Jordan Howard

Mitch Trubisky's next developmental step is adjusting to NFL defenses

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Mitch Trubisky's next developmental step is adjusting to NFL defenses

Mitch Trubisky is no longer an NFL secret (well, maybe a little one, after only two games). Now the real intrigue shifts in significant measure to what the rest of the NFL is going to do about him.

Because while the Bears have/had a plan to bring his development along at a measured pace, the rest of the league, beginning with the Carolina Panthers this Sunday, has quite a different plan in mind.

What do the Panthers (and others) have waiting for Trubisky?

The Baltimore Ravens presented a Cover-2 look on 40 or so of the Bears' 75 snaps, something “on film we really didn't see any of that at all, so it was really surprising for them to come out in that two-high shell,” Trubisky said. “Our plan was just to run them out of it.”

A simple NFL operating philosophy is to find out and understand what an opponent likes to do and does best, and then take that away from him. Trubisky is very good on the move; colleague JJ Stankevitz uncovered the fact that Trubisky against the Baltimore Ravens had the longest average time in a play of any NFL quarterback, meaning he works well out in space and extends plays.

The math from there isn’t especially complicated: A quarterback who is accurate and comfortable getting outside the pocket, extending and improvising plays, is someone to be kept inside the pocket, ideally one collapsing around him. By using a mush-rush, for instance, a controlled assault on the pocket without edge rushers selling out for max pressure and focusing on lane integrity, a defense potentially takes much of Trubisky’s mobility out of play. This is a common strategy against Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and mobile quarterback who is as or more dangerous when flushed from the pocket as he is in it.

A “Chico Plan” then?

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has done bad things to Bears quarterbacks and comes from an attack-dog mindset as a member of the 1985 Bears. He learned from then-coordinator Buddy Ryan that a prime directive of the defense is to simply get to the quarterback.

Rivera and then-coach Lovie Smith differed on the use of blitzing, with Rivera on the side of crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war. After Rivera was excused from his job as Smith’s defensive coordinator, he went to San Diego as Chargers linebackers coach and opened the 2007 season against the Bears blitzing, sacking and harassing Rex Grossman in a 14-3 San Diego win.

The next time the teams met, in the 2010 preseason opener, Rivera was by then defensive coordinator, and he had the Chargers blitzing Jay Cutler from the outset on the latter’s only series, sacking Cutler with a corner blitz on just the seventh play of the game. Not exactly gentlemanly conduct for preseason openers.

But if the past is prologue, Rivera’s past should be revealing to Trubisky.

Scouting Trubisky

But how do the NFL and the Panthers in particular scout Trubisky with a body of work consisting of just two regular-season games?

Rookies with little pro time on tape are scouted from their college play. The Bears took looks at Carson Wentz’s North Dakota State play before they faced Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles in game two last season. That was out of some necessity, since Wentz played 39 snaps in the Eagles’ first preseason game and not again until opening day after he’d been installed as the starter following Sam Bradford’s trade to Minnesota.

Predictably perhaps, Wentz powered the Eagles to a 3-1 start with 100-plus passer ratings in three of his first four games. Teams progressively adjusted and Wentz had only two games with ratings in the low 90’s the rest of the season, none better. He had seven TD passes and one interception through the first four weeks, then nine TD’s and 13 INT’s the rest of the way.

“You go back and look at his college film if you don’t have much film from the NFL,” said linebacker Sam Acho. “You may see that he moves well in the pocket or likes to move outside or whatever. But Mitch played in the preseason and now has played a couple games. It wasn’t like Wentz which was the first game or two of the season.”

Attention is indeed less likely to be paid to Trubisky’s college body of work for the simple reason that he did play extensively through the preseason, with 126 snaps and 53 pass attempts, the most of either for any of the Bears’ four quarterbacks through preseason. But Trubisky happened to play his college football at the University of North Carolina, down the road from Charlotte, so “we remember Mitch mostly because of what he did when he was here at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Rivera said. “We got to watch all 14 games and we were impressed. 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.”

Guessing that Chico wasn’t including next Sunday.

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. 

Jordan Howard puts the team on his back, wills Bears to ugly OT victory over Ravens

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Jordan Howard puts the team on his back, wills Bears to ugly OT victory over Ravens

BALTIMORE — Jordan Howard willed the Bears to an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in September, and he did the same thing on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. 

In a sloppy game that saw the Bears blow second half leads of 14 and 11 points to send things careening into overtime, Howard’s 53-yard run with just over five minutes left in overtime helped set up Connor Barth’s game-winning 40-yard field goal. The Bears were backed up deep in their own territory without much semblance of offensive success going their way, but Howard’s outstanding second-effort run was the spark this offense needed.

Mitchell Trubisky avoided pressure and found Kendall Wright for an excellent 18-yard catch, moving the Bears into field goal range. After a few ineffective plays, Barth connected ….

It was a game the Bears looked like they should’ve won comfortably, but a pair of return touchdowns — one by Bobby Rainey on a kickoff, one by Michael Campanaro on a punt — got Baltimore back in the game. Rainey’s return came with the Bears up 17-3, and while replays showed Josh Bellamy might’ve tackled him, it wasn’t called that way. 

That cut the Bears’ lead to 17-10. The Bears then fumbled on their next three possessions, losing two (charged to Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky) with the other being a high snap from Cody Whitehair that sailed over Trubisky’s head. Baltimore managed a field goal off Cohen’s fumble to cut the score to 17-13. 

After Trubisky’s fumble, Kyle Fuller — who was outstanding on Sunday, it should be noted — broke up a pass intended for Chris Moore, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Adrian Amos, who returned it for a touchdown (it was Amos’ first career interception). 

It looked like the Bears were going to find a way to lose, though, after Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return and the Ravens’ successful two-point conversion. But thanks to that one big effort from Howard — the Bears’ best offensive player — the game wound up in the win column.