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. 

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

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USA TODAY

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

Second of two parts

Looking ahead to training camp and what everyone will be looking at – it will help to have even a cursory idea of the offensive elements that coach Matt Nagy is incorporating, particularly in the passing game -- because the when, where and how the Bears will be throwing the football is changing. NBC Sports Chicago focuses on a selection of specifics and their origins within that part of the offense that fans will notice, first in Bourbonnais and then in the 2018 season.

Bill Walsh wrote and always insisted that the tight end was the least understood central pillar in his offense. He viewed and used the tight end as a receiver rather than simply an extra offensive lineman, and used the position to exploit matchup problems and open areas of the field created by design.

In a bit of fortuitous timing, the Bears signed and drafted tight ends (Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims) a year in advance of Matt Nagy’s arrival. But how those tight ends project to be used will be substantially changed from their functions last year. The best indication came this offseason when yet another tight end was brought in, one that signaled a critical direction change coming to the Chicago offense.

The Bears invested heavily to land smallish ex-Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton this offseason. He fits a Nagy template.

“He understands this offense and what to do, so there’s not a lot of mistakes,” Nagy said. “When guys see that you’re a player that has experience in this offense and does things the right way, they really gravitate towards that style of leadership. It’s been everything and more with what we thought with Trey.”

In eight of the last nine years Nagy was with Reid, the tight end (Brent Celek in Philadelphia, Travis Kelce in Kansas City) was either the leading or second-leading receiver on the roster.

In the last 37 years, since Emery Moorehead (No. 2, 1985), the Bears have been led in receptions by a tight end just once (Greg Olsen, 2009) or had a tight end No. 2 in catches just three other times (Olsen, 2008, Martellus Bennett 2014-15).

Receiver additions Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson notwithstanding, the role of the tight end in a Bears offense is about to change. Dramatically. And it started literally before Nagy even arrived in Chicago.

“Our first conversation when [Nagy and Pace] were on the plane heading to Chicago the day that I was hired, we discussed that ‘U’ position, the position that we know in Kansas City and we use in Kansas City as kind of the wide receiver/tight end,” Nagy said. “And you play the slot position you can move around, do different things — it’s what we did with Kelce.”

New meaning for “timing” in pass game

Trubisky’s mobility creates a greater threat in action passes and within run-pass options, if only because Trubisky can and will take off with purpose, even as Nagy, Helfrich and QB coach Dave Ragone drill one phrase into the quarterback’s brain: “Get down!”

“We don’t do that all the time but that’s kind of your ‘ball control,’” Nagy said. “There is a mentality that might be a little different in how we’re trying to be aggressive, too. In the classic West Coast there were still times where they were looking to be aggressive and we want that mindset.”

More than that, however, is the threat that play-calling versatility posed by Nagy’s offense. What jumps out is the play-calling balance on first downs:

 

2017 first downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

59/41        51.1/48.9 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.1             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

59.3          68.2

 

The Chiefs had the advantage of a more accurate quarterback (Alex Smith) than the Bears (Trubisky). Coaches are stressing accuracy along with ball security, and improving Trubisky’s accuracy is axiomatic for success in Nagy’s scheme, which is based on the West Coast foundation of high completion percentage and minimizing risk of negative plays in the passing game.

Notably, in true West Coast tradition, with the Reid/Nagy offenses forcing defenses to spread horizontally the Chiefs rushed for a half-yard more than the Bears on first downs.

More notably perhaps, the Chiefs exploited those higher-percentage positive first-down plays, which meant shorter yardage needs on second downs, with more passing, not less. And when the Chiefs did run, they were just as successful per carry.

 

2017 second downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

48/52        40.8/59.2 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.0             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

62.6          72.7

 

West Coast systems typically operate with more drag routes, quick slants and square-in’s, requiring receivers to run precise routes and have the ability to create separation quickly as Trubisky sets up quickly and looks to throw on time.

The “on time” component is critical, because it the timing of breaks and routes are connected to footwork – Trubisky’s – in that the ball is expected to be coming out when he hits the third or fifth step of his drop. The quarterback is not going to sit waiting for a receiver to come open, as in some other programs.

“It's a wide open attack and it's a great offense because there are so many options within it,” Trubisky said. “We know our job and it all comes down to execution for us. There are so many options I can't even begin to say where it starts but Coach Nagy has brought in a great plan.

“I think the system fits the players we have. In particular I feel like it really fits my skill set with the RPO's, the quick game, stretching the ball down the field and then with the running backs we have just pounding it inside and continuously trying to establish the run game each and every game. I just feel like we've got a lot of options, can be really dynamic and on top of that how we understand it and how the coaches have taught it to us since day one is just going to allow us to play faster and execute the plays at a higher rate.”

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

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USA Today

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

The Chicago Bears haven't enjoyed many wins over the last several years, but that hasn't done anything to hurt the franchise's bottom line.

According to a recent report by Forbes, the Bears rank 17th among the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world for 2018. The franchise is valued at $2.85 billion.

17. Chicago Bears

Value: $2.85 billion

1-year change: 6%

Operating income: $114 million

Owner: McCaskey family

Chicago is seventh among NFL teams in the top-17, with Dallas, New England, New York (Giants), Washingon, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Rams) all having higher valuations.

It's no surprise the Bears are this valuable, even without a winning product. They play in one of the greatest sports cities on the planet. And just imagine what will happen to the club's price tag if Mitch Trubisky and the new-look roster actually start winning games.