Analyzing NFL playoffs: Packers vs. Giants

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Analyzing NFL playoffs: Packers vs. Giants

As the Bears walk through their hiring processes general manager, passing-game coordinatorQB coach the NFL has some business to do this weekend. The games dont involve the Bears but there is rarely a game played somewhere that doesnt have something of interest for the Bears.

Besides, theyre worth analyzing, too. The home teams won all four of the wild-card games and all four will win the divisional games as well (this isnt home-field-advantage thing, incidentally teams have home games because they have better records because they actually are better):
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (Sun. 3:30 p.m.)

The Packers are the gold standard for measuring the Bears, ostensibly the main reason Jerry Angelo was fired as general manager. They dont run the ball as well as the Giants, who remain one of the more enigmatic NFC teams out of the most enigmatic (and over-rated) divisions in the NFL.

But get beyond the dizzying statistics. The Giants rush the passer as well as the Bears wish they could with a front four, and they have returned to running the ball, and that is what helps keep your offense on the field and the other guys off it. Green Bay, like the New England Patriots, has been masking serious problems on defense.

The Giants, even with their pedestrian 9-7 record, are a better team. They have a top-4 quarterback, running backs, good receivers and a pass rush. Still, the Packers in Green Bay simply win. This will be dangerously close but
Green Bay, 24 New York, 20

Bears draft Miami safety Deon Bush, workout partner of Antrel Rolle

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Bears draft Miami safety Deon Bush, workout partner of Antrel Rolle

In one of those ironies of NFL life, Miami safety Deon Bush frequently worked with fellow Hurricane and NFL veteran Antrel Rolle. Now Bush is on a vector that puts him on a possible roster collision course with Rolle.

Rolle was hampered by injuries all year, starting just seven games before finishing the season on injured reserve.

Where Bush fits warrants watching, with Adrian Amos ensconced at free safety but the other position is very much shrouded in doubt.

That has become something of a Bears tradition at safety.

In 2014 the Bears selected Minnesota safety Brock Vereen in the fourth round. By the end of that season Vereen was starting alongside Ryan Mundy.

But the Bears signed Rolle early in free agency and Vereen lost the starting job almost at the outset of training camp, eventually released in late September. Mundy went on injured reserve with a hip injury and was done for the year.

Last year the Bears drafted Amos out of Penn State in the fifth round. He became a day one starter alongside Rolle.

Bush projects as an immediate fit for special teams but also has shown the speed (4.48 sec. in the 40) to work in coverage, a critical skill set for a position once viewed more in terms of run support. Bush collected 103 tackles and three interceptions over his junior and senior seasons, in addition to forcing five fumbles in the 2014 season.

Bears increase LB competition with another trade, draft WVU ILB Nick Kwiatkoski

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Bears increase LB competition with another trade, draft WVU ILB Nick Kwiatkoski

Keeping in step with the twin themes of the Bears’ 2016 draft, GM Ryan Pace started Day 3 exactly as he did Days 1 and 2 – with a trade – dealing up in the fourth round to select West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who immediately dials up the competition level at inside linebacker.

And some good feelings. Former Mountaineers teammate Kevin White, the Bears’ first-round pick in the 2015 draft, immediately tweeted:

“I’m pretty close with Kevin,” Kwiatkoski said. “He came into West Virginia as a junior-college player, lived two doors down from me, and have stayed close with him. I lived with his brother Karon at West Virginia this past year.”

Kwiatkoski, 6-2, 241 pounds, fits the template for inside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme of John Fox/Vic Fangio, with mobility enough in his senior seasons to post three interceptions, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven passes defensed and a team-high 86 tackles. He had six interceptions and 14 passes defensed in his four West Virginia seasons.

“My junior year I played a lot more of the sub packages," he said. "This past year, I played them but not as much. But I feel like I can stay on the field for a third-down guy and different sub packages. This year I’m transitioning to outside backer so I was in coverage a lot more than I was the prior year so that definitely helps contribute to that.”

