We chatted with Kev H from Windy City Gridiron earlier this week to get a better idea of his Chicago Bears. We talked about the Bears defensive woes, what to make of the offense heading into Week 2, exciting additions to the team, and who they might take from the 49ers roster to improve their own roster. Oh, and he provided a score prediction I'm sure most here will like.
Niners Nation: The Bears defense was not pretty last season. They added some weapons, but it does not seem to be drastically improved. It is only one game, but the Bills ran all over the Bears. What's up with that, and particularly the Bears work against the read option?
Windy City Gridiron: Well, there are some factors to take in - the Bills rushing totals do include 5 quarters of work, but it also includes two long runs (47 yards & 38 yards). If you take those two out, the Bears held the Bills to 3.48 yards rushing, which would be totally acceptable.
The problem is, you can't take out plays just because you don't like them. These big gains are allowed for a lot of reasons, but the big thing so far has been misdirection plays. The Bears are moving this year to more of a hybrid front with some 2-gap work from the defensive line, allowing the linebackers to (theoretically) roam and make plays. The additions along the defensive line are helpful, and the group of new players they got is probably built to rush the passer a little better, which would be nice if they weren't so damn susceptible to a potent rushing attack.
These Bears are having problems maintaining their gap integrity (Lance Briggs blowing his gap on a bad decision against a read option play) and with communication (the long overtime run stemming from S Ryan Mundy not getting a signal to check into a different assignment). It seems like once it happens to them, they let it sit in their head and become more apt to bite on it again. If I were SF, I'd run the play until Chicago proves they know what's going on. Additionally, the linebackers are made up of what appears to be old and slow (Lance Briggs, DJ Williams), and young and green (Jonathan Bostic and Shea McClellin). The development of Bostic and McClellin is something a lot of Bears fans have their eye on because if neither of them can develop the instincts for the position, this team could stick in the bottom half of defensive rankings for a long time.
NN: I was a big fan of that offense heading into last year, figuring the addition of Marc Trestman would be big for that unit. And it ended up being a really odd year for the Bears offense. Jay Cutler was doing a lot, then got hurt. Then Josh McCown came in and was doing a lot, but it was not enough to overcome the defense. What are your thoughts on the Bears offense in 2014?
WCG: In 2013 the Bears offense was pretty lucky because (Cutler injury aside) the offense was able to stay healthy. They started the same offensive line every week all season, which I have trouble recalling happening in recent years. Alshon Jeffery continued to develop, and Marshall was the generally dependent target you could expect him to be.
This season, one game against the Bills gave us a hamstring injury (Jeffery), an ankle injury (Marshall) and two high ankle sprains (Garza, Slauson). The presence of those two wide receivers is critical, because opposing defense have to account for each of them, opening things up for Forte and Bennett. Also, Jeffery has shown to have some big play ability. Losing Garza isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, as the aging center was capably backed up by Brian De La Puente. Slauson was replaced by Michael Ola, who is more of a question mark.
The general feeling is that if this offense stays healthy, they're going to help you win a lot more games than they help you lose. The Bears were second in points scored last year, and an extra year of familiarity should do wonders. Cutler's two interceptions (including the ever-ugly fat guy interception) were bad, and some of the defensive play worse, but this team was still in it at the end. A blowout in favor of the Bills would have had us in full-on sky is falling mode.
NN: Tell us about an addition on each side of the ball that has you excited for the future of the team.
WCG: Well, there's not really that much that's currently new on the offensive side of the ball that's worth getting excited about. They returned all of the main offensive starters from last year. The talk of the preseason and camp was WR Marquess Wilson, who was actually a 7th round pick last year. He was slotted to be the 3rd WR in 11 personnel, but they lost him to a collarbone injury, so he won't be back until after midseason. In the short term, the addition of Santonio Holmes should give them the ability to make some plays, as he is a fundamentally different receiver than Marshall or Jeffery.
On defense, I really like the Kyle Fuller pick. I think Fuller has all the physical tools and instincts to be able to replace Charles Tillman when he is gone (which is likely next year), and be able to have some longevity at the position. The NFC North already has devastating passing attacks (Packers and Lions) and now Cordarrelle Patterson is emerging in Minnesota. It'll be key to have someone who can go toe-to-toe with strong wide receivers.
NN: What is the injury situation looking like, particularly with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery not participating in practice this week? Also, how do the offensive line injuries impact things?
WCG: Marshall and Jeffery haven't practiced all week, but I'd be stunned if Marshall doesn't play. Jeffery is a little more of a question mark because you don't want to screw around with hamstring injuries, but I'd be comfortable if you told me each of those guys was a late decision. The Bears are flying out to San Francisco Friday afternoon to get a little bit of time to adjust to the time zones, get rested and relaxed, and be ready for SNF.
With regards to the line, we talked a bit about it above. I think Brian De La Puente can come in and pass protect about as well as Garza did. He did start for the Saints, after all. He's arguably a better run blocker than Garza, too, so hopefully they can get some push in short yardage situations and not throw the ball on 3rd and 1 as much. Michael Ola will likely see a lot of work at left guard in place of Matt Slauson. That's more of a concern because he is more green, and could be susceptible to just not having the lifetime reps that some of these other guys do. Generally speaking, I expect pass protection to hold up ok, as long as they stand up strong early.
NN: Who would you take off the 49ers roster. Just to rub it in a little, you can take one from each side of the ball!
WCG: Right now, I'd really like to take a Carlos Hyde. The Bears drafted running back Ka'Deem Carey this year, but he doesn't excite me nearly as much as having Hyde would. Hyde, in his short time, looks poised to do some great things in this league and I think would work as a really good complement to having Matt Forte. Imagine the two-back stuff you could do with each of them on the field.
From the defense, I personally like Patrick Willis. I could drop him into two linebacker slots on this team right now, instantly upgrade, tip my cap, and say g'day, sir.
NN: Score prediction!
WCG: I've got to give the edge to the 49ers, simply because I don't think the Bears can handle the sustained rushing attack that SF can dole out. I'll say 30-21 49ers.