A fourth-quarter Bears reset but cautionary tales abound along with major need for perspectives

A fourth-quarter Bears reset but cautionary tales abound along with major need for perspectives

Winning three of their last four allowed the final four games/quarter of the Bears’ 2019 season to actually matter, at least statistically since a 6-6 record. Their quarterback is playing better than he had in the second quarter of the season; the Minnesota Vikings are readying for a night game Monday at Seattle and could end the weekend just two games ahead of the Bears; and they are poised to get a foundation member of their defense (Akiem Hicks) back for a stretch “run.”

Add to that the fact that their next opponent – Dallas Cowboys – has not beaten a team .500 or better all season, has lost three of its last four, and the Bears have a chance at a closing kick that several weeks ago was a non-starter. “It's reset,” said coach Matt Nagy. “We're in reset mode.”

Much of NFL results aren’t as bad as they appear when they’re bad, nor as good as they look when they’re good. That would encompass the Bears, who have gotten too far over their skis too often during and since last year’s heady 12-4 cotillion.

“I think now, even though it's later in the season, we're starting to figure out that 'identity' that we like,” Nagy said. “Hopefully we can continue that.”

So, some perspectives to consider:

Mitch Trubisky was never going anywhere next offseason. This is not news and has never been in question, barring the third-year quarterback deteriorating to Bortles’ian or Osweiler’ian levels.

For one thing, the GM who drafted him isn’t going anywhere; for another, Trubisky’s rookie deal guarantees him $4.4 million next season and a dead-cap number of $9.2 million.

No, the overarching questions always have been what does Ryan Pace to do retrofit a too-often-neglected quarterback room; how open will any starter competition be; and will any serviceable quality veteran come to Chicago without at least a chance to compete for the No. 1 job? If Trubisky has done enough to this point to establish himself as the unchallenged 2020 starter, and Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray are locks at Nos. 2 and 3, then the bar has been set far lower than anyone thought.

Players typically make some of the biggest performance improvements of their careers from year one to year two. That hasn’t happened for the Bears, but could be starting.

Irrespective of competition levels, linebacker Roquan Smith has shaken off early-season doldrums and had double-digit tackles in four of the last five games, plus two sacks at Detroit and an interception vs. the Rams. Anthony Miller has had the three biggest reception days of his career in the last three games (6 vs. Rams and Giants, 9 vs. Lions). James Daniels hit bottom against Philadelphia, was switched from center back to guard after that and has gotten himself turned back around. Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols has come back from a broken hand and delivered a QB hit and four tackles at Detroit.

The need for the sophomore spike has been acute, with the Bears getting virtually nothing from the 2019 draft class outside of running back David Montgomery’s so-so 3.5 yards per carry.

“Better” is not the same thing as “good,” and Trubisky being better against the bottom-feeder Giants and Lions is, by his own description, not good enough.

Any evaluation of Trubisky involves grading the young quarterback on something of a curve. His only three 100-plus passer ratings this season have all come against bottom-10 defenses based on passer rating (Washington - 22nd; Lions - twice - 25th). In between the last two, both against Detroit and scheme-stubborn coach Matt Patricia, there was a 69.0 rating in a 19-point game vs lowly Giants (24th) and a benching during that 7-point debacle vs. the Rams.

The Chicago defense has survived pretty well without Hicks and Danny Trevathan, two of its performance and emotional leaders.

One-score wins against Detroit backups Jeff Driskel, Giants rookie Daniel Jones and then Detroit’s David Blough in an NFL debut could stand as concerning moments of brinksmanship, on top of losing to stumbling Jared Goff and a Rams team averaging 11.7 points over its last three games before Sunday. But allowing no more than 20 points in 10 of 12 games has kept the Bears in virtually every game and compares favorably to all but league-leading New England (one 20-plus game before Sunday night) among the NFL’s top six scoring defenses.

The other five — Patriots, 49ers, Bills, Ravens, Vikings — all also have offenses averaging more than 21 points per game, however, compared with the Bears’ 17.7, which helps account for why they all have at least eight wins.

Mitch Trubisky being better in hurry-up situations applies to more than individual series.

Trubisky is 4-1 for his career in games started on short weeks. Besides Thursday’s Detroit game, played with only a couple walk-through’s, Trubisky had the Bears off to a good start against Minnesota following an MNF appearance in Washington before he was injured. He’d converted one third down on that opening possession and even added a second via a Vikings penalty on the play when he suffered his shoulder injury.

“Last week it was all walkthrough and all mental,” Trubisky said, “so I think if we're locked in mentally, then that's how it translates to the field. Everyone knowing their jobs.”

He guided the Bears to a short-week victory at Arizona in Week 3 last season and had won at Baltimore in his second NFL start, coming off an MNF week. His lone short-week defeat came on a Saturday late in that rookie year, at Detroit, the last time he and the Bears lost to the Lions.

Conversely, the more time Trubisky has to prepare, too often the worse the result: Coming out of the off-week against New Orleans this season; Week 1 against Green Bay with all offseason to prepare; his three-INT day against the Rams last season coming off his shoulder injury; losing on opening day 2018 at Green Bay… 

Trubisky led a fourth-quarter comeback for the win at Detroit.  There is nothing negative about a fourth-quarter or game-winning drive, but everybody – no, seriously, EVERYBODY – comes back against the Lions, who have the quirky honor of having led in every game this season and failed to win nine of those 12.

The point in mentioning the comeback – only Trubisky’s second in 37 career starts – is that the organization, particularly Pace, should not be too gushy about a rally against a bottom-feeder. It was just that kind of game in 2013 – at Cleveland in Week 15 when Jay Cutler engineered a comeback against the ultimately 4-12 Browns – that then-GM Phil Emery cited in his rationale for signing Cutler to a six-year for $126 million. The $54 million guaranteed in the deal tied Pace’s hands with Cutler through the first two years with John Fox.

