Akiem Hicks

Bears grades: Mitchell Trubisky does his job, special teamers do not

Bears grades: Mitchell Trubisky does his job, special teamers do not

The story of this game was the Bears had control of the game until two massive special teams gaffes allowed the Ravens to get back into the game, so that's what plays out in these grades:

QUARTERBACKS: B

The Bears didn’t ask Mitchell Trubisky to do much, with the rookie only throwing 16 passes in his second career start. Trubisky completed eight of those attempt for 113 yards and threw a 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims. More importantly, Trubisky didn’t throw an interception. He did lose a fumble on a sack-strip where he said he moved off his first progression too quickly, which caused him to not see a blitzing Lardarius Webb. But even while executing a scaled-back gameplan on the road, Trubisky still made a few impressive plays: His athletic recovery of a high Cody Whitehair snap prevented Baltimore from scoring a touchdown, and his 18-yard completion to Kendall Wright set up Connor Barth’s walk-off field goal. 

RUNNING BACKS: B+

Jordan Howard was excellent, carrying a career high 36 times for 167 yards, with 53 of those coming on a 53-yard run in overtime that set up the Bears’ win. But even before that, Howard was running hard, showing good vision and, for the second straight game, attacked the edge well. Tarik Cohen gained 34 yards on 14 carries and threw a 21-yard touchdown to Zach Miller that was set up by repeated runs to the edge where Baltimore’s safeties crashed toward the line of scrimmage. Dinging this grade enough to not be an A: Cohen losing a fumble late in the third quarter that turned into a Ravens field goal, and Howard inexplicably running out of bounds to stop the clock with 23 seconds left. Howard’s lucky the Ravens didn’t make that count, a la Marion Barber against the Denver Broncos in 2011?

WIDE RECEIVERS: D-

It’s probably more of a coincidence that the Bears barely used their wide receivers in their two wins (four targets, two catches, 26 yards vs. Baltimore; four targets, one catch, nine yards vs. Pittsburgh), but it was another quiet day for this group. Kendall Wright is clearly the Bears’ best receiver, and by a percentage of Trubisky’s attempts, he was targeted on about 19 percent of them (Sims led with four targets). But Tanner Gentry (one target, no receptions) and Tre McBride (no targets) weren’t a factor in the gameplan, and McBride was guilty of an illegal block above the waist (though the Bears still scored on that drive). One other note: Wright, in addition to his two catches for 36 yards, delivered a punishing block on longtime Ravens star linebacker Terrell Suggs. The Bears were pushed around by Suggs a bit on Sunday, so they probably enjoyed that one.

TIGHT ENDS: B-

Sims and Miller were the recipients of the Bears’ two offensive touchdowns on Sunday, with Sims’ 27-yard grab an impressive display of strength to rip Trubisky’s pass away from Ravens safety Tony Jefferson. But Sims struggled in the run game against Suggs, who soundly beat him for losses of six and seven yards on a pair of plays. With two minutes left, the Bears went with Sims, Miller and Adam Shaheen (as well as fullback Michael Burton) and couldn’t pave a way for Jordan Howard to convert a third-and-one, which preceded Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return score. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The Bears’ offensive line largely did a good job blocking for Howard and Cohen, but Whitehair had two more bad snaps (one didn’t count because of a timeout) that nearly cost the Bears. That’s become a legitimate concern in his game. Bobby Massie (holding) was the only offensive lineman flagged for a penalty on Sunday, which was a nice improvement from Monday night.  

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+

Another week, another dominant game from Akiem Hicks, who bullied third-string Ravens right guard Jermaine Eluemunor and recorded his fifth sack of the year while doing well against the run. Eddie Goldman notched six tackles and played one of his best games of the year, too. Mitch Unrein made a key play in overtime to hold Javorius Allen to two yards on second-and-five in overtime, and on the next play, the defensive line got good pressure on Joe Flacco to force an incompletion. The Ravens punted, and the Bears won the game on their next drive. 

LINEBACKERS: B+

Danny Trevathan made his presence known after his one-week suspension with six tackles and a sack, and Christian Jones — outside of an unnecessary roughness penalty that looked like a questionable flag — forced a fumble (which Trevathan recovered) and tied for the team lead with eight tackles. A Trevathan-Jones inside linebacker pairing looks like it can sustain itself until Nick Kwiatkoski returns, possibly by the end of the month. Pernell McPhee notched a sack in his return to Baltimore and drew a holding penalty in the third quarter. Leonard Floyd didn’t show up in the box score but he did draw a holding penalty in the first quarter with a good pass rush. 

