Why extend Tarik Cohen now? Will Darnell Mooney cut into Anthony Miller’s playing time? What’s the deal with the defense?

September 23, 2020 By [email protected]_84 Off

The Tribune’s Brad Biggs answers your Chicago Bears questions weekly.

the roof of a building: The seats at Soldier field are empty as the Bears play the Giants.

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The seats at Soldier field are empty as the Bears play the Giants.

I love Tarik Cohen but I’m confused by his extension. He has 15 touches through two games and they’re paying him in the range of Mark Ingram, Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt and Austin Ekeler. Cordarrelle Patterson has a similar role with $3 million less. Why not wait to see what the market is? What kind of message does it send to Allen Robinson? — @ericjen98678943

I understand what you’re saying, and my guess is the Bears are operating with the belief Cohen will perform more like he did in 2018 and less like he did in 2019. In a well-oiled and high-powered offense, he’s probably the sixth option when you figure on three good wide receivers, at least one quality pass-catching tight end and an every-down running back. I agree it’s a lot to pay him, especially when looking at his lack of production last season (when pretty much all of the team’s offensive numbers were down). Obviously, there will be games when he has more touches. Sunday’s win over the Giants was not one of them. He’s super dangerous as a punt returner, so he does bring more to the table, but he becomes a pricey gadget player. It’s hard to compare him to the others you referenced because they’re all better as true running backs. Cohen adds a lot more value to the offense than Patterson. Cohen getting an extension before the Bears reach a deal with Robinson means nothing. Players want to see other players get paid, and it’s not like the Bears took resources originally earmarked for Robinson and used them to lock up Cohen. I can’t imagine Robinson is anything but happy for his teammate. I would have thought the Bears would have wanted to see Cohen have an improved season before paying him, but maybe they’re happy with the number at which they got him and believe he would have been significantly more expensive on the open market.

a group of baseball players that are standing in the grass: Bears coach Matt Nagy argues a penalty call against the Bears in the fourth quarter.

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Bears coach Matt Nagy argues a penalty call against the Bears in the fourth quarter.

Is it a one-week thing or is Darnell Mooney really earning time over Anthony Miller? — @iucannon

There were several questions along these lines. First, I think Mooney has a bright future with the Bears and has been impressive in limited opportunities. That’s why I led with him in my “10 thoughts” column Monday morning. I got into some real details on what he has shown and how his role can be expanded. Mooney played 39 snaps against the Giants and Miller played 26. I think that’s a week-to-week proposition based on a variety of factors, the most significant being the game plan for that week. Do the Bears want to go with bigger personnel or more tight ends, or do they want more 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) on the field? Javon Wims is a factor, too, and one thing that has been evident when rewatching the games is Wims’ blocking ability in the running game. I don’t think the Bears will send Miller to the doghouse after one poor game, and Mooney isn’t ready to assume the role Miller plays in some areas of the offense. They’re different players, and both should have expanded opportunities to produce.

a group of people on a baseball field: Bears kicker Cairo Santos lines up a field goal attempt from 50 yards in the fourth quarter.

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Bears kicker Cairo Santos lines up a field goal attempt from 50 yards in the fourth quarter.

We’ve all been worrying about Allen Robinson’s long-term future with the Bears, but given that Darnell Mooney is clearly getting WR2-level snaps, should we be asking questions about Anthony Miller’s status? Admittedly, it’s a small sample size. — @rocketfoz

Tap the brakes. Mooney’s future looks bright, but let’s not jump to conclusions and target him as a potential WR1 in the near future. I’m not putting a ceiling on his ability by any means, but he has a lot of ground to cover — a lot — to be in that realm where Robinson is. I also wouldn’t worry at this point about Robinson’s future with the team. The Bears want to keep him around, and the franchise tag is always a possibility (maybe a likelihood) for top-tier players coming out of contract. Mooney’s ascent won’t necessarily come at the expense of playing time for Miller. Both are young players who will get opportunities. Mooney is off to a nice start. He has been targeted six times and has six receptions. I get the excitement, especially at a position where the Bears historically have struggled to develop top talent. But he’s just getting started.

