Kendall Wright

Bears grades: Dominant win generates straight A's for offense, defense

Bears grades: Dominant win generates straight A's for offense, defense

QUARTERBACKS: A

Mitchell Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 112.4, and also rushed for a touchdown on a read option in the third quarter. It was easily his best game as a pro; beyond his impressive stat line, the offense had a different feel to it on Sunday than it did in any of the previous eight games Trubisky started. Trubisky was calm and comfortable in the pocket, and did well to click through his progressions and remain patient for his receivers to get open. He perhaps could’ve been more accurate on a pass to Adam Shaheen in the end zone in the second quarter that was broken up by safety William Jackson, and he took a sack with about 20 seconds left in the first half that he shouldn’t have taken. But those feels like nitpicking after such a strong overall afternoon. 

RUNNING BACKS: A+

Jordan Howard exerted his will on a banged-up, uninspired Bengals defense, rushing 23 times for 147 yards with two touchdowns. Howard ran tough, or in his own words: “I feel like I got back to my violent ways a little bit.” Tarik Cohen provided a spark with 80 yards on 12 carries, too, combining with Howard for 227 rushing yards. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A-

Kendall Wright caught 10 of his 11 targets for 107 yards and consistently got open in a way no Bears receiver had up to this point. Josh Bellamy provided an early spark, with his two receptions for 52 yards coming on the Bears’ first three drives.  Strangely, Dontrelle Inman — who had shown the best and most reliable connection with Trubisky over the last few weeks — was not targeted. But Wright’s huge day was enough to prop this unit up with its highest grade of the season. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Shaheen caught four of his five targets for 44 yards and a touchdown, and drew a pass interference flag in the end zone too. Dion Sims and Daniel Brown combined for four catches on five targets for 41 yards, too, and Sims in particular did some good things in the run blocking game to pave the way for Howard and Cohen. Shaheen still had a few blocking issues, but his contributions in the passing game — like his 16-yard reception on a fourth-and-three play — more than covered for them. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: A-

There were still too many penalties (four) on this group, but the run blocking was solid — even without Kyle Long — and one of the two Bengals’ sacks was more the fault of Trubisky than the offensive line. The Bears averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and this unit had plenty to do with it.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

The absences of Eddie Goldman and Mitch Unrein were noticeable in this unit, and the Bengals were able to make sure Akiem Hicks (one tackle) didn’t make much of an impact. But Roy Robertson-Harris did notch a sack, and as with every other defensive unit, this grade is boosted by the Bengals managing only seven points and 234 yards on 53 plays (4.4 yards/play). 

LINEBACKERS: A-

Danny Trevathan led the Bears with 10 tackles and broke up a pass, while Nick Kwiatkoski broke up a pair of passes as well. And the Bears’ ragtag group of outside linebackers — missing Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young — turned in two sacks, with Lamarr Houston and Howard Jones accounting for those two. 

SECONDARY: A

Kyle Fuller had another outstanding game, with Pro Football Focus putting together these numbers:

Eddie Jackson picked off a deflected pass and impressively stripped A.J. Green near the sideline for a fumble the Bears recovered. What kept this unit from an A+ was Deon Bush getting beat by Brandon LaFell on a corner route for the Bengals’ only touchdown of the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Mike Nugent missed a PAT — his first kick in a Bears uniform — but rebounded to connect on a pair of chip-shot field goals from 34 and 27 yards. Cohen admitted he was a little too passive in not fielding some punts, which led to the Bears being backed up a couple of tomes. And John Timu and Marcus Cooper were both guilty of holding penalties on returns, with Cooper’s coming on a punt on which Cohen called for a fair catch. 

COACHING: B

Give John Fox and Dowell Loggains some credit for opening up the Bears’ offense and scheming to expand, not maintain, a lead in the second half. Still, why Fox challenged a play on which Trubisky clearly threw beyond the line of scrimmage was a head-scratcher, and the Bears were heavily penalized (10 for 74 yards), though the play of both the offense and defense was enough to cover for that sloppiness. 

Blowout win over Cincinnati turns on the light at the end of the tunnel for Bears’ young core

Blowout win over Cincinnati turns on the light at the end of the tunnel for Bears’ young core

CINCINNATI — If the Bears pull off a Los Angeles Rams-esque turnaround in 2018, their future offensive success might look a little like what went down in Sunday’s 33-7 thrashing of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Mitchell Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over while operating more aggressive offensive gameplan. Jordan Howard rumbled for 147 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns, and Tarik Cohen provided a spark with 80 yards on 12 carries. Adam Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards and reeled in a touchdown. The Bears’ offensive line, despite a rash of first-half penalties, largely kept Trubisky upright and paved the way for Howard and Cohen to account for more rushing yards (227) than team had total offensive yards a week ago (147).  

