Football

Jordan Howard was sent packing. Tarik Cohen, gem of the 2018 draft, planted his flag as the next Darren Sproles-esque gadget back. Ryan Pace maneuvered ahead of his counterparts in the middle rounds to select David Montgomery, the quiet, no-nonsense, blue collar worker back that was going to excel immediately in the system. Pace also signed veteran Mike Davis on the cheap, seemingly because of fit and personnel package and depth. Then came Cordarrelle Patterson, the do everything secret weapon.

2019 was supposed to be the season the Bears rushing attacked returned to great heights, the season the team got back to its Chicago football reputation of pounding the ball on the ground and using that rushing attack to unleash Matt Nagy’s offense.

2019 did not go to plan.

The Good

Umm…right. Well, there was that one game that Mitch did his best LEEEEEROOOOOY JEEENNNNKKIIIIINSSSS and thrashed the Cowboys for 64 yards. That is to be considered good, I think. But, uh, he’s not a running back.

Montgomery did have his moments, rushing for 889 yards on 242 carries for the season which was highlighted by a 135-yard, 1-TD effort (and 5.0 yard per carry average!) in the heart breaking loss to the Chargers at home. Monty also hit the century mark in the season finale, totaling 113 yards and a TD (albeit against a lot of backups).

Cohen chipped in much more via the passing game, helping the offense where he could with 79 catches on 104 targets for 456 yards, good for 2nd, 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively…which will be an indictment when we get to pass catchers tomorrow but we’ll count it as “good” today.

The Bad..and Ugly

Strap in, dear reader.

To call the rushing game “bad” is a bit of an understatement. The coaching staff/Nagy told us they had their pieces, they were going to fix the underwhelming rush attack from 2018 (buoyed by QB  Mitchell Trubisky‘s 421 yards). We’ve already been over the additions to overhaul the group, which saw only Cohen return from 2018. The results were an unmitigated disaster, as the team rushed for under 1,500 yards as a group, averaging 91.1 yards/game. Chicago had a 3.7 per carry average. The Bears scored all of eight rushing touchdowns on the year. EIGHT! Per AP Style standards I can’t even use numerals for that low of a total.

These totals put them in the bottom of the league for rushing all around, 26th or worse in every category I just listed. You watched it. You probably assumed as much, but hot damn that’s fucking terrible. This team regressed by over 500 yards overall, 30 yards a game, and scored HALF as many rushing touchdowns.

So what happened?

Well, the offensive line was not what was expected and not even really close. The play calling was all over the map as well, seeing the Bears call all of FIVE run plays in the gut punch Week 1 loss to Green Bay..at home…by one score. FIVE RUN PLAYS. This would be a tough theme, as Nagy would get far too pass-happy or lean on the pass in games like the stinker against New Orleans where he abandoned it all together. The Bears ran the ball 395 times in 2019, sticking them in the lower third yet again, while it’s also worth pointing out that no other team rushed as much as they did for fewer yards. The Pittsburg Steelers were very similar, but the totals of the other teams near them in attempts are all 300-500 yards (NOT feral hogs, unfortunately) MORE than Chicago.

Montgomery was fed a decent amount with his 242 carries for a rookie season, but beyond that the division of work is alarming. Cohen only had 64 rushing attempts all season, with the damn QB coming in 3rd as Mitch saw 48 (and most of those were in the latter half of the season as things spiraled to hell). Free Agent additions Patterson and Davis saw a COMBINED 28 carries. Patterson seemed to be the choice short yardage back early on, which was curious at best but really it was fucking batshit insane. Nagy lost his damn mind. Poor Mike Davis never got a shot, and the team mercilessly cut in early November so that Pace could at least recoup a compensatory draft pick.

Not great!

 Any Hope?

I don’t know, man. The Bears have a lot to fix on offense, and the goal should be to get more out of the run game first and foremost. I know everyone wants Trubisky to be a star, but he needs help to even get to an even baseline. The offensive line and play calling must be better, and this team needs a third actual running back that can pick up short yards and block. They have their lead man and pass catcher and their gadget man, as Montgomery, Cohen and Patterson should all be back. They just need to figure out how to use them all properly, which I’m not so sure this regime is capable of. I’d expect them to skip RB completely in the draft and find their fourth back on the market this March. Or maybe they can just use a defensive tackle for the dirty work. Just do better.

Final Grade: D+

Football

I had some friends over for the game, and as Eddy Pineiro’s last second kick hooked left, there was no anger. No rage, no Youtube-worthy TV smashing, no nothing. I think this level of numbness is part of the basic experience of being a Bears fan, this existential cloud that hangs over moments like today’s loss where we say to ourselves, “I knew he was gonna miss it”.

This game was gift-wrapped to the Bears by a vastly inferior Chargers team, with multiple end-zone drops, missed field goals, and drive-extending penalties. The last sequence before the end of the first half, with three defensive penalties awarding the Bears first downs in the red zone should have been a decisive score. Taylor Gabriel had a linebacker beat on a 4th quarter go route that Mitch overthrew, missing a sure touchdown. Naturally on the next play Mitch lost the ball and Los Angeles recovered.

That two play sequence exemplifies the 2019 Bears: even when they catch a break, they can’t catch a break by capitalizing on it; and before you can lament that missed opportunity, they do something even worse. This one stung, friends. This was still a winnable game, in spite of the Bears lack of offensive panache. They had three trips inside the Chargers 10 and came away with 9 total points. Eddy Pinerio missed a 33 yard kick earlier in the game. The Bears were in Pinerio’s range TWICE in the last three minutes and came away with zero points, after the second to last drive ended with a Trubisky sack taking the Bears out of field goal range.

I can’t write an entire article without mentioning how great it looked to see the Bears commit to the run, and how explosive David Montgomery looked. There was even a Mike Davis sighting! 162 team rushing yards is something to be proud of, especially for a team like the 2019 Bears. The run blocking looked better than it has all year, and the balance really opened up throws for Mitch. Anthony Miller looked great, creating separation and running deeper routes with ease. Mitch looked comfortable taking deep shots on the two free plays he got after drawing the Chargers offsides. It’s weird, I had no idea that having a good run attack might help set up the pass…?

Matt Nagy used the I-Formation a few times after mentioning it in a presser earlier in the week, and it looked good. I appreciate the Bears bringing in an extra lineman on a few plays and using J.P. Holtz as a fullback since he’s on the 45 man active roster and, well, idk I like seeing a power run game. I guess I am turning into my dad after all.

The defense looked good, with Kyle Fuller coming up with a great interception that he almost took to the house while Chris Spielman kept calling him Kendall. Khalil Mack came up with a crucial 4th quarter sack, and the team did well save for a few nailbiter deep shots that should’ve been touchdown catches but were dropped. Of the two touchdown drives they gave up, one was on a short field after a turnover and the other was a long Chargers possession when the Bears did their classic “we’re up by more than one score so we’re gonna play a soft zone” defense that I’ve seen my entire life.

Playoff teams win that game. Playoff teams score touchdowns in the red zone, playoff teams hit open receivers and playoff teams make field goals.

Ugh.

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