As a new weekly feature, I’ll discern who you should be high on and whose performance leaves a little bit to be desired when it comes to the Chicago Bears with a stock watch. This will be a consistent theme throughout the season of players building on past games or regressing.
As a note, since we’re discussing the Bears, I’ll reverse typical definitions from the stock market. Bearish here, instead of characterizing falling stocks, will be a positive of players with a rising investment. Guys that I’ll be bullish on, are the gentlemen that I believe should have their stock fall.
This is an inexact science and may I remind you, you cannot invest in Apple (New England). The time to get value from that stock passed long ago.
Here is your Week 1 stock watch following the Bears’ season opening 23-14 loss to the Houston Texans:
Leonard Floyd: Floyd’s first career start far exceeded my expectations.
I thought Floyd would have less of an impact early on this year than he did Sunday afternoon. Floyd looked like he belonged and more. Given that he still has so much more room to grow (gaining weight), his first career start was incredibly pleasing.
The 24-year-old rookie was a blur, showcasing his elite athleticism on the edge at outside linebacker. Six tackles to go with a half sack where he cut straight through Texans left tackle Chris Clark as if he wasn’t even there, paint the picture of a defender that’s prepared for the rigors of the NFL.
Floyd did have trouble if a man managed to get his hands on him, but that’s expected given his size. One would have liked to see more of a rotation with Lamarr Houston as the Texans exploited Floyd’s deficiency at times, but the rookie adjusted well and used leverage effectively. The Bears are banking hard on Floyd’s development as a core star edge rushing piece. Boy, did he ever put that faith to good use in his first professional action.
Bears’ Inside Linebackers: Normally, I’ll limit this to one player, but Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman impressed me so much in tandem. Maybe it was because we haven’t seen quality linebacker play around these parts since 2012, but I was blown away by the playmaking and intelligence of this duo.
The two combined for 28 tackles-17 for Freeman, 11 for Trevathan- that understated their play. It has to be refreshing for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to possess two linebackers that play downhill in such a fashion again. While the Bears defensive line was pushed around a bit by the Houston front, they created space for this partnership to roam from sideline to sideline and in the backfield.
If I had to pick out a play that stood out to me in particular, it would be with 6:23 to go in the first quarter. The Texans had just committed a holding penalty and shoehorned themselves into 1st and 20. Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler tried to get out a quick swing pass to tailback Lamar Miller. Miller never had any room to work with because of how quickly Freeman read the play and closed on him for a six yard loss. This is a play that would have burned the Bears of recent years given how slow previous backers would react, but Freeman was never fooled and blew everything up. It was the perfect example of the kind of impact these two had on Sunday.
Quality linebacking play is a virtue.
Alshon Jeffery: This doesn’t necessarily make for consistent offense across an entire season or even game, but isn’t it kind of awesome to be reminded that the Bears can just throw up jump balls to their superstar receiver in Jeffery whenever they need a big play?
Before the Texans bracketed Jeffery (4 receptions, 105 yards) and dared the Bears to try other options in the passing attack in the second half, Houston had no answer for the freak wearing 17.
Each of the Bears’ two scores were set up by difficult receptions that Jeffery has made routine. You could say Jay Cutler was just throwing up a prayer on either throw, but if it’s Jeffery, it’s by design; he knows exactly what he’s doing. If the Bears diversify their passing attack and if Jeffery stays healthy, there’s no reason we won’t see this kind of performance on a week-by-week basis.
And all in the much discussed contract year of course.
Deonte Thompson: The Bears don’t have a returner competition on special teams, yet.
Thompson is a player with nice wheels so he’s certainly valuable in the return game if given the opportunity. However, given the fact that you now start at the 25-yard-line if you take a touchback on kickoffs, it boggles the mind as to why Thompson kept taking the ball out from deep in the end zone on Sunday.
Giving away field position is something that often plays a huge factor in a win or loss. On four returnable kicks (one was a touchback), the Bears averaged a starting field position of their own 21 yard line. Sacrificing four yards sounds minimal, but that can play a monumental difference. Thompson is an upgrade over previous guys, don’t get me wrong, but moving forward there needs to be better decision making. Thompson did work his way through an ankle injury in the preseason, so maybe he’s still trying to prove himself, but the offense can’t be set back because a player is too ambitious.
Bobby Massie: Massie was understood to be more of a stop gap that the Bears would potentially try to turn into something more. After all, you have a belief, that any player in the proper system can be rejuvenated or effectively have a good scheme to be assisted.
That wasn’t the case against the Texans.
The weak link of the Bears’ offensive line struggled and threw things into flux. A line that was already put together on short notice with a rookie center and a new All-Pro level guard, whose only been with the team for a little over a week, could not afford more stress.
Massie has always struggled with footwork and fundamentals in pass protection while being adequate at run-blocking. You can’t remold a 27-year-old from the ground up. You saw it on full display in last year’s NFC title game when he started for Arizona. It’s just who he is.
He was fine in the first half against Houston where he stoned a less than 100 percent JJ Watt at times. But everything came apart at the seams in the second half with defensive end Whitney Mercilus in particular, burning Massie with speed on several occasions. He wasn’t the only Chicago offensive lineman struggling, but he certainly was the most egregious given his veteran status.
Chicago’s offensive line will put it together.
At least the four other talented guys in Charles Leno Jr., Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long will. The understanding was that they’d always need to help Massie, but not to the extent that he needed Sunday. Far from it. The kind of help that Massie needed Sunday is the kind of help that could hamstring an offense and have them pull back the reins completely. This will be something to monitor.
John Fox: Fox is a terrific coach to have rebuild your team and culture. He’s already done it with two franchises in Denver and Carolina. But his in-game decision making has been a known quantity and leaves a lot to be desired. Fox can be likened to the conservative Lovie Smith, especially when it comes to challenging plays while also being consistently inconsistent otherwise.
I have no problem with the early decision to go for it on fourth and short in the first quarter. In fact, I applauded it. That’s something you see a coach like Fox so rarely advocate. More NFL teams need to go for it in general, especially given the percentages. What I did have a problem with is not going for it on the later fourth and two in the second half from the Texans ‘38.
If you’re going to set a standard of aggressiveness so early, why not stick to your guns? Why should failure on the first play dictate later success? Punting the ball away while deep into opposition territory basically gives you nothing and just plays with logic.
Then, on two separate challenge opportunities, Fox seemingly panicked.
On an Osweiler sneak on third and one late, where the Bears appeared to stand him straight up, the Bears veteran coach elected not to challenge. Of course, the Texans would shortly then score a touchdown off of a receiver screen to Will Fuller, taking the lead for good. Later, Fuller clearly caught a deep ball for 27 yards with full control to help ice the game. Inexplicably, Fox threw the challenge flag here, which would just end up costing the Bears a timeout they so desperately needed. Fox likely threw it in desperation hoping for an overturn through fortune, but there’s no need given the merits of clock management. The contrast between both plays is a perfect example of shortsightedness coaches like him have come to be known for.
Yes, the Texans were clearly a better team, but Fox didn’t do his team any favors to close the gap. I don’t know why NFL coaches like Fox struggle with the challenge system and clock. They have staffs of people in a booth to help them with challenges and work through the system. Perhaps, pressure and the heat of the moment really get to you, something we’ll never understand.
The inconsistency doesn’t make it any less confusing or discouraging though on Fox’s part.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.