Football

Welcome back, Bears fans! Today, Friday, and Monday Wes and I will be doing a 3 part roundtable about the draft and going forward. Just like every website that somehow has access to our email addresses, I’d like to include the phrase “in these uncertain times” before we go too far- so be on the lookout for that.
-TM

Wes-
It’s been a minute since we were together here at the roundtable. Since we last spoke, I wrote 3500 words about a bunch of players the Bears didn’t draft, but they selected 7 new dudes and picked up 11 UDFAs.
How do we feel, in these uncertain times?

Wes French: I’m a little…skeptical. I was ECSTATIC when Josh Jones, Antoine Winfield Jr., Grant Delpit and Jeremy Chinn were all there at 43 only to see the Bears pop Cole Kmet. I was still pretty happy when Jones and Chinn were available at 50, but Jaylon Johnson is also a very good gamble given his ability and “slide” was due to some cranky shoulders that might not be that scary. 

Ryan Pace has made his mark in the middle rounds across his drafts, so I didn’t mind spending a little draft capital next year and using existing later round picks this year to create three Fifth Round 2020 selections. Trevis Gipson especially stands out for me.

Tony Martin: As everyone that reads the site knows, I was a major mark for Winfield Jr throughout the pre-draft process and I was so pumped when he was still on the board at 43. I have mixed feelings about the draft, but Jaylon Johnson isn’t one I’m mixed on. I saw projections of him as a day 1 player, and “immediate starter” is a phrase I’ve seen in a lot of his scouting reports. If both he and Kmet live up to their potential, this was a power move by Pace.

I don’t really know what to feel about the Kmet pick. I mean, I guess this is more Nagy’s chance to prove that the offensive shortcomings can be changed if they have that prototypical TE, I just wish the Bears fans on Reddit can see that he’s not a complete prospect and his blocking is suspect. Tell me more about why you like the Gibson pick, I’ll tell you why I think Kindle Vildor shines in this system and then we can probe the late round picks and UDFAs.

Wes: I was WAY in on Winfeild Jr. Man, the possibilities with playing next to Eddie Money, allowing Jackson to basically be unleashed to do ANYTHING in the defensive backfield…fuck. Oh well. 

My problem with the Kmet pick is it feels desperate. We know this was Nagy’s guy, it had to be. My problem with the whole situation is that they have now devoted a ton of resources in the way of salary, draft capital and player development into positions that are clearly central to Nagy’s offense. The boys upstairs got super cute with the first iteration, tabbing a career back up and Juco draft reach the first go around in 2017 and now Trey Burton is cut and costing millions to not play and Adam Shaheen is more thank likely to be cut without a complete 180 this summer. The pedigree is better for the second crack at it with Jimmy Graham/Kmet…but Graham is basically in the twilight of his career and Kmet is at best a high upside project. Just feels like throwing more bad money after bad money but I guess they have to try. 
On Gipson, it just feels like the type of mid/late round Pace pick that will pop. A guy that had some really strong games while playing a style with his hand in the dirt on the edge at Tulsa could easily become a force in a stand-up 3-4 straight up edge rusher role. Also, there’s this comparison I found to be pretty encouraging: 

Matthew Judon: 6-foot-3, 261 lbs., Arm length: 33 7/8 inches – Drafted: 5th round, No. 146 overall in 2016

Trevis Gipson: 6-foot-3 3/8, 261 lbs., Arm length: 33 7/8 inches – Drafted: 5th round, No. 155 overall in 2020

The paths could be similar too – Judon was a rotational/role player on the edge his rookie year, and in the last three seasons has become a force worthy of a Franchise Tag in Baltimore. Gipson has the measureables and quick-twitch hallmarks of someone that can succeed on the edge in the new NFL. While he didn’t pile up sacks last year (8.5) he did have 15 tackles for loss showing he knows how to be disruptive in opposing backfields. I love this pick. (h/t Adam Hoge for the leg work on this one)

Tony: Before we put the Winfield Jr stuff to rest, I’d like to agree and also point out that I’ve seen a lot of chatter that the Bears needed an “in the box” safety, without acknowledging that EJax also plays close to the line and makes plays in the run game as well, and having two incredibly versatile athletes at Safety gives the team crazy amounts of flexibility.I think your love for Gipson will pay off, to be honest. He looks like he can contribute to the rotation and will certainly be an upgrade over Aaron Lynch almost no matter what. As an added bonus, he also gets to learn from two all-star edge rushers, which no doubt inspires confidence in his future development.While we’re dreaming of big things, I wanna talk about two guys that I think not only make this team but contribute: CB Kindle Vildor and WR Darnell Mooney. Vildor is a man corner who won’t challenge for starting reps anytime soon, but he will make major contributions on special teams and I believe can eventually come in and make plays in sub packages. He’s got a major chip on his shoulder and I have major love for gritty players from small schools. Mooney, on the other hand, is going to come in and make plays. He’s quick, tall, and can win contested catches. His highlight tape is basically him winning jump balls and taking slants 70 yards to the endzone, and ironically as I was writing this the Bears signed Ted Ginn Jr, so I guess there’s time for him to develop that route tree.

Any thoughts on the later round guys or UDFAs?