“What’s been frustrating for me and the coaches is that a lot of us have had our day in the sun, but to see young guys come in and work hard and not reap those benefits,” coach John Fox said. “I thought Mitch Trubisky played very well last week. When you don’t experience the end result that’s a W, it’s hard to put much into that. I’ve seen him grow every week he’s been out there since all the way back to Minnesota. It’s just kind of nice to see some of those young guys experience the benefits of all the hard work.”

Kendall Wright, who’s due to hit free agency, had a massive game (11 targets, 10 catches, 107 yards) and said he won’t focus on where he’ll wind up signing until after the season. But he did add: “If they want me, I’m here. I’m cool with it.”

The Bears’ exact blueprint on Sunday won’t necessarily be easy to follow in 2018, let alone these last three games, given the Bengals’ defense was 1) missing a number of key players, like linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and 2) didn’t appear to give a very good effort. But more important than Howard bludgeoning the Bengals into submission over the course of a lackluster afternoon was the Bears, for the first time in 2017, scoring a touchdown on their first offensive possession.

“That was big for us,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “It was just a confidence thing. We’re capable of doing it, we just got to do it.”

The Bears’ gameplan from that point on felt more aggressive, with Trubisky slinging passes toward nine different teammates while looking comfortable going through his progressions in the pocket. This was a far cry from what the Bears did after getting an early lead against the Carolina Panthers back in October, with Trubisky taking a bunch of sacks and barely throwing the ball in an uninspiring offensive performance.  

The Bears jumped ahead Sunday and, instead of conservatively trying to protect the lead, aggressively tried to grow it. The result was the franchise’s biggest margin of victory in half a decade.

“Everybody wanted the ball,” Trubisky said. “The linemen wanted the ball to run behind them, the receivers wanted the ball in their eyes, and the running backs wanted (to run). When everybody has that hunger, that desire to want to go out and execute the next play, it makes it fun on offense.”

Perhaps the biggest question about Sunday’s game is where this gameplan was all season. But getting in the end zone on that first drive not only boosted the confidence of the players, it could’ve boosted the confidence of Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to open things up.

“(We were) making some of those plays that we maybe didn’t make earlier in the year,” Wright said. “But when you’re making those plays and having fun, it makes it easier for Mitch to find whoever, it makes it easier for Dowell to call whatever plays he wants.”

The story of the 2017 season, though, was written before Sunday’s win ended a five-game losing streak that included duds against the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. All the Bears can do in these final weeks of the season is work to build a foundation for 2018, and that starts with validating that the work they’ve put in this year hasn’t been for nothing.

For Trubisky, it’s not necessarily about personal validation — he’s been confident in his growth even without the wins to back it up. But for the Bears’ young core that played so well on Sunday, it counts for something right now — and may count for something next fall.

“(The losing streak) felt like s***,” Massie said. “You’re getting your ass kicked all the time — it doesn’t feel good to lose. All the work we put in, we deserve this win. We came out, did what we were supposed to do and we got it.”

Where do the Bears stand at wide receiver heading into the second half of 2017?

Where do the Bears stand at wide receiver heading into the second half of 2017?

This will come as no surprise: The Bears are last in the NFL with 1,404 passing yards, and are second-to-last with 13 passing plays of 20 or more yards (only the Baltimore Ravens, with 10, have a lower total). 

Of the seven Bears players with double-digit targets, one is on injured reserve (Zach Miller, 35), one is on the Buffalo Bills (Deonte Thompson, 18) and one hasn’t been targeted since the last time the Bears played the Green Bay Packers (Josh Bellamy, 17). Two are running backs (Tarik Cohen, 39; Jordan Howard, 21), and then there’s one consistently-used receiver in that group (Kendall Wright, 34). 

So change is coming to this group of pass-catchers. And with it is a sort of budding confidence that the group hope pays off on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. 

“It’s the most full-strength (group) that we’ve had so far,” wide receiver Tre McBride said. “And outside of Kevin (White) and Cam (Meredith) returning, this is as healthy as it’s going to get right here. So that’s good. That’s all we need. Obviously we love our boys and our teammates, but we’re confident that we can get it done with our group that’s playing right now.” 

A look at where these receivers stand heading into the second half of the season:

Dontrelle Inman

The 6-foot-3 Inman brings a size component to the Bears’ offense it hasn’t had since Meredith (6-foot-3) and White (also 6-foot-3) suffered season-ending injuries. Coaches have raved about Inman’s work ethic since arriving at Halas Hall two weeks ago — “he's the guy who is in my office at 6:30 in the morning and wanting to go through plays,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said — and he’s lined up to make his Bears debut Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. 

