Bears Offensive Line Is Built on Hope More Than Certainty

| July 28th, 2023

While it isn’t the dire situation we saw a year ago, the Chicago Bears have entered training camp with questions along their offensive line.

The Bears made two big investments in their offensive line, signing guard Nate Davis and drafting tackle Darnell Wright, but it’s still worth questioning if that is enough. The Bears will be relying on three unproven players as well as two veterans who need to step forward in 2023, and for this offensive line to compete against the best defensive lines on their schedule they’ll need quite a bit of luck to break their way.

The offensive tackle position could be problematic. The upside of both Wright and left tackle Braxton Jones is apparent — both have everything one could want from a physical standpoint. Wright played well at Tennessee last year and there’s no reason to second-guess the team for picking him. That said, it isn’t unusual for tackles to struggle as rookies.

Teams can usually live with rookie struggles, but Braxton Jones is hardly a proven commodity on the other side. He played well for a fifth-round pick last year, but still wasn’t playing at what most would consider a starting level. In 206 true pass sets — defined by Pro Football Focus as pass plays that exclude plays with fewer than four rushers, play action, screens, short drop backs and time to throw under two seconds — Jones allowed 30 pressures. That’s the 10th most in the league, despite having just 206 snaps in those situations. PFF graded Jones’ pass blocking efficiency in true pass sets 57th out of 60 players with at least 150 true pass sets. He wasn’t even as efficient as Larry Borom was as a rookie, though the upsides of both players aren’t close.

Going into camp without any competition for Jones is certainly a bet on upside and coaching. If it pays off, Ryan Poles and company will look like geniuses. If it doesn’t and Wright goes through typical rookie struggles, the Bears are going to have a major problem.

The concerns aren’t limited to the tackle position though.

Read More …

Tagged: , , , ,


Dannehy: Kyler Gordon Key to Defense

| June 29th, 2023

The first draft pick Ryan Poles made is going to be among the keys to the team having a successful 2023 season. There is no question Kyler Gordon’s rookie campaign got off to a horrendous start. He was injured for much of camp and, apparently, had a target on his back when he returned to the lineup. In the Bears’ first three games, nearly half of the passing yards the team gave up came with Gordon in coverage.

But he got better and better and there’s reason to think that improvement will continue.

After allowing 305 yards in coverage the first three games, Gordon allowed just 459 the rest of the season. In five of the next 11 games, he held the receivers he was covering to 25 yards or fewer, while intercepting three passes and allowing two touchdowns.

There are going to be two keys for the Bears to get the most out of Gordon this year and both should be easily obtainable.

The first is already a stated goal – to play him strictly in the slot. Most of Gordon’s rookie snaps came in the slot, where he lined up 431 times compared to 295 outside, according to Pro Football Focus. Gordon allowed 41 catches on 45 targets with two touchdowns and two interceptions as a slot defender. The passer rating (107.8) allowed still isn’t impressive, but passer ratings aren’t necessarily a good way to judge slot defenders. Of the 24 players who had 200 or more coverage snaps in the slot, 13 allowed passer ratings above 100. Indianapolis’ Kenny Moore allowed a rating of 121.1 last year.

Read More …

Tagged: ,


Dannehy: Eberflus Defense Can Be Productive Without Pressure

| June 15th, 2023

Much of the current discussion regarding the 2023 Chicago Bears has been about the need to add another pass rusher. While that certainly would be nice, Eberflus has already shown us he doesn’t need a great pass rush to have a productive defense. Do the Bears certainly need to get after the quarterback better than they did in 2022, when they managed an abysmal 20 sacks and pressured quarterbacks on just 15.9 percent of drop backs, ranking 32nd and 31st in the league? Of course. But the truth is, Eberflus never had a great pass rush in Indianapolis and still managed to produce quality defenses every year.

In his four seasons as the Colts defensive coordinator, the team never ranked better than 18th in pressure percentage (per Pro Football Reference) or 12th in sacks and were never worse than 18th in scoring defense or 16th in yardage. The key to Eberflus’ defense is takeaways, something he has managed to do annually despite not getting pressure.

