How would you evaluate Ryan Poles so far? What happens if Luke Getsy gets a head coaching job? – The Denver Post


As Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears offense continues to surge — and a depleted defense continues to struggle — the Tribune’s Brad Biggs opens his weekly Bears mailbag ahead of Sunday’s home game against the Detroit Lions.

Much of the Bears’ future depends on the ability of Ryan Poles to construct a quality team. I would suppose there are three aspects of a new GM that the fans can evaluate — coaching staff, ability to draft and ability to bring in free agents. I have been pleased with the staff. Even before trading away Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, I have been surprised that coinciding with the success of the offense that the defense seems to be regressing. Do you agree with this? As much as I’ve been watching the development of Justin Fields this year, knowing that if he truly is a franchise QB the Bears are in a good spot for years to come, I’ve been just as invested in watching the rookies that Poles has brought in. I have so wanted all of them to excel so I can check the box in my mind that Poles is an excellent drafter and will continue to draft well. I have mixed thoughts. There’s been good and bad, but at this point in the season his most consistent draft pick has been a punter. Perhaps I need to exercise more patience in watching the progression and development of the rookie class. As a fan, it is discouraging to see a third-rounder in Velus Jones Jr. as a healthy scratch for the last game. Can you lend your insight into all my jumbled thoughts. — Matt P., Homewood

You’re a little all over the place here. Matt Eberflus and his staff have done a nice job of creating accountability for the players, and that’s really what the overused word “culture” means. They’ve put forth a list of expectations for the players and how they will work, and it has been well received. They have stressed the significance of direct communication, and that’s important.

I agree signs of defensive decay were there before the team traded away Quinn and Smith. Frankly, that wasn’t surprising. Look at the roster on the defensive line to begin the season. I figured the Bears probably would rank near the top of the bottom third of the league in defense, and that appears to be where things are trending. They will have some better weeks and some in which they struggle the rest of the way. There was a lack of difference makers to begin the season, especially in the front seven, and expecting this unit to be in the top half of the league wasn’t realistic.

Safety Jaquan Brisker has been far and away the best rookie on the roster, with respect to a nice job by punter Trenton Gill. Poles had 11 picks and eight of them were near the end of the draft. He needs to get through about three draft classes for us to really get a feel for how they do in the draft. One or two classes doesn’t give you a lot to evaluate.

Poles basically sat on his hands during free agency with a plan to reset the team’s salary cap and eat a ton of dead cap space — now at about $85 million — this season. We’ll see how he does in free agency with an open checkbook and a ton of cap space. Fields has really come on in the last month, and his future looks bright.

As far as the big picture, you sort of answered your own question when you intimated patience is required. Rebuilding projects don’t happen overnight. The Bears have become exciting to watch after some dreadfully boring games earlier in the season. The fan base has to appreciate that. Sit back and take it all in. The offseason will be a wild ride, but there are eight games to enjoy first.

This past week, five quarterbacks led their teams in rushing: Justin Fields, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray and Sam Ehlinger. What do these teams have in common? They all lost. There were other reasons, but still, do people still think that having a running quarterback is the key to victory? — Carl W., Cary

Actually six quarterbacks led their teams in rushing in Week 9. You omitted Patrick Mahomes, who accounted for 63 of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 77 yards on the ground in a 20-17 overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans. So teams with a QB leading them in rushing went 1-5. I got into that topic Tuesday after chatting with Michael Vick about Fields breaking his record for rushing yards by a QB in a regular-season game.

I don’t think anyone has suggested having a running quarterback is the key to victory or necessary for success. What an athletic quarterback can do — and Rodgers could navigate the pocket really well when he was younger — is put a ton of stress on defenses. Allen and Mahomes are probably the two best quarterbacks in the NFL right now. Put them in any order you want.

For the Bears, Fields’ ability to run has moved the chains, extended drives and led to scores. The proof is on the scoreboard the last three games. Does Fields — and the offense as a whole — have stuff that must improve? Sure. Can the Bears be a legitimate contender averaging 147.4 passing yards? I don’t think so. But this season is about improvement, and when you look at where Fields was as a rookie, at the start of this season and even after the first month, he’s demonstrably better.

It will be fascinating to see how the final eight opponents defend the Bears, especially with an improved corps of wide receivers after the trade for Chase Claypool. If you’re in the camp that believes the main storyline this season is the development of Fields, it’s an intriguing time to be watching Bears games.

It looks like the Bears may have a franchise QB for the first time in my life, and I’ve been walking this planet for 58 years. The offense has scored 30-plus points for three straight games. I know the Dallas game was only 29, but I’m counting it as 31 because Matt Eberflus chases the score and goes for two way too early — but that’s a topic for another mailbag. If the offense keeps showing positive development for the remainder of the season, do you think Luke Getsy gets scooped up by another team for a head coaching job? What would that do to the development of Justin Fields and the offense next season? Would the system remain? — Dave P., St. Joseph, Mich.

A couple of folks asked the same question this week — and my opinion probably runs contrary to what most believe — but if Getsy is hired as a head coach in the upcoming cycle, that would be the best possible outlook for the remainder of the Bears season. If he’s able to go from Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach to Bears offensive coordinator for one season to head coach at age 38, that means the Bears offense will look like it’s headed in the right direction at the end of the season.

If the Bears continue to put up points the rest of the way and Fields shows continued development, that might make Getsy — who interviewed for the Denver Broncos job last offseason — an attractive candidate. If the offense stumbles with inconsistency the rest of the way, maybe Getsy isn’t a hot candidate and he’s back with the Bears and you feel optimistic for 2023 but aren’t exactly sure what to make of the unit heading into what promises to be a busy offseason.

If Getsy were to leave, I imagine quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko, who also has done nice work with Fields this season, would be a strong candidate to be promoted to coordinator. I can’t imagine Janocko would want to change a lot. What the Bears have done really well is try to play to the strengths of the roster, and that’s as important as the scheme. We’ll see what shakes out, but there’s no question Getsy has a bright future.

When the season started the offense seemed to be a hot mess but the defense seemed serviceable. Now it seems the script has been flipped. The offense, while far from perfect, can be electric at times. The defense, however, is now a hot mess in part due to a dearth of talent. While not ignoring the offense, do you think the Bears will place a greater emphasis on fixing the D in the offseason? — Jim A., Plymouth, Mich.

Fair question, especially with a real lack of difference makers on defense, particularly in the front seven. You can make a case the Bears have greater needs on the defensive line than the offensive line. Who would have thought that before the season? When is the last time that has been the case with this team?

I don’t think it’s about prioritizing one side of the ball over the other. What you do is put together two lists. One is needs — positions that have to be filled in the offseason. The other is wants — positions where you would like to upgrade or add competition. Checking every box will depend on market factors and the depth at certain positions in the draft. You could have — and I’m just throwing this out there as an example — a three-technique defensive tackle as the No. 1 need. Well, if you can’t lure the guy you want in free agency or there aren’t a lot of attractive options, you need to be able to pivot on the fly.

The Bears have a ton of needs. Anyone can see that. It’s more significant that they get difference makers, regardless of position, than making sure they’ve filled each specific position. They can’t go wrong with spending a ton of money at numerous positions in the offseason. It’s about finding guys who will help tilt the field on Sundays.

Any idea when the Bears last blocked a punt? It feels like they have one blocked against them at least once a season, but I can’t remember the last time they were on the plus side of one. — @dawestley

It’s likely you don’t remember because it was more than a decade ago. Sherrick McManis blocked a Brett Kern punt and Corey Wootton recovered and returned it 5 yards for a touchdown on Nov. 4, 2012, at Tennessee. That was the first score in a runaway 51-20 Bears victory over the Titans. There was a little bit of everything in that game. Brian Urlacher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown and Tennessee picked up a safety when J’Marcus Webb was called for a penalty in the end zone. That victory lifted the Bears to 7-1, but they stumbled in the second half to finish 10-6, missed the playoffs and coach Lovie Smith was fired.

What can the Bears do this season to help their front seven create more pressure? — @ajlight315

If I had a good answer, I probably could make a lot more money. The Bears are 29th in the NFL with 13 sacks. I don’t know that the pass rush will get loose this week as Lions quarterback Jared Goff generally gets rid of the ball pretty quickly and Detroit’s protection has been adequate. Goff has been sacked only 13 times this season. The Lions are fourth in the NFL, allowing sacks on only 4.71% of their pass attempts. The Bears are 24th on defense, getting sacks on 5.2% of opposing quarterbacks’ pass attempts.

Trading away defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith, their most effective blitzer, made a poor pass rush worse. I’ve said all along the first thing the defense needs to do is play the run better to earn the right to rush the passer. The more second-and-long and third-and-unmanageable situations offenses are in, the more swings the Bears will get at sacks.

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams can get creative by playing some games up front and blitzing a little more often, but this scheme is predicated largely on generating a pass rush with the front four and covering with seven. That’s the way it was under former coach Lovie Smith when the Bears were playing excellent defense and they had difference makers at all three levels. The Bears lack difference makers now, guys who can consistently win one-on-one matchups. There isn’t an easy solution to this predicament.

