Bears

Bears grades: Dominant win generates straight A's for offense, defense

Bears grades: Dominant win generates straight A's for offense, defense

QUARTERBACKS: A

Mitchell Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 112.4, and also rushed for a touchdown on a read option in the third quarter. It was easily his best game as a pro; beyond his impressive stat line, the offense had a different feel to it on Sunday than it did in any of the previous eight games Trubisky started. Trubisky was calm and comfortable in the pocket, and did well to click through his progressions and remain patient for his receivers to get open. He perhaps could’ve been more accurate on a pass to Adam Shaheen in the end zone in the second quarter that was broken up by safety William Jackson, and he took a sack with about 20 seconds left in the first half that he shouldn’t have taken. But those feels like nitpicking after such a strong overall afternoon. 

RUNNING BACKS: A+

Jordan Howard exerted his will on a banged-up, uninspired Bengals defense, rushing 23 times for 147 yards with two touchdowns. Howard ran tough, or in his own words: “I feel like I got back to my violent ways a little bit.” Tarik Cohen provided a spark with 80 yards on 12 carries, too, combining with Howard for 227 rushing yards. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A-

Kendall Wright caught 10 of his 11 targets for 107 yards and consistently got open in a way no Bears receiver had up to this point. Josh Bellamy provided an early spark, with his two receptions for 52 yards coming on the Bears’ first three drives.  Strangely, Dontrelle Inman — who had shown the best and most reliable connection with Trubisky over the last few weeks — was not targeted. But Wright’s huge day was enough to prop this unit up with its highest grade of the season. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Shaheen caught four of his five targets for 44 yards and a touchdown, and drew a pass interference flag in the end zone too. Dion Sims and Daniel Brown combined for four catches on five targets for 41 yards, too, and Sims in particular did some good things in the run blocking game to pave the way for Howard and Cohen. Shaheen still had a few blocking issues, but his contributions in the passing game — like his 16-yard reception on a fourth-and-three play — more than covered for them. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: A-

There were still too many penalties (four) on this group, but the run blocking was solid — even without Kyle Long — and one of the two Bengals’ sacks was more the fault of Trubisky than the offensive line. The Bears averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and this unit had plenty to do with it.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

The absences of Eddie Goldman and Mitch Unrein were noticeable in this unit, and the Bengals were able to make sure Akiem Hicks (one tackle) didn’t make much of an impact. But Roy Robertson-Harris did notch a sack, and as with every other defensive unit, this grade is boosted by the Bengals managing only seven points and 234 yards on 53 plays (4.4 yards/play). 

LINEBACKERS: A-

Danny Trevathan led the Bears with 10 tackles and broke up a pass, while Nick Kwiatkoski broke up a pair of passes as well. And the Bears’ ragtag group of outside linebackers — missing Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young — turned in two sacks, with Lamarr Houston and Howard Jones accounting for those two. 

SECONDARY: A

Kyle Fuller had another outstanding game, with Pro Football Focus putting together these numbers:

Eddie Jackson picked off a deflected pass and impressively stripped A.J. Green near the sideline for a fumble the Bears recovered. What kept this unit from an A+ was Deon Bush getting beat by Brandon LaFell on a corner route for the Bengals’ only touchdown of the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Mike Nugent missed a PAT — his first kick in a Bears uniform — but rebounded to connect on a pair of chip-shot field goals from 34 and 27 yards. Cohen admitted he was a little too passive in not fielding some punts, which led to the Bears being backed up a couple of tomes. And John Timu and Marcus Cooper were both guilty of holding penalties on returns, with Cooper’s coming on a punt on which Cohen called for a fair catch. 

COACHING: B

Give John Fox and Dowell Loggains some credit for opening up the Bears’ offense and scheming to expand, not maintain, a lead in the second half. Still, why Fox challenged a play on which Trubisky clearly threw beyond the line of scrimmage was a head-scratcher, and the Bears were heavily penalized (10 for 74 yards), though the play of both the offense and defense was enough to cover for that sloppiness. 

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio took the podium at Halas Hall on Thursday after coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fielded questions for about 30 minutes, and began his press confernece with a classic quip. 

“Alright, let’s continue this lovefest,” Fangio said. 

For a Bears team coming off a 5-11 season — the fourth consecutive double-digit loss season for the franchise — there’s been plenty of positivity pinging around Halas Hall since Nagy was hired last week. But Fangio showed up with a reality check on Thursday, at least as it relates to the defense he’ll return to coach for a fourth year. 

“There’s no doubt strides were made," Fangio said. “Not enough. I think it’s a wrong picture to paint that the defense was great and the rest of the team wasn’t. We were 5-11. 

“If we were a great defense we’d have more than five wins. There’s a lot of room for improvement there — a lot — and we need to do that.”

The Bears opted for continuity in enticing Fangio to return to coach their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense and 9th in points last year, but was 14th in defensive DVOA. This was a good, not great defense that won the Bears a few games (most notably, the 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers) but struggled at times, too. 

A great defense? That’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars, which on the back of one of the league’s best pass rushes and secondaries has vaulted Blake Bortles into the AFC Championship game. A great defense wouldn’t have let Brett Hundley post a 110.8 passer rating against it in Week 10; a great defense wouldn’t have allowed Matthew Stafford to scythe through it on two occasions. 

And that Fangio — who’s generally honest and brings a no-B.S. attitude to his press conferences — acknowledged that eight and a half months before the 2018 season starts was refreshing to hear. It’s almost been easy to forget the Bears lost their 11th and final game of the 2017 season less than three weeks ago with a new, young, offensive-minded coach stepping into Halas Hall. 

There will be plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball — possibly an entirely different receiver corps than was regularly on the field in 2017 — but the defense will have some consistency, starting with Fangio and extending to his defensive coaches, who he said Thursday he expects to be back. This is a group that needs more talent at edge rusher and cornerback, Fangio is more concerned with developing the guys who are already here — and were why this was a “good” defense last year. 

“Guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. 

“So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

And that approach — moreso than his lengthy experience in the NFL — is why retaining Fangio made so much sense for the Bears. Nobody knows the strengths and flaws of the Bears’ defense better than Fangio; and keeping Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Jackson etc., in the same scheme with the same coordinator and same coaches gives this Bears’ defense the best chance to go from being “good” to great. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?