Bears

View from the Moon: Bears are what their 3-5 record says they are – but what is that, exactly?

View from the Moon: Bears are what their 3-5 record says they are – but what is that, exactly?

You are indeed what your record says you are. But at the midpoint of a 2017 season in which the Bears already have matched their 2016 win total, it’s really not all that simple to say what either the Bears or, in this case, their rookie quarterback exactly are.

After a three-win 2016 and sitting at 1-3 to begin 2017, and two of the losses by 20-plus points, the Bears were right about where cynics thought they’d be: bad, arrow pointing anywhere but up. Now, with an in-season quarterback change to a rookie with all of 13 college starts, the Bears reach the halfway of their season 3-5 overall, ahead of more than a few projections, perhaps even their own.

But they also are a .500 team in Mitch Trubisky’s first four NFL starts. All things considered, the Bears realistically can be viewed as a team with an arrow pointing decidedly up, even with a litany of maddening gaffes that cost them Sunday in a 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

A missed field goal. An unforced penalty on special teams to turn a defensive stop into a Drew Brees a touchdown opportunity (which he converted). Too much poor technique and tackling in the secondary. Odd play-calling coupled with failed execution. Poor accuracy and decision-making in a handful of tipping-point situations by Trubisky.

Even with all that, the Bears reach their halfway break with two wins under Trubisky and two losses in which the rookie threw interceptions on Bears’ final possessions with chances for tying or winning scores. A defense that set historic low bars for takeaways in 2016 had another game with more than the opponent, including one in the closing minutes and the Bears down by five points but which Trubisky and the offense failed to exploit with even a single first down.

If there is a single overriding negative it lies in Trubisky being unable to deliver on those final possessions in the Minnesota and New Orleans losses, and in his average-at-best passing (14-of-32 for 164 yards, the interception on a poor overthrow of Tre McBride, a throw on which the only debate was whether the route or the pass was worse). The Bears are craving some of what Trubisky showed them completing his first 10 passes against Denver in preseason. He hasn’t even a glimpse of that yet.

After a big Tarik Cohen kickoff return supplemented by a horsecollar-tackle penalty gave Trubisky and the offense the football at the New Orleans 43 with 1:28 remaining – a designer situation for a statement drive – left tackle Charles Leno incurred a false-start penalty and Trubisky checked down to a no-gain dump-off before he threw high and behind McBride for the effective game-ender.

[MORE BEARS-SAINTS: Why the Bears enter their bye week feeling like they’re ‘close’ to playing winning football]

Understanding limitations

So much for “opening up the offense” mattering, or the suggestion that coaches could be breeding Trubisky’s natural aggressiveness out of him in three games (if that could have been happening, the Bears seriously got the wrong guy). Trubisky had more pass attempts (12) in Sunday’s first half than Drew Brees (11), with each quarterback sacked twice. Aggressiveness was not a Trubisky shortcoming.

But the clear fact was that Trubisky was not enough to ignite the offense himself, whether on straight execution from the pocket or making something electric happen on the move, in the broken-play motif that has been expected to be a significant part of this game. He has all the appearances of being that guy sooner rather than later, but he hasn’t achieved “rookie phenom” status, and probably won’t, given the resources at his disposal.

All that said, Trubisky – and the Bears overall, for that matter – arguably should be graded on something of a curve. Particularly working behind an offensive line absent two of its three best blockers, Trubisky isn’t not good enough to pick up his team and throw it to victory.

Inconsistencies abound

The day was marked with highs and lows, which is by definition what a still-forming quarterback and team simply produce.

The first Saints possession contained two mental gaffes uncharacteristic of the ’17 Bears defensive players. Bryce Callahan’s missed tackle that allowed Brandon Coleman to turn a short pass into a 54-yard completion was poor execution, losing footwork and failing to get a receiver bumped a few feet to out of bounds. Callahan later was lost to a knee injury that cost the defense it’s No. 1 nickel back.

And while it was on special teams, cornerback Kyle Fuller lining up offsides on a field-goal rush turned a third-down stop into a second Saints chance, which Drew Brees turned into a touchdown.

The Trubisky pass to tight end Zach Miller was his finest throw of the day, one for a TD that officials took away after Miller wasn’t able to maintain enough control of the ball while on the ground. The pass was on target, where Trubisky placed it where his guy or nobody was coming up with it, and was the kind of delivery teams expect from a franchise quarterback, even one in development.

Trubisky’s rookie-ness did show up in a handful of throws and decisions, something suggested by some of the coaching cautiousness shown earlier. Adam Shaheen got zero separation on his first-quarter short route in the end zone, and Tanner Gentry’s second-quarter out-route was blanketed, yet Trubisky made both throws into coverage that broke up the throws. The Saints were credited with eight passes defensed, an indication of a whole lot of passes thrown to receivers with defenders nearby. Poor separation will do that to a quarterback. So will inaccurate passing.

Trubisky threw too high to a wide-open Tarik Cohen in the third quarter, a pass calling for more NFL-grade touch than Trubisky still needs to develop.

And for the second straight game he took a sack that added to the difficulty factor for a field-goal attempt, although the sack just before halftime Sunday was a jailbreak pass rush and still only left Connor Barth with a 48-yard field goal try, which he sailed wide left.

The Bears now have two weeks of prep time for the Green Bay Packers, the team that effectively ended Mike Glennon’s stint as a starting quarterback. This time the Packers will serve as a measure of how far a developing quarterback – and team – have come in a season not easily defined.

