Bears

Bears-Vikings grades: Why Mitchell Trubisky passed his first test in the NFL

Bears-Vikings grades: Why Mitchell Trubisky passed his first test in the NFL

QUARTERBACKS: B-

Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line wasn’t particularly good: 12/25, 128 yards, one touchdown, one interception — with that pick coming deep in Bears territory late in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Trubisky’s accuracy escaped him at times, too. But Trubisky went through his progressions well and played aggressively, and more importantly, the intangibles he brought to the Bears’ game plan up his grade here. There was a different energy on the field and genuine excitement in the Bears’ locker room about Trubisky’s debut and where he can go from Monday night. 

Running backs: C+

Jordan Howard attacked the edge well and finished with 76 yards on 19 carries, which are solid numbers given he faced eight or more defenders in the box on 52.6 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen stats. But Tarik Cohen was rendered ineffective (six carries, 13 yards, one catch, minus-six yards) and danced too much instead of planting and cutting up field, which drags this grade down. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D+

Kendall Wright was effective when targeted (five targets, four receptions, 46 yards) but the rest of this group struggled to make an impact (five targets, two receptions, 27 yards). Questionable penalties on Markus Wheaton (holding) and Tre McBride (offensive pass interference) put the Bears in some tough positions. 

TIGHT ENDS: D+

Dion Sims dropped a pass and was inconsistent as blocker — he whiffed on blocking Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr on a pair of plays that led to lost yardage, but did well blocking for Howard on the edge on a couple of runs. Zach Miller caught three passes for 39 yards and was the recipient of Trubisky’s first career touchdown (that deflected off the hand of Vikings safety Anthony Sender). Adam Shaheen only played 11 snaps, 18 percent of the Bears’ offensive total.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D+

Charles Leno and Bobby Massie were flagged for false starts while Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty erased what could've been Trubisky’s first red zone possession in the first half (McBride’s spectacular catch might’ve been reviewed had flag not been thrown). Leno was beat by speedy Vikings edge rusher Everson Griffen for a sack-strip of Trubisky that led to Minnesota’s first points of the game, and Whitehair had two high snaps to Trubisky out of the shotgun. This group did relatively well in the run game, though, given how frequently the Vikings loaded the box. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Akiem Hicks was once again a menace, notching two sacks while consistently finding a way to be disruptive in the run game. Eddie Goldman had some issues in the run game early — he was on his back for an eight-yard run by Jerrick McKinnon in the first quarter — while Mitch Unrein showed up late to help keep the score tied for a stretch.

LINEBACKERS: C+

This was a tough grade. Leonard Floyd was outstanding, recording a safety and two sacks, while Pernell McPhee made a few disruptive plays. John Timu played well before suffering an injury, and Christian Jones had a nice pass break-up. But after Timu’s injury, the Vikings were able to attack Jones (who took over defensive play-calling duties for Timu) and Jonathan Anderson (who hadn’t played a defensive snap since Week 2). Most notably: The Vikings went up-tempo on McKinnon’s 58-yard touchdown, with Jones and Anderson not getting the front seven in the right look, allowing the Minnesota running back to blast through the defense for a critical score. 

SECONDARY: D+

The Bears’ turnover margin was minus-two on Monday night, and while the offense deserves blame for a fumble and an interception, this defense still hasn’t picked off a pass this year. Their best chance on Monday came when Sam Bradford threw into double coverage, but neither Kyle Fuller nor Adrian Amos could come up with a play on a poor decision by the banged-up Vikings quarterback. Minnesota gained just 38 yards with Bradford at quarterback; Case Keenum came off the bench and led the Vikings to 272 yards in just over two quarters. A couple positives, though: Good coverage downfield allowed Floyd to chase down Bradford for a safety, and Eddie Jackson made a solid play to break up a pass in the fourth quarter. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

A number of people deserve kudos for the Bears’ touchdown on a fake punt: Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers for noticing on film that the play could be possible; punter Pat O’Donnell and running back Benny Cunningham for putting in extra practice work on the play; safety Adrian Amos for making the check to the fake pass; the entire front for blocking on the play; O’Donnell for cooly lofting the ball to an open Cunningham; and Cunningham for making two Vikings miss to get in the end zone. That play changed momentum in the game and, had the Bears won, would've rightly been viewed as the turning point in the game. Some other notes: While Cohen struggled on most of his punt returns, he did have a 14-yarder (when he immediately accelerated upfield) that set up a short field for the offense. DeAndre Houston-Carson forced a fumble on a kick return that bounced out of bounds too. 

COACHING: C-

Credit offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for that unique game-tying two-point conversion that ended with Miller optioning a pitch to Trubisky — and for having the guts to call it and trust his players to execute it in such a critical situation. But the whole delay of game mishap on fourth and two in the first half, which came after a timeout, didn’t reflect well on John Fox. While Fox argued that the officials didn’t have the ball in place, he sent the offense on the field with about 12 seconds left on the play clock. Whatever went wrong there wasn’t on Trubisky. Fox also burned a timeout at the start of the fourth quarter — after the Vikings called a timeout — that wound up hurting late in the game after Minnesota took the lead on a field goal. 

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
 
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
 
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
 
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
 
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
 
2. Multiple weapons
 
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
 
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
 
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
 
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
 
3. History repeating itself
 
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
 
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
 
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
 
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.” 

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

The Bears were getting used to life in the big chair. Chicago was favored in each of their last four games, but it all came crashing down at the hands of Brock Osweiler in overtime last week.

The Miami Dolphins pulled off the upset, and now the Bears return home to take on one of the best teams in the league.

Even if they had won in Miami, Chicago likely still would have been underdogs to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but as it stands, Bill Belichick and company are favored by three on most major sportsbooks, according to Vegas Insider.

The line initially opened at Patriots by 2.5, but it would seem that money placed on New England pushed the spread a little more in the Bears’ favor.

Vegas is expecting another higher-scoring game for both teams, with the over/under sitting at 49. Given that the Patriots have scored at least 38 points in each of their last three games, the Bears’ defense may have some trouble keeping this game low on the scoreboard.

In Week 6, home underdogs went 4-1 against the spread and 3-2 straight up. According to Bet America, home underdogs have covered in 20 of their 30 games this season, which bodes well for a Bears team facing a tough task at Soldier Field.