Audibles From the Long Snapper: The Post-Free Agency (First Wave) Edition

| March 22nd, 2024

NOTE: Robert and I intended to start doing our weekly Spaces sessions on Twitter a few weeks back, but I have been battling one of the worst bronchial infections of my life. I’m finally returning to normal existence, and we’ll be live this Saturday (3/23) at 1 PM ET. A lot to talk about. 

Thoughts on what has transpired in the early days of free agency, starting in Chicago.

  • Do I believe Ryan Poles had second or third-round offers on the table for Justin Fields? No, I do not. If you have followed my commentary on the Fields trade market, you know that I’ve been consistent in my reporting: there has been no Fields market. If a second-round pick had been on the table, Poles would have absolutely jumped at the opportunity. This revisionist take on the market, created by the Fields camp, is an attempt to save face, to pretend his journey to Pittsburgh was self-directed. Atlanta didn’t want him. Sean Payton doesn’t think he’s very good. Minnesota preferred Sam Darnold. As we close the book on the Justin Fields era in Chicago, it’s time to be honest. He was an underwhelming performer and the league recognized that.
  • The Keenan Allen acquisition should have no influence on Poles’ draft strategy. Allen is going to be 32 years old this season. And while he is coming off his best year, the Bears can’t expect more than 2-3 seasons from him at a top-line performer. If these three wide receiving prospects – Harrison, Nabers, Odunze – are as good as many believe, the Bears shouldn’t hesitate to stand pat at number nine and bring one of them to Chicago. Always. Be. Adding. Weapons.
  • The center position is still intriguing as we look ahead to 2024. Ryan Bates is a $4 million player. That’s not backup money, especially on the interior of the offensive line. It’ll be surprising if Bates is not one of the five starting linemen in September, and I think that position is going to be center.

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6-Time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen is Now a Chicago Bear

| March 15th, 2024

Late last night, the Chicago Bears acquired Chargers all-star WR Keenan Allen for their 4th round pick (#110) in the 2024 NFL Draft. I’ve got some quick thoughts on the move:

  • Turns out that hole in the Bears’ cap created from Jaylon Johnson & D’Andre Swift’s deals had a purpose
  • Obviously this is a move focused on 2024, but I don’t mind the emphasis on next season. 2024 is a massive year for the entire Bears’ organization — in all likelihood, they’ll attempt to develop a rookie QB while competing for a playoff spot. If, therefore, the biggest critique of this move is that Chicago paid too much draft capital & 2024 salary dollars for an offensive leader that should spur the rookie’s development, I think we’ll all survive. Frankly, I think it’s refreshing to see the Bears over-address the young QB’s supporting cast for once.
  • Regardless of which Quarterback ultimately starts for the Bears next year, Keenan Allen should be a stabilizing force in the Bears’ down-to-down passing offense. He specializes in option routes, short-yardage routes, and playing within structure — all of which Caleb Williams and Justin Fields struggle with, meaning Allen could provide a strong guiding hand.
    • If we’re splitting hairs, I think timing routes will likely remain an issue for Justin Fields whereas Caleb Williams’ college tape shows signs of inconsistency more than an outright inability to play within structure, but this isn’t a Caleb Williams breakdown. Regardless of starter, Keenan should help sharpen a short-passing blade that was quite dull throughout 2023.

My overall grade? I like it. The fun factor is ~10/10. I’ve also already assumed that Matt Eberflus begged Poles to let him draft a 1st round defender anyways, so if this move is Poles’ way of making sure Chicago has weapons for a key 2024 season? I dig it.

This does make me wonder what the Bears’ plan is at WR going forward, but we can cross that bridge later. I’d love to draft a 2nd or 3rd round WR to develop throughout the year (Keon Coleman, Roman Wilson, Ricky Pearsall, etc), but I don’t know that the Bears will prioritize that. Also, is Keenan getting extended past 2024? I could see it, but he’ll be 33 next season. We’ll have to wait and see.

For now… Chicago added a 6-time Pro Bowler that’s a god amongst chain-moving WRs. He pairs perfectly with DJ Moore’s ability to threaten all levels of the field as well — those two should be monsters in 12-personnel.