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Leonard Floyd is the key to the Bears' defensive success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For all the attention heaped on Roquan Smith in the last 48 hours, he’s not the most important player to determining the success of the Bears’ defense in 2018. 

Rightly, the Bears feel good about their depth at inside linebacker, especially now that the No. 8 overall pick is in the mix. Smith, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski being at the top of the depth chart is solid at worst; John Timu is entering fourth year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and rookie Joel Iyiegbuniwe has some promise. 

This isn’t to diminish the importance of Smith, who represents the biggest (and, arguably, only major) addition to the Bears’ defense made in the 2018 offseason. But if you’re looking for the guy whose performance will be the most critical to the success of this defense, look toward the last Georgia product the Bears took with a top-10 pick. 

Given the upside of Leonard Floyd and where the Bears stand at outside linebacker three and a half weeks before the start of the regular season, that’s your guy. And over the last few weeks, Floyd has practiced and played better and better, providing an encouraging sign for a guy the Bears are betting big on this year. 

“He’s feeling more comfortable,” Trevathan said. “So I’m just happy with the direction he’s heading. It’s just going to make our defense better with Flo flying around.”

The Bears have seen flashes from Floyd in the past, but he’s yet to put together much in the way of consistency when it comes to affecting the quarterback. His 11 1/2 sacks in 1,118 career snaps come out to an average of one sack every, roughly, 102 snaps in 22 career games. For a guy that’s averaged 51 snaps per game his first two years in the league, that averages out to about one sack every two games. 

If you factor in quarterback hurries, of which he has 21 in two years, Floyd is affecting the quarterback once every 34 snaps. Pernell McPhee, who the Bears released earlier this year, averaged a sack or a hurry once every 24 snaps, abeit in a small sample size. Von Miller, who Floyd is sharing practice fields with this week, averaged a hurry or sack once every 26 snaps in the last two years over 1,828 snaps. 

These numbers don’t factor in a lot of things, like coverage assignments or flat-out statistical misses of hurries (for instance, Floyd wasn’t credited with a hurry in last week’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite his pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton forcing a throw Kyle Fuller picked off and ran back for a touchdown). But the overall point is this: The Bears need Floyd to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and be that double-digit-sack guy they envisioned when drafting him two years ago. 

Floyd isn’t putting that pressure on himself, though, and stuck to the usual one-day-at-a-time answer when asked how he achieves better consistency and what his goals are for the season. 

“Going out and practicing and just going as hard as you can, fixing your corrections and just continuing to be better every day,” Floyd said. 

If Floyd was a little reserved about his own expectations for the season, his teammates are more than willing to do the talking for him. 

“Even if he’s not flashy in the way you would want to see your outside linebacker flashing, he’s scaring offenses, you know what I’m saying?” defensive end Akiem Hicks, who tabbed Floyd as a Pro Bowl favorite as early as April, said. “So he already put that intimidation factor in there, and then to come up with the plays on top of that, the sky’s the limit for that guy. You just look at the body of work that he’s had as far as putting it in the past couple years, you’re waiting for that moment where he just takes over the league, and I think it’s this year.”

“He’s more disruptive,” Trevathan said. “I see a sense of him trying to create more big plays. Instead of just a sack, more to it. Sack/caused fumble. Getting the quarterback’s (vision). He’s guarding, dropping back. He’s doing everything that Flo is supposed to do even better now.”

Another positive point in Floyd’s favor is outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley seeing him talking more in meetings and growing more comfortable with his role and position on this defense. While Floyd isn’t going to be a vocal leader in that room — that role is ably filled by Sam Acho — his teammates are starting to notice his performances in practice. 

“I think our guys know that Leonard can do so many things for us,” Staley said. “They lean on him by his example — how he is in the practice field, how he is in the meetings. He's been doing a good job.”

But the most important point on Floyd may be this: The Bears bet big on him, and are betting big on him, based on how they addressed outside linebacker in the offseason. Aaron Lynch was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal, but the injury issues that dogged him in San Francisco have returned during training camp (he’s only participated in one practice due to a hamstring injury). Acho was re-signed to a two-year deal, rewarding him for the stable play he’s provided over the last few years, but he’s only recorded four sacks in 47 games with the Bears. Ryan Pace waited until the sixth round before drafting an edge rusher, giving a flier to Kylie Fitts. Isaiah Irving, an undrafted rookie from a year ago, has flashed in a few preseason games dating back to last year but didn't record a sack in his 41 snaps on defense in 2017. 

Those moves screamed one thing: The Bears believe in Floyd, and believe if he has the kind of season they think he can have, they didn’t need a massive addition to their group of edge rushers. That doesn’t mean Pace won’t make a move for an edge rusher before or after cut-down day in September, but unless he were to pay an exorbitant price to trade for Khalil Mack, whoever is brought it won’t be viewed as the team’s No. 1 edge rushing option. 

That would be Floyd, who’s shown in the last few weeks that he’s past his season-ending knee injury from 2017. It’s now on the third-year player to make that leap in production and play a major role in the success of a Bears’ defense that, other than Smith, largely stood pat this spring. 

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

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AP

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from the Bears’ joint practice in Denver

JJ Stankevitz and The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain break down the Bears’ joint practice with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, including how Roquan Smith looked, some encouraging signs for the offense and an enjoyable sequence of pass-rushing drills involving Von Miller.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: