Zach Miller

Bears Week 2 grades: The loss to Tampa Bay was as bad as you thought

Bears Week 2 grades: The loss to Tampa Bay was as bad as you thought

QUARTERBACK: F

The two interceptions and lost fumble charged to Glennon are impossible to get past. The first interception came on a quick gain play when Glennon locked into the stick route ran by tight end Dion Sims and failed to see linebacker Kwon Alexander, who jumped the route to pick the pass off (tight end Adam Shaheen was open on the play, too). Glennon said he could’ve got the ball out sooner or moved better in the pocket on the fumble he lost when his arm was hit. And on his final interception — a pick six — Glennon thought he saw Josh Bellamy beat cornerback Robert McClain, but the throw was still dangerous and he admitted he should've gone to another progression. Glennon’s decision-making simply has to be better. 

RUNNING BACK: D-

Tarik Cohen (seven carries, 13 yards) and Jordan Howard (nine carries, seven yards) were ineffective on the ground, though Cohen caught eight passes for 55 yards and continues to be a factor in the passing game. Neither Howard — who declined to speak to reporters for the second consecutive game — nor Cohen got much help from the Bears’ offensive line, for what it’s worth, and credit should be given to a disruptive Tampa Bay front seven. But for the Bears’ offense to be at its best, it has to get more than 20 yards on 16 carries from its running backs. 

WIDE RECEIVER: C+

While this was still a game, the Bears’ receivers did what was asked of them, consistently getting open and catching the ball over the middle. Kendall Wright in particular was involved early and often, which was a good sign after a quiet first half last week against Atlanta. Still, there will be a ceiling on how good this unit can be so long as they don’t have someone who can stretch the field — in other words, until Markus Wheaton plays. And for as solid as this unit was in the first half, it combined for four drops in the in the fourth quarter. That can’t happen even if a game is out of reach. 

TIGHT END: C-

Some of the Bears’ ineffectiveness running the football falls on the tight ends, too. Zach Miller had six catches for 42 yards and was a reliable target for Glennon, though the only time Sims was targeted was on that pass Alexander picked off. Shaheen only played a handful of plays and wasn’t a factor, though it might've been nice to see him get an opportunity to catch some passes in the second half. 

OL: D-

Gerald McCoy and the Buccaneers’ front seven gave the Bears’ offensive line fits, and even before Tom Compton’s game-ending hip injury, this unit was struggling to get a consistent push for Howard and Cohen. The Bears will have to hope Kyle Long — who didn’t travel to Tampa — can return to the lineup in Week 3 against Pittsburgh. But if there are concerns about playing Mitchell Trubisky behind this offensive line, it’s worth noting Glennon was only sacked once on Sunday. 

DL: C-

Eddie Goldman recorded a sack, a hurry and a tackle for a loss while Akiem Hicks stuffed Charles Sims on third-and-one to force the punt Cohen fumbled. Mitch Unrein had a tackle for a loss and a hurry, too. This unit made the fewest mistakes of any on the Bears’ defense, but also didn’t get enough pressure on Jameis Winston, who was largely unbothered in the pocket. 

LB: C-

Danny Trevathan was whistled for two holding penalties and Willie Young was flagged for another, all of which allowed the Buccaneers to convert third downs and keep scoring drives alive. Losing Nick Kwiatkoski to a pec injury hurt. Positives here: Willie Young recording his first sack of the year and Pernell McPhee forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Leonard Floyd for the Bears’ first takeaway of 2017. 

DB: C-

Mike Evans got his against the secondary, catching seven passes for 93 yards with a touchdown (that touchdown came on a perfectly-placed back-shoulder throw, which gave Marcus Cooper no chance to make a play on it). The most egregious of those catches was a 17-yard gain on third-and-5 late in the second quarter that led to a Nick Folk field goal. The Bears were able to bottle up DeSean Jackson, who only caught three passes for 39 yards, while tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard combined for three catches and 41 yards. 

For the defense as a whole, they were dealt sudden-change short fields and extended drives, which was made worse by the sweltering heat of Tampa. A C- grade across the board seems right. 

“Just because the ball was in their hands doesn’t mean they have to score,” Hicks said. “I think collectively we can do a little bit better.” 

SPECIAL TEAMS - F

Cohen’s ill-fated attempt to field a punt led to a predictable fumble and Buccaneers touchdown. It was the major rookie mistake, one he admitted was “dumb” after the game: “If I had to do it again I would just stay away from the ball,” Cohen said. Tanner Gentry committed an unnecessary roughness penalty on a kick return that backed the Bears up to their own 12-yard line at the end of the first quarter. 

COACHING - F

The Bears were sloppy not only with those four turnovers, but with the eight penalties the team committed, and mental mistakes don't reflect well on a coaching staff. John Fox is now 0-8 in September as coach of the Bears, with those eight defeats coming by an average of 15.6 points. And too, this loss didn’t show any improvement from 2016’s 36-10 defeat in Tampa, a notable concern in Fox’s third year in Chicago. 