Wes:I agree on Vildor, and I’d like to tie this into baseball (RIP) a little bit and steal a phrase – This entire Bears draft is full of 70/80-grade names. Love it. I do think taking two CBs and no safeties tells you how they feel about the personnel in house. I was pretty happy with what I saw from Kevin Toliver at the end of last season, but he’s going to have a real battle just to make this team now.For the 7th rounders/UDFAs I think it’s those last two picks/two signings on the Oline that stand out, another few 80-grade names in Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons (7th Rd) and Dieter Eiselen/Badara Traore (UDFAs). The more I think about the process the more I like the idea of swinging for a handful of OL late with the idea you stash them on the practice (or possible taxi squad this Fall…) and let them come along that way instead of a project in the 2nd round. Pace keeps telling us that Juan Castillo was the big acquisition on the OL this offseason and this draft only solidifies that sentiment.

You feeling good about any of the other UDFAs?

Tony: Simmons has some awesome tape, and with a new offensive line coach I’m excited to see how the young guys develop, given that most of them won’t have the time to take physical reps, given the state of the world. I’m hoping at least one of the late round linemen makes the team, and a couple of the UDFAs make the practice squad. Is LeDarius Mack a viable prospect? I’m hoping the name gets him in the door and he makes the team, but the ones I like the most are Artavis Pierce, the RB from Oregon State, and Rashad Smith, another OLB from Florida Atlantic who I think is going to get kicked inside and back up Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. Rashad Smith put up preposterous tackle numbers and can cover as well as play the run. I’d like to see Pierce make the team, especially if the Bears don’t intend to resign Tarik Cohen after this season. I think Ryan Pace’s ability to find quality running backs has been understated in his time here, and Pierce might make the team given where the depth chart sits today.

Final thoughts?

Wes: I feel like Mack was a nice nod to Khalil, and if there’s anything that will get him as motivated as possible it’s big brother on his ass all offseason in the same training program. I’m not sure if he can become a rotation player given what they have at the position, but he can win a job by going hard on special teams and showing some versatility – he’s smaller than Khalil so maybe a hybrid edge/coverage option in the middle.

I really, really like Pierce as well, the lightening to our fan favorite Ryan Nall’s thunder at OSU. I feel like overall there are some good opportunities for the guys drafted/signed to make this team one way or another. I’ll especially be keeping my eye on Pierce and Mooney as returner options and a path for either to make the team outright.

That’s all I have for now…which looks like quite a bit as I scroll back up this marathon. Great chatting you up about sports again with the uncertainty surrounding everything else right now. Stay safe out there, dear readers, and remember – fuck landlords and mortgage lenders #cancelrent Now!

Tony: It’s always a pleasure chopping up the finer points of this shitshow with you, Wes. Football was a nice distraction from the dystopian shithole our world is at the moment. I hope everyone reading this is making the best of it that they can, unless you’re a landlord expecting rent today. Happy May Day!

Football

AKA #Chuckstrong

The Bears dropped from the 1st overall defense in DVOA in 2018 down to 8th in 2019, the first year under Chuck Pagano’s watch. Why is that? Was it the offense constantly trying to get off the field as quickly as possible? Was it the key injuries to certain starters, or the loss of half the secondary in free agency? Was it due to the Bears playing Football Outsiders’ #1 toughest schedule of 2019, or simply just statistical variance?

I don’t know, if I did I’d be coaching the Bears defense (spoiler alert: I run a lot of 0 coverage so I’m sorry in advance). However, I did smoke a bunch of LEGAL weed and read PFF and Football Outsiders to get to the bottom of this hypothetical question.

The Good:

Roquan Smith is gonna be the fuckin dude in the middle, y’all. The Bears numbers against the run aren’t very impressive on paper, but metrics put the Bears as the 3rd and 6th overall defense from the Second-Level and Open Field metrics (runs beyond the defensive line). Pagano is letting his second level swarm to the ball, and the groundwork is there for the Bears to once again have the best LB corps in the league, provided they resign Danny Trevathan.

The defense looked good against the teams they should have. I know, that seems like a backhanded compliment, right? It’s not. 2018’s loss to the Giants (even with Chase Daniel at QB) was caused by a defense that could not stop Saquon Barkley and an awful Giants offense. This year’s Bears defense put shitty teams down and held them there, but of course the offense still managed to blow it against both LA teams, Oakland (debatable), and the first Packers game. As Bears fans, we gotta take pride in beating the teams they should beat because this franchise plays down to their opponents so much you’d think it was commonplace.

This is where I officially state my case for Leonard Floyd: he is absolutely a starting-caliber outside linebacker. His numbers as a pass rusher are not great, but Pagano utilized him in the best possible way: setting the edge in the run game. He was most certainly not worth the price the Bears paid for him in the draft, but if he walks the Bears will most likely downgrade with his replacement.

The Bad:

If we can expect variance to be part of the year to year process, we see it in turnovers. The Bears simply did not take the ball away like they did last year. The Bears averaged 1.2 takeaways per game in 2019, compared to 2.2 per game in 2018. The other defenses with a 1.2 takeaway per game average in 2019? Jacksonville, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia. The Eagles were the only team that made the playoffs that finished outside the top 13 in that stat. If the Bears defense wants to come back to elite status, here is where the change needs to come.

Pagano was touted as a man-blitz schemer, but these Bears only blitzed on 23.5% of snaps, the 8th lowest percentage in the league. Going back to the Leonard Floyd bit, Pagano needs to scheme this guy free with blitzes or some other wizardry, because he still has elite closing speed (though sometimes struggles to finish). The Bears have elite blitzers in the back 7 at all levels, and Pagano needs to bring that heat from weird places more often.

