Bears

The Bears need to establish a template for Mitch Trubisky

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AP

The Bears need to establish a template for Mitch Trubisky

The bye week of every NFL season is a time of intense self-scouting, more in depth than the weekly self-critiquing that is a constant in the NFL. Four games into the NFL career of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the Bears have something of a philosophical decision to make with their rookie quarterback.

One quarterback ideal in the current NFL is the one who can operate at max production from the pocket, with the ability to turn a broken play into a broken defense when he gets outside the pocket, whether by design, or induced by pressure. Brett Favre, Joe Montana, John Elway, Aaron Rodgers, a few that come to mind.

Trubisky already has established himself as able to move, able to throw on the move, and able to operate in an offense designed around more of his skill set than simply his right arm. Critics of the Bears’ game-planning and play-calling derided the Bears for not doing more with Trubisky’s mobile talents even as the Bears were winning two of his first three starts.

But much of life is about balance (thank you, Mr. Miyagi), and ultimately that is the foundation of a successful offense. Within that context, the Bears need to establish, and likely already have, a template for the kind of quarterback they want Trubisky to become.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning always thrived in the pocket. Favre, Rodgers and Montana by their own assessments have flourished in chaos. All will wind up in the Hall of Fame. All have had significant injuries, whether pocket-dweller or man-on-the-move.

Mobile Trubisky, but be careful

Will defenses seek to flush Trubisky out of the pocket and keep him in it? And where will the Bears most often want him to be? How mobile do the Bears really want Trubisky to be “on purpose?”

A couple of thoughts, though:

Trubisky can move. No negative there. But his mobility hasn’t been offense-altering and coaches may have good reason for not designing a lot around that mobility, because the NFL may be onto him.

Trubisky averaged 9.6 yards per carry in preseason; his average is down at 7.3 yards per carry in his regular-season starts, and that includes a 46-yard scamper against the New Orleans Saints. Without that, Trubisky is picking up 4.6 yards per run.

Consistent with that, Trubisky was sacked once every 19 drop-backs in preseason, obviously going against lesser defensive talent. He now is being dropped once every 8.5 times he sets up to pass.

Trubisky, at this early point in his NFL career, has been critiqued as being more accurate on the move and/or outside the pocket. This is not necessarily a good thing whatsoever; the last Bears quarterback with that sort of seeming contradiction was Rick Mirer, who was demonstrably better on the fly (insert caustic comment here).

Nor is it necessarily true, at least in Trubisky’s mind.

“We had a higher [completion] percentage in play-action passes and [quarterback] keepers,” Trubisky said. “A lot of the incompletions were throwaways but we can just be higher percentage in those areas and continue to be better on third down. But we’ve been pretty good on drop backs and we just need to keep getting better in the red area to finish with points.”

He is a rookie with all of 13 college starts, about one-third the number that Deshaun Watson had at Clemson, and 572 total college passes, fewer than half the number thrown by Pat Mahomes at Texas Tech — the two quarterbacks his own selection preceded theirs in the 2017 NFL Draft. So the understanding was that Trubisky’s learning curve could well be a little longer or steeper than the typical rookie.

But he is clearly learning, what works and what doesn’t.

Ball-security concept sinking in

Coaches have drilled into Trubisky the importance of keeping the football in Bears hands and no one else’s. He has appeared to get it since before he replaced Mike Glennon, back in preseason when he nearly unseated Glennon outright as the Week 1 starter.

“Just look from game to game that he’s started,” head coach John Fox said. “We’re 2-2 in the quarter [of the ’17 season] that he’s been our starting quarterback, and I think we’ve done a better job of ball security and…we’ll just see where that takes us."

Trubisky threw zero interceptions in 53 preseason attempts even while seeing some pressure (sacked three times). He has thrown two picks in 80 regular season attempts while taking 11 sacks and throwing more than a half-dozen far out of harm’s way. Colleague JJ Stankevitz puts Trubisky in context with other rookie passers, citing QB coach Dave Ragone’s observation that some of ball-security behavior is innate and some is learning progressions and decision-making.