SECONDARY: A

Adrian Amos, knowing a lot of the attention would be on him, said after the game he’d give the game ball to Kyle Fuller. But both players deserve kudos for their work on Sunday: Amos tied for the team lead with eight tackles and returned his first career interception 90 yards for a touchdown; Fuller played the part of a shutdown corner, allowing five catches on 15 targets for only 43 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, with three pass break-ups (Amos had two PBUs, too). Fuller and Amos' tackling was solid, too. Bryce Callahan returned his second quarter interception 52 yards to the Baltimore 20-yard line, which set up Cohen’s touchdown pass to Miller. A ding here: Eddie Jackson took a poor angle on Alex Collins, allowing the Ravens running back to pick up 30 yards instead of about 12. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Maybe Bobby Rainey’s 96-yard kick return shouldn’t have counted, but that it came down to whether or not Josh Bellamy grazed Rainey’s shin is still a problem. And Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard game-tying punt return was inexcusable — yes, the Bears didn’t have special teams ace Sherrick McManis on the field for it due to an injury, but that cannot happen in that situation of a game. Amos checked into a max protect look, and Pat O'Donnell's booming punt gave Campanaro plenty of room to return it. Cre'Von LeBlanc, replacing McManis, struggled in protection and fell down twice on the play. Those two return scores were enough to give this unit an F despite Connor Barth winning the game with a 40-yard field goal. 

COACHING: D+

The Bears put an emphasis on cleaning up the sloppy play that plagued this team for the first five weeks of the season, and for the first three quarters, it looked like that emphasis paid off. But the last 18 or so minutes of regulation were brutal, with the Bears fumbling three times (losing two), committing five penalties and squandering an 11-point advantage after Amos’ pick-six. Allowing a 77-yard punt return and successful two-point conversion when up eight is horrendous. Howard running out of bounds with 23 seconds left was a mental error that John Fox would’ve had to answer for had the Bears lost because of it. On the positive side of things here: Dowell Loggains’ gameplan, while conservative, wound up working against a solid Ravens defense, and he deserves credit for designing yet another successful trick play. Without those two special teams mistakes, the Bears' offense would've done what it needed to control the game. 

View from the Moon: Bears defense still looking for turnovers – and an identity

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USA TODAY

View from the Moon: Bears defense still looking for turnovers – and an identity

Great defenses, even individual units within some defenses, can engender nicknames: Doomsday Defense. Orange Crush. Killer B’s. Purple People Eaters. Steel Curtain. New York Sack Exchange. Legion of Boom.

The 2017 Bears defense doesn’t have a nickname. The reason is the problem:

“We haven’t earned one,” said defensive end Akiem Hicks.

Nicknames come with winning, and they also are reflective of a group identity. Bears haven’t won much of anything. More important than any clever moniker, however, the Bears haven’t particularly established a clear defensive identity that comes with being dominant somewhere, beginning on the scoreboard and pegged to the one stat universally cited as defining a defense.

“We need to get more turnovers,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee.  “Coach has been emphasizing that from day one and that has to be our main focus if we want to get to another level and be a dominant defense. “If you do that, people might start calling you ‘The Turnover Machine’ or something.

“But you’ve got to win some games. No matter how dominant your defense is, you still got to win games to get recognition.”

The overall has been serviceable. The Bears rank 10th in yardage allowed, the stat most used for ranking defenses but not the best for defining a defense. And turnovers by the offense have led to opponents’ points and difficult defensive situations. Of the 73 opponents’ scoring possessions last season, less than one-third (31.5 percent) needed longer than 50 yards for points. This year, that figure is up sharply: of 22 opposing possessions, nine (41 percent) have needed to go less than 50 yards.

Perhaps the absence of a collective identity shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The unit has lost its leading tackler and inside linebacker (Jerrell Freeman); its sack leader over the past three seasons (Willie Young); and its projected interception leader via free agency (Quintin Demps).

Regardless of reason, the Bears’ defense is not a ball-hawking one; they are one of only three teams (Oakland, Miami) with zero interceptions.

