Chicago Bears

Bobby Massie named to Pro Football Focus' 2019 All-Clutch Team

Bobby Massie named to Pro Football Focus' 2019 All-Clutch Team

Bears right tackle Bobby Massie has proven to be an adequate starter for Chicago over the last four seasons. Sure, he's had some bad moments, but overall? He's been pretty reliable.

The analytics take it one step further than that, however. According to Pro Football Focus, Massie has been downright clutch. He was PFF's pick at right tackle for their 2019 All-Clutch Team.

"Massie missed several games last season with injury and put up a 63.2 grade in total, but he graded out better than any other qualifying right tackle in the fourth quarter and overtime of one-score games," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote. "Even then, his performance in pass protection was serviceable rather than stellar. Actually, it was the several nice blocks that moved defenders on double teams in the run game that boosted his overall grade to the top of the top right tackle position. Next year is a big opportunity for Massie to show that he can be an above-average starter on that Chicago offensive line, capable of marrying the improved pass protection he showed in 2018 with the run-game ability he has flashed at times throughout his career."

The Bears certainly need Massie to bring his A-game next season if they're going to have any chance of success in the passing game, especially if Nick Foles wins the starting job. Mitch Trubisky's escapability is a great deodorant for poor pass protection; it won't be the case with Foles who's more of a traditional (statuesque) pocket passer.

It's also critically important that Massie and the rest of the Bears offensive line does its job in the running game. It won't matter who the starting quarterback is if David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen can't generate enough respect on the ground to keep defenses honest.

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Bears defense ranked among NFL's best despite disappointing 2019 season

Bears defense ranked among NFL's best despite disappointing 2019 season

The strength of the Chicago Bears over the last few seasons has been their defense, led by Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson. And while the 2019 season wasn't as dominant of a performance by the defense that 2018 was, there are still high expectations for the group entering 2020.

In a recent ranking of all 32 teams' defenses entering this season, the Bears checked-in among the best once again:

7. Chicago Bears

With a change in management from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano, the Bears’ defense remained consistently above-average even with a down year from Khalil Mack, and an offense led by Mitchell Trubisky that seemed destined to put that defensive in difficult situations more often than not. Then again, given the Bears’ history of quarterbacks, it’s something the franchise is used to. One thing that will help in 2020 and beyond is the fact that Chicago absolutely stole Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the 50th overall pick in the second round — Johnson carried first-round talent with him throughout his collegiate career. If Mack is able to once again become the dominant force he has been, there’s enough dangerous talent on this defensive roster — defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, linebacker Roquan Smith, and safety Eddie Jackson primary among them — to make this defense a top-five unit and almost make up for the quarterback shenanigans.

There's one glaring omission from this analysis, and he's the player who could elevate Chicago's defense from really good to downright nasty: Robert Quinn.

The Bears signed Quinn to a five-year, $70 million contract in free agency with the hope that he'll provide Mack with the kind of pass-rushing sidekick that he so desperately needs. Former first-round pick and current Los Angeles Ram, Leonard Floyd, never became that guy and it really cost Chicago. Now, with Quinn in the fold, the Bears' pass rush should be almost unstoppable.

This ranking feels fair considering everything that went wrong for the Bears in 2019. It also has the potential to be way too low with the abundance of high-end talent Chicago has on defense. It's reasonable to think this unit can be a top-3 squad by season's end, and if they are, the Bears will be back in the playoffs.

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Illinois football coach Lovie Smith's fantastic beard has disappeared

Illinois football coach Lovie Smith's fantastic beard has disappeared

Look at this tremendous man: 

Such grace, such elegance. We could all learn something from that beard. But times are different; Illinois football's days as being the laughing stock of the B1G are over. They played in the 2019 RedBox Bowl, you'll remember. Did they win? Up for debate, but they were there. It counted. 

The winds of change are blowing through Champaign, and Lovie Smith knows this. It explains this picture, tweeted from the Illinois Football account on Wednesday night: 

It's a new (old?) normal, and one we'll all have to get used to. But Illinois football is BACK.