was real critical,” Fox said. “Both he and Kevin White – Kevin missed all of last season and this was his first football in the NFL in game conditions – having them both out there is good. We still have guys who have to get out there – Eddie Royal and Zach [Miller] so we’re still short some guys that hopefully we’ll get back this week.”

Bears-Vikings is most tightly contested game of Week 11


Bears-Vikings is most tightly contested game of Week 11

With so much parity in the NFL, every week on the schedule has close matchups. This weekend, though, the Bears and the Minnesota Vikings are expected to play the closest.

NFL experts trying to predict Sunday night’s matchup are torn on who they think is going to win, but Chicago has the slight advantage according to NFL Pick Watch.

55 percent of experts are picking the Bears to extend their NFC North lead, the closest margin of predictions for any game this week.

Even Monday night’s contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams has a larger majority supporting Jared Goff and company at 60 percent.

The analytics are also in agreement in support of Matt Nagy in prime time. Microsoft Cortana, FiveThirtyEight, Number Fire and Pro Football Focus analytics are all among the majority picking the Bears.

Our own J.J. Stankevitz predicts they could have statement game to establish themselves as a legitimate contender this season.

Chicago is favored by a slight margin on Las Vegas sportsbooks, but in the battle for first place in the division, anything can happen.

Bears add another weapon to offense, activate Adam Shaheen off injured reserve

USA Today Sports Images

Bears add another weapon to offense, activate Adam Shaheen off injured reserve

There’s a wrinkle to the Bears’ offense nobody’s quite seen yet in 2018. With Adam Shaheen being activated off injured reserve on Saturday, we might get a look at what it could be starting Sunday. 

To make room for Shaheen on the 53-man roster, the Bears placed tight end Dion Sims on injured reserve. Sims didn't practice the last two weeks after suffering a concussion Nov. 4 against the Buffalo Bills, and has had recurring concussion issues in the past.

Shaheen, who suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game Aug. 18 against the Denver Broncos, began practicing with the Bears last week. 

The aspect to Matt Nagy’s offense we haven’t seen, then, is a “Y” (in-line) tight end being a legitimate receiving threat. While opposing teams have film on Shaheen from his rookie year of 2017, they don’t have film on how Nagy could use him. 

“I haven’t even though about it,” Shaheen said. “For me, I just want to get out there and play. And so, thinking about that, if they don’t see me coming and it gives me better looks, then so be it.”

While Shaheen’s usage could be limited in his first regular season game since Dec. 10, 2017, his go-up-and-get-it ability in the red zone could instantly be a factor against the Minnesota Vikings. Shaheen led the Bears with three touchdowns in 2017 despite only catching 12 passes. 

From a schematic standpoint, how Nagy works Shaheen into the offense will be interesting to observe. The Bears are one of five teams to average seven or more yards per play while having three receivers on the field:

The Bears’ two most-used formations (totaling 90 plays) has had Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel as the three receivers, with Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen the running back and Trey Burton the tight end. Their third most-used formation (31 plays) did feature two tight ends in Burton and Dion Sims, though the majority of those plays (18) were rushing plays. 

Sims, though, wasn't a receiving threat, while Shaheen is. 

“It just puts another playmaker on the field, as somebody else they have to account for,” Burton said. “We just have so many guys that can do so many different things, so it makes it really tough to guard. And so I like it because we have two tight ends in there at a time. Hopefully we can get rolling with that whenever he comes back.”

“Whenever” will be Sunday. And the larger point here may be that the Bears were able to add a playmaker into their offense instead of losing one to attrition in November. 

“He’s just a mismatch problem across the board for linebackers and safeties, and when you get a corner on him as well, his size is just too much to handle,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “Getting him back will just open things up even more for this offense, and he’s another option for this offense to be even more dynamic."