Bears

Bears grades: Mitchell Trubisky does his job, special teamers do not

Bears grades: Mitchell Trubisky does his job, special teamers do not

The story of this game was the Bears had control of the game until two massive special teams gaffes allowed the Ravens to get back into the game, so that's what plays out in these grades:

QUARTERBACKS: B

The Bears didn’t ask Mitchell Trubisky to do much, with the rookie only throwing 16 passes in his second career start. Trubisky completed eight of those attempt for 113 yards and threw a 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims. More importantly, Trubisky didn’t throw an interception. He did lose a fumble on a sack-strip where he said he moved off his first progression too quickly, which caused him to not see a blitzing Lardarius Webb. But even while executing a scaled-back gameplan on the road, Trubisky still made a few impressive plays: His athletic recovery of a high Cody Whitehair snap prevented Baltimore from scoring a touchdown, and his 18-yard completion to Kendall Wright set up Connor Barth’s walk-off field goal. 

RUNNING BACKS: B+

Jordan Howard was excellent, carrying a career high 36 times for 167 yards, with 53 of those coming on a 53-yard run in overtime that set up the Bears’ win. But even before that, Howard was running hard, showing good vision and, for the second straight game, attacked the edge well. Tarik Cohen gained 34 yards on 14 carries and threw a 21-yard touchdown to Zach Miller that was set up by repeated runs to the edge where Baltimore’s safeties crashed toward the line of scrimmage. Dinging this grade enough to not be an A: Cohen losing a fumble late in the third quarter that turned into a Ravens field goal, and Howard inexplicably running out of bounds to stop the clock with 23 seconds left. Howard’s lucky the Ravens didn’t make that count, a la Marion Barber against the Denver Broncos in 2011?

WIDE RECEIVERS: D-

It’s probably more of a coincidence that the Bears barely used their wide receivers in their two wins (four targets, two catches, 26 yards vs. Baltimore; four targets, one catch, nine yards vs. Pittsburgh), but it was another quiet day for this group. Kendall Wright is clearly the Bears’ best receiver, and by a percentage of Trubisky’s attempts, he was targeted on about 19 percent of them (Sims led with four targets). But Tanner Gentry (one target, no receptions) and Tre McBride (no targets) weren’t a factor in the gameplan, and McBride was guilty of an illegal block above the waist (though the Bears still scored on that drive). One other note: Wright, in addition to his two catches for 36 yards, delivered a punishing block on longtime Ravens star linebacker Terrell Suggs. The Bears were pushed around by Suggs a bit on Sunday, so they probably enjoyed that one.

TIGHT ENDS: B-

Sims and Miller were the recipients of the Bears’ two offensive touchdowns on Sunday, with Sims’ 27-yard grab an impressive display of strength to rip Trubisky’s pass away from Ravens safety Tony Jefferson. But Sims struggled in the run game against Suggs, who soundly beat him for losses of six and seven yards on a pair of plays. With two minutes left, the Bears went with Sims, Miller and Adam Shaheen (as well as fullback Michael Burton) and couldn’t pave a way for Jordan Howard to convert a third-and-one, which preceded Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return score. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The Bears’ offensive line largely did a good job blocking for Howard and Cohen, but Whitehair had two more bad snaps (one didn’t count because of a timeout) that nearly cost the Bears. That’s become a legitimate concern in his game. Bobby Massie (holding) was the only offensive lineman flagged for a penalty on Sunday, which was a nice improvement from Monday night.  

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+

Another week, another dominant game from Akiem Hicks, who bullied third-string Ravens right guard Jermaine Eluemunor and recorded his fifth sack of the year while doing well against the run. Eddie Goldman notched six tackles and played one of his best games of the year, too. Mitch Unrein made a key play in overtime to hold Javorius Allen to two yards on second-and-five in overtime, and on the next play, the defensive line got good pressure on Joe Flacco to force an incompletion. The Ravens punted, and the Bears won the game on their next drive. 

LINEBACKERS: B+

Danny Trevathan made his presence known after his one-week suspension with six tackles and a sack, and Christian Jones — outside of an unnecessary roughness penalty that looked like a questionable flag — forced a fumble (which Trevathan recovered) and tied for the team lead with eight tackles. A Trevathan-Jones inside linebacker pairing looks like it can sustain itself until Nick Kwiatkoski returns, possibly by the end of the month. Pernell McPhee notched a sack in his return to Baltimore and drew a holding penalty in the third quarter. Leonard Floyd didn’t show up in the box score but he did draw a holding penalty in the first quarter with a good pass rush. 

SECONDARY: A

Adrian Amos, knowing a lot of the attention would be on him, said after the game he’d give the game ball to Kyle Fuller. But both players deserve kudos for their work on Sunday: Amos tied for the team lead with eight tackles and returned his first career interception 90 yards for a touchdown; Fuller played the part of a shutdown corner, allowing five catches on 15 targets for only 43 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, with three pass break-ups (Amos had two PBUs, too). Fuller and Amos' tackling was solid, too. Bryce Callahan returned his second quarter interception 52 yards to the Baltimore 20-yard line, which set up Cohen’s touchdown pass to Miller. A ding here: Eddie Jackson took a poor angle on Alex Collins, allowing the Ravens running back to pick up 30 yards instead of about 12. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Maybe Bobby Rainey’s 96-yard kick return shouldn’t have counted, but that it came down to whether or not Josh Bellamy grazed Rainey’s shin is still a problem. And Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard game-tying punt return was inexcusable — yes, the Bears didn’t have special teams ace Sherrick McManis on the field for it due to an injury, but that cannot happen in that situation of a game. Amos checked into a max protect look, and Pat O'Donnell's booming punt gave Campanaro plenty of room to return it. Cre'Von LeBlanc, replacing McManis, struggled in protection and fell down twice on the play. Those two return scores were enough to give this unit an F despite Connor Barth winning the game with a 40-yard field goal. 