Why did Chuck Pagano decide to play prevent only up two touchdowns, allowing the Giants to easily drive down the field twice and put up 10 points? — @totallyrealspo1

The Bears did not play only prevent defense in the second half when the Giants rallied to make it a close game. They were much more aggressive with their pass rush than they were the week before in Detroit, and I detailed that in the observations column I wrote Monday after rewatching the game. On the drive when the Giants pulled within four points with a Graham Gano field goal, Khalil Mack had a sack on a play when they sent six defenders after quarterback Daniel Jones. They had two other five-man rushes on that possession. There were five-man pressures on the previous Giants drive when they scored a touchdown. So the idea that the Bears just sat back and let Jones pick them apart is a false narrative. What the Bears didn’t do was get the stop they needed to get off the field, and they allowed the Giants to drive to the 10-yard line at the end of the game. That’s concerning, especially when you consider the level of the opponent. Just like last week, I am sure Pagano will say he has to do a better job of coaching and preparing his players. But they also need to make a play to get off the field. It’s not as simple as pointing a finger at the coordinator. I get it, fans want to see blitzes on every down, and the belief is that more aggressive play calling is always better. The NFL doesn’t work that way, and the Bears are paying their edge rushers a huge amount of money so that they should be able to get home more regularly with just four rushing and seven in coverage.

a group of football players on a field: Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack sacks Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the fourth quarter.

© John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack sacks Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the fourth quarter.

When will Mario Edwards play? — @frankie_boa

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Bears running back David Montgomery rushes in the fourth quarter.

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Bears running back David Montgomery rushes in the fourth quarter.

He was on the field for eight snaps against the Giants, playing a good amount on the final possession.

Been wondering this for a while, is this team more successful with Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles at the helm? — @backhoops

a football player running on a baseball field: Bears wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson runs the ball as Giants cornerback James Bradberry defends in the fourth quarter.

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Bears wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson runs the ball as Giants cornerback James Bradberry defends in the fourth quarter.

Kind of difficult to answer that question without any work from Foles to evaluate, including preseason. Trubisky has a small sample size to start this season behind an improved offensive line, with a new philosophy to involve the tight ends more and some new wide receivers. It’s definitely premature to make any sweeping evaluations, but Trubisky remains, if nothing else, inconsistent.

a football player holding a bat on a baseball field: Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky throws in the fourth quarter.

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Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky throws in the fourth quarter.

Why did Matt Nagy call passes on third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1 with a running game that was dominating the line of scrimmage? — @jojopuppyfish

That’s a fair question and one I wondered myself at that point in the game with about four minutes to play and the Bears clinging to a four-point lead. To clarify, it was third-and-2 and fourth-and-2 in the situations you refer to. It should be noted that David Montgomery was stopped for no gain on the second-and-2 run that preceded that sequence. Nagy was asked about this, and it’s worth wondering if two more runs would have moved the chains. As it was, a heads-up and athletic play by right tackle Bobby Massie to snare a deflected pass picked up the first down.

“We could have possibly run it there on that third-and-2,” Nagy said Monday. “And they know that that’s coming and that’s times when you’ve got to be able to still run it. But we like, too, getting on the run, putting Mitch (Trubisky) as a runner on a naked, on a movement, we get him outside the pocket, create another element. They decided to zone us out in that situation where, again, early in the season you have to always be prepared for unscouted looks. And that was an unscouted look they gave us, and that’s fine. And so when those unscouted looks happen, you rely on your players to make plays.

a group of baseball players on a field: Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky hands off to David Montgomery.

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Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky hands off to David Montgomery.

“We were very lucky and fortunate on that fourth down to have it be tipped up in the air to Bobby, but that’s a part of the game. You look back and you say, ‘Hey, are there ways and spots in that game where you would have maybe done some different things?’ Yeah, for sure. But I wish in the end, ultimately, we would have scored a touchdown on that final drive.”

I would like your perspective on Roquan Smith’s performance as a Bear to date. I have been underwhelmed, but I readily admit that much of this is a function of where he was drafted. The performance bar is set rather high when you are a top-10 pick. He has seldom been bad or a liability, just not what I expected. I understand his rookie year got off to a bad start due to his holdout (which I blame on his agent), and last year he was injured late in the season. However, isn’t the cream supposed to rise to the top and overcome obstacles like those? This, while playing on a team with some superior playmakers such as Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson. Are they overshadowing him or is he failing to exploit the opportunities they have provided for him? I acknowledge the season is young and it’s a bit early to be this pessimistic. Will further patience with him be rewarded this year? Or does he have the curse of having been drafted by Ryan Pace in the first round— the latest in a series of underwhelming high-round picks? — Matt K.

a group of baseball players on a field: Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney makes a touchdown reception in the second quarter.

