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Dannehy: Too Early to Draw Conclusions about Flus, Bears Defense

| November 30th, 2022


While concerns about how terrible the Chicago Bears defense is right now might be warranted, there’s no real way of knowing if it will be a long term problem.

Since the trades of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, the Bears have struggled to get stops. Their defense has gone from a top-15 unit to, very likely, the worst in the entire league. There is certainly a lack of talent, but a significantly greater concern is that it doesn’t appear the unit is getting any better.

How many times must we see the entire team bite hard on a simple play action fake? That should be fixed by now. How are their defensive ends still not able to contain? (Didn’t Daniel Jones teach them anything?) It’s hard to say if the team lacks coaching or if the players are incapable of taking the coaching.

There are examples of defensive coaches who struggled early and turned it around and there are others who simply never were able to correct the issues. The Bears could’ve looked across the sideline for an example of the former last week as Robert Saleh had the worst defense in the league in 2021 and the Jets are a top five unit in 2022. Or, it could be like Brandon Staley who was given a pass for his 29th-ranked scoring defense in 2021 and, after an infusion of talent, still has the 29th-ranked scoring defense in 2022.

There really is no way to tell at this point.

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Dannehy: Late Game Heroics for Fields, Bears Could Come

| November 16th, 2022


The Bears have had the ball with a chance to win three times in the last five weeks and have fallen short every time. But anybody suggesting that means the young quarterback is incapable of leading the team to wins in those situations is misguided. There is no question that at some point the Bears and Justin Fields have to come through with game-winning scores. There is also no question that can develop with experience.

Turn back the clock a handful of years and you’ll see that in Aaron Rodgers’ first season as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, the team went 1-7 in one-score games. Worse yet, they had chances to win most of those games only to fall short.

On Oct. 5, 2008, the Packers had the ball trailing 20-17 against Atlanta with about seven minutes left only for Rodgers to throw an interception. Atlanta went on to score a touchdown and won 27-14. Less than a month later, the Packers had the ball with a chance to break a 16-16 tie but punted. Tennessee missed the game-winning field goal in regulation, only to make it in overtime.

On Nov. 30, the Packers had the ball, trailing Carolina by four before a Rodgers interception. They were tied with Houston the next week but had to punt and the Texans won the game on the next possession. It became three straight weeks in which Rodgers failed to deliver as they had the ball trailing 20-16 before a Jacksonville Jaguars interception essentially ended the game.

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Dannehy: “Special, Special, Special, Special Special” Justin Fields.

| November 9th, 2022


It should not be possible for a quarterback to run toward the line of scrimmage, leave his feet for a pump fake, come back to the ground, and then outrace the defense for a 61-yard touchdown.

But that’s what Justin Fields did on Sunday and such plays are becoming a weekly occurrence.

What makes Fields special isn’t just what he’s doing, it’s that so often the defense appears to be in position to make a play and they don’t because he is too good. Perhaps most telling are the comments from opponents. 

Melvin Ingram has been around the block, he said Fields is special five times. Jaelan Phillips called him a monster, Mike McDaniel said Fields is “as dynamic with the ball in his hands as any player in the league really.”

Luke Getsy deserves credit for checking his ego and installing an offense that works for his quarterback. It’s fair to question why it took so long to do that, but that’s old history. The true challenge for Getsy will be coming up with a counter when opponents are able to adjust.

That said, the Bears offense is taking off because of the quarterback.


Did Poles Mess Up?

Imagine if this offense was paired with a top fifteen defense? It isn’t that crazy because that’s exactly what the Bears had prior to the trades of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith.

When the Bears entered the season, the common thought was that the defense would be good, and the offense would be only as good as Justin Fields. That proved true through the first seven weeks as the team struggled to score points. The defense was still pretty good.

Now they have an offense that looks like an absolute machine, but they’re still not likely to win many more games simply because their defense cannot get a stop.

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Dannehy: Claypool Trade the First Sign Bears Might Be in on Fields

| November 2nd, 2022


With Tuesday’s trade for Chase Claypool, Ryan Poles gave his first actual indication the team is looking to build around Justin Fields.

Claypool doesn’t have a single 1,000-yard season and is currently struggling with an average of 9.7 yards per reception, but failures in Pittsburgh may not carry over to Chicago. Claypool will be best used as a downfield target at 6’4” with low-4.4 speed, but the Steelers, with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, have struggled throwing deep. That’s an area in which Fields excels. Claypool also entered the league known for devastating blocks and, at nearly 240 pounds, should be an asset in the running game.

