Chicago Bears

Bears rival report: Lions needing a 'rush' on both sides

Bears rival report: Lions needing a 'rush' on both sides

As we inch towards a Bears training camp that's now less than three weeks away, we'll take a weekly look at how their three division rivals handled their respective offseasons.

In Detroit, the Lions sat at 9-4 after beating the Bears at Ford Field in December. Then they had to sweat out surviving a second playoff berth in three years by losing their final three games that would be tough enough without Matthew Stafford having injured the middle finger of his throwing hand on a Leonard Floyd rush: at the New York Giants, at Dallas, and home to Green Bay.

Stafford was in no way a problem that needed fixing this off-season, once his finger was allowed to heal after a one-sided playoff loss in Seattle. As he awaits probably the biggest quarterback payday in NFL history (surpassing the recent $25 million per season Derek Carr just got in Oakland), general manager Bob Quinn focused on fixing two areas, one of which has been a recurring theme, the other a new problem that arose last season.

The running game: It's almost mind-boggling to think what Stafford would be if he had a ground attack to supplement the growth he's made as a passer over the past four or five seasons. Get this: eight of Detroit's nine wins were fourth quarter comebacks, the most any quarterback has pulled off in NFL history. No Lions back ran for more than 70 yards in a game last season, and Stafford's had the benefit of just seven individual 100-yard rushing games over his entire eight-year career. That's astounding.

Quinn chose to attack the problem not by finding a replacement for the injury- and turnover-prone Ameer Abdullah (giving the 2015 second-rounder with speed and quickness to burn another chance), but investing in free agency in an offensive line where their recent high draft investments haven't paid off. The one that finally did pay off came last season, where Taylor Decker projected as the left tackle of the future. Then Decker tore a labrum last month, had surgery, and won't be back until November or December, if at all. This came after the Lions let recent high picks Riley Reiff (Minnesota) and Larry Warford (New Orleans) walk in free agency. They turned around and made an immediate free agent investment upgrade to their right side, tackle Ricky Wagner (Baltimore, $9.5 million a year) and guard T.J. Lang (Green Bay, three years, $28.5 million). Now they must hope second-year guard Joe Dahl, or castoffs Greg Robinson or Cyrus Kouandjio can do the kind of job in Motown in Decker's absence that the latter pair could not with the Rams and Bills.

The pass rush: A lot of this had to do with Ziggy Ansah's high ankle sprain, which limited him to just two sacks last season after 14.5 in 2015. There are other playmakers on this defense's back end: cornerback Darius Slay and safety Gloiver Quin. But this once-ferocious defense that recently boasted the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Cliff Avril and DeAndre Levy ranked 30th in sacks and 28th in takeaways. They were also 31st in third-down defense. None were around last season, with only the banged-up Levy on the roster.

Quinn chose to invest more heavily in a linebacking corps with big holes than up front, where former Illini Akeem Spence, ex-Bears Cornelius Washington and Ego Ferguson, and Jordan Hill of Jacksonville became the offseason additions. Kerry Hyder went from practice squad to the team sacks leader (8.0) last season, and Detroit's counting on a second-year boost from their 2016 second-rounder, A'Shawn Robinson of Alabama. First-round pick Jarrad Davis of Florida is expected to start from day one in the middle of a linebacking unit that had zero sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles last season. Tahir Whitehead piled up 132 tackles in the middle a year ago, but then got lost amidst Dan Quinn's need-for-speed defense. He will likely compete for the weakside spot with Paul Worrilow, a lunch-bucket guy who was among the league leaders in tackles a few years ago in Atlanta. Another SEC linebacker, Jatlen Reeves-Maybin of Tennessee, is a fourth-round big hitter who could also start on the strong side if he recovers from shoulder surgery in time for the season.

As head coach Jim Caldwell heads into a contract year, and with the Lions first five games coming at home against Arizona, at the New York Giants, home to Atlanta, at Minnesota, then hosting Carolina, these areas face an early test in a potential tone-setter for the season.

Why Ben Roethlisberger's perspective on young QBs (like Mitchell Trubisky) is worth keeping in mind

Why Ben Roethlisberger's perspective on young QBs (like Mitchell Trubisky) is worth keeping in mind

If Mitchell Trubisky takes over as the Bears’ starting quarterback this year and has some success, keep Ben Roethlisberger’s perspective in mind: It’ll take a couple of years before he’s solidly established in the NFL. 

