View from the Moon: Bears are what their 3-5 record says they are – but what is that, exactly?

View from the Moon: Bears are what their 3-5 record says they are – but what is that, exactly?

You are indeed what your record says you are. But at the midpoint of a 2017 season in which the Bears already have matched their 2016 win total, it’s really not all that simple to say what either the Bears or, in this case, their rookie quarterback exactly are.

After a three-win 2016 and sitting at 1-3 to begin 2017, and two of the losses by 20-plus points, the Bears were right about where cynics thought they’d be: bad, arrow pointing anywhere but up. Now, with an in-season quarterback change to a rookie with all of 13 college starts, the Bears reach the halfway of their season 3-5 overall, ahead of more than a few projections, perhaps even their own.

But they also are a .500 team in Mitch Trubisky’s first four NFL starts. All things considered, the Bears realistically can be viewed as a team with an arrow pointing decidedly up, even with a litany of maddening gaffes that cost them Sunday in a 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

A missed field goal. An unforced penalty on special teams to turn a defensive stop into a Drew Brees a touchdown opportunity (which he converted). Too much poor technique and tackling in the secondary. Odd play-calling coupled with failed execution. Poor accuracy and decision-making in a handful of tipping-point situations by Trubisky.

Even with all that, the Bears reach their halfway break with two wins under Trubisky and two losses in which the rookie threw interceptions on Bears’ final possessions with chances for tying or winning scores. A defense that set historic low bars for takeaways in 2016 had another game with more than the opponent, including one in the closing minutes and the Bears down by five points but which Trubisky and the offense failed to exploit with even a single first down.

If there is a single overriding negative it lies in Trubisky being unable to deliver on those final possessions in the Minnesota and New Orleans losses, and in his average-at-best passing (14-of-32 for 164 yards, the interception on a poor overthrow of Tre McBride, a throw on which the only debate was whether the route or the pass was worse). The Bears are craving some of what Trubisky showed them completing his first 10 passes against Denver in preseason. He hasn’t even a glimpse of that yet.

After a big Tarik Cohen kickoff return supplemented by a horsecollar-tackle penalty gave Trubisky and the offense the football at the New Orleans 43 with 1:28 remaining – a designer situation for a statement drive – left tackle Charles Leno incurred a false-start penalty and Trubisky checked down to a no-gain dump-off before he threw high and behind McBride for the effective game-ender.

[MORE BEARS-SAINTS: Why the Bears enter their bye week feeling like they’re ‘close’ to playing winning football]

Understanding limitations

So much for “opening up the offense” mattering, or the suggestion that coaches could be breeding Trubisky’s natural aggressiveness out of him in three games (if that could have been happening, the Bears seriously got the wrong guy). Trubisky had more pass attempts (12) in Sunday’s first half than Drew Brees (11), with each quarterback sacked twice. Aggressiveness was not a Trubisky shortcoming.

But the clear fact was that Trubisky was not enough to ignite the offense himself, whether on straight execution from the pocket or making something electric happen on the move, in the broken-play motif that has been expected to be a significant part of this game. He has all the appearances of being that guy sooner rather than later, but he hasn’t achieved “rookie phenom” status, and probably won’t, given the resources at his disposal.

All that said, Trubisky – and the Bears overall, for that matter – arguably should be graded on something of a curve. Particularly working behind an offensive line absent two of its three best blockers, Trubisky isn’t not good enough to pick up his team and throw it to victory.

Inconsistencies abound

The day was marked with highs and lows, which is by definition what a still-forming quarterback and team simply produce.

The first Saints possession contained two mental gaffes uncharacteristic of the ’17 Bears defensive players. Bryce Callahan’s missed tackle that allowed Brandon Coleman to turn a short pass into a 54-yard completion was poor execution, losing footwork and failing to get a receiver bumped a few feet to out of bounds. Callahan later was lost to a knee injury that cost the defense it’s No. 1 nickel back.

And while it was on special teams, cornerback Kyle Fuller lining up offsides on a field-goal rush turned a third-down stop into a second Saints chance, which Drew Brees turned into a touchdown.

The Trubisky pass to tight end Zach Miller was his finest throw of the day, one for a TD that officials took away after Miller wasn’t able to maintain enough control of the ball while on the ground. The pass was on target, where Trubisky placed it where his guy or nobody was coming up with it, and was the kind of delivery teams expect from a franchise quarterback, even one in development.

Trubisky’s rookie-ness did show up in a handful of throws and decisions, something suggested by some of the coaching cautiousness shown earlier. Adam Shaheen got zero separation on his first-quarter short route in the end zone, and Tanner Gentry’s second-quarter out-route was blanketed, yet Trubisky made both throws into coverage that broke up the throws. The Saints were credited with eight passes defensed, an indication of a whole lot of passes thrown to receivers with defenders nearby. Poor separation will do that to a quarterback. So will inaccurate passing.

Trubisky threw too high to a wide-open Tarik Cohen in the third quarter, a pass calling for more NFL-grade touch than Trubisky still needs to develop.

And for the second straight game he took a sack that added to the difficulty factor for a field-goal attempt, although the sack just before halftime Sunday was a jailbreak pass rush and still only left Connor Barth with a 48-yard field goal try, which he sailed wide left.

