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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: Expect New Bears Leadership to Target “Trench Guys” Next Week

| April 20th, 2022


While fans debate which wide receiver the Chicago Bears should draft, the trench guys running the team just could go in a different direction. Matt Eberflus indicated as much in his interview with Cris Collinsworth, released last week:

“Ryan (Poles) and I are really clear on our vision for the football team,” Eberflus said. “He’s an ex-offensive lineman so we believe in the line play, we think that it starts up front and we believe in that. We believe in the physical punch that it takes from the offensive line running off the ball and same thing on defense. So that’s going to be a very important part to us in terms of determining who we are, what our identity is as a football team.”

It could be pre-draft manipulation, but that doesn’t really seem to be the new coach’s style. It seems more likely than not they’re going to beef up the offensive and defensive lines.

As Eberflus said, Poles is a former offensive lineman. Have you ever heard of a former offensive lineman who doesn’t think building up the offensive line is one of the two most important factors in having a successful offense? Flus was a linebacker. How many linebackers gush about the importance wide receiver play? These are trench guys and you can bet that they won’t tolerate fielding a team that is weak at the line of scrimmage.

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Dannehy: If Bears Sincerely Like Montgomery, Expect Extension

| April 13th, 2022


If the Chicago Bears actually like David Montgomery, you can bet they’ll end up paying him.

The team will likely wait until after the season, though that could be a mistake if they’re able to get their running game going. While fans have argued about if Montgomery is good enough or if any running back should be paid, in general, the fact of the matter is teams who run the system the Bears are going to run usually end up paying their running backs.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy comes from Green Bay where the team spent a second-round pick on AJ Dillon and then paid Aaron Jones a contract that averaged $12 million per year. That wasn’t an exception to the rule. Other running backs from the same system who have gotten large contracts include Dalvin Cook, Todd Gurley, Jerick McKinnon, Arian Foster, Davonta Freeman and Derrick Henry. The Cleveland Browns paid both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

The people who run this offense value running backs, even if fans do not. The question isn’t if they’ll be willing to pay a running back, it’s if they’ll be willing to pay Montgomery.

Getsy didn’t say much when he was introduced; at one point he even questioned the idea of what a playbook is. Head coach Matt Eberflus was effusive in his praise of Montgomery when he met the media at the owner’s meetings.

“You talk about motor and mean, yeah, he is that guy,” Eberflus said. “Serious. A pro. Worker. He’s going to be exciting to work with, and he’s going to fit right in. He’s the kind of guy that just says, ‘Hey, watch me go. I’m not going to say a whole bunch of things, but just watch me do my job.'” Eberflus has spoken about adding more running backs to the mix, but it’s clear he likes Montgomery. A lot.

Perhaps it’s just offseason talk or a smoke screen; we can’t really rule anything out right now. But if Eberflus is sincere, and Montgomery plays well in 2022, he’s going to be in Chicago beyond next season.

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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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Dannehy: Poles and Flus Believe in Fields, But They’re Not Risking Their Careers on an Uncertainty

| March 31st, 2022


Being that they worked together in Kansas City before coming to the Chicago Bears, it was natural to ask if Ryan Poles had contact with Matt Nagy. The answer was a simple yes and the reason was “to find out where he may have messed up.”

For Nagy, and Ryan Pace, the answer very likely comes in 2018, when the team went all in on a second-year quarterback who didn’t have a particularly impressive rookie season. While Nagy didn’t draft Mitch Trubisky, it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t believe in the young quarterback. It’s also fair to say that Nagy signed off on the moves that followed his hiring that offseason, including trading significant draft capital for Khalil Mack.

While the strategy of investing in and building around young quarterbacks is popular around the league, the Bears are clearly bucking the trend this off-season. The previous regime gave near top of the market deals to Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, while also making Taylor Gabriel wealthy. They spent two top-51 picks on offensive players. The team was set to win, and it did, at first. They went 12-4 and were a missed field goal away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

Now we know it was doomed from the start.

Trubisky had his fair share of struggles during his second season, though he was good enough win games. The team had a top ten offense early in the season, but struggled down the stretch, failing to score more than 24 points in the final five games.

