Bears

While Bears held on to football, they just didn’t do enough with it

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While Bears held on to football, they just didn’t do enough with it

The Bears had exactly one turnover through four preseason games, a total of 220 plays. That was an interception of a Jimmy Clausen pass late in the second quarter of the win over the Indianapolis Colts. After averaging a turnover every 35 or so plays in 2014, reducing turnovers was the most stressed point by Bears new offensive coaches this entire offseason, and with issues on both offense and defense coming into the regular season, calling Jay Cutler a “game manager” looks to be high praise, and important.

It’s been only practice and preseason, and Cutler played just 80 total snaps through preseason. Meaning: Cutler played about 1.25 games (NFL teams averaged 64 plays in 2014), so it doesn’t qualify as a statistically significant sample size.  But if Cutler and quarterbacks and offensive players were turning the ball over repeatedly, it would be cause for concern. The fact that they’re not rates as some sort of improvement.

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The other shoe, however, is doing something with the football while you’re not giving it away, and that hasn't dropped for the 2015 Bears. The No. 1 offense didn’t score a touchdown on any of those 80 Cutler snaps.

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The points in the Bears’ 24-0 win over the Cleveland Browns in preseason game four weren’t scored by the No. 1 offense on Thursday, and the shutout wasn’t posted by the No. 1 defense. But coach John Fox in fact made winning in preseason a step in the process of changing the culture of negativity that descended over the Bears through the two years of coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery.

The result was a 3-1 preseason record, the first time since 2012 that the Bears have won three practice games. They didn’t make the playoffs that year, or the two previous times (2009, 2007) but you when rebuilding a culture as well as refitting all three phases of the game, no step is really insignificant.

“I think with a new staff, it’s probably a little more critical because you are teaching new schemes,” Fox said. “So you do try to take advantage of everything, because they are learning something new. They’re going to be competing against guys who have been doing it for a minute in their respective schemes.

[MORE: Impact plays forcing Bears to make difficult decisions with roster cuts]

“This game is only fun when you win. When you’re competitive, you compete with everything, including preseason.”

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Easily overlooked late in a meaningless game was a play made by “Swamp Monster” Terry Williams, the 6-foot, 322-pound undrafted rookie nose tackle (and is that a perfect name for a nose tackle or what?).

Williams started and played the entire game against the Browns and had enough left in his fuel cell to record a tackle-for-loss late in the fourth quarter. Conditioning issues can undo players but Williams, obviously playing for a job somewhere in the NFL, was still bringing it late in a statement that helped his roster chances somewhere.

[ALSO: Willie Young's comeback from Achilles injury continues]

And that could be unfortunately very relevant for the Bears. Eddie Goldman is returning from a concussion (and that return isn’t official or assured until he lines up against the Green Bay Packers). Jeremiah Ratliff is out for three games with a suspension and has missed 54 percent of all games over the past three years with a variety of injuries.

The Bears slid Will Sutton in at the nose and Sutton continued a very solid preseason, playing his way from bubble to lock. But neither Sutton nor Ego Ferguson top 295 pounds, meaning the Bears could be in the market for a stout widebody, even as insurance.

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.