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Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney makes a touchdown reception in the second quarter.

Smith had an uneven season a year ago. He was pretty good early, slumped a little in the middle of the season and was playing really well when he was injured. Like you said, it’s very early in this season and he has been fine through two games by my estimation. He has range, he has a good nose for the ball and he’s getting better at shedding blockers. The thing that jumps out about where the Bears drafted Smith is positional value. Inside linebackers need to be fantastic players if they’re going to be selected that high. Has Smith been dynamic for the Bears to date? Maybe not, at least not consistently. But he’s not a player they worry about; he’s not someone offenses look at to exploit. The run defense will look a little different this season without Eddie Goldman at nose tackle. It’s a big season for Smith when you start looking to the future and next spring, when the Bears will have to make a decision on the fifth-year option in his contract. I don’t see any reason they would not pick that up at this point. You’re probably hoping to see more splash plays, but he doesn’t blitz a lot. That’s something he has gotten better at and we might see more of as the season unfolds. The Bears had a need at the position when they selected Smith, and he has been good, not great. That’s not a criticism. I think he will be fine in the middle of the defense moving forward, and he might ascend to be very good.

Mitch Trubisky’s TD pass to Darnell Mooney was ugly. The broadcast team pointed it out too, and that wasn’t the only wobbler he threw. What’s going on mechanically that his throws aren’t crisp at all? I don’t think he ever threw the tightest spirals, but it seems his passes have been uglier in the early going. If he were Peyton Manning, no one would care, but this dude’s margin of error is way smaller. — Gregory M., Beverly

I’d worry more about Trubisky reading coverages and his decision-making than the ball coming out of his hand. He was on the move and it was a scramble drill on that touchdown pass, and he got it there. That’s what counts. His arm and the way he delivers the ball is not what’s in question. It’s a lot of other stuff. He needs to improve his footwork in the pocket and be better delivering the ball from the pocket. He generally throws a catchable ball.

Two weeks into the season and there have already been a slew of injuries to notable players, but the Bears seem to have avoided this bug so far. Are they lucky, or is this due to any changes made by the training staff? — Kamal T., Woburn, Mass.

I’m sure you are referencing the season-ending injuries that have taken some star players off the field for a handful of teams. A lot of those were ACL injuries, and if there is a trainer out there who has a foolproof plan to avoid those, he would be making a fortune. It’s probably a little luck, but the Bears believe they have an excellent head athletic trainer in Andre Tucker and both GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy noted that players arrived for the start of training camp in great shape. That has a ton to do with reducing injuries.

I know you love Anthony Miller, but I question whether he’ll be as great as everyone seems to believe. It all boils down to one word: consistency (Matt Nagy’s bugaboo). Before his heroics last week, early in the game he apparently ran the wrong route in the end zone. I assume that this “miscommunication” was on him (although maybe I’m wrong). Sunday, he dropped two well-thrown passes and didn’t seem to do too much. I’ve been saying since he got here that he has tons of talent but lacked maturity and dedication to preparation. He admitted to that earlier this year, and his receivers coach said so in interviews. Maybe he’s improved that. But he seems to still lack focused concentration throughout a game. Thoughts? — Paul R.

I’m not sure when I was lumped into the crowd that’s in “love” with Miller. He has a lot of talent and has faced a couple of obstacles to consistent performance. First, he dealt with shoulder injuries the last two offseasons, and the rehab from both of those surgeries kept him off the practice field for significant portions of training camp. That would affect any young player. Then you have the attention to detail that is required for precision route running against NFL defensive backs. You can’t freelance like receivers often get away with in college ball. The Bears are adamant Miller has improved this year in terms of preparedness and attention to detail. The drop in the end zone was inexcusable. That was a perfect ball from Mitch Trubisky. The one along the sideline was catchable but would have been a heck of a grab. I don’t know that’s worthy of being labeled a drop. It’s a big season for him, and everyone involved knows that. If he puts up big numbers, he can position himself for a second contract. If not, he’ll be dealing with the inconsistency label heading into Year 4. He made some spectacular catches in the victory in Detroit. Don’t lose sight of that. Let’s pass judgment after 16 games, not two.

