Football

Welcome back to another installment of On the Clock, where I scour mock drafts and pretend that I watched any college football last year (which I did not- fuck the NCAA).

Previously, I made the argument that the Bears need to stay at 43 and 50 and not trade back, instead looking to solidify two areas of need with rookie starters. We looked at the consensus top two interior linemen, and 4 potential second-tier receivers that could be game breakers. However, with two major holes in the defensive backfield, an instant starter (or two) in the secondary could pay bigger dividends than a lineman or wideout. One consensus between all the mocks I’ve seen is that the Bears most likely wait until the later rounds to find depth for both the linebacker corps and defensive line rotation, so we will spend this entire section looking at the secondary.

 

What the Bears need: 

The Bears need a Safety and a Cornerback immediately. Deon Bush is a great depth piece, but he is not a starting safety (look back at last year’s opening week Packers game for an understanding of how easily Bush can look too hard in the backfield and get beat deep; also his inability to make plays on the ball in the red zone). Similarly, Kevin Tolliver, Artie Burns, and Tre Roberson are either career backups or unknowns. If Roberson plays in the NFL the way he did that made him the CFL’s premiere defensive free agent, that eliminates the need for a top pick on a CB, but as of now he’s still an unproven commodity. Since most mocks have the Bears looking Safety or Cornerback in the second round, let’s take a look at some of the prospects.

Xavier McKinney- Alabama
Xavier McKinney is a game-changer on defense and there’s no debate about it. In Chuck Pagano’s defense, he would have the ability to be a matchup nightmare. He lined up all over the field last year, as a sort of hybrid defender who can do it all. He’s got tremendous ball skills and watching his tape shows someone who is an instinctual blitzer. Pagano would be able to be super creative with a talent like this. He’s a playmaker, forcing turnovers at ease and always being around the ball. I’ve seen him mocked as early as pick 20, but if he falls it would be difficult to see the Bears pass on him.

Antoine Winfield Jr- Minnesota
How interested you are in the Bears taking Winfield sort of depends on what you want the safety opposite of Eddie Jackson to be: should he be an inside the box safety, someone who can play the deep middle to free up Jackson to read the QB, or a hybrid? Watching Winfield’s tape, it’s clear he plays a very similar game to Eddie Jackson. He is an absolute ballhawk and when he gets the chance, he’s a threat to take a fumble recovery or interception to the house every time. He picked off seven (!) passes last year. He has a long injury history, so there is risk to the pick, but if healthy, he and Eddie Jackson as a 1-2 Safety combo would be an absolute nightmare.

Jeremy Chinn- Southern Illinois
Aching for a return to the Bears defense of 2018? Jeremy Chinn’s pro comp is Adrian Amos, so if that holds true you should be rooting for the Bears to pick Chinn in the second round. Chinn has been talked about as everything from the first Safety off the board to someone that can be available for teams with a pick in the 60s, so if the Bears trade one of their first two picks to fall back in the second round, Chinn could be available as a value pick. I’ve also heard him talked about like a lighter version of Isaiah Simmons and could be asked to bulk up and play the roaming defender role in some defenses, which presents some interesting pairings with who the Bears already have. Let’s hope if the Bears take Chinn he can beat up on NFL teams like he did your Youngstown States (Youngstowns State?).*

Trevon Diggs- Alabama
Diggs is another Alabama DB that the Bears could be looking at to fill their other outside CB spot. He’s a bit more of a raw athlete than a polished defensive back at this point in his career, but the mocks that link him to the Bears indicate a belief that the talent around him can help him build those skills and make him a top-tier corner. He won’t play the run as well as it was played last year, but he has the ability to close off one side of the field. In short, Diggs is a stud that got ethered on prime time television last year by LSU, so there’s naturally going to be some question about how well he can hold up against top competition.

Bryce Hall- Virginia
Hall, like Diggs, is a big, physical CB (both are over 6’ and 200lbs) with injury histories. Neither of them are the ideal run stopping CBs, but the Bears secondary doesn’t necessarily rely on outside defenders to stop the run (save for Kyle Fuller’s game winning tackle against the Lions last year). Hall is effective close to the line on bubble screens, corner blitzes, and quick slants. He limited opposing QBs to passer ratings around 50 the last two seasons and led the nation in pass breakups two years ago. Hall is more of a zone CB, so it would be interesting to see if that scheme fit would work in Chicago. I’ve also seen him mocked to Denver in multiple places, where he would also make a lot of sense.

