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