JJ STANKEVITZ

Focused on himself, Mitch Trubisky isn’t here to talk about Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers

Focused on himself, Mitch Trubisky isn’t here to talk about Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers

Mitch Trubisky had zero interest on Wednesday in fielding a line of questions about his high school nickname, which was bestowed upon him thanks to a comparison to a certain former Green Bay Packers quarterback. The days of him being “Favre” are, as he put it, in the past. 

“I’m done with that nickname,” Trubisky said. “No one calls me that anymore. I’m just focused on playing this week and doing my job.”

Trubisky clearly wasn’t thrilled with that line of questioning, and Matt Nagy didn’t entertain it, either. This is a Bears team with far more important things ahead of them as they stare down a game against the Green Bay Packers in which they can accomplish two season-defining things: First, clinching the NFC North; and second, effectively eliminating the Packers from playoff contention. 

Trubisky was sharply critical of himself after Sunday’s 15-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams, a game in which the Bears won but he had, by passer rating, the worst game of his career (33.3). He emerged Wednesday with a clear head about his bad game, citing sloppy footwork and an over-eagerness to be back on the field for the first time since Nov. 18. 

Rust from that layoff, Trubisky said, was not a factor. 

“I think that's just making excuses, saying that I could be rusty,” Trubisky said. “Bottom line is I just came out and I didn't make the throws that I needed to make. I didn't do my job necessary when my team needed me to do my job and I know that I can play better.”

The more specific root of Trubisky’s problem, he said, was trying to do too much against a Wade Philips defense that deployed plenty of zone coverage. That took away the opportunities for Trubisky to make a big play, but he tried anyway, sailing two throws for interceptions while getting picked off on an aggressive third-and-10 throw, too. 

Along those lines, too — the primetime Sunday Night Football stage wasn’t why he tried to do too much. It goes back to an over-exuberance for being back on the field for the first time in three weeks. 

“I should have just had a more focused mindset of, OK, I just need to do my job,” Trubisky said. “I just need to find completions. I just need to catch the snap, do my footwork and get the ball to my playmakers rather than being too amped up about being out there with my guys and trying to make all-world plays. I just need to go out there and do my job.”

This is about as encouraging of an explanation from Trubisky as possible, in a few ways. The issues had something to do with his layoff, but not necessarily rust. And they didn’t happen because the moment was too big for a guy who will play in a few more big moments come January. 

The word “shoulder” was also not mentioned during Trubisky’s media session, too. 

While Trubisky was clearly frustrated with play against the Rams, he made sure to note the most important thing from Sunday was the Bears emerging with a win. Adding to that, Nagy said Trubisky’s positive attitude didn’t waver on the sidelines, which is important to note. 

“He's the leader of this offense and the guys look to him for any frustration, any type of ability of him to not show leadership or any of that, we don't want it,” Nagy said. “He hasn't done it.”

The lasting impression from Trubisky’s media session on Wednesday was this: Focus. He came across as willing to not only engage in self-criticism, but willing to be specific about it (which, it should be said, is not uncommon for him this year). But anything general, or about a topic he didn’t think was relevant for this weekend’s game against the Packers? He didn’t have time for that. 

And, at least publicly, that presents as a quarterback frustrated with what he showed against the Rams, but focused on exactly what he needs to do to be better on Sunday against the Packers. 

The Favre thing is one example. How he answered a question about Aaron Rodgers — and what he might admire about him — is another. 

“I don't know, I haven't really watched much on him this year,” Trubisky said. “I’m really just focused on continuing to learn this offense and focused on what I got to do and my job this year. So just continue to learn and master this offense and focus on myself and my teammates. Obviously he's had a lot of success, but I'm just focused on what I got to do for my team this year right now.”

Film breakdown: Why the Bears' sudden change defense could key a deep playoff run

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Film breakdown: Why the Bears' sudden change defense could key a deep playoff run

Prior to Sunday night’s Bears-Rams game, if you were told Mitch Trubisky would throw three interceptions in his own territory, you probably would’ve through the Rams would win in a laugher. Giving one of the best offenses in the NFL, if not the best offense in the NFL, three short fields — including one in the red zone — seemed like a recipe for disaster.

Only it wasn’t. The Rams managed three points off those three turnovers, which stands as arguably the biggest reason for the Bears’ 15-6 win. 

“We want to go out there and get it back as fast as we can so (the offense) can have a little momentum going in the right direction,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “So there is an emphasis on making that play off a turnover.”

Today’s film breakdown looks at how the Bears’ sudden change defense clamped down on Los Angeles. 

First turnover came when Mitch Trubisky overthrew Josh Bellamy, with cornerback Marcus Peters picking off the pass and returning it 48 yards to the Bears’ 15-yard line. 

The Rams handed off to Todd Gurley on the first play after taking over possession. Vic Fangio dials up a blitz for safety Adrian Amos (red arrow), who comes unblocked and doesn’t seem worried about the prospect for a play-action fake and turns his attention right at Gurley. Meanwhile, linebacker Roquan Smith is matched up against tight end Tyler Higbee (blue circle/arrow).

Right after Gurley takes the handoff, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and Smith are all holding the point of attack at the line of scrimmage (blue circle). The only one who doesn’t is outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (yellow arrow), but Gurley is too close to the line to cut outside, especially with Amos chasing him from the back. 

Smith sheds Higbee and gets to Gurley first, with Amos getting his hands on the running back shortly after. Gurley gains one yard, bringing up second and nine. 

