Bears

Eric Kush, not James Daniels, in line to start Week 1 as Bears' offensive line comes into focus

Eric Kush, not James Daniels, in line to start Week 1 as Bears' offensive line comes into focus

It took 24 practices and five games, but the Bears’ preseason is finally over. Hallelujah. The real fun begins in just over a week with a Sunday night trip to Lambeau Field. 

So we’ll leave the preseason behind with some final thoughts after the Bears’ 28-27 loss to the Buffalo Bills Thursday night at Soldier Field:

And the starting O-line is…

While Matt Nagy wasn’t ready to officially name his starting offensive line, it was noteworthy that Eric Kush did not play Thursday while James Daniels did for the entire game at left guard. And because of that disparity, it’s fair to pencil in Kush as the starting left guard for Week 1. 

“I’m not going to say 100 percent, but we would probably lean toward that,” Nagy said. 

Daniels won’t turn 21 until next month and still has some things on which to work. Specifically, Nagy pointed to Daniels needing to improve his recognition of fronts and blitzes and play with better leverage. He brought up one play on Thursday on which Daniels “over-reached” on a run, which led to him getting beat for a tackle by a Bills defender. 

That Daniels all but assuredly won’t start Week 1 doesn’t change the Bears’ long-term outlook for him, but it is a reminder that a player as young as him does have some work to do before he can be a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. 

“He’s a rookie,” Nagy said. “He’s young. He’s going to be tested and we just want to stay away from making those same mistakes twice.”

And the O-line depth is…

Kush, Daniels, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and Bobby Massie are locks to make the 53-man roster. Swing tackle Bradley Sowell seems likely to make it, too, despite suffering a sprained in last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. So that gets us to seven.

Teams usually take nine or 10 offensive linemen on their roster, but the Bears do have some versatility among those seven guys (Daniels can play guard and center, for instance), so let’s say the number is nine. Could Rashaad Coward, the converted defensive linemen who’s played a ton of snaps at right tackle, be part of the 53-man roster?

“He showed me a lot, he really did,” Nagy said. “This is a kid that was playing defensive line last year. And last week, for him to be lining up against Justin Houston and Dee Ford and hold his own, pretty good. We’re proud of him. That’s a kid that is continuing to grow. You see him growing every day in practice. He’s very, very coachable, so when Harry tells him something, he usually gets it done. And that’s a benefit for us.”

That sounds like a decent endorsement, especially given the upside the Bears believe Coward possesses. If he’s the eighth, the ninth is less clear, with interior guys Will Pericak and Hroniss Grasu likely topping the list of players there. 

Grasu, though, is only a center, and with Whitehair and Daniels on the roster he may not have a spot. 

“It’s hard when you start thinking about that, but once you train your brain to think that way (control what you can control), you’re at peace with a lot of things,” Grasu said. “I truly believe in that and it has helped me out to get to this point.”

Notable injuries

Tight end Daniel Brown (shoulder) and outside linebacker Kasim Edebali (leg) both left Thursday’s game with injuries suffered in the second half. 

Brown seemed ticketed for a spot on the 53-man roster given his receiving upside and special teams ability, but his injury could potentially throw that into question. 

“I don’t know how long or if it’s day by day or week by week,” Nagy said, adding the Bears would have an idea of the severity of the injury soon. 

Edebali’s injury looked serious when it happened in the fourth quarter, with the veteran linebacker being carted to the locker room after not being able to put weight on his right leg. The good news, though, is that Nagy said he only had a “leg whip,” which is “more of a contusion.” That, theoretically, shouldn’t prevent the Bears from taking Edebali on their 53-man roster if they’re so inclined. 

Javon Wims, come on down

While Ryan Nall's day was notable for what he did on the field, Javon Wims' evening was notable for what he didn't do. Specifically: Wims didn't play on offense, perhaps signaling that, yes, the seventh-round pick will make the cut onto the 53-man roster. 

