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). 

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

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USA TODAY

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess... but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

“Bridge” results

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“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.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman.