Bears

View from the Moon: Defense says Bears getting 'Pretty Boy Assassin' in QB Mitch Trubisky

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USA TODAY

View from the Moon: Defense says Bears getting 'Pretty Boy Assassin' in QB Mitch Trubisky

What are the Bears getting in Mitch Trubisky? It depends a little on who you talk to.

A smile crept over Leonard Floyd’s face as the outside linebacker reflected on what the Bears had installed as their new starting quarterback. Since the end of training camp, Floyd and the defense has seen Mitch Trubisky running Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Atlanta plays against them as quarterback of the scout team. And Floyd had a name for what was moving in under center for his team’s offense.

“You can call him ‘The Pretty Boy Assassin,’” Floyd said. (And since all quarterbacks are “Pretty Boys” to defensive guys, consider this high praise.)

Like Aaron Rodgers once did as Brett Favre’s backup in Green Bay, taking the No. 1 defense to the shed occasionally in his role as scout-team quarterback, Trubisky did run the upcoming-opponent’s plays as drawn up on the cards. But a predator gene periodically kicked in and Trubisky pushed the envelope at the defense’s expense, with a throw or mobile play that was beyond what the cards called for.

And he didn’t mind letting them know it.

“He’s competitive, really competitive, but with a smile on his face.,” said Floyd, shaking his head. “He’ll beat you, then be walking back to the huddle, look over and just smile at you. He’ll beat you with a smile on his face.”

Trubisky’s work as scout-team quarterback accelerated his development. And didn’t do any damage to his confidence, either.

“He’s got a lotta [swagger]. I like his swag’, his demeanor,” Floyd said. “He’ll rip you but he’s got control of the offense. He’ll switch cadences, do stuff you’re not expecting, make plays.”

The result has been a quarterback developing even outside of his own offense. And the defense, which has faced four teams with a combined 11-4 record for 2017, three of which (Atlanta, Green Bay, Pittsburgh) ranked in the top 10 in scoring last season, stands No. 8 in yardage allowed per game.

“It’s pretty advantageous for a defense to have a scout-team offense that’s willing to compete and make you better,” said defensive end Akiem Hicks. “That’s why the guys are there, to give you good ‘looks’ and push you as well as help you prepare.

“So anytime somebody’s being competitive against you, that’s a great thing.”

With a touch of “assassin” sprinkled in.

“[Trubisky] is not being nice,” Floyd clarified. “He’s got a smile on his face but he’s really trying to beat you.”
Pit bulls have a “smile” on their faces, too.

“Exactly,” Floyd said.

All that is attitude. But beyond practice swag’, can he play?

What the Bears are getting with Trubisky in terms of quarterback skill set is arguably unlike any quarterback they have fielded in the last 30 years, maybe longer. Not automatically better, just…unlike.

None of the No. 1’s over the past three-plus decades – Rex Grossman, Cade McNown, Jim Harbaugh, Jim McMahon – have come with the mix of athleticism, arm strength, footspeed and overall command. Include Jay Cutler in that batch, with many of the physical skills that have distinguished Trubisky, particularly the arm strength but command-lite. Down the draft list – Kyle Orton? Craig KrenzelMosesMorenoWillFurrerNathanEnderleDanLeFevourDavidFalesPaulJustinPeterTomWillis? Nope.

Two specifics here:

First: Defensive players have remarked that Trubisky’s ball comes out “hot” – not so much in terms of just speed, but more in terms of sudden. Where Cutler’s decision-making was (and still is) an issue, waiting a split-second longer to throw believing the arm strength would make up the time, Trubisky has impressed with decisiveness. Accuracy at the NFL game level, where the receivers and defensive backs move at speeds Trubisky hasn’t experienced live yet, will of course be a work in progress.

Second: The combination of footspeed and quick-twitch projects to mobile pockets, rollouts, read-options and so forth. But there’s a possible catch.

Trubisky’s quickness within and escaping the pocket with buy time and extend plays, adding time to his protections. He was sacked 20 times in 467 pass plays last season. But he also averaged 7.2 rushes per game last season. The obvious question is, when he gets flushed or breaks the pocket, is he still looking downfield a’la Aaron Rodgers? Or is he Michael Vick and mentally a runner at that point, which gets rushing yards but not big completions on broken plays?

At this point, he has the right answer. “When things break down, I’m able to make plays and again get the ball to my playmakers. Because I’m not the best athlete on the field. There are other guys who do that. But when things can break down I can maybe make something happen.”

And really, that’s the idea here.

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

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USA Today

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

Nick Kwiatkoski was a full participant in Bears practice on Friday, marking the first time the second-year linebacker has done that since he suffered a pec injury Sept. 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski sounded confident he could make his return five weeks after suffering that painful injury. 

“It’s not really my decision,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m preparing like I am, so we’ll see. … “In my head I am (playing). But we’ll see.”

The Bears’ defense, despite placing three key players — linebackers Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps — on injured reserve, has been solid at worst so far this year. Pro Football Focus has Vic Fangio’s group as the third-best defense in the NFL through Week 6, behind only the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

While Christian Jones played some quality snaps next to Danny Trevathan (and John Timu — he struggled after Timu’s injury against Minnesota), Kwiatkoski represents an upgrade at inside linebacker. The Bears liked what Kwiatkoski did last year in place of an injured Trevathan, and were confident they wouldn’t miss a beat with him filling in after Freeman’s Week 1 injury. 

“He’s a smart guy who has been willing to work,” coach John Fox said. “And I’ve seen that improvement from last year to this year. And anytime you get whacked or injured or taken out for some reason, you’ve got to kind of regain that again. It’s like a do-over. So he has had a good week.”

Kwiatkoski stayed sharp by going through meetings and film study as if he were playing while that pec injury — which he said felt like a “bad pulled muscle” — kept him sidelined for practices and games. If Kwiatkoski indeed is active and/or starting Sunday against Carolina, the hope is he can step in and pick up where he left off in Week 2. 

“I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said prior to Kwiatkoski’s injury. And that confidence, in all likelihood, still exists. 

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”