Inman averaged about six targets and 3 1/2 catches per game last year; those numbers will probably be lower in these final eight games of 2017 given the Bears probably won’t throw as much as the Chargers did. But if Inman quickly develops a chemistry with Mitchell Trubisky, he’ll be part of the mix to make an impact starting Sunday. 

Markus Wheaton

Wheaton was a full participant in practice on Thursday and looks set to play for the first time since he suffered a groin injury in practice in mid-October. 

“We’re trying to figure out still where exactly he is, what exactly he’s good at,” Loggains said. “We have to rely a lot on the 2015 tape when you evaluate him because he missed some time in 2016.”

Wheaton has the speed to be a deep play threat, but until he and Trubisky can link up for some big chunks of yardage, defenses may not respect what he can do. And Wheaton knows for Loggains to call for some of those deep shots, he needs to prove he can execute those plays. 

“We gotta keep attacking,” Wheaton said. “We gotta build confidence in them (coaches) upstairs to continue to attack. And that comes here, on the practice field every day, in the meeting room, watching film, we just gotta continue to grow as individuals and that’ll continue to carry over.” 

If Wheaton (or Inman, or anyone else) can execute some downfield plays, it will greatly help alleviate the pressure at the line of scrimmage faced by Howard, and in turn should lead to a decrease in negative runs for the Bears' offense. 

Tre McBride

McBride is coming off the best game of his career (three catches, 92 yards) and succeeded when he was schemed into open space via stack/bunch formations. He’s a player the Bears liked when they claimed him off waivers after cut-down day in early September but took a little while to assimilate into the offense. He and Trubisky had a good rapport against New Orleans, and McBride said he’s confident that chemistry will continue to grow going forward. 

“It’s reps — not even scripted practice reps, but real, live game reps where you got people flying at you trying to hurt you,” McBride said. “That is what’s going to bring the passing game together as a whole. A lot of it’s going to be done on the fly, and that’s just how it is, the profession that they pay us to do.” 

Kendall Wright

Wright is not only the most established receiver in this group, but he could stand to benefit the most from the addition of Inman, the return of Wheaton and the progress of McBride. It was tough for the Bears to get Wright — who is viewed primarily as a slot receiver — into games without a pair of reliable outside receivers, but if two of the Inman/Wheaton/McBride trio play well, it could lead to Wright being on the field more. That’d be good news for Trubisky, especially on third down, when Wright’s savvy ability to get open past the chains can come in handy. 

Josh Bellamy

Despite not being targeted in over a month, Bellamy plays a key role on special teams and is likely to be active on Sunday and beyond because of it. 

Tanner Gentry

Gentry may be the odd man out and wind up inactive against Green Bay assuming Inman and Wheaton are active. He’s played no fewer than 86 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in the three games he was active in October, but only has one catch on three targets in those games. 

As for the non-receivers in the Bears' passing game:

Dion Sims

Sims has missed back-to-back practices this week with an illness, which could put his status for Sunday in jeopardy. He hasn’t been much of a factor in the passing game this year, but did catch a touchdown against Baltimore and might be in line for an uptick in targets without Miller. Sims’ potential absence, though, will be felt mostly in the run game, to the point where coach John Fox floated the possibility an offensive lineman could line up at tight end some on Sunday. 

Daniel Brown

Brown may see the biggest increase in snaps with Miller out, given he best fits the injured tight end’s pass-catching mold. The Bears liked Brown’s pass-catching ability when they added him from the Ravens last year, and he caught 16 passes for 124 yards in six games in 2016. 

Adam Shaheen

While Shaheen hasn’t lived up to the second-round expectations placed on him this year, he can expect to play more than 50 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps for the first time this year, especially if Sims is inactive Sunday. Even if Brown gets some more targets, Shaheen should too. 

Ben Braunecker

Braunecker contributed on special teams last year and should be in the mix to fill Brown’s role there after being promoted from the practice squad on Tuesday. 

Tarik Cohen

Cohen’s pass game usage declined from September (29 targets, 24 catches, 150 yards, 1 TD) to October (10 targets, four receptions, 89 yards), but the rookie said he doesn’t feel like he’s hit a wall. 

“I feel like I’m good,” Cohen said. “I’m refreshed. The bye week came at a perfect time. But even before the bye week I didn’t necessarily feel like I was getting sluggish or running into any type of wall.”

Opposing defensive coordinators quickly schemed to mute Cohen’s production after his explosive debut, but the Bears still can find ways to get the ball in his hands — like on his 70-yard reception against the Carolina Panthers. 

Jordan Howard

While Howard’s catch percentage is up from last year (58 percent in 2016, 67 percent in 2017), he’s dropped two likely touchdowns against Atlanta in Week 1 and New Orleans in Week 8. The next time one of those throws goes Howard’s way, they’ll need their best offensive player to catch the ball.