For Mitch Trubisky and Bears, Rams represent statement opportunity at highest level


For Mitch Trubisky and Bears, Rams represent statement opportunity at highest level

The cliché this week is that the Bears-Rams game is a statement game for the Bears. Well, it is. Period. “It’ll be a big week for us to get back on track,” coach Matt Nagy said, looking back, then looking ahead, “and understand where we’re at and what we have ahead of us.”

“Understand where we’re at” is really the crux of it, for lots of reasons – starting with Mitch Trubisky, assuming the second-year quarterback is good to go after two games off due to his throwing-shoulder injury.

As far as pressure on Trubisky, that really isn’t any greater than it is every week, or than what the second-year quarterback puts on himself in his own self-generated internal drive to be great. But the Rams game stands with the New England game to this point in this season as a defining, bellwether moment for an arrow-pointing-up quarterback and a team that hopes the same for its collective arrow.

Trubisky is becoming a true leader of his team and he has the stats of a top-10 quarterback. But he is just 6-9 against the NFC, better against “other” conference, which has to change. And he still just reached .500 for his career the last time he was on the field, the win over Minnesota.

That Vikings game was notable for its having been over a “good” team (defined as one with a winning record). It’s something Trubisky has done before: Carolina and Baltimore last season, Seattle and then Minnesota this year.

Not to split hairs here, but still on Trubisky’s to-do list is engineering a win over a “champion,” an elite team winning or that would win its division. That didn’t happen against the Patriots this year or in any of his four meetings with eventual champions last season (Minnesota twice, Philadelphia, New Orleans).

And the simple reality is that the Bears and their quarterback will not be champions unless and until they can defeat them.

Which is not to say that the NFC North title is at stake Sunday night. The only sub-.500 among Minnesota’s final four games is Detroit, which is a road game for the Vikings in a place where they are suspect 3-5 for their last eight meetings with the Lions. The Bears are the only one of Minnesota’s final four opponents against which quarterback Kirk Cousins has a winning record (2-1).

Complacency has sprung up as a mild concern with a young team (usually the ilk susceptible to that un-emotion), with admitted letups in the losses at Green Bay and New Jersey and suspected in the painful, costly backslide at Miami where 11- and seven-point leads were squandered in the span of roughly 18 second-half minutes.

That’s not likely to surface against the Rams, although letting up against the Packers when Aaron Rodgers was still in a helmet ranks as one of the true head-scratchers of 2018 (wounded animals can be far nastier to deal with than healthy ones).

Indeed, if there’s an underlying positive out of the loss to the Giants it may be the shock effect – the Bears were admittedly not fully ready to go at the outset of that game, mystifying if only because they were going into an NFL game with a backup quarterback. Chase Daniel’s performance may actually have contributed to a touch of over-confidence, but only the players in their meeting rooms can speak to that, and no one’ll admit that.

Game-planning’ly speaking

The conventional general NFL defensive philosophy is to make a team one-dimensional by shutting down the opposing run game. The Rams won’t have to do that to the Bears; the Bears have effectively taken care of that themselves with their lack of consistent commitment to and effectiveness in their run game.

Which sets up a simplistic reverse-engineering prospect for what the Bears will face on Sunday: 

Make the Bears one-dimensional by going after Trubisky and the passing offense first and force the Bears to beat them using something Matt Nagy and his team don’t do particularly well or even like to do.

AP writers vote Matt Nagy for 2018's best coaching job

AP writers vote Matt Nagy for 2018's best coaching job

It may only be Week 15, but Matt Nagy's already winning awards. 

Earlier today, Nagy was chosen as "having done the NFL’s best coaching job in 2018 in voting released Friday by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press." 

AP football writer Howard Fendrich explained the decision, saying,″(Nagy’s) overseen a total turnaround of the Bears in just his first year as an NFL head coach, taking a team that hadn’t finished above .500 since 2012 and turning them into the best of the NFC North. He’s an offensive guru who learned from former boss Andy Reid, and Chicago’s play calling has been creative and fun — and overcome limitations at the QB spot to be good enough to let a superb defense lead the way.”

Nagy's led the Bears to a 9-4 record in his first year as head coach, with a chance to win the division if the Bears can beat the Packers this weekend. 

Nagy came in ahead of Pete Carroll, who finished in 2nd place. Andy Reid, Nagy's mentor in Kansas City, rounded out the top 3. 

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Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

USA Today Sports Images

Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

A thought here after watching Thursday night’s Chargers-Chiefs tilt, which featured eight flags for either defensive pass interference or defensive holding...

As the NFL makes it harder for defensive players to play defense (and as TV ratings go up), the Bears are one of the cleanest teams when it comes to their opponents’ passing game. They rank second among teams with only eight combined defensive holding and defensive pass interference penalties: 

1. Dallas (5)
2. Chicago (8)
3. Oakland (10)
4. Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers (11)
6. Arizona, Indianapolis (12)
8. Carolina, Cleveland, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Houston, Philadelphia (13)
14. Cincinnati, New York Jets, Seattle, Tampa Bay (14)
18. Baltimore, Pittsburgh (15)
20. Los Angeles Rams (16)
21. Buffalo, Minnesota, New England (17)
24. Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, San Francisco (18)
29. Atlanta, Miami (20)
31. New Orleans (23)
32. Kansas City (36)

The Chargers entered Thursday night’s game tied with the Bears with eight holding/pass interference penalties, but where whistled for three during the game — and not all were clear fouls, either. And that kind of stuff can be annoying for defensive players around the league to see. 

“100 percent,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “.. .I’ve seen some things, I’m like come on, man. But there’s some things you can’t control. Control what you can control, and that’s go out there and play ball and to the best of your ability try not to hold or get a flag for pass interference called on you.”

Jackson credited four members of the coaching staff with the Bears’ ability to avoid holding/interference penalties: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson and quality control assistant Sean Desai. From teaching proper technique for being told what to watch out for, this is a well-coached group. Only cornerback Prince Amukamara — who’s usually in press coverage, subjecting him to the most contact — has been whistled for multiple interference or holding flags this year (he actually has half the Bears’ total, with four). 

“It’s a combination of both (coaching and technique) I would say,” coach Matt Nagy said. “The players, technique-wise is a big part of it. You’ve got to be really disciplined in that area. And then I think the other part of it is with the coaching is making sure that they’re watching to make sure to see where they’re at with it. So far, to have that, you want that overall as a team to be the least penalized, specifically in that area, that’s always a good thing.”

Consider it another feather in the cap of the league’s best defense: Even when passing-oriented rule changes and tweaks supposedly make it harder to play defense, the Bears largely haven’t suffered for it. 

“It’s more difficult for the referees, too,” Nagy said. “It’s difficult for them. It’s difficult for the players. There’s some subjectiveness to it. But you gotta try to not be too grabby.”  

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