According to Football Outsiders, the Bears ranked 22nd in the league in pass rush efficiency, and I’d say that’s about right. The loss of Hicks and the preponderance of man-coverage fronts instead of the Fangio Man/Zone hybrids created less pressure from the Bears 4 man rush. As a result, this defense didn’t play up to the lofty expectations we all had.

The Weird:

Pagano let the DBs play their preferred style all year long, which is maybe a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure so I’m putting it here.

The Future:

Here are the names of the starting players on the defense with expiring contracts:
Trevathan
Clinton-Dix
McManis (special teams counts and you know it)
Kwiatkoski

You gotta assume at least two of these players leave, right? There’s no way the team splits their core special teams up entirely by getting rid of Kwit and McManis, so one of them stays. I think the Bears re-sign Danny and McManis, and they will look to get another one year prove it deal with a former first round safety. My money is on Karl Joseph.

Football

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be considering edge rushers as linebackers.

Roster/PFF Grade/Stats:

Kevin Pierre-Louis (90.5) 27 tackles, 0 sacks
Khalil Mack (86.2) 34 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Nick Kwiatkoski (72.6) 51 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception
Leonard Floyd (69.8) nice 32 tackles, 3 sacks
Danny Trevathan (61.9) 54 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Isaiah Irving (61.1) 8 tackles
James Vaughters (60.0) 3 tackles
Roquan Smith (52.4) 76 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception
Joel Iyiegbuniwe (42.1) 2 tackles
Aaron Lynch (36.0) 2 tackles, 2 sacks

First, let’s parse out the data. Irving and Iyiegbuniwe aren’t on the team next year, Vaughters might be. Aaron Lynch needs to go, though. I can shrug off Irving and Iggy’s small sample size, but Lynch played in every game this year. He logged 244 snaps, about 15 a game, and he sucked. I thought he was only brought here to be part of Vic Fangio’s defense as an old friend from San Francisco, but they kept him around for another season and it was a season too long. As low as I am on Irving, I’d rather see him get some run, or see if James Vaughters can play with the starters for a spell. Lynch has to be gone next year, right? Right?

Roquan Smith started off slow, got hot in the middle of the season, and cooled off before his injury against Dallas in week 14. Opponents caught 75% of the passes he was credited as the primary defender on, which is about right given the amount of swings and dumpoffs he was required to stop. His tackling is still his best quality, and he maintained the same level of dominance there in 2019 as his stellar rookie campaign. His only two sacks both came against Detroit in week 13 against first-time starter David Blough, so take that with a grain of salt too. Chuck Pagano needs to make sure to scheme better for Roquan to move in space. If Danny Trevathan doesn’t come back next year, the pressure will be on Smith to do all the things he does so well while also being the main focus of all the second level blocking on inside runs. For what it’s worth, Smith was rated highly for his block-shedding coming out of college, so at least there’s hope.

If the Bears think they could do okay with replacing Trevathan with Nick Kwiatkoski, it would be Kwit’s excellent last few games that made his resume too much to pass up. He hadn’t played as many snaps as he did in 2019 since his rookie season, and the team and fans saw a kid who has developed from playing behind outstanding veterans and learned how to be a Swiss Army knife. He is a stud on special teams, but if the Bears end up letting Trevathan go and sign the cheaper Kwiatkoski, they might have to find a new replacement inside linebacker that can go make the plays he does on kick coverage. One of these two dudes leaves and is starting in a new uniform Week 1 of next year, it’s just a question of who. I personally think the Bears pay AR12 and let Danny walk, which hurts my heart but it is what it is.

I’m a sucker for Leonard Floyd but I kinda waxed too poetic about him in my team defense review, so I’m gonna skip it now. Just know, I say nice things about his ability to set the edge and I think the Bears should seriously consider re-signing him depending on how this year goes.

Khalil Mack is a hard player to write about because he really reminds me how amateur I am in all ways, even in talking about how awesome he is to watch. So many real journalists have poured over Mack that it almost feels pointless to say anything. His numbers could never truly represent exactly how much shit he ruins and how much his being on the field alters the very concept of the way the game is played. You know whenever any referee apologist says something like “well, there’s holding on every play” they’re right, but it’s kinda hard to focus on long enough to prove? Yeah, Khalil Mack gets chipped, double-teamed, and held on literally every single play. It’s like watching a created player in Madden that you just said “fuck it” on and made everything a 99 overall, but instead of shredding CPU lineman while quarterbacks takes seven-step drops, the AI actually gameplanned to stop Mack and half the time it still didn’t matter. The game would stop every play if they called holding on Khalil Mack the way they do for most other players, which is truly a blessing and a curse.

Basically, this linebacker corps has studs in all spots and maybe two quality backups. This offseason is gonna be a tough one, but hopefully the Bears linebackers go into 2020 being their strongest unit once again. That’s a special feeling that makes all Chicagoans do three things: look for that old Bears starter coat in their closet, pretend for one fleeting moment that Mike Ditka wasn’t a hardcore right wing drunken buffoon, and just vibe, baby.

Football

Our Bears wing gets together to sift through the rubble of the now-over 2019 season.

So now that the season will officially end in two weeks, what are you feeling?

Brian Schmitz: To be honest, I actually feel better about this team than I did 4, 8, 12 weeks ago. I was never on this Super Bowl bandwagon, because it had, and has, some gaping holes. But it’s encouraging to know that Mitch Trubisky can play and excel at this level, with this team. Montgomery is in the same boat.

