The first quarter of the 2017 season for the Chicago Bears has been a bumpy ride. A close loss to the reigning NFC Champions. A shellacking in Tampa Bay. A win against one of the NFL’s perennial playoff contenders against Pittsburgh and another shellacking, this time to our bitter rival Cheese heads. In the midst of it all, some intriguing story lines are starting to develop and are worth keeping an eye on as the team dives into the second quarter of the season. Let’s start with the obvious.
Bears fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. Let’s all just take a moment and imagine a world in which Ryan Pace didn’t have the boulders to trade up for his quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft. I want no part of that world. Instead, we’re four games into the season and it feels as though new life has been injected into the team.
Truthfully, it says something about the leadership in this organization to make the change to Mitch Trubisky. Not everybody is willing to admit an $18.5 Million mistake just a quarter of the way into the season and move on to a rookie. Reports are aplenty that certain coaches and a certain GM are trying to save their jobs with this move. Conspiracy theories aside, this is the right move for the team. The team knows Mitch is the guy that gives them the best chance to win and don’t be surprised if they play harder with him out there.
I’d just like everybody to temper expectations a bit. Gain a bit of perspective on the situation. I know, I know…. that’s asking quite a bit from Bears fans. But, Mitch is still a rookie. He’s still going to go through his fair share of mistakes along the way. I’m expecting some time mismanagement, a bit of confusion at the line of scrimmage from time to time, and some errant throws based on disguised coverage. Now that we got that out of the way, I can’t wait to see him scramble out of the pocket and make some ridiculous throws to open receivers downfield, taking shots down the seams, and opening up lanes for the running game. I just hope Dowell Loggains does a good enough job of putting the right game plan in place.
Dowell Loggains’ Time To Shine
Much has been said about Dowell Loggains over the past two years. Some think he’s genius because Brian Hoyer was able to top 300 yards multiple times and not throw any interceptions last year before breaking his arm. Jordan Howard went from a fifth round draft pick to the second-leading rusher in the league with 1,313 rushing yards in the same offense. Not impressed? Matt Barkley threw for 1,611 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games last year. But, as great as his offense was at getting the ball down the field, Chicago rated as the 23rd best offense in the red zone, scoring a TD only 51.02% of the time.
His play calling has been suspect, going through stretches being attached to either the run or the pass. Also, starting the Green Bay game with a play action seven-step drop on the first play? Interesting concept there, Dowell. Also, going run heavy while down multiple scores late in the game? I sure hope that was Fox’s call. I’m holding off judgment on the first four games of 2017 because of the obvious limitations (see: Glennon, Mike).
What’s worth keeping an eye on, though, is the creativity that he’s suddenly awarded with Mitch Trubisky running the offense. He now has an athletic, accurate QB who can also push the ball down the field, with one of the most dynamic backfields in the entire league. It’s fair to say the closest he’s ever come to that combination of skills at QB is when Jake Locker was his starting QB in Tennessee during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. I choose to believe that Dowell’s offensive concepts and play calling have evolved over the last three seasons. Oh, and Jake Locker never played again after his rookie contract expired. Not a fair example. So, let’s see what Dowell can cook up for the shiny new toy at QB. He could catapult himself into head coach conversations with a successful rookie season for Mitch. He could also work his way into the unemployment line with more suspect play calling.
The Dynamic Backfield Duo
I can’t talk about the first four games of 2017 without mentioning the new-look offensive backfield of the Chicago Bears. We know what we’ve got in Jordan Howard. Dude was a Pro Bowler in his rookie year. But, man, did Ryan Pace hit a home run with Tarik Cohen. This kid can play. He lines up all over the field, and is effective everywhere. He plays slot receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback, returns punts, and he makes plays any time the ball is in his hands. He’s a new-age Darren Sproles.
Ryan Pace officially found the perfect complement to Jordan Howard. With Mitch Trubisky opening things up at QB, this offense could have a brand new feel to it for the last three quarters of this season. Keep an eye on how these two are used more efficiently and creatively going forward.
The evaluation of the wide receivers should start now for the Chicago Bears. Glennon didn’t give them a fair shake. The receivers did a good job of getting open; Glennon just hardly ever threw to the right guy. Granted, when the ball did arrive there were some drops. That has got to be fixed. Drops plagued this team last year and changed the outcome of a couple games. It can’t happen at the professional level.
Which brings me to my next point: Why in the hell does Josh Bellamy get playing time on the offense? If he brings so much value to special teams, he should be valuable enough to have a roster spot to strictly play special teams. This is his sixth season in the NFL and he still can’t grasp the concept of catching a football. The guy just isn’t any good at playing wide receiver. It’s time to move on from him on offense and try something else out. Here’s to hoping that Tre McBride’s promotion to the active roster vs. the Vikings is a sign that the team is fed up with Bellamy on offense. If it’s not McBride, it’s gotta be Tanner Gentry. If it’s not Gentry, it’s gotta be somebody else. Anybody else. Bellamy gotta go.
