Case Keenum

Five players the Bears should consider targeting at the NFL trade deadline

Five players the Bears should consider targeting at the NFL trade deadline

The 2019 NFL trade deadline (Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 3:00 p.m. CST) is quickly approaching, and that means general manager Ryan Pace has less than one week to determine if a trade is what this team needs to salvage a once-promising season.

The Bears have more than just one weakness; there isn't one simple solution or one position upgrade that'll fix the ever-growing mess. But there are a few veterans who could be had on the trade market who would represent an uptick in overall talent on this team. 

Here are five options for Pace to consider.

RB Melvin Gordon (Chargers)

Gordon had one of the most ridiculous training-camp-into-regular-season holdouts in recent contract-dispute history. It literally accomplished nothing for the talented well-rounded running back, who would bring a combination of experience and big-play ability to the Bears' backfield. What we do know, however, is that Gordon is looking for a big contract, one that Los Angeles isn't going to pay him. And if they aren't going to pay him, Pace might as well try to bring him to Chicago for at least the final 10 games of this season. The Bears' running game is arguably the worst in the NFL. Acquiring a player like Gordon, even if it's a one-year rental, can only help.

OT Trent Williams (Redskins)

The Bears' struggles along the offensive line haven't been because of any particular player; it's not like Chicago needs an upgrade at offensive tackle because Bobby Massie and Charles Leno, Jr. are playing poorly. They aren't. But Williams, who's vowed to never play for the Washington Redskins again, is one of the NFL's best all-around offensive linemen and would be a bonafide blue-chipper upfront. What would a Williams addition mean for Leno, Jr. and Massie? That's anyone's guess. But if a player of his caliber can be had at the trade deadline, Pace would be doing the Bears a disservice by not at least inquiring.

QB Case Keenum (Redskins)

Sadly, this is where we are with the Bears' quarterback situation. A player like Keenum, a veteran journeyman who's had as many lows as highs in his career, could actually be an upgrade for Chicago at the trade deadline. And it's not because he projects as a better longterm option than Trubisky. Rather, Keenum is the prototype quarterback who can inject life into an offense when it needs it most. The Bears wouldn't necessarily be giving up on Trubisky by acquiring a player like Keenum, but they would take a big step toward salvaging their playoff hopes.

TE OJ Howard (Buccaneers)

Howard is the most underused yet supremely talented players in the entire league. It's obvious he needs a change of scenery, and it's similarly obvious that the Bears need more than what Trey Burton is giving them at tight end. Howard is the perfect blend of power and athleticism to stay on the field in both running and passing situations and he can be a lethal weapon down the field for Trubisky (or whoever's under center). He's also a high-end run blocker. Win-win. The Buccaneers have said they aren't interested in trading Howard at this point, but where there's smoke? You know the rest.

OLB Vic Beasley (Falcons)

Beasley is essentially the Falcons' version of Leonard Floyd, with one exception. Beasley proved there's sack potential buried deep down inside him somewhere. He had 15.5 sacks in 2016. Compare that to Floyd, who has 17 sacks in nearly 3.5 seasons. The Falcons pass rush has been terrible in 2019, and Atlanta looks like they're ready to be sellers after dealing wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots for a second-round pick. Beasley, who has the kind of quick-twitch that would make for an interesting pairing with Khalil Mack, would likely require nothing more than a Day-3 selection to pry away. 

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Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Redskins

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Redskins

1. Don’t let it come down to a kick. Eddy Pineiro’s surprise inclusion on Saturday’s injury report, and official “questionable” status, does leave open the possibility the Bears don’t have a kicker on Monday night. Matt Nagy sounded optimistic about Pineiro’s injury being "minor" and having him available at FedEx Field, but the best thing the Bears can do is make sure they don’t desperately need their kicker to win (as they did last week).

Maybe Pineiro plays, maybe he doesn’t. But this is more of a general key: The Bears need roster talent advantage to take over on Monday night. Pineiro proved he can make the big kick last week, but if he’s at all banged up, it would be best to make sure he doesn’t need to make a kick to win at the end.

2. Hit intermediate throws and downfield shots. The Bears’ offensive line righted itself last week in Denver after a rough beginning of the season, and should provide ample time for Mitch Trubisky to push the ball downfield. Washington only has two sacks and 20 total pressures this year, and doesn’t have the talent in its secondary — even with big names like Josh Norman and Landon Collins — to make plays downfield. 

To wit: Carson Wentz completed six of eight intermediate throws (traveling 10-20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage) and threw two touchdowns on passes traveling 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. A week later, Dak Prescott completed all six of his intermediate throws and hucked a touchdown on a deep ball.

Prescott and Wentz have, of course, looked much better than Trubisky over the first two weeks of the season. But at the very least, the opportunities for Trubisky to push the ball downfield should be there. The 2017 No. 2 overall pick needs to take advantage of those openings when they present themselves.

