Bears

Bears grades: Mixed bag for Trubisky, coaching staff after loss to New Orleans

Bears grades: Mixed bag for Trubisky, coaching staff after loss to New Orleans

QUARTERBACKS: C-

Sunday was a mixed bag for Mitchell Trubisky, with some good throws like his 45-yarder to Tre McBride and what would’ve been a 25-yard touchdown to Zach Miller had it not been overturned on replay. His 46-yard scramble was an outstanding athletic play against a Saints blitz. But he was inaccurate on other throws and nearly was picked off twice on the Bears’ only touchdown drive of the game midway through the fourth quarter. The Bears, ideally, wouldn’t have had Trubisky throw 32 times, and his 43.7 completion percentage and 46.9 passer rating was what came of that. Trubisky’s decision-making was better than it was against Carolina, but he still missed some open receivers. New Orleans threw plenty of defensive looks at Trubisky he hand’t seen yet, which made things more difficult, and he only completed five of 15 passes when under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Jordan Howard broke a 50-yard run that got the Bears outside the shadow of their own end zone and led to a Connor Barth field goal, but he averaged 2.4 yards per carry on his other 22 runs. Explosive plays are hugely important but Howard struggled to break tackles, and probably won’t want to re-watch being brought down by safety Kenny Vaccaro inside the 10-yard line in the first quarter. His drop of what should’ve been a touchdown in the fourth quarter was poor, too. Tarik Cohen said he needed to have better attention to detail on some of his routes, and he managed just one catch on three targets for six yards. Cohen did record his first career rushing touchdown when he leaped over the line in the fourth quarter. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

McBride had three catches for 92 yards to lead the team in receptions and yards, flashing as a downfield threat with good vision with the ball in his hands a few times. But this group again struggled to create separation for Trubisky on a consistent basis: Kendall Wright had two catches for 23 yards on eight targets, while Tanner Gentry wasn’t open the only time Trubisky targeted him. 

TIGHT ENDS: D+

This grade probably would’ve been higher had Zach Miller’s 25-yard touchdown — on which he suffered a dislocated leg — not been overturned by replay officials. Fair or not, that left this unit with a collective four catches for 24 yards on nine targets. Adam Shaheen couldn’t get open when Trubisky looked his way in the end zone on third and goal early in the second quarter, leading to a field goal. Dion Sims had three catches for 15 yards, and without Miller, he, Shaheen and Daniel Brown (one catch, nine yards) will need to make more of an impact in the passing game going forward.  

OFFENSIVE LINE: C-

The losses of Kyle Long (hand) and Cody Whitehair (elbow) during the game hurt, and Trubisky was under pressure on 18 of his 37 drop-backs during the game, according to Pro Football Focus. This group generated a decent push for Howard early but struggled as the game went on, with Josh Sitton having to fill in as the emergency center. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Akiem Hicks had a sack, a tackle for a loss and two hurries as his excellent play continues in his return to New Orleans. Jonathan Bullard critically stripped Mark Ingram in one of the bigger plays of the game, while Eddie Goldman was solid again. Mitch Unrein didn’t record any disruptive stats but his pressure helped knock Drew Brees to the turf, leading to Leonard Floyd’s sack. This wasn’t the D-line’s best game of the year, but 19 of Ingram and Alvin Kamara’s 26 runs went for five yards or fewer, which reflects well on this bunch. 

LINEBACKERS: B

Danny Trevathan again played at a high level, leading the Bears with 13 tackles and adding a tackle for a loss. Christian Jones had seven tackles and recovered a fumble, while Leonard Floyd had a sack, hurry and pass break-up (on the sack, yes, he merely touched an on-the-ground Brees, but his athletic hurdle on the play gave him the opportunity to get that easy sack). Keeping the explosive Kamara to 28 yards on eight carries is a nod to this group, though he did have three catches for 48 yards — including a 34-yard back-shoulder grab with Floyd in coverage. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C+

The Bears saw some uncharacteristically poor tackling from this group, with Bryce Callahan whiffing on bringing down Brandon Coleman on a 54-yard play in the first quarter and Adrian Amos whiffing on a tackle (it’s worth noting he did make an excellent tackle, holding onto Ingram after a screen pass for a loss of yards in the first quarter). Eddie Jackson couldn’t make a play on an ill-advised Brees deep ball that wound up being a 53-yard completion to Ted Ginn Jr. On one hand, not allowing Brees to throw a touchdown was an accomplishment, on the other, he completed 23 of 28 passes, though plenty of those were short, safer concepts designed to limit the effectiveness of the Bears’ pass rush. Amos deserves a ton of credit for forcing an Ingram fumble late in the game that gave the Bears an opportunity to win the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Connor Barth missed a 48-yard attempt and is now seven for 11 this year, which puts his job in jeopardy heading into the bye week. Fuller lining up offsides on a Will Lutz attempt was a brutal mistake that directly led to the Saints scoring seven points instead of three on their opening drive, and long snapper Andrew DePaola was whistled for a false start in the second quarter. Saving this grade: Tarik Cohen’s 42-yard kick return with the Bears down by eight inside the two-minute warning, which also had a 15-yard horse collar penalty tacked on to it. Had the Bears been successful in their last-ditch comeback, that return would’ve been looked at as being critical. 

COACHING: C-

Fuller — who replaced Sherrick McManis on field goal defense — lining up offsides was a brutal penalty that didn’t reflect well on him or special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, and that flag resulted in the Saints getting seven points on their first possession instead of three. Long snapper Andrew DePaola was whistled for a false start on a Pat O’Donnell punt in the second quarter, too. Some of Dowell Loggains’ playcalls deserve scrutiny, like having Trubisky pass on third-and-one and fourth-and-one when down five around the two-minute warning. It’s worth noting, though, that Loggains schemed to allow Trubisky to get the ball out quickly: He was 9/19 on passes thrown within 2 1/2 seconds of receiving the snap and 5/14 on passes thrown 2.6 seconds or later, per Pro Football Focus. It was disappointing to see the Bears come out flat to start the second half, too, with an uninspired three-and-out on the opening possession of the third quarter. But defensively, Vic Fangio’s adjustments helped keep a lid on the Saints’ offense in the second half, with New Orleans managing six points in the final 30 minutes (three of which came after Trubisky’s late turnover on downs in Bears territory). 

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.