Checking the Tape: Bears Offense in the Superdome

| November 7th, 2023

It’s a short week for us fans as the Bears get set to play what may just be the biggest remaining game on their schedule — whether you’re a fan cheering for Bears draft position or simply a fan cheering for the Bears, Chicago has a chance to all but lock in a Top 2 Pick in the 2024 NFL Draft with a win over a bad Carolina Panthers team that plays nothing but tough teams (and Green Bay) down the stretch.

But we’ll get to Thursday soon — first, let’s take a look back at what the tape said about Sunday’s offensive showing. My observations (along with associated cut-ups) are listed below:

Sections today are:

  • Discussion of each of the 5 major Offensive Linemen
  • Talking through some of the ‘gross’ within the Bears’ offense
  • Where Bagent won, where Bagent lost, what I’d like to see from Bagent on Thursday
  • A quick Cole Kmet mention

Teven Jenkins played phenomenally

Nobody in a Bears uniform plays with the natural nastiness that Teven Jenkins does, especially when run-blocking. #76 finished run after run against New Orleans and looked like a down-in and down-out leader as he did.

He had a great day in pass protection as well. If he can stay healthy for the rest of the year, I’d hope Ryan Poles explores an offseason extension.

Here’s another look at Teven mauling open a run lane later in the game…

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Reviewing the Rookies: Checking In After the First 5 Weeks (Part 1)

| October 9th, 2023

It’s Mini-Bye week in Chicago! With that in mind, let’s check in on the 2023 Bears rookie class — today, we’ll do the first & second round players, then tomorrow we’ll cover the rest of the class.

Darnell Wright:

  • Overall: In my opinion, Wright has been about as good as you can ask a rookie tackle to be. He’s displayed natural power in his hands both as a run and a pass blocker, but it’s been his pass-blocking that’s stood out through 5 games so far. Wright is often left on an island with little to no help and fends for himself nicely — he’s been beaten at least once or twice in every game he’s played in, but that’s all part of playing tackle as a rookie.
    • The key is that he bounces back — getting beaten happens at tackle, but he doesn’t let bad reps snowball. Montez Sweat beat him early in Washington (just like Rashan Gary beat him early in Week 1) but he adjusted his kick-step in later reps and held Sweat off as the game wore on. I love seeing that from a young-gun.
  • Where he’s surprised me: Wright is fast when he’s run-blocking on the move, which I didn’t expect based on his Tennessee film. That WR conditioning test clearly paid off.
  • Improvement area: Wright’s kick-step can be sluggish off the snap, making him vulnerable to rushers that can bend the edge with speed. Players like Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary, Aiden Hutchinson and others will give him trouble until this is resolved, but I doubt this problem will persist for long. If the issue is still present closer to Week 11, we’ll take a deeper look.

Gervon Dexter Sr:

  • Overall: So far Dexter has looked more raw than I expected him to at the NFL level, and my expectations weren’t particularly high for his rookie year — his Florida film showed a bully with the brawn to take on anybody, but NFL OL are taking advantage of Gervon’s naturally high pad level and have stopped him in his tracks.
    • He clearly spent the preseason working on his get-off (which doesn’t appear to be an issue anymore), but now he’s got to find a way to apply his natural power to reps more often — if he can, he’ll impact many more reps.
  • Where he’s surprised me: Dexter did a much better job of landing strong hands on his OL matchups early in reps against Washington, leading to some of his first pass rush wins of the season. You can see his power flash in reps like the two clips below (second one is a reply to the first, so click the link to see it).
  • Improvement area: Beyond Dexter refining his fundamentals and finding way to lower his pad-level, right now Gervon Dexter has a funky quirk as a pass-rusher — I’m not convinced he can rush to his left. Even going back to Florida, he’s always preferred to attack towards his right-hand side or drive through his OL, and while he did attempt a few left-side rush attempts against Washington, those reps looked much less dangerous than many of his other rushes in the game.
    • This could be an offseason project, but keep an eye out — maybe Dexter surprises us.