 The coach needs a re-boot this off-season, and it starts by looking at himself, which leads to his in-game play calls. An improved O-Line and a real tight end will make a huge difference next season. Finally, the Bears will play a 3rd/4th place schedule next season, similar to 2018.

 

Tony Martin: This season just hurt a little bit more because while I was also doubting the Super Bowl hype, the regression was painful to watch and the Bears did not play fun football. It makes me wonder if it’s worse to lose like a Jameis Winston team or like a Mitch Trubisky team. I hope the tight end room grows stronger, the offensive line gets their shit together, and the playcalling improves. Since Week 1, Nagy has called plays that resemble the gameplan of a 14-year-old playing Madden online while using a new playbook. I’m hoping Mitch calling him out again in the post-game will reap benefits next year, because Mitch is sticking his neck out to win, not simply to start a pissing contest. 

As for how this season makes me feel, like I said it felt like a nightmare. Even when they won it felt gross. Even when they lost games we expected them to lose they made it close enough to sting more than usual. This team has quite the offseason ahead of themselves, and it’s going to tell us exactly what Nagy and Pace can do and if they’ll be part of the future. Or fuck it, if next year starts off poorly the Bears have enough assets to get 10 picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft, which they will immediately use seven of on undersized small school skill position players. 

Wes French: I’m feeling more like Tony than Brian.  The regression was stark, and while we all knew it was inevitable on defense the offense was supposed to take a leap. Nagy went from Coach of the Year to potential first firing of the 2020 season if he can’t get the playcalling and offense as a whole sorted out. Mitch calling him out in the media lately is very telling; I think it speaks to more people in the room agreeing with him than Nagy. We’ll see what they do about it. 

The Bears dealt with some key injuries as well, but Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith have to go down as major disappointments. Mack and Floyd seemingly disappeared after Week 4 and Smith had that weird inactive stretch. He did come back and look good only to go down to injury, leaving him with questions to answer instead of being discussed as an anchor in 2020.

Tony: The last play of the Packers game is a perfect encapsulation of the Bears season: they backed themselves into a corner, Nagy drew something up that was unique/interesting, and it wasn’t a fit for the personnel they had on the field. Look at the guys who ran that last route: Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Miller, and… Jesper Horsted. Naturally the ball fell into Horsted’s hands and his lack of awareness in that moment caused him to hold onto the ball too long, and just like the 2019 Bears he wasn’t prepared to make the play to win the game (or tie it, to be more accurate). 

Riley Ridley, maybe? Javon Wims? David Montgomery? Players you expect to have the ball skills to advance a lateral like that, a la Kenyon Drake in last year’s Miami Miracle? The 2019 Chicago Bears: a real fuckin head-scratcher.

 

There will obviously be time for season autopsies in a couple weeks, but let’s turn to the defense. If there’s one criticism of them this year is that they didn’t take the ball away enough. The defensive scoring is not something you can count on, but are the turnovers just cyclical/market correction too? Or is that going to have to be a focus next year?

Wes: The Bears paced the league in 2018 at 36 takeaways, which currently leads the league in 2019 (Evil Empire NE). The 2018 top five was rounded out by CLE, LAR, HOU and DEN. All five teams have dropped to the middle of the pack in 2019, landing between 16-18 total takeaways so far. I think this speaks to the cyclical nature of the turnover game, and the Bears were even more of an outlier because we did see them score so many times off of them in 2018. 

You can argue you’d expect them to do better than halving the number from the year before, but even that’s picking nits IMO. I do think you could say the lack of consistent pressure on the QB and getting hands on the ball at the line of scrimmage helps deflate those numbers. It’s also a new scheme, so even though the personnel is near identical they’re not doing the same things as last year that likely helped produce some of those takeaways. Playing a 3rd/4th place schedule in 2018 doesn’t hurt things, either. 

Brian: The shocking thing about the lack of turnovers forced is the fact they haven’t exactly faced a murderers row of QB talent this season. They have also been trailing in a lot of games, which lends itself to a much more conservative playbook for teams playing with their 2nd or 3rd string QB. Above all however, I think turnovers caused is most often a matter of chance.

Tony: I tend to believe that numbers like that are always prone to regression to the mean, but let’s be real here: pressure creates turnovers, and the 2019 Bears defense hasn’t gotten consistent enough pressure to make those things happen. Interceptions and fumbles happen when QBs are swarmed, and the speed with which the defense got to the QB last year forced a lot of quick routes that the Bears jumped for turnovers and scores. When the pressure comes back, the defense looks more like 2018s.

 

Football

The Cowboys Are The Maple Leafs Are The Mexican National Team – No matter what happens in the rest of your life, you can be sure the Cowboys will suck up the most amount of press coverage, perhaps just behind the Patriots but possibly even more. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re the center of a deluded state that’s also bigger than most countries and only thinks about football and guns and cheerleader tits. But unlike the Patriots, the Cowboys have earned exactly none of it.

You may think the Bears have been a pretty futile organization this lifetime, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But the Cowboys have been completely useless, completely irrelevant, and completely backwards and yet they’re always front and center. They have the unearned arrogance of their shithead, made-of-plastic owner who has always had too much money for anyone to tell him he doesn’t know shit and should shut the fuck up. And he always will. And it’s why he gets to be the GM and coach of this team for the past 25 years, drive it into the ground, and no one’s going to stop him. He also happens to be commissioner of the entire league in reality, and I’m sure has made Roger Gooddell piss himself in front of all 31 owners at least twice.

