Bears

Bears grades: Win over Vikings provides blueprint for success

Bears grades: Win over Vikings provides blueprint for success

QUARTERBACKS: C+

All the Bears needed Sunday was an average game from their quarterback to support an outstanding defensive effort. Chase Daniel provided that and a little more in place of an injured Mitch Trubisky. 

Daniel completed 22 of 30 throws for 195 yards with a touchdown, but crucially didn’t turn the ball over. He engineered four drives that lasted at least four minutes and 30 seconds, and hit a couple downfield shots, too, to Allen Robinson and Javon Wims. More than anything, Daniel’s comfort operating the Bears’ offense stood out, and is why the Bears felt like they didn’t miss a beat when he came into the game. 

The Bears can probably win a couple more games with Daniel playing like he did Sunday. Long-term, the Bears’ best option remains a healthy Mitch Trubisky, but what Daniel did against the Vikings — and what the team expects him to do against the Oakland Raiders in London — is why he’s a highly-paid, trusted backup. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

David Montgomery gritted out 53 yards on 21 carries — not exactly a great day production-wise, but he didn’t seem to get a ton of help from his offensive line. Where Montgomery excelled Sunday was in pass protection — he picked up blitzes well and was instrumental in keeping the pocket clean for Daniel to work through his progressions. 

Tarik Cohen didn’t do much on the ground but did turn a well-executed option route into a 10-yard touchdown. The Bears only had two running backs active on Sunday with Mike Davis not dressing and Kerrith Whyte Jr. dropped from the 53-man roster to the practice squad. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: B+

Robinson caught all seven of his targets for 77 yards and played an important role in getting the Bears’ offense into rhythm after Daniel subbed in for Trubisky. His reliable ability to set up his routes showed up in a big way against a good Vikings secondary, especially on his 25-yard snag that set up Cohen’s touchdown. 

Wims had his best game as a pro, catching four of his five targets for 56 yards, including an excellent downfield route and catch for 37 yards. Starting in place of an injured Taylor Gabriel, Wims played the most snaps (68) of any Bears receiver (94 percent). 

Anthony Miller still struggled to get going, though, and was only targeted three times. 

TIGHT ENDS: C-

Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and J.P. Holtz combined for five catches and 36 yards, and the Bears’ run blocking wasn’t great. Burton is getting closer and closer to full strength, though he still hasn’t played more than two-thirds of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a game this year. In 2018, Burton never played fewer than 69 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a given game, and frequently was on the field for 75 percent or more of the team’s snaps. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

Credit this group for playing much better in pass protection on Sunday, with the pocket generally being kept clean for Daniel as the Bears built a 10-point lead at halftime. Rashaad Coward deserves praise for how effective he was filling in for an injured Ted Larsen at right guard (this after Larsen started in place of an injured Kyle Long). Coward said he hadn’t played guard since high school, and he almost exclusively worked at right tackle after being converted from defensive line a year and a half ago. Sunday was his first NFL action as an offensive lineman (he played one game as a defensive lineman in 2017 with the Bears). 

Still, this group needs to be better in the run game. Minnesota’s front seven is excellent, yes, but there weren’t always lanes for Montgomery and Cohen on Sunday. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A+

Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris were absolute monsters starting in place of Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols. The pair combined for 3 1/2 sacks and, along with Eddie Goldman and Abdullah Anderson, were instrumental in limiting Dalvin Cook to just 35 yards on 14 carries. 

This was the biggest test the Bears’ defensive line depth has faced in recent memory, and Jay Rodgers’ group absolutely aced it. Cook was averaging 6.6 yards per carry entering play and had just 2.5 yards per rushing attempt on Sunday. Rodgers deserves a ton of credit, too, for developing guys like Williams and Robertson-Harris into not just serviceable reserves/rotational guys, but highly productive players when needed. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Another game, another Khalil Mack strip-sack. This one came on the first play of the second half and gave the Bears three free points, but more importantly further scrambled Kirk Cousins’ decision-making and put a stamp on how dominant a performance this defense would have for the entire game. 

While Leonard Floyd didn’t show up on the stat sheet, his play on the edge against the run contributed to Cook’s miserable day. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Danny Trevathan played one of his best games with the Bears, taking advantage of the work put in by his defensive linemen to make a number of plays to stop Cook from getting going. And Nick Kwiatkoski absolutely played his best game in a Bears uniform, stuffing the stat sheet with a team-high nine tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. His bull rush of Cook, on which he pushed the Vikings’ running back into Cousins for a sack recorded by Williams, was a perfect representation of how well the Bears’ defense played all afternoon. 

Kevin Pierre-Louis deserves praise, too, for how well he played in a pinch on passing downs in place of Kwiatkoski. 

CORNERBACKS: A

Prince Amukamara’s forced fumble in the first quarter bailed out some sloppy, penalty-filled play from the rest of the defense and made sure the Vikings didn’t score on their first trip into Bears territory. While Stefon Diggs went over 100 yards, most of it came late in the game when the Bears’ defense backed off, and holding Adam Thielen to just six yards on two catches was a masterclass by this group. Kyle Fuller also had an impressive pass break-up in the third quarter. 

SAFETIES: A-

Eddie Jackson’s unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter gave Minnesota’s offense some life on a drive that ended with Amukamara’s forced fumble. Otherwise, he and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played well, with Clinton-Dix recovering Amukamara’s fumble — which was a heads-up play, given officials needed a clear recovery by the Bears to overturn the call on the field and give possession to Chicago. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Eddy Pineiro continued gritting through the pinched nerve in his kicking leg to connect on all three of his field goal attempts. While the longest of those kicks was from 38 yards, that Pineiro ability to fight through pain and keep making kicks is impressive. 

Sherrick McManis’ return to Chris Tabor’s kick/punt coverage units was noticeable after the veteran was inactive for the Bears’ last two games. They need more of him, and perhaps less of rookie Duke Shelley, who was called for his third special teams penalty of the season on Sunday. Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice tackle in punt coverage, too. 

COACHING: A

Yes, the Bears committed far too many penalties (seven for 50 yards) — again — but that sloppiness shouldn’t take away from the top-down coaching this team put in leading up to and on Sunday. 

The first name here that stood out is defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, who did a phenomenal job getting Williams, Anderson and Harris prepared for taking on larger roles with Hicks and Nichols out.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano called a masterful game, with the Bears’ pass rush working in concert with its secondary to the point where Amukamara remarked plenty of plays felt over before Minnesota’s receivers were able to get into their routes.  

And Nagy deserves credit for not only the offensive gameplan, which Daniel executed well, but for the overall tone he set in the face of being without five — then six, then seven — starters during Sunday’s game.

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Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

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USA Today

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

Quarterback – A-
We’ll start with the bad, being the interception that ended the Bears’ first drive on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. Trubisky admitted after the game that he was trying to extend the play and “didn’t make a smart decision.” Otherwise, he was efficient through the air; he threw the ball better against the Lions, but his all-around performance on Thursday night, against a better team, makes it feel like the Cowboys’ win was his best game of the year. The Bears aren’t falling over themselves to tell us what, but something finally clicked during that four-game losing streak, and Trubisky looked way more comfortable in the offense than at any point prior. Mike Pettine, Mike Zimmer and Andy Reid will all have a better knowledge of how to scheme the Bears, but having Trubisky playing at his highest level of self-confidence going into the toughest stretch of the season is never a bad thing. 

Running Backs – B+ 
Montgomery’s stats (20 rushes, 86 yards, 1 fumble) could be seen as underwhelming, but truth be told, the Bears will take the rookie averaging almost four-and-a-half yards a carry any game of the year. The fumble came at a bad time in the game on a bad part of the field, but as Nagy even admitted afterwards, they gave him the ball on the very next play – the Bears aren’t concerned. Tarik Cohen (3 rushes for 7 yards) had an all-around quiet night, but weirdly struggled with fielding punts. The offense has shown it can win featuring either, but still struggles finding room for both simultaneously. 

Wide Receivers – A- 
It was a strange night for pass catchers. Seven different guys had catches, and Tarik Cohen led the team in receptions (6). No one had more receiving yards than JP Holtz, who got 30 of his 56 yards on one screen pass. Two of Allen Robinson’s five catches were touchdowns from inside the 10, and Riley Ridley had his first NFL grab. Jesper Horsted had four catches for 14 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson had one catch for twice as many yards (33). None of it made any sense, but it worked (?), and was kind of fun (!). 

