Darnell Mooney Capable of More Deep Catches

Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney and Bears fans have already infuriated Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey after a double move replayed ad infinitum but the best way they can continue frustrating all defensive backs is by getting him downfield more.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Bears receiver Darnell Mooney has displayed nothing but intelligence since coming to the team last year. 

He's doing it again, by refusing to get into some sort of war of words with Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, or joining Bears fans who have been taunting Ramsey on social media.

Now, maybe it's time the Bears show a little intelligence in the way they use Mooney. In this regard, it might mean seriously considering Justin Fields as their Day 1 quarterback starter.

A budding feud started with the double move on a pass route Mooney made last year in the 24-10 Bears loss to the Rams. He did it against Ramsey, the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback. 

Ramsey totally bit on the hook and Mooney was off to the races alone. However, Nick Foles badly overthrew the target. This didn't keep NBC from replaying the fake over and over. 

Bears fans continued replaying it on social media all offseason since the schedule came out with the teams playing each other in L.A. in the opener, and it got Ramsey to respond on Instagram: 

"Can't wait til week 1 so all these lame ass Bears fans can stfu about they number 2 wr."

Mooney was asked about brewing situation this week and totally looked past it with a big smile on his face.

"I mean, there's a lot of defensive players that are on our schedule," he said. "There's a lot of strong defensive backs. It's going to be a good year a lot of fun this year. I'm looking forward to playing."

Mooney has shown great depth of thought since he came into the league as a player who wanted to run routes and win with this ability rather than his blazing 4.38-second combine speed in the 40. 

Coach Matt Nagy said it's in his "DNA." 

This seemed true when Mooney talked last season about how he'd saved up almost all his money since childhood, didn't waste it unwisely and even bought his own JUGS machine to work on catching passes at home. 

This helped lead to only one dropped pass last year, which is extremely unusual for a rookie receiver.

The person in all of this who needs to get wiser isn't Ramsey or Mooney. It's Nagy. He needs to make changes to make better use of a budding star receiver.

Nagy needs to use Mooney more downfield and turn his offense downfield more than he did this past season, and in other seasons.  

Mooney last year led the Bears in average air yards per target at 11.5, according to Sportradar via Pro Football Reference. This was only 52nd in the league, and slot receiver Anthony Miller was second on the team at 9.7.

Within their own division, Green Bay's Marquez Valdes-Scantling averaged 18.3 air yards per target, Detroit's Marvin Jones 12.7 and Kenny Golladay 14.6. Minnesota's Adam Thielen is no speed demon but even he was targeted farther downfield than Mooney.

The Bears get the ball in Mooney's hands on too many passes behind or at the line of scrimmage, on too many handoffs and in too many places closer to where defenders can beat up on his 176-pound body. Eventually it cost him a chance to help them in the playoffs last year with a Week 17 injury. The ball needs to come to him more downfield.

"Last year he really knew his route," Nagy said of Mooney. "Now I want him to know the whole concept within the play. And I always remember (new Texans head) coach (David) Culley when he was in Philadelphia talking about Terrell Owens and T.O. always knowing, he always knew the whole play. He knew when he was getting the ball pre-snap and he knew when he wasn't getting the ball. 

"And so I think taking it to that level for Darnell is going to be really important. And I'm seeing him adjust his routes (vs.) certain coverages. He did that last year, but now it's gonna be, 'Hey, pre-snap, I know I'm getting this football.' And that's really what we want all of our wideouts and tight ends to get to."

That's one way to increase the output and yardage downfield. 

Another way is by actually getting the ball to receivers' hands downfield when they are open. Foles didn't do it on that double-move play with Ramsey completely faked out and on the year averaged an absolutely dismal 5.9 yards per attempt.

Andy Dalton has averaged 6.7, 7.0, 6.6 and 6.5 yards per attempt the last four years. Those are all weak numbers, and expecting him at age 34 to push back up into the mid-7.0s where he had once been for his career is unrealistic.

There's only one passer the Bears have on the roster capable of consistently getting the receivers a pass as deeper targets and it's Justin Fields.

The Fields and Mooney combo could be a deeper connection to fear this year, even for All-Pro cornerbacks who like to skulk on social media.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven