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.”

For Kevin White’s brother, there’s no doubt: ‘When he turns it around, you’ll see’

white_bears.jpg
USA TODAY

For Kevin White’s brother, there’s no doubt: ‘When he turns it around, you’ll see’

MOBILE, Ala. — Kyzir White has been tempted to fire off an angry tweet or two over the last few years as his older brother — Bears wide receiver Kevin White — has been the subject of plenty of negativity on social media. 

“It’s definitely difficult for me,” White said. “If I see anything on Twitter, I kind of want to respond but I don’t because that’s my big brother at the end of the day. I don’t like people talking bad about him. I know what he brings to the table.”

White, like his older brother, played football at West Virginia, and is here in Mobile for the Senior Bowl hoping to begin to impress teams looking for a strong safety in April’s NFL Draft. The Bears drafted White’s older brother with the No. 7 overall pick three years ago, and three separate season-ending injuries (leg, collarbone) have limited White to 21 receptions and 193 yards in only five NFL games. 

In the coming weeks, the Bears will have to decide whether or not to exercise their fifth-year option on White. Given his lack of experience and injury history, there’s certainly a possibility that option is declined — though it’s unlikely the Bears would release him prior to the 2018 season. 

“(It’s) very frustrating,” Kyzir White said. “He’s very talented, the hardest worker I know. Just the cards he’s being dealt right now aren’t the best, so he just has to stick it out. 

“I just pretty much told him God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers. He’s obviously putting you through this for a reason. You can handle it. Just keep going, don’t listen to the outside noise, he’ll be good.”

The White brothers — Kizer, Kevin and Ka’Raun, a draft-eligible wide receiver who had over 1,000 for West Virginia in 2017, too  — are training together at EXOS in Phoenix, and Kyzir said Kevin is “doing real good” as he rehabs the broken collarbone that he suffered Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons in September. 

The Bears have White for one more year that could be a make-or-break season for his future in the league — but then again, the same could be said for cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was in a similar situation a year ago when his fifth-year option was declined. 

As for Kyzir, he has little doubt his brother can follow the same path and prove he can still be the guy in whom the Bears invested so much three years ago. 

“I know a lot of people got a lot of bad stuff to say, but when he turns it around, you’ll see,” White said. “They’ll see for sure.” 

Imperfect 10: First look at who might be available for Bears in NFL Draft

Imperfect 10: First look at who might be available for Bears in NFL Draft

With the NFL draft three months from this Friday, our Bears insiders JJ Stankevitz & Moon Mullin take their first look at the Top 10 picks and evaluate the Bears options with the 8th overall pick.

Quarterback picks could scramble the Top 10, which would work to the Bears' benefit by pushing talent at other positions down toward No. 8.

GM Ryan Pace has traded up to land each of his last two first-rounders (Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky) and he will have options to move up or down and draft whatever he didn’t secure in free agency.

1. Cleveland Browns 

Moon: Sam Darnold, QB USC

Browns failed to restart their franchise with a QB in ’17. Darnold has flaws and has been a turnover risk, but Browns can’t be picky at 0-16.

JJ: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Darnold seemed like a lock to be 2018’s No. 1 overall pick a year ago, but he went from a 31/9 TD/INT ratio in 2016 to a 26/13 TD/INT ratio in 2017. Still, the tools are there, and Cleveland could see in him the quarterback who finally leads them out of such a dark stretch of losing. 

2. New York Giants

Moon: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Eli may want to follow Brady and Brees in the longevity dream but Giants need a pipeline’er like Garoppolo was for Brady, and Rosen will need development.

JJ: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

How Darnold, Allen and Josh Rosen shake out is going to be fascinating to watch from now until late April, with two of the three likely going in the first two picks. Allen’s stock is high as draft evaluations begin, though that could change between now, the Combine, pro days and then the draft. 

3. Indianapolis Colts

Moon: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

GM Chris Ballard will want to give his new coach a jump start and a pass rusher on the fast Lucas Oil turf is a must for NFL’s 31st sack ‘D’ corps. Too high to take a flyer on LSU’s Arden Key with his concerns.