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

The Bears aren’t sure if Kevin White will return in 2017, with the star-crossed former seventh overall pick going on injured reserve with a fractured scapula.

Whether he does or doesn’t, though, won’t affect the question facing the Bears’ passing offense: Now what?

When training camp opened in late July, the Bears’ top three wide receivers were lined up to be Cameron Meredith (who’s out for the year), White (who may be out for the year) and Markus Wheaton (who didn’t play Sunday due to a fractured pinkie suffered in August). So where can the help come from, if it materializes at all?

Currently on the 53-man roster:

Kendall Wright didn’t catch his first pass Sunday until the fourth quarter. He’s a savvy route-runner who’s adept at getting open in space, but is primarily a slot receiver, which limits his opportunities to get on the field if…

— The Bears use more two- and three-tight end sets. Zach Miller was Mike Glennon’s second-most targeted player on Sunday (six times, with four catches for 39 yards), and coach John Fox made the point last week that when Miller was injured in 2016, he was the team’s best pass-catcher. Dion Sims caught two passes and could be utilized more as a big body up the seam. Rookie Adam Shaheen didn’t show much during preseason but played a handful of snaps, but he and his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame could be molded into a useful weapon in certain situations.

“He’s getting better every day, every week,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last week. “We’ll just keep practicing. He’s going to fill a role for us right now and it’s a deep position for us so we’re fortunate that we can develop a talented player and he’ll have a role and that role will continue to grow as he’s ready to take on more.”

Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy haven’t been more than 20-catch, 300-yard receivers with special teams value in their respective careers, but may be counted on to do more going forward. Bellamy in particular played well late against the Falcons, and while a possible game-winning touchdown hit him in the hands, it looked like he was held and had his timing disrupted on that play.

— Ryan Pace said last week the Bears “we’re excited about adding” Tre McBride, a waiver claim from the Baltimore Ravens. McBride was inactive last week and only has two career receptions for eight yards. “He spent last week getting kind of oriented in our offense, he's a possibility,” coach John Fox said.

Markus Wheaton is “improving,” Fox said Monday, but has yet to practice without a club on his hand to protect his healing pinkie. He has the established speed to at least be a deep threat for opposing secondaries, but only played in three games last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a shoulder issue that required surgery in January. If he can return to the field soon, he could add an important dimension to the Bears’ offense, so long as he’s able to stay healthy.

“I haven’t played a lot of football yet,” Wheaton said last week. “I’m sure it’ll come quick once I start playing again.” 

Tarik Cohen was outstanding on Sunday, catching eight passes for 47 yards and plowing through cornerback Desmond Trufant for a 19-yard touchdown. But can the 5-foot-6, 181 pound Cohen hold up over a full 16-game season taking the kind of shots he did from the Falcons’ defense? He’s shown impressive toughness, but given his early status as the best playmaker in this offense, may need to be calculated about the risks he takes (i.e., going down/out of bounds against zone coverage to avoid the biggest of hits).

Jordan Howard wanted to improve his all-around game in 2017, but the drop he had near the end zone late Sunday hurt. He only had 13 carries, though, and if the Bears’ offense can find a way to be effective while making sure he’s fresh throughout games and the entire season, it’ll benefit this group as a whole.

Benny Cunningham has pass-catching ability as a third-down back, but suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. That may lead to waiver claim Taquan Mizzell, who caught 195 passes in college at Virginia, being active against Tampa Bay to fill Cunningham’s role.

Not on the roster, for now:

— Training camp star Tanner Gentry could be an option if the Bears elevate him off the practice squad. He has a better understanding of the offense than anyone the Bears could acquire from outside the organization, which could help him step in faster. But the Bears decided against keeping him on their initial roster, and he wasn’t claimed on waivers by any of the other 31 teams in the league. Perhaps Gentry develops into a solid player, but it’s worth remembering the last undrafted rookie receiver to make it with the Bears (Meredith) only had 11 catches for 120 yards in his first year.

— The free agent pool at this time of the year, obviously, is limited. Could someone like a Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught 36 passes for 392 yards and two touchdowns last year, be an option? Possibly, though teams have had two and a half months to sign the former second-round pick and haven’t, likely due to off-the-field questions. Former Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson is out there, but tore his ACL last year and, at the age of 34, has seen his production sharply decline over the last three years. The Bears’ front office will continue to scour the free agent, and possibly trade, markets, but finding an impact guy in mid-September will be difficult.

“When injuries happen in the league is, how thick your roster is at that position and how fast you can get a guy schooled up?” Fox said. “We dealt with that more than our share last year and it's not unusual but we'll adjust.”

Not who we thought they were? Should near comeback force us to rethink expectations for Bears?

Not who we thought they were? Should near comeback force us to rethink expectations for Bears?

The Bears are not, perhaps, who we thought they were.

With no playoff appearances since 2010, three consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC North and a franchise-worst 3-13 finish just last season, the expectations were not high for this team coming into the 2017 campaign, the third year of the John Fox Era on the lakefront.

