Bears

Progress evident from Mitchell Trubisky as Bears throttle hapless Bengals

Progress evident from Mitchell Trubisky as Bears throttle hapless Bengals

CINCINNATI — Mitchell Trubisky certainly wasn’t perfect, but he played his best game as a pro in the Bears’ 33-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. And that not only represented progress for the Bears’ franchise quarterback, but hope that these final three games of the 2017 season won’t necessarily be a lost cause.

Trubisky looked comfortable going through his reads in the pocket and zipped throws across the field, targeting nine different while completing 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards, good for a 112.4 passer rating. Helping matters was a strong game from Jordan Howard (23 carries, 147 yards) and an offensive gameplan that didn’t feel conservative.

Trubisky didn’t have pinpoint accuracy, and some of that falls on him, but perhaps some of it was due to the rookie still not having good timing with his running backs/receivers/tight ends. The receiver with which Trubisky has shown the best chemistry, Dontrelle Inman wasn’t targeted, for what it’s worth.

And a lot of what Trubisky had to do on Sunday was cover for a rash of penalties — four on the offensive line, though one was on him when he threw beyond the line of scrimmage — which served as a reminder that the Beras, while better, were still far too sloppy.

The Bengals, though, looked uninspired and disinterested six days after blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But no matter how much the Bengals were banged up, or how little effort they seemed to give, what Trubisky did on Sunday was impressive.

The same goes for Howard, Cohen (11carries, 83 yards), Adam Shaheen (four catches, 44 yards, one touchdown) and Eddie Jackson (an interception in the third quarter, a forced fumble in the fourth). The common thread between all of those guys: They all were drafted in the last two years.

It wasn’t just the Bears’ young core that had an impressive day, though. Kendall Wright caught 10 of 11 target for 107 yards, while Kyle Fuller swatted away two passes and kept standout Bengals receiver A.J. Green in check for much of the afternoon. And John Fox, while he curiously challenged Trubisky’s throw beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half, correctly challenged Jackson’s forced fumble in the second half, leading to the play being overturned and the Bears getting the ball.

This Bears win doesn’t change the course of this year, nor does it guarantee that these good vibes will carry over into next weekend’s trip to Detroit. But a blowout win on the road does give Trubisky and the Bears a much better base on which to build toward 2018 in the dying embers of the 2017 season.

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio took the podium at Halas Hall on Thursday after coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fielded questions for about 30 minutes, and began his press confernece with a classic quip. 

“Alright, let’s continue this lovefest,” Fangio said. 

For a Bears team coming off a 5-11 season — the fourth consecutive double-digit loss season for the franchise — there’s been plenty of positivity pinging around Halas Hall since Nagy was hired last week. But Fangio showed up with a reality check on Thursday, at least as it relates to the defense he’ll return to coach for a fourth year. 

“There’s no doubt strides were made," Fangio said. “Not enough. I think it’s a wrong picture to paint that the defense was great and the rest of the team wasn’t. We were 5-11. 

“If we were a great defense we’d have more than five wins. There’s a lot of room for improvement there — a lot — and we need to do that.”

The Bears opted for continuity in enticing Fangio to return to coach their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense and 9th in points last year, but was 14th in defensive DVOA. This was a good, not great defense that won the Bears a few games (most notably, the 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers) but struggled at times, too. 

A great defense? That’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars, which on the back of one of the league’s best pass rushes and secondaries has vaulted Blake Bortles into the AFC Championship game. A great defense wouldn’t have let Brett Hundley post a 110.8 passer rating against it in Week 10; a great defense wouldn’t have allowed Matthew Stafford to scythe through it on two occasions. 

And that Fangio — who’s generally honest and brings a no-B.S. attitude to his press conferences — acknowledged that eight and a half months before the 2018 season starts was refreshing to hear. It’s almost been easy to forget the Bears lost their 11th and final game of the 2017 season less than three weeks ago with a new, young, offensive-minded coach stepping into Halas Hall. 

There will be plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball — possibly an entirely different receiver corps than was regularly on the field in 2017 — but the defense will have some consistency, starting with Fangio and extending to his defensive coaches, who he said Thursday he expects to be back. This is a group that needs more talent at edge rusher and cornerback, Fangio is more concerned with developing the guys who are already here — and were why this was a “good” defense last year. 

“Guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. 

“So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

And that approach — moreso than his lengthy experience in the NFL — is why retaining Fangio made so much sense for the Bears. Nobody knows the strengths and flaws of the Bears’ defense better than Fangio; and keeping Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Jackson etc., in the same scheme with the same coordinator and same coaches gives this Bears’ defense the best chance to go from being “good” to great. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?