Dannehy: Kyler Gordon Breakthrough a Great Sign

| December 21st, 2022

For much of his rookie season, most of the talk surrounding Kyler Gordon has been about players the Bears could’ve had instead. But Sunday was a big step for the kid, as he prepared to close out an inconsistent but improving rookie season. While his coverage issues have been problematic at times, the Bears got exactly what they’ve wanted from Gordon this week, as he took the ball away twice against Philadelphia.

The Bears almost immediately slid Gordon into the slot corner position in the defense. They did so because it is a playmaking position in their scheme; he might not be able to stick with the league’s best wide receivers in coverage, but if he can attack the ball, the team will be happy.

Gordon will get better in coverage, and he already has, but he Bears might not need him to be a top cover corner.

By now, we all know and should accept that Jaylon Johnson is a high-level coverage corner. He gave up quite a bit against the Eagles, but almost everything he surrendered was earned through tight coverage. The Bears will still want him to make more plays on the ball going forward, but Johnson is proving to be a good starting corner.

Jaylon Jones might be the real key to the secondary going forward. He too struggled in coverage early this season, but has been especially sticky in recent weeks.

If the Jaylons can man the outside of the Bears defense, it will free Gordon to focus more on taking the ball away. If Sunday was any indication, the Bears just might have something.

Wide Receivers Matter

As sticky as the Bears were in coverage last week, Jalen Hurts still managed to throw for more than 300 yards simply because his wide receivers made plays on contested passes.

While Hurts deserves credit for delivering great passes, the Eagles have two high-level wide receivers who have made their quarterback’s life much easier. While we can pinpoint potential solutions to most of the Bears problems, wide receiver is a tricky one.

The hope was that Darnell Mooney would take another step this year, but that didn’t really happen. The Bears traded what looks to be the 33rd pick and will almost certainly be in the top 35 for Chase Claypool who has done very little.

While both would benefit from better offensive line play – an issue that has often destroyed the team’s passing game – there is little question that neither are stars or even close to the likes of A.J. Brown and probably not even DaVonta Smith.

What also hurts is 2022 third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. looking absolutely unplayable simply because he can’t hold onto the ball. If Jones Jr. can’t make more of an impact than Nsimba Webster, they can’t include him in any future plans.

There isn’t an elite wide receiver prospect available early in this year’s draft and it seems rather unlikely that the team would use its other second round pick on the same position it used its first second rounder on. The free agent market doesn’t look all that promising either.

While they’ll probably add a draft pick or a cheaper veteran, the Bears are likely stuck without a true game-changing wide receiver for at least another year.

Sanborn Injury a Bummer

While some Bears fans have already put the young linebacker in the Hall of Fame, the team very likely needed to see more from Jack Sanborn in order to guarantee a starting spot for him in 2023.

It will be interesting to find out what the Bears evaluation of Sanborn is. Eberlfus has a history of prioritizing speed at the linebacker position and Sanborn (4.73 40) is considerably slower than any linebacker the Colts drafted while Eberflus was their defensive coordinator.

Sanborn has some clear strengths as he consistently showed the ability to get off blockers and make plays while attacking the line of scrimmage. At the very least, he has proven that he should have been drafted.

But that might not be enough for the Bears, especially with Bobby Okereke looming in free agency. Okereke played inside linebacker for Eberflus in 2021 and would give the team a surefire star at the second level. Okereke would be a clear upgrade, especially in pass coverage, where both Sanborn and Nick Morrow have struggled.

It’s undeniable that Sanborn was improving every week, but is that enough to prevent the team from pursuing a high-level player like Okereke? We’ll find out.

That’s a Bison

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the Buffalo Bills is that their mascot is actually a bison.

While one can argue that William the Buffalo’s blue color makes him clearly a fictional creature, it’s undeniable that they were attempting to make him look like a bison, thinking it was a buffalo.

It’s a common mistake. Personally, I blame Kevin Costner and the movie Dances with Wolves as they regularly referred to bison as buffalo. A buffalo looks much more like a cow than it does a bison.

Maybe the worst part is that the Bills didn’t have to do it this way. The team is named after frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody; they could’ve had a cowboy or an early settler as their mascot. Instead, they picked the wrong animal.

As for the game, I fully expect the Bears to be buffaloed by the Bills.

Tagged: , , , ,


Dannehy: Put Little Stock in Last Four Games

| December 14th, 2022

It isn’t too hard to remember when Bears fans were writing Thomas Graham Jr.’s name down as a key part of the organization’s future. The sixth rounder had a strong showing at the end of the 2021 season, after not playing at all up until that point. The expectation was that Graham would be a starter in 2022, but he wasn’t even close to that. He was injured early in training camp, but even after he was healthy the team instead decided to use roster spots on Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell. Graham went to the practice squad where he was later signed by Cleveland.

Cleveland hasn’t had much use for him. After being signed to the active roster originally, Graham was demoted to the practice squad. He was promoted back to the active roster on Oct. 31 but didn’t play a single defensive snap until last week.

Graham’s story isn’t uncommon. Bears fans, especially, should know to be cautious when it comes to how a player looks at the end of a dead-end season, though the Devin Aromashodu highlights can be fun. Who can forget Brock Forsey running for 134 yards? My guess is most of you did.

We won’t learn a whole lot about the Chicago Bears in the last four games of the season.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


Dannehy: Serious Concerns About Eberflus

| December 8th, 2022

First and goal from the 19 when the quarterback is playing well shouldn’t be a running down.

Third-and-five from the 23 when the quarterback is throwing smoke should not be a running down.

There is a difference between being conservative and being bad. It seemed like Matt Eberflus was trying to lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. He wasn’t, and that raises some major red flags.

Leading 16-10 with a chance to put the game away, the Bears took the ball out of their best player’s hands. What they followed with was 14 out of 18 plays in which they either ran the ball or passed it behind the line of scrimmage. The Bears did everything they could to not win. The Packers came back and took the lead.

On the plays in which they actually let their quarterback do his job, they got passes of 49, 14 and 24 yards, as well as a one-yard scramble. The team’s best player is obvious to everyone at this point, but apparently not to the head coach. How can we not be concerned about that?

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


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.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


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.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , ,


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.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,


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.

Read More …



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.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


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.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,