I’m excited to see how this plays out — what an exciting time to be a Bears fan! What will Poles do from here? We’re just going to have to wait and see,

Bonus: Breaking Down Keenan Allen’s Route Running

Below I threw in some of my favorite clips from a light film study last night — check it out and let me know what you think.

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For Sanity’s Sake, Here’s Hoping this is My Last Justin Fields Column

| February 23rd, 2024

When the Bears drafted Cade McNown in 1999, I didn’t care.

But do you remember the first game of the 2000 season? Against a very good Vikings team, McNown opened 27-41-290-2 and 10 carries, 81 yards and a TD on the ground. From my lounger at the now defunct ESPN Zone in Times Square, I got excited.

When the Bears drafted Rex Grossman in 2003, I didn’t care.

Reverend Dave and I watched that selection, thoroughly intoxicated with some British Browns fans, at a sports pub in Piccadilly Circus. It was a surreal and hysterical experience, but nobody celebrated anything. Yet by early in the 2006 season, there were few doubting Rex could be a top player at the professional level. 

When the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky in 2017, I didn’t care.

Well, I cared a little, as this was the first real scoop I had been given and was able to break on Twitter. I also won quite a bit of cash off the skeptical patrons of Mother Hubbard’s. (That ripped us off that night and I never returned.) I picked the Bears to go to the Super Bowl in 2019 specifically because of Mitch’s final drive against the Eagles in the Cody Parkey game; a drive I watched in the building. 

When the Bears drafted Justin Fields in 2021, I didn’t care.

While the Robert Mays’s of the world got giddy on their podcasts (why is he always so damn giggly), I hadn’t been impressed by the two college games I’d seen Fields play and saw no reason for ecstasy. But there were clearly moments in his tenure I found genuinely thrilling, most of which were documented on this site. Fields is not a bad quarterback. He’s a limited one. 

When the Bears take their next starting quarterback in April, I won’t care.

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Bears Should Move on from Justin Fields

| January 2nd, 2024

The Bears still play one more game this season, but not much is riding on it. They’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs and locked in the #1 pick in the draft thanks to their offseason trade with the Carolina Panthers. Beating Green Bay to keep them out of the playoffs on Sunday would be fun, but it doesn’t ultimately matter for the Bears’ future.

Accordingly, it’s time to shift attention to the monumental offseason that Chicago faces. The Bears are in a great position right now. They showed in 2023 that they are ready to compete, yet they also hold two 2024 1st round draft picks – including the aforementioned 1st overall pick – and have significant salary cap space (currently slotted for $62M, 8th most in the NFL, but both of those numbers will change significantly as teams make cuts and sign players to extensions).

Chicago has all the ingredients of a team poised to become a significant factor in the NFC over the next few seasons, provided they utilize their resources at hand well. That work will begin this offseason with two franchise-altering decisions: what to do at quarterback and head coach. I want to examine both of those decisions this week, starting with QB Justin Fields today and moving to head coach Matt Eberflus tomorrow.

Justin Fields Has Clearly Improved

Let’s start by noting that Fields has made clear improvements as a passer each season, as you can see in the table below.

A quick glance at these stats shows that Fields has developed into roughly a league average passer this year, though he still takes sacks at a higher than average rate. When you factor in his rushing ability, that has real value. Fields has shown that he is clearly a starting QB in the NFL.

QB Comparison

With that in mind, let’s compare Fields directly to his peers. While the table above looked at all passes thrown in the NFL this year, the table below shows how Fields compares only to the 31 QBs who have thrown the ball at least 230 times. His ranks compared to these peers are shown in parentheses, and any ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while any in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. A few notes:

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Consequence of Blown Leads: Poles, Warren Face Risky Decisions at Coach, Quarterback

| December 26th, 2023

On Sunday, against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bears were exactly who they have been since Montez Sweat arrived in the middle of the 2023 season. They play terrific defense, at least for most of the game. Their quarterback is one of the most electric runners in the league, and also a mediocrity at every other element of the position. (Even Mark Sanchez was frustrated at the speed at which Fields processed the action.) Their head coach looks primed to let every big lead slip away, but this Sunday the opponent simply wasn’t up to the task. In a league where most teams reside in the middle of the pack, so do these Chicago Bears, and that was most everyone’s preseason expectation.