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Reviewing Titans @ Bears: Let’s talk Offense

| August 15th, 2023

Today we pick up where we left off yesterday as we break down Saturday’s offensive standouts. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Editor’s Note: Check back with this article throughout the day — as I produce more All-22 cutups, I’ll update this article to include more analysis 

Carter Cruises:

  • On a day where Justin Fields didn’t throw an incomplete pass and DJ Moore scored his first touchdown in Chicago, who would’ve guessed that the man wearing #69 would’ve been one of the brightest stars on the offense? Ja’Tyre Carter showed off great footwork in both the run and pass game, great hand usage as a pass-protector, and an extra helping of violence as a combo blocker that led to a few destructive finishes.
    • Nothing dismantles an NFL offense like injuries on the offensive line, so a depth lineman like Carter playing well is the best possible thing that could’ve happened over the weekend. Time will tell if his positive play was a product of legitimate growth as a player (rather than a product of playing the Titans 2nd & 3rd string), but his game against Tennessee was a drastic step up from his late-year showing and that’s exactly what you want to see out of a second-year player.

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On Darnell Wright, and the Unexpected Growth Path of NFL Offensive Tackles

| August 8th, 2023

Today I want to talk about Darnell Wright, but before we get started I want to show you a  clip from the 2021 preseason — specifically, pay attention to the Lions’ RT #58. Watch his hands, his feet, and his overall demeanor on this snap.

That’s now-Pro-Bowler Penei Sewell, who had one of the worst preseasons in recent memory immediately after getting drafted #7 overall in the 2021 draft. In this clip, you can see that his initial footwork is off (he false-steps badly at the snap), he misses his punch, and his feet get so tangled as he tries to recover that he can’t stop his EDGE rusher from easily turning the corner and hammering his QB.

Sewell’s entire preseason was U-G-L-Y. If you believe in PFF Grades, they marked him as a 38.6 overall grade & a 27.0 pass-block grade across the preseason (remember, 60 is their replacement-level benchmark), so it wasn’t an issue of a single bad rep. Sewell clearly wasn’t comfortable at Right Tackle early and, in a cruel NFL filled with professional football players that can’t afford to miss chances at production, that discomfort led to hesitancy and that hesitancy led to defeat all too often.

What did this mean for Sewell’s rookie season? Better yet, what has this meant for his career so far? In short, absolutely nothing — with that in mind, I want to caution Bears fans against overreacting to tenth overall pick Darnell Wright’s play this weekend, especially if he doesn’t immediately look like an All-Pro.

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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.

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Improved Bears, Tired Broadcast: Reflections on the 2023 NFL Draft

| May 1st, 2023

It wasn’t a particularly interesting draft for the Bears, content-wise. They had lots of picks, and lots of needs. They used those picks to address those needs. Simple as that.

But we’ll start with our club.

  • The Bears clearly have two elements required to be a successful franchise: an identity and a plan. They want to be fast and athletic (who doesn’t?) but they also want to be tough. They drafted a whole bunch of tough guys this weekend. Ryan Poles is not going to be swayed by popular perception. He stands pat, he trusts his evaluations, he makes his picks. It’s refreshing to see.
  • As of now, the offensive line looks to be Braxton Jones – Teven Jenkins – Cody Whitehair – Nate Davis – Darnell Wright. Thoughts on this:
    • While many, including myself, wanted to see the Bears select a center, it is quite understandable that they didn’t see the position as a priority. Offensive lines need SOME veteran leadership and outside of Whitehair, the average age on the rest of this line is 24.
    • The offensive line was poor last year, outside of Jones and Jenkins. Ryan Poles has replaced the other three positions.
    • Lucas Patrick and Larry Borom can now fill their appropriate roles, with the former as swing depth inside and the latter as swing depth outside.
  • The Bears were manhandled in the middle of their defensive line throughout the 2022 season. Look at the size they have added inside:
    • Andrew Billings is 6’1, 311
    • Rasheem Green is 6’4, 279
    • Demarcus Walker is 6’4, 280
    • Gervon Dexter is 6’6, 312
    • Zacch Pickens is 6’4, 300
  • There is no reason to get overexcited about day three selections, but running backs tend to be the exception. And the Bears are wild about Roschon Johnson. Don’t be surprised if they give this kid an opportunity to be their starting running back.
  • Tyler Scott is a speed addition, protection for Velus Jones’ struggles in 2022. Does this mean Velus’ roster spot is tenuous? It might. If Scott shows he can steal those jet sweeps and go routes, while also contributing on specials, Velus could find himself looking for a home this summer.
  • The Bears are improved on both lines, hypothetically. If the hypothesis becomes fact, they’ll be playing meaningful football in December.

