Bears Takeaways: Week 17

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It’s finally over! The Chicago Bears worst season since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978 ended on a whimper with an embarrassing 38-10 loss to the Vikings. This season has been a drag to watch and occasionally to write about, but hopefully better times are on the way.

They weren’t many glimpses of hope on Sunday, but there have been a few positive signs of development this year. I’ll be breaking down the bright spots from the season later this week. For now I’ll cover the few good things from the Vikings loss and plenty of the bad.

Bears Takeaways: Week 17

1.) Matt Barkley is not the answer

If nine turnovers over the last two weeks weren’t enough to convince the Bears brass that Matt Barkley is the not the answer for 2017, he added three more on Sunday against the Vikings. He threw two interceptions, both inside the Viking 20-yard-line, and lost a fumble that was returned for a score.

On the day Barkley completed just ten passes, only three of which went for more than 10 yards, for a total of 125 yards and a 59.2 QB rating. He’s seemingly gotten worse in each of the last three starts and he was eventually benched for David Fales.

While I don’t think Barkley is starting material next season, he’s shown flashes of enough ability to be in the mix for the backup job next season. Barkley was better than I thought he would be overall and came close to leading the Bears to four wins in his six starts.

With a major question mark at the quarterback position next year, a relatively stable option like Barkley has significant value. Even if the Bears use a high draft pick on a quarterback or trade for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, they will still need a reliable backup option and that looks like Barkley’s ceiling.

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2.) Jordan Howard broke Matt Forte’s rookie rushing record

Howard has been the one consistent bright spot for the Bears this year and he had another monster game against the Vikings. Despite the Bears losing big early, Howard was the focus of the offense this week (about time) with 23 carries for 135 yards.

There wasn’t a lot of running room for Howard, but he still managed to average 5.9 yards per carry on the day despite not breaking a run longer than 18 yards. For the season Howard finished 2nd in the NFL with 1,313 rushing yards in just 13 starts.

He also broke Matt Forte’s Bear rookie rushing record of 1,268 yards (3.9 ypc). Not too shabby for a 5th round pick who started the season as the Bears third string back.

HC John Fox seems intent on using a committee approach at running back, but Howard proved this season that he should be the lead back regardless of who they bring in at the position. He’s run with excellent vision, patience, and power this year and is one of the Bears few building blocks among the offensive skill positions.

3.) Bears finished the season with a franchise-low 11 turnovers

The Bears managed a rare interception this week (LeBlanc), but still finished the season with a pathetic total of 11 turnovers. Last year’s 17 turnovers were a franchise low at the time, but the Bears managed to have six less this year somehow. Overall they finished with a negative 20 turnover differential, which was dead last in the league.

The Bears need to find some defensive backs that can make plays on the ball and create turnovers. A more consistent pass rush would help, but the Bears were in the top five in the league in sacks going into week 16, so that’s not the main problem.

Some fumbles would help the turnover differential, but it’s a lack of interceptions that sets the Bears apart from the rest of the league. The Bears finished last in the NFL with just eight interceptions on the season. Tracy Porter and rookie Cra’von LeBlanc tied for the team lead with two apiece.

LeBlanc has shown good ball skills (more below) as has Porter when healthy and rookie Deiondre Hall had 13 in two college seasons, so there are a few corners on the roster with ball skills. None of them are proven besides Porter though and his health is a question mark every week.

They only got just two picks from the safety position (Jones-Quartey, Hurst) and need to add playmakers there as well this offseason. Finding defensive backs who can make plays on the ball should be the Bears secondary priority after quarterback this offseason.

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4.) The Bears should add a new running back this offseason

Fox and Loggains continued to force feed Jeremy Langford the ball instead of Howard this week, despite Langford doing nothing this season to prove he deserves it. He had a nice 19-yard catch on a screen pass, but also lost a fumble which sabotaged a productive Bears drive.

As a ball carrier, Langford gained just 26 yards on 10 carries (2.6 ypc). For the season he’s averaging a measly 3.2 yards per carry with more fumbles (2) than touchdowns (1). John Fox seems intent on using a committee at running back, but hopefully the Bears can find a more useful back then Langford in the offseason.

This year’s draft is one of the deepest in years at the running back position, so the Bears should be able to find an upgrade over Langford even on day three of the draft.

5.) Harold Jones-Quartey and Adrian Amos regressed significantly in year two

Much has been written about the Bears problems at safety and hopefully they will do something about it in the offseason. They took a chance on Harold Jones-Quartey (HJQ), a 2nd year player out of Findlay College, and it backfired.

HJQ showed some signs of potential in his rookie year with the understanding that he was making a huge leap from Findlay to the NFL, but he regressed significantly in his second season. He has consistently made mistakes in coverage and his impressive athleticism hasn’t translated on the field.

He has the necessary size, speed, and athleticism to play safety at the NFL level, but his awareness and ball skills just aren’t good enough right now. A perfect example was Sunday when Vikings QB Sam Bradford was hit as he threw a deep pass which resulted in a wobbly duck in the middle of the field.