Roethlisberger said even after his rookie year — in which he won all 13 regular season games he started — he still was facing defensive looks he hadn’t seen before in Year 2 and 3 as a pro. So saying someone is and will be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL after a productive first season is, for Roethlisberger, too early. 

“I think it takes a couple years,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s why I’m always slow to send too much praise or anoint the next great quarterback after Year 1. I think people in the media and the 'professionals' in some of these big sports networks are so quick to anoint the next great one or say that they’re going to be great; this, that and the other. Let’s wait and see what happens after two to three years; after defenses understand what you’re bringing; you’re not a surprise anymore. 

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks. In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

The flip side to this would be not panicking if Trubisky struggles when he eventually becomes the Bears’ starting quarterback. For all the success he had during preseason play, most of it came against backup and third string defenses that hadn’t done much gameplanning for him. Defensive coordinators inevitably will scheme to make things more difficult for a rookie quarterback with normal week of planning, and it may take Trubisky a little while to adjust to seeing things he hasn't before. 

“They’re not going to line up in a 4-3 or a 3-4 base defense, they’re going to throw different looks at you, different blitzes to try and confuse you,” Roethlisberger said. “The confusion between the ears part is really one of the biggest keys to it.”

The “it” Roethlisberger referred to there is success as a rookie. The former 11th overall pick was lucky enough to begin his NFL career with a strong ground game headlined by Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, a balanced receiving corps featuring Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randel El and a defense that led the NFL in points allowed (15.7/game). Trubisky, as the Bears’ roster currently stands, won’t be afforded that same level of support. 

Roethlisberger, though, had a chance to meet and work out with Trubisky before the draft (the two quarterbacks share the same agent) and, for what it's worth, came away impressed with 

“I thought he was a tremendous athlete,” Roethlisberger said. “I thought he could throw the ball. I thought when he got out of the pocket and made throws on the run, his improvising. I got to watch some of his college tape. Just really impressed with the athleticism. The ease of throwing the ball; it just looked easy to him when he was on the run, when it wasn’t supposed to be super easy. So I thought that those were the most impressive things that I got to see; obviously not sitting in a meeting room and knowing his smarts or things like that, but just the athleticism.”
 

For Bears' receivers and Mike Glennon, dropping the ball misses the point

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USA TODAY

For Bears' receivers and Mike Glennon, dropping the ball misses the point

The Bears classified six of Mike Glennon’s incompletions against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as drops, something coach John Fox used to bolster his argument that the entire offense needs to be better, not just the quarterback. Had those six passes been caught, Glennon would’ve finished with 37 completions on 45 attempts for probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 330-350 yards with at best a touchdown or two more than the one he threw.  

But that misses the point: Glennon still threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Whether he completed 69 or 82 percent of his passes wouldn’t have really changed anything. And it leaves out when those incompletions happened, too.

Only one pass that could possibly be classified as a drop happened in the first half — that when Glennon threw behind running back Jordan Howard, who couldn’t contort his body and hands to make a catch in the second quarter. But that was an inaccurate throw from Glennon. Could it have been caught? Possibly, but the ball placement could’ve been better. 

Other than that, the rest of the drops came in the second half — when the game was well out of reach. Wright, Bellamy and Deonte Thompson didn’t drop anything in the first half, and each made some solid catches in traffic. 

That doesn’t absolve anyone here, though, and that most of those drops came late in the game reflects poorly on the team’s effort level, even if that wasn’t necessarily a problem. 

“You could make a number of excuses,” tight end Zach Miller said. “You get late in the game, it’s playing down in a different environment, heat — it doesn’t really matter. You’ve just got to catch the ball.”

Four of those six drops were egregious, with accurate passes hitting receivers Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Tanner Gentry in the hands only to have the ball wind up on the ground. All of those came in the fourth quarter. 

Fox did bring up the two passes the Bears dropped from inside the five-yard line in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, which are more relevant for evaluating Glennon. Had Bellamy or Howard caught passes that hit them in the hands — Bellamy in the end zone, Howard at the one-yard line — the Bears likely would’ve been 1-0 heading to Tampa. But had any of those six balls been caught on Sunday, it only would've served to pad Glennon's already-flawed stat line.