The Bears knew the defense would drop off, but they hoped the offense would be better. When Gabriel and Burton were hurt in Nagy’s second year it became clear that Trubisky could not lift the team. He wasn’t a franchise quarterback, but they had already invested too much in him and his supporting cast. He was their best option.

After the 12-win campaign, the team struggled with mediocrity, largely because of what was happening at the quarterback position. It wasn’t until frustration had already built up and fans were at the Halas Hall gates with torches and pitchforks that they moved on from Trubisky.

The plan was sound, the quarterback just never became what they were convinced he would. They gambled on Trubisky. They lost.

Poles isn’t gambling on Justin Fields.

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Justin Fields’ 2022 Season Won’t End the Twitter Debates, and the Bears Won’t Care

| March 30th, 2022


Justin Fields’ potential future in Chicago is not going to be decided by Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus in 2022. That evaluation has already concluded and he’s their guy moving forward, certainly through 2023. The next “evaluation” of the quarterback will take place at the backend of that ’23 campaign, when the professional sample size is adequate, and the organization must consider their long-term financial commitments to him.

Why? Why is there not more pressure on this coming season?

First, because the Bears are not going to be good this year. That’s just a premise with which more fans need to be comfortable.

Second, because Poles and Flus know it will not be easy to install a new offense for Fields – his third in three years – and have the kid flourish. They’ll want to see him take significant steps from year one to year two, of course, but they’ll by no means expect a finished product. There will not be many finished products when it comes to the 2022 Chicago Bears.

But most of all, expectations for Fields will be managed because the leadership knows of 2022’s roster limitations. This is a scrap metal season, an attempt by Poles to sell the beater left in his driveway by Ryan Pace for parts. That notion has guided his approach in these first weeks of free agency. Other than attempting to sign the best three-tech on the market to significant money, the Bears have focused on a series of mid-tier (or lower) guys on upside, short-term deals. Their failed attempt to get Ryan Bates from Buffalo was the best example of this. Bates is not a great guard. He’s a good, solid, YOUNG player. The rest of their signings tell the same story:

  • Justin Jones, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Nicholas Morrow give the Bears bodies on defense but don’t figure to have long-term value in the organization unless they perform to a seriously high level.
  • Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown come to the Bears with personal connections – the former to the GM and the latter to OC Luke Getsy. If either player develops a serious rapport with Fields, the signing will be a home run. (My prediction is Pringle sticks around in Chicago for several seasons.)
  • Khari Blasingame returns the fullback position to Chicago and signals a serious transition to the Shanahan style.
  • Dakota Dozier is a depth piece with starting experience.

Twitter is a vomitorium where Justin Fields is always trending. When you click his name, which I try not to do and consistently fail, you find an endless series of Bears fans arguing with every other anonymous fan base about him. No one is right. No one is wrong. Everyone is angry. These tend to be the fans DESPERATE for the Bears to overspend on offensive linemen and wide receivers not worth the money. They want their opinion proved correct. They want Fields to be great right now.

But sadly, the Bears are at a weird organizational crossroads. They drafted their quarterback of the future and then fired the whole of their football operations the following season. Poles must act like Fields’ rookie season never happened; operate like Fields will be the team’s first round pick this season. And then he must build the roster accordingly moving forward. Poles and Flus start with a clean slate in Chicago. Fields should too.

Fields might become a great player. He also might not. For now, the Bears will be patient. They’ll keep the future in focus, at the expense of 2022. Can fans of the franchise do the same?

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ATM: Colts Drafts Paint Picture of Coach E’s “Type”

| March 2nd, 2022


If the draft history of the Indianapolis Colts is any indication, Matt Eberflus is going to target front seven players who are exceptionally fast with long arms. In four years with Eberflus as their defensive coordinator, the Colts drafted six edge players and six linebackers. The sheer number of players at those positions in four years should be enough to raise eyebrows, but he also seemed to have a specific type, which could key Bears fans into some prospects after the NFL Scouting Combine this week.

