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Dannehy: Scheme Changes Can Help Bears Narrow Off-Season Focus

| February 24th, 2022

When mapping out the 2022 Chicago Bears off-season, nobody should forget about where the Bears’ top coaches are coming from.

Luke Getsy comes from Green Bay, where they have succeeded offensively without an elite collection of receiving talent. Matt Eberflus and Alan Williams come from Indianapolis, where they consistently fielded top defenses without top players in the secondary. Since those are the two position groups where the Bears are currently most deficient, one would they’d be the areas of focus for Ryan Poles’ personnel department. But the schemes of the new coaches can help the Bears focus their attention on getting better in the trenches. (Poles has made it clear that he was not happy with what he saw on tape from the team’s offensive line. It wasn’t just talent, but attitude that he noted — a sign that the entire group just may be overhauled or, at the very least, no jobs are safe.)

Offense

The Bears don’t have Davante Adams or Aaron Rodgers like Getsy had with the Packers, but they do have three players who caught more passes than Green Bay’s second-leading wide receiver, Allen Lazard. Green Bay’s passing offense ran through Adams, who caught 123 passes. Their next leading receivers were Lazard (40), Randall Cobb (28) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (26). Their backup running back caught more passes than their third receiver or top tight end.

That’s a recipe the Bears can follow.

Mooney isn’t close to being as good as Adams, but he’s considerably better than the rest of Green Bay’s wide receivers. The simple numbers game tells us the Bears will have to add to the position and whoever they add will likely be better than Lazard.

The Bears also have an ascending Cole Kmet, who caught 60 passes in his second year at 22 years old, and you can bet the team will use David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert more in the passing game.

If Getsy is able to implement a similar system, the Bears will have a run-based offense. In two years with Getsy as the passing game coordinator, the Packers were 24th and 15th in pass attempts. Adams is the only wide receiver who caught more than 40 passes in either season.

The other part, of course, is not having Rodgers. Nobody should expect Fields to play at that level in 2022, but if he isn’t at least a competent passer, the scheme and players around him won’t matter all that much.

The Bears might not have an Adams-like receiver, but they shouldn’t need one. If they can run the ball as efficiently as Green Bay did, they’ll move the ball. And if Fields is what many think he can be, he’ll get them buckets in the passing game with a diverse group of pass catchers.

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Dannehy: It Doesn’t Start at the Top. It Starts Under Center.

| February 9th, 2022

While some voices around the Chicago Bears have lost their voices shouting IT STARTS AT THE TOP, the Cincinnati Bengals serve as a reminder that, in reality, it starts under center.

Sunday, the Bengals have a chance to win their first Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. They’re doing this after winning a combined six games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. They have the same coach, the same coordinators, a six-person front office and the cheapest owner in the sport. Yet here they are. Because now they have a Joe Burrow.

The Bears have a chance at a similar turnaround, but Justin Fields will need to make a similar leap.

The Bears offseason and coaching search was seen as something that would be centered around Fields. Fans clamored for an offensive head coach who could, in theory, “develop” Fields into an elite quarterbacks. But NFL coaches don’t make bad quarterbacks good, or good quarterbacks great. That is left mostly up to the player himself. (The 2011 CBA limited the amount of time coaches have with players in the offseason.) Mike McCarthy used 10-hour days to help refine Aaron Rodgers’ mechanics, but that is no longer possible in the current NFL. Quarterbacks have had to rely on personal coaches to refine their mechanics. It’s what Josh Allen credits for his development.

Chicago has been criticized for hiring a defensive head coach with a first-time offensive coordinator and an inexperienced QB coach. In all, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko have just three years total working with quarterbacks. John DeFilippo had 11 himself as a coordinator or QB coach, Bill Lazor had 12 and Matt Nagy had nine. The Bears went from a team of expert QB coaches — who had gotten MVP-caliber seasons from the likes of Alex Smith, Nick Foles and Carson Wentz — to an unknown.

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Dannehy: Eberflus Must Fully Control His Defense

| February 2nd, 2022


The most significant thing to come out of Monday’s introductory press conference was that Matt Eberflus won’t be calling the defensive plays, even while the team converts to the 4-3 defense he ran in Indianapolis. There are no issues with Eberflus delegating; many head coaches find it easier to manage the whole of the game while doing so. But Flus still must maintain full control of this defense. He would not be a head coach without his success as a defensive coordinator and not using those skills would be a waste.

Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh are two common examples of defensive coaches who do not call plays. (Many forget that the season before Harbaugh was hired in Baltimore, he was no longer coaching specials in Philly. He was coaching the defensive backs.) In those cases, though, both teams already had outstanding defenses and the new head coaches retained their staffs.

Eberflus doesn’t have that luxury. The team is bringing several coaches from Indianapolis to fill out the defensive staff, including expected defensive coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears are going to try to mimic the success Eberflus had with the Colts, but the new head coach must understand it won’t be easy without the same guy (him) pushing the buttons.

