Carolina Panthers

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.

Breaking down the play that sums up how good the Bears’ defense has been in 2017

Breaking down the play that sums up how good the Bears’ defense has been in 2017

The Bears’ defense proved to be a stout bunch through the first eight games of 2017, with major contributions coming from every unit within it. But there’s one play that stands out when evaluating just how good Vic Fangio’s group has been this year:

Midway through the third quarter of the Bears’ 17-3 win over Carolina on Oct. 22, the Panthers lined up to try to convert a fourth-and-two at the Bears’ 25-yard line. This was a pivotal point in the game: Carolina was down, 17-3, but was driving after 10 plays covering 51 yards. A first down could’ve begat a touchdown, which would’ve changed the entire complexion of a game in which the Bears were struggling to mount anything offensively.

So the Panthers called for a bread-and-butter play: QB power, with Cam Newton running behind the right side of his offensive line as well as a running back and a tight end. The 6-foot-6, 260 pound Newton is averaging 3.8 yards per carry on third/fourth-and-short downs in his career; only 28 of his 133 attempts (21 percent) in those situations have not gone for first downs. This was one of them, and it had everything to do with how good the Bears' defense -- specifically Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman -- played the call. 

This is right as Newton received the snap. Goldman is the blue arrow, blocked by right guard Trai Turner (70). Hicks is in the red circle and immediately draws a double team of tackle Daryl Williams (60) and tight end Ed Dickson (84). Leonard Floyd is the yellow arrow, coming from the edge, with running back Jonathan Stewart (28) identifying his rush. 

Goldman (blue arrow) quickly beats Turner to his inside shoulder, while Hicks takes on the double team and Floyd is met by Stewart. Danny Trevathan (black arrow) doesn't over-pursue and stays on his assignment. 

Goldman is free of Turner, Hicks doesn't give ground against the double team and Floyd beats Stewart to his outside shoulder. The play is quickly blowing up for Carolina. 

The purple circle is where Turner wound up after being beat by Goldman, who's ready to meet Newton at the 26-yard line. Carolina had to get to the Bears' 23-yard line to convert a first down. Floyd, too, now has an opportunity to get to Newton, even after Stewart gets his hands on him. And there's nowhere for Newton to push forward because Hicks proved to be immovable. 

Scene. Goldman (1) is credited with the tackle, but Floyd (2) is contributing. Adrian Amos (3), Trevathan (4) and Hicks (5) make sure there's no chance Newton can power his way forward for two yards. It officially goes as a one-yard gain and a turnover on downs. 

Here's how defensive line coach Jay Rodgers explained the play:

“(Goldman) was playing a left side shade,” Rodgers said. “Their right guard blocked down on him, he recognized the key read right there and knocked that guy back. He’s supposed to fit on the right side of that guard, but here comes Cam to the left side of that guard, he just gets rid of them and go makes the play. Now, that doesn’t happen unless Akiem anchors the double-team, and that’s what he had to do first. So those are two guys who are playing off of each other right there in a positive way.”

Here’s what Hicks saw on it:

“It was a heavy set to our side,” Hicks said. “Then they pull the guard from the back side, they take the running back through the hole and then they send Cam last, so it’s just a lot of meat coming through one area. I would say that’s a great play for their offense. That wasn’t the only time that they ran it, but we did a great job of shutting it down. Taking on those first two blocks that I did allowed guys to come around the sides and stop him before he got to the first down.”

The point here: The Carolina Panthers, a 6-3 team with a good chance of making the playoffs, ran one of its most effective offensive plays in a high-leverage situation, and the Bears stopped it. This was Carolina's best against the Bears' best. The Bears won. And that's what Fangio's defense can do. 

How can Dontrelle Inman affect the Bears’ offense? Start with Kendall Wright

How can Dontrelle Inman affect the Bears’ offense? Start with Kendall Wright

Kendall Wright has been the Bears’ most productive receiver in 2017, with 20 catches on 26 targets for 236 yards and a touchdown. But he only played eight snaps against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, about 21 percent of the offense’s total.

The Bears’ gameplan — which went ultra-conservative after Eddie Jackson’s two touchdowns — was centered around a run-first, mistake-free approach that dictated more heavier sets (two tight ends, two tight ends and a fullback, three tight ends, etc). And that led to Wright being used sparingly.

“When you’re in the bigger groupings and trying to play to your strengths that way it does limit some of the things he does,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “The last two weeks we’ve chosen to do some no-huddle stuff on third down to kind of help Mitchell (Trubisky). So, it has limited some of Kendall’s touches and those things.”

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Wright, who played under Loggains during his most productive years with the Tennessee Titans and signed a one-year prove-it contract in the offseason. He’s a savvy, football-smart veteran who can reliably get open, especially ahead the chains on third down. Those traits haven’t vanished.

But the team views Wright mostly as a slot receiver with some ability to play outside, though it’s telling that over 70 percent of his snaps since Trubisky took over at quarterback have come in three-receiver sets.

This is where Dontrelle Inman could, theoretically, help get Wright on the field more. Inman had success last year with the Chargers as someone with the flexibility to play inside and outside, but at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he has better size to play outside than the 5-foot-10, 194 pound Wright.

It’s unlikely Inman — who coach John Fox expects to take his physical either Wednesday night or Thursday morning — will step in and make an immediate impact on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Not only will Inman have to get up to speed on a new offense quickly, but he hasn’t been active since Oct. 8 and last was targeted Oct. 1. Inman has two catches on four targets this year after a 97-target, 58-catch, 810-yard breakout season in 2016.

But the addition of Inman gives the Bears a low-risk, low-cost (ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Chargers are receiving a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick in the trade) shot at finding a wide receiver for Trubisky to trust. But even if he doesn’t find the form he had a year ago, perhaps he’ll help allow the Bears to find a way to get Wright on the field a little more. And Wright is definitely someone Trubisky can trust.

“(Wright)’s a guy in my opinion who’s better when he doesn’t play 75 snaps,” Loggains said last week. “When he gets to play in that 25-35 range, he’s fresh and can bring the energy and juice.”