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Four Young Bears Off to Cold Starts (Non-Quarterback Category)

| September 20th, 2022

Again, Tuesdays are a good spot in the week to assess the development of young players on this young roster and a few concerning trends have begun to emerge.


Darnell Mooney/Cole Kmet

Where are they?

That’s serious question worth asking after two games.

Where are they?

There was no scenario wherein the Bears could be a productive offense in 2022 without serious production from Mooney and Kmet and, through two games, they have been utterly invisible. How much of that do they own? How much of that is on the quarterback? How much of that is on two difficult defensive opponents?

Whatever the reasoning, it has to stop. The next two games – home to Houston and at the Giants – need to be games where these two players are fed the football. Scheme them open if necessary. The Bears need to find out just how many weapons they need to acquire this off-season.


Roquan Smith

In the winter, Aaron Judge played hardball with the New York Yankees. He wanted a zillion dollars over a zillion years. The Yankees only wanted to give him 3/4 of a zillion over slightly less than a zillion years. Nobody budged. No deal. And now Judge is having the greatest contract year in the history of professional sports.

Roquan Smith is off to the opposite campaign. He is getting blown off the ball repeatedly, including by backs and receivers. He looks slow in coverage, normally a major strength. And the tenacity that has come to define his game is absent. Roquan is 25 years old and should be a long-term answer on this defense. But playing at this level, it’s becoming more and more likely he is elsewhere in 2023.

Imagine the criticism that would befall Ryan Poles were Smith to be playing at this level after being given $100 million.


Larry Borom

With a nod to Dave Wasserman, I believe I’ve seen enough. Borom is not a starting offensive tackle.

Teven Jenkins looks good inside. Braxton Jones is holding his own at left tackle. But Borom is a severe liability on the right side and the Bears need to start thinking about an upfront construction that doesn’t land him in the starting five. (This might take Alex Leatherwood’s return from mono.)

This shouldn’t be read as a striking criticism, either. Borom was a late-round pick and is a perfectly capable swing tackle. He is a roster asset. But in a league where the athleticism on the defensive edge seems to increase tenfold yearly (have you seen Micah Parsons play?), Borom simply can’t handle the role four quarters a week for 17 weeks plus.

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Four Positives, Three Concerns from Sunday’s Victory Over the Niners

| September 13th, 2022


There is no reason to overreact to the first game of an NFL season, especially when a substantial period of that game is played in a deluge. But when a season is going to be defined by the development of a young roster, it is worth tracking that developing week-to-week. Tuesdays will be the day we do that on DBB.

Four Positives

  • Dominique Robinson. Scout friends, with much more developed football brains than my own, have been telling me about Robinson since the Bears took him in the fifth round. Well, Robinson had a jump off the screen debut Sunday and Senior Bowl Jim Nagy took notice.

  • Justin Fields. The quarterback was brutal in the first half against San Francisco, but once again he has shown the ability to forget the bad plays and forge ahead. His second half line? 5-for-8, 102 yards, 2 TDs, 0 sacks and a 145.8 passer rating. (And this second half would have likely been even better if the fourth quarter didn’t feature a large boat and two of every animal.)
  • Eddie Jackson. Not only did Jackson make the game-changing interception, but he was active and aggressive in run support, even making some noise on contact. This wasn’t EJ the finesse player. This was EJ the defensive leader and after one game it seems no Bears defender has been more significantly (read: positively) impacted by the implementation of Matt Eberflus’ program.
  • Khalil Herbert. After struggling this summer, Herbert was the best Bears running back Sunday and he seems to have a burst that David Montgomery lacks. It will be worth monitoring the allocation of carries moving forward.

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Five Predictions for the 2022 Chicago Bears Season.

| September 6th, 2022


This is one of the more interesting seasons in recent memory, with the summer injecting unexpected optimism into the whole affair. So, what do I expect from the 2022 Chicago Bears?


Prediction #1. The Bears will beat their over/under number of six.

On the 2022 schedule: Giants, Jets, Texans, Commanders, Lions (twice), Falcons. Every one of those games is winnable and none of them will feature a point spread outside the 3-point margin. If Eberflus has the defense playing at a top-15 level, and he should, all of those teams are going to struggle to score on the Bears.

This is not to say the Bears will win double-digit games. But 7-10? 8-9? Even 9-8? All three seem perfectly feasible. And a side note to the prediction: this will be an inherently fun team to watch.


Prediction #2. The “starting five” will not be the “final five” along the offensive line.

Someone will flop. Braxton Jones at left tackle? Teven Jenkins at right guard? Larry Borom at right tackle? It is highly unlikely all three will find success and the Bears will have solved their offensive line woes in one off-season. Add in the waiver claim for Alex Leatherwood, with the cost associated, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Chris Morgan and Luke Getsy work him into the starting lineup by mid-season.


Prediction #3. The Bears will struggle to rush the passer.

The last time Robert Quinn mounted back-to-back double-digit sack seasons was 2013-14. That is eight years ago. Quinn is capable of being an elite pass rusher (see: 2021), but his career has been defined by inconsistency rather than dominance. He’ll need help on the outside and help is not on this roster unless Trevis Gipson takes a massive leap in his third season. What is more likely is the Bears are debating between pass rusher and wide receiver in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.


Prediction #4. Cole Kmet will score five or more touchdowns.

Rookie season: 28-243-2

Sophomore season: 60-612-0

Third season: 78-1,008-6

Kmet’s lack of touchdown production in his second year had nothing to do with him. It was entirely about the previously regime’s Jimmy Graham obsession. Graham wasn’t just playing a majority of red zone snaps but was also in Graham-specific packages that included fade routes thrown by an inaccurate quarterback to an old tight end.

With attention being paid weekly to Darnell Mooney, Kmet should be the beneficiary of mismatches over the middle and profit greatly from a red zone scheme that will work to get him open for easy scores.


Prediction #5. Justin Fields will have a breakout season.

I’m not going to get into the numbers game because the numbers are not important. A singular conclusion will be reached by the end of the 2022 campaign: Fields is the franchise quarterback the Bears have been desperate to find.

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With Camp Over, What Did We Learn?

| August 23rd, 2022


Training camp is an interesting part of the NFL calendar. It is part fan excitement. Part organizational misinformation. Part media scrambling to find stories where stories do not exist. Part me arguing on social media about the complete lack of value in preseason game reps. But it’s all…interesting? It gives us something to do. And sometimes we learn things.

So, what did we learn about the Chicago Bears during this 2022 camp?

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Item #1. The H.I.T.S. Concept Works

It drew a lot of laughter at the introductory press conference of the coach/GM, but Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. concept has been remarkably visible on both the practice field and preseason pitch. These players run. They flock to the football. They gang tackle. This is not going to be the most talented roster in the NFL, by any means, but it looks to be a roster that will rarely be outworked on game day. And those types of teams are very easy to get behind.

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Item #2. Cole Kmet Might Take “The Leap”

I texted someone inside the building and asked one question. “What player is having a killer summer that no one is talking about?”

Text back, one word. “Kmet.”

Here are my thoughts when it comes to Kmet:

  • He doubled his production from year one to year two.
  • His touchdown numbers were heinous in 2021 because Matt Nagy was obsessed with Jimmy Graham in the red zone.
  • Justin Fields has a definitive rapport with Kmet.
  • Getsy’s offense is going to incorporate the tight end screen far more and Kmet is uniquely built to be productive on those calls.
  • Darnell Mooney is a very good receiver but isn’t every defensive coordinator going to try to take him away? The Bears don’t really have a second receiver. Kmet will fill that void.

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Dannehy: Five Bears on Hot Seat in 2022

| July 7th, 2022


A new year, scheme and regime could have several players could leave some formerly key contributors looking for new jobs in 2023.

The new coach and general manager have nothing invested in the current players; surely a scary thought to some of the youngsters on the team. There are no certainties. Nothing is guaranteed. We thought John Fox and Ryan Pace were inheriting young talent like Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Both were gone before Fox’s third season. Matt Nagy was greeted by Jordan Howard and Adam Shaheen was supposed to be his Travis Kelce — neither made it to his third season.

In some of these cases, the players may be one-and-done if they don’t produce in 2022. In others, they might get a second year to prove themselves simply because their contracts make it difficult to move on. In any case, these players will have pressure to perform in 2022.


David Montgomery

Entering a contract year, Montgomery is an obvious candidate for this list.

The previous regime loved Montgomery because of the leadership he provides off the field and his versatility on it. (Eberflus has already praised Montgomery’s character.)

However, there have been some questions as to whether Montgomery fits this new scheme. He isn’t Aaron Jones-like, nor is he A.J. Dillon — the two running backs new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy worked with in Green Bay.

There is also some question about Montgomery’s talent level. His career 3.9 yards per attempt certainly doesn’t look worthy of a second contract and advanced statistics are somewhat mixed on his performance.

With the lack of playmakers available, Montgomery figures to have plenty of opportunities to make plays. The team needs him to be more efficient than he has been.


