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.

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

USA Today

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

When the Bears signed Trey Burton to a four-year contract worth a reported $32 million (with $18 million of it guaranteed), the natural thought was this: So long, Dion Sims. But the Bears are all but certainly going to hang on to the 27-year-old tight end after his $4 million roster bonus became fully guaranteed on Friday, barring a trade. 

“We like Dion Sims, a well-rounded tight end,” general manager Ryan Pace said on Thursday. “We’re excited we got him.”

Cynically — or, perhaps, fairly — Pace’s comments could’ve been interpreted as part of a play to trade Sims, who signed a three-year contract in 2017. The Bears saw Sims as a strong run blocker with pass-catching upside, but still gave themselves an out after one year that would’ve netted $5.666 million in cap savings. 

Sims didn’t show any of that receiving upside last year, though, catching 15 of 29 targets (51 percent) for 180 yards with one touchdown. Crucially, the Bears have the cap space to keep Sims, even with the flurry of signings they’ve announced this week -- and Kyle Fuller's reported four-year, $56 million extension -- and contract extensions looming for Eddie Goldman and possibly Adrian Amos, too. 

So hanging on to Sims means the Bears value his contributions as a run blocker and are willing to shoulder a $6.3 million cap hit for him to primarily be used in that role. The Bears expect Shaheen to be their primary in-line tight end, with Burton and Daniel Brown, who signed a one-year contract Friday, the more pass-catching-oriented “move” guys in Matt Nagy’s offense. But Sims will still have a role as the Bears look to maximize their production from the tight end position. 

“I think we can use all our tight ends,” Pace said. “I think the Super Bowl champions are a recent example of that, of using a lot of tight ends. They’re all valuable weapons. They’re all a little different. I think they all complement each other. It fits together nicely.”