Kyle Dugger- Lenoir-Rhyne
The Ringer really must have Ryan Pace figured out, tabbing Dugger to be the Bears pick at 50. It all makes sense, a D-2 player that was absolutely dominant? That’s absolutely on-brand for Pace and Dugger’s tape is pretty ruthless. Not only is he an outstanding returner with tremendous ball skills, he honestly looked like a grown ass man playing against little kids, because he was. I mean it’s D-2 so like you’ve got this dude that runs a 4.49 and put up 17 reps of 225 at the combine, and he’s going against the pud from your high school who went to Middle Tennessee Grand Canyon Valley Technical Institute A&M and Dugger is hitting dudes so hard they quit on the spot and go back to their hometowns to sell life insurance with their dads. Of all the prospects he’s the oldest (24) and with the level of his college competition he’s probably the biggest question mark, but I am seeing Dugger mocked to a lot of teams in the second round, so he’s doing something right. He could be another Bears player to come from D-2, or the Bears could instead choose to invest in a more proven commodity.

 

With all the garbage presented to us fans as “The 2019 Chicago Bears Offense”, it might be tempting to focus on that side of the ball with the first two picks in the second round. However, the holes in the defensive backfield are huge and glaring and if the Bears go out and take a defender with one of these first two picks, I think the potential for the Bears D to return to form in 2020 is much higher, ESPECIALLY if Tre Roberson is as good as advertised. Just imagine a Bears secondary of Roberson, Fuller, Skrine, Jackson and Antoine Winfield Jr., and you can hear the crowd after the Bears hold Green Bay to their 9th straight 3 and out chanting “Holy Shit” like Braun Strowman just sidewalk slammed some cruiserweight into the shadow realm.

 

*While looking for a good cover photo for this article I stumbled upon the one of Jeremy Chinn that I ended up using because the size of that man’s arms literally turned me into Vince McMahon: WOULD YOU JUST LOOK AT HIM? THAT’S SUCH GOOD SHIT!

 

Tomorrow will be Part 4 of On The Clock: The Leftovers!

Football

The Chicago Bears Secondary was not a problem in 2019. There were concerns heading into the season; how would the team do replacing Adrian Amos with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Bryce Callahan with Buster Skrine? How would Eddie Jackson do moving over to accommodate his new safety partner? Would Chuck Pagano taking over the unit upset the chemistry with a new scheme?

For the most part, the players answered these questions with a “no worries, we got it”…but unfortunately “it” was not enough to overcome deficiencies elsewhere. At least it didn’t keep Eddie Jackson from getting PAID.

The Good

I mean, everyone? The team ranked top-10 in the league for passing yards allowed/game and again kept opponent passing TDs to a minimum en route to a top five ranking in points allowed. Eddie Jackson wasn’t the same factor in the passing game as his breakout 2018, but then again it’s tough to repeat that kind of performance for anyone…especially when the league collectively decides to never throw it at you. Jackson still found ways to contribute, setting a career high 5.5 tackles for loss as he played more up at the line to help stuff opposing rushers.

Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were again a dominant pair on the outside, accounting for 12 and 10 passes defensed (respectively). Skrine stepped into the nickel corner position vacated by Callahan perfectly, defending five passes of his own. Clinton-Dix probably didn’t have the kind of season he was hoping to on a one-year prove it deal, but he also didn’t put much in the way of bad tape out there either. He was steady in all aspects throughout the season and did register the lone TD scored by Bears secondary players in 2019.

Amukamara did deal will some injuries late in the season, which gave Kevin Toliver a chance to impress a team that could soon look to replace the aging Prince.

The Bad

The biggest obstacles facing the 2019 secondary were the ghosts of 2018. 27 interceptions and six defensive TDs (three by Jackson alone) is an incredibly tough performance to follow. The 2019 unit didn’t come close to replicating it, though, contributing to the overall let down.

The drop from 36 turnovers to 19 is felt exclusively in the drop from 27 INT to 10. Fuller went from seven to two. Jackson six to two. Prince three to 0. I’m no math wizard, but that right there is a 12 fewer turnovers. The Bears went from leading the league in turnovers created to middle of the pack, and the drop also brought them to even in differential after being +12 (3rd in the NFL) in 2018.

The lack of turnovers kept the defense on the field more often and contributed to worse field position for their floundering offensive counterparts. I discussed on Monday why the loss of Akiem Hicks impacted the rest of the defense in a negative way and the effect on the secondary could most easily be seen in the severe dip in turnovers. Without a massive force wrecking the opponents backfield and pressuring the quarterback there were not nearly as many opportunities for takeaways.

Any Hope?

The hope for better returns in the turnover department should be realized with some positive regression…and a return to a third place schedule.

The Bears have nearly every cornerback under contract for 2020 but only see Jackson locked in at safety. Did Clinton-Dix do enough to price himself out of town? Was he the right compliment to the rest of the unit/defense? I’m going to guess he’s looking for more than Pace is willing to give. Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson are also free agents, and though neither saw many reps in games they were both big contributors on special teams and should return on cheap deals. Add safety to the list of things needed, which is growing like a sink hole as we work through these recaps.