Cole Kmet

There’s no real reason to think Kmet won’t continue to improve, but that isn’t always how it works.

Kmet had rather exceptional production for a 22-year-old tight end, but there’s still questions regarding his receiving ability. He certainly looks the part physically, but his hands aren’t always reliable, and his routes aren’t always smooth.

The third-year Notre Dame product is a solid blocker and possesses good straight-line speed, but the Bears need him to create more big plays and find the end zone. (Throwing him the ball down there should help.)


Eddie Jackson

Jackson is finally returning to a scheme that keeps two safeties back and he needs to show that he can still attack the ball.

Once Vic Fangio left, Jackson’s position changed. He still played safety, but Chuck Pagano wanted to move him around more. That didn’t really work. Sean Desai liked to keep him back, but in a single-high approach with man coverage all around him. That didn’t work.

There’s truth to the thought that opponents have been avoiding Jackson, but we’ve also seen him fail to make plays that have been available.

The Bears might be tied to Jackson contractually through the 2023 season — it depends on how much dead cap space they’d be willing to eat. In any case, he turns 29 during the 2022 season and needs to show he can still play.


Trevis Gipson

Is Gipson a starter or a solid backup? That’s what the Bears need to find out in 2022.

Regardless of what happens with Robert Quinn in 2022, it’s a safe bet that the veteran won’t be on the team in 2024 and probably not in 2023. Do the Bears need to find one new starting defensive end before then or two? Al-Quadin Muhammad signed just a two-year deal and really should be a backup.

This Cover-2 scheme relies on the front four being able to get to the passer; the Bears need to know if they have defensive ends who can do that. Gipson flashed with seven sacks and five forced fumbles in 2021 after barely playing as a rookie. Can he build on that?


Justin Fields

Regardless of what anyone thinks the Bears think of Fields, nobody outside of Halas Hall actually knows.

Hell, they might not even know inside Halas Hall.

The hard truth is that, while he showed flashes, his rookie season did nothing to guarantee that he is going to be a franchise quarterback. The Bears certainly didn’t bet on him becoming one this offseason, unlike the last regime did with Mitch Trubisky.

Whether the Bears 2022 season is a success or failure is going to depend largely on Fields. If he can build off success of late last season, the team might be OK. If he can’t, they’ll have a very high draft pick and, very likely, will be looking at another talented quarterback prospect.

It’s fair to say the Bears haven’t given Fields the necessary tools to succeed.

It’s also fair to say that really good quarterbacks make the players around them better.

The worst thing that can happen — which is perhaps what the Bears have set themselves up for — is that they still don’t know what kind of player Fields is following this season. In that case, they’d probably jump on the opportunity to draft another top quarterback prospect and trade Fields.

But, make no mistake, the current long-term plan has to be for Fields to be the guy and he has the opportunity to make sure that is the case. We know he can make big plays; we need to see more consistency on the routine concepts.  His performance in 2022 doesn’t have to be judged by statistics; he needs to show leadership and the ability to come through for his team when it needs him the most. We need to see more performances like the one he had in Pittsburgh.

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Can Cole Kmet Be More Than a “Useful” Player?

| April 22nd, 2022

Chicago Bears TE Cole Kmet saw his production jump across the board in his 2021 sophomore campaign, as his targets, receptions, and receiving yards all more than doubled from his rookie year. This left him ranking among the top 20 NFL TEs in the main three receiving categories, as you can see in the table below.

Of course, those are all volume stats, and high volume does not necessarily mean that you are a top player. Chicago’s receiving options were extremely limited in 2021, and the former coaching staff had a vested interest in getting Kmet the ball to justify their second-round investment in him, so of course he saw a lot of balls thrown his way. But how effective was he with those targets?

In order to dig into that question, I’m going to take a closer look at Kmet’s underlying metrics to see how well he performed. This will be very similar to what I recently did with Darnell Mooney, the only other returning pass catcher on the Bears.


Man vs. Zone

Let’s start by looking at how Kmet did against man and zone coverages compared to his peers. I split the overall TE group based on how many targets players earned, and the sample broke down like this:

  • 50+ targets: 25 TEs fell in this group. With 32 NFL teams, this is more or less the starting TEs.
  • 20-49 targets: 33 TEs fell in this range, meaning these are generally the second TEs on a team.
  • Less than 20 targets: 64 players fit in here, so these are the depth TE on a team.

