Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Why Are The Bears Such Big Underdogs Against Saints?

New Bears wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Desperate to give their rookie quarterback a reliable weapon at wide receiver, the Bears made a rare mid-season trade Wednesday, sending a conditional seventh round pick to the Chargers in exchange for 28-year-old Dontrelle Inman. We’ll start this week’s 10 Bears Things on that topic, before diving into a very interesting matchup against the Saints this weekend:

1. Expectations for Inman should be held in check, but he can’t hurt the Bears’ current wide receiver situation. Inman is a former undrafted free agent who came out of Virginia in 2011, spent a couple years in the Canadian Football League, and didn’t really breakout until last season when he caught 58 passes for 810 yards and four touchdowns. Those are modest numbers, but numbers the Bears can use right now.

“I have watched some tape on him, obviously, when this thing was going down,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Wednesday. “I just saw a smart, savvy player that should be able to provide some leadership in our room and we need that type of figure right now to help these guys out.”

Hoge & Jahns, Episode 125: Week 8 Bears, NFL Preview

The Bears need more reliability from their receivers (more on that in Thing No. 2) and they’re hoping Inman can be someone Mitchell Trubisky can trust. Inman comes to Chicago in the mold of Cam Meredith, with almost the exact same size (6-3, 205) and similar route-running ability. By giving up just a conditional 2018 draft pick, general manager Ryan Pace is likely hoping he can get a little boost from a player who might still be ascending. Of course, it’s quite possible 2016 might have been the peak of Inman’s career.

So how quickly can Inman help? It’s a great question. Being active Sunday in New Orleans seems like a stretch considering Inman has to learn the playbook. He also was dealing with a hamstring injury two weeks ago and was inactive in the Chargers’ last two games. Even if he is active Sunday, it would be unfair to expect immediate production. But with the bye week looming, the Bears are likely expecting Inman to be a factor against the Packers in Week 10.

2. Without mentioning names, Loggains was critical of both Tre McBride and Tanner Gentry, and in both cases, the comments helped explain the trade for Inman. 

The criticism of McBride came in response to one of Trubisky’s few mistakes against the Panthers — the sack he took on third down that pushed the Bears out of field goal range.

“We called a double move and were trying to take a shot on the corner and Mitchell hung on the double move too long and should have dumped it down to Zach. We would’ve made the field goal shorter,” Loggains said.

McBride was the receiver running the double move.

“You know (Trubisky) did a good job of hanging onto the ball, but it’s being aggressive and understanding the timing of the play and saying, ‘Okay, (McBride) didn’t win clean and it wasn’t a great route,’ He should just check that thing down and we kick a shorter field goal there.”

Loggains is being kind about the route. As you can see on the coaches’ film, McBride was completely stonewalled (top of the screen).

NFL Game Pass.

For what it’s worth, here’s a double move Inman ran against the Houston Texans last season (sidenote: that’s Quintin Demps who bit on the move):

NFL Game Pass.

Meanwhile, when asked about Inman, Loggains made mention of Gentry’s illegal formation penalty against the Panthers.

“Those things can’t happen. We have to eliminate those things,” Loggains said. “Maybe another veteran presence in the room and a guy that’s played in the NFL, played with a good quarterback, that’s going to help everyone. That’s going to help that group.”

3. It will be interesting to see if Inman helps or hurts Kendall Wright. Wright has been the team’s best receiver, but he barely played Sunday because Loggains thinks he’s best in the slot and the Bears used so few three-receiver sets.

“When you’re in the bigger groupings and trying to play to your strengths that way it does limit some of the things (Wright) does,” Loggains said. “The last two weeks we’ve chosen to do some no-huddle stuff on third down to kind of help Mitchell. So, it has limited some of Kendall’s touches and those things. But those will go up as the year goes. I’m not worried about it at this point. He’s not either. I think he’s a good receiver for us and we’ll keep using him.”

Perhaps Inman’s presence will increase the amount of three-receiver sets and take some attention off of Wright from a defensive standpoint. On the other hand, Inman is a guy who has also had success in the slot, but will likely have to play more outside for the Bears. With Tarik Cohen in the mix too, it’s not like the Bears need another slot receiver.

Wright’s snap count will be worth watching going forward. The excuses for his lack of playing time only carry so much weight. When your best wide receiver is only on the field for eight of 38 snaps, it makes you wonder if there’s something else going on — especially when the two guys playing in front of him have one combined catch the last two weeks.

4. One question I’ve been wondering: Does Trubisky have the freedom to make checks/changes at the line or scrimmage or is that something he still has to earn? I asked Loggains that question Wednesday and this was his answer:

“No, it’s not at all something he has to earn. There have been a couple things that have come up, and obviously you guys don’t get to see that stuff, but he’s done a really good job with the protection checks. One comment on the delay of game (against the Panthers): we need to help him as a coaching staff, and use a timeout there. We made a wrong call up front. He knew it. You see his eyes scanning. He knew it was about to be hot right there. We tell him, ‘Hey, right there, we need to help you burn the timeout, or call the timeout yourself right there in that situation.’ We were about to be in a bad play, and he made multiple protection checks early in the game. The third down play, the first third down he threw to Tarik on the wheel route, that was a check as well. He’s doing those things, and he’s handling them well.”

