All the right moves: Similarities between Rams, Bears more than QBs, coaches
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The Bears are often compared to the Rams because of their quarterbacks and their young, offensive-minded head coaches. Mitch Trubisky is experiencing what Jared Goff did last year under center, while Matt Nagy is this year’s Sean McVay, on and off the field.
“Being with a creative offensive mind, it just gives you that much more confidence as a quarterback to just play your game, speak your mind, bring up plays that you’re comfortable with and just continue to grow that relationship,” Trubisky said. “I know it has helped us, and it has helped [the Rams] as well.”
But the similarities between the teams only start there. Both have invested in other marquee positions: pass rusher, cornerback and wide receiver.
The Giants signed left tackle Nate Solder to a four-year, $62 million contract this offseason to handle pass rushers like Khalil Mack. But Solder still became Mack’s latest viral victim, thrown into the feet of quarterback Eli Manning in the first half of the Bears’ 30-27 overtime loss last week.
“What a lot of people don’t have is the set-up that [Mack] has, where he can get a guy in that position, then know what move to make,” outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said. “You’ve seen that the last couple of weeks. [It’s] him generating that speed, getting the guy off balance and then being able to get that inside hand in there with physicality.”
The Bears are getting what they hoped they’d get and more when they acquired Mack from the Raiders and signed him to a six-year, $141 million contract. He’s a candidate for defensive player of the year.
To a lesser extent, the Rams sought the same when they sent two draft picks to the Jaguars on Oct. 30 for Dante Fowler, the third overall pick in 2015. They already had defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but they wanted more. The Bears likewise had a top-10 defense, which included outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, but Mack still was worth the draft picks and the money. His presence makes a good Bears defense a great one.
“What that does for an offense is it’s saying, OK, if you’re going to block him one-on-one — which in those cases they did — then this result could happen,” Staley said. “What you’re hoping is that they have to devote another guy to him, which is going to help the other rushers and is going to help our coverage players.”
Cornering the market
Secondary coach Ed Donatell believes cornerback Kyle Fuller’s success this season — which includes a team-best six interceptions — begins with his preparation.
“He studies film about as much as anybody we have in the building,” Donatell said.
Over two seasons, he has gone from a question mark into an exclamation point.
“He was battling to be a starter [last season],” Donatell said. “We had other guys brought in here. His year before was unknown. Again, that’s all him. He took the bull by the horns, worked his tail off and had a great year, and other people around the league saw that, so he was rewarded here. It was just neat that he was able to stay here, and now we’re seeing the fruits of the whole process.”
The Bears quickly matched the Packers’ four-year, $56 million offer sheet for Fuller. They also re-signed veteran Prince Amukamara to a three-year, $27 million contract.
The Rams traded for their starting cornerback tandem of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Peters, the 18th overall pick by the Chiefs in 2015 and an All-Pro in 2016, was the prize. Part of the cost was a second-round pick in 2019. The Rams also picked up Peters’ fifth-year option for 2019.
But it has been an erratic season for Peters. And Talib, 32, only returned last week against the Lions after missing eight games following ankle surgery.
Fuller is the best of the four players, and Amukamara is right behind him.
“You knew when the organization made a commitment to [Fuller] that he was going to see it through and deliver,” Donatell said.
Catching on quickly
After receiver Allen Robinson made a 10-yard catch on fourth-and-seven to keep the Bears alive in overtime against the Giants, he popped up and emphatically signaled the first down.
“He’s very, very competitive,” receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “When you see a guy that’s kind of even-keeled, you don’t really see that a lot until you’re out there.”
That applies in practice, too.
“He doesn’t ride a roller coaster,” Furrey said. “He grinds every day. He’s very, very confident in what he can do.”
Furrey called Robinson the “quiet leader” of an overhauled receivers group, providing the help that Trubisky needed.
Robinson (three years, $42 million) and Taylor Gabriel (four years, $26 million) were signed in free agency. Anthony Miller was later drafted in the second round. The Bears essentially followed the same formula the Rams used last year when they signed Robert Woods to a five-year, $34 million contract and drafted Cooper Kupp in the third round.
This year, the Rams replaced receiver Sammy Watkins, a 2017 trade acquisition, with Brandin Cooks, who received a five-year, $81 million deal.