The Cowboys haven’t seen an NFC championship game in 25 years. The Bears have managed at least two in that time. So have the Falcons. The fucking Cardinals have even done better, and you once again forgot they existed until you just read their name.  The only other team that’s been this pathetic for this long is owned by Jerrah’s even more balloon handed mini-me in Daniel Snyder. Or the Lions. That’s what we’re talking about here.

All they’ve got is their middle-finger-to-god stadium and a bunch of nitwits to tell me that Shiner Bock isn’t actually piss before whooping “How about them Cowboys?!” without bothering to notice the score. I saw some ‘Boys fans roll up to the bar I was in last night not too far from Soldier Field well before the end of the game, bundled up like they were in the middle of the Iditarod even though it was like 37. And in that moment, you could get just a glimpse in their eyes that they know they’re worthless, the team they follow will never be anything and what they’d really prefer is to just slink off back into the shadows. But there are no shadows in Texas, thanks to the heat death all their oil tycoons are soon to bring us. They’ll never admit it, but you could see it. It was there.

They are the Maple Leafs. They are Mexico at a World Cup. We never stop hearing about them and they swagger into every new opportunity like they own the place and “this time it will be different!” banners and then they never do shit. It was ever thus.

Maybe Growth Isn’t Linear? – Three games is hardly a definitive statement. And neither will be the next three games, or likely won’t be. And I’m as guilty as anyone of this. We all want to believe that a young player, and team, takes sequential steps. They come in, they flash but struggle, then they flash more and struggle less, then they become consistent, then they become special, and everyone wins. We’re conditioned to that here in town. Kane and Toews arrived in 2007. And they as players and the Hawks as a team took those sequential steps: from promise, to exciting, to contender, to champ. The Cubs did the same from ’14 to ’16 essentially. Fun and exciting, playoff run that portended to more, champ.

But it’s not always that way. I don’t know if Mitch Trubisky can save his career in these last six games. I would be hesitant to base an entire franchise’s fortunes on not even half of a season. But he’s had a weird career, and maybe his growth isn’t linear. He was drafted onto a team that was going to fire its coach for whom he was never really supposed to play for. He essentially had to start over in his second year, and on the other side of the ball a championship-caliber defense had to be kept up with. His coach tried to rush the cycle to keep up with that defense and not miss the opportunities presented, even if it wasn’t to Mitch’s strengths.

The Bears as a whole ended up in championship discussion far quicker than they could have imagined. The defense cycled up way quicker than the offense. But unlike last year it’s dealing with major injury problems. It’s carrying an offense that wasn’t ready to run with it. Everyone was trying to learn and expand at the same time, both at a lightning pace that just about no one can keep up. Which is why you get the massive confusion and blank looks we’ve seen most of the season.

Maybe it’ll always be mismatched. Maybe this is just a tease. Or perhaps these things just don’t always work on a steady arc up. Maybe the first half of the season was their stumble or downturn. There may be another yet. We won’t know until next season for sure. But it’s rarely as simple as we’d like it, and we’re spoiled by seeing it be that simple a couple times locally.

Ryan Pace Can Construct A Bottom Of A Roster – At least defensively. Injuries to Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, and now Roquan Smith should probably cripple a team, especially with Prince Amukamara on the sidelines as well. But we’ve seen Robertson-Harris or Nick Williams or last night Kevin Pierre-Louis or Kevin Toliver make just enough plays to keep the Bears defense humming. On offense, Javon Wims has filled in admirably for Taylor Gabriel, while the offensive line seems to have evened out after losing Kyle Long and dealing without Bobby Massie.

You can’t live like this forever. Getting Hicks back should help, but what he’s capable of no one can tell you right now. But hey, the games still mean something after all the Bears have been through. For right now, we’ll take it.

Everything Else

Matt Nagy finally did it. They finally let Mitchell Trubisky run around and do what he loves, and guess what? It was all a  Borat voice GREAT SUCCESS as the Bears win their third straight to go over .500 for the first time in 10 weeks with a 31-24 victory.

Mitch ran for 64 yards (season high) and a touchdown to go along with a 23/31 line and 244 yards through the air with 3 more TDs in what feels like his best performance in a long, long time. David Montgomery added 86 yards on the ground, Allen Robinson accounted for 48 yards and two scores and the Tight End combo of Jesper Horsted and J.P. Holtz combined for a line of 7/92 to round everything out. Horsted and Holtz represent big time positives from a position that’s been a massive disappointment this season, if not the last few years. That impact was felt in the successful run game as well, with the tandem’s ability to seal off the edges and get to the second level.

The Cowboys started things off with a the longest TD drive of the NFL season in terms of time and plays, a 17 play, 8:57 minute drive that resulted in an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run and a 7-0 Dallas lead. A Trubisky INT at the goalline would give Dallas the ball back before the end of the first quarter, but from there the Bears would reel off 2 straight points and Dallas would not convert a third down until late in the fourth quarter.

Dallas would make things appear interesting with a few late TDs of their own, but the game was pretty well decided after a Trubisky TD pass to Allen Robinson to open the second half, capping an 11 play, 84 yard drive to put Chicago up 24-7 with Dallas reeling. A David Montgomery fumble (a play that arguably could/should’ve been stopped for progress, but whatever) late in the third quarter would help Dallas keep hope alive, but it would prove too little too late as Trubs led a three play, 60 yards TD capped by his rushing TD to ice the game.

