Bears

Khalil Mack named NFC Defensive Player of the Month

Khalil Mack named NFC Defensive Player of the Month

Khalil Mack was recognized on Thursday as the NFC Defensive Player of the Month following an outlandishly-dominant September in which he helped lift the Bears to being the best defense in the NFL. 

Mack forced four fumbles, becoming the first player since Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis in 2005 to have a sack-strip in four consecutive games. His five sacks rank only behind Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence (who has 5 1/2), and his 24 pressures rank third behind Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (26) and Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald (28). Mack also has a pick-six and has been one of the NFL’s better run defenders, too. 

Beyond his personal stats, Mack has had a tremendous impact on the rest of the Bears’ defense, which ranks No. 1 in DVOA after four weeks and enters the off week having suffocated a previously-explosive Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense in Sunday’s 48-10 win. 

“The consistency of his demeanor each and every day, each and every moment that he’s on the field, that he’s in a meeting, game or practice — you’re getting the same guy each and every day,” outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said. “No matter what the situation is – the highest of highs like in Green Bay or the lowest of low like maybe the first half of the Arizona game – same guy. That gives incredible confidence to his teammates, to his coaches. I use the phrase ‘Calm is contagious.’ I think that really impacts all of us in a real positive way.”

This is the second time Mack has been named a conference’s defensive player of the month, as he won AFC Defensive Player of the Month with the Oakland Raiders in November 2016. He’s the first Bears player to be named defensive player of the month since Charles Tillman was in October 2012. Other Bears to win defensive player of the month: Tim Jennings (September 2012), Julius Peppers (November 2010, November 2011), Brian Urlacher (December 2010), Trace Armstrong (September 1990) and Wilber Marshall (December 1986). 

Is Mitch Trubisky's hip injury legit? Bears' explanations offer clues into how and why he was benched vs. Rams

Is Mitch Trubisky's hip injury legit? Bears' explanations offer clues into how and why he was benched vs. Rams

LOS ANGELES — Wearing a gray t-shirt, athletic shorts and a camo-green hat pulled down over his eyes, Mitch Trubisky left his most dour press conference as a member of the Chicago Bears and somewhat gingerly ambled up the tunnel connecting the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the outside world. 

The Bears’ quarterback was greeted with a hug from his mother at the top of the long incline, and spent the next 15 or so minutes chatting with his family. At one point, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff popped over to say hi and give Trubisky a high five and a hug. Eventually, Trubisky departed for the team bus and a redeye flight back to Chicago, where a debate had already been raging for hours: 

Is his hip injury legit?

That was the reason the Bears gave for Trubisky’s removal from Sunday’s game three minutes after Chase Daniel entered their 17-7 loss to the Rams. For a few minutes, it looked as if Matt Nagy pulled the ripcord on the Bears’ season about 100 feet from smashing into the ground, replacing the 2017 No. 2 overall pick with a journeyman career backup in a last-ditch effort to save his plummeting team. 

Unless you were on Twitter during the game, though, you wouldn’t have seen the Bears’ explanation for taking Trubisky out of the game, which came three minutes after Daniel took his first snap in the fourth quarter. Neither Al Michaels nor Cris Collinsworth mentioned the hip injury explanation on NBC’s television broadcast of “Sunday Night Football,” saying they had received “no word” from Bears PR of the reason for Trubisky's benching a few plays after Daniel entered the game. 

That environment led to plenty of skepticism and speculation from those who either didn’t see the Bears’ tweet, or from those who thought the Bears were using the injury as a cover for benching Trubisky due to performance reasons. The Bears gained just 30 yards on 14 plays on the four drives preceding Trubisky's benching. 

Here’s what the Bears said about the timeline of Trubisky’s injury:

— Trubisky initially injured his right hip on the last drive of the second quarter, though he misspoke multiple times in saying it happened at the end of the second half (he was not flip-flopping or changing his story, it did appear to be a genuine instance of misspeaking). Trubisky said he was evaluated at halftime, but kept quiet about how he felt and tried to fight through the growing discomfort. 

— Nagy said Trubisky hurt his hip when he landed on it. With 30 seconds left in the second quarter, Trubisky scrambled outside the pocket on third and eight and was sacked, though he landed on his left hip, not his right hip. 

— Nagy, though, admitted he was short on specific information regarding the injury: “I gotta find out more because I didn’t find out the details yet from him, the play that it happened,” Nagy said, adding he hadn't yet talked to Trubisky after the game. 

— Trubisky said he “really wasn’t telling anyone,” about his injury, given he hoped he could fight through it. 

— Nagy said quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone mentioned to him that “we gotta keep an eye on him” one or two series before Trubisky was pulled from the game. 

