LAKE FOREST — The Bears are already in trouble, off to an 0-2 start with the very talented Pittsburgh Steelers visiting Soldier Field on Sunday. Here are “10 things” to keep in mind as the Bears try to avoid another spiraling season:
1. The Bears are playing safe — too safe. Down 23-0 with the ball at his own 46-yard-line Sunday, Bears head coach John Fox was looking at a 4th-and-3 (really only 4th-and-2.5) with 1:12 left in the second half. Having turned the ball over four times already, his team desperately needed a score before halftime. They needed some kind of spark.
Instead, Fox punted.
It was the safe thing to do. After all, Jordan Howard had just been knocked backwards on 3rd-and-1 and if the Bears didn’t convert on fourth down, it was likely they would at least be conceding a field goal to Buccaneers before the half.
Nevermind that quarterback Mike Glennon was actually 5-for-6 for 61 yards on third down at that point of the game, gaining five first downs on seven opportunities.
“Mike Glennon played really well on third down,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Wednesday. “That was the No. 1 third-down defense in the NFL last year, and I think we completed over 50 percent on them, 63 at the half, which is good.”
Of course, there was a “but” in there.
“But it all starts with, in this league you can’t beat yourself, and to win games, you have to find a way not to lose them first and so we’re going to keep emphasizing taking care of the football and playing smart.”
In the Bears’ minds, “smart” means “safe.” Loggains literally said it: “You have to find a way not to lose (games) first.”
The Bears are playing not to lose.
Which is why Fox punted on 4th-and-2.5 from mid-field while trailing 23-0. God forbid they fall behind 26-0. Then they’d really be in trouble.
Of course, they did fall behind 26-0. Just 45 seconds later, the Buccaneers were back at the Bears’ 48-yard-line, essentially the same spot they had just punted from. Nick Folk ended up hitting a 50-yard field goal as time expired.
But no one who has followed Fox’s career is surprised. This is his modus operandi. Especially when he doesn’t trust his quarterback. And that’s the key here. As much as Fox, Loggains and general manager Ryan Pace have propped up Glennon as a bona fide NFL starter, their actions — other than actually starting him — suggest otherwise.
While Glennon had converted 5-of-7 third downs up to that point in the game, the two failed third downs were actually turnovers. He fumbled on 3rd-and-8 earlier in the second quarter, which led to a Buccaneers touchdown, and then he threw a pick-6 on 3rd-and-9 on the very next possession.
So instead of giving Glennon a chance to keep the drive going on 4th down, Fox punted the football. And the game.
Unfortunately, as long as Glennon is the quarterback, this appears to be what Bears fans are stuck with. According to STATS, Glennon is just 1-of-3 on passing attempts of at least 21 “air” yards, which subtracts yards gained after the catch. That one completion was Glennon’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Thompson at the end of Sunday’s 29-7 loss (it traveled 21 yards in the air because Thompson caught seven yards deep in the end zone).
So in two games, Glennon has only attempted three passes that have even traveled 21 yards in the air past the line of scrimmage. How are defenses going to have any respect for the Bears’ passing game if they don’t see any threat of a deep pass on tape?
Which brings us to the next Thing…
2. Loggains didn’t realize it, but he indirectly made the perfect case for playing Trubisky over Glennon. The offensive coordinator was asked about the Bears’ struggling run game, which accounted for just 20 yards against the Buccaneers and an average of 1.3 yards per carry.
“The thing is, and I wish there was a better answer, the fact is it was one guy on each play,” Loggains said. “It wasn’t one guy playing poor. We’re going to face overpopulated boxes, we know that. There’s going to be seven, eight guys in the box every time and we have to execute better and it comes down to that.”
Of course, the key question here is why will the Bears see overpopulated boxes?
“Just because we’re a run-first team and we try to stay committed to the run,” Loggains said. “Obviously with that you have to have success and you have to have success on first down, you have to keep yourself in 2nd-and-manageable or all of that falls on Mike Glennon to make plays on 2nd-and-long. You can’t have penalties where it’s 2nd-and-16, 2nd-and-17 and now you have to throw it two more times to dig yourself out of a hole and it messes up third down because instead of 3rd-and-4, now you’re in 3rd-and-7, and now it all comes down to him and it comes down to a group of wideouts that haven’t played a lot. You’re missing your two starters, so now the stress becomes on Mike Glennon and pass protection. They can rush you differently because they know exactly where the spot’s going to be and they’re attacking that way. You don’t get to play the game on your terms.”
Loggains laid it all out there:
- Defenses are loading up the box because they know the Bears are going to run first.
- It’s hard to run the ball because of this.
- This is putting more stress on Glennon and an undermanned group of wide receivers.
- Defenses know this and know exactly how to attack the Bears on passing downs.
- Thus, the Bears aren’t playing the game on their own terms.
Translation: defenses aren’t worried about the quarterback.
Last week, the Buccaneers were worried about Tarik Cohen and that was about it. They had the luxury of watching the Bears-Falcons tape. The Falcons didn’t have that luxury, which was a big reason why the Bears moved the ball better in Week 1.
Who else is there for opposing defenses to worry about?
The Bears need a quarterback who can move around, extend plays and actually throw the ball down field. They need someone who can stretch out defenses and make it harder to attack on obvious passing downs. They need someone who commands more attention, which will open up the running game.
