You know, I haven't talked much about the Bears on this blog lately. In fact, I don't think I talked about them at all in 2015, despite a lot of shake-ups in the organization. But then again, those shake-ups are kind of the reason that I didn't talk about the team. I wasn't really sure what to think about it all - let alone what to say (publicly, over the internet) about it!
Another factor in my silence about the team was a lingering sense of disillusionment with the organization. By 2015, the Bears were no longer the same team that I had grown up loving. Lovie Smith was gone, replaced by an offensive-minded head coach who failed to turn Jay Cutler into a superstar. My favorite players, Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester were gone. Even other players that I had liked, such as Charles Tillman, were gone.
John Fox is responsible for rebuilding the Bears into a respectable team.
Last year saw John Fox take over for the failing Marc Trestman, and the Bears have been in rebuilding mode. Management hasn't been afraid to shake up personnel. The Bears traded away veteran workhorse Matt Forte to the Jets, and (surprinsingly) traded star tight end Martellus Bennett to the Patriots this offseason. Both moves make sense. Forte's age is a concern, especially for the demanding role as a workhorse running back. Bennett had also been vocal about displeasure with the team. The Bears had even given up on linebacker project Shea McClellin, and released him. He was later picked up by the Patriots as well. I'm sure that both Bennett and McClellin will probably thrive under Bill Belichick's tutelage. Still can't get rid of Cutler though. It seems like each new coach or coordinator comes in and thinks they're going to turn Cutler into a start. So far, they've all failed.
So yeah. I haven't really known what to think about all this, and have been at a loss for words. John Fox has a track record of turning teams around, so the hope is that he'll do the same for Chicago. He also has a record for being a more defensive-minded coach, which leads to the promise that the Bears will start to exhibit the smash-mouth personality that fans (like me) love and admire about the franchise's history. But now Fox has had a full year to work on this team, and it's time to start expecting some improvement. Unfortunately, we didn't see any improvement in the Bears' opening preseason game against the Denver Broncos.
Some sparks on defense
Despite giving up early points, the defense actually looked somewhat promising in the first quarter.
Bryce Callahan blew a coverage [LEFT], giving Demarius Thomas a gimmie TD,
But he also deflected a pass [RIGHT] to give Jarrell Freeman an interception.
Bryce Callahan had mixed game. In the first drive, he blew a coverage, leaving Demarius Thomas wide open for a gimmie touchdown. In next drive, he made up for that mistake somewhat by tipping a pass to allow Jarrell Freeman to make an interception.
Top draft pick Leonard Floyd had a good game. He played for most of the game and helped put a lot of pressure on the Broncos' quarterbacks. He also stepped up to make some stops against the run, including expertly sniffing out a zone run play, pinching down the line, and stopping it for a short gain. I saw a couple plays in which Floyd appeared to give up and slow down after the play got past him. Hopefully, that can be trained out of him by the coaching staff. Other than that, I thought he had a solid game.
Rookie corner Deiondre' Hall showed a lot of promise with back-to-back pass breakups in the end zone.
But the real star of the defense was rookie Deiondre' Hall. Hall had back-to-back pass breakups early in the second quarter, forcing the Broncos to kick a field goal. Both passes were well-thrown, on-target, and the receivers got their hands on it, but Hall reacted to the receivers and managed to knock the ball out. Textbook cornerback play; very promising start for the rookie.
I also saw Kyle Fuller attempting to strip ball mid-way through the first quarter. Could this be the result of greater emphasis from the coaches regarding forcing turnovers? I don't expect to see anybody in the Bears' secondary demonstrate the skill of Charles Tillman's "peanut punch", but I do really hope that the team plays the ball more aggressively and forces mistakes. The Bears also managed to block a field goal attempt to close out the first half. This is another area that needs desperate improvement. I doubt we'll see special teams performances on the caliber of the Dave Toub era, but the offense will certainly need the help.
It's no "Peanut Punch", but the Bears offense needs the defense to focus on take-aways.
The wrong end of a shut out
The NFL Network re-broadcast that I watched seemed to skip Bears entire second drive following Freeman's interception, but I didn't miss much. The Bears offense had three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, and the coaches got a lot of looks at the punt coverage team. Nothing new there, unfortunately. It didn't get much better, as the Bears' offense was shut out for the remainder of the game as well, and one of those [many] punts was even blocked for a Broncos touchdown.
Bears QBs were sacked 7 times,
including a safety.
With an injury to projected starter Hroniss Grasu (who is only a second-year player), a lot of players got chances at playing center. One of them was Cody Whithair. Whitehair nearly botched a few snaps in the second quarter, which Bryan Hoyer was able to reign in to prevent total disaster. The loss of Grasu is one of the biggest disappointments of the Bears' training camp. He had been an improving player who was poised to have a good season. He will be out for the season with a knee injury. Without him, the offensive line as a unit didn't play very well.
The Broncos piled up seven sacks against Bears quarterbacks - including a safetey sack on David Fales in the middle of the third quarter. Fales has to learn to read the blitz and get the ball to a hot receiver instead of giving up two points. Fales had a good preseason last year, so it's disappointing to see him regress and do absolutely nothing in this game. There also wasn't much room for running backs. Draws and screens were also completely shut down. This Broncos defense is one of the best in the league (and defending Super Bowl champions), so it's hard to judge whether the poor offensive performance was due to the Bears being bad or the Broncos being good. It's probably a combination of the two.
New England won't be any easier
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos quarterbacks all looked pretty good. The Bears managed to get some decent pressure, but those Broncos QBs stood in there and made a lot of good throws. It's kind of hard to judge Sanchez because his TD pass was off of a blown coverage, and his interception was off of a deflected pass. But I think that Broncos fans should have walked away from that game pleased with what they saw from their team.
The result of the game was a 22-0 shut out. This wasn't a very promising start to the preseason, nor was it an encouraging sign for what's to coming in the regular season. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting the Bears to look brilliant against the defending Super Bowl champions. I was hoping for the offense to look a little bit more competent. Unfortunately, it doesn't get much easier next week, as the Bears will be heading to Foxboro to play the perennial playoff contender New England Patriots (to whom the Bears traded away their elite tight end, Martellus Bennett).