Want a fun fact to get your day off to a good start? The Bears have scored at least 20 points in 12 of 14 games this season. (The other two featured 18- and 19-point efforts.) Going back over the last five years, they’ve had 9, 9, 10, 7, and 11 such games; obviously, the Bears have already passed those marks, and they have two games remaining. I’m not sure that it’s possible to overpraise Phil Emery, Marc Trestman, and the entire offensive coaching staff. This team is second in the NFL in scoring, averaging 29 points per game. The Bears rank in that stat over the previous five years: 16th, 17th, 21st, 19th, and 14th. (Some of those ranks, 2012 especially, were buoyed by incredible defensive touchdown rates.) I just wanted to make sure that everyone is appreciating one of the best offenses the Bears have ever fielded.
- As any of my regular readers know, I’m very much a fan of former NFL safety Matt Bowen’s ability to break down the game. It hits a great sweet spot; not too complex, not dumbed down. And earlier this week he took a look at the development of Alshon Jeffery. It’s a fascinating look at how he’s improved from his rookie year and how he’s been utilized by Marc Trestman in multiple ways. (Including the #AlshonEndAround.) On a side note, I’m very much dreading the inevitable avalanche of “Jeffries” mentions on Sunday Night Football. It’s nails on a chalkboard at this point, and in the past Cris Collinsworth has been one of the worst offenders. I’d make a drinking game out of it, but I fear I’d be dead by 9 P.M.
- We’re still awaiting on a final decision on the availability of Lance Briggs. As Kevin Fishbain of HubArkush.com writes, that decision should come today. Briggs worked with the first team on Thursday, and he’s certainly hoping to play. Trestman has consistently said this week that he’s optimistic Briggs could return.
- Within this notes column from CBS Chicago’s Adam Hoge is a fascinating look at the Eagles defense, and the problems it could pose for the Bears. As a unit, they’ve given up 402 yards per game, but as Hoge notes, they’re seventh in the NFL in takeaways. It’s a gambling defense; perhaps that’s a calculated decision by Chip Kelly. If your defense going to give up long touchdown drives anyway, dialing up the aggression in an effort to force turnovers or mistakes makes sense.
- Writing for ESPN’s Stats & Info blog, Rob Nelson gives us some matchups to watch in Sunday night’s contest. They include a look at the over/under for the game (it opened at 56; I’d take the over) and Jay Cutler’s strong fourth quarter performances. But the bit I was most interested (and disappointed) to see concerned the Eagles zone read rushing attack.
“The Eagles run the zone read better than any team in the NFL and it’s not close. The Eagles have rushed for 1,479 yards and nine touchdowns on zone-read runs, 886 yards and five touchdowns more than any other team. There have been seven games in the NFL this season in which a team ran for 100 yards on zone-read rushes, with the Eagles accounting for six of them. LeSean McCoy has more yards (1,017) and touchdowns (five) on zone-read rushes than any team this season. Opposing teams have run 12 zone-read rushes against the Bears this season, the fewest any team has faced. The Bears have been far from impressive in limited action against the zone read. Opposing teams are averaging 9.1 yards per rush on such runs, with only the Lions allowing more (10.1).”
Yikes. That doesn’t bode well. But, then, the Bears have won games despite their porous rushing defense before, and I suspect they’ll have to continue doing so. That said, my brother has LeSean McCoy in our fantasy championship, so this is a doubly-troubling statistic. (I’m nearing 1,700 followers, by the way, in my “Force Me to Start Cutler” contest. @BearsBn if you’d like to participate. I also think you’d enjoy following me regardless, but I don’t want to be presumptuous.)
- Perhaps relatedly, ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Bears going with a defensive lineman in his first 2014 Mock Draft. It’s Insider-only, so I don’t want to give it all away, but with the Bears currently projected to pick 21st, he has them selecting Florida defensive tackle Dominque Easley. A small excerpt:
“Easley suffered two ACL injuries during his career in Gainesville, Fla., so obviously this pick is contingent upon him passing the team’s medical requirements — it’s easy to see him sliding to the second round because of his medical history. But if he does pass, he’s a perfect fit for the Bears as a 3-technique D-tackle, especially with Henry Melton coming off of injury and his contract coming up. Easley may have been the most dominant defensive player in college football this season before his injury, and he’s capable of being very disruptive when healthy.”
Obviously this is a very early projection, but it’s fun to think about. While I believe Phil Emery and crew are firmly in the “best player available” school, if all things are equal I could see them leaning toward the defensive line. As to Easley specifically, the injuries are red flags, but I’m all about finding surplus value. Alshon Jeffery had some red flags that caused him to slide in the draft, as well.
- Late Wednesday, the Bears announced that they had signed offensive tackle Joe Long. Long has not played in a regular season game, and as that article from ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright notes, he’s been on Pittsburgh’s practice squad for his entire career. This is a depth signing for now; obviously there’s no room on the current line. Interestingly, Joe Long is the brother of St. Louis (and longtime Miami) left tackle Jake Long. This means the Rams have Chris and Jake Long, while the Bears have Kyle and Joe Long. Not confusing at all.
- Finally, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported that Lovie Smith was the first coach to interview for the vacant Texans job. Apparently Lovie interviewed earlier in the week, and is among a group of candidates that includes Charger offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, and Wade Phillips, currently Houston’s interim head coach. I’m not the world’s biggest Lovie Smith fan, but out of that group I’d lean towards hiring him. I would want to pick the offensive coordinator myself, though. The offense was Lovie’s white whale in Chicago (well, and the challenge system); he couldn’t solve it or find the guy who could, and it cost him the job. I certainly think he will get another coaching job, though.