Bears

How the Bears' receivers helped beat Pittsburgh while only catching one pass

How the Bears' receivers helped beat Pittsburgh while only catching one pass

Mike Glennon didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until he found Deonte Thompson for a nine-yard gain with just under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Sunday. That was the only of Glennon's 15 completions that went to a wide receiver in a 23-17 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

But the Bears’ receivers weren’t necessarily invisible on Sunday, frequently showing up on tape delivering solid blocks that helped spring second-level gains by running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Most notably, Deonte Thompson was key in making a path for Howard to score his game-ending touchdown in overtime. 

“We got a rule in our room, make sure your guy doesn't make the tackle,” Thompson said. “… We take pride in it. Our coaches make sure we take pride in blocking. We just go what we gotta do to win. Whatever the job description is, we do.”

This isn’t to say that everything is fine with the Bears’ receivers because they can block. Their primary jobs are to get open and catch the football, and this unit hasn’t done enough of that through three games. In total, Bears receivers are averaging about 14 targets, nine receptions per game and 98 yards per game. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, 26 times has an individual wide receiver had at least 14 targets, nine receptions and 98 yards in a game (including Cameron Meredith last October). 

And being a productive receiver doesn’t have to mean that player isn’t a good blocker. SB Nation listed familiar names as its best blocking receivers: Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Los Angeles’ Robert Woods, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, Miami’s Jarvis Landry and New York’s Brandon Marshall. 

But for the Bears, if Sunday’s offensive plan — for a game in which the team was never losing — is what future wins could look like, this receiver unit will be asked to do quite a bit of blocking. 

“We haven’t won as much as we want to around here, and when you see that (blocking effort), you see these guys are fully invested and they care, and they care about the guy next to him,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said, “and not about their own individual stats because it would’ve been real easy to sit on the sideline and pout and say hey, I’m not getting the ball — like, one receiver caught a ball in the whole game out of 22 passes, 15 completions, one guy catches a ball. But you know what, they’re a huge part of those wins.”

Howard had seven carries of five or more yards that went toward the sideline, while Cohen had two explosive gains into the second level and beyond. Runs like those are where blocking from guys like Thompson, Bellamy, Kendall Wright and Marcus Wheaton are important. 

“Those are the blocks that spring us to the next level,” Cohen said. “Without the receiver blocks, there would be a lot of 10-yard gains, 9-yard gains, but the bigger gains are the receivers blocking down field.”

The Bears still need more out of their receivers, but their blocking success on Sunday was a contributing factor to beating one of the better teams in the AFC. And it didn’t go unnoticed inside Halas Hall, especially the block Thompson threw to end the game. 

“They know who we have in the backfield, they know who we’ve got up front,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “And they know that if we want to have success at an elite level running the ball they need to do their part too and that’s just what he was doing. He was doing his job.”

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.