Bears

Bears-Vikings grades: Why Mitchell Trubisky passed his first test in the NFL

Bears-Vikings grades: Why Mitchell Trubisky passed his first test in the NFL

QUARTERBACKS: B-

Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line wasn’t particularly good: 12/25, 128 yards, one touchdown, one interception — with that pick coming deep in Bears territory late in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Trubisky’s accuracy escaped him at times, too. But Trubisky went through his progressions well and played aggressively, and more importantly, the intangibles he brought to the Bears’ game plan up his grade here. There was a different energy on the field and genuine excitement in the Bears’ locker room about Trubisky’s debut and where he can go from Monday night. 

Running backs: C+

Jordan Howard attacked the edge well and finished with 76 yards on 19 carries, which are solid numbers given he faced eight or more defenders in the box on 52.6 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen stats. But Tarik Cohen was rendered ineffective (six carries, 13 yards, one catch, minus-six yards) and danced too much instead of planting and cutting up field, which drags this grade down. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

Kendall Wright was effective when targeted (five targets, four receptions, 46 yards) but the rest of this group struggled to make an impact (five targets, two receptions, 27 yards). Questionable penalties on Markus Wheaton (holding) and Tre McBride (offensive pass interference) put the Bears in some tough positions. 

TIGHT ENDS: D+

Dion Sims dropped a pass and was inconsistent as blocker — he whiffed on blocking Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr on a pair of plays that led to lost yardage, but did well blocking for Howard on the edge on a couple of runs. Zach Miller caught three passes for 39 yards and was the recipient of Trubisky’s first career touchdown (that deflected off the hand of Vikings safety Anthony Sender). Adam Shaheen only played 11 snaps, 18 percent of the Bears’ offensive total.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D+

Charles Leno and Bobby Massie were flagged for false starts while Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty erased what could've been Trubisky’s first red zone possession in the first half (McBride’s spectacular catch might’ve been reviewed had flag not been thrown). Leno was beat by speedy Vikings edge rusher Everson Griffen for a sack-strip of Trubisky that led to Minnesota’s first points of the game, and Whitehair had two high snaps to Trubisky out of the shotgun. This group did relatively well in the run game, though, given how frequently the Vikings loaded the box. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Akiem Hicks was once again a menace, notching two sacks while consistently finding a way to be disruptive in the run game. Eddie Goldman had some issues in the run game early — he was on his back for an eight-yard run by Jerrick McKinnon in the first quarter — while Mitch Unrein showed up late to help keep the score tied for a stretch.

LINEBACKERS: C+

This was a tough grade. Leonard Floyd was outstanding, recording a safety and two sacks, while Pernell McPhee made a few disruptive plays. John Timu played well before suffering an injury, and Christian Jones had a nice pass break-up. But after Timu’s injury, the Vikings were able to attack Jones (who took over defensive play-calling duties for Timu) and Jonathan Anderson (who hadn’t played a defensive snap since Week 2). Most notably: The Vikings went up-tempo on McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown, with Jones and Anderson not getting the front seven in the right look, allowing the Minnesota running back to blast through the defense for a critical score. 

SECONDARY: D+

The Bears’ turnover margin was minus-two on Monday night, and while the offense deserves blame for a fumble and an interception, this defense still hasn’t picked off a pass this year. Their best chance on Monday came when Sam Bradford threw into double coverage, but neither Kyle Fuller nor Adrian Amos could come up with a play on a poor decision by the banged-up Vikings quarterback. Minnesota gained just 38 yards with Bradford at quarterback; Case Keenum came off the bench and led the Vikings to 272 yards in just over two quarters. A couple positives, though: Good coverage downfield allowed Floyd to chase down Bradford for a safety, and Eddie Jackson made a solid play to break up a pass in the fourth quarter. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

A number of people deserve kudos for the Bears’ touchdown on a fake punt: Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers for noticing on film that the play could be possible; punter Pat O’Donnell and running back Benny Cunningham for putting in extra practice work on the play; safety Adrian Amos for making the check to the fake pass; the entire front for blocking on the play; O’Donnell for cooly lofting the ball to an open Cunningham; and Cunningham for making two Vikings miss to get in the end zone. That play changed momentum in the game and, had the Bears won, would've rightly been viewed as the turning point in the game. Some other notes: While Cohen struggled on most of his punt returns, he did have a 14-yarder (when he immediately accelerated upfield) that set up a short field for the offense. DeAndre Houston-Carson forced a fumble on a kick return that bounced out of bounds too. 

COACHING: C-

Credit offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for that unique game-tying two-point conversion that ended with Miller optioning a pitch to Trubisky — and for having the guts to call it and trust his players to execute it in such a critical situation. But the whole delay of game mishap on fourth and two in the first half, which came after a timeout, didn’t reflect well on John Fox. While Fox argued that the officials didn’t have the ball in place, he sent the offense on the field with about 12 seconds left on the play clock. Whatever went wrong there wasn’t on Trubisky. Fox also burned a timeout at the start of the fourth quarter — after the Vikings called a timeout — that wound up hurting late in the game after Minnesota took the lead on a field goal. 

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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USA TODAY

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.