So why does this season feel like a disappointment?

The answers are simple: Denver, Detroit, Cleveland.

If the Chicago Bears, and their defensive head coach, simply held on to those three double-digit, fourth quarter leads in games where they were clearly the superior team, their record would be 9-6. They would be firmly in the postseason, threatening the Cowboys for the fifth seed and keeping the Lions honest at the top of the division. They would have overcome their embarrassing start to the season, a disaster on and off the field. They would have weathered a multigame stretch with a backup quarterback whose last start was against the Colorado School of Mines. To quote The Great British Bake Off‘s Prue Leith, this season would have been a “triumph.”

But it’s not. Now Ryan Poles and Kevin Warren have decisions to make, and those decisions will come down to a fundamental question: do they believe the coach and quarterback are capable of improvement? Objectively speaking, neither has been good enough in 2023 to warrant confidence in them moving forward. Confidence in them moving forward would require a belief in their potential, and both men have done enough to suggest they are capable of being winning assets for the franchise.

But is that a risk worth taking when you have the first pick in a QB-friendly draft? Is that a risk worth taking when Jim Harbaugh is refusing to sign a $100 million plus extension at Michigan because it requires him not flirting with the NFL this offseason?

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Previewing a Christmas Eve Dance with the Desert Birds

| December 21st, 2023

The playoff push may have ended before it started, but with 3 games remaining on Chicago’s schedule backs are truly against the wall now — Matt Eberflus now has three late-game collapses in a 2023 season where, had Chicago taken care of business with all three fourth-quarter leads, he’d have firm control of the NFC’s 6th seed & might be a weekend away from clinching a playoff spot.

It’s hard to imagine the powers that be at Halas Hall aren’t every bit as disappointed as we fans are, leaving three critical weeks for Eberflus to make his final statement — if his team finishes the year with three strong wins, they might just save their coach’s job.

Eberflus’ final stand begins this Sunday as he takes on a hapless Arizona Cardinals team that should be easy prey… but this is the NFL. Nothing’s ever easy, is it?

Nick and I dove deep into this matchup and the state of the Bears within the latest episode of Bear With Us, including discussion topics like…

  • What was Luke Getsy doing throughout that game in Cleveland? What could he have done better?
  • Who played well on defense last week? What went wrong at the end?
  • Where do the Bears match up well with Arizona on defense? What weak links in the Cardinals’ offense can they exploit?
  • How does Chicago’s offense match up with Arizona’s ragtag defense? Should this be a big day for Chicago?
  • A review of Matt Eberflus’ defense against the Lions, including the driving forces behind Chicago’s success.
  • Holiday chatter & fan Q&A
  • And much, much more…

It’s one of our best episodes yet — check it out and let me know what you think!

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Checking the Tape: Bears @ Browns

| December 19th, 2023

Happy All-22uesday, folks!

Tonight at 8PM CST I’ll be going through the Bears’ game as usual — come join for an evening of breakdowns & analysis of:

  • Where the Bears won on defense
  • Where the Bears lost on defense
  • Who’s to blame within Chicago’s offense?
  • And much, much more

See you there!

Editor’s Note: With Christmas approaching, this week may be a bit content light. Be sure to enjoy time with family and those around you this week!

Your Turn: How have your feelings changed about Sunday’s game over the last day?

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Three Strikes, You’re Out

| December 18th, 2023

For the 3rd time this season, the Chicago Bears held a 10+ point lead in the 4th quarter. For the 3rd time this season, they surrendered their lead and ultimately lost in regulation, with a final offensive rally falling flat.

Just like the Denver & Detroit games that predated their trip to Cleveland, ESPN’s analytics gave Chicago a 90+% of winning this game just as the 3rd quarter ended. But, just like those games, the Bears found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

These three games plainly hammer home the most frustrating part of the Bears’ 2023 season — the 5-9 Bears, currently the 5th-worst team in the NFL via draft order, are not a talentless bunch. They don’t lack playmakers, they don’t struggle to compete with the team across from them. If football games ended after the 3rd quarter, Chicago would be 8-6-1.