Jay Cutler never appeared to make ball security the priority it needed to be; his interception rates too often were north of 3, normally a tipping point for quarterback play. Favre can disprove some of the rule, but complementary football begins with an offense not putting its defense in difficult situations with turnovers. Only two teams reached the 2016 postseason with quarterbacks throwing INT’s at a rate higher than 2.7 percent.

Priority: Accuracy

Accuracy is prized nearly as much as ball security (they are not unconnected, obviously), and this so far is a work in progress.

Trubisky has completed a very, very modest 47.5 percent of his passes through his four starts. In fairness, however, he threw six passes away in the win over the Baltimore Ravens, a clear indication of movement along the learning curve from the previous week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings when a forced throw in the closing minutes resulted in an interception that turned a potential winning Bears drive into a Vikings victory.

Just for sake of a meaningless what-if, had Trubisky completed four of those six intentional throwaways, his theoretical completion percentage improves to 52.5 — not the august 67.9 percent he completed in preseason or his 67.5 percent at North Carolina. Neither mean anything at the NFL level, except that his accuracy was a major reason for his evaluation as the top quarterback in the 2017 draft by more than only the Bears. His coaches may have installed a level-one priority for ball security but that does not compromise a natural passing accuracy that Trubisky has demonstrated his entire football life.

“We watched all the passes [last] week – all the red zone and two-minute and play action, every single pass we’ve had this year to see how we can get better and how we can get a higher completion percentage and too see how we can be more efficient all the way around,” Trubisky said. “We’ve been analyzing and self-scouting our own offense to see where we need to get better and at and what we need to improve.”

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

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Associated Press

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

The report on Kevin White from this week’s voluntary veteran minicamp was that Matt Nagy thought he looked “sharp,” played “fast” and, most importantly, was healthy. But that doesn’t mean the Bears will no longer have some difficult conversations with, and about, their 2015 first-round pick. 

The Bears have until May 3 to decide whether or not to pick up White’s fifth-year option, which would be worth $13.9 million, according to CBS Sports. If Ryan Pace wasn’t willing to commit $9.6 million over two years for Cameron Meredith over concerns about his 2017 knee injury, chances are he won’t be willing to commit more money than that for a guy in White who’s only played in five games over three pro seasons. The prudent thing for Pace to do would be to decline to pick up White’s option, setting him up for unrestricted free agency 11 months from now. 

Depending on what transpires in next week’s NFL Draft and then through OTAs and training camp, White still may have to earn his way on to the Bears’ 53-man roster, too. But that's looking too far into the future for a guy who’s suffered three serious injuries and has struggled to stack good practices when he's been healthy. 

“Sometimes you’re going to take a step backwards to go two steps forward — that’s kind of where he’s at,” Nagy said. “He’s a kid (whose) confidence hasn’t been where it needs to be. But what I can tell you is that from what I’ve seen so far, if I was somebody that was coming into this building and facility that didn’t know anything about him, you’d never in a million years know it from what we’ve seen recently.”

White made a handful of good plays during this week’s non-padded practices, for what it’s worth. The Bears need to see White continue to flash here and there on a regular basis, and then build up to having consistently solid practices throughout the offseason program and into the summer. The fresh start he’s afforded with a new coaching staff and new offense could benefit him, especially from a mental standpoint.

“His confidence is there,” linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who’s been a teammate of White’s since their days at West Virginia, said. “He’s ready to get back on the field.”

This sort simmering positivity about White around Halas Hall is fine, but it’s only April, and nobody is — or should be — getting ahead of themselves. Yes, the prospect of a healthy and effective White is mouth-watering, and would be tantamount to the Bears having two first-round picks this year (running back Tarik Cohen said the offense could be “dominant” with White and Robinson as outside threats). 

But Nagy is taking a narrow view of White’s outlook, one that won’t expand to the bigger picture until — for better or for worse — sometime during training camp, most likely. This is going to be a long process for the Bears to get the most they can out of White, and then they’ll have to hope the 25-year-old doesn’t suffer another cruelly-unlucky injury. 