The Rams’ receivers all have panned out, though Kupp is currently on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
While Gabriel (54 catches, 544 yards, two touchdowns) and Miller (30-399-7) are producing, too, Furrey made it clear that Robinson (41-573-4) is the tone-setter.
“He’s becoming that leader by example, which is what we were hoping would happen,” Furrey said. “The guys have been buying into that, seeing how he prepares, seeing how he practices. He doesn’t take practice off. He doesn’t take reps off. He has quietness, but there is a leadership that he shows out of it. It’s just work ethic.”
Where is Wims?
The Bears’ depth chart at receiver starts with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and second-round pick Anthony Miller. All three players are healthy, but rookie Javon Wims’ lack of involvement still is curious. Receiver Josh Bellamy and running back Taquan Mizzell have been featured on offense.
Wims has been inactive for nine of 12 games. He’s only been targeted once this season, which came on the second play of the Bears’ second possession in their 48-10 rout of the Buccaneers in Week 4. It was his only snap that game. Overall, he’s been on the field for nine offensive snaps in three games.
What’s going on with Wims?
“It’s not like you can just throw ‘go’ balls at this level and just jump on people,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “That’s just not going to happen. He’s got to learn all the little intangibles, and some of our older guys still, too, are learning how to be route runners.”
Furrey doesn’t want his receivers “playing some playground.” Wims’ development comes with reminders to be patient.
“Javon is at that the position right now where he’s gaining confidence that he belongs,” Furrey said. “He’s learning from the older guys, like Taylor, like ‘A-Rob.’ How to handle everyday. How to be a pro. How to come to work. How to know that every day is a job interview. And how to be patient.”
Where is Fitts?
Ideally, the Bears would feature four outside linebackers in a rotation. Right now, they only have three: Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd and Aaron Lynch.
In most games, that’s OK. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Bears’ defense is tied with the Ravens for the best three-and-out percentage in the league.
But the Rams will test the Bears’ depth. Rookie Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving need to show more. Fitts’ playing time has been sparse, including on special teams.
“We like the track that he’s on,” outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said. “These guys develop at different paces. But where we’re at is that we feel very confident of him going into the game. He played in the Jets and the Buffalo games and had no problem going out there. I thought he held his own.”
How much would Kyle Long boost this team by coming back from IR? — @Jeremy_Curtiss
A: At one point, it looked as if the Bears would be able handle the loss of Long. The Bears had Eric Kush, who started over second-round pick James Daniels at left guard early in the season. In early October, the Bears also signed Bryan Witzmann, who started 13 games last season for the Chiefs. Both players are familiar with coach Matt Nagy’s scheme. But Long is obviously missed. Kush and Witzmann rotated at right guard in the Bears’ 41-9 rout of the Bills, but Witzmann has handled every game since then. He’s struggled, too. The Bears still hope that Long can return from injured reserve in Week 17 but he’s still wearing a boot on his injured right foot around Halas Hall.
Hey Adam, why does Nagy insist on using [Taquan] Mizzell over [Jordan] Howard?
A: Mizzell is faster, a better route runner and a better pass catcher. Of course, running back Tarik Cohen handles the same role well. He leads the Bears with 59 catches and 659 receiving yards. But Nagy wants more. He wants more options for mismatches and to force the Bears’ opponents to prepare for all of them. In recent games, Nagy has liked Mizzell as a matchup problem against linebackers. It could continue against the Rams.
Moving forward… Any worries of the cap next year re: [Bryce] Callahan, [Adrian] Amos, O-line Depth, etc…? Thanks, Jahns — @lynchmobb76
A: You’re right in thinking that the Bears’ salary-cap situation won’t be the same as recent years. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack changed that. His cap hit goes from $13.8 million this year to $22.3 in 2019. But spotrac.com and overthecap.com, two reputable contract websites, project the Bears will have approximately $20 million in cap space for 2019. Callahan and Amos are good players, but neither will break the bank. Cap space is fluid, too. If the Bears want to retain them, they can find a way. Depth on the offensive line also can be affordable. Kush and Witzmann are signed to contracts that are worth less than $2 million combined this season.