Wims did see the field on two special teams units (punt return and onside kick), which was probably a good sign for him, too. But his 15 catches, 227 yards and one touchdown compiled over the Bears' four preseason games likely got him on the roster regardless, as other teams were able to take note of his big frame, good hands and improved route-running ability on tape. He's a player that exits the preseason trending in the right direction.

"I just want to go out there, not stay stagnant and just keep growing," Wims said. "If it’s something small, just grow and I just think every practice, every game, every opportunity I just showed that I’m getting better, I’m growing, I’m getting more comfortable." 

Still, the next 48 hours can be stressful for anyone on the cut-down bubble. So how is Wims going to spend his time?

"Relax, get in the playbook," Wims said, "and hopefully the Georgia Bulldogs win on Saturday."

(Georgia opens its season against FCS opponent Austin Peay. They'll win on Saturday.)

Bears grades: Tough questions need to be asked after reviewing Week 2 for Mitch Trubisky

Bears grades: Tough questions need to be asked after reviewing Week 2 for Mitch Trubisky

QUARTERBACKS: D

Two over-arching concerns here as the Bears search for answers following Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos: 

1. Trubisky averaged 4.4 yards per attempt (16/27, 120 yards) despite Matt Nagy committing to a good run-pass playcalling balance. Trubisky handed off 28 times and threw 27 times a week after that balance was wildly out of whack. 

2. Trubisky was not sacked, with the Bears’ offensive line and offensive scheme neutralizing the Broncos’ elite pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He looked more comfortable in the pocket and wasn’t under duress as much as he was in Week 1…and yet, didn’t produce much in the way of positive results. 

One other point: The Bears’ only touchdown drive consisted of eight running plays and one passing play, with that passing play resulting in a Broncos penalty and fresh set of downs near the goal line. 

So while Trubisky, at least from the eye test, looked better than he did against Green Bay, the actual results from Sunday’s game don’t show much progress other than him not throwing an interception. And that was with two of the things that failed the Bears' in Week 1 being much better. 

And as Nagy argued, again, it’s not all on Trubisky. He needs more help from his receivers on certain plays, and credit Denver’s defense for making a few good plays (like safety Justin Simmons’ pass break-up on a deep ball to Tarik Cohen). And what Trubisky did on his final throw of the game to Allen Robinson was impressive. 

But things were set up much better for Trubisky on Sunday and he still didn’t do much. Also: Yes, it came against a defense coached by Vic Fangio, who knows Trubisky well. But the NFL is a copycat league. Every defensive coordinator in the league will see what Fangio did against Trubisky — with a less-than-full strength defense, no less — and try to replicate it. 

It’s still early in 2019, but Trubisky and Nagy need to find answers. Fast. 

RUNNING BACKS: B

David Montgomery had a workmanlike 62 yards on 18 carries, though those numbers are skewed by Montgomery attempting three carries from the one-yard line as he tried to get the Bears their first touchdown of 2019. Take those goal-line carries out and Montgomery averaged a little over four yards per carry, which sounds about right. His shiftiness, patience and contact balance all make him an productive, if not explosive, member of this offense. That's exactly what the expectations were for Montgomery before the season began. 

Tarik Cohen carried four times for 18 yards after not having a rushing attempt in Week 1, though he lost nine yards on a reception while trying to do too much as the Bears’ offense got bogged down deep in its own territory. 

Mike Davis has apparently entered the Taquan Mizzell zone of being a running back who doesn’t touch the ball much (three carries) but every time he does, there’s an amount of consternation on social media that doesn’t equal his role in the offense. 

