Bears

Blowout win over Cincinnati turns on the light at the end of the tunnel for Bears’ young core

Blowout win over Cincinnati turns on the light at the end of the tunnel for Bears’ young core

CINCINNATI — If the Bears pull off a Los Angeles Rams-esque turnaround in 2018, their future offensive success might look a little like what went down in Sunday’s 33-7 thrashing of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Mitchell Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over while operating more aggressive offensive gameplan. Jordan Howard rumbled for 147 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns, and Tarik Cohen provided a spark with 80 yards on 12 carries. Adam Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards and reeled in a touchdown. The Bears’ offensive line, despite a rash of first-half penalties, largely kept Trubisky upright and paved the way for Howard and Cohen to account for more rushing yards (227) than team had total offensive yards a week ago (147).  

“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,” coach John Fox said. “I thought Mitch Trubisky played very well last week. 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 the hard work.”

Kendall Wright, who’s due to hit free agency, had a massive game (11 targets, 10 catches, 107 yards) and said he won’t focus on where he’ll wind up signing until after the season. But he did add: “If they want me, I’m here. I’m cool with it.”

The Bears’ exact blueprint on Sunday won’t necessarily be easy to follow in 2018, let alone these last three games, given the Bengals’ defense was 1) missing a number of key players, like linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and 2) didn’t appear to give a very good effort. But more important than Howard bludgeoning the Bengals into submission over the course of a lackluster afternoon was the Bears, for the first time in 2017, scoring a touchdown on their first offensive possession.

“That was big for us,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “It was just a confidence thing. We’re capable of doing it, we just got to do it.”

The Bears’ gameplan from that point on felt more aggressive, with Trubisky slinging passes toward nine different teammates while looking comfortable going through his progressions in the pocket. This was a far cry from what the Bears did after getting an early lead against the Carolina Panthers back in October, with Trubisky taking a bunch of sacks and barely throwing the ball in an uninspiring offensive performance.  

The Bears jumped ahead Sunday and, instead of conservatively trying to protect the lead, aggressively tried to grow it. The result was the franchise’s biggest margin of victory in half a decade.

“Everybody wanted the ball,” Trubisky said. “The linemen wanted the ball to run behind them, the receivers wanted the ball in their eyes, and the running backs wanted (to run). When everybody has that hunger, that desire to want to go out and execute the next play, it makes it fun on offense.”

Perhaps the biggest question about Sunday’s game is where this gameplan was all season. But getting in the end zone on that first drive not only boosted the confidence of the players, it could’ve boosted the confidence of Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to open things up.

“(We were) making some of those plays that we maybe didn’t make earlier in the year,” Wright said. “But when you’re making those plays and having fun, it makes it easier for Mitch to find whoever, it makes it easier for Dowell to call whatever plays he wants.”

The story of the 2017 season, though, was written before Sunday’s win ended a five-game losing streak that included duds against the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. All the Bears can do in these final weeks of the season is work to build a foundation for 2018, and that starts with validating that the work they’ve put in this year hasn’t been for nothing.

For Trubisky, it’s not necessarily about personal validation — he’s been confident in his growth even without the wins to back it up. But for the Bears’ young core that played so well on Sunday, it counts for something right now — and may count for something next fall.

“(The losing streak) felt like s***,” Massie said. “You’re getting your ass kicked all the time — it doesn’t feel good to lose. All the work we put in, we deserve this win. We came out, did what we were supposed to do and we got it.”

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

Matt Nagy has roundly impressed his players during minicamp this week, and has done so in a way that carries some importance.

John "Moon" Mullin and JJ Stankevitz dive into how quickly Mitch Trubisky is picking up Nagy’s offense, why Jordan Howard may be feeling refreshed and if the Bears can expect anything out of Kevin White.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here:

Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

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Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

We’re a little under five months away from the first meaningful snap of the Matt Nagy era, but since it’s April, it’s a good time to daydream about what the Bears’ offense could look like in 2018. 

So let’s add to that what Tarik Cohen had to say on Wednesday about his early impressions of Nagy’s offense.

“It can be dominant,” Cohen said. “… We have a whole lot of pieces on offense. It could get real crazy this year.”

At this time of the year, just about every player and coach is naturally “excited” by the prospect of a fresh start on a new season, especially with a new regime taking over. But these aren’t empty platitudes put forth by the players who’ve been available to the media this week.

Cohen said one of the first things he saw after the Bears hired Nagy was that the Kansas City Chiefs, while running his new coach’s offense, had two 1,000-yard pass-catchers (Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce) and a 1,000-yard running back (Kareem Hunt). 

“I was like, ‘I don’t know how that ball’s getting around like that,’” Cohen said. “But I know it’s going to be a good thing because we have as many weapons as we do, to know that everybody’s still going to be able to get the ball and get the yards, it’s a wonderful thing.”
 
Cohen said he’s worked this year on his route-running and receiving skills, which could make him an interesting candidate to back up the similarly-diminutive Taylor Gabriel at the “Zebra” receiver spot in Nagy’s offense. And while Cohen can be used there, that may sell short his skills as a running back, which will remain his primary role. 

“He just needs to understand he’s not a receiver, so there’s a lot of details that the receivers themselves are putting into it,” Nagy said. “He’s a running back. So whatever we can do in the specific routes he’s going to (run) — his route tree is not going to be quite as big. So that ones that he does have, he can hone in on those and understand the specifics of that. Coach (Charles) London will do a great job of teaching him that. But then also remember, too, we need you to run the ball, too. If you become one dimensional a certain way, now it’s advantage defense.”

Cohen, for what it’s worth, said he’s gained about 10 pounds and now weighs 190 pounds (“all muscle, solid,” he quipped), which should help him stay on the field as his role grows as a second-year pro. 
 
Cohen’s versatility, though, fits with the bigger-picture offensive scheme that Nagy and his coaching staff are in the nascent stages of installing this week. The inside zone and run-pass options concepts that are a big part of Nagy’s offense are familiar to Cohen, too — “that’s really how I got all my yards in college,” he said. 

But even while the Bears operate a basic version of the offense they’ll eventually use, there’s a certain excitement level around Halas Hall about how things could look come September. And how those things look should help Cohen get closer to — or reach — his goals after a strong rookie debut. 

“I just have this attitude like I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Cohen said. “I wasn’t in the Pro Bowl, really not like a definite household name yet, so I feel like I have a lot more to prove. Didn’t have any 1,000-yard season in any phase of the game, so I feel like I have a lot more to do.”