The Colts were top ten in takeaways every year Eberflus called their defense. In his final season in Indianapolis, they were second in takeaways, despite ranking 31st in pressure percentage and 25th in sacks. Even last year, the Bears did a good job taking the ball away, finishing 14th in the league, despite their inability to breath on opposing quarterbacks.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


Dannehy: First Pick a Dangerous Precedent for GMs

| January 12th, 2023

Since the turn of the century there have been eight general managers who have kept their jobs after ending a season with the worst record in the league. Of those, San Diego’s A.J. Smith, Houston’s Rick Smith, Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht, Detroit’s Martin Mayhew and Jacksonville’s Trent Baalke have recovered to make the playoffs. In two of those cases — Licht and Baalke — the GM didn’t have final say on the roster, instead it was head coaches Lovie Smith and Urban Meyer calling the shots.

Another example could be Duke Tobin of the Bengals, though Cincinnati’s front office set up is unique and it’s unknown how much power he actually has.

More often than not, the decision maker who is responsible for constructing the worst team in the league is fired, either immediately or soon after.

The easiest way to climb out of the dumpster is by hitting on a quarterback. That, more than anything, is what has the Jaguars and Bengals in the playoffs. Hitting on Matthew Stafford kept Martin Mayhew employed for a few more years and AJ Smith was able to get creative, taking Eli Manning and swapping him for Philip Rivers. Time will tell if the Bears truly believe they have their quarterback, though they seem content – at the very least – with Justin Fields.

Rick Smith is the exception; he took defensive ends both times he had the first pick and neither worked out particularly well. He had a longer leash than most as the Texans didn’t make the playoffs until his sixth season in charge. You can bet Poles won’t get that much time.

Carolina’s Marty Hurney is also an exception, he hit on the quarterback but was still fired shortly after.

Poles is in a good spot to turn this roster around as long as he uses his resources wisely.

Read More …

Tagged: , ,


Yes, 2022 Comes with Low Expectations. But Low Expectations End There.

| July 25th, 2022

The Chicago Bears don’t think they are going to be good in 2022. Teams that think they’re going to be good don’t sell off Khalil Mack for (essentially) future cap space. Teams that think they’re going to be good don’t enter a season with 3/5 of their offensive line unsettled. Teams that think they’re going to be good don’t balk at just about every available free agent, including several at positions of extreme need. The Bears don’t think they’re going to be good in 2022 because being good in 2022 is not essential to this new leadership.

Rebuilds are a weird discussion in the NFL. In baseball, a rebuild requires selling off every viable commodity and losing for a decade while stockpiling draft picks and minor league assets. In the NBA, there are teams with multiple superstars and teams without them; everyone else is irrelevant. In hockey…I don’t know anything about hockey. There’s something with a forecheck I think?

In the NFL, rebuilds don’t exist. There are teams with top-level quarterbacks and teams without them. The teams with them are relevant each and every season and the Bears believe Justin Fields will get there. They do not believe, however, that he’s there right now. (And no one watching the 2021 tape would objectively disagree.)

When it comes to the roster around the quarterback, and when there is turnover at the head coach/GM positions, it takes no more than a single off-season to dump men and money and start the whole program over. Poles and Flus have followed a repeatable template, specifically one engaged by the regime running things in Buffalo currently.

But next season will be Fields’ third in the league and second in the system. No more excuses.

Next off-season the Bears will be loaded with cap space, chock full of draft picks and operating with endless roster flexibility. No more excuses.

The Bears are not going to be good in 2022 and that will be understandable. But the excuses end entirely in 2023. The new leadership will have had two drafts. They will have had two full off-seasons with the quarterback. They will have had the economic flexibility to craft the roster in their image. And while they took over a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game in many-a-moon, the cupboard was not entirely bare when they arrived.

If the 2023 Bears aren’t competing for January football, questions can again be seriously asked about the men in charge of football operations in Chicago, including the quarterback. But in the meantime, we will all try and find minor joys in a season replete with minor expectations. This team needs to play hard. They need to play fast. They need to display, on Sundays and not Thursdays, they are a well-coached group. They need to show fight, even when they are undermanned talent-wise. And perhaps most importantly, they need to provide entertainment to a fan base tired of being bored to death when they turn on their televisions to watch Chicago Bears football.

After all the mediocrity, that’s not too much to ask from 2022. In 2023, we’ll all expect much, much more.

Tagged: , ,