But then the Bears, remade and restyled during a busy offseason, did what they did Sunday, coming within a handful of yards of beating the reigning NFC champions. They didn’t win, no, walking off the field with a 23-17 loss in their season-opening contest against those visiting Atlanta Falcons. But they were close.

Close, as tight end Zach Miller reminded reporters after the game, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Quarterback Mike Glennon looked practically disgusted when discussing the phrase “moral victory” at the podium. But the general consensus after the Bears’ surprising last-minute drive down to the six-yard line was that, hey, this is pretty good.

“Something we always talk about is that it’s a new year,” Glennon said. “At the same time, that team (the Falcons) is pretty much all back and was a few plays away from winning the Super Bowl. So there are definitely positives to take away from it. Nothing will replace a win, but I think we already know that we’re going to be competitive with everyone in the NFL.”

“We’re going to be a good football team — we are a good football team,” Miller said. “We need to execute down the line. Some plays we left out there, some things we can do better and clean up. But I’m proud of the way we stuck in it. There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but we have to bounce back.”

Glennon himself has been the lightning rod to end all lightning rods, as every new quarterback in this town always is. Signed prior to the team spending the No. 2 pick in the draft on Mitch Trubisky, Glennon — whose Sunday start was his first in nearly two years — has had fans, if not the rookie out of North Carolina, breathing down his neck waiting for any screw-up that will allow Trubisky to take over as the starter.

Through three quarters Sunday, Glennon didn’t do much to change hearts and minds, and Soldier Field was full of Bears fans in Trubisky jerseys who surely would’ve given you their thoughts on the subject. But the fourth quarter was a different story. The Falcons scored what seemed to be the game-sealing play, an 88-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan to Austin Hooper that put the visitors up 10. But the Bears surprisingly responded, ripping off a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a Glennon touchdown toss to new favorite target Tarik Cohen. After the Falcons boosted their lead to six with a field goal on the next drive, Glennon engineered the march down to the six-yard line. The failed four chances to win the game will get plenty of negative attention, of course, and the optics weren’t good with Glennon getting sacked on fourth and goal to bring the drama to a close.

But one thing’s certain: This is not what most people expected from Glennon and this Bears offense. Already without Cameron Meredith, the Bears lost Kevin White to a shoulder injury Sunday. Glennon was throwing the ball to Cohen and Jordan Howard and Kendall Wright and Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy. That’s hardly the pass-catching corps Ryan Pace envisioned when he assembled this roster. But Glennon made it work in the waning moments Sunday, turning in a performance that has to at least make fans think Glennon is capable even if he isn’t the dream candidate for the job.

“I thought the guys responded pretty well to him,” Fox said. “It wasn’t always smooth. Like all opening games, they aren’t oiled up really well. You have a lot of new people. In our case, we had our quarterback’s first time in the offense. I think he operated the team very well.”

“Business as usual,” Miller said. “From the first snap to the last snap, Mike was Mike. That’s Mike G. … You want to show people, ‘Listen, I’m very capable of doing this.’ But I don’t think the outside noise, you don’t want to let it affect you. Just carry on and do your job.”

The Bears, for their part, weren’t surprised. They’ve got confidence in themselves, as all teams and athletes do, especially at the outset of a new season. Glennon declared the secret to be out on Cohen, who dazzled with several fantastic plays and was a reliable and constant part of the action throughout. Miller said this is what Glennon can do.

Fox maybe summed his team’s attitude up the best, drawing an acceptable comparison, at least for Sunday, between his group and one that played in last season’s Super Bowl.

“What I told the team in the locker room is that is a really good football team we played today in the Atlanta Falcons,” he said. “I think right now we’re a pretty good football team.”

If close doesn’t count, shouldn’t we be looking at the only stat that matters? Yes, it’s true that the Bears are still 0-1, the same record they’d have if this were a 30-point blowout. And it’s also worth noting that these close-but-no-cigar near comebacks weren’t infrequent in recent seasons. Jay Cutler had them. Heck, Matt Barkley had them.

But being as close as they were, think about how different the feeling would be had the Bears won, had one of Glennon’s three passes to the goal line from six yards out landed in a receiver’s hands, had the Bears knocked off the defending conference champs.

“The storyline would be so much different, which is unfortunate,” Miller said. “I’m excited to get to next week, to keep on working, to keep grinding. I thought we were going to be a special football team from the get-go. I thought we could surprise some people. We had an opportunity to do that. That would’ve been great for us, for our organization, for our fans and our city. To knock off the NFC champs and damn-near world champions would’ve been a great start to our season.”

“I think we could easily be 1-0 standing up here right now,” Fox said. “I think the enthusiasm would be a little different.”

Expectations are constantly in flux, and the Bears’ have now changed. There wasn’t much expected of this team, but there might be something now as they head out to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next weekend. They’ll likely change again after that game.

But in the immediate, there’s a question to ask: What should be expected of the Bears moving forward? Because in the opposite of Dennis Green’s famous conclusion, it turns out the Bears might not be who we thought they were.