Loggains was answering a simple question about the Bears’ struggles running the football. He ended up making the perfect case to start Trubisky.
3. The Bears will likely get Kyle Long back Sunday, but they might also lose Josh Sitton. Sitton has a ribs injury and did not practice Wednesday. So if Sitton can’t play, what will the line look like? It might make sense for Long to just stay at right guard, even though the plan all offseason has been to move him to left guard. That’s because Cody Whitehair has more experience at left guard. Why put them both in less familiar positions?
Meanwhile, Long admitted Wednesday that he suffered a setback in training camp, pushing his surgically repaired right ankle too soon.
“I thought I was going to be ready to go during training camp and I tried to do some stuff and I think I went a little fast,” Long said.
The three-time Pro Bowler has been very open about his lack of patience with the injury, which was tough to overcome because of major atrophy.
“It was just bone really on my right calf and ankle and stuff. You could see all the bones and it was just sunken in,” Long said. “So trying to develop that strength back and get my balance, they’ve done a really great job here. (Strength and conditioning coach Jason George) has done a really good job of getting me ready to roll.”
Of course, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears should have put Long on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start training camp. To his credit, he’s not an easy guy to keep off the field, but if he hadn’t practiced — even on a limited basis — early on in camp would he have been ready for Week 1?
“I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know. It’s not something I’m going to dwell on,” Long said. “We’re here, it’s Week 3, we’re 0-2. I need to get back out there.”
4. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton is hoping to make his Bears debut against his former team. The Bears’ demotion of Tanner Gentry to the practice squad is a good indication that Wheaton will be ready. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any idea what Wheaton will look like in this offense because he’s been unavailable since training camp started because of an appendectomy and a broken pinky. So what do the Bears have in Wheaton? Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows Wheaton better than anyone on the Bears and offered his scouting report on the wideout:
“He’s got a very good ability of using his hands. When you’re trying to stretch the field, you’ve gotta have some little techniques to help you get open because DBs can run as much as receivers can. So you gotta be able to use your hands to swim, kinda, get some swiping, get the hands off, I thought that he really had some good technique when it came to the deep ball and getting away from DBs.”
5. Here are some notable observations following film review of Sunday’s loss in Tampa:
- Despite the terrible muffed punt, Cohen had an otherwise solid game, even though the Bucs were keying on him. His hands are like glue. Loggains needs to find more creative ways to use the 5-6 joker back.
- After a struggle against Falcons center Alex Mack in Week 1, Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman was much more disruptive in Week 2. In fact, the entire defensive line remains the strength of the team, although Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris have been somewhat quiet since their preseason breakouts.
- I’m not too worried about Leonard Floyd… yet. The coaches’ film still shows that he’s commanding attention as a pass rusher and he’s been very good against the run in the first two weeks. Plus, Pernell McPhee accurately pointed out Wednesday that their first two opponents have made an effort to get rid of the ball quickly to help negate the Bears’ pass rush.
- The loss of Nick Kwiatkoski hurts. He was off to a good start against the Bucs before leaving with a pec injury. Fox said they are still evaluating the injury (there seems to be hope it’s not as bad as Jerrell Freeman’s pec injury) but it doesn’t appear they’ll have the young inside linebacker back anytime soon.
6. The Steelers are going to stress the Bears’ secondary. After watching the film from their win over the Vikings Sunday, it’s obvious that there’s a lot more to worry about than Antonio Brown. The Vikings actually did a decent job of slowing Brown down (five catches on 11 targets), but Martavis Bryant was a problem downfield, catching three passes for 91 yards, including a 51-yard completion and a 27-yard touchdown. And, at just 20 years old, rookie Juju Smith-Schuster became the youngest player in the NFL to score a touchdown since the Bears’ Andy Livingston in 1964.
Le’Veon Bell is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry in the first two games, but Ben Roethlisberger is making up for it with a vertical passing game.
Cough, cough, Bears.
7. As I suggested in this column last week, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio went ahead and trusted Kwiatkoski with the defensive headset in his helmet last week. But Kwiatkoski left the game after just the second defensive series, which meant Danny Trevathan had to take over the important duty of relaying the defensive calls on the field.
“I mean, that was crazy. But I’ve been in this league. That’s happened before. I had to adjust my frame of mind a little bit for the signals and getting all the calls,” Trevathan said. “It was put on me and I feel like I handled it well. I had to get the defense lined up and all that, but stuff happens. You have to face adversity well.”
8. A lot was made on Twitter about the Bears bringing in former Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson and former Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston for a tryout this week. The reality is, they needed someone to throw the ball to the six wide receivers they brought in to try out. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on available options, especially considering Mark Sanchez did not practice Wednesday because of a neck injury.
9. A quick non-Bears thought: The Chargers are already a disaster in Los Angeles. They couldn’t even sell out their 27,000 seat soccer stadium in the team’s “triumphant” return to L.A. What a joke. If only there was some kind of historical evidence that could have suggested having two NFL teams in L.A. was a bad idea. Oh wait. We’ve already seen that failure once (technically twice with the former AFL Chargers in Los Angeles for a year).
It still amazes me that the other 31 owners in the league allowed this move to happen. Los Angeles should have an NFL team. One NFL team.
10. Referee Clete Blakeman is assigned to Sunday’s game between the Bears and Steelers at Soldier Field. Blakeman is one of the better officials in the league, having received the call to referee Super Bowl 50 in 2016.