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If Sustained Success is Entirely Dependent on QB Play, Ryan Poles’ Process for 2022 is Questionable

| May 12th, 2022

In his opening press conference as the general manager of the Chicago Bears, Ryan Poles boldly proclaimed his goal to “sustain success over a long period of time.” This is a fairly standard thing to say for a new general manager, because it’s what everybody in the NFL is trying to accomplish. But today I want to evaluate Poles’ approach to his first offseason in charge of a team with that goal in mind.


How to Achieve Sustained Success

Fact 1: Offense is far more stable than defense year over year. To put it another way, defensive success is not sustainable – a fact Bears fans should be intimately familiar with after the last five years. Thus, the main factor to drive sustained team success is going to be sustained offensive success.

Fact 2: Good offensive play is driven by good QB play. This makes perfect sense, and I think we all knew it, but it’s good to have proof to back it up.

Conclusion: The best path to sustained success is a good QB. A brief look at recent NFL history supports that notion:

If you consider making the playoffs to mean success, there have been 18 instances in the last ten years where teams made the playoffs at least three times in a four-year span. Ten of those involved a solid or better QB on a rookie deal as the primary starter, while six more featured future HOF QBs on veteran contracts.

Only two of 18, then, involved solid-but-unspectacular QBs who weren’t on rookie deals. Those were Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill and Kansas City with Alex Smith. So, it is possible to sustain success without a really good QB or cheap solid QB, but it’s a much less likely path.

It’s also worth noting that both of those two found very little success in the playoffs. Only three of nine playoff seasons featured a playoff win, and only one reached a conference championship game. So, if your definition of sustained success involves more than bouncing out of the playoffs early on, those don’t really meet it.

If you want to get more selective and look at playoff success as an indicator of success, this list gets even more QB-dependent.

  • 28 of 40 teams in the conference championship game featured a starting QB with at least one All Pro or MVP in their career, and that doesn’t include Andrew Luck (retired early before achieving either of those) or Joe Burrow (only two NFL seasons so far, seems headed in that direction).
  • Only eight NFL QBs have started at least two conference championship games in the last decade, and six of them have made an All Pro or won MVP.

Again, this doesn’t mean getting a really good QB is the only path to sustained success (see SF with Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick about a decade ago, or SF with Jimmy Garoppolo the last several years). It’s just the most likely path to sustained success.

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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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Secondary Rebuilt, Weapons Lacking: Assessing the 2022 NFL Draft in the Context of 2023

| May 1st, 2022

The texts buzzed my nightstand unprompted, piercing through the endless, awkward chuckling of Robert Mays and Nate Tice, as I tried to force myself to sleep on Friday evening. (I decided to take a brief, week-long booze sabbatical and it makes slumber a tricky enterprise.) The scout who I have relied upon this week to fill me in on all things draft was giving his assessment of Ryan Poles’ work over rounds two and three.



This is not someone who has any reason to inflate the work of the GM of the Chicago Bears. He has zero stake in the game. This was a professional talent evaluator evaluating the talent selected; examining the players acquired in a draft he has routinely described to me as “the weakest in the last 15 years.”

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The Complaints.

Listen, the complaints are understandable. A logical case could have been made for the Bears to spend every single pick Friday night on the offensive side of the ball. One could argue that taking shots on the potential of George Pickens or Alec Pierce or Skyy Moore is more exciting (undoubtedly) and more in-tune with the modern game. But if that’s the case, why were the Baltimore Ravens universally celebrated for their work in the first round, securing a box safety and center while trading away their best outside receiver?

Pickens will be asked to do very little in Pittsburgh (and will do little with those quarterbacks). Pierce and Moore will be no more than third options on their rosters in Indianapolis and Kansas City. The Bears would have been asking all three to start on day one and seriously contribute as rookies. Does anyone actually believe these three players are capable of that? If they were, would several receiver-needy clubs have gleefully passed on them at the backend of the first round?

But most complaints coming from fans are actually based on a fallacy. Bears fans seem to believe the organization needs to pile talent around Justin Fields to accurately assess his ability as a quarterback and make determinations on his future. That is definitively not the case. Ryan Poles and Justin Fields have been side-by-side through this process, even to the point of watching tape together on receiver prospects in the draft.



The team will not hold Fields accountable for the lack of playmaking ability around him. Poles got this job because he looked George McCaskey in the eyes and told him the roster was dreck. No one has a more sober view of the depth chart and the communication between the new leadership and the young quarterback has been impeccable.

Also, this belief that a quarterback requires a stacked roster around him in year two to improve is utter nonsense. Josh Allen’s second-year receivers were John Brown and Cole Beasley. Deshaun Watson’s second receiver in his second year totaled 32 catches. Russell Wilson’s top pass catcher in his sophomore season had 64 catches. Fields is going into this season with a new coaching staff building an offense specifically for him, a talented run game and a 1,000-yard receiver he loves. If he can’t improve in that context, fair questions should be asked.

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The Approach.

If Poles’ board had potential starters at wideout and along the offensive line at the top of the second round, those would have been his selections. But it didn’t. And with secondary being the second-worst position group on the roster, why wouldn’t he hesitate to fortify that unit? As Poles himself stated, “There were two good starting-level defensive players, and I would have made a huge mistake for this organization to say, ‘Let’s leave them there’.”

The Bears believe the best way to “develop” Fields is to take pressure off of him, not artificially inflate the wide receiver room with day two maybes. Selecting Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker (the latter described to me by the aforementioned scout as a “top 35 talent” in this draft) is about establishing a structure for the difficult season to come. The Bears want to run the ball effectively and play solid defense. If they do those two things, they will not have to ask their quarterback – now in his third offensive system in three years – to drop back and fling it 40 times a week.

If the Bears didn’t address their secondary, especially after trading Khalil Mack, the team was looking at fielding an unprofessional group at the backend of their defense. If they did that, they would be chasing every game. Is there a worse possible scenario for a young QB?

The selection of Velus Jones Jr. in the third round also plays to this approach. “Deebo light” might seem like a grandiose designation, with Samuel coming off a brilliant 2021 campaign, but it’s easy to forget that the Niners receiver was more of a prolific gadget player in his first two seasons. Jones’ speed will give the Bears a dynamic they have sorely lacked in the Pace years, a player capable of taking a quick slant or bubble screen to the house at any moment. And it’s also difficult understand how Bears fans – OF ALL FANS – don’t understand the potential viability of drafting college football’s most electric return man.

Jones is a chess piece for an organization whose offensive game strategy hasn’t ascended beyond Connect Four in the modern era.


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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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Bears Sign CB Tavon Young

| April 11th, 2022


Tavon Young is a good player.

And a smart signing.

For Ryan Poles, a signing like Young is all about roster options. A healthy Young stabilizes the slot corner role and allows the new GM (and his coach) to give a player like Thomas Graham opportunities outside. Young also provides Poles cover when it comes to the draft; he’ll no longer approach rounds two and three desperate to find an immediate starter in the secondary.

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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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Random Thoughts on the First Friday in April

| April 1st, 2022


  • A lot of emails flooding the DBB inbox involve an OUTRAGED question: “How is this team better than they were a year ago?” The question completely misses the point. Why I refer to this season as a “scrap metal” season is because that’s what it is. The Bears were driving a beater. It could get them from Point A to Point B (hover around .500/sneak into the playoffs), but it was also capable of breaking down at any moment and it did in 2021. Poles could have could have kept Mack and signed big names to big contracts, but he knows none of those moves would make them contenders in 2022. And that should be only goal. Pole is starting from scratch.
  • I do all of my draft research in the few days before the draft, but I found myself reading Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50 rankings the other day and one name seemed interesting to me: Bernhard Raimann. “Raimann has a fascinating story. He was a foreign exchange student from Austria, and he developed himself into a tight end prospect. In his third season at Central Michigan, he made the transition to left tackle. He is a fun player to study. In the passing game, he has enough foot quickness to handle speed rushers, and his combination of core and hand strength jumps off the screen. When he lands his punch, the play is over. He will occasionally get too wide with his base, which left him susceptible to counter moves. He is a mauler in the run game. He has knock-back power and looks to finish consistently. Overall, Raimann has picked up the position incredibly fast and should be a reliable starter early in his career.”
  • Whenever someone asks me about Eric Fisher, I wonder this: Poles had him in KC, Flus had him in Indy. Isn’t it telling that they’re not rushing to sign him?
  • ACTUAL BEAR NEWS: A Massachusetts native was killed by a grizzly bear in Montana but apparntly “he knew the risks of the wild.” I have a rule I follow. Don’t die doing something where people can react with, “Well, you know, he probably shouldn’t have…”. I don’t jump off high things. I don’t fuck with “the wild”. I don’t ski. I don’t fly in tiny planes piloted by rich guys or celebrities.

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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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Bears Re-Sign DeAndre Houston-Carson

| March 20th, 2022


A few thoughts on this decision by Poles and Flus:

  • Houston-Carson has always seemed a player that deserves more snaps on defense, and a natural complement to Eddie Jackson’s game at safety. He’s a playmaker; what he might lack physically down-for-down he can overcome by rising in the bigger moments. (The pick above, the pick to ice a victory over the Panthers, etc.)
  • Chris Tabor referred to DHC as the “straw that stirs the drink” on specials and I’m not sure a more glowing review can come from a third phase coordinator.
  • The Browns gave Jakeem Grant a three-year deal worth up to $13.8 million. The Packers needed to clean up their horrific special teams and brought in Pat O’Donnell at $2 million a year. Those are the kinds of moves that make sense for contenders – teams looking to patch their few holes for a championship run. The Bears can fill those two spots with Khalil Herbert and an undrafted free agent (or late pick). The signing of DHC suggests the Bears see him as an essential piece.
  • There’s been some conversation about the Bears being in a “rebuild” but there’s an absent nuance to that conversation. In baseball, a team can definitively rebuild by dealing off veterans for prospects. But football doesn’t have prospects; it has lottery tickets called draft picks. The Bears didn’t deal Khalil Mack for the second-round pick. They dealt Khalil Mack to clear $25 million (or whatever) off their books next off-season. Everything Poles is doing is geared towards next off-season. Would he love for Pringle, St. Brown and DHC to become reliable contributors? Of course. But signing them to low-risk, one-year deals gives the coaching staff a year to evaluate them up close, while giving them full roster flexibility next off-season. When folks talk of rebuilds, they seem to suggest multi-year projects. Those don’t exist in the NFL. If Justin Fields takes a significant step in 2022, the Bears can absolutely be contenders in 2023. And Poles, wisely, recognizes that.

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