And for every Tomlin or Harbaugh, there is a Leslie Frazier; a defensive coach who delegated the responsibilities in Minnesota, even though the team probably would’ve been better off with the head coach handling the job. Frazier is a notable example because he entrusted the same person Eberflus is expected to hire and it didn’t go well. The first year was okay, as Williams’ defense with the Vikings ranked 16th in yardage, 14th in points allowed and 22nd in takeaways. The second season, they were in the bottom-five in all three categories. Williams, specifically, was blamed not just by media members and fans, but by players.

The next year, with many of the same players and Mike Zimmer as the coach, the Vikings fielded a top-15 defense.

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Dannehy: Bears Process Nets Ryan Poles, Their Top Candidate

| January 25th, 2022

While the process the Chicago Bears used to find their next general manager was criticized locally, the results gave them perhaps the top candidate on the market in Ryan Poles.

Every team seems to look for something different when it comes to GMs, so the fact that Poles was a finalist for three different jobs in the same offseason is somewhat incredible. While the Giants seemed to have pinpointed Buffalo’s Joe Schoen from the start, Poles still managed to earn a second interview there. Minnesota cast a fairly wide net and Poles was thought to be the favorite until the Bears scooped him up. (Poles was also a finalist with the Carolina Panthers last offseason, with owner David Tepper always seeming to want to create some buzz.)

And then there’s the Bears.


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The process included at least 15 interviews and an unknown number of feelers. The team owned by geriatrics used technology to move through the process and came away with the same conclusion as the aforementioned clubs: Poles is a stud.

Now Poles has to make possibly his most important decision. He has to hire a head coach. He’ll have to consider how to get the most out of a young quarterback, while also being sure he has someone who commands respect in the locker room. We will see what happens in the coming days.

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Dannehy: With Brian Flores, the Bears Would Know What They’re Getting on Defense

| January 19th, 2022


If the Chicago Bears tap Brian Flores to be the team’s next head coach, you can bet they’re going to have an aggressive defense that takes the ball away and hits the opponent in the mouth.

Flores has become a hot name after two separate reports indicated he is a strong candidate for the Bears. On Monday, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington said “Bears execs were extremely impressed with Flores” during joint practices last summer. That same day, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports said on the Brother from Another Mother podcast that the Bears were “very, very smitten” with Flores.

[Editor’s Note: George McCaskey and Ted Phillips were not on the field for these joint practices. But clearly someone wanted this report out there.]

There is something comforting about knowing what you’ll get when you make a hire. We know what Flores will bring because we’ve seen it. The Dolphins blitzed at the second-highest rate in the league in 2021, they were eighth in takeaways, a year after leading the league, and 10th in DVOA. Flores got the Dolphins job after being the play-caller for a Patriots defense that allowed just three points in the Super Bowl. The question when hiring a head coach is always if their success as a coordinator will translate, and with Flores the answer was clearly yes.

While he might take a year to get the personnel he wants on defense, we know Flores won’t stand for a team having the worst passer rating allowed, like the 2021 Bears did. And you can be damn sure he won’t let a quarterback talk about “owning” his team.

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Dannehy: No Sure Strategy for Finding Next Great Head Coach

| January 12th, 2022


Everyone has their preferred qualifications for the next Chicago Bears head coach. In a way, they are all correct. Or all wrong.

No Surefire Resume

There are 11 coaches who have been in the league for more than three years and won 60% of their games. Of those, five were defensive coaches. If you stretch the list to include Pete Carroll – currently at 59.3%, with a Super Bowl ring – it’s an even six offensive and six defensive coaches. So, while fans tend to focus on one side of the ball or the other, history doesn’t seem to prefer either when it comes to sustained success.

What’s maybe more interesting is that their coordinator experience isn’t all that relevant.

  • Five of the coaches were coordinators for at least five years. All of them had success, though they weren’t successful every year. (Bruce Arians had some awful offenses in Cleveland, so did Mike McCarthy in San Francisco. Sean McDermott was fired as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia.)
  • Sean Payton was only a coordinator for three years, but he was stripped of play-calling duties by Jim Fassel early on and wasn’t a regular play caller again until he got to New Orleans.
  • Mike Tomlin and Mike Vrabel were only coordinators for one year. Tomlin was good, Vrabel wasn’t.
  • Matt LaFleur only called plays for one season, having one of the ten worst offenses in the league. (Are we sure LaFleur is good and isn’t just being carried by Aaron Rodgers?).
  • Andy Reid was never a coordinator at all.
  • John Harbaugh coached special teams.

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Dannehy: Sean Payton Should Be the Primary Target

| January 5th, 2022


The goal for the Chicago Bears and George McCaskey should be clear: pry Sean Payton away from the New Orleans Saints. The reasons why are fairly obvious.

