JJ STANKEVITZ

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests. 

Just how well did Mitch Trubisky play against New England?

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USA TODAY

Just how well did Mitch Trubisky play against New England?

Nothing Mitch Trubisky did in the Bears’ 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday shook the confidence of his coaches or teammates in the long-term outlook for their franchise quarterback. If anything, most of what he did continued to show those guys his development is trending in the right direction.

“Mitch is a good-ass quarterback,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “He’s got ability to do a lot of things. He’s young, but he’s going to be a special player. You see glimpses of that last year, and you see more of it this year. In years to come he’s going to be a hell of a player.”

Trubisky’s final stat line is deceiving in some respects, though. He completed 26 of 50 passes, good for a completion percentage of 52 percent, for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and a passer rating of 69.8. He’s now thrown for over 300 yards in three consecutive games, joining Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer as the only quarterbacks to do that in franchise history.

While taking away the last-ditch drive and completion to White — that got the Bears about a yard away from tying or winning the game — shouldn’t be completely ignored in the overall evaluation of Trubisky’s game, he completed 22 of 45 passes for 254 yards before New England’s defense sat as far back as they could with 24 seconds left.

Trubisky’s accuracy was uneven during the game, which Nagy chalked up to something that happens with a young quarterback having to throw so frequently.  

“When you throw the ball 50 times, there's going to be some that are inaccurate,” Nagy said. “This is this kid's second year in the NFL, and this is his first year in our offense. So not everything is going to be dead on. He had a good game today.”

It wasn’t good enough for the Bears to win, though, which is what ultimately counts. Yes, two special teams touchdowns were backbreaking, and the defense struggled with the Patriots’ ability to get the ball out quick and efficiently do the simple things right.

But Trubisky threw two interceptions, one when he tried to make a play on third and long and the ball appeared to bounce out of the arms of Josh Bellamy and into the waiting hands of Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson.

The other, though, came when Anthony Miller had a step on safety Jonathan Jones. Instead of leading Miller into the end zone, Trubisky under threw the ball a touch, turning what could’ve been a touchdown throw into a 50-50 ball.

Jones made a spectacular play to intercept the pass, and New England engineered a 96-yard scoring drive after it that put the Bears down 14 in the fourth quarter.

“I thought I could have put it out there a little further,” Trubisky said. “I loved Anthony's route he ran, and I threw it a little later than I wanted to because I had to check protection to make sure I gave a slide call to make sure we could pick up the blitz that they brought through, and I just bounced back to the other side, so it was a little later than I wanted to be.

"But I thought he ran a great route, loved how he took it high, and I just got pushed out there a little further, but it was a 50/50 ball, and he had a chance to get it, and the other guy had a chance to get it, and the other dude made a great play.”

The Patriots’ defense did well to take away Taylor Gabriel — who had been Trubisky’s favorite target over the last few weeks — by shading a cornerback to the receiver’s inside shoulder and playing a safety over the top consistently. Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin issue and didn’t make an impact (five targets, one catch, four yards).

What the Bears liked from Trubisky, though, was how he switched to relying on Trey Burton (11 targets, nine catches, 129 yards, one touchdown) and stuck with Tarik Cohen (12 targets, eight catches, 69 yards, one touchdown).

Trubisky was outstanding running the ball, scrambling over 70 yards for an eight-yard touchdown and deftly extending a run into a 39-yard gain in the third quarter. His team-best 81 rushing yards on six attempts were an effective counter-punch to what Belichick threw at him.

But Trubisky threw two passes in the end zone that could’ve — and probably should’ve — been picked off. Those two throws were concerning given Trubisky threw a momentum-shifting interception in the end zone last week in Miami.

“He forced one in the end zone that everyone is holding your breath when he throws it, and that can happen sometimes with a young quarterback,” Nagy said. “But that was one of the ones that he knew right away 'I shouldn't have done that.'”

The highs and lows are all part of the long-term development of a young quarterback paired with a first-time coach. That’s a critically-important backdrop with which to evaluate Trubisky, Nagy and the Bears’ offense.

But the Bears still have plenty to prove in 2018, with this at the top of the list: Can this team be a playoff contender with a quarterback trending in the right direction, but still going through the growing pains of inexperience?

“It’s early in the year, still a lot of games left, a lot of ball to be played and we’re a good-ass team,” Massie said. “There’s no need to be like oh, woe is me. We’re still gonna make a run at this thing. We gotta fix what needs to be fixed and we’ll be good.”

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

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USA Today

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

A year ago, had the Bears come within one yard of tying the New England Patriots in a game in which they allowed two special teams touchdowns, the vibe in the Solider Field locker room might’ve been different. Sort of like, hey, that was pretty good that we were able to hang with one of the league's best teams and nearly tie and/or beat them despite our own mistakes. 

The operative term, then, after Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots may be confident frustration. The Bears know they’re a good team, better than they’ve had in recent memory. And that makes losing a game this team felt it was close to winning that much more frustrating. 

“We still had confidence last year that we could go in and win games (last year), but I would say this year we know what type of team we have,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We know we got a quarterback that’s developing and throwing the ball down the field really well. We know we have a great wide receiver corps. We know we have rushers that can get to the quarterback. We have a really good team and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on that big play momentum and finish games out.”

Perhaps this is a picture of a talented team still trying to figure out how to win. The Bears’ defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 8.8 yards per play in the fourth quarter and allowed 6.5 yards per play in the final 15 minutes Sunday, including a critical 96-yard touchdown drive. 

And while Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary to Kevin White came up one yard short, that the Bears were even in that situation to begin with was the problem. New England was able to chew up 3:49 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bears' offense with 24 seconds remaining. Get a stop earlier and the Bears might not have to rely on a nearly-converted heave with time expiring to tie the game. 

“In games like this, your room for error is slim in all phases,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “No matter what we did (well), there are still a couple things that we have to clean up against a team like that."

The Bears’ defense is remaining confident despite scant pressure on Brady — he was sacked once (by Roquan Smith) and hit only three times (by Smith, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris). Khalil Mack barely showed up on the stat sheet, registering only one tackle while being dropped into coverage far more frequently than he made an impact as a pass rusher. How much he was affected by his injured ankle, or how much defensive coordinator Vic Fangio felt he had to gameplan around it, is unclear (Mack did not speak to the media following the game). 

Leonard Floyd, too, was picked on by Brady, who frequently got the ball out quick in a successful effort to mitigate a pass rush that’s struggled to make an impact after recording 18 sacks in four games to begin the year. But the confidence is still there, despite seemingly few reasons for optimism since the second half in Miami kicked off last weekend. 

“We definitely don’t feel like (we’ve hit a wall),” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s probably the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now. We just gotta come in, we left some things on the field, we left some plays on the field. Like I said, it’s tough trying to put this one behind you but, you know, it’s a long season. We’re not getting down on ourselves, we’re still going to play with confidence. That confidence is still there.” 

Games against two of the league’s worst offenses in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then, should help the Bears’ defensive production match its confidence, if that line of thinking is to be believed. But as the first four games of the season get farther and farther in the rearview mirror, this is a defense that has to prove itself again in the coming weeks. 

“(The Patriots) came to play all together, and not saying we didn’t but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “It’s on us. Defense, we got it though. We’re not worried about it. It’s another game we lost. We got how many other games, we got 10 games left? Yeah. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think anybody is.”