Rashaad Coward

Bears at the Bye: Kyle Long headlines a brutal start for Chicago's O-line

Bears at the Bye: Kyle Long headlines a brutal start for Chicago's O-line

It's easy to cast blame on the quarterback, running back, wide receivers and tight end when an offense is struggling, as is the case with the Chicago Bears in 2019. In an era dominated by fantasy football and box-score scouting, production (or lack of it) tends to sculpt team and player narratives.

There's no denying Mitch Trubisky and the rest of the Bears' skill players have to improve over the final 11 games of the regular season. They've certainly played their part in what's been one of the worst offenses in the NFL through five weeks (30th overall), but their struggles will continue if there isn't a marked turnaround by the offensive line. It's been, by far, the most frustrating collection of five players on the roster this year and is the one position group where a change in the starting lineup could be on its way.

Right guard Kyle Long is playing the worst football of his seven-year career. There's no way around it. He's Chicago's lowest-graded player on offense (37.5), and out of 200 offensive linemen evaluated by Pro Football Focus in 2019, Long ranks 192nd. 

Injuries have become commonplace for Long over the last several seasons. He hasn't started more than nine games in any season since 2016 and he's already missed one game this year (hip). His poor play has been attributed to his hip injury by some analysts, but it might be time to simply recognize that Long isn't the same player he was when he entered the NFL in 2013. He's a great leader and one of the most recognizable faces on this team, but his performance has regressed to a reserve's level.

Long isn't alone with his struggles along the offensive line. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. is off to a rough start in 2019; he leads the Bears with 15 pressures allowed, a total that's 19th-most among all offensive linemen this year. His 44.0 run-blocking grade from PFF is by far the lowest of his career and is contributing to Chicago's strains to establish a running game. Leno's made a living as an underrated left tackle who's outplayed his seventh-round draft status, but now that GM Ryan Pace has made a long-term commitment to him as the left tackle of this franchise — he signed a four-year, $37 million contract extension in 2017 — he's being held to a higher standard. 

Left guard Cody Whitehair and center James Daniels swapped positions this offseason with the hope that Daniels would emerge as a young building block in the middle of Chicago's offensive line. The 22-year-old hasn't been great, but he hasn't disappointed either. His 74.6 pass-blocking grade is the best among Bears starters this year and his 54.2 run-blocking score ranks second on the team, which is probably more of an indication of how poorly Chicago is doing in that department. Daniels isn't a finished product yet but he's off to a strong Year 1 as this team's pivot man.

Whitehair has been solid as well. He's been the only halfway competent run blocker through five games and at this point in his career has settled into his role as a reliable starting guard who Chicago can count on to play mistake-free football. He's been penalized only one time in 320 snaps this season, compared to Leno who's been flagged eight times.

Right tackle Bobby Massie, whose four-year, $30.8 million extension signed in the offseason is a bargain in today's market, is playing like a sound starter for the second year in a row. He's allowed just eight pressures in 2019, but (here we go again) needs to get better in in the run game. He missed one game because of vertigo.

So, where could that change in the offensive line come? Rashaad Coward, who's lodged 30 snaps this year and was the Bears' second-most effective lineman in the limited sample size, is a candidate to bump Long from the starting lineup. Maybe it won't happen in Week 7, but if Long's struggles continue after healing up during the bye, coach Matt Nagy will have little choice but to make the swap.

Coward, 24, fits the replacement mold. He's a young player with upside who's gotten better over time. Remember, he was a defensive lineman just two seasons ago.

The Bears will only go as far as their offensive line takes them in 2019. If this group fails, Trubisky and the rest of the offense will fail along with it. Hopefully, it will only get better from here.

Bears OL grade at the bye: F

Bears grades: Win over Vikings provides blueprint for success

Bears grades: Win over Vikings provides blueprint for success

QUARTERBACKS: C+

All the Bears needed Sunday was an average game from their quarterback to support an outstanding defensive effort. Chase Daniel provided that and a little more in place of an injured Mitch Trubisky. 

Daniel completed 22 of 30 throws for 195 yards with a touchdown, but crucially didn’t turn the ball over. He engineered four drives that lasted at least four minutes and 30 seconds, and hit a couple downfield shots, too, to Allen Robinson and Javon Wims. More than anything, Daniel’s comfort operating the Bears’ offense stood out, and is why the Bears felt like they didn’t miss a beat when he came into the game. 

The Bears can probably win a couple more games with Daniel playing like he did Sunday. Long-term, the Bears’ best option remains a healthy Mitch Trubisky, but what Daniel did against the Vikings — and what the team expects him to do against the Oakland Raiders in London — is why he’s a highly-paid, trusted backup. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

David Montgomery gritted out 53 yards on 21 carries — not exactly a great day production-wise, but he didn’t seem to get a ton of help from his offensive line. Where Montgomery excelled Sunday was in pass protection — he picked up blitzes well and was instrumental in keeping the pocket clean for Daniel to work through his progressions. 

Tarik Cohen didn’t do much on the ground but did turn a well-executed option route into a 10-yard touchdown. The Bears only had two running backs active on Sunday with Mike Davis not dressing and Kerrith Whyte Jr. dropped from the 53-man roster to the practice squad. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: B+

Robinson caught all seven of his targets for 77 yards and played an important role in getting the Bears’ offense into rhythm after Daniel subbed in for Trubisky. His reliable ability to set up his routes showed up in a big way against a good Vikings secondary, especially on his 25-yard snag that set up Cohen’s touchdown. 

Wims had his best game as a pro, catching four of his five targets for 56 yards, including an excellent downfield route and catch for 37 yards. Starting in place of an injured Taylor Gabriel, Wims played the most snaps (68) of any Bears receiver (94 percent). 