Kwiatkoski also goes into a competitive cauldron with offseason signees Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in addition to ILB holdovers Christian Jones, Jonathan Anderson and John Timu. Pace has said throughout the offseason that increasing competition was a goal, and the nature of the picks has followed that lead.

The Bears gave the St. Louis Rams the sixth-round draft pick they’d acquired from Carolina in the Jared Allen trade early last season. The deal allowed them to move from No. 117 to No. 113, another move pointing to the Bears targeting best players available on their board and moving to get them.

'Trader Pace' keeps making Bears draft picks appear

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'Trader Pace' keeps making Bears draft picks appear

The Bears results through the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft could qualify GM Ryan Pace as something of a conjurer:

After turning two picks into one player (Leonard Floyd) on Day 1, Pace went into Day 2 with seven remaining picks in the draft. He made two selections in the persons of Kansas State guard Cody Whitehair in the second round and Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard in the third, and finished the day and headed into Saturday with…seven picks. Eight actually, if you count the 2017 fourth-round pick he added via a round-two trade with the Buffalo Bills.

(So I’m wondering, if I gave him my checkbook, could he maybe turn those lonely little numbers into… . Naah, probably not).

Pace and the Bears started the 2016 draft with two fourth-round picks; by early Friday night had three: the 19th, 26th and 29th picks, Nos. 117, 124 and 127 overall. Add to those their one pick in the fifth round, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Of course, that’s before Pace picked up his magic draft wand for the day’s activities. It’s early yet.

Pace is on record stating his philosophy of staying true to the team’s player rankings on the draft board, rather than succumb to the temptation to fill a need with a lesser player than one with the highest grade available. That was apparent in trades both up and down (twice) in the first two rounds of the 2016 draft.

Throughout those proceedings, the Bears also were aggressively working the phones, according to NFL reporter Aaron Leming, shopping outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, the Bears’ two sack leaders but rendered surplus with the acquisition of Floyd.

The Bears traded up to snag Floyd at No. 9 because of their grade on him, rather than simply use their designated pick at No. 11 and select Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, their next-highest-rated edge rusher. To make that deal Pace parted with the first of his two picks in the fourth round.

After Floyd, 23 more picks went off the board with only one edge rusher (Lawson) selected before Emmanuel Ogbah was chosen by Cleveland with the first pick of the second round. Meaning: Beyond Floyd, if the hope was a pass rusher, the falloff was considerable.

Then, before Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry was taken at No. 35 by the San Diego Chargers, the Bears reportedly tried unsuccessfully to trade up to No. 34 to grab Henry. Pace said that wasn’t really in play Friday night.

“We had some early talks, honestly, before the draft even started,” Pace said. “Nothing really came to fruition.”

But other things did. The Bears traded down from No. 41 to the Buffalo Bills’ spot at No. 49. In the process they acquired not one, but two fourth-round picks: Buffalo’s No. 4 in this draft (117th overall) and the Bills’ fourth-rounder in the 2017 draft.

But the Green Bay Packers then appeared to scramble plans by jumping over the Bears to take Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs. Whether because the Packers had snatched a Bears target or because the Halas Hall draft board did not have a player worth that second-round pick, or perhaps they had designs on Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (taken at No. 46 by the Detroit Lions), the Bears moved down – again.

“When our pick is approaching and we’re realizing that there are a lot of guys here that we like, there is a chance for us to go back knowing that we got enough names that we can still get a good player and pick up some picks. That’s why we did [the trade].”

In exchange for that Buffalo pick at No. 49, the Bears acquired Seattle’s pick at No. 56 and No. 124 in the fourth round.

“I would say, a little bit of [no difference-makers],” Pace conceded. “Also, we just had enough names that I felt like if we could go back they would still be there. At some point in this draft I wanted to acquire more picks.

“This night couldn’t have worked out better for us in regards to that. So I was very happy when we were able to go back and still get the guys that we want and still get these additional picks.”