Bears

Bears at the break: A tale of two seasons

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USA TODAY

Bears at the break: A tale of two seasons

In the wake of the 20-12 loss last Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, a game that finished off the first half of the Bears’ 2017 season, coach John Fox succinctly summarized the Bears’ lot in NFL life to this point:

“I think we’ve kind of been a tale of two seasons,” Fox said, adding in a bit of colossal understatement, “the first four, then the second four.”

“View from the Moon” posited post-New Orleans that the Bears certainly were like every other team: exactly what their record says they are, which was 3-5. But exactly what was happening within that 3-5 wasn’t a simple story.

Indeed, to look at the two halves of the first 2017 half-season as an eight-game lump is to ignore the obvious. It is also to miss some of the exact details that point to a Bears team dramatically different starting the second half of the season against the Green Bay Packers from the one that faced the Atlanta Falcons to start the first half.

The overarching obvious difference has been Mitch Trubisky, with his rookie’ness and all the rest. He is far, very far from what he and the Bears anticipate him becoming, yet the seismic impact of the Bears’ quarterback change is very much what the organization had in mind when they traded up to ensure they’d secure him in the April draft.

To his credit, Trubisky was appropriately restrained in his self- and team first-half critique, befitting a quarterback completing less than half his passes and with a total QBR keeping company with those of Glennon, DeShone Kizer, Trevor Siemian and C.J. Beathard: “I thought [the season’s first half] was alright. A lot to learn from and a lot to improve on.”

Improvement by the numbers

Trubisky has moved the Bears at least in the right direction on the improvement continuum.

The Glennon Bears were outscored 61-104, an average of nearly 11 points per game with the team committing 10 turnovers. Trubisky Bears have stanched the bleeding, turning the football over just five times in the last four games. Even with Trubisky’s limitations, the Bears outscored their last four opponents 73-67, not including the aberrant ruling that erased the Zach Miller touchdown.

The points differential becomes more noteworthy when measured against strength of schedule. The first four games – Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Green Bay – were billed as a crucible from which the Bears would be lucky to escape with one win, which they did.

But the first four opponents have a combined record of 16-13 to this point. The four that the Bears faced under Trubisky are a combined 20-11.

Of the four defenses the Bears faced under Glennon, only one (Pittsburgh) was ranked higher than 15th in points allowed. The Bears under Trubisky have faced no defense worse than New Orleans (12th), preceded by Carolina (No. 5), Baltimore (No. 6) and Minnesota (No. 4).

Overall the Bears have played exactly one opponent – Tampa Bay – that is less than a .500 team through the first half of this season. Curiously perhaps, the Buccaneers handed the Bears their worst loss of the season, by 22 points in week two.

The Vikings, leading the NFC North at 6-2, have played three sub-.500’s, not including the Bears.

Playoff goal still in place

The Bears have never been a .500 team at any time during the Fox tenure. Three times they had chances to square the record deep into the season – twice in 2015, standing 4-5 and 5-6 but losing at home to Denver and San Francisco, and last week at 3-4 against New Orleans. They failed on each occasion.

They’ve also missed the playoffs nine of the last 10 years, which makes any discussion of postseason possibilities fanciful at best, laughable at least. Even the 0-8 Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers aren’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason, so the bar for playoff talk is pretty low.

But here’s the thing: The rest of the NFL and in particular the NFC North has done anything but run away from the Bears even through those struggling years under three different head coaches.

In each of the last nine years, a team from the NFC North has reached the postseason, as division winner or wild card, with at least five losses. Twice over that stretch the division was won with six losses, once with seven (Green Bay at 8-7-1 in 2013 after Chris Conte had his coverage issue with Randall Cobb). Four times an NFC North runner-up went in as a wild card with six losses, plus last year when the Lions went wild-card’ing with seven losses.

“I think we're kind of where we are, but to start the season and to start every season that I've been here, [the goal] is to win our division,” Fox said. “One thing…when you do that, you're guaranteed a spot in the tournament. So that's still the goal.

“Right now we're kind of a one game at a time, one-break-at-a-time type of mentality so, as these guys go away and refresh and regroup a little bit, kind of like a halftime break, you know they'll start thinking about the Green Bay Packers.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Did the Bears technically "win" on Sunday?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Did the Bears technically "win" on Sunday?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) and Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap on the panel.  Kap is happy that Mitch Trubisky played ok and John Fox’s team lost again.  The panel disagrees.

Plus Leonard Floyd doesn’t have an ACL tear…. Yet. Should the Bears shut him down even if he gets good news?

Bears need Mitch Trubisky to become a closer, but teammates see it coming

Bears need Mitch Trubisky to become a closer, but teammates see it coming

With Sunday’s game on the line and the Bears owning the football at their 17-yard line, the offense needed a drive for field goal position to tie the Detroit Lions. But rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, with 1:03 on the clock, wasn’t thinking 3 points. He was thinking touchdown and a win, and the huddle knew it.