The move is about more than the player, it’s about the vision of the team. It’s clear that Poles wasn’t sold on Fields until the last month. This move is a strong indication that now he is ready to push the pedal to the floor and build an offense around the quarterback that is already on the roster, not sure prospect currently in the college ranks.

Ultimately, Poles will be defined by the players he brings to the Chicago Bears, not the players he lets go. Claypool has a chance to be a very good player for a long time.


Roquan Trade Leaves Huge Hole

While focus regarding the Smith trade has been on his contract and the second-round pick received, the Bears created another problem: they have to replace him.

Linebackers have always been crucial to the success of this defensive scheme. Perhaps off-ball linebackers aren’t important in some schemes, but it is for the Bears and, suddenly, they need to find not one, but two high level linebackers.

And that’s not all.

As was apparent last Sunday, the Bears very likely will need a complete overhaul of their front seven. They’ll need blue chip players at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker, along with solid starters elsewhere.  While fans have been mocking wide receivers to the team – a projection that certainly seems unlikely after the Claypool trade – the Bears are much more likely to look defense early in the 2023 draft.

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Dannehy: Bullish on Justin Fields

| October 26th, 2022


If the Chicago Bears regime of Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus can’t figure out a way to build around Justin Fields, they probably aren’t cut out for the job. This assumes that Fields continues to make improvements, but the second-year quarterback showed on Monday Night Football he has a rare skill, the ability to make defenses wrong, even when they are 100% right.

The Patriots knew what the Bears were going to do offensively, but it didn’t matter because Fields made it not matter. When they had him bottled up, he muscled his way over the goal line. When they were all over a bubble screen, he managed a pump fake before changing his arm and body angle to deliver a throw through a tight window, while being smacked on what was the game’s defining play.

Defining Fields by his passing statistics is a foolish endeavor. How does one account for the third-and-14 play when he finds a tiny hole in the defense and runs for a first down? Sometimes merely being freakishly quick at 230 pounds matters and is not perceptible in the box score.

Fields has a lot to clean up. As freakish as his physical skills are, his small hands are a real problem. He doesn’t always read the defense quickly and he holds onto the football too long. But every quarterback has flaws; a good coach has to find the way to work around them. Luke Getsy was masterful on Monday.

The Bears need to help him out because what Fields has shown us is that he is capable of willing a team to victory on any given week — just not every single week. And while he may not fit the offense the Bears want to run and may not be the quarterback the GM dreamed of; he is a player that need to make work.

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Dannehy: Was Lack of Talent Acquisition this Off-Season Intentional?

| October 21st, 2022


It’s hard to pinpoint the most troubling aspect of the 2022 offseason: is it that Ryan Poles didn’t acquire enough good players or that he didn’t even try to upgrade the roster?

Regardless of where the Bears are in their team building process, the goal of the offseason is to acquire good players. That’s it. Simple. While Poles was certainly active, how many players did he bring in that we know are going to start in 2023? Jaquan Brisker is the only lock. Kyler Gordon is trending in the right direction, but the bad has still far outweighed the good to this point.

Poles has referenced the lack of resources when pressed on such questions, but that’s a farce. He could’ve used 2023 salary cap space in 2022 to bring in players. Instead, the team’s second-leading wide receiver is a player who didn’t even make the Green Bay Packers roster last year and their third was the sixth wide receiver on the New York Giants. It isn’t like either of those teams had an embarrassment of riches.

Then there’s Velus Jones, a high third round pick who specializes in gimmick plays and returns – except he isn’t a good return man. Jones is currently averaging 21 yards per kick return and 6.8 per punt return with two – yes, two – fumbles. Oh, and he fumbled a kick in the preseason. Poles complained about a lack of resources, then used one of his best resources on a 25-year-old gimmick player. The very next pick was Abraham Lucas, who looks like a long-term starter at tackle for Seattle.

The biggest investments Poles made in the offense were Byron Pringle at wide receiver and Alex Leatherwood on the offensive line. Pringle caught two passes in three games before landing on IR; Leatherwood has yet to play a snap.

Poles is said to be known for his ability to scout offensive linemen, but it appears as if he had no plan to fix that group last offseason. The Bears are relying on a fifth-round rookie at left tackle, fifth-round second-year player at right tackle, a converted tackle at right guard and backup-level players at center and left guard.

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Dannehy: Quick Week Could Benefit Bears

| October 12th, 2022


There are only two scenarios wherein playing on a short week can be beneficial for a team involved: (a) when a team has delivered a terrible performance it needs to put in the rearview mirror, and (b) when a team has started to gain momentum and needs to build off of that. The latter is most certainly true for the Chicago Bears as, for the first time all season, it appeared as if they were running a competent offense last Sunday.