The table below shows how TEs in those groupings performed in a variety of metrics against both man (orange) and zone (blue) coverage. All stats are from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

A few thoughts:

  • Like we did with Darnell Mooney, it’s important to take the offense into consideration when evaluating Kmet’s stats against his peers. The Bears as a team ranked in the bottom five in the majority of passing categories, so it’s not really a surprise to see some of his efficiency stats looking low. For example, the Bears were about 4% lower than the NFL average in completion % (catch % here) and 0.4 yards below the NFL average in yards/attempt (yards/target here).
  • Given that context, Kmet served as a capable weapon against zone coverage. His catch percentage and yards/target mark are fairly solid, if unspectacular, though it’s worth noting his poor YAC (yards after catch) performance. Time will tell if that’s a scheme issue from last year (Andy Dalton and Justin Fields ranked 21st and 31st, respectively, in YAC/completion of the 33 QBs with 200+ passing attempts in 2021) or a Kmet issue, but it’s worth noting Mooney did not have the same YAC issues. Kmet’s average catch against zone is also a bit shorter down the field than most starting TEs, which is notable considering how Justin Fields had one of the deepest average passes in the NFL last year.
  • Kmet’s man metrics, on the other hand, are unquestionably poor. His catch rate was just fine, but his average catch against man was very short, indicating he was only able to produce against man coverage on dump-offs underneath. This is in line with the TE2 and depth TE group, not the starters. Kmet’s YAC here was also laughably bad, indicating he was unable to consistently break tackles and turn those dump-offs into more meaningful gains.

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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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Three Bears Players Worth Watching Tonight

| November 8th, 2021


It is time to shift our collective gaze to the players who look to be part of the Justin Fields future in Chicago. There are several to peer at this evening.

Cole Kmet

Kmet has had two big drops the last two weeks but his production levels are starting to seriously rise as his rapport with Fields develops. 4/49, 5/43, 3/24 don’t look like gaudy numbers but Kmet’s season now projects to 47/419 and one would think those numbers will be higher as he’s trending to the positive. These aren’t great games (by any means) but they’re not bad considering he’s in the league’s worst offense. (Kyle Rudolph – a common comp for Kmet – had 53/493 in his second season. But he had nine touchdowns.) Kmet has given fans a reason to think he can be a productive NFL tight end. But the production must continue.

Larry Borom

Considering he made his first start with Nick Bosa breathing on his face for three hours, Borom held up well against San Francisco. That’s the good news. The bad news is T.J. Watt is next on the docket. But just as it is important for Fields to play as a rookie, and struggle, it is equally important for Borom. Watt is going to beat him; he’s paid many, many monies to do so. But Borom should have a few victories as well and it’s those he’ll need to build confidence moving forward.

“The Outlaw” Jesse James

Yes, it’s a revenge game for James, but that’s not why he’s worth watching. He’s worth watching because he’s only 27 years old and has a defined chemistry with the quarterback. It is no surprise that the passing game looks its most dynamic when James is on the field; Fields spent all summer throwing to the damn guy. He’s got three targets in both of his games (the last two weeks) and he’s caught every ball thrown his way. Quarterbacks don’t usually want to see those guys leave town. (Ask Aaron Rodgers.) If James continues to give this dimension to the offense (and Fields) the Bears will be looking to keep him around a few more years.


Yep, two tight ends and a tackle. Are you ready for some football?

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Bears Beat Bengals to Guarantee Tie for First Place: Rapid Fire Recap

| September 20th, 2021


The story will be Justin Fields. Every week, from here out. Fields played how a rookie with no first-team reps should play. Bad interception. Cadence issues with the line. Some brilliant throws (that the receivers didn’t catch). Extended a crucial drive with his legs. Now the season becomes about his progression. And if the Bears can win while he progresses, this becomes a fascinating season.

Other thoughts. Rapid fire is back, baby.

  • The other progression to track is Kindle Vildor. Vildor made enough plays Sunday to provide hope but also looked lost at times. If the Bears can find a second corner on this roster it’ll make the offseason so much easier to navigate.
  • Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson are young cornerstones for this defense. Roquan is a weird combination of Briggs and Urlacher – an attacking run stuffer who’s also brilliant in space. Johnson, if he stays healthy, has All Pro corner talent.
  • Robert Quinn’s hit on Burrow out of bounds was absurd but this was his best game as a Bear.
  • Allen Robinson has to catch the touchdown pass from Fields. He just has to. It’s not only pivotal in the game but it would have given the organization a huge moment to celebrate. Don’t complain about the quarterbacks you’ve played with in your career when you can’t make plays like that.
  • Cole Kmet. One target. That just isn’t enough. The Bears have to get their tight ends consistently into the game plan.

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