Bears

Given a two-score lead, John Fox and the Bears didn't pass on their opportunity to grind out a win

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USA Today

Given a two-score lead, John Fox and the Bears didn't pass on their opportunity to grind out a win

The last time a team won while completing four or fewer passes was Nov. 13, 2011, when Tim Tebow competed two of his eight passing attempts as the Denver Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-10. On Sunday, Mitchell Trubisky completed four of his seven passes in the Bears’ 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers. 

The common denominator between those two games: John Fox coached both.

“This is a team game,” Fox said. “Sometimes it’s going to be one-sided in one way or another. I’ve seen that before. But at the end of the day, you have smiling faces in the locker room and they fought hard for that victory.”

The Bears’ offense, for large swaths of a windy afternoon at Soldier Field, couldn’t move the ball. Jordan Howard was bottled up for 65 yards on 21 carries as the Panthers stacked the box on 57 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Panthers were hoping to make Trubisky beat them, or at least try to beat them. But the rookie bought into the Bears’ conservative gameplan for him and, with a 14-point lead for most of the game, wasn’t going to force anything. 

“We’re just finding ways to win games,” Trubisky said. “We had more pass plays called, I was just pulling them down, being conservative and taking sacks. I was just trying to play smart, protect the football and get out of here with a win.”

Trubisky was sacked four times, preferring to hang on to the ball for a loss than risk throwing an interception that could’ve swung momentum in Carolina’s favor. 

The strategy put considerable strain on the defense, which had to play 69 snaps and gut out stops on minimal rest after the Bears went three-and-out on five consecutive possessions to begin the second half. But Vic Fangio’s group was up to the challenge, and countered fatigue with motivation to keep smothering Carolina’s offense and be the engine to drive this win. 

Wins have been few and far between since the Bears hired Fox in 2015; these back-to-back victories over Baltimore and Carolina represent only the third two-game winning streak in his tenure in Chicago. But a win like Sunday’s is what the Bears signed up for when they hired a defensive coach in Fox and a highly respected defensive coordinator in Fangio. No matter how the lead is gained, once it’s there, don’t make mistakes to lose it. 

Those mistakes happened last week, when after taking a 17-3 lead the offense fumbled three times (losing two) and the Ravens scored on both a kick and a punt return. And those mistakes were eliminated on Sunday, even if it was because the strategy was to mostly take away the offense’s ability to make them. Eventually, the training wheels will come off for Trubisky — either sometime this year or in 2018 — but the Bears don’t appear ready to remove them yet. 

The Bears know the offense still has to be better, even if Trubisky is only being asked to manage the game for now — “I don’t think anybody’s happy with how we played offensively,” tight end Zach Miller said. But he added: “We’ll take a win any day of the week.” And improving and making adjustments off a win — especially one by two touchdowns — is a lot more fun than off a loss. 

“It’s not always going to be perfect,” Fox said. “You have to give the other team some credit. But I thought as a football team, we played well today, and it was enough to get a decisive win.”

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Preseason games are about isolated goods and bads, snapshots really, rather than sweeping overalls. All in the eye of the beholder. And for the Bears, after losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati in Matt Nagy’s first efforts as a head coach, getting out of Denver with a 24-23 win over the Broncos looked pretty good in the eyes of any Bears beholder.

Saturday’s preseason game three was a collection of snapshots for the Bears, playing their third “practice” game, but the first with enough of the starters on offense and defense to matter, or at least as much as these can matter.

The Bears achieved their first win under Nagy on the right arm of No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel, pressed into extra duty when Tyler Bray was hurt in the third quarter, and who completed 19 of 28 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner just inside the two-minute warning on a 12-yard throw to tight end Ben Braunecker. The win was preserved when cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc punched the ball out of the hands of Denver receiver Isaiah McKenzie and linebacker Isaiah Irving gathered in the loose football to end a potential Denver comeback drive at the Chicago 38.

Before all of that, in his longest appearance of the presesason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky started and directed a pair of sustained drives, the first covering 51 yards to a missed field-goal attempt, and a second going 75 yards and culminating in a touchdown. Combined with the work by Daniel, the Bears put up five drives 50 yards or longer. Trubisky completed 9 of 14 passes for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and the No. 1 offense produced 10 first downs.