COACHING: D+

The Bears put an emphasis on cleaning up the sloppy play that plagued this team for the first five weeks of the season, and for the first three quarters, it looked like that emphasis paid off. But the last 18 or so minutes of regulation were brutal, with the Bears fumbling three times (losing two), committing five penalties and squandering an 11-point advantage after Amos’ pick-six. Allowing a 77-yard punt return and successful two-point conversion when up eight is horrendous. Howard running out of bounds with 23 seconds left was a mental error that John Fox would’ve had to answer for had the Bears lost because of it. On the positive side of things here: Dowell Loggains’ gameplan, while conservative, wound up working against a solid Ravens defense, and he deserves credit for designing yet another successful trick play. Without those two special teams mistakes, the Bears' offense would've done what it needed to control the game. 

Takeaways from Bears ‘18 coordinators: Mitch Trubisky affecting more than offense, kudos to hiring process

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USA TODAY

Takeaways from Bears ‘18 coordinators: Mitch Trubisky affecting more than offense, kudos to hiring process

Head coach Matt Nagy conducted his first press conference on Thursday, introducing the coordinators for his three phases (Mark Helfrich, offense; Vic Fangio, defense; Chris Tabor, special teams). The session was predictably short on hard news, given that the hirings were just completed within the last several days, but some takeaways were there to be had, ranging from impressions to firmer indications of some directions the post-John Fox Bears may be trending:

Mitch Trubisky is going to be one seriously coached young quarterback.

Nagy is a former quarterback. Helfrich is a former quarterback. And the Bears are expected to bring back quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, per Brad Biggs over at the Tribune; “Rags,” as his charges have dubbed him, is a former quarterback.

Forgive Trubisky is he develops neck problems nodding at all the advice he might be getting from three guys who by their quarterback training pretty much have had to know everything about their offenses. But it is a whole lotta QB mindset swirling around the young man.

The coaching corps is still sorting out exactly who does what, which will involve the hands-on coaching of Trubisky. “We’re finishing out the staff,” Helfrich said, “and once we have that, then we’ll start to kind of slot in those responsibilities.”

This kind of concentration of coaches from a similar background is actually a little unusual, the current vogue notwithstanding. Carson Wentz did bloom in his year two under a Philadelphia Eagles staff topped by former quarterbacks Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. And the Los Angeles Rams loosed Jared Goff’s talents with an all-former-quarterback triumvirate in Sean McVay, OC Matt LaFleur and QB coach Greg Olson.

But just for comparison’s sake, back in Kansas City, Nagy mentor Andy Reid was an offensive lineman at BYU. Down in New Orleans, Sean Payton is a former quarterback, but OC Pete Carmichael went through college on a baseball scholarship and QB coach Joe Lombardi was a college tight end, so Drew Brees hasn’t been info-swamped. Bill Belichick was a center and tight end, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy was a college tight end and Case Keenum has flourished under former offensive lineman Pat Shurmur.

Helfrich has been on the job exactly one week and already has done some advanced evaluation of Trubisky, with an eye toward inevitable comparisons with Marcus Mariota, who starred at Oregon while Helfrich was a member of that staff.

“I see a lot [of similarities],” Helfrich said. “Mitchell has a tight release. He’s an accurate passer. They also have a couple things similar that makes them inaccurate. Their feet take them out of position. I sense from talking to a couple of offensive linemen, and this was unsolicited, when your offensive linemen are talking about how hard your quarterback works, that’s a great sign. So he needs to do that and continue to challenge himself and improve."

Football involves ego but not always to a fault

Keeping Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator may not rank yet with the organization retaining Buddy Ryan in that job when Mike Ditka was hired, but some intangibles make this a very big deal and reflect well on a spectrum of individuals.

GM Ryan Pace interviewed but didn’t elevate Fangio to the head-coaching slot. Yet whatever was said during the interview process didn’t alienate or create awkwardness for Fangio or whomever was hired ultimately. Point for Pace. Players made their feelings abundantly clear that they wanted Fangio back, and Fangio did not let a 20-year age difference between Nagy and himself ruin a good thing. Points to a lot of folks.

“I like our [players],” Fangio said. “I think I said it here during the season at a point that I really like coaching the group that we have. My favorite time during the week was being in front of them like I’m in front of you and going over practice watching the opponents’ tape, installing the plan for the week. I really liked being in front of our guys. They’re a good group collectively and as individuals and that part was appealing to me.”

And while Ditka and Ryan barely spoke, relationships in this administration have a different air.

“I am going to be in Vic’s office a lot,” Helfrich said. “He’s going to be annoyed by me trying to get in his head and know what might help me transition from college to the NFL. I would be an idiot if I didn’t walk 24 feet down and ask a guy like that.”

A “Trubisky factor” may be in the offing

Free agents have taken less money to sign elsewhere, as recently as last season. Alshon Jeffery wanted out of Chicago, not so much for the weather (Philadelphia is less than 2 degrees lower latitude than Chicago and not many degrees warmer on average) as for the Bears never getting quarterback and offensive consistency that could max out his talents.

Trubisky already has started to have a positive impact. “Mitchell is a part of the equation,” Fangio said of his own decision to return as coordinator. “Because I think he has a chance to be a really good player, regardless of who is coaching him. So that part was positive.”

And that’s from a defensive guy.

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, but 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 — more so 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.