— Nagy noticed Trubisky was having some issues getting torque on his throws, and that he was throwing with mostly his arm and not his lower body. He said those were especially noticeable when he was throwing to his left and trying to open up his hip. 

— At no point did the Bears take Trubisky into the blue medical tent on their sideline to evaluate him. 

— Nagy talked with Trubisky during a TV timeout after the Rams took a 17-7 lead, and said he told Trubisky he needed to be honest with him about his hip. Nagy said Trubisky told him how he was feeling, and then Nagy made the decision to remove him from the game. 

“I’m not doing the team any favors if I’m not able to run around or throw the ball with accuracy because I’m throwing with all arm,” Trubisky said. “You just gotta be smart with that factor but I’m going to fight as long as I can and try to be out there with my guys.”

Still, because Trubisky didn’t go into the medical tent, there was no reason for anyone to believe he was injured until the Bears dropped that explanation on social media. And that he was standing on the sideline in a baseball cap, not being tended to by trainers, only fueled speculation that the 2017 No. 2 overall pick was not actually injured. 

That Nagy called for Trubisky to run an option on third and one in the third quarter — on which Trubisky pitched the ball too quickly — looked similarly head-scratching. If Trubisky had been evaluated at halftime and Nagy knew about it, why would he call that play? Or, if Nagy didn’t know about it — why didn’t he know about it?

Nagy, though, said he didn’t believe Trubisky’s injury impacted him on that play. 

But accusing a team or player of faking an injury is a heavy accusation. It also doesn’t make much sense in this instance — if the Bears were trying to protect Trubisky’s already-low confidence, why would publicly saying he was benched due to an injury matter? He’d know why he was benched, and it’s not like there hasn’t been an onslaught of outside criticism of him recently anyway. Would the public reasoning for benching him really matter if internally Nagy, Trubisky and the team knew why?

Digesting this whole situation, it feels like the most likely scenario is that Trubisky tried to fight through the injury and didn’t want his coaches finding out about it until it became obvious to Ragone and Nagy that it was affecting his play. That fits with his competitive nature and would explain some of the discrepancies in the timelines provided by Nagy and Trubisky. 

It also fits with Daniel not looking like someone who knew he was coming into the game while Nagy and Trubisky were talking on the sideline. 

The long-term effects of Trubisky’s benching, though, are yet known. 

And unless this is an injury that will require a lengthy absence, the Trubisky era is not yet over in Chicago. 

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The Bears may not trust Eddy Piñeiro as much anymore, but they're not giving up on him quite yet

The Bears may not trust Eddy Piñeiro as much anymore, but they're not giving up on him quite yet

LOS ANGELES – Eddy Piñeiro didn’t have much to say. 

When asked about the first of his two missed field goals on Sunday night – a 48-yarder from the right hash – the Bears’ kicker offered a brief, three word explanation: 

“Just missed it,” he said. 

And the second? What went wrong on the 47-yard miss, in the same direction, a little over 10 minutes later? 

“Just missed it.” 

Piñeiro fielded questions for 80 more seconds before asking a Bears PR representative if the media session was over. He didn’t wait for a response before abruptly walking away.

It’s admittedly easy to understand his temperament after an 0-2 performance that has many wondering whether his job is safe when the Bears return to Chicago tonight. 

“You want to see field goals made,” Matt Nagy said. “You’re in a game like this, a defensive battle – points are at a premium. You want to be able to make those kicks.” 

The Bears’ troubles on opening drives have been well-documented, and both Piñeiro and Nagy lamented about how the early misses threw the Bears out of the rhythm that early turnovers from Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson provided. Piñeiro’s field was clearly shortened after the second miss, as evident from Nagy’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-9 from the Rams’ 31 yard line only seven plays later. Later in the second quarter he also chose to punt from the Rams’ 39 yard line instead of giving Piñeiro a shot from 49. His longest kick on the year is from 52, and in similar conditions.

“I have no control over what Nagy does, because he’s the head coach,” he said. “I have no control.” 

Going into the bye week, Piñeiro was 8-10 on field goal attempts, perfect on extra points, and already had a road game-winner to his name. He’s only hitting at a 50% rate since then and hasn’t made a field goal since a 3-5 performance against the Chargers that included a missed game-winner. He said after the game that he still feels confident in his pregame routine, and that the ball doesn’t feel any different coming off his foot. 

Nagy threw water on the idea that Pineiro’s job is in jeopardy, only saying that “Eddy knows he’s got to make those.” 

With playoff chances all but mathematically gone, Nagy, Chris Tabor and company now have two months to figure out if someone who started the season looking like the kicker of the future will even end it on the team. 

“I’m not worried about anything right now,” Piñeiro said. “I’ve just go to keep making kicks in practice, go back and see what I did wrong, and just try to make kicks.”