Tight Ends – B 
Horsted is clearly earning the coaching staff’s trust, and even if the JP Holtz passing revolution ends up being a fluke, the Bears now have 60 minutes of tape to point to as evidence that yeah, the tight ends really *are* that important to this offense. It wasn’t perfect: Horsted got flagged for two false starts, admitting after the game that the Cowboys’ front seven was the best he’d seen and noting that Robert Quinn had “incredible speed” and DeMarcus Lawerence had “strength like I’ve really never seen before.” It’s absolutely still a work in progress, but the Bears finally have a tight end situation they can work with. 

Offensive Line – B
The Bears passed for 242 yards and rushed for 151, so credit for both of those starts on the line. They allowed the Cowboys’ pass-rush to sack Trubisky twice and hit him three other times, but the quarterback stayed upright for most of the game, and the line did a great job moving the pocket for him on some of his rollouts and scrambles. Charles Leno got much of the (deserved) credit for sealing off Dallas’ edge rusher on Trubisky’s touchdown run, but James Daniels also does a great job of keeping the gap open. They even stayed away from penalties, too. 

Defensive Line – C
Zeke Elliot is still very good, but it was a generally forgettable performance from the defensive line on Thursday night. Elliot ran for 81 yards on 19 rushes, which is not entirely the D-line’s fault but nonetheless not great. No one on the line had more than one tackle, which, again, not great. The Bears were able to sack Dak Prescott twice, but those sacks came from Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson. Akiem Hicks, come on down! 

Inside Linebackers – B+ 
Nick Kwiatkoski was the only Bears player to finish the game with double-digit tackles (10), and Kevin Pierre-Louis (4 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 TFL, 2 Pass Deflections) filled in admirably for Roquan Smith, who left the game after suffering a pectoral injury on the first drive of the game. Kwiatkkoski hasn’t missed a beat since becoming the starter in Danny Trevathan’s absence, but ‘KPL’ has only started one game in his career – back in 2015 with Seattle. Matt Nagy wouldn’t comment on Trevathan’s availability going forward, but reading the tea leaves over the last couple weeks would indicate that there’s a chance he’s back before the season ends. Chuck Pagano’s going to have to get real creative if it’s KPL-Kwiatkoski for the rest of the way, but on Thursday they provided some optimism. 

Edge Rushers – A 
Another quiet game for Leonard Floyd, but if you’re of the He-Impacts-The-Pocket camp, Thursday was fine for you. Then, of course, there was Khalil Mack: 

A! 

Secondary – B- 
Kyle Fuller and Kevin Tolliver tied each other for second-most tackles (7) of anyone on the Bears’ defense Thursday night. Fuller was particularly good, and Tolliver held his own in relief of Prince Amukamara, who was out all week with a hamstring injury. Prescott ended the night 27-49 with 334 yards, and Tolliver admitted after the game that some of the garbage time yardage that Dallas piled up left a bad taste in the secondary’s mouth. Eddie Jackson had a sack, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had six total tackles too. Teams have been able to break off big passing plays against them more often of late, but no one’s playing exceptionally poorly. 


Special Teams – B+
Eddie Pineiro had seven points (4 XP’s, 1 FG) and has continued to bounce back since his poor performance against the Rams. Pat O’Donnell only punted four times but landed all four inside the 20-yard line. Tarik Cohen fumbled two punts, but was fortunate enough not to lose any. Cordarrelle Patterson did Cordarrelle Patterson things on kick returns. It was nothing too exciting, so it gets the least exciting grade possible. 

Coaching – A
The Bears ran the ball more often than they threw it, which almost definitely makes Matt Nagy scream into his hands when no one’s watching. But to his credit, he’s adjusted to what this personnel does well, and that’s a credit to his ability as a gameplanner that got so frequently panned earlier in the year. David Montgomery got 20 touches, Trubisky got the ball out early and often, and multiple Bears players talked after the game about how there was a better attention to detail through all four quarters. They clearly had a beat on Dallas’ defense: Trubisky even mentioned that on his option touchdown run, the offense easily recognized the Cowboys’ ‘squeeze-and-scrape’ concept. All this starts with Nagy, so he earns high grades for the week. 

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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