Theirs is not a unit that terrorizes quarterbacks. The sack total (13) is in the top 10, and the Bears are 10th in sacks per pass play. Opposing quarterbacks are posting an average passer rating of 101.5; only four defenses are being thrown on to that degree. Perhaps most alarming: The Bears are allowing third-down conversions at a rate of 45.5 percent, ahead of only Tampa Bay, Oakland, San Francisco and New Orleans. None of the five worsts on third downs have winning records.

They do not present not a run-stuffing wall, in the middle of the pack allowing a respectable but nothing-special 3.9 yards per rush and 101 rushing yards per game.

Forging an identity isn’t entirely within the control of the defense. Offenses can define themselves largely along lines of their own choosing: West Coast, run-based, vertical-passing, whatever. Defenses are tasked weekly with being the antidote to whatever offense breaks the huddle.

“We just need to be able to stop the different types of offense that we see week in and week out,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “Offensively, you can do what you want, week in and week out. Defensively, we’ve got to be able to stop the various different offenses that we see from week to week. Some weeks, that’s going to be playing a lot of zone. Some weeks, it’ll be playing a lot of man. Some weeks, it’s going to be playing more of a loaded box. Some weeks, it’s not.

“I guess the identity is we need to be a versatile defense that can handle the variety of offense that we’ll see.”

Not flashy, but accurate and realistic.

After President Trump’s ‘divisive’ comments, why the Bears locked arms during the national anthem

After President Trump’s ‘divisive’ comments, why the Bears locked arms during the national anthem

President Trump forced every NFL team to respond following comments over the weekend, both on Twitter and at a rally in Alabama, that any NFL player who takes a knee in protest during the national anthem is a “son of a bitch” who should be “fired." Bears chairman George McCaskey and coach John Fox spoke to their team on Saturday and delivered a message that players said was well-received. 

Players felt like the team’s ownership, management and coaching staff had their back, and they determined their response to — as defensive end Akiem Hicks said — “divisive rhetoric” would be to lock arms as a team during the national anthem on Sunday. The Bears saw President Trump’s comments as an attempt to divide them and the rest of the players in the league, so the message they wanted to send was one of unity. 

“To tell us that we don’t have the freedom to speak and to stand on whatever platform that we feel like and voice our opinions, and we have great respect for our country, great respect for the flag, great respect for the anthem — we also want to show that we’re unified,” Hicks said. “And I think that was the best way to show that. We hold all those things dear and we are American citizens.”

This issue has been boiling ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who remains unsigned — was the first to kneel during the national anthem last year in protest of police brutality and social injustice in the United States. Those beliefs are why Kaepernick began peacefully protesting, but the debate about athletes kneeling during the anthem can sometimes lose sight of that, said linebacker Danny Trevathan. 

“It gets lost in (translation),” Trevathan, who played a big role in what the Bears decided to do Sunday, said. “I know a lot of people (talked) about the flag, which I’m real big on it, but I really understand the way he attacked it. 

“He believed in something. He stood for that. And that’s what America’s built on, guys standing up for a great cause. And I feel like, you know, a lot of people overlook that but for somebody great like that to say something to that, he must’ve felt some way. But I feel like he did the right thing. And this team came together and we had his back, and we stood up for a great cause today.”

Added Trevathan about the Bears' actions on Sunday: “I feel like we were together. Together we can’t fall. I feel like I was doing the right thing. I feel like my two daughters, they would be proud of me. I took a stand for what I believed in. 

“And you know, I can’t stand around and let stuff like that happen. Because then you feel pity for yourself, you’ll be like, next time, I’m going to do something, next time — nah, man. Now is the time to stand up and be that right, that right person in the right situation. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. You have to stand up for what’s right.”

Whatever the Bears did on Sunday, the point was to do it as a unified team — a team of players of different ethnicities and backgrounds from different regions of the country. 

“We love each other, we’re empathetic for each others’ issues,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “This team does a great job of putting ourselves in others’ shoes. And it’s not something that’s hush-hush, we talk about it in the locker room. We have guys who are open about how they feel, and we have guys that are respectful of other people’s opinions. 

“I feel like today showed that we are a unit, a cohesive unit. That’s what we wanted to convey today. We didn’t want to show any disrespect towards the military, the flag. But there are obviously issues going on in our country, and I think we did the right thing today. Going forward, just trying to make this place a better world to live in.”