Emery elected not to go with a prove-it-against-more-than-Cleveland approach in the form of the franchise tag. Pace has a fifth-year option available on Trubisky's contract, which will be an average of the top 10 salaries at the quarterback position. So, pricey, but only guaranteed for injury until opening day of 2021.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears' QB competition confirmed by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears' QB competition confirmed by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace

It's a Friday edition of SportsTalk Live. Host David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh, Patrick Finley, and KC Johnson.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy confirm that there will be an open competition for starting quarterback between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky. The guys wonder how open it will actually be. Meanwhile, Nagy says he can sense Trubisky is a fierce competitor. The panel wonders if competition will elevate his play and make him better.

The Bulls have officially begun their search for the new executive to lead their basketball operations. Bulls Insider KC goes through the potential candidates. Haugh and Finley wonder how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their search and ability to land a big name. And what about Jim Boylen's future? KC says it will ultimately be up to the new person in charge but reminds everyone how much Boylen is liked by the current front office.

Later, former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt joins Kap on the show from Florida. Wanny dissects the Bears quarterback competition and explains why the pressure will always be high on Mitch no matter what. They also talk about new tight end Jimmy Graham's impact on the offense and pass rusher Robert Quinn's impact on the defense. And what's Wanny up to during quarantine? He tells Kap the shows he's binge-watching and gives his review of "Tiger King". 

0:00- There will be an open competition for the Bears starting quarterback job. Does either QB have an advantage? Will competition make Mitch a better quarterback? Also, how much better does Robert Quinn make the defense?

8:00- The Bulls have begun their search for the new head of their basketball operations. KC goes through some of the candidates. Plus, the panel discusses what this means for Jim Boylen's future, John Paxson's role in the search and his future role in the organization.

16:00- Dave Wannstedt joins Kap on the show. He talks about Mitch's chances to win the QB competition and his chances to keep the job throughout next season. Plus, they talk about Jimmy Graham's role in the offense, Robert Quinn's impact on the defense and Wanny gives his honest review of "Tiger King".

Sports Talk Live Podcast


Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Calling a quarterback battle an “open competition,” as Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy did Friday, leaves that comment open to interpretation. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Nick Foles is going to emerge from that competition as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

The Bears are not going to hand Foles their QB1 job — he’s not even going to take the first snaps of the competition. Those will go to Mitch Trubisky, the incumbent here. Foles will have to win the job, and there’s a chance he won’t. I’m not ready to call the Bears’ quarterback competition for Foles before a single practice is held. 

But for Trubisky to win the job, and not Foles, the Bears will have to not only see the 2017 No. 2 overall pick out-play his challenger during training camp. They’ll have to convince themselves it’s not a mirage, and that the last three years of inconsistent-at-best tape aren’t a mitigating factor against a guy who threw for 373 yards as the MVP of a Super Bowl. 

“I think when we say open competition, this is a open competition, they’ve both been told that and I think it’s the best way to do it,” Pace said. “I think the good thing is honesty and transparency with both players as we go through it. We want what’s best for the Chicago Bears. It’s as simple as that.”

The quote that really stands out to me, though, after Friday’s hour-plus of teleconferences with Pace, Matt Nagy, Nick Foles and Robert Quinn is an old one from February. It’s Nagy talking at the NFL Combine in February about wanting Trubisky to know the offense better than he does. It felt like a challenge to Trubisky at the time; it felt like an even greater challenge when Foles — who has experience running versions of the Bears’ offense in Kansas City and Philadelphia — was brought in. 

Essentially, the Bears told Trubisky through their words and actions: If you don’t know the offense to the level we want, we have a guy in place who does, and he'll take your job. 

Foles has a working knowledge of the Bears’ offense, one Nagy figured could get him through a game right now if need be. But there are plenty of different things the Bears do on offense compared to the Chiefs and Eagles (insert your own joke here about those offenses, most importantly, being better). There will be a learning curve for Foles to know Nagy’s offense better than Nagy, especially with the expectation of no OTAs or spring minicamps.

But Foles did an excellent job of explaining why a quarterback needs to know the offense better than its playcaller, one which resonates after watching so many Bears games spiral offensively in 2019. 

“I think if I can (know) this offense just as good, if not better, than the coaches,” Foles said, “when you step in the huddle, then you're able to face adversity better because there's gonna be times when Nagy calls the play and it's a different defense than it should be and it's up to the quarterback to change it.”

The Bears can try to simulate that adversity in practice, but also have a couple years’ worth of information that Trubisky can’t pull out of it. If everything is equal on the practice field, wouldn’t the Bears choose the guy who they hope can fix things in the middle of a game, rather than the guy who’s shown he can’t?

“This is a kid (Foles) who’s been through a lot of different situations,” Nagy said. “He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, he’s been in pressure moments and he understands a lot of the things that we’re looking for.”

Again, the Bears have not named Foles their starter. He carries a lower cap hit in 2020 than Trubisky, meaning the Bears will be okay financially with him being a backup. Trubisky could be sparked by the mere presence of Foles into being some version of the guy Pace hoped he was getting three years ago. 

If that’s the case, Foles may never play a down for the Bears in 2020. That’s actually the team’s best-case scenario. It’s what the Bears — and Bears fans — should be hoping for. 

But realistically, the odds are in Foles’ favor to be QB1 in Week 1. This franchise knows what Trubisky can do. A lot of Nagy’s coaches, including Nagy himself, know what Foles can do from past experiences working with him. And that gives an advantage to Foles. 

So if, in the absence of actual sports to gamble on right now, you’re looking for a safe bet: Take Nick Foles to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. 

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