John Mullin

Bears hit new low in loss to Lions: 'It's been going on like this all year'

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USA TODAY

Bears hit new low in loss to Lions: 'It's been going on like this all year'

The Bears thought perhaps they had put the wheels back on at least a small part of their lost 2017 season last week in Cincinnati. It was illusory.

In the latest game that justifiably falls under the heading of “embarrassing,” the wheels were completely off in a 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions (8-6) that said that the Bears (4-10) are not even within hailing distance of their NFC North cousins at the end of a third straight, and presumably last, season of double-digit losses under coach John Fox.

The Bears have had worse losses under Fox. They have had few worse games, top to bottom.

Any faint chance of Fox surviving for a fourth season as Bears coach depended on a run of solid performances to finish out the season. This was anything but and was yet another game marked and marred by inept performances in all three phases, four if coaching counts as a separate one.

The loss was the sixth in the seven games since the Bears held their destiny in their own hands at 3-4, only to deteriorate rather than improve as the season went along. And it was a game that at different points, in particular during a collapsing second half, the sense reached the point of “you couldn’t make this up.” The Cincinnati game now stands as a clear outlier; the Green Bay and San Francisco games and this Detroit game have become the hood ornaments of the 2017 Bears.

As for specific bewilderings: The NFL’s No. 32 rushing team (Detroit) finished with more than double the rushing yards of the Bears, 91-43, one game after the Bears rushed for more than 200 yards for the fourth time this season — including 222 the last time they saw the Lions on Nov. 19. Against the No. 20 rushing defense (Detroit) the Bears threw the football 43 times and ran it 15, including two by quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Much more on that shortly, because it gets at deeper problems.

Jordan Howard was handed the football exactly 10 times, just three in the second half. The stated reason for it will be that the Bears were playing from behind, but the Bears didn’t fall behind by three scores until midway through the third quarter.

“Lack of rhythm on offense, penalty, and I need to take care of the football,” Trubisky said by way of summarizing a day of yards (349 vs. 293 for Detroit) but too many of the plays that epitomize what bad football teams do, or don’t do. Trubisky finished with 314 passing yards, his first 300-yard day, but turnovers and a handful of poor decisions overshadowed any positives for his 10th NFL start.

Franchise-quarterback-in-progress Trubisky went from the best game of his career a week ago against the Bengals to arguably his poorest, based on three second-half interceptions when the game was still within reach, at least emotionally.

One, on the second play of the second half from the Bears 22, was turned into a Detroit touchdown. The second was thrown into double coverage in the Detroit end zone and cost the Bears at least three points. The third ended the final Bears possession at the Detroit 16.

“Sometimes quarterbacks have those days,” Fox said. “He’ll have better days.”

Fox has had better ones, too.

In a return of another issue reflecting very poorly on Fox’s coaching staff, the number and kinds of penalties became a statement in themselves. Special teams lost a 90-yard kickoff return by Tarik Cohen because of a holding penalty against DeAndre Houston-Carson.

Later, with the football at the Bears' eight-yard line: a holding penalty on fill-in offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu, followed a snap later by a holding flag on wide receiver Josh Bellamy, capped off by a delay of game call, which falls on Trubisky. With five minutes still to play in the fourth quarter the Bears had had 13 penalties walked off.

Coaching mysteries

A Detroit team that came into Saturday giving up at least 100 rushing yards in the past five games — including more than 130 in four of those — "held" the Bears to 43. Those last five teams ran the football 28, 27, 41, 30 and 33 times; the Bears on Saturday ran it a total of 15. Late in a season with a 4-9 record the Bears were ordered to punt on a fourth-and-one situation in the second quarter from their own 41 — doubtless the safe play intended to set up field position. But the Bears ran the football football four more times in the half, gaining four, two, four and five yards on those. And three of the Bears’ previous four run plays before that situation had gained at least one yard.

As for the field position resulting from the punt, the Lions took the ball 92 yards for a touchdown, the third time in four possessions that the Bears defense had allowed a drive of at least eight plays and for points.