Defensive Secondary Performance
Considered a major weakness headed into the 2017 season, the defensive backfield has outperformed outside expectation to this point. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given the combination of Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell’s track record of sustained success. But, let’s go ahead and give Ryan Pace a little credit here. He brought in Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper much to the fan base’s chagrin. Through the first four games, though, they look like solid signings.
If Pace listened to popular demand, however, we could be stuck with the disaster that is Stephon Gilmore with an over-the-top price tag. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the #72 corner in the NFL, but he’s being paid as one of the best. That alone should warm the hearts of Bears fans and help people understand that Pace’s free agent strategy is actually quite effective in avoiding the type of mistakes that stop a rebuild dead in its tracks. Expect more good things from this secondary, as they get more comfortable in the scheme as well as playing with each other.
Team Effort & Discipline (or lack thereof)
Four weeks into the season, and it looks as if John Fox has lost any grasp on his ability to coach a team effectively. The only game that was mildly acceptable was the season opener against the Falcons. Since then, it feels like a snowball effect of undisciplined mistakes and lack of effort. The team came out flat in Tampa Bay and got punched in the mouth. They couldn’t recover from Glennon’s mistakes, but there were several undisciplined plays that extended TB’s drives and made things tough for the Bears to have a chance. Sure, they beat the Steelers, but they shouldn’t have.
That was an atrocious game. I honestly can’t believe the Steelers didn’t come away with that win. The Bears got a few good bounces, but costly penalties, lack of discipline, and stupid mistakes were the theme of the game. Mainly, Marcus Cooper and costly holding penalties stand out above the rest. Then, the Packers game felt like a rerun of the Tampa Bay game. The team came out flat, turned the ball over, couldn’t recover, and made several boneheaded plays to take themselves out of the game. It just doesn’t feel like the team is at its best with John Fox running things. Which is quite the segue into my next point.
John Fox continues to amaze everybody with his game management. Most recently in Green Bay, the team is down multiple scores and the team decides to wave the white flag by running the ball? Sure, Glennon has been terrible up to this point, but why stop throwing the ball now? You’re really just going to give up? Against our bitter rivals. On top of that, our stud RB who’s playing on a bum shoulder is still in the game while we run out the clock to our imminent demise? Why? Why on earth would we risk further injury to one of the young building blocks that we drafted?
There are multiple layers of effect to a decision like this. One, the team feels when the coaches are making play calls because they’ve given up. That equals a lower output of effort when the coaches aren’t aggressively attempting a comeback. Also, it tells the fans that you truly don’t care about winning enough. Crazy things happen in the game of football. Who knows what could happen if you decide to take a few shots down the field and try to get the ball in the end zone? Nobody. But it’s certainly worth a shot. Lastly, you’re telling your team that you don’t believe in them. Do you know what that does to morale in the locker room? The guys undoubtedly talk about it. They’re grown men and they’re smart. The players have been playing this game for a long time, and they know when a coach is waving the white flag. But wouldn’t you know it, the pass game makes a sudden resurgence into the game plan late in the fourth quarter after we’ve already lost the game.
I’m not sure who’s to blame between Fox and Loggains, but it feels like the Fox methodology at its finest. I still feel like John Elway knew exactly what he was doing when he let Fox go. Sure, he had some success, but Elway knew the team was lacking a competitive edge and was under-prepared. Chicago is feeling the brunt of that in full force. The guy is only 129-115 in his career, being buoyed by his tenure in Denver. He was a perfectly mediocre 73-71 in Carolina. He’s not the best coach to complete this rebuild, and I have a feeling Ryan Pace will get his shot at his own hand-picked coach at the end of this season before he has to worry about his seat getting warm. It’s hard to see Fox ever coaching again in the NFL after this season. The writing is on the wall.
Please, please, please go and read this previous article. It’s getting more and more difficult to consider injuries as just plain bad luck under this regime. In summary of the article that you’ve obviously gone and read already, John Fox has historically had more injuries than the average football team while serving as head coach, and his head Athletic Trainer Nate Breske isn’t doing him any favors.
Sure, broken bones and torn ligaments are nearly impossible to avoid. But muscular and tissue injuries (see: Kush, Eric, Freeman, Jerrell, and Kwiatkoski, Nick) are certainly avoidable through proper preparation. Is John Fox fully to blame? Not entirely. Nate Breske has his hands all over this as well. But both need to be fired. Just another reason that Fox is unfit for the Head Coaching job. I fully expect there to be more injuries before the season is over, based on historical trends.
- The offensive line continues to be solid. Here’s to hoping they can stay healthy and gain some continuity.
- The defensive front seven has been solid as well. They are clearly the strength of this defensive unit. Losing Jerrell Freeman and Nick Kwiatkoski to injury hurt. A lot. But Christian Jones has actually been quietly very effective. I’m excited to see him play more going forward.
- With coaching turnover in the offseason feeling imminent at this point, I really hope that we can hang on to Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell in their current capacities. More time and a little bit more talent on this defense and they could be serious. Shades of the dominant 49ers defense type of serious.