“If any of us were in that situation and you have a fresh start — forget about the whys of what happened, forget about that,” Nagy said. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is about right now. He’s young. He has a big ceiling. 

“Now, we can try to do it as much as we can as coaches and try to pull it out of him, but he’s got to work hard. He’s got to put time in the playbook. He’s got to put in the extra work after practice when he can. And then when the game comes, he’s got to make plays. When you do that, his confidence will slowly get better and better. 

“The physical tools, forget about it. He’s got all that. It’s just a matter of him mentally, right now, seeing it happen and stacking them play by play in each practice.”

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

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USA TODAY

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

With new coach Matt Nagy in place, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky starting Year 2 from the get-go, and a cadre of offensive upgrades, expectations are exponentially higher than they were through the decline and fall of the John Fox regime, which was intended to be a turnaround and bridge to a culture and performance change from the nadir under Marc Trestman.

But the reality is that the Bears could very well be among the most improved teams in the NFL and still finish last in the NFC North for the fifth straight year and under their third different head coach.

Improving on the 5-11 of 2017 will not be all that assured, either. Of their 16 games, six are against teams that reached last postseason. Two each of those are against the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers missed nine games last year, something that isn’t likely to repeat, making the Packers their usual force – and the Bears couldn’t beat Green Bay even with Brett Hundley in for Rodgers.

The Packers get Rodgers back. The Lions got a new coach. The Vikings got a new quarterback. If you stand still, you’re slipping backwards.

The schedule formula has given the Bears an unintended standard for gauging whether they have gained or lost ground on the league. Half of the games on the 2018 schedule are against teams played by the Bears in 2017 – Detroit (2), Green Bay (2), Minnesota (2), San Francisco and Tampa Bay – and the Bears were 0-8 in those games last season. If Nagy and Pace don’t improve on that…

With game times after Week 4 subject to flex scheduling:

Week 1: at Green Bay (7-9) Sunday, Sept. 9, 7:20 p.m.

The only two times the Bears have beaten the Packers since 2010 have been in Green Bay but Aaron Rodgers has become to the Bears of the last decade what Brett Favre was to the years before Lovie Smith.

Moon’s call: L

Week 2: Seattle Seahawks (9-7) Monday, Sept. 17, 7:15 p.m.

The monster team that came within a TD of reaching three consecutive Super Bowls has let go of defining members (Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman) and has injury issues hanging over others. A team at a fork in its road.

Moon’s call: W

Week 3: at Arizona Cardinals (8-8) Sunday, Sept. 23, 3:25 p.m.

Bruce Arians retired after averaging nearly 10 wins over five AZ seasons. Steve Wilks is a defensive coach and becomes the latest to try winning with QB Sam Bradford, who’s missed 42 games over the last five seasons.

Moon’s call: W

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) Sunday, Sept. 30, Noon

Bucs’ season start was disrupted by Hurricane Irma but not enough to prevent their blowing out Bears in a delayed game one. Bears and Bucs are meeting for fifth straight year and Bucs have won the last two by 26 and 22 points. Trade for Jason Pierre-Paul should help “D” but Jameis Winston needs to step up to elite.

Moon’s call: W

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: at Miami Dolphins (6-10) Sunday, Oct. 14, Noon

Jay Cutler won’t be back, but Adam Gase hired Dowell Loggains as OC and Jeremiah Washburn as O-line coach so Bears-‘Fins matches up a lot of young offensive coaches with a Chicago connection. Miami getting QB Ryan Tannehill back from ACL tear remains a question.

Moon’s call: W

Week 7: New England Patriots (13-3) Sunday, Oct. 21, Noon

Super Bowl hangover? Maybe. Pats just escaped Jacksonville in AFC title game and then were soundly beaten by Eagles in Super Bowl. And internal scratchiness may help opponents. But Tom Brady still tops 4,500 yards. Trading away Jimmy Garoppolo and Brandin Cooks netted high draft picks that Pats need hits with to stay on top.

