Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?


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. 


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?


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 

Jimmy Fallon roasts Cody Parkey's 4-boink performance

USA Today

Jimmy Fallon roasts Cody Parkey's 4-boink performance

Cody Parkey's had a rough week. Let's run it back: 

1. Boinked his first kick on Sunday
2. Boinked his second kick on Sunday
3. Boinked his third kick on Sunday
4. Boinked his fourth kick on Sunday
5. Got exposed for not practicing at Soldier Field
6. Was kind of defended but not really by his head coach 

You'll note that it's only Tuesday still. 

And now, Parkey's getting made fun of on late night television. Word of his horrendous Sunday reached Jimmy Fallon's desk, who found a place for Parkey in his monologue: 

The Parkey part starts at roughly the 6-minute mark. 

If you boink four conesecutive kicks, you can't really be mad when you're the butt of a joke or two. With that said - you've had better punchlines, Jimmy. (We’re on a first name basis it’s fine)

He was right about how impressive it was, though. 

First and Final Thoughts: We have ourselves a swing game

First and Final Thoughts: We have ourselves a swing game

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 10

J.J. Stankevitz: The final margin of 12 points in Sunday’s 34-22 win was not indicative of how close this game was. The Bears left too many points on the board thanks to Cody Parkey’s brutal game, and would’ve been up 41-10 midway through the third quarter had he made all his PATs and connected on field goal tries of 34 and 41 yards (the Bears, in this scenario, wouldn’t have gone for two after their final touchdown, too). It’s pretty well established in the NFL that beating bad teams by wide margins is as good, if not a better, predictor of future success than beating teams by narrow margins. So while some may deride the Bears for going 6-3 against an “easy” schedule, they’ve won four games by 12 or more points, and that would’ve been five had the Seattle Seahawks not scored a meaningless touchdown with time running out in Week 2. So while beating the Lions may not “mean” much to someone who discounts “easy” wins, it actually meant plenty for where the Bears can go in 2018. 

Paul Aspan: Mitchell Trubisky heard the haters and responded with his best game -  yes, even better than the 6 TD Tampa performance.  Similar to the Bucs, the Lions no doubt blew some coverages, but Trubisky was on point from the get-go. I know “Pretty Boy Assassin” is a distant memory but that’s how he played on Sunday, and the guy yelling into the camera after running in that TD to make it 26-0 is the guy I want on my side in a fight. 

I was shocked to hear Matt Nagy say there was zero chance to bring in another kicker this week after Cody Parkey’s ‘Chuck Knoblauch-esque’ day, but I also didn’t really remember / realize his contract, because…kickers. Parkey’s $9 million guarantee is the third highest of any kicker in the NFL, trailing just Justin Tucker (who missed a game-tying extra point this year) and Stephen Gostkowski. Money aside, I just really want someone who is a million times smarter than me to figure out the odds on hitting an upright four times.  

Cam Ellis: When you're a kicker in the NFL and you doink four consecutive kicks, the critisicm that follows is more often than not deserved. With that said, I think the note about Parkey not practicing at Soldier was overblown -- it's not like Khalil Mack is running sleds at midfield during the week there, either -- but the optics are admittedly pretty bad. Everyone's had their worst day at work, however, and if you haven't - it's coming! The difference is you didn't get booed by 61,000 people when you didn't follow up on that email. Odds are you weren't made fun of by Jimmy Fallon on national TV, either. I'm all for holding any NFL players accountable -  you're paid handsomely to play a game once a week and missing four kicks isn't something you can get away with twice. Let's keep some of this in perspective, though. 

First Thought on Week 11

Stankevitz: Sunday night’s date with the Minnesota Vikings looks like a massive swing game for the Bears’ outlook in 2018. Win it, and you’re 7-3 with a legitimate hope of winning the NFC North. It’s easy to envision the Bears beating the Vikings and being at least 8-4, if not 9-3, when the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers come to town on consecutive December Sundays. Lose it, and the Vikings probably have the upper hand in the division while Thanksgiving’s date with the Lions takes on added pressure. This will be a major test of the Bears’ mettle, as while they’ve beat up on teams worse than them (which, again, is important), their three losses have come by a total of 11 points, raising the question if this team can close out a narrow win over a good team. It’ll take a thorough effort by everyone involved – offense, defense, special teams and coaching – for the Bears to emerge from one of the franchise’s biggest games in recent memory with a win. But there’s also not many, if any, reasons to think they can’t do it. 

Aspan: I’ve said from the time that the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins that it’s a lateral move from Case Keenum – and Pro Football Focus pretty much backs that up. Keenum was their #9 QB last year and “You like that!” checks in at #8 halfway thru the season. 

So, Cousins doesn’t worry me. Adam Thielen is dangerous sure, but it’s the Vikings pass rush and the mad scientist behind that defense, Mike Zimmer, coming off a bye, against Trubisky that gives me pause. This isn’t purely based on the fact that the Vikings had 10 sacks against the Lions - the Bears had six – that’s clearly one of many issues in Detroit. But Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are going to be a handful. Mix in the way Zimmer disguises some of his blitzes and let’s see how a confident Trubisky, coming off his best game, fares in his biggest test to date. 

Ellis: This isn't exactly about the Vikings, but for being in the first year of a 3-year, $42 million contract, it kinda feels like Allen Robinson's been underappreciated this season? Being out for two games certainly doesn't help, but a healthy Robinson's brought exactly what the Bears were expecting to their revamped offense. He probably still needs to put together a bit more consistency, but when he's fully involved with their offense, the Bears look tough to stop. There's no excuse for him not to get 8-9 targets against the Vikings this Sunday night. On a roster full of undersized recievers, having a 6'3 guy like Robinson who can go up and get jump balls provides an entirely different wrinkle to an offense that's already one of the league's most prolific. A pass-catching core of Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton ain't half bad, but this offense isn't running on all cylinders unless Robinson's name is continually called.