Bears fans would be wise to begin familiarizing themselves with the linebackers in the 2022 draft. The Colts almost always took one and that’s surely because Eberlus — a former linebackers coach — prioritizes the position. (We saw in the mid-2000s how important having Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher were to the Bears.)

  • The Colts seemed to prioritize the ability to cover a lot of ground as their linebackers were, for the most part, long and fast. Both of Indianapolis’ top linebackers have arms that are longer than 34 inches.
  • Three of their picks were below 32 inches, but all were barely six-feet tall, meaning their limbs were still long for their frames.
  • What was most interesting about the linebackers is that the slowest still ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. The next slowest clocked in at 4.63.
  • They all had broad jumps of at least 10 feet and vertical of at least 33.5 inches.
  • While heights ranged from 6’0 to 6’4”, the Colts drafted players on the lighter side as none weighed even 240 pounds.

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After Monday’s Press Avails, the Bears Have Become Justin Fields’ Team

| February 4th, 2022


The Press Conference.

It was what Justin Fields said. And what Justin Fields didn’t say.

What he said:

“I think last year was kinda weird, just me not starting the season being the starting quarterback. It was kind of a weird leadership role. I think me and Andy would kind of switch off. But now that I am starting off the season as a starting quarterback, I think I’ll be more comfortable playing that leader role. There’s no more, ‘Oh, he’s a rookie, this and that’. It’s tie now, so I’m excited like I said before and I can’t wait to get to work.”

What he didn’t say:

“I should have been the quarterback from day one last season. And I wasn’t the quarterback from day one last season because the last coach didn’t have the slightest clue what he was doing. But he’s gone now. And so, we rejoice.”

In 2015, when John Fox was announced as the new head coach of the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler was not in the room. He did not speak to the media. In 2018, when Matt Nagy was introduced, Mitch Trubisky was nowhere to be found. But Monday, after Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus addressed the media, Justin Fields sat on the dais and spoke, at length. The owner had spoken. The GM had spoken. The head coach had spoken. And now it was the quarterback’s time. That is the hierarchy of every NFL team and Monday, for the first time, Fields ascended into that structure.

And he knew it.



The Future.

Fields’ comments mirrored everything reported about the kid since his time at Ohio State; an immense talent complemented by a tireless work ethic and an understanding of where he struggles on the field. Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com wrote an excellent column, detailing Fields’ excitement for the future with this new leadership in place.

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Dannehy: Eberflus Must Fully Control His Defense

| February 2nd, 2022


The most significant thing to come out of Monday’s introductory press conference was that Matt Eberflus won’t be calling the defensive plays, even while the team converts to the 4-3 defense he ran in Indianapolis. There are no issues with Eberflus delegating; many head coaches find it easier to manage the whole of the game while doing so. But Flus still must maintain full control of this defense. He would not be a head coach without his success as a defensive coordinator and not using those skills would be a waste.

Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh are two common examples of defensive coaches who do not call plays. (Many forget that the season before Harbaugh was hired in Baltimore, he was no longer coaching specials in Philly. He was coaching the defensive backs.) In those cases, though, both teams already had outstanding defenses and the new head coaches retained their staffs.

Eberflus doesn’t have that luxury. The team is bringing several coaches from Indianapolis to fill out the defensive staff, including expected defensive coordinator Alan Williams. The Bears are going to try to mimic the success Eberflus had with the Colts, but the new head coach must understand it won’t be easy without the same guy (him) pushing the buttons.

And for every Tomlin or Harbaugh, there is a Leslie Frazier; a defensive coach who delegated the responsibilities in Minnesota, even though the team probably would’ve been better off with the head coach handling the job. Frazier is a notable example because he entrusted the same person Eberflus is expected to hire and it didn’t go well. The first year was okay, as Williams’ defense with the Vikings ranked 16th in yardage, 14th in points allowed and 22nd in takeaways. The second season, they were in the bottom-five in all three categories. Williams, specifically, was blamed not just by media members and fans, but by players.

The next year, with many of the same players and Mike Zimmer as the coach, the Vikings fielded a top-15 defense.

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