Amukamara will be an interesting case for Pace as well, contracted for $8M in 2020 though he can be cut for a mere $1M in cap casualties. A reworked deal for a cheaper cap hit in 2020 and the chance at a second year/bonus should do it if everyone is amenable, and you’d think they are. Prince bounced from NYG to JAC and then to Chicago where he finally found his rhythm and most of his success. If they cut him and he walks…we’re looking at a bigger sink hole.

Final Grade: B

 

 

Football

Welcome to week one of Inside the Matchups: another themed piece to help us break down the upcoming Bears game, where we look in-depth at the numbers and what they tell us about what might happen on the field. Today, our focus will be on Green Bay’s wideouts and Chicago’s defensive backs, since the only thinkpieces about Aaron Rodgers I want to read in 2019 are written for this site specifically. Yes, he’s probably the best QB of all time, and yes I do take an ungodly amount of joy in the fact that despite his talents, he will retire with only one Super Bowl ring. With that said, let’s break down the matchups on the outside for tomorrow’s season kickoff game.

-The Philosophy: How do the Bears plan to cover the weapons of Aaron Rodgers? It’s still somewhat unclear. Vic Fangio’s old system had the Bears line up with 5 DBs on the field on 76% of all defensive snaps, a clip that was 6th highest in the league. However, the true statistical anomaly is that on 95% of plays, the Bears played their outside CBs on their own exclusive sides of the field, with nickelback Bryce Callahan playing on whatever side of the offense he needed to. This will change under Chuck Pagano. I’m wondering how much leeway Pagano will give to his outside CBs to play to their strengths, Kyle Fuller’s softer zone and Prince Amukamara’s bump and run. The new defensive coordinator may roll the defense out in the same way, but I don’t know how it will look. We know Chuck likes to send extra pressure, but does he even need to with a front seven like Chicago’s?

Also, it needs to be noted that famous red-assed doofus Mike McCarthy is gone, replaced with Matt LaFleur. Unlike McCarthy’s dull West-Coast system, LaFleur instilled a truly revolutionary offensive playbook in *checks notes* Tennessee? Ew. Is Rodgers going call runs up the gut 34 times a game? No, but it’s important to know that he has pretty much been the opposite of McCarthy when it comes to formations and run/pass tendencies. Expect a lot of quick screens, and a devotion to keep his QB happy by putting him in the pistol a stupidly large amount of the time.

The Matchups:
-Davante Adams vs. Kyle Fuller: Kyle was a beast last year, not gonna lie to you. Davante Adams was also a dog out there, with over 110 catches, 1300 yards, 13 touchdowns, and a catch rate of 66%. Kyle Fuller can’t cover Adams one on one strongly enough to inspire confidence, but #23 gets the edge because hopefully the Bears get enough pressure with the front four that he can cheat up on short passes and put his faith in Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix behind him to keep Rodgers from airing it out deep.

-Geronimo Allison/Marquez Valdez-Scantling vs. Prince Amukamara: Call me crazy, but I’m going to also give the Bears an edge here too. The GB depth chart after Adams is solid if we’re talking fantasy football, but in real life, Allison and MVS are middling wideouts who just so happen to play alongside a true generational talent at QB. They will put up good numbers, but neither of them are game-breakers. I’m less afraid of Prince’s ability to thrive in Pagano’s system than I am Kyle Fuller, so I’m expecting Prince to make a solid break on a short out and pick off #12 on Thursday night.

-Whoever isn’t on the outside vs. Buster Skrine: Okay, I know I had four $9 beers at Wrigley and told everyone in the bleachers that Buster Skrine was making the Pro Bowl as he sang the seventh inning stretch. Now, months later I am $36 in the hole and much more sober and I don’t have that same confidence. Buster will get picked on, since he gave up 8.3 yards per adjusted completion last year in New York. I know he has a much better front seven in Chicago, but I think he gets targeted quite a bit on Thursday. I’m taking the Packers wideouts on this one.

-Bears Safeties vs. Jimmy Graham: Not even a competition. Eddie Jackson for fucking President.

Overall: Bet on Chicago. There are just as many new wrinkles in Chicago’s system as there are Green Bay’s, so it will be exciting to see how those new things play out. Clinton-Dix and Amos both have familiarity with each other’s former team, but there’s hopefully enough new stuff there that nobody is coming in with an advantage, except Khalil Mack who has the advantage of being Khalil fucking Mack.

