Zach Miller

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. 

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

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USA TODAY

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

The Bears committed nine penalties (eight of which were officially assessed, since one was offsetting) against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. This isn’t a new trend: The Bears were flagged eight times against the Green Bay Packers, 10 times against the Pittsburgh Steelers, eight times against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four times against the Atlanta Falcons. 

So since Week 1, this has been a problem. Given the Bears’ offense gets easily bogged down when it’s behind the chains and the defense doesn’t have a penchant for takeaways, almost every one of these penalties has hurt. 

Against Minnesota, here’s the breakdown:

No. 1: Holding on center Cody Whitehair. The penalty wiped out Tre McBride’s 26-yard reception, which would’ve moved the Bears inside the 10-yard line. Instead, the Bears were moved from the Vikings’ 35 to 45-yard line and ran a screen to Benny Cunningham on third and 20. Pat O’Donnell then punted. 

No. 2: Delay of game on Mitchell Trubisky. This was less on the quarterback and more on the coaching staff — John Fox tried to confuse the Vikings by faking sending his punt unit out, then the offense on fourth and 2. But Trubisky got to the huddle with about 12 seconds on the play clock and couldn’t get a snap off on time. While the play may have worked — Josh Bellamy was uncovered — Trubisky didn’t have enough time to get the snap off. 

No. 3: Holding on Markus Wheaton. The call may have been questionable, but it wiped out what would’ve been a Jordan Howard 42-yard touchdown run. The Bears instead were faced with a first-and-17. 

No. 4: Offensive pass interference on McBride. This was on the very next play and was by far the most questionable penalty assessed on the Bears, with McBride ostensibly being flagged for making contact with cornerback Terence Newman’s face mask. “I went and looked at the film and I couldn’t really see what triggered the call but that’s above my pay grade,” McBride said. “I just gotta roll with the punches on that.” Worth noting: Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd did something similar to cornerback Kyle Fuller later in the game and wasn’t penalized. Either way, it put Trubisky in a first and 27 spot at his own 41-yard line. 

No. 5: False start on Charles Leno Jr. This came after Trubisky found Dion Sims for a 17-yard gain following the McBride penalty and backed the Bears up from the Vikings’ 42 to 47-yard line. 

No. 6: False start on Bobby Massie. The Bears went from second and 8 to second and 13 deep in their own territory, and while they picked up a first down thanks to a Minnesota penalty, they still had to punt. 

No. 7: Holding on Josh Sitton. This offset a Jaleel Johnson facemask and re-played a second and 7 down. The Bears went three-and-out. 

No. 8: 12 men on the field on Eddie Goldman. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum astutely snapped the ball as Goldman was chugging off the field. 

No. 9: Holding on Leonard Floyd. This allowed Minnesota to extend the drive that led to their game-winning field goal, but it was questionable at best. When asked what got in the way of Floyd on the flag, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said: “The officiating.”

The first six of these penalties — all on the offense — came in the first half. The holding flags on Whitehair and Wheaton kept the Bears out of the red zone and end zone, and every one of the first-half flags put the Bears’ offense in a difficult situation. 

“That puts us in passing situations and makes it a bit more complicated for Mitch,” Massie said. “But just don’t do it and we won’t have the problem.”

The Bears held a meeting on Wednesday addressing this concerning penchant for penalties, but there isn’t necessarily a way for the players to fix those problems outside of maintaining better focus in practice and games. 

“You can’t do anything different aside from dial into what you’re doing better individually,” tight end Zach Miller said. “There’s no way to drill that aside from do it right.”

Teams penalized as much as the Bears routinely are slapped with an “undisciplined” label, which doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. The players can talk about renewing their focus during practice, but it’s also on the coaching staff to figure out a solution. 

“I think a lot of it is in preparation,” Fox said. “It’s making sure we don’t have that occur in practice. It’s not like we haven’t emphasized it. Some of the same things I talked about last week popped up again, so we just continue to work at it. 

"In some cases we change people. In some cases we change how we practice. So you’re always looking to try to get that."

It’s an issue that has to be fixed, though, as long as this team struggles to overcome penalties. Fox pointed out the Vikings were penalized more than the Bears on Monday night, but “they overcame it a little bit better than we did.” That trend is likely to continue so long as the Bears continue to commit penalties. 

“No game will ever be completely perfect,” Massie said. “There’ll always be something. That’s just something that’s stood out multiple times in multiple games. It’s just something we gotta clean up.”

A 20-year-old Dowell Loggains, a chance encounter and how the Bears' mesmerizing two-point conversion came to be

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USA Today

A 20-year-old Dowell Loggains, a chance encounter and how the Bears' mesmerizing two-point conversion came to be

Dowell Loggains knew he wanted to coach his whole life, so back in 1995 — his freshman year of high school — he started keeping a notebook of plays he recorded on video tapes (remember those?). One of those plays he wrote down happened in 2000, while Loggains was a freshman at the University of Arkansas. 

With the ball on the Green Bay Packers’ 2-yard line, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King handed the ball off to running back Warrick Dunn. Dunn then handed off to fullback Mike Alstott, who was running in the opposite direction. Alstott was met by a Packers defender, but flipped a pitch back to King, who caught it at the five-yard line and bolted into the end zone. 

Look familiar?

That play, designed by former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Les Steckel, was the inspiration behind the two-point conversion play the Bears ran Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. While Loggains was with the Tennessee Titans, head coach Mike Munchak lived next door to Steckel, and the Titans hired Steckel’s son in an offensive quality control role.

“I got to meet coach Steckel one day," Loggains said. "We go to Easter with (former Titans offensive coordinator) Chris Palmer, Mike Munchak and Les Steckel and his wife. I had this notebook and I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to ask you about this one play, You ran it 13 years ago.’ He called it doughnut.

“… So I’ve always had this play, as a coaching staff upstairs, we had this play. But you’ve got to have Zach Miller. You gotta have a tight end or a Mike Alstott that you trust with the ball-handling. So it’s just an option play off that. That’s where the play came from.” 

Miller is a former college quarterback who joked that he made the switch to tight end “because the option was my best pass,” so he was a perfect fit for the play. The Bears ran it in training camp and were holding on to it for the right situation — which also had to be with Mitchell Trubisky as the quarterback. 

Calling for the play in such a critical situation, with the Bears down by two midway through the fourth quarter, took some guts. But the Bears were confident in the design and their ability to execute the play — “there was a little smile going into the huddle, we were like we’re going to score and tie the game right here,” Trubisky said. 

The play worked to perfection, just like it did 17 years ago at Lambeau Field. Loggains wasn’t going to pat himself on the back for the innovative design — but he should thank his 20-year-old self for writing down that play. 

“Coach Les Steckel deserves all the credit for it,” Loggains said. “We just installed it 17 years later.”