Succeeding here will require a good run-pass balance, though, because while Washington hasn’t got much out of their pass rush it does feature four former first-round picks (Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen — provided Allen plays) who can still get after a quarterback if a passing play becomes obvious.

3. Don’t get beat on play action. While Washington has one of the NFL’s worst rushing offenses (ranking 30th in yards per rush and rushing yards per game), Case Keenum has been one of the NFL’s most effective quarterbacks when using play action. Rookie receiver Terry McLaurin is a legitimate deep threat of whom Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will need to be aware. 

But the Bears’ defense is outstanding, and should be able to generate pressure on Keenum against an offensive line missing holdout left tackle Trent Williams. That could help keep a lid on Washington's offense, which ranks fifth in DVOA, just as effectively as Jackson and Clinton-Dix could. 

Prediction: Bears 20, Redskins 17. For those hoping Monday night will be the breakout game for the Bears’ offense, they’ll still be waiting. Washington’s defense isn’t very good, and the crowd atmosphere at FedEx Field won’t intimidate anyone on the Bears’ sideline. But this is still a road game, and the Bears only won one road game by more than a touchdown in 2018 (against a Buffalo Bills team quarterbacked by Nathan Peterman).

The expectation, though, is for the Bears’ offense to be better than it was in Weeks 1 and 2. That may not lead to a 2018-Week-4 level of explosion, but merely getting to 20 points would represent progress for this offense. What’ll be key, though: The Bears’ defense will force multiple takeaways, offsetting a handful of big plays made by Case Keenum and helping secure a narrow victory in Maryland. 

Bears' defense must be wary of Washington's play action, even without a good run game

Bears' defense must be wary of Washington's play action, even without a good run game

A core tenant of football’s analytics revolution is that an offense does not need to establish the run to be effective using play action. The 2019 version of Jay Gruden’s offense in Washington has been a perfect example of that thought.

Only three quarterbacks entered Week 3 with a higher passer rating on play action than Case Keenum’s 145.8 clip. And he’s done it while his offense has averaged 2.5 yards per rushing attempt (30th) and 37.5 rushing yards per game (also 30th).

“Jay Gruden does a great job of creating a great offense and scheming against certain opponents,” Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who played with Washington last year, said. “We just have to be good with our eyes, pay attention to the little things.”

It seems unlikely that Washington will be any better running the ball on Monday night against a dominant Bears front seven — even with Bilal Nichols (hand) all but assuredly out — than they were in Weeks 1 and 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.

Adrian Peterson, a healthy scratch in Week 1, is Washington’s No. 1 running back with 2018 second-rounder Derrius Guice on injured reserve. Left tackle Trent Williams, one of the best run blocking tackles in the NFL, is still holding out. And the Bears are allowing a shade under three yards per carry, good for sixth in the league (and two of the teams ahead of them played the tanking Miami Dolphins).

But that doesn’t mean the Bears won’t be susceptible to getting beat on play action. Part of what makes Washington’s play action so good is the respect around the league for Peterson, who defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano quickly pointed out is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer the team still needs to take seriously.

The Bears stopped the run effectively against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, yet still were beat on a deep ball following a play fake, too. Safety Eddie Jackson pointed to Aaron Rodgers’ deep heave to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in Week 1 — safety Deon Bush bit on play action on that chunk gain — as something the back end of the defense can’t let happen again.

“You've just got to keep your eyes in the right spot and play your keys and just focus in on your job or your man,” Jackson said. “If you've got man, they do a lot of things where they're you know chip-blocking, somebody free releases late or things like that to try to get you off your mark. We've just got to stay on top of our keys and play with discipline.”

Keenum has attempted three passes over the middle that traveled at least 40 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, hitting rookie speedster Terry McLaurin on one for a 69-yard touchdown in Week 1. The 31-year-old Keenum is 7/13 on passes traveling at least 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with all seven of those completions coming over the middle. It's not just the deep balls where he's had success, it's the intermediate throws, too. 

So there will be a decent amount of pressure on the back end of the Bears' defense on Monday night, even if Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan etc. are making sure Peterson isn’t a legitimate threat.

“They do a great job of selling the run on their play action with their offensive line,” Pagano said. “(Washington offensive line coach Bill) Callahan does a great job coaching those guys so it opens up big cavities in the big spaces between your second and third levels. And then you get one-on-one, big post routes, you know what happened to us in the first game against Green Bay.

“… They do a great job of it so between the run game, the play action, the boots, the waggles, the throwbacks, the screen game it's difficult. Because if it's not there then he checks it down and everybody's turning, they've got their backs turned and they're trying to find all those crossers and then they hit a back on a checkdown and you're having a hard time trying to get him on the ground.”

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