Bears

Next step for Mitchell Trubisky: Becoming a closer

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USA TODAY

Next step for Mitchell Trubisky: Becoming a closer

The leadership qualities of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky have taken shape and root through the Bears’ 6-3 start, one that has included two three-game win streaks. Nothing succeeds at making believers like success. 

But beyond specific developmental steps the second-year quarterback has made, is making and will make in an evolving offense, and beyond coaches’ and teammates’ believing in him, is a crucial next step that the elites at the position take:

Becoming a closer. In fourth quarters.

The Bears are 5-2 when leading after three quarters, but only 1-1 when trailing after three. In his 21 games, Trubisky has delivered two late game-winning drives – for a winning field goal in overtime last year at Baltimore, and for a winning field goal at Arizona this year.

But in the Bears’ three 2018 losses, irrespective of defensive failures, Trubisky and the offense managed just three points in the fourth quarter at Green Bay, and one fourth-quarter touchdown each in the losses to Miami and New England. The Bears were outscored in the fourth quarters against Detroit and Tampa Bay but were already sufficiently far ahead (35-3 vs. the Buccaneers, 34-10 vs. the Lions) that late scores weren’t really necessary.

Trubisky is clear on the situational needs: “Coming out with a positive drive starter, no negative plays and then have an explosive play,” he said. “And then usually that results in good plays for us. So we can get that and keep getting better and finish in the end zone or finish with points, whatever the situation is, that’s what we need to do.”

Trubisky has been significantly better this year in fourth quarters than he was in 2017, in every quarter, actually: 64.4 percent completion percentage, 8.03 yards per attempt, a 97.7 passer rating, ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Case Keenum, among others.

The problem is that his level of play ranks just 20th among fourth-quarter passers. Minnesota will come to Soldier Field on Sunday behind Kirk Cousins, the No. 5 crunch-time passer, with a 1.1-percent interception rate, compared to Trubisky’s 3.4.

A focus this week has been third-down efficiency, against a Minnesota defense ranked No. 1 in fewest third-down conversions (25.7 percent). Trubisky ranks 13th in third-down passing, with a 99.0 rating.

But a blowout is unlikely, meaning that sometime late Sunday evening, the Bears and Trubisky will have the football in a situation needing a finishing kick. At that time, they will be pressed to answer some of Matt Nagy’s core questions.

“When you’re winning in a game, how do you finish?” Nagy said. “When you’re losing in a game, how do you come back? All those are occurring to us.

“You’re seeing that when you put together a team of good people, that responds to adversity, it helps you. We’re drilling to these guys aggressive, aggressive, aggressive, finish, finish, finish. If we don’t do that as coaches, then what are we teaching?”

 

Under Center Podcast: Shedding light on the Bears new DC from the golf course

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Shedding light on the Bears new DC from the golf course

Former Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt joins Luke Stuckmeyer and Bears insider JJ Stankevitz from the golf course in sunny Florida to shed light on his recent conversation with new Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano (1:30), Ed Reed's Hall of Fame belief in Eddie Jackson (3:00), whether he'd prioritize Bryce Callahan or Adrian Amos in Free Agency (6:15).

Plus how he'd handle the Cody Parkey situation, since he had a similar experience with Jim Harbaugh when he was coaching the Bears (9:30).

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Under Center Podcast

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Bears grades and needs: D-line looks set, from Akiem Hicks to Bilal Nichols

Bears grades and needs: D-line looks set, from Akiem Hicks to Bilal Nichols

2018 depth chart

1. Akiem Hicks
Usage: 16 games, 74.1 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $10.1 million cap hit

Hicks is one of the very best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, leading all players at his position with 34 run stops (defined by Pro Football Focus as tackles that constitute a loss for the offense) while contributing eight sacks and 53 pressures. He finally earned the Pro Bowl bid he’s deserved for years and will remain an anchor of the Bears’ defense as it transitions from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano. That he played nearly three-quarters of the Bears' defensive snaps, too, is a testmant to A) how tough is was to take him off the field and B) how well he conditioned himself to be able to play that much. 

2. Eddie Goldman
Usage: 16 games, 52.5 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.55 million cap hit

With so much star power highlight reel appearances surrounding him, Goldman perhaps was under-appreciated outside the walls of Halas Hall. But inside the Bears’ facility, Goldman’s impact was celebrated. His ability to absorb interior double teams allowed inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to shoot gaps and each rack up over 100 tackles, and coupled with Hicks few teams were able to effectively run the ball on the Bears. 

While Goldman indeed only played a little over half of the Bears’ defensive snaps, that was possible because of good depth behind him. Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — the lone position coach holdover from Fangio’s staff — crafted a plan that allowed Goldman to stay healthy, fresh and effective all season. With Pagano keeping the Bears’ 3-4 base scheme, Goldman will still have a highly important role a year after signing a four-year, $42.04 million contract with $25 million guaranteed. 

3. Roy Robertson-Harris
Usage: 16 games, 33.6 percent of defensive snaps, 27.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Exclusive rights free agent

Robertson-Harris’ 28 pressures tied for fourth on the team behind the three guys you’d expect to be ahead of him (Khalil Mack, Hicks, Leonard Floyd). He was a disruptive presence able to play just about every defensive line technique, and he used his 6-foot-7 length to bat down two passes, too. 

Robertson-Harris will turn 26 in late July and could still have some untapped potential as a defensive lineman, a position he switched to only a few years ago. 

4. Bilal Nichols
Usage: 14 games, 31.2 percent of defensive snaps, 5.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $644,870 cap hit

Nichols came up with one of the biggest plays in the early part of the Bears’ season when he dropped Cardinals running back for a three-yard loss on third-and-two just after the two-minute warning, with Arizona driving in Bears territory. From there, Nichols was good for a few plays per game, immediately fitting in as an adept rotational player a few months removed from being a fifth-round pick.

Nichols tied with Robertson-Harris for fifth on the team with four sacks, and in Week 17 he thoroughly terrorized Minnesota’s offensive line: Four hurries, two hits and one sack (after the sack, he mimicked the “Viking Clap” to a largely empty U.S. Bank Stadium). Ryan Pace appears to have unearthed a solid contributor in Nichols, someone who will be a key part of the team’s defensive line rotation again in 2019. 

5. Jonathan Bullard
Usage: 16 games, 28.3 percent of defensive snaps, 15.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,026,630 cap hit

Bullard hasn’t quite capitalized on the potential that led Pace to draft him in the third round back in 2016, and was passed on the depth chart by Robertson-Harris and Nichols last season. He’s adequate against the run and his cap hit is low enough for him to stick on the roster in 2019. 

6. Nick Williams 
Usage: 2 games, 4.2 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Williams won a camp battle to secure a roster spot, but only appeared in two games (Week 1 and Week 9). 

7. Abdullah Anderson
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The Bucknell alum and 2017 Patriot League defensive player of the year hung around the practice squad in 2018, and will get a shot at sticking in that role in 2019. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 3

Between Hicks, Goldman, Robertson-Harris and Nichols, the Bears have four strong contributors to their defensive line rotation. Add Bullard in there and the “need” lessens, though defensive line is one of those positions where you can never have too many bodies. 

Previous grades and needs: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OL

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