Despite the ball floating for what seemed like forever, HJC reacted late, slipped, and couldn’t get under the ball in time for an interception. It was just one example in a season full of them of HJQ and other Bears safeties not making the plays that were there to be made.

Adrian Amos played one of his best games of the season against the Vikings, but it was still just an average game for an NFL safety. He’s a sound tackler (usually) but has been burned in coverage over and over again this year. I’m not giving up on Amos, but I don’t think the Bears can rely on him as a starter next year.

If Jones-Quartey and Amos are on the Bears roster next season, it should be as backup safeties.

6.) CB Cre’Von LeBlanc is a keeper

It’s been a rough year for the Bears secondary, but one of the few bright spots has been the play of rookie Cre’Von LeBlanc. He was signed late in the preseason when the Patriots tried to sneak him onto their practice squad and LeBlanc started making an impact almost immediately.

It took awhile before he earned a place on the field, but he reportedly has been the Bears best corner in practice with far more interceptions than any other corner. His play-making skills were starting to show on Sundays as well with two interceptions over the last four weeks.

Even more impressive is that LeBlanc is playing out of position on the outside. With his small frame (5’10) and lateral quickness, he’s an ideal fit for the slot corner position. He’s had success on the outside for the Bears this year despite usually being outsized by half a foot.

The Bears have a lot of work to do in the secondary this off-season, but they found at least one solid piece of the puzzle in LeBlanc.

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7.) Cameron Meredith has earned snaps in 2017

I write about Meredith almost every week, but his play deserves it. He led the Bears in receiving again on Sunday with four catches for 61 yards and also threw a TD pass. Meredith also led the team in catches this season with 66, yards with 888, and receiving touchdowns with four (tied with Zach Miller).

The Bears started the season with Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, and Eddie Royal as their three top receivers, but Meredith out-played them all. Granted he stayed healthy, while the rest of them missed multiple games, but being on the field is necessary to produce.

The former college quarterback is relatively new to the receiver position but showed significant improvement in his route running ability and hands. Meredith has the size (6’3, 207) and speed (4.49) to be a productive NFL receiver and if he shows as much as improvement next year as he did this season, he could be a legit starting receiver for the Bears.

8.) Hopefully we’ve seen the last of OC Dowell Loggains

The Bears offense struggled to score all season, finishing 28th in the league in points per game with 17.4. The offense moved the ball at about the league average level (15th in yards) but struggled once in the red zone.

The Bears have a good offensive line, a power running back, and plenty of receiving options with the size to be red zone weapons, but Loggains play-calling couldn’t take advantage of those assets. The red zone wasn’t the only problem.

The Bears abandoned the running game on a regular basis with Howard getting less than 20 carries in all but four games this season. There are plenty more examples of head-scratching play calls by Loggains, but the gist of the problem is that he didn’t seem to realize the Bears strengths and weaknesses.

The Bears have an above-average run blocking o-line and a good running back, but Loggains tried to make them a passing team. The fact that the Bears played with their 2nd or 3rd string quarterback and were missing their top three receivers for over half the season should have been enough reason for Loggains to focus on the run game.

Instead, Loggains threw more passes with Hoyer and Barkley under center than he did with their starter Jay Cutler in the game. It was like Loggains was going to make the Bears a passing team regardless of who was in the game, what the score was, or what the Bears were good at.

Loggains’ inability to understand the Bears strengths and adjust the game plan accordingly was my biggest problem with his first season as the Bears offensive coordinator and reason enough to find a new offensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing in 2017.

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9.) This could be the last we see of DC Vic Fangio as well

While I could write at length about my issues with Dowell Loggains, I think Vic Fangio did a solid job considering all the injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Before the Bears last two disastrous games of the season, the Bears had a top ten defensive unit in most relevant categories.

The Bears pass rush was better than it’s been in over a decade. They were in the top five in sacks going into the last two weeks of the season and they got consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks for the most of the year, despite a league-low blitz percentage.

Fangio did an admirable job considering the talent level and injuries on defense, but he may not stay with the Bears in 2017 if rumors are to be believed.  Rumors have been swirling about a rift between Fox and Fangio and neither has said anything recently to dispel the impression of a power struggle.

The fact that the defense mailed in their effort the last two weeks once rumors of Fangio’s departure surfaced is an ominous sign. Perhaps the defense gave a lackluster effort once they found out Fangio was leaving town? Just speculation, but it makes sense to me.

Fangio’s defense had it’s share of warts this year including the lack of turnovers and two awful performances to end the season, but overall I think he’s done a solid job turning around a unit that was a laughingstock before he took over in 2015. It would be a shame if the Bears lose one of their only coaches who seems to know what he’s doing.

10.) Final draft update!

The Bears did it! They secured the 3rd overall pick in this year draft, their highest pick since 1972. I fully expected the Bears to win their last two games and drop closer to the tenth pick than the first (like they usually do), but the Bears managed to play their worst two games of the year to end a miserable season.

I’ll be posting more draft articles soon, breaking down the potential Bears options with the number three pick, so check back soon!

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