SportsMonday: Catching Bears Fever

Ryan Pace may have struggled evaluating kickers and quarterbacks during his reign as Bears GM, but he crushed it with receivers during the past year. And they put on a show during the Bears' 34-22 triumph over the Lions on Sunday.

The improvement in pass-catchers for the Bears from last year to this year has to rival the improvement of any position group on any team in the NFL.

Is there a wide receiver in the league who is getting more consistent separation from defensive backs than Bears uber-rookie Anthony Miller? How about a tight end doing the same versus Trey Burton? Yes, the coach has to call the plays and the quarterback has to throw the passes (and what a day Mitch Trubisky had on Sunday - his accuracy was magnificent from start to finish), but those jobs are much easier when the receivers are running perfectly crisp routes.

First of all, Allen Robinson reclaimed his status as the absolute No. 1 receiver. He set up the first touchdown with his first huge reception and run and later grabbed two scores of his own.

The only area where Robinson was a little subdued was after he scored. You could tell he was being careful as he barely left the ground to body-bump teammates. He didn't look like he was coming back from a pulled groin during plays but he did when he shied away from high flying touchdown celebrations.

Things went a little sideways for No. 2 man Miller at the end with a couple dumb penalties, but overall he has been everything the Bears hoped he would be when they traded away next year's second-round pick to move into this year's second round to get him. And you have to blame special teams coach Chris Tabor for the difficulties with onside kicks in the second half.

Chris my man if you can't do better than this you will be experiencing the NFL standing for Not For Long as far as your employment is concerned. The Bears' fundamental hands formation deployed against an anticipated onside kick was flawed. It was clear the Lions were probably going to kick to the left side of the Bears' receiving unit, especially given that they had a mismatch, i.e., more guys going for the recovery on that side than the Bears had trying to get it. Then they did what was anticipated and the Bears failed miserably to take advantage of the predictability.

It was hard to understand why the team had a rookie, Miller, in position to be the guy who catches the onside kick rather than a veteran. Then again it made sense not to have Robinson out there given his worries about re-aggravating his injury. But Tabor then failed to tell the rookie not to just swat the ball out of bounds. Miller committing that penalty gave the Lions a critical second chance and sure enough that time they took advantage of the mismatch.

Of course, then the Lions did the Bears a favor the next time they lined up to onside it when they tried to pooch one down the middle. That kick was recovered easily by Tarik Cohen.

Defensively, you had to be impressed with a bunch of guys, but one who stood out was nickel corner Bryce Callahan. He set the tone with a pair of immediate blitzes, one of which resulted in a sack. It was the start of a delightfully aggressive defensive performance that was highlighted by active turnovers. Sometimes football teams settle for the turnovers given to them by weak offenses. Sometimes they reach out and take them. That was what the Bears, led by Callahan and fellow cornerback Prince Amukamara did on Sunday.

And finally, in "always remember that in the NFL all that matters is what is happening now, not what might happen next year" news: the Jaguars suffered another crushing loss on Sunday and are close to falling out of the playoff hunt. These are the same Jaguars who almost knocked off the Patriots in last year's AFC championship game. During Jacksonville's great 2017-18 run, I guarantee fans were saying, "This is great but just wait 'til next year, when quarterback Blake Bortles will have another year under his belt and this team will really come together!"

Instead Bortles, whose development was botched by the Jaguars several years ago in part because they felt pressured to bring him in as the starting quarterback before he was ready, has taken a step back this season and the team is struggling mightily.

The moral? When you have a chance to win in this league, you better do everything possible to make it happen right now.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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