Has defensive edge/line supplanted wide receiver and O-line as the Bears’ greatest talent need? — @fgrunder3

The offensive line still needs to be upgraded in a serious way. Four Day 3 draft picks and a trade for Alex Leatherwood doesn’t solve the issue. The acquisition of Chase Claypool still leaves the Bears without a true No. 1 wide receiver in my opinion. As one veteran personnel man texted me during the loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Bears need to completely replace their front seven. That’s too many parts to swap out in one offseason, even with a fortune of salary-cap space, and some of the guys they have now will fit into the picture for the future. It just depends on how general manager Ryan Poles can upgrade around them.

I know everyone wants a ranking of the team’s needs. I hesitate to do that right now because half a season remains and I will remind you of what I said above: A list of needs doesn’t always match up with available replacements in free agency or the draft. For instance, I don’t see a No. 1 wide receiver being available in free agency. If the Bears want one of those, they will have to consider an expensive trade or target the draft.

Do you think having Justin Fields run as much as he has lately is a good idea in the long term? What do you think the Bears’ thinking is there? So much running seems to set him up for injury risk. — @brooklyncorn

Roughly half of the running Fields has done over the last three games has been on scrambles. I get what you’re saying and wonder about it myself, but Fields probably has taken harder hits in the pocket this season than he has in the open field. He does a really good job of understanding where defenders are when he’s on the run and has proved to be smart about sliding and getting out of bounds when it’s appropriate. You have to play to the strengths of your personnel, and why limit what Fields can do athletically? He’s a strong, physical runner and isn’t easy to catch or tackle.

I asked Michael Vick a similar question when we chatted Monday, pointing out that Robert Griffin III’s career was basically short-circuited after a serious knee injury.

“No, I don’t think you have to be concerned about guys,” Vick said. “If you’ve got a smaller frame, you should be concerned. I was concerned with Trey Lance and the way they were using him early in the season in San Francisco. I thought he was a little taller, longer and lankier. He’s not built like a Cam Newton.

“The coordinators have got to know their guys and what he can give and what he can take when he’s in the line of fire. I don’t recommend putting your guy in harm’s way unless that is something that is mutual as far as the feelings. Injuries can happen on any play. If you have a guy that is athletic, you should let him roll. You can get your knee blown out or shoulder blown out standing in the pocket throwing the ball.”

Fields is a good-sized quarterback at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. I wouldn’t be more concerned about him being hurt in the open field than I would in the pocket.

Aside from Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, what current Bears WRs are on this roster in 2023? — @schiele1532

Rookie Velus Jones Jr. is the only other wide receiver under contract beyond this season. Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, N’Keal Harry and Dante Pettis are all playing on expiring deals. There’s a chance none of those four is re-signed in the offseason. At most, I see only one of them returning. Hopefully Jones will get a chance to get on the field and contribute over the final eight games because his lack of involvement as a gadget receiver — and the fact he was a healthy inactive last week — is slightly concerning.

Do you think Alex Leatherwood has a place on this O-line in the future? I am hoping he can be the right tackle at some point this season if he performs well. — @iammars25

There’s no way to answer that question without seeing Leatherwood play. As I wrote Friday, it’s a really good idea to give Leatherwood a stretch of games as a starter before the season ends to determine if he should be in the mix to compete for a starting job in 2023. That could happen at right tackle, but veteran Riley Reiff has played well the last two weeks and I doubt the Bears are ready to make a switch right away. Time is remaining, but I’m definitely in the camp that believes Leatherwood needs to be evaluated before the end of the season.

Do you think if the Bears play their cards right, they can be a last-minute playoff team? — @xxxwatts83xxxx

The Bears (3-6) are 4½ games behind the Minnesota Vikings (7-1), so winning the NFC North seems like a real long shot. To have a decent shot at sneaking into the postseason as a wild-card team, figure the Bears have to get to 9-8. That means winning six of their final eight games. With a defense that is struggling and was blitzed for 84 points in the last two weeks, that also seems like a long shot.

The surge in scoring — the Bears have scored 94 points in the last three weeks — provides some confidence they can come out on the right side of some shootouts. They’ve also been much more effective in the red zone recently. The Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills are on the schedule, and while the Bears are favored for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, they’re likely to be an underdog in the majority of the remaining games. It’s possible an 8-9 record could nab the final NFC playoff berth, but the Bears likely would have to win a tiebreaker. That gets complicated to evaluate at this point. Playoff odds for this team are low.



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