Bears

Minnesota's defense might not be 'ideal,' but the time is right for Mitchell Trubisky

Minnesota's defense might not be 'ideal,' but the time is right for Mitchell Trubisky

Minnesota's defense is one of the best in the NFL, but that doesn't change that the time is right for Mitchell Trubisky to start.

The Vikings’ defense sacked Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford five times on Sunday. Through four games, Mike Zimmer and George Edwards’ group has held running backs to 3.1 yards per carry, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL. This is a top-10 scoring defense, allowing an average of 19 points per game.

Trubisky’s debut will not come against an “ideal” opponent, i.e. one with an unorganized, leaky defense that could allow him to slowly wade into NFL waters. But does that really matter?

“I think you just kind of know when it’s time,” coach John Fox said on Sept. 18.

The Bears’ decision to start Trubisky next Monday against the Vikings has more to do with the No. 2 pick’s development — and, to an extent, Mike Glennon’s ineffectiveness — than it does with the opponent. If the Bears were looking for that ideal team, it would've required waiting until Oct. 29’s road game against the New Orleans Saints, who’ve allowed 6.2 yards per play this year (second-worst only to the New England Patriots).

But waiting that long could mean Trubisky takes over a 1-7 or 2-6 team. It’s a lot easier to salvage a season a quarter of the way through it than halfway through it.

The locker room, too, knows who should be starting. Sticking with Glennon, who committed eight turnovers and struggled to move in the pocket and throw the ball downfield, could’ve risked Fox losing the team and having a hard time getting it back even after Trubisky were to take over.

Trubisky’s been preparing for this behind the scenes while running the scout team in practice — where his teammates surely have seen him improve — and now gets a full week to prepare to make his NFL debut. That it’s against an organized, solid Vikings defense doesn’t matter when the time is right.

“I don’t know if I can describe it,” Trubisky said last month of the NFL learning curve. “It’s tough even for me to try and explain to people what I’m going through and what it is we do here. How difficult the NFL is and how competitive it is — that’s the beautiful thing about it.

“Hopefully just keep working every day and keep perfecting your craft and do your job to the best of your ability and help the guys around you so you go out there and win on Sunday. Yeah, there is a learning curve but the more reps you get the better you’ll get and the better off you’ll be. I’m still learning and waiting for the opportunity.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.