One other note here: Credit Cohen with some good pass protection on the Bears’ game-winning drive, picking up a blitzing Josey Jewell and giving Trubisky a chance to make a throw (though he then dropped a pass shortly after). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Fangio made sure to keep Allen Robinson from having a big game, with veteran corner Chris Harris doing a fantastic job of muting his impact until the final offensive play of the game. Without knowledge of the ins and outs of the routes expected from these players, it’s hard to have a full picture of just how well or poorly Mike Furrey’s unit played when they weren't targeted much. Trubisky missed an open Taylor Gabriel on what should’ve been a shot-play-turned-chunk-play, but Gabriel and Anthony Miller were targeted only three total times. 

Patterson’s 46-yard run was the Bears’ most explosive play of the season, and sparked the team’s first touchdown of the season. Gabriel followed with a 14-yard run, too. 

TIGHT ENDS: C+

Trey Burton played his first game of 2019 but the Bears are still bringing him along slowly. 

“I think you could see as he got in there and stuff, he did as best as he could,” Nagy said. “We'll monitor him to see where he's at. Volume-wise, rep-wise, he's not what he was last year, so we'll work through that. But I liked the week of practice that he had and we just want to see him keep growing there at that position.”

Adam Shaheen caught all three of his targets and showed some impressive toughness to pick up a first down on a third and long late in the first quarter. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

Credit both the Bears’ offensive game plan and the five guys up front for keeping both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb — who combined for 26 1/2 sacks in 2018 — quiet throughout the afternoon. The biggest game-wrecking play either made was when Chubb brought down Trubisky late in the fourth quarter and was mind-numbingly whistled for roughing the passer (the Bears, of course, were happy to get that officiating break). Trubisky was not sacked and was only hit twice on 27 drop-backs. 

This group’s run blocking was better, too, though not perfect. The commitment to running — especially with Montgomery — seemed to help Harry Hiestand’s unit get in a better rhythm than they were in during Week 1. While this group didn’t win in the trenches on every play, it produced some excellent downfield blocking on a screen to Cohen in the second quarter and then on Patterson’s gazelle-like dash in the third quarter. 

Left tackle Charles Leno was whistled for two penalties four plays apart in the third quarter — one an illegal use of hands that was legit, and the other a holding penalty (Nagy said the penalty was the result of a point of emphasis by officiating crews this year, even if it didn’t appear to be a blatant hold). Those were the only two penalties assessed to the Bears’ offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Losing Bilal Nichols to a wrist injury in the first half was a blow for a unit that needed all hands on deck to rotate during the second half, but credit this group for hanging tough with a four-man rotation. Akiem Hicks played 66 snaps (80 percent), an incredible testament to his conditioning and desire to stay on the field. Nick Williams, the six-year veteran, recorded his first career sack. 

Eddie Goldman was whistled for roughing the passer when he landed on Joe Flacco, a penalty that was the correct application of a bad rule. When asked after the game if he could’ve done anything different on that play, Goldman said: “Yeah, not land on him. … I mean, that’s the rule.”

Still, that’s a penalty the Bears probably won’t hold against Goldman. The Bears’ front did their part against the run, with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combining for just 3.8 yards per carry. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack took advantage of a bizarre one-on-one matchup against rookie tight end Noah Fant and dropped Flacco for his first sack of 2019 (and 11th in nine games against the Broncos). He played well, generating eight pressures, per Pro Football Focus, but was among the players who looked gassed at the end of the game — Mack was on the field for 71 snaps (87 percent). 

Leonard Floyd did well against the run and was flagged for a ridiculous unnecessary roughness penalty in the in the first quarter (there was no other way he could’ve tackled Fant after blowing up a passing play). He didn’t have a sack but did get after Flacco for a hit. 

Aaron Lynch had a tackle for a loss and read a pass to the flat well, breaking it up right after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. His TFL helped stem some of Denver’s momentum after Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-

Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith played all 82 defensive snaps and combined for 21 tackles and only one missed tackle, per PFF. Trevathan had a pair of effective blitzes and Smith made a handful of big tackles. 

CORNERBACKS: B+

Kyle Fuller’s interception near the goal line nearly was a game-saving play — that is, until the Bears’ four-minute offense sputtered and gave the Broncos the ball back to drive back downfield against a gassed defense. Courtland Sutton didn’t make his first catch until early in the fourth quarter, while Buster Skrine affected a couple of Flacco’s drop-backs with well-timed and well-executed nickel blitzes. 

Prince Amukamara, though, was whistled for a pair of penalties. And Fuller was beat on a quick out route in the end zone by Emmanuel Sanders for Denver’s go ahead two point conversion with just over 30 seconds to go. The Bears' plan was to play off coverage, it appeared, and keep everything in front of them and make tackles. That plan, for the most part, worked until this defense wore down as its snap count reached the 70's and 80's in the altitude and heat of Denver. 

SAFETIES: B

Eddie Jackson flew around the field and, anecdotally, had his hardest-hitting game since joining the Bears in 2017. He also made a couple of important plays on Flacco throws down the stretch as the Bears tried to muster the energy to keep the Broncos out of the end zone. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played every single snap, too, though he only made one tackle while missing another, per PFF. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

What other grade could this be? Eddy Pineiro banged in a game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired, but let’s not overlook the rookie also connecting from 52 yards earlier in the game, too. Pat O’Donnell ripped a career long 75-yard punt and also drilled a 61-yarder, helping flip field position in both instances. 

This wasn’t all perfect, of course — Buster Skrine’s offsides penalty was horrendous, leading to the Broncos converting a two-point try instead of missing a game-tying PAT. But come on. Pineiro hit an absolutely massive kick for the 2019 Bears. That relegates everything else to minutiae. 

COACHING: C+

Nagy may have lost the chess match to his former defensive coordinator when it came to the Bears’ passing game, but he did more than commit to running the ball — he committed to some well-designed running plays. A well-executed toss sweep to Patterson and a fancy flip to Gabriel chewed up 60 yards in the span of three plays, powering the Bears from their own 32-yard line to the Broncos’ five-yard line. 

Give Nagy’s scheme some credit, too, in making sure Miller and Chubb didn’t make an impact. Things have to be better passing-wise, and Nagy will need to find answers knowing the rest of the NFL has plenty of tape on ways to slow down his offense. 

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Analytics: Mitch Trubisky had 5th-lowest grade on offense in Bears' win over Broncos

Analytics: Mitch Trubisky had 5th-lowest grade on offense in Bears' win over Broncos

Super Bowl contenders are usually made up of a blend of top-tier quarterback play and a consistent, if not great, defense. The Chicago Bears have half of that equation going for them in 2019. 

The defense, led by Khalil Mack, has allowed just 24 points over two games, including Week 1's 10-point performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Normally, defensive performances like the Bears' would result in a 2-0 record. But with the offense led by Mitch Trubisky struggling so mightily, they're lucky to be sitting at 1-1.

Chicago won Week 2's nail-biter against the Broncos thanks in large part, once again, to Mack and the defense. Add a last-second field goal by Eddy Pineiro, and the special teams unit is doing their part too. Trubisky, on the other hand, remains a work in progress.

In fact, Trubisky was the Bears' fifth-lowest graded player on offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 53.1 grade ranked ahead of only Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen, James Daniels and Trey Burton.

Davis and Burton played a combined 41 snaps, so an argument can be made Trubisky was actually one of the three worst starters on the offensive side of the ball. It's never a good thing for the starting quarterback to score that poorly.

You don't have to be an analytics-truther to conclude Trubisky wasn't at his best Sunday. He completed just 59% of his passes, totaled just 120 yards and failed to throw a touchdown for the second-straight week. He was inaccurate at times and again struggled with his composure and pocket presence.

He did save his best for last, however. His 25-yard strike to Allen Robinson with time expiring in the fourth quarter set up Pineiro's game-winning field goal and may have been the confidence-building moment he needed to turn the corner this season. 

Through two games, Trubisky has a putrid 48.9 grade from PFF, which ranks second-worst on the team.