Anthony Miller still struggled to get going, though, and was only targeted three times. 

TIGHT ENDS: C-

Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and J.P. Holtz combined for five catches and 36 yards, and the Bears’ run blocking wasn’t great. Burton is getting closer and closer to full strength, though he still hasn’t played more than two-thirds of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a game this year. In 2018, Burton never played fewer than 69 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a given game, and frequently was on the field for 75 percent or more of the team’s snaps. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

Credit this group for playing much better in pass protection on Sunday, with the pocket generally being kept clean for Daniel as the Bears built a 10-point lead at halftime. Rashaad Coward deserves praise for how effective he was filling in for an injured Ted Larsen at right guard (this after Larsen started in place of an injured Kyle Long). Coward said he hadn’t played guard since high school, and he almost exclusively worked at right tackle after being converted from defensive line a year and a half ago. Sunday was his first NFL action as an offensive lineman (he played one game as a defensive lineman in 2017 with the Bears). 

Still, this group needs to be better in the run game. Minnesota’s front seven is excellent, yes, but there weren’t always lanes for Montgomery and Cohen on Sunday. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A+

Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris were absolute monsters starting in place of Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols. The pair combined for 3 1/2 sacks and, along with Eddie Goldman and Abdullah Anderson, were instrumental in limiting Dalvin Cook to just 35 yards on 14 carries. 

This was the biggest test the Bears’ defensive line depth has faced in recent memory, and Jay Rodgers’ group absolutely aced it. Cook was averaging 6.6 yards per carry entering play and had just 2.5 yards per rushing attempt on Sunday. Rodgers deserves a ton of credit, too, for developing guys like Williams and Robertson-Harris into not just serviceable reserves/rotational guys, but highly productive players when needed. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Another game, another Khalil Mack strip-sack. This one came on the first play of the second half and gave the Bears three free points, but more importantly further scrambled Kirk Cousins’ decision-making and put a stamp on how dominant a performance this defense would have for the entire game. 

While Leonard Floyd didn’t show up on the stat sheet, his play on the edge against the run contributed to Cook’s miserable day. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Danny Trevathan played one of his best games with the Bears, taking advantage of the work put in by his defensive linemen to make a number of plays to stop Cook from getting going. And Nick Kwiatkoski absolutely played his best game in a Bears uniform, stuffing the stat sheet with a team-high nine tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. His bull rush of Cook, on which he pushed the Vikings’ running back into Cousins for a sack recorded by Williams, was a perfect representation of how well the Bears’ defense played all afternoon. 

Kevin Pierre-Louis deserves praise, too, for how well he played in a pinch on passing downs in place of Kwiatkoski. 

CORNERBACKS: A

Prince Amukamara’s forced fumble in the first quarter bailed out some sloppy, penalty-filled play from the rest of the defense and made sure the Vikings didn’t score on their first trip into Bears territory. While Stefon Diggs went over 100 yards, most of it came late in the game when the Bears’ defense backed off, and holding Adam Thielen to just six yards on two catches was a masterclass by this group. Kyle Fuller also had an impressive pass break-up in the third quarter. 

SAFETIES: A-

Eddie Jackson’s unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter gave Minnesota’s offense some life on a drive that ended with Amukamara’s forced fumble. Otherwise, he and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played well, with Clinton-Dix recovering Amukamara’s fumble — which was a heads-up play, given officials needed a clear recovery by the Bears to overturn the call on the field and give possession to Chicago. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Eddy Pineiro continued gritting through the pinched nerve in his kicking leg to connect on all three of his field goal attempts. While the longest of those kicks was from 38 yards, that Pineiro ability to fight through pain and keep making kicks is impressive. 

Sherrick McManis’ return to Chris Tabor’s kick/punt coverage units was noticeable after the veteran was inactive for the Bears’ last two games. They need more of him, and perhaps less of rookie Duke Shelley, who was called for his third special teams penalty of the season on Sunday. Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice tackle in punt coverage, too. 

COACHING: A

Yes, the Bears committed far too many penalties (seven for 50 yards) — again — but that sloppiness shouldn’t take away from the top-down coaching this team put in leading up to and on Sunday. 

The first name here that stood out is defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, who did a phenomenal job getting Williams, Anderson and Harris prepared for taking on larger roles with Hicks and Nichols out.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano called a masterful game, with the Bears’ pass rush working in concert with its secondary to the point where Amukamara remarked plenty of plays felt over before Minnesota’s receivers were able to get into their routes.  

And Nagy deserves credit for not only the offensive gameplan, which Daniel executed well, but for the overall tone he set in the face of being without five — then six, then seven — starters during Sunday’s game.

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Still uncertain about Burton—Bears updated injury report for Week 2

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USA Today

Still uncertain about Burton—Bears updated injury report for Week 2

The Bears released their updated injury report for Sunday’s game against the Broncos in Denver. After their less-than-stellar home opener against Green Bay, Bears fans looking for a silver lining this Sunday aren’t going to be happy to see Trey Burton and Eddie Goldman might not be playing.

Burton missed the entirety of Week 1 with a groin injury. This past week he has been limited in practice, with Matt Nagy saying on Thursday that they will see where he’s at physically come the weekend. Mentally, however, Burton says the experience has been “a really humbling process.”

Other players with limited practice and questionable game status are defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, who suffered an oblique injury during a workout; Bilal Nicholas with a knee injury; and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. 

Offensive linemen Rashaad Coward has been fully participating in practice for the past two days after an elbow injury and seems likely to be able to play this weekend.  

Despite everything, the Bears are still a three-point road favorite to win in Week 2 after the Broncos lost to the Raiders 24-16 in Week 1. Here’s hoping the Bears offense can regroup this week and bring home the W.

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