In one of those moments that sparks a “what are they teaching these guys?” question, safety Eddie Jackson was inexplicably passive waiting on a third-and-18 pass from Stafford to wide receiver Marvin Jones, who took the ball that was made for Jackson. Instead of an interception, the Lions had a 58-yard completion and the Bears had one of those plays that turned a small spotlight toward secondary coaching. Two years ago it was veteran Antrel Rolle failing to attack a looping, wobbling third-down heave by the Minnesota Vikings that resulted in a completion that cost the Bears that game.

Saturday marked the 10th time in 14 games in which the Bears have allowed 20 or more points. That encapsulates the decline and fall of defensive hopes under coordinator Vic Fangio, while the fact that the Bears have lost nine of those games says it all as far as the offensive ineptness under coordinator Dowell Loggains.

For his part, Loggains earned another question mark at the end of the first half when, after a takeaway gave the offense the ball at the Detroit 27 with 12 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in hand, Trubisky settled for a four-yard flip underneath to tight end Daniel Brown. Nothing in the middle of the field, nothing challenging the Detroit end zone down 13-0. The Bears settled for a field goal, probably not the kind of “drive” that general manager Ryan Pace had in mind when he made sure the Bears landed Trubisky on draft day.

To the point of the overall, however, which transcends any specific bad or good coming out of Fox’s fifth loss in six Bears games vs. Detroit, former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, linebacker Lance Briggs and quarterback Jim Miller voiced identical sentiments on NBC Sports Chicago’s “Bears Postgame Live” show:

“It’s been going on like this all year.”

For Mitch Trubisky, key ball security extends well beyond just third downs

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USA TODAY

For Mitch Trubisky, key ball security extends well beyond just third downs

John Fox has mentioned Mitch Trubisky’s third-down passing on more than one occasion, and not simply as a stroke of what his staff has done in the way of player development as a coaching decision of tectonic-plate degree looms. The fact is that third-down passing is a defining measure of an NFL quarterback; as Loggains stated, it’s where quarterbacks earn their money, and by extension, make it possible for a lot of other folks to earn theirs.

But it’s far bigger than only third downs. Case in point: Trubisky completed 25 of his 32 passes at Cincinnati. All of those passes came during the Bears’ first nine (of 11) possessions. Significantly, the Bears had at least one first down on every one of those possessions, and more than one on seven of the nine.

Meaning: The offense sustained drives and the defense was able to recover on the sideline. That would comprise two-thirds of “complimentary football” the way it’s designed.

(It also did not hurt that every drive on which the Bears didn’t draw a penalty, with the exception of the one ended by halftime, the Bears scored a touchdown. Probably just coincidence…but…maybe not…)

Putting all of this in the broader context of Trubisky’s development, the self-professed gunslinger has thrown zero interceptions in six of his nine games, none in four of the last five. That points to the rookie being schooled hard in ball security, something that has been a hallmark of quarterbacks under coordinator Dowell Loggains’ auspices. Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler in 2015 played with a level of ball security at or among the best of their careers.

Trubisky’s 1.8 percent interception rate overall is the larger point. As mentioned in this space and elsewhere previously, coaches aren’t going to “breed” Trubisky’s core aggressiveness out of him by drilling “ball security” into his head.

And while the concept is simple enough, implementing it isn’t. For all of his meteoric success before his season-ending knee injury, Deshaun Watson was being picked on 3.9 percent of his throws. Cutler has reverted to his career base course (3.2 percent) while Trubisky keeping his throws out of harm’s way percentage-wise better than all of Matthew Stafford (1.9), Russell Wilson (2.3), Matt Ryan (2.6) or Ben Roethlisberger (2.6).

Maybe it’s “generational:” Jared Goff (1.4) and Carson Wentz (1.6) seem to have been schooled the same direction. And how’s that working for them?

Marcus Mariota is having his worst (by his reckoning) NFL season, with 14 interceptions making him so testy that his Mom yelled at him for being grumpy to reporters while discussing his play.

Key to Bears defeating Detroit

The obvious is how well the offense and Trubisky control the football without turning the football over and without self-destructing with penalties that put them behind the sticks. It’s not a sure-fire formula; the Bears didn’t turn the ball over vs. San Francisco and had half the number of penalties assessed as the 49ers and still took incompetence to epic levels. But it is a foundation starting point.

