Progress evident from Mitchell Trubisky as Bears throttle hapless Bengals

Progress evident from Mitchell Trubisky as Bears throttle hapless Bengals

CINCINNATI — Mitchell Trubisky certainly wasn’t perfect, but he played his best game as a pro in the Bears’ 33-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. And that not only represented progress for the Bears’ franchise quarterback, but hope that these final three games of the 2017 season won’t necessarily be a lost cause.

Trubisky looked comfortable going through his reads in the pocket and zipped throws across the field, targeting nine different while completing 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards, good for a 112.4 passer rating. Helping matters was a strong game from Jordan Howard (23 carries, 147 yards) and an offensive gameplan that didn’t feel conservative.

Trubisky didn’t have pinpoint accuracy, and some of that falls on him, but perhaps some of it was due to the rookie still not having good timing with his running backs/receivers/tight ends. The receiver with which Trubisky has shown the best chemistry, Dontrelle Inman wasn’t targeted, for what it’s worth.

And a lot of what Trubisky had to do on Sunday was cover for a rash of penalties — four on the offensive line, though one was on him when he threw beyond the line of scrimmage — which served as a reminder that the Beras, while better, were still far too sloppy.

The Bengals, though, looked uninspired and disinterested six days after blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But no matter how much the Bengals were banged up, or how little effort they seemed to give, what Trubisky did on Sunday was impressive.

The same goes for Howard, Cohen (11carries, 83 yards), Adam Shaheen (four catches, 44 yards, one touchdown) and Eddie Jackson (an interception in the third quarter, a forced fumble in the fourth). The common thread between all of those guys: They all were drafted in the last two years.

It wasn’t just the Bears’ young core that had an impressive day, though. Kendall Wright caught 10 of 11 target for 107 yards, while Kyle Fuller swatted away two passes and kept standout Bengals receiver A.J. Green in check for much of the afternoon. And John Fox, while he curiously challenged Trubisky’s throw beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half, correctly challenged Jackson’s forced fumble in the second half, leading to the play being overturned and the Bears getting the ball.

This Bears win doesn’t change the course of this year, nor does it guarantee that these good vibes will carry over into next weekend’s trip to Detroit. But a blowout win on the road does give Trubisky and the Bears a much better base on which to build toward 2018 in the dying embers of the 2017 season.

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?


Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

USA Today

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

Maybe this is what happens when a team is coming off a 5-11 season and has won only 14 games over three years. Maybe it's just another example of the Chicago Bears being overlooked and underrated. Regardless of the 'why,' a recent poll of NFL experts has provided more fuel for the Bears in 2018.

ESPN's Field Yates asked 43 insiders and former players for their list of the top under-25-year-old starters in the NFL and not a single Chicago Bear made the cut.

No Jordan Howard. No Mitchell Trubisky. No Allen Robinson.

Not a single Bear.

The most shocking omission is Howard, who finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2016 and sixth last year despite facing defenses that focused their entire game plan on stopping him every single week. At only 23 years old, he's clearly one of the top young running backs in the NFL and warranted a spot on this list. 

Instead, the Rams' Todd Gurley, Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott and Giants rookie Saquon Barkley got the nod.

Howard has more rushing yards than Gurley over the last two seasons and trails Elliott by only 179. Barkley has yet to take a snap in the NFL.

The Bears were recently named the most underrated team in the league heading into 2018 and this is just another piece of evidence justifying that claim. A winning season will change the national perception of players like Howard, who with another year of high-end production should find himself at or near the top of many of these lists next offseason.