5. Considering how well the Bears’ defense is playing, it’s shocking to see the Saints favored by nine points Sunday. John Fox’s team has been the underdog in all eight weeks so far, but is 5-2 against the spread. I don’t bring this up for gambling purposes, but rather to show that their defense has kept the games close. The 29-7 loss to the Buccaneers and 35-14 loss to the Packers were a result of Mike Glennon turning the ball over seven times, and he is no longer the quarterback. Trubisky has just two turnovers in three games and one of those was on a blindside sack he didn’t see coming. For the most part, he’s taking care of the football.

Logic would say the Bears’ defense will keep this game close and as long as Trubisky doesn’t start giving the ball away, this one shouldn’t get out of hand. But what’s interesting is that the computer models love the Saints. SportsLine’s projection model calls for an 11-point win with 76 percent of simulations backing New Orleans.

Of course, it’s not really shocking that the computers don’t love the Bears. Not many NFL teams win football games when their quarterback only completes four passes. Even Navy and Georgia Tech think that’s ridiculous.

Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) system shows a pretty big disparity between the Saints (5th) and Bears (27th). If you’re unfamiliar with DVOA, it breaks down every single play in the entire season and compares a team’s performance to the league average based on situation. They also spit out an estimated win total based on the amount of weeks that have been played, and the Saints lead the league with an estimated 6.6 wins over seven weeks, while the Bears rank 27th with 1.8 estimated wins.

In reality, the Bears have three wins, which proves you can outperform the analytics, but I present all this data simply to show some reasoning behind the Saints being such heavy favorites.

6. Some other numbers you might find interesting: Based on real wins and losses, the Bears have actually played the fifth toughest schedule in the NFL and rank No. 3 in Strength of Victory, which accounts for the winning percentage of the teams they beat.

The Saints, meanwhile, having played the toughest schedule in the league and their Strength of Victory ranks No. 2.

7. While the data suggests the Saints are really good, they’re not nearly as impressive on tape. The defense is overrated in my opinion and getting hyped up simply because its been so bad in recent years. The Saints allowed Packers rookie running back Aaron Jones to run for 131 yards on just 17 carries last week, including a 46-yard touchdown. It was a comfortable 26-17 win for New Orleans, but Brett Hundley was not good and it felt like the Packers would have easily won the game had Aaron Rodgers played.

Meanwhile, the Saints’ 52-38 win against Detroit two weeks ago was a bizarre game. The Lions  — and Matthew Stafford — were horrendous, turning the ball over five times leading to three defensive scores for the Saints. And New Orleans was plenty sloppy too, turning the ball over three times while nearly allowing the Lions to erase a 45-10 deficit.

And, again, on paper, the Saints’ 20-0 win over the Dolphins in London looks impressive, but Jay Cutler and the Miami offense was a mess at that time.

I’m not trying to suggest the Saints’ four-game winning streak is a fluke, but I am trying to suggest they are beatable. That said, I am very impressed with the fundamentally-sound football they are playing. The Saints are extremely balanced on offense, they protect Brees well (only five sacks) and they take care of the football (although Brees has thrown two interceptions in each of the last two games). Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are a formidable rushing duo, similar to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. And on defense, the Saints bat a ton of passes down, which is something Trubisky is going to have to worry about.

I suspect the Saints will get into the end zone a couple of times Sunday, even though the Bears haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown in their last two games. I also think Howard and Cohen can find room to run on this defense, and assuming the Saints stack the box, Trubisky will have a chance to make some plays. He very well may decide this football game.

8. Sunday’s game will mark an interesting homecoming for Akiem Hicks, who was drafted and developed by the Saints before getting traded to the Patriots in 2015. Hicks has not been shy about his displeasure with that trade, even though it put him in a better spot to succeed and eventually land in the perfect position with the Bears, where he just signed a four-year, $48 million extension.

“Obviously I’m happy to see the success he’s having, albeit I wish it was here,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said Wednesday on a conference call.

Payton listed Hicks alongside Rob Ninkovich and Malcolm Jenkins as players he “regrets allowing to leave the building,” but the reality is that Hicks was playing out of position as a 4-3 defensive end with the Saints when he was traded. Payton said Hicks “is right in the perfect position right now.”

The much more effective 3-4 defensive end doesn’t like to talk about the Saints much. Asked Monday what kind of impression Drew Brees left on him, Hicks said: “I don’t really talk about Drew Brees. Nothing to say about him.”

Something tells me Hicks is poised for a big game Sunday, which is scary considering he’s already an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. To make matters worse for the Saints, right guard Larry Warford is expected to miss the game because of an abdomen injury.

9. This is also a reunion for general manager Ryan Pace and director of player personnel Josh Lucas, who were hired away from the Saints. Pace was with the Saints for 14 years before getting the GM job with the Bears. Lucas was in New Orleans for 10 years.

“Man, there’s more people there and here that have worked together, it would be crazy to keep tabs of,” Payton said.

Payton and Fox are close friends and Bears tight ends coach Frank Smith spent five seasons on the Saints staff before coming to Chicago.

10. Carl Cheffers is the referee for Sunday’s game in New Orleans. Justin Kutcher and Chris Spielman have the call on FOX.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.