He has been one of the most successful coaches in the league over the past 15 years, with an offense that perfectly fits Justin Fields. (Payton is known for “four verts”, which is designed to stretch the field. He is also known to want a mobile quarterback. There is no better fit for what he wants than Fields.) He wins in a variety of different ways, adjusting his offense to the talent he has, and managing to achieve similar results. He is a great offensive coach. The entire league knows that. The Bears know that. But how could the Bears get the Saints to agree?

The reasons for Payton to leave are there. The Saints don’t have a quarterback or really the means to acquire one. The Saints are projected to be nearly $62 million over the salary cap in 2022, and while GM Mickey Loomis has long been able to negotiate the cap, the likely outcome is going to include letting some good players go. (Keep in mind that that cap number doesn’t include a new contract for Terron Armstead who is set to be a free agent and could net an annual salary topping $20 million.)

If any team can navigate that cap mess, it’s the Saints, but the other factor is their age. Even if they bring Armstead back, he’s 30 years old. Cam Jordan is 32, Taysom Hill, 31; Ryan Ramczyk and Michael Thomas are both 28. They are a top-heavy team with a lot of veterans making big bucks. Their entire roster is going to need rebuilding in the near future and, at 58 years old, Payton may not want to endure that experience.

And they still have to find a way to get a quarterback! Perhaps they can swing a trade for Russ Wilson, Deshaun Watson or Aaron Rodgers, but it would gut the draft picks they need to replace the veteran players already mentioned.

There is no easy fix for the Saints.

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Dannehy: Structure Change Should Give Coach More Power

| December 29th, 2021


The Chicago Bears should change the way their football operations are structured, but not in the way many fans are clamoring for. The President of Football Operations many seek, a position that does not include the duties of General Manager, is historically flawed. Many organizations with non-football people owners have tried it and it has universally failed. The failure is often quite embarrassing.

But what has proven to work around the league and is a direction the Bears have leaned in recent years, is making the next head coach the leading football voice in the organization.

That’s the way several successful teams have operated including Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City, San Francisco, New England and Buffalo. Green Bay has the head coach on equal footing as the general manager, Mike McCarthy answers directly to ownership in Dallas and you can bet that if the head coaches of the LA Rams or Tampa Bay Bucs said, “it’s me or him,” those owners would pick the coaches over the GMs.

The Bears have come close to executing this arrangement in the past.

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Dannehy: Despite Rampant Criticism, Cole Kmet on Schedule to Be a Productive Tight End

| December 22nd, 2021


It’s weird to hear a second-year player, in his very early 20s, criticized the way Cole Kmet is criticized. But perhaps we should expect nothing less from a passionate, if sometimes over-emotional fan base.

Kmet is putting together a fine season for the Bears. With three games left, he has 49 catches, averaging 10 yards per catch. Those numbers put him firmly in the top-15 in the league. Oh, and he’s a good blocker to boot. Yet, every game, there are Bears fans calling him some combination of a bust or wasted pick. It truly is weird.

What most fans seem to have lost sight of is that tight end is a grown man’s position, especially those who play in-line, like Kmet does. If you look throughout the history of the league, it is rare to find a young tight end who has produced like Kmet at only 22 years old. Of the tight ends with more catches than Kmet, only one is younger than 24 – that’s phenom Kyle Pitts, who really is more of a wide receiver at this point.

Even freaks of nature like George Kittle and Travis Kelce didn’t break out until well past their 22nd birthdays. In fact, both were not producing much in college when they were Kmet’s age. Kittle had 20 catches at Iowa and Kelce had 13 at Cincinnati.

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Dannehy: Bears Offense Closer Than You Think

| December 15th, 2021

Stop if you’ve heard this before, but the Chicago Bears are good quarterback play away from having a really good offense.

As thoughts of sweeping changes in Halas Hall flood the minds of Chicago Bears fans, the reality is that the offense isn’t as far away from being good as most think. The season totals probably aren’t even as dreadful as they look; they’d be 22nd in yards per game without their 47-yard performance. That game was a part of a five-week clunk fest in which the Bears didn’t do a heck of a lot well on offense.

But we have seen some considerable progress since.

In Fields’ last four games, the Bears have averaged 36.4 yards per drive. That mark would be tied for the sixth-best in the entire league. They have also averaged two points per drive, a mark that would be tied for 20th.

Not great, but certainly not as awful as some have reported.

There’s more to this though, with Andy Dalton at quarterback, the Bears have averaged 40.6 yards per drive — a mark that would be the best in the league — and 1.98 points per drive, 21st. Since Halloween, the Bears offense is 16th in EPA per play.

What this tells us is that when the Bears have had adequate quarterback and offensive line play — which they mostly have since Halloween — they’ve moved the ball. But the quarterbacks need to take better care of the football if the team is going to score more points.

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