The defense was frustrated on the opening drive, giving up swaths of yardage on the ground and unable to get off the field on third down, something they’re normally used to dealing with late in games. Pagano would tighten things up and make adjustments in the looks from his front seven, though, to stifle the Dallas offense of Dak Prescott and Elliott, and doing so mostly without Roquan Smith who left the game early during the second Dallas drive with a Pec injury.

If there was a negative for the Bears, it was injuries. Already without Prince Amukamara, Danny Trevathan and Akiem Hicks, the loss of Smith to what is likely a serious injury (you don’t get ruled out within minutes for a ‘minor’ pec injury) will make running the table in the final three games that much harder. Montgomery also went into the blue medical tent after a short carry with two and change left, again less than ideal. there was no immediate report on Montgomery, so we’ll all hold our breath until more news on Friday.

The Bears now have 10 days to heal up and game plan for Green Bay on the road. Things got closer than they needed to, but all in all a positive night that keeps the dream alive. Mitch was buzzing, Khalil Mack was alive (3 QB hits, 1 Sack, 1 TFL) and everyone went home happy…except for Jason Garrett, who might find himself without a job before he gets to the team plane.

BEAR DOWN

 

Football

Well, the Bears won. Somehow. Just barely. The local boys escaped Ford Field victorious and are now the least convincing .500 team in the league at 6-6. Are we going to spend another week and a half pretending this win is symbolic of a team finally putting it all together? The offense looked better than it did almost all season, save a handful of stupid penalties. Anthony Miller feasted on a pisspoor Lions defense, Allen Robinson looked good, and Mitch made a handful of great throws. The gameplan was solid, but once again it’s hard to differentiate between a mediocre team looking good because they planned well and a team who just happened to beat a far inferior team. Mitch went 29/38 for 338, finishing his line with 3 TDs and 1 INT, but still made a handful of head-scratching plays. That 3rd down in the red zone where he decided to run laterally instead of get the almost assured key first down? Great QBs don’t do that unless their name is Lamar Jackson.

The Bears came out making David Blough look like the next great Jeff Driskel-esque QB, but after the first 14 points that Detroit put up in the first quarter, they managed 6 the rest of the way. The Bears bent but didn’t break, and it was nice to see them bring pressure in key moments. It’ll be interesting to see if Prince Amukamara comes back healthy, because any serious winning streak will require a healthy defensive backfield since Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City, and Minnesota are the teams left on the schedule.

The Good: Mitch looked great, the wide receivers played outstandingly (even Javon Wims put up good numbers), and David Montgomery runs HARD. If the Bears invest heavily in the offensive line this offseason he could put up some incredible numbers next year. Nick Kwiatkoski looked great again, and it makes me wonder if this is indeed the last season Danny Trevathan will be playing for the Bears. Kyle Fuller saved the game with a key third down tackle inside the 5 yard line, holding Detroit to a field goal. He played great all game. Eddie Jackson is back in the stat column and everything feels right.

The Bad: The Bears were determined to lose this one in the 4th, didn’t it seem? Bad penalties plagued the last Detroit drive before Roquan and Eddie teamed up to end the game, and though the Bears committed only one more penalty for four more yards than the Lions, it sure seemed like they came at the worst times. Once again the line play was uneven, and the Bears couldn’t bring consistent pressure with the front four once again.

The Ugly: I had to watch this game with my family who I love but also my mom’s friend who was pretty much yelling “OMG SPORTSBALL DID WE WIN” for the entire second half. I need a fucking nap.

If this team wins 10 games, they deserve to make the playoffs because the changes they’d need to make to get there would signify a serious righting of the ship and who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Football

Matt Nagy Is The Weirdest Combination Possible – I’m not sure how a coach can both be as far up his own ass as Matt Nagy is that he probably came back around again and also coaching scared all the time. They don’t seem to go together at all, but Nagy has managed it. “Be You” means so many things now.

Let’s get to the top story right here. The end of the game, why are the only results in Matt Nagy’s head are a run for a loss, fumble, or incomplete pass? Why do you just assume that you can’t find one or two plays that you know you can hit to give you just five yards? There’s gotta be something you can just go to.

They’d actually run the ball. You can’t line up in the I-formation and get a few yards? And if you’re so convinced the Chargers are going to know you’re running, you really don’t have a play-action fake with that rollout and the tight end and receiver behind him that every team runs in the holster? That’s a play where even Mitch can probably figure out if I can’t complete this, I can just throw it into row three. Simple stuff, every team runs it, and those yards would have made a difference.

But that didn’t lose the game all by itself. Nagy actually adjusted and ran more conservative formations to run the ball kind of effectively. But then being up his own ass gets in the way. You get to the goal-to-go, and suddenly he has to be Matt Nagy again. Five receivers from the four. A screen to Cordarelle Patterson we all saw coming, including the Chargers. RPOs. Tough reads. Things the Bears haven’t shown they do well. He’s got to do it his way. The one touchdown they got is when they just lined it up and let Montgomery just run the fucking thing in there.

Nagy got out of his comfort zone between the 20s, actually running simple run plays. Play action off it. But when it mattered, Nagy was too scared to stay out of his comfort zone, and went back to what he wants to work. What he thinks has to work. But it doesn’t, and he’s the only one who doesn’t see that.

He coached scared as the Chiefs OC. He coached scared in the playoffs last year. He’s coached scared this year, all while convinced he has all the answers. I don’t you know how you do both. Pick a lane.