As for the rest of the league…

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Who the “Experts” Have the Bears Taking at Nine (With My Prediction!)

| April 21st, 2023

There is no question that Ryan Poles prefers not to make a selection at nine. But operating under the assumption he’ll have no other choice, here is a survey of who folks out there believe he’ll take.

  • Peter Schrager at NFL.com: Christian Gonzalez. “This strong, smart, speedy corner out of Oregon (via Colorado) is a gamer. The Bears have so many needs, and snagging a top cover man with the ninth overall choice makes them better tomorrow.”
  • Charles McDonald, Yahoo: Peter Skoronski.
  • Mel Kiper, ESPN: Peter Skoronski. “I’ve gone back and forth on which offensive lineman the Bears will take here, but Skoronski is the best on my board (No. 8 overall), even though I like him a little more as a guard…Chicago needs a right tackle, which is why I projected Darnell Wright here in my two-round mock. I’d be confident in Skoronski’s ability to learn the position.”
  • Ryan Wilson, CBS: Paris Johnson Jr. “… since this draft class is deeper at EDGE than OT, Chicago takes Paris Johnson Jr. here. He played LT last season at Ohio State and was the RG during the ’21 season. Protecting Justin Fields is Priority No. 1, and they can circle back at pick No. 53 (or even 61) to get that pass rusher.”
  • Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: Paris Johnson Jr.
  • Arjun Menon and Brad Spielberger, PFF: Paris Johnson Jr. “Unless Jalen Carter is still on the board, the Bears should pivot back to offense with their first pick and reunite Fields with tackle Paris Johnson Jr., who allowed a 4.4% pressure rate on true pass sets in 2022, good for 20th in the FBS despite it being his first year starting at left tackle. Johnson played right tackle in 2021, which is where Chicago has its biggest hole along the offensive line. The Bears also deploy the popularized outside-zone-based rushing attack, and Johnson’s 85.5 run-blocking grade on outside-zone runs in 2022 ranked sixth among FBS tackles.”
  • WalterFootball: Darnell Wright. “Darnell Wright didn’t allow a single sack to Hendon Hooker last year.” (Side note: Don’t click that link unless you want to ruin your phone/computer. WalterFootball is the reason I’ll never let ads overwhelm this site. What’s the point? He’s rendered his site unnavigable for a few bucks.)
  • Justin Melo, Draft Network: TRADE! Darnell Wright (at 17 overall).
  • Ryan McCrystal, Sharp Football Analysis: Broderick Jones.
  • Unattributed, Tankathon: Paris Johnson Jr.
  • Danny Kelly, The Ringer: Jalen Carter. “Carter’s slight fall stops at no. 9, giving the Bears a high-upside building block for their interior defensive line. The former Georgia star brings three-down potential as a pocket-collapsing pass rusher and difference-making run defender.”
  • Vinnie Iyer, The Sporting News (which I was thrilled to find out still exists): Peter Skoronski. “Skoronski, who had a great Combine from his running through his smooth positional drills, can deliver as their immediate starting left tackle with his smooth quickness and athleticism on the edge.”
  • Seth Trachtman, YardBarker: Paris Johnson Jr.

So, it seems there is a general consensus around the world of the Draft Industrial Complex that the Bears are going to find a starter for their offensive line with this pick.  I agree. The Bears showed us the team they want to be on offense in 2022. They want to maul opponents with their rushing attack and utilizing the passing game off that run. But when the run game wasn’t dominant, the passing game was nonexistent. That’s because they couldn’t protect their quarterback on obvious passing downs.

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