The Bears seemed to spread the field out more last week, possibly a significant reason Justin Fields looked more comfortable. The young quarterback has played in a spread his entire life and the 2022 Bears have been using tight formations, congesting the field. Spread attacks make it easier for quarterbacks to see the field; it’s the very reason the spread became so popular. If they stay in those looks, fans have every reason to believe Fields will continue his progress.

Regardless of the reason, the Bears had a good thing going and they get to march right back out and build on it. If they can, they’ll get a long break to try and figure out how to go from competent to good. But right now, competent feels like a relief.


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Dannehy: Fair to Question Luke Getsy

| October 5th, 2022


Once again, Chicago Bears fans are left playing the “chicken or the egg” game when it comes to determining what, exactly, is the problem with the team’s offense. But there certainly is some evidence to suggest offensive coordinator Luke Getsy isn’t getting the most out of his players.

Justin Fields might be bad, but we know he is certainly capable of being much better than this. In his last four complete games of his rookie season, he passed for 975 yards and five touchdowns, with a passer rating of 85.9. Compare that to the first four of 2022, in which he has managed 471 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of, gulp, 58.7.

Fields isn’t even as effective as a rusher. In that same span, he ran for 257 yards, compared to 147 this year.

Somehow, the Bears offense is worse. They went from 27th in scoring and 24th in yardage to 31st in both. They are averaging 33 fewer yards and 2.3 fewer points per game. It is especially concerning when one evaluates Getsy’s performance in the passing game because, well, Getsy came to the team after being a passing game coordinator. It’s supposed to be his specialty.

It’s hard to see a major difference in the supporting cast; it isn’t as if the Bears didn’t have struggles at wide receiver and offensive line last year. And, while I have written several times about the difficulties Fields might have adjusting to an offense he has never played in — especially one that quarterbacks tend to struggle in — at least some of that should be offset simply by Fields no longer being a rookie.

The benefit of the wide zone offense Getsy was set to bring to Chicago is supposed to be the easy throws for the quarterback, but we aren’t seeing those. One can watch any Green Bay Packers game and see several examples of Aaron Rodgers taking a three step drop and making an easy throw for six yards. Do those not exist in Getsy’s version of the offense or is the quarterback not pulling the trigger?

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Dannehy: Bears Defense Could Be Good

| September 28th, 2022

If the Chicago defense is going to establish itself as a good unit, Sunday in New Jersey is the perfect time to do so.

The unit’s numbers are a bit mixed, which probably best describes their performance. The team is 11th in points allowed and 20th in yardage. They’re 9th in passing defense, 30th against the run. That’s all fine, especially considering their talent. But a deeper dive is less encouraging.

They are 17th in points allowed per drive, 22nd in yardage. However, because they’re seventh in takeaways – The Eberflus Effect – they are 11th in DVOA.

At the very least, this defense is mediocre. They have a chance to be better than that. They struggled in the first half against San Francisco and Green Bay and had some issues early against Houston. But they have been lights out in the second half, another effect of having Eberflus at the helm. (A lot of this is due to Kyler Gordon’s second half performances being far superior to his first halves.)

They need to put it together for four quarters. Sunday is a prime opportunity.

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Dannehy: Passing Game Failures are Everyone’s Fault

| September 21st, 2022


If Week One was a giant victory for the Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus era, Week Two was a terrible defeat.

There is a lot of blame to go around for Chicago’s failures against Green Bay. It starts by looking at the rosters. When you compare Green Bay’s defensive front to Chicago’s offensive line, and their secondary to Chicago’s receivers, it is a total mismatch.

That said, it isn’t like the Bears have a bare cupboard. The fact that Justin Fields has fewer than 200 passing yards through two games is, well, shocking.  Nobody will say Fields was great as a rookie, but in his last two games in 2021 he had more than 500 passing yards and three touchdowns. We can talk all day about the players the Bears don’t have, but they do have two who should be good options in the passing game in Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. Both were able to produce last year and can’t even get the ball thrown their way this year.

Was Matt Nagy that good or is Luke Getsy that bad?

That isn’t to absolve Fields, Kmet, Mooney or any of the other players. We’re simply learning that they aren’t good enough at this point. That also shouldn’t be a surprise. If you go back to the early reports from camp, they were all about how much the Bears were working on their running game and not their passing game. How could anybody expect mediocre — if we’re being generous — talent to produce against elite talent when they haven’t even put the time in on the practice field?

The NFL season is guaranteed to have 17 tests and the Bears have gone through two of them. The team’s front office and coaching staff is well aware that they aren’t going to be contending for the Super Bowl this year. They knowingly took the slow path to success and, unfortunately, that means there will be games like Sunday night.

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