Notably perhaps, the Trubisky score came in a fashion that was previewed more than a few times throughout camp, and that projects as a template for a staple in the offense under Nagy:

A high-percentage flip going to tight end Trey Burton cutting across the field and going seven yards for Trubisky’s first TD pass of the preseason. The design of the play forced the Denver secondary to drop in coverage of Bears wide receivers and left rush linebacker Von Miller needing to choose between dropping into a short zone or going after Trubisky. Miller did the latter and Burton, who caught 4 of 5 passes directed to him for 45 yards, was alone in the underneath zone.

“I’m just trying to be who I am, do what the coaches ask me to do and go wherever that leads,” Burton told the FOX 32 broadcast. “Obviously, every week and every game is different so whatever my role is, I’m down for it.”

Trubisky did suffer his first interception over the span of two preseasons and 71 pass attempts, but appeared to be victimized when running back Tarik Cohen broke off the route on a short in-cut and failed to break back toward Trubisky. The throw was to where Cohen was supposed to be but was instead an easy pick for Denver safety Justin Simmons.

“I think [Cohen] learned he can’t do that,” Nagy said.

But the passing offense overall was functional under Trubisky, not insignificant in the context of the quarterback in a new offense with a complement of receivers largely unfamiliar with him. And some who hadn’t graced stat sheets to date.

Kevin White came up with his first two catches of the preseason and followed each with some nifty running after the catches. White also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty that accounted for about half the yardage on the Trubisky touchdown drive.

Rookie Anthony Miller caught 3 passes for 33 yards, with a long of 19 yards. Allen Robinson started but played sparingly in the first half in the first test of his surgically repaired left ACL and was not targeted. Taylor Gabriel, with a foot injury, did not play for the third straight game.

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

No Roquan Smith but Bears injury absences vs. Broncos far more troubling
 
No real surprise that coaches decided to hold linebacker Roquan Smith out, given that the rookie had exactly one practice in pads and two without pads last week after signing his contract on Monday. But it was not Smith’s absence that was concerning coming out of the Bears loss to the Denver Broncos.
 
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has been hampered by injuries in each of this first two Bears seasons, went out midway through the first half with an unspecified hand injury and did not return. Tight end Adam Shaheen, starting his second straight game after three catches for 53 yards at Cincinnati, caught a first-quarter pass from Mitchell Trubisky but left the field on a cart after injuring his ankle during the ensuing tackle.
 
Along with Floyd’s absence, the pass rush was again without outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who hasn’t been on the field since the first practice of training camp, that after missing play time with an ankle twisted in the first April minicamp practice and with a hamstring strain in a June minicamp practice.
 
The Bears did get a sack from Roy Robertson-Harris, his third in as many games and likely establishing him as the starting defensive end opposite Akiem Hick in the Bears’ base 3-4.
 
First quarter not-so-special teams
 
Repeating a pattern from some years past, Bears kick returns did the offense no favors early, with multiple mistakes in first quarter alone:

Recently signed running back Knile Davis took the opening kickoff six yards deep in the end zone and got it only to the Chicago 15.
 
After the first Denver three-and-out, Cre’Von LeBlanc fair-caught a punt at the Chicago 5 instead of gambling on a touchback. Three plays later Mitch Trubisky mishandled a high snap and was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
 
On the free kick, reserve tight end Ben Braunecker lost contain and contributed to a 17-yard return by Isaiah McKenzie, setting the Broncos up at their 40, from where they moved for a first-quarter field goal. After that field goal, Davis returned the Denver kickoff 43 yards but the runback was nullified by a holding penalty.
 
Throw in Cody Parkey’s missed field goal from 52 yards and Bears special teams combined for one of the poorer possible quarters short of allowing a touchdown return.
 
Helmet hi-jinks
 
And the league thought it had problems with the catch rule?
 
The NFL’s leading-with-the-helmet prohibition and its enforcement bordering on the bizarre reared its ugly head on an early flag on Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom, for his tackle of Bears tight end Adam Shaheen, which defies explanation. Yiadom got his head in front of Shaheen’s quads in a textbook go-low tackle with minimal risk to either player but was hit with a 15-yard penalty. Not sure what Yiadom was supposed to lead with? His feet?
 
Then Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller drew a leading-with-the-helmet when he went shoulder-first into tight end Andy Janovich, while Denver left tackle Garrett Bolles went helmet-first into a basic cut block on linebacker Leonard Floyd and drew no flag.

Duly noted
 
Quirky rules and their enforcement don’t account for a worrisome spate of penalties (eight through three quarters) that cost the Bears more than 100 yards. 
 
In the first half alone, besides the Fuller flag, tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie drew holding penalties, and a holding penalty on the kickoff-return team negated a 43-yard return by Knile Davis. Tight end Ben Braunecker was tagged for pass interference.