It’s Rex All Over Again – There comes a moment with every Bears quarterback who shows any promise or has any billing, where you realize it’s just not going to happen. It’s like my father said about horse racing, “There comes a moment in most races where you say to yourself, ‘I’m gonna lose here.'” A lot of people are long past that with Mitch Trubisky. I’m there now, mostly because I just didn’t want to keep doing this for my entire life.

Mitch has some obstacles. He only started one season in college. He came to the pros into a mess of a team, and basically everything he learned his rookie year had to be thrown out. His coach very well might be a madman who doesn’t know what he can and can’t do. He’s battled injuries. Fine.

But Mitch can’t make the throws. That Taylor Gabriel miss… you can’t miss that. That’s the game. Second tier QBs hit that. He’s not accurate enough to be the cowboy he wants to be. Not being able to move a safety with his eyes, that’s baseline skill stuff. If you don’t have it you don’t have it. You can scheme all you want, but if Mitch misses too many throws that are open, what does it matter?

The thing is if the season is truly lost, and I think it might be, the rest of it probably should be used to see if there’s anything to be salvaged with Mitch. There’s really no other option. Even if it’s just to pump up any value if you decide to swap him out. You know where the Chase Daniel road ends.

I Don’t Want To Hear The Defense Talk Anymore – Yeah yeah, 17 points surrendered is more than good enough to win. They got a couple short fields thanks to Mitch. Whatever.

One sack. One turnover. Up 16-7, and you let aged Marmalard march it down on the field on you. Melvin Gordon drags Eddie Jackson some five yards like a grocery bag. When the Bears have needed a big stop all season, they haven’t gotten it. When the defense could win the game, they didn’t. They let Joe Flacco march it up their ass. Derek Carr got to as well. Now Rivers. Aaron Rodgers is one thing. This is another.

At some point Chuck Pagano is going to have to figure out something else. I don’t know if becoming Blitz-burgh Reincarnated is the answer. But Khalil Mack isn’t getting home through either three blockers or quick passes. Leonard Floyd is at the Kerry Wood Memorial Zoo. Maybe we should see if Roquan or Trevathan can bring it a little more often. You need more turnovers. You need more sacks. The defense isn’t getting them. There’s too much talent on the field for this, even without Akiem Hicks.

Of course, the real question might be can Matt Nagy hold together a team when the defense mutinies. If he keeps coaching scared, I’m fairly sure I know what the answer is.

Football

Hey it’s yr boi DJ Yung Milwaukee- Wes and I decided to collab again on a matchup post for Sunday’s weekly nightmare. One of the greatest things about football is it’s ability to take us away from the problems of the workweek or whatever. Watching the Bears in 2019 is still therapeutic, because no matter how bad things get for me at least I’m not on this team, I just write about them

*sobs to the tune of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears”*

Mornin, Wes! Let’s chop up these Bears/Chargers matchups, shall we? Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ll take the Bears offense vs the Chargers defense.
 
Looking at the NFL.com stats for the Bears offense this season is a new, special form of torture. It’s the kind of torture that you know will keep bringing you back for more, but I think hopefully for us the expectations have been completely removed so we can laugh. They say comedy is tragedy plus time, and I’d say it’s time we went full Joker.
 
Look, the Bears live in a society. A society where they have 420 rushing yards in six games. They have gotten 17 first downs this year via the run game, and 15 first downs via penalty. Mitch can’t run a simple RPO. Kids are getting booed at Hawks games for going as Trubisky for Halloween, as if that wasn’t the spookiest costume in Chicagoland right now.
 
Anthony Miller is officially a ghost, Taylor Gabriel exploded for a huge game and is now also a non-factor, and the Bears customary jet sweep motion is bringing extra men into the box to stop the run. They’re shooting themselves in the foot left and right. The line isn’t performing well, but how well can you expect a line to hold up when they’re constantly facing 2nd-and-8 or 3rd-and-10? Hopefully the Bears take advantage of the Chargers allowing for 3rd down conversions literally half the time (39 conversions in 78 tries).
The interior of the Chargers line (Justin Jones and Brandon Mebane) are both out, so hopefully the Bears take advantage of that and establish the run for once. That said, Joey Bosa is still a monster and I’d hope the Bears keep some extra blockers back there to chip and give Mitch extra time to survey the field before eventually taking a sack.
 
Basically I’m afraid that Ryan Tannehill is going to have a better game against this team than Mitch will, but if the Bears watch tape they’ll know that the best way to beat the Chargers is to run the ball. Darwin James has been out all season, which opens up the box for more running lanes. You would think the Bears have plenty of options this Sunday going against a middling defense missing both it’s defensive tackles and safeties, right? The Chargers hemorrhaged yards to Titans receivers last week, with Ryan Tannehill going 12/13 for 181 yards and 2 TDs when targeting the middle of the field last week. Naturally, I’m expecting Matt Nagy to do the opposite.
 
Well, I’m thoroughly depressed now. What ya got, Wes?
I wish I could tell you that I’ve got a pick me up…and I might?

The Chargers offense can boast the third highest average passing yards a game at 293 and change, but they’re only one spot ahead of the putrid Bear rushing attack at 74 yard/game. So while they’ve been able to move the ball through the air with some ease, they are just as atrocious running the ball and the passing yards are nice, but they’re a 11/6 TD/INT ratio through the air and fumbled five times, bringing the overall TD/TO ratio to 14/11. The Bears TD/TO ratio is 10/6.

This is NOT going to be a battle of competent offense/teams; things will be ugly.