But, of course, that’s not how football works. NFL games are won & lost in the 4th quarter, and it tells you everything you need to know that the 2023 Chicago Bears have yet to win a game that weren’t already winning when they entered the 4th quarter. Combine that with yesterday’s NFL season record-tying third blown 10+ point lead in the 4th quarter, and you start to see a worrying trend — this roster has the talent to earn leads in this league, but it’s coaching staff can’t seem to close.

It’s never as simple as ‘just blaming the coaches’ — Robert Tonyan & Darnell Mooney dropped game-changing passes, TJ Edwards and Jaylon Johnson had opportunities to end the Browns’ early touchdown drive early via interceptions that got dropped, and Trent Taylor muffed two punts, with only one of those muffs coming back to bite him. The players need to execute, and everyone (including the quarterback) needs to own these rough results.

But fool me once against the Broncos, shame on you. Fool me twice in Detroit, shame on me. Fool me a third time in Cleveland, and I think it’s simple — with three strikes against him, Matt Ebeflus is likely out.

What that would mean for Justin Fields remains to be seen, but with Carolina’s pick looming large and Fields entering the 4th year of his rookie contract, I’d imagine the odds of him staying in Chicago under a new head coach are slim. If he wants to stay, he’ll have to prove it over these next 3 games.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • Chicago’s defense played unbelievably well and I’m heartbroken for them over the result. Montez Sweat has unlocked a turnover-hungry unit that’s getting contributions from everyone — Justin Jones got early pressure that led to an Eddie Jackson interception returned to the 1-yard-line, TJ Edwards dislodged a football that Tremaine Edmunds took back to the house, and even CB Tyrique Stevenson came up huge to steal points away from Cleveland after Trent Taylor’s second muff of the day. The defense made mistakes late, but ultimately scored (or directly led to scoring) nearly as many points as their opponent scored against them — it’s a shame Chicago’s offense couldn’t win this game for them. They’ve been outstanding.
  • Braxton Jones might be the real deal. Myles Garrett is too good to not affect the game across from him, but Chicago’s 5th round LT kept Garrett from logging even one QB Hit on the day. All-22 will paint a better picture of how well Braxton battled Garrett, but given that Justin Fields logged a 3.48 second time-to-throw on the day I have a feeling the tape will be kind to the Bears’ offensive line.
    • Update: This bullet is looking like a phantom memory, Braxton effectively gave up pressure all day. Not sure what I thought I saw, but I’ll know more on review later.

The Bad

  • You won’t win many games if you can’t score. Chicago finished the day with 3.4 yards per play, less than 250 yards of total offense, nine three-and-outs, and only two drives of 40 yards or more on the day. The run game struggled mightily and the passing game isn’t self-sustaining, so when the Bears weren’t ripping off chunk plays downfield they spent the day not doing much at all.
    • Luke Getsy has to own the Bears’ offensive disfunction, but Justin Fields shouldn’t be exempt from criticism — Fields may not have been the problem in Cleveland, but he wasn’t the solution either. That said, the All-22 will give us a much better picture of what happened on offense yesterday — did Fields pass on open looks downfield? Or did the Browns simply blanket the Bears’ WRs on a day where DJ Moore was clearly hobbled? We’ll find out tomorrow.

The Ugly

  • The future seems far too uncertain. It’s easy for me, a writer, to write pretty words about the failings of Chicago’s head coach, but do George McCaskey, Kevin Warren, and Ryan Poles see things that way? Surely they can’t be satisficed with an overperforming roster and an underperforming record, but with Eberflus finding major wins over divisional opponents recently I can’t help wondering if a spoonful of victory over the hapless Cardinals and Falcons would set the table for Matt’s retention following a big win in Green Bay.
    • In my opinion, if the Bears are going to consider drafting a new QB I’d rather they did so with a new HC in town. I’d love to see the organization do everything they can to support a rookie QB, including hiring the best offensive coaches available to surround their chosen signal-caller with competency & give him the best opportunity possible to succeed where no one else has. But do Eberflus’ defensive accolades help the Bears’ brass look past these consistent late-game failures? Only time will tell.

Postgame Podcast:

Nick and I recorded a podcast where we talked through the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs of Chicago’s latest loss here:

Your Turn: How do you feel about yesterday’s game?

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