Bears

Bears play 'designer' game in mauling of Bengals, now what does it mean for the big picture?

Bears play 'designer' game in mauling of Bengals, now what does it mean for the big picture?

A week after playing the kind of football game that gets coaches fired, the Bears almost inexplicably produced one that ranks as exactly the type their organization has wanted to see from players and coaches in a season on the employment brink for John Fox.

The Bears’ 33-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals was an afternoon rife with signs of progress, particularly notable because it came from a team with nothing to play for and came at the expense of a team that actually did have at least a mathematical something at stake.

Not to even remotely say that this was a game that changed the job forecast for Fox, which still has time to play out, only that if the Bears somehow manage to string together a closing four games like this… well, no point getting that hypothetical at this juncture. But one team played on Sunday like it wanted its coach gone and the other like it wants its coach back, and they weren’t as expected.

(Just for sake of argument: If the Bears now play this kind of game against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, how will you feel about John Fox coaching Chicago for the fourth and final year of his contract? Just sayin’…)

All of this came at the expense of a Cincinnati team missing virtually the entire back end of its defense and with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins hobbled. But this is what you are supposed to do to a shaky, shaken team, and it is what the Bears didn’t do to a San Francisco or a Green Bay. You can only beat the team in front of you that day and the Bears, for the third time against a team from the powerful AFC North division this year, did that. Emphatically.

What the organization does with this in evaluating Fox is still weeks away and not really worth the analysis exercise right now. But it was a statement game, one where the Bears played well and hard for 60 minutes, for any number of individuals, beginning with Mitch Trubisky as the rookie evinced the kind of development that the franchise has prayed for from its young quarterback ever since GM Ryan Pace deemed him worth trading up on draft day to ensure landing.

Call this a “designer” game – a 100-yard rusher (Jordan Howard with two touchdowns and 147 yards, pushing him past 1,000 yards for the season), a 100-yard receiver (Kendall Wright, 10 catches for 107 yards, and a quarterback who both managed the game and shredded the defense (Trubisky, 25 for 32, 271 yards, a touchdown pass and touchdown run, no interceptions and a rating of 112.4.

The 482 yards of offense are the second-highest output (after 522 in a 2016 loss at Indianapolis) in the Fox era.

The defense collected two takeaways (an interception and fumble grab by rookie safety Eddie Jackson) while the offense had zero turnovers. That second part has been of marginal value this season, with the Bears an undistinguished 2-2 in games when they’ve managed no giveaways. But ball security has been a prime directive for Trubisky since coaches turned the game over to him and Sunday’s effort left him with just those four interceptions in 225 attempts, a pick percentage of 1.8 and completion percentage climbing to 58 percent.

Game plan pyrotechnics

The game plan and result do make for an interesting dichotomy for critics. The Bears have to run the football to win, and yet when O-coordinator Dowell Loggains runs the football, he’s pilloried for being too conservative and shackling Trubisky.

This time Loggains was able to formulate and direct a game plan that had balance – 38 runs, 34 pass plays – and a complete spectrum of formations that included a wildcat run by Tarik Cohen, a read-option touchdown run by Trubisky, and passes to open six of the Bears 11 possessions.

The Bears piled up 256 yards in the first half after a combined total of 287 for the last two games. 

What had to be concerning is that, while Trubisky had thrown just four interceptions over the span of his first eight starts, he also had connected on just five touchdown passes (six if the Zach Miller non-catch travesty is included). And as WBBM and WSCR observer Zach Zaidman compiled, the offense had gotten into the red zone only nine – nine – times in eight games under Trubisky.

This time the Bears drove into the red zone five times and came away with points three of those times. Add in Howard’s first touchdown run for 21 yards and the overall is the sort of sustained consistent offense that wins football games.

The Bears didn’t go a possession without notching at least one first down until deep into the fourth quarter when they were up 33-7.

Six different players had plays gaining 10 yards or more and the Bears had 10 plays longer than 15 yards. Last week, the Bears had one play longer than 15 yards. Against Philadelphia, three. Against Detroit, one of the only three other times they scored 20-plus points this season, six.

“We put the past behind us and [focused on] one drive at a time,” Trubisky said. “We had a great week of practice, and I feel like that just trickled [down] throughout the week with positive energy. The guys just came together and we were able to make a lot of plays today.

“We weren’t going to dwell on the past and what we didn’t do. We can learn from our mistakes, and it allowed us to be more effective today.”

And it all means…what?

The positives speak for themselves, but mean precious little if this game, with its largest Bears winning margin since they beat Jacksonville by 38 and Tennessee by 31 in 2012, isn’t followed by another progress game, then another, and then one more at Minnesota.

The Bears have delivered false positives on multiple occasions this season, in the form of wins over Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Carolina, none of which ultimately meant much of anything because of what followed. The Carolina win was followed by five straight losses that rocked the franchise just as it felt as if a turnaround might be starting.

Now, no one really knows what to expect.

“What’s been frustrating for me and the coaches is that a lot of us have had our day in the sun, but to see young guys come in, and work hard, and not reap those benefits,” Fox said. “I thought Mitch Trubisky played very well last week [vs. San Francisco]. When you don’t experience the end result that’s a ‘W,’ it’s hard to put much into that. I’ve seen him grow every week he’s been out there since all the way back to Minnesota.

“It’s just kind of nice to see some of those young guys experience the benefits of all that hard work.”

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

7-27kevinwhite.jpg
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

bears-schedule-2018.jpg
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