Things aren’t getting any easier for the Chargers before they even leave for Chicago. Recently promoted G Forrest Lamp broke his ankle last weekend and will miss the rest of the season. It’s another hit to a line that’s already down Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung, though even with Okung reportedly be back this week you could expect some rust.
Melvin Gordon will continue trying to get up to speed after ending his hold out a few weeks ago, but neither he or Austin Ekeler have gotten much going at 2.3 and 3.6 yards/carry, respectively.

Ekeler is helping to prop up that passing game with 44 receptions for nearly 500 yards and four TDs, most on the team. He’s joined by Keenan Allen with 49/564/3, but after that it’s a steep drop to Mike Williams at just 23 catches. In fact, only TE Hunter Henry is in double digits for receptions on the season, and he’s gotten 14 of them the last two weeks. Philip Rivers has a game plan, and it’s to feed Allen, Ekeler and now Henry.

The Bears will need to get the pass rush back on track to create pressures and get Rivers forcing balls to those guys to early or into what should be some stiff coverage for his three favorite targets. Ekeler gets most of his on designed screens and check downs, so Roquan Smith will need to shake out of his funk to keep himself and his front-7 on task to stymie the few things the Chargers do well. The way that Allen makes more of his catches in the short to intermediate route tree, I’d like to see Prince Amukamara stick with Allen all over the field, but the next time we see the Bears employs such a tactic will be the first.

This really feels like the perfect “get back to basics” opponent for Matt Nagy and Chuck Pagano to hit the reset button. You already spoke to the offense having an opportunity to exploit a battered and ineffective defense. The Bears defense doesn’t really need a full reset, but they need an easier matchup in terms of the game as a whole, and if the offense can put even some semblance of sustained drives together, that alone will make the job a much simpler one for the defense. They’ve also got a strong potential for turnovers, which we know they thrive off of and use to build confidence.

This could game could lift a lot of spirits IF Nagy and Pagano and be simple, be basic and just play a clean game, because Anthony Lynn’s Chargers are more than capable of demolishing themselves if you give them slight trouble and can mitigate the big play here and there. Would be nice to see that from the other side in 2019.

Everything Else Football

Content Warning: Self-Harm

I got a text at 11:45pm this last Monday from my main football watching homie that just said “I can’t do it anymore, thank you for always being real. Love ya.”

I wake up at 5am for work so I was asleep and therefore missed it, but as soon as I saw it I messaged him until he woke up. Turns out he was drunk and sad and lonely and in a very very dark place, and had no recollection of sending me that text message. I told him if he ever tried to hurt himself I would beat him to death with my own hands.

My guy has been there for me since I was 17, so pretty much exactly half my life. We’ve lived together and helped each other out, and if I had a “real” wedding, he’d be the best man for sure. Football is a big part of that bond, as I’m sure it is for a lot of the people reading this and their friends. It takes a special kind of friendship to be able to sit there in silence for hours except for the occasional snarky comment or mention of how awful your fantasy team is looking this week.

You know the old adage: “If horseracing is the sport of kings, then surely football is… a very good sport as well.” What makes sports so great for me, my buddy, you reading this: the escape. Fuck your dead-end job or your overdue car payment, and that term paper can wait until Sunday night, because it’s Bears football. The thing you grew up watching. The team that means so much to you even though there’s no logical reason to explain why.

That Sunday time is a sort of collective unwinding time for those of us lucky to not be at work, leaving us (hopefully) recharged for the next week of new or repeating nightmares. It’s for that reason that I stopped being so emotionally invested in the outcome of Bears games and just love the experience of watching “My Team” play on Sundays, regardless of what the final score reflects.

Writing “The Vault” has become one of my favorite assignments during the week, because as I’m looking at box scores and game notes and trying to remember how to spell player names, I’m also going back to old memories. I can remember where I was when so many of these games happened, from the couch I sat on to what I ate to how it felt watching Johnny Knox damn near break in half.

My friend was there for so many of those afternoons or nights. The amazing second half comeback against Arizona in 2006. The entire Super Bowl run, when we looked at each other after Devin Hester’s opening kickoff touchdown and knew this was the year without saying a word. We were horribly wrong and smoked the saddest blunt when we got home.

I knew he was lonely and depressed, but one of the hardest things to break out of is the mask of masculinity that we all wear, especially when a lot of the time you spend with someone is spent watching hours of the most bro sport in existence.

Sometimes it doesn’t get any deeper than “what should we get for lunch?”, but I need to do a better job. We all need to do a better job. Maybe it isn’t a good time to ask if someone is doing okay emotionally when the Broncos go ahead late with a 2-point conversion, but football brings us closer together and I hope we can use the bonds we’re strengthening with every yell at the television to notice when our football friends aren’t acting like we’re used to. Prince Amukamara posted the picture and caption on Instagram that I used for the banner image this week, presumably to let his friend Roquan Smith know that he has his back no matter what, and that, combined with my friend’s scary text on Monday really changed how I wanted to do this piece today.

As I sat down to write this, I looked back at the 2015 Bears/Raiders game, and I watched highlight videos. I looked up how to spell Sebastian Janikowski, I looked at how open Marty Bennett got for a Jay Cutler pass, and I got sad. All I could think about is how hard it would be to reminisce on these games if I lost the friend that I spent so many weekends watching them with. So I hope you’ll understand if today’s Vault is more of a reflection on why it is that Bears football means so much to me, and also a plea to you, the reader: check in with your friends, because okay doesn’t always mean okay.