The Bears now have two weeks of prep time for the Green Bay Packers, the team that effectively ended Mike Glennon’s stint as a starting quarterback. This time the Packers will serve as a measure of how far a developing quarterback – and team – have come in a season not easily defined.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Did the Bears technically "win" on Sunday?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Did the Bears technically "win" on Sunday?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) and Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap on the panel.  Kap is happy that Mitch Trubisky played ok and John Fox’s team lost again.  The panel disagrees.

Plus Leonard Floyd doesn’t have an ACL tear…. Yet. Should the Bears shut him down even if he gets good news?

Bears need Mitch Trubisky to become a closer, but teammates see it coming

Bears need Mitch Trubisky to become a closer, but teammates see it coming

With Sunday’s game on the line and the Bears owning the football at their 17-yard line, the offense needed a drive for field goal position to tie the Detroit Lions. But rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, with 1:03 on the clock, wasn’t thinking 3 points. He was thinking touchdown and a win, and the huddle knew it.

“I think that's his mindset all the time,” said guard Josh Sitton, who recognized something familiar in Trubisky’s face that Sitton had seen over his years with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. “He's a play-maker, he's got all the confidence in the world in himself and the guys around him.

“You can just see it on his face. I don't think he really says anything, he doesn't really need to say anything, you can kind of see it, by that look in his eyes. He's got what it takes to be a great player in this league.”

It was not intended to be any even remote comparison with Rodgers. More than eyes are involved in that. But while the drive Sunday ended in failure in the form of a missed field goal, something was noted in the process.

The 13-play drive for the Bears’ first touchdown Sunday was the longest sustained by the offense under Trubisky. And it was a statement possession for an offense that had not scored a first-quarter touchdown in nine prior games.

But if a negative among the many Trubisky positives was the fourth time in five situations that Trubisky has failed to direct a game-winning or –tying drive, which goes a long way to answering why the Bears are 2-4 under him. Actually the number of come-up-short drives is more than those if you count things like a three-and-out at Baltimore in regulation before Trubisky led a seven-play drive for a winning overtime field goal.

Still, looking a little deeper, Trubisky has gotten progressively “closer” to being the kind of finisher that the Bears have needed for decades. At the very least, Trubisky is keeping drives alive longer and longer, if not ending them with points. In these situations:

Vs.                     4th qtr/OT situation

Minnesota         1 play, interception ends potential winning drive

Baltimore          3 plays, punt, regulation ends in tie

                           7 plays, game-winning FG in OT

Carolina            Game already decided

New Orleans    2 plays, interception ends drive for tie

Green Bay        5 plays, ball over on downs on drive for tie

Detroit               11 plays, missed FG for tie

Within the huddle, the team confidence in Trubisky and vice versa has clearly grown, regardless of outcome, and that is something the offense did not consistently have in Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler, Jimmy Clausen or even Josh McCown.

“[Trubisky] is just growing and growing and you just see it,” Sittyon said. “You saw the talent right away and he just keeps ... the nuances of the game, he just keeps learning and learning. He gives you all the confidence in the world as a guy in the locker room and on the field, in the huddle.

“He has that look in his eye where you're thinking 'All right, he's going to get the job done.’”

Staff addition? Probably not but Bears have an opening

Taking a morning-after look around the NFL after the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions:

Something to probably dismiss but at least worth mentioning… .

The Denver Broncos on Monday fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the same Mike McCoy who handled the Denver offense as John Fox’s OC. Don’t expect anything in-season, certainly not at this point, but the situation does offer an interesting future option if somehow Fox sees the fourth and final year of his contract, even looking further down the coaching road irrespective of Fox’s presence.

McCoy was ousted from a foundering Broncos situation, presumably over not being able to make anything much out of Trevor Simian

McCoy, who was the mix of candidates and interviewed to succeed Lovie Smith back in 2012, wouldn’t necessarily be brought in as offensive coordinator by Fox or anyone else. What about the role of “consultant” or “assistant head coach” added to the Bears offensive staff?

The Bears have neither position on the staff currently, and haven’t had an assistant head coach since Rod Marinelli had that as part of his title from 2009-2012 under Lovie Smith. Marinelli, like McCoy, had been a head coach as well.

Notably, Fox kept McCoy on his staffs when Fox was hired both in Carolina and Denver, a good measure of Fox’s take on McCoy’s offensive-coaching skills. Fox added the job of passing-game coordinator to McCoy’s duties as quarterbacks coach with Carolina in 2007-08. Since then McCoy coached Peyton Manning in Denver and Philip Rivers in San Diego.

Also notably, perhaps in the other direction, Fox might have brought McCoy to Chicago after the latter was fired as Chargers head coach after last season. That didn’t happen, possibly because McCoy instead wanted a full OC position, which wasn’t open with Loggains in place.

Offensive consultants aren’t necessarily staff bloating; they have been referred to as “coaches for coaches.” Bruce Arians brought in longtime OC Tom Moore when Arians became Arizona Cardinals head coach (following Phil Emery’s decision to go with Marc Trestman over Arians). Moore previously served as offensive coordinator, then senior offensive coordinator, then offensive consultant through the Peyton Manning years in Indianapolis. Moore subsequently became offensive consultant for the Jets (2011) and Tennessee Titans (2012), the latter stint while Loggains was offensive coordinator.

Longtime offensive line coach Jim McNally has been a “consultant” with the Jets (2011-12) and Bengals (2012-this season). Randy Brown was a kicking consultant working under Bears special teams coaches in the Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron regimes, going on to work under John Harbaugh in Philadelphia and Baltimore.