“I think that's his mindset all the time,” said guard Josh Sitton, who recognized something familiar in Trubisky’s face that Sitton had seen over his years with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. “He's a play-maker, he's got all the confidence in the world in himself and the guys around him.

“You can just see it on his face. I don't think he really says anything, he doesn't really need to say anything, you can kind of see it, by that look in his eyes. He's got what it takes to be a great player in this league.”

It was not intended to be any even remote comparison with Rodgers. More than eyes are involved in that. But while the drive Sunday ended in failure in the form of a missed field goal, something was noted in the process.

The 13-play drive for the Bears’ first touchdown Sunday was the longest sustained by the offense under Trubisky. And it was a statement possession for an offense that had not scored a first-quarter touchdown in nine prior games.

But if a negative among the many Trubisky positives was the fourth time in five situations that Trubisky has failed to direct a game-winning or –tying drive, which goes a long way to answering why the Bears are 2-4 under him. Actually the number of come-up-short drives is more than those if you count things like a three-and-out at Baltimore in regulation before Trubisky led a seven-play drive for a winning overtime field goal.

Still, looking a little deeper, Trubisky has gotten progressively “closer” to being the kind of finisher that the Bears have needed for decades. At the very least, Trubisky is keeping drives alive longer and longer, if not ending them with points. In these situations:

Vs.                     4th qtr/OT situation

Minnesota         1 play, interception ends potential winning drive

Baltimore          3 plays, punt, regulation ends in tie

                           7 plays, game-winning FG in OT

Carolina            Game already decided

New Orleans    2 plays, interception ends drive for tie

Green Bay        5 plays, ball over on downs on drive for tie

Detroit               11 plays, missed FG for tie

Within the huddle, the team confidence in Trubisky and vice versa has clearly grown, regardless of outcome, and that is something the offense did not consistently have in Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler, Jimmy Clausen or even Josh McCown.

“[Trubisky] is just growing and growing and you just see it,” Sittyon said. “You saw the talent right away and he just keeps ... the nuances of the game, he just keeps learning and learning. He gives you all the confidence in the world as a guy in the locker room and on the field, in the huddle.

“He has that look in his eye where you're thinking 'All right, he's going to get the job done.’”

Staff addition? Probably not but Bears have an opening

Taking a morning-after look around the NFL after the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions:

Something to probably dismiss but at least worth mentioning… .

The Denver Broncos on Monday fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the same Mike McCoy who handled the Denver offense as John Fox’s OC. Don’t expect anything in-season, certainly not at this point, but the situation does offer an interesting future option if somehow Fox sees the fourth and final year of his contract, even looking further down the coaching road irrespective of Fox’s presence.

McCoy was ousted from a foundering Broncos situation, presumably over not being able to make anything much out of Trevor Simian

McCoy, who was the mix of candidates and interviewed to succeed Lovie Smith back in 2012, wouldn’t necessarily be brought in as offensive coordinator by Fox or anyone else. What about the role of “consultant” or “assistant head coach” added to the Bears offensive staff?

The Bears have neither position on the staff currently, and haven’t had an assistant head coach since Rod Marinelli had that as part of his title from 2009-2012 under Lovie Smith. Marinelli, like McCoy, had been a head coach as well.

Notably, Fox kept McCoy on his staffs when Fox was hired both in Carolina and Denver, a good measure of Fox’s take on McCoy’s offensive-coaching skills. Fox added the job of passing-game coordinator to McCoy’s duties as quarterbacks coach with Carolina in 2007-08. Since then McCoy coached Peyton Manning in Denver and Philip Rivers in San Diego.

Also notably, perhaps in the other direction, Fox might have brought McCoy to Chicago after the latter was fired as Chargers head coach after last season. That didn’t happen, possibly because McCoy instead wanted a full OC position, which wasn’t open with Loggains in place.

Offensive consultants aren’t necessarily staff bloating; they have been referred to as “coaches for coaches.” Bruce Arians brought in longtime OC Tom Moore when Arians became Arizona Cardinals head coach (following Phil Emery’s decision to go with Marc Trestman over Arians). Moore previously served as offensive coordinator, then senior offensive coordinator, then offensive consultant through the Peyton Manning years in Indianapolis. Moore subsequently became offensive consultant for the Jets (2011) and Tennessee Titans (2012), the latter stint while Loggains was offensive coordinator.

Longtime offensive line coach Jim McNally has been a “consultant” with the Jets (2011-12) and Bengals (2012-this season). Randy Brown was a kicking consultant working under Bears special teams coaches in the Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron regimes, going on to work under John Harbaugh in Philadelphia and Baltimore.