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Dannehy: Memories of Cade & Culpepper, Plus Thoughts on San Francisco

| September 7th, 2022


For Chicago Bears fans in their 30s, or early 40s, it might be hard not to compare Sunday’s quarterback showdown at Soldier Field with a similar contest 22 years ago. This one will hopefully end far better for the Bears in both the short and long term.

The San Francisco 49ers are led by a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. They face a Bears team with a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player. On Sept. 3, 2000, the Minnesota Vikings – a playoff team the year previous – started Daunte Culpepper, a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. He faced Cade McNown, a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I watched this game as a college student at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. Most bars in NYC still didn’t have league-wide accessibility.]

That game ended up being perhaps McCown’s best as a professional. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception. He also ran for 87 yards on 10 attempts, adding another touchdown. The Bears managed 425 yards and 27 points, and the Gary Crowton offense looked like the future of the league.

But the Bears lost the game.

Culpepper struggled as a passer, completing just 13 of 23 passes for 190 yards and an interception. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass but ran for three scores and 73 yards. A 20-9 Bears lead disappeared in the second half but both teams exited Week One feeling good about their young passers. Ultimately, neither proved a long-term answer. McCown was benched eight weeks later and exited the NFL abruptly. Culpepper had a far more substantial career, but the Vikings continually fell short of lofty expectations.

What can we learn? Simply that one game does not make a season and certainly won’t define a career. But the quarterbacks will always be connected.


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Dannehy: Ranking the Bears, or Who are These Guys?

| July 20th, 2022


The annual “Ranking the Bears” series needs to take the year off.

The process starts at the top, but the most tedious work takes place at the bottom of the roster. The problem this year, though, is that players typically considered “bottom of roster” take up half the roster.

As the Bears prepare to enter training camp, the team has 25 rookies, 17 players who have played fewer than ten games and 26 players who have appeared in fewer than 20 games. Most of the players who appeared in 20 games or fewer did so primarily on special teams. Some others played for really bad teams which eventually benched and released them.

Considering most teams typically fill the back of the roster with undrafted rookies, it isn’t necessarily alarming that the Bears have 25 rookies entering camp. What is concerning, though, is that only three were taken in the first 100 picks of the 2022 NFL draft. Having 22 rookies who are essentially crapshoots is…unsettling.

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Dannehy: New Bears Regime Chose Familiar Path

| May 11th, 2022


You’ll never hear an NFL front office proclaim, in rich detail, the specific team they’re going to build, but the first offseason of the new Chicago Bears’ regime made it clear. The hiring of Matt Eberflus was the start of what turned out to be an entire offseason emphasis to build a defense-first team. That plan culminated at the draft when the team spent both of its second-round picks on that side of the ball. There’s an old saying that teams are built in the image of their coaches. The Bears seem to be embracing that line of thinking.

And while the 2022 season has been seen from the outside as one in which the Bears would write off as a losing campaign, securing the back end of their defense could help them field a competitive team. The picks of Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker put what should be high-level players at positions that were serious question marks. The Bears did not have a viable option across from Jaylon Johnson or next to Eddie Jackson. Now, they believe they do.

Cornerbacks can be hit or miss as rookies, but a scheme that emphasizes zone coverage – similar to what Gordon played in at Washington – should make his transition relatively seamless. Safeties are typically able to transition to the NFL quickly and Brisker gives the Bears a versatile player; a sure tackler who can cover a lot of ground. With Jackson, Johnson and Tavon Young in the slot, the Bears should have a solid secondary, with tremendous upside.

While they’re probably still a high-level front four player away from elite, it isn’t an overstatement to say Eberflus has had top ten defenses with less. In fact, Eberflus has almost always had top ten defenses. In four years with the Colts, his units had average rankings of ninth in scoring, second in takeaways and eighth in DVOA. For the sake of comparison, Vic Fangio’s Bears units were 14th, 19th and 17th in those same categories.

The Bears also selected two players who figure to be explosive return men. It isn’t unlike the 2006 draft when the first two players the team selected both excelled on special teams, including the greatest return man in NFL history. Both Velus Jones Jr. and Tristan Ebner give the Bears home run hitters on specials.

The offense is going to struggle this year, just like the offenses of Lovie Smith’s time with the team did. Hopefully, Justin Fields continues to show his ability to make big throws down the field and the running game can keep the defense fresh. The Bears will be relying on the defense to create takeaways and the special teams to give the offense good field position. That’s a terribly flawed long-term plan, but if Fields is as good as many think he is, it’s a plan that will have the team contending for a playoff spot in 2022, enabling them to load-up on the offensive side for 2023.

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Dannehy: Bears CAN Be Competitive in 2022

| April 6th, 2022


If the Chicago Bears are going to be competitive in 2022, they have some work to do. But it is doable.

There’s little argument that, on paper, the roster is worse right now than it was at the start of the 2021 season, but that doesn’t account for the expected leaps young players can make. The last two draft classes have produced some promising players; the most important of which is quarterback Justin Fields.

If Fields isn’t good, the Bears don’t have a chance at being competitive in 2022. Other young players like Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson and Trevis Gipson could take big steps. The 2021 draft class oozes with potential (even beyond Fields) as nobody would be shocked if Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, Khalil Herbert, Thomas Graham and Khyris Tonga were all plus players in 2022.

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