Actually, it’s more than that where the Detroit Lions are concerned.

Detroit has lost three of the four games in which its opponents didn’t give them at least one turnover.    

Stopping the run is a standard “key,” but in the Lions case, they don’t run the ball much anyway. They are last in the NFL in rushing yards per game (76.3) and yards per attempt (3.3). Nine different individuals, including Jordan Howard, average more per game than the Lions. They did win the only two games in which they rushed for more than 100 yards (but those were against the Giants and Browns, so those don’t count).

But Detroit is 7-6 overall without any appreciable rushing offense. So stopping the run, while always a factor, isn’t necessarily a game-changer vs. the Lions.

Ball security is. Keeping Matthew Stafford off the field, as it is with most elite quarterbacks, is everything. Stafford is tied for second for taking sacks (39) and is even taking them at a concerning rate of one every 13 pass plays – statistically significantly higher than nearly every other top passer – and he is still passing to a rating of 97.9, good enough for No. 8 in the NFL.

So getting after Stafford helps. Stopping the run helps. Forcing takeaways helps. But the only element that directly correlates to upending the Lions is not so much creating turnovers as avoiding ones of your own.

Devin Hester leaves more than Bears, NFL records behind

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AP

Devin Hester leaves more than Bears, NFL records behind

This isn’t about Devin Hester and the Hall of Fame (can we say, “gimme?” As longtime pigskin scribe Ira Miller once said of that standard, “If they wrote the history of pro football, would they have to mention you by name?” Hester, yes, obviously). It’s about the guy, one of the quiet gentle spirits you feel fortunate to have had come through your work life.

Like so many things, when you think of Devin Hester, you get a collection of snapshots, really fun ones in this case. Well, mostly fun; sometimes “fun” doesn’t totally apply when you’re thinking about the end of something that made your Bears Sundays, well, fun.

Snapshots like…

…knowing you didn’t leave the TV when punting situations came for opponents, or didn’t take too long getting back to your seat when Devin was going to return a kickoff. Those were plays when fans sometimes dawdled in the kitchen. Before Devin…

…the touchdown return to start the 2006 Super Bowl, one of those moments with an almost cartoon quality, the roadrunner moving like someone had hit the fast-forward button for one guy and left the other 21 on the field looking like they were running in peanut butter…

…talking to Devin about whether he could put into words a kind of genius that nobody else had. What did he see, what was he thinking as he made one of those returns that simply defied human physics. He thought for a second, then just sort of laughed and said simply, “I see colors. I run away from the ones that aren’t mine.” Simple, right?...

…the Bears announcing that GM Jerry Angelo had used a second-round pick in the 2006 draft on a cornerback out of Miami. Only Hester wasn’t really a cornerback, wasn’t really anything just because he could do so many things well – returner, DB, receiver, running back – that his coaches moved him around. So what did the Bears really get? That, no one could have remotely predicted…

…the emotion that included tears when Devin learned that the Bears had gotten rid of Lovie Smith, the only coach Hester had played for. When you think pro football as being just a business, guess again. Devin had to be talked out of quitting the game that day, and it really was never quite the same for him after that, in Atlanta, Baltimore or Seattle…

…how Devin took the shredding for his shortcomings as a receiver and heard how Smith and the coaches were blasted for making him into something he wasn’t. That wasn’t the whole story, of course; the Bears wanted the football in his hands more, Devin and his agent wanted to lift the money ceiling that came with being “just a returner,” so Angelo worked out a very fair deal that was back-loaded with escalators to pay Devin $10 million over each of the last two years of the contract if he hit certain performance triggers. He didn’t, but trashing the kid for wanting to grab for the brass ring never made sense…

…the fun factor. Devin would go back to receive a kickoff and every fan in the end zone seats of Soldier Field was standing. And Devin was having a ball with it, to the point where you absolutely knew that if Devin Hester decided to run instead into Lake Michigan, all he’d have to do would be wave his arm for all the kids to join him and they’d have followed the Pied Piper about anywhere he wanted to go…

that would include Canton.