After that gain, the Bears drop eight into coverage in an effort to keep everything in front of them. This is a good call by Fangio, who trusts his defense’s ability to make a stop on third down. Goff isn’t pressured and picks out Brandin Cooks for a gain of five, bringing up third and 4. 

Khalil Mack wrecks the Rams’ playcall here with a tremendous pass-rush move on right tackle Rob Havenstein. Mack starts wide and cuts inside across Havenstein’s body, while Gurley (yellow arrow) runs a route and isn’t available to help chip Mack. 

Help comes from right guard Austin Blythe, but it’s too late to keep Mack away from Goff. 

Goff can only heave the ball away while Mack is draped over him, resulting in an incomplete pass and a 27-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein. 

These are the only points the Rams score off a Bears turnover all game. 

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The Bears’ other two defensive stops off turnovers were simpler, relatively speaking. The second turnover came when Trubisky was picked off by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman with 19 seconds to go in the first half, which gave the Rams the ball on the Bears’ 49-yard line. After Gurley was whistled for an illegal shift on the first play, Goff completed a short pass to set up a Hail Mary that was picked off by Eddie Jackson to end the half. 

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What happened after Trubisky’s final interception was probably the second-biggest play of the night (behind Goldman’s safety). With the Bears leading by nine midway through the third quarter, Trubisky was picked off when he sailed a pass beyond Trey Burton into the waiting arms of safety John Johnson. 

With the ball on the Bears’ 27-yard line and a chance to make it a one-score game at worst — and, at best, cut the Bears’ lead to two — Goff drops back and stares down receiver Josh Reynolds (yellow arrow) almost from the start of the play. Kyle Fuller is matched up on Reynolds in off coverage (blue arrow). 

As soon as Reynolds makes his cut, Fuller jumps the route — even before Goff throws the pass. The result is Fuller’s seventh interception of the year, tying him for the NFL lead. Fuller felt like he didn’t bait Goff into the throw, he just identified the route and jumped it, which might have something to do with the extraordinary amount of film study he puts in each week

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Being successful in sudden change opportunities is part scheme and part attitude, and the Bears not only have the right scheme for these situations but collectively the right attitude. 

“Where I see teams or sides of the ball that can get into trouble would be when you have a bunch of individuals that all of a sudden get upset or angry that, ‘We got a couple stops here, and now you just give the ball right back to them,’ and they start pouting when they go back out to the field,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And we don’t do that.” 

Bears opponents have only managed 40 points on 20 drives that began due to an interception or fumble — and that’s with the average starting point of those drives being the 50-yard line. The Bears have forced more turnovers and punts (10) than allowed field goals and touchdowns (eight, with the other two drives ending on a turnover on downs). 

For a team with an offense that remains under construction, this is a massive reason why the Bears are 9-4 and tantalizingly close to their first NFC North title in eight years. And it’s a major reason to believe this team could legitimately make a deep run into the playoffs next month. 

“Not one time this year have we had — and it could have happened a few times, I go back to the Arizona game, the defense was playing really well, the offense wasn’t — and not one time did that defense complain about the offense not playing well,” Nagy said. “And that I think is speaks volumes to the character of these guys.”

Bryce Callahan's reported broken foot will put the Bears' defense to the test

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USA Today Sports Images

Bryce Callahan's reported broken foot will put the Bears' defense to the test

Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t sound too optimistic when discussing Bryce Callahan’s foot injury on Monday, and on Tuesday, it was reported the slot cornerback has a broken bone in his foot. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo confirmed the initial report, which came from a memorabilia agency that was going to host a Callahan appearance on Tuesday:

The injury is a tough blow for the 27-year-old Callahan, who was playing the best football of his career through 12 games. Opposing quarterbacks had just a 79.5 passer rating when throwing his way, per Pro Football Focus, and he had more interceptions (two) than touchdowns allowed (one). He very well could’ve been ticketed to the Pro Bowl given the increased importance of slot defenders in today’s NFL, and with how frequently that meant the Bears were in nickel this year. 

“There are a lot of little things that he’s mastered and can go to the next level as far as reading and dissecting routes and knowing how to play them, maybe playing them a half-second quicker than he did two years ago,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last week. “Those things start to add up.”

Callahan hasn’t played a full season since debuting as an undrafted free agent in 2015, though, due to some injury issues. The Bears brought him back this offseason on a one-year original round tender worth a shade under $2 million, and this latest injury could impact what will otherwise be a strong payday for Callahan this spring. 

The Bears will move forward without Callahan, though, for the time being. Whether or not he could return during the regular season or playoffs isn’t known yet, but without him, the Bears’ first option to replace him will be veteran Sherrick McManis. 

McManis played well in place of Callahan against the Rams on Sunday, limiting the pass-catchers he was matched up against to just 18 yards on four targets and three receptions. He allowed only one yard after the catch, per Pro Football Focus, and also notched three pressures in five pass-rushing snaps. 

But can McManis sustain that level of play for the season’s final three games and then into the playoffs? That’ll be the question the Bears will have to answer going forward. McManis only played 18 defensive snaps in 2016 and 31 in 2017, with his value coming as a special teams ace. He played 29 percent of the Bears’ snaps in 2015, and in that year opposing quarterbacks had a 147.9 passer rating when throwing his way (21/28, 292 yards, five touchdowns, no passes defended). 

The Bears will likely have to bring in another cornerback for depth, as Callahan’s injury gives them only four healthy players at that position (Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Kevin Toliver II and McManis). 

The injury to Callahan looks like the most significant blow to the Bears’ defense this year. How they respond to it, from a personnel and scheme standpoint, will go a long way toward determining how far this team makes it in January.