JJ: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

Chubb is an absolute menace who instantly would give the Colts’ lackluster pass rush a disruptive jolt. With quarterbacks going off the board in the first two selections, Chris Ballard gets his pick of the best players available — and goes with the best one. 

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston)

Moon: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Letting Joe Haden go hurt in more ways than one and Browns need a shutdown force in division with elite defenses, all except for the Browns’ (7 INT).

JJ: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The thought of pairing Barkley with Darnold is awfully enticing for a Browns team that hasn’t ranked in the top half of the league in points scored since 2008. Barkley is as complete a running back as you’ll find in the draft, rushing for 1,271 yards but also catching 54 passes for 632 yards at Penn State last year. 

5. Denver Broncos 

Moon: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Since Peyton Manning finished, Broncos have had woeful QB results, and bringing back Brock Osweiler was a low point among several (Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian), all playing in ’17.

JJ: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Nelson may be the best offensive player in this draft — and yes, that includes Barkley in this discussion — and has the physicality and athleticism to be a Pro Bowler from Year 1 to Year 10 in the league. Denver needs to address its quarterback situation, and they could opt for Rosen here, but Nelson seems too good to pass up in this spot. 

6. New York Jets 

Moon: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

RBs were devalued a few years ago. Not now, with 6 of top 8 rushers in playoffs, the need for a run game is back in vogue.

JJ: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The Jets could be the landing spot for whatever quarterback is squeezed out of the top two, with 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg looking like a bust at this point. The Jets need to do more to improve their offensive structure around the quarterback with a better offensive line and running game, and could look for Texas tackle Connor Williams here. But in a year that could be a bumper crop of quarterbacks, the Jets get theirs. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Moon: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward was a backfield mate of Marshon Lattimore and consistently solid. Bucs haven’t gone DL at No. 1 in 5 years and want to remain elite up front but Ward projects as day-one starter.

JJ: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick looks like the second-best defensive player in the draft, and the Bucs might be jumping for joy if he falls to them at No. 7. Fitzpatrick could be either a corner or a safety, but no matter where he is, he seems like a good bet to be great. 

8. Chicago Bears

Moon: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Too high to take a WR. OL coach Harry Hiestand developed Nelson, and protecting Mitch Trubisky is a franchise-grade mandate. Texas OT Connor Williams is the other option, with more experience on the edge.

JJ: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

In going through the first seven picks here, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears traded out of this spot, since I agree with Moon that it’s probably too high to take a wide receiver. Perhaps Ryan Pace is able to trade up for the third consecutive year to snag Fitzpatrick or Nelson; or maybe he’ll look to trade down to add some more picks and still have a shot at landing Ridley, a corner (like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward), an outside linebacker (like Texas’ Malik Jefferson) or a tackle (like Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, who played under OL coach Harry Hiestand in college) later in the first round. 

9. San Francisco 49ers

Moon: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Pairing a force player with Reuben Foster immediately creates a defensive core, and Smith is a hedge against Foster injury issues. But Alabama WR Calvin Ridley may be too good to pass up as complement to QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

JJ: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

The lure of adding a go-to wide receiver to pair with Jimmy Garoppolo — who made a ragtag bunch of pass-catchers look pretty good after getting the 49ers’ starting nod in December — is too strong to pass up here. Sutton caught 62 passes for 1,085 yards with 12 touchdowns for SMU in 2017.

10. Oakland Raiders

Moon: Vita Vae, DT, Washington

Ridley would fit Raiders’ tradition for impact passing offense if he lasts this long, and Raiders very likely to go offense to muscle up for Jon Gruden’s program and support Derek Carr. But Gruden’s Oakland and Tampa Bay teams were stout on defense. 

JJ: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

In Smith, the Raiders could see the rock of their defense for years to come under Jon Gruden. This may be a little high for an inside linebacker, though, and Ward could be an option here as well.