Prediction: Rodgers will throw 2 touchdowns, one on a busted coverage, but he will also throw 2 picks and be sacked at least 3 times. Bears win 31-17. FTP.

Football

Do you hear anything? No? Me either. No noise. No torches and pitchforks. No jobs on the line (yet). It’s pretty boring around here.

Usually in late July we’re all too eager here in Chicago to begin HOT TAKE SZN surrounding the Bears and the NFL. This July, though, feels different. Is everyone just happy to banter about the Cubs division chase and Sox future potential? No, we’ve been doing that every July since 2015. The NBA had a pretty big summer, but the Bulls largely sat that out and everyone is just content they MIGHT make a surprise run at the 8-seed in the East. Hawks prospect camp and convention?? OK, I’m done.

So with nothing new or exciting going on in major sports around the city, why is this late July so different? The Bears, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2010 and second in the last 13 years, have had the quietest offseason in about as long. No new head coach/GM/Front Office personnel. No major signings/high draft picks. Hardly any turnover on the roster/staff, and no real starting positions up for the taking. GM Ryan Pace didn’t even get to make a draft pick until the third day, and there’s been little discussion about the his team or the impending camp since.

The biggest offseason story? Kickers. Cody Parkey long fired into the sun, the talk of both mini-camp and now training camp is the kicking sideshow. Each day’s camp breakdown thus far has started with the accuracy for that day’s kicker; Elliot Fry is 17 of 20 so far! He’s hit from 60 and banged in from 48 and 51 in the driving rain! Eddie Pineiro hit from 63 after doing his best 80s macho movie hunk routine – after his coaches asked him to try from 60 he replied “nah, how ’bout 63”! Suh gnarly, broseph.

The crowds are another HOT story coming out of Bourbonnais. Attendance day one? OVER 8,000!!! Videos tweeted of fans LIGHTLY JOGGING to get front row standing room to see the Midway Monsters strap on the pads and paw at each other! Whoa, did you see that 50-yard bomb from Mitch to Gabriel?? Kahlil Mack and Eddie Jackson are sooooo goood OMFG!!!! I mean, it’s great to see the guys you want to excel succeed in practice, but that’s the bar here, no? To be as good as advertised?

This shit is BORING. But boring doesn’t really mean bad. Consider:

-There was one major coaching change in the offseason, but not the normal refrain of a deficiency in some area. Vic Fangio left to go be the head coach in Denver because his defense was so amazing (while the rest of the team was total ass for most of his tenure). The ensuing hire? Chuck Pagano, a highly regarded defensive mind in his own right that mostly just needs to keep the ship on course. There also are no ‘hot’ seats to speak of at the moment. Weird.

-The players lost to free agency were seen as priced out of their worth at Halas Hall and nary a tear was shed for Adrian Amos or Bryce Callahan. The replacements and other new signings were mostly budget buys met with a collective “meh”.  HaHa Clinton-Dix and Buster Skine swap in for Amos and Callahan. Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson are here to do something in the backfield. Great, fine. I bet you didn’t even know they signed Ted Larson, again, for O-Line depth or Marvin Hall and Peter Williams. Only one of those guys is made up, but I’m guessing you have to look it up to tell me which one.

-The draft was pretty uneventful as well, unless you count trading up 14 or so spots in the 3rd round “eventful”. Sure, they got their GUY at running back in David Montgomery, or so they’ll tell anything with ears. Even he hasn’t generated much buzz since the draft, a soft spoken type that just does his work and stays quiet off the field. Booooooring. The rest of the draft was all lottery tickets and undrafted free agents because Pace only had five picks to work with. They got a Ridley? No, not the one from Alabama.

-There aren’t any big injuries to get all worked up about, either. Adam Shaheen hasn’t practiced in two days, but that’s basically his whole bag of tricks since being wildly overdrafted three years ago. Someone named Emmanuel Hall is recovering from groin surgery. HaHa is on the PUP list, rehabbing a lower body injury but expected back before too long. Whatever.

So this late July, the start to camp is boring. Embrace the boring, it means that most of us are looking forward to September and could give a shit about what happens between now and then. We don’t even get another open practice for a few days; the team has a shorter, closed practice today and is off Wednesday. There’s a preseason game a week after that, so maybe by the weekend we’ll start to get some real battles for the edge of the roster. Those are the positions that help to define serious championship contending NFL teams from the dregs they beat up.

Boring kinda sucks, but we’ll take it after the last decade worth of summers overstuffed with tough questions. Wait and see how these jokers fighting for their NFL lives fair in game reps in a week or so. If you need your fix the rest of this first week, keep refreshing that twitter account of your favorite beat writer to see where Steady Eddie P tells coach he’s spotting his next kick. HOOOOO BABYYYYY!

@WFrenchman on Twitter