Is Chuck Pagano a problem? I anticipated a drop-off from Vic Fangio, but the defense went from elite to plain good. There’s some great sprinkled in, but I think they will get carved up by a strong offense. It’s a major concern in my opinion. — @nitka044

Buddy Ryan wouldn’t look as good without Eddie Goldman on the field this season to stuff the run. There were questions about Pagano in last week’s mailbag, and as I said then, it’s more about Jimmys and Joes than X’s and O’s. The players have to make plays to get off the field, and the Bears had a tough time with that Sunday in the second half against a below-average Giants offense. I agree with you that we’ll get a better idea of where this unit is when the Bears face better competition. They also have some more weak offenses coming up on the schedule. The Bears did get two takeaways against the Giants, and hopefully that’s a trend they can build off of. Plus, the pass rush created four sacks, so that was another positive development.

I thought the passing offense was supposed to run significantly through the tight end, a position which the Bears bolstered heavily this offseason. Why haven’t we seen more production from the group, and how would you grade them at this point? — @pattyb8852

I don’t think you hand out position grades after two weeks, and maybe you read elsewhere the great excitement that some had for the position this season. I’ve maintained the Bears are significantly improved at tight end. I haven’t labeled it a strength of the roster because I don’t believe they have a difference maker in the passing game. Jimmy Graham is a shell of the guy who was a dynamic receiver for the Saints earlier in his career. Cole Kmet is a rookie and will improve. The Bears have gotten some quality production from the tight ends in the ground game. Take notice of that and appreciate their value in helping the running backs out. Graham will get more production in the passing game, but he’s not going to put up huge numbers and I don’t think you want the passing game running through him.

Not saying the Bears should bench Mitch Trubisky, but isn’t the transition to Nick Foles if they bench Mitch going to be a lot rockier? If his main problem was not getting familiar with receivers, how will running the second team further him since the end of the competition? — @daguyincognito

That’s a fatalistic approach. I don’t think Matt Nagy would consider changing quarterbacks if the Bears are winning. It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where that happens. Foles came off the bench hot in place of Carson Wentz for the Eagles in 2017, and the Super Bowl run he led after that gave his career a tremendous boost. If the Bears keep winning, Trubisky will be the quarterback.

Through two games, the O-line looks much improved. Your thoughts? — @pauliuskase

Yes, the Bears have looked better on the offensive line, and a number of factors are in play here. They’ve been in position to be more aggressive running the ball from a ton more under-center snaps than they used at any point over the previous two seasons. I spoke at length about this with David Diehl, the Brother Rice product who played at Illinois and went on to a long and successful career as the left tackle of the Giants. Diehl keeps a close eye on his hometown team, and he had some interesting stuff to say in the fourth item of my “10 thoughts” column. The players have improved and it’s clear they have bought in to new position coach Juan Castillo. Germain Ifedi is a big, strong guy and has been a good fit at right guard. Matt Nagy has remained committed to the run. It’s a positive development all the way around.

Is it too soon to put Kyle Fuller on the list for defensive player of the year and Jaylon Johnson as defensive rookie of the year? — @tonycalla2000

Yes, it’s premature to start eyeing postseason awards before Week 3 kicks off. Fuller is off to a terrific start, and that isn’t surprising after coaches singled him out for having an excellent training camp. He is a really good cornerback and arguably the one player the defense can least afford to lose. Johnson looks as good as advertised, and I’ve thought the Bears got a really good player there going all the way back to the draft. He has size, length, athletic ability, savvy and confidence. He looks like the total package, and I wonder, without the shoulder injury, if he would have been a late first-round pick. Johnson has four pass breakups through two games, and Fuller has been as good as you would hope. It’s hard for cornerbacks to win defensive player of the year. They need to have a lot of splash plays — think takeaways — and perhaps need the top pass rushers to have down years. Yes, the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore won the award last season, but before that, the only cornerback to be named defensive player of the year since 1994 was the Packers’ Charles Woodson in 2009. If Johnson can get some picks this year, he would certainly be in consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Cornerbacks are often overlooked for this too, though. Since 1976, only four cornerbacks won the award: the Chiefs’ Dale Carter in 1992, Woodson with the Raiders in 1998, the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters in 2015 and the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore in 2017. Keep in mind, major awards generally go to players on winning teams, so the Bears need to have success for these guys to have a better shot.