Moon’s call: L

Week 8: New York Jets (5-11) Sunday, Oct. 28, Noon

Like Bears, Jets have struggled mightily to get QB position right after two straight 5-11 seasons that have Todd Bowles on the coaching bubble. Jets re-signed Josh McCown and will try ex-Bears assistant Jeremy Bates as OC.

Moon’s call: W

Week 9: at Buffalo Bills (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 4, Noon

What Buffalo does from No. 12 in this draft order will be noteworthy, with Bills holding five picks in top 65, in dire need of a quarterback after dealing Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron, but having upgraded front seven with Trent Murphy for edge rush and Star Lotulelei for interior strength.

Moon’s call: L

Week 10: Detroit Lions (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 11, Noon

From a one-time patsy, Lions have won nine of their last 10 vs. the Bears, six of the last seven decided by six or fewer points as part of a disturbing Bears trend toward not making plays on offense or stops at tipping points. Detroit prioritized keeping Ziggy Ansah’s pass rush, although he has just 2 sacks and 10 tackles in seven games vs. the Bears while muscling up the defensive interior with Sylvester Williams and the run game with LeGarrette Blount.

Moon’s call: W

Week 11: Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Nov. 18, Noon

“Minnesota Miracle” was THE highlight of ’17 for a team that came up a game short of the Super Bowl. Of concern for the NFC North,  a 13-3 team upgraded at its most vital position: The Kirk Cousins Era is upon the Bears and the division. Cousins is 2-0 career vs. Bears, and an elite Vikings “D” got better with addition of DT Sheldon Richardson.

Moon’s call: L

Week 12: at Detroit Lions (9-7) Thursday, Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m.

What the Lions will be under new defense-based head coach Matt Patricia is anyone’s guess. But the Bears have lost five straight in Ford Field and haven’t won there since Lovie Smith’s final year. Matthew Stafford is becoming the poor-man’s Brett Favre for Bears purposes: Stafford hasn’t missed a game vs. anyone in seven years, is 9-1 vs. Bears over last five years and has passer ratings of 115.0 or better in four of his last Bears games.

Moon’s call: L

Week 13: at New York Giants (3-13) Sunday, Dec. 2, Noon

With the No. 2 draft pick, Giants widely expected to grab either RB Saquon Barkley or DE Bradley Chubb, either projected as impact rookies. But NY grappling with declining Eli Manning and four losing seasons out of the last five, double-digit losses in three of last four.

Moon’s call: W

Week 14: Los Angeles Rams (11-5) Sunday, Dec. 9, Noon

The runaway NFL darlings of ’17 responded to a playoff upset by going all-in with signing Ndamukong Suh, and trades for CB’s Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib for a “D” already boasting Aaron Donald. QB Jared Goff played like a first-overall pick and Rams added Brandin Cooks to on NFL’s highest-scoring offense.

Moon’s call: L

Week 15: Green Bay Packers (7-9) Sunday, Dec. 16, Noon

The Packers were needy enough to make a run at Kyle Fuller to improve their secondary, and decided Jordy Nelson didn’t have enough good football left to warrant keeping him. But the Bears couldn’t beat the Pack with Brett Hundley, Aaron Rodgers is now back, and he has a motivated TE Jimmy Graham to throw to.

Moon’s call: L

Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers (6-10) Sunday, Dec. 23, 3:05 p.m.

Two teams with coaching upheaval this decade. Bears-49ers meet for fifth straight year and sixth in last seven, Bears under their fourth head coach in that span. Another chance to vet GM Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitch Trubisky rather than trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, who had ‘Niners 5-0 once he became the starter.

Moon’s call: L

Week 17: at Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Dec. 30, Noon

Bears haven’t won in Minnesota since ’11 and last three L’s there were by 21, 28 and 13 points, as Vikings have been on the rise and Bears on the decline both during recent seasons and as competitive franchises. Bears desperately need prove-it road “W” to start regaining relevance in NFC North. Bears have ended three of the last four seasons with losses in Minnesota.

Moon’s call: L

Season prediction: 7-9