Is it fair to say that in general the offenses should be in better shape than the defenses at this point because, until Week 1, they really had no chance to hit/tackle at live speed? Do we need to relax the concern about the D a couple more weeks? They looked much better in Week 2. — @geordiewendt

Most people believe defenses have the edge on offenses early in the season because of the intricate timing required for offenses to perform at a consistently high level. It’s not like the defensive players would have gotten a ton of snaps in preseason games to get ready for the real deal. Keep in mind the Bears went from facing a very good quarterback in Matthew Stafford to second-year pro Daniel Jones from Week 1 to Week 2. We’ll have a better idea where the Bears are on defense after they face Matt Ryan and the Falcons on Sunday.

Am I wrong or was Allen Robinson off his game? I didn’t think he played tough and it looked to me like he didn’t complete his route on the first interception. I put most of the blame on him for both interceptions. — @toddlikesgolf

Some have wondered if Robinson’s ongoing contract extension talks will affect his performance on the field or if it played a factor in a down game Sunday. I say no. Robinson always plays tough, and that’s why he’s a good run blocker for a wide receiver. He should have fought back harder for the ball on the first interception, but that pass was forced. The second interception, more than anything, was a great play by Giants cornerback James Bradberry. And the ball was underthrown by Mitch Trubisky. I think people are looking for a story that isn’t there when wondering if the contract situation will bleed into Robinson’s preparation and performance.

Through the first two weeks of the season, there’s been an explosion in scoring around the league. Will the Bears offense be able to keep up? Will the defense keep scores low? — @cta_the

That’s a good question. The Bears are behind the curve in scoring so far, and certainly that’s something they are working on as coach Matt Nagy preached all offseason about the need to score more touchdowns in 2020. We’ll have to see if the defense can hold its own with scoring up around the league. The Lions — minus top wide receiver Kenny Golladay — and the lowly Giants aren’t much to measure it against. That’s why some are pointing to Sunday’s game in Atlanta as a good test. The Falcons are 0-2 but have been moving the ball up and down the field and have scored 64 points — 20 more than the Bears.

Any benefit in releasing Ted Ginn Jr at this point? — @beardown33

For starters, when you talk about releasing a player, what are you going to add to the roster to replace him? Someone who will dress on game days and help the team? Or a player who likely would be inactive? Ginn is a vested veteran, so the Bears are not going to cut him and have to pay him termination pay — the remainder of his base salary for this season. They signed him to be a veteran presence and because he brings speed to the equation, something that was in short supply for the offense last season. Rookie Darnell Mooney looks like a more interesting option right now given his nice start, but depth is a good thing, right? I’d be surprised if the Bears made a move with Ginn unless he is going to be inactive regularly and objects to that.

What accounts for the Giants’ 95-yard second-half drive? Did the Bears change anything or do the Giants deserve the credit? — Bill F., Roanoke, Va.

That was a poor series for the defense, no question, but like I said when answering the question about the Bears playing “prevent” defense, they really didn’t do anything differently. They were particularly poor on first down on that possession, and the unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Roquan Smith at the end of a 12-yard scramble by quarterback Daniel Jones hurt. There was also an offside call against outside linebacker James Vaughters on that series. It was an uncharacteristic series for the defense. The Bears allowed touchdown drives that started at or inside the opponent’s 5-yard line only twice last season — to the Chiefs and Giants. It also happened twice in 2018 as the Seahawks and Patriots drove the length of the field.

After the Akiem Hicks’ sack, as he left the field, he took off his helmet and before he got to the sideline and pointed to the secondary in appreciation of the coverage. Isn’t that a penalty? — Brian C.

A couple folks wondered about that play and yes, it potentially could have been flagged. The rule book states, “removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player” is a penalty. It’s possible that the officials deemed Hicks was not celebrating on his way off the field and therefore it wasn’t called but Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill recently got away with removing his helmet on the field and was not flagged. It’s possible officials are not going to call it unless it’s an over-the-top celebration and Hicks certainly was not guilty of that. Probably a good no-call.


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