Bears

Another leg issue casts cloud over Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

alshonjefferyisbackslide.png

Another leg issue casts cloud over Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

When Alshon Jeffery left Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings with hamstring tightness, the problem did not enhance the Bears’ offensive situation in the short term.

“It’s definitely not ‘inflating,’" quarterback Jay Cutler said as to how deflating the loss of Jeffery was. It only adds to questions about what the Bears will feel comfortable doing with Jeffery when his contract expires after this season.

Jeffery’s availability has been a near-weekly issue going back to a calf injury in preseason and continuing into the season with hamstring, groin and shoulder injuries. Whether the fourth-year receiver is able to practice this week or play next Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

[MORE: Bears tumble to new lows, into an abyss, in loss to Vikings]

“We’ll evaluate him,” said coach John Fox. “He got treatment today, I’m sure will get treatment tomorrow and we’ll evaluate him and see what his availability is Wednesday.”

But the bigger question for a team just eliminated from playoff possibilities is how Jeffery’s recent injury history factors into the risk involved in a franchise tag, long-term contract or risking seeing Jeffery reach open free agency.

A franchise tag placed on a wide receiver in the 2015 season committed his team to $12.8 million guaranteed for one season. That show-me option appears at this point more likely than multi-year contract with its typically massive guaranteed money. The five-year pact the Dallas Cowboys gave Dez Bryant last July included $45 million guaranteed.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

“We’re evaluating everything all the time whether it’s injuries, whether it’s execution, whether it’s starting fast, starting slow,” Fox said. “There’s really not much that we don’t look into. It’s a very analytical type of game, so it’s no different with injuries, we look at everything from how we stretch to how we warm up. You name it, we look at it.”

Linebacker Shea McClellin, also coming out of his rookie contract after this season, came out of the Minnesota game with concussion symptoms and has been placed in the NFL's concussion protocol for this week.

First and Final thoughts: Are the Bears really a playoff team?

First and Final thoughts: Are the Bears really a playoff team?

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz, Producer Cam Ellis, and a rotating cast of NBC Sports Chicago's Bears team give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Stankevitz: From a pure talent perspective, the Bears look like they have what it takes to make a run at the playoffs...so long as they get better play out of their quarterback. What this defense did in the second half against Arizona was remarkable: Interception, interception, forced fumble, interception, game-ending sack. Khalil Mack really is making an already-talented group of players that much better. We know what the Bears have in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel have done well to get open. So it comes down to if Trubisky can play better than he has in the first three weeks of the season. If he does, the Bears are legitimate contenders in the NFC. If not, there's a ceiling on how good 2018 really can be. 

Ellis: While the Bears’ front seven gets most of the attention, their secondary has had their share of impressive performances so far. Both of the Bears’ wins this year have been sealed by interceptions: Prince Amukamara’s backbreaking pick-six vs. Seattle and Bryce Callahan’s pick of Josh Rosen just outside of field goal range. They still give up too many big plays, but Football Outsiders ranks them as the 5th best pass defense in football. Callahan looks particularly good this year, which is well-timed considering Kyle Fullers’ relative struggles to start the season. 

FIRST THOUGHTS

Stankevitz: No matter who's playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they're going to provide quite a test for the Bears' secondary. Wide receivers Mike Evans (23 catches, 367 yards, 3 TDs) and DeSean Jackson (12 catches, 312 yards, 3 TDs) are playing like the best 1-2 combo in the league, and then add in tight end O.J. Howard (11 catches, 222 yards, 1 TD) and receiver Chris Godwin (13 catches, 171 yards, 3 TDs) and it's clear how many weapons the Bucs have for Ryan Fitzpatrick or, if he gets the nod, Jameis Winston. The status of Prince Amukamara (hamstring) will be critical to watch this week, as Marcus Cooper (who didn’t play against Arizona) has been picked on when he's played in a Bears uniform and undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver II had some issues against the Cardinals. But hey, it's just as we all predicted in August, right? The first-place Bears face the first-place Bucs in Week 4. It'll be a fun one. 


Ellis: Keeping on the theme of tests, this week provides a strangely unique one for the Bears. Reports out of Tampa currently are that the Buccaneers won’t announce who their starting quarterback is until Sunday morning. Whether it’s Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bears have to spend time this week preparing for both; it’s not like their styles of play overlap much, either. It’s an interesting wrinkle to the usual week of pregame practices and meetings. My guess is that they’d rather prep for one of the Winston/Fitzpatrick combo than Aaron Rodgers (or Tom Brady later in October) but still. 

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

trubisk.jpg
USA TODAY

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

First things first, getting some ancient history out of the way but also looking at it in a different light….

Turns out Dowell Loggains may not have been an idiot or John Fox an offensive restrictor plate, either, in the matter of using and developing Mitchell Trubisky. They in fact appear to have known some things that Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are finding out about one young NFL quarterback: that Trubisky simply isn’t particularly accurate or effective going downfield with his passes. At least, not yet.

The Bears did their ongoing due analytics through Trubisky’s rookie year. In the requisite pursuit of putting a player in the best chance to have success, they determined what he wasn’t good at, and trimmed back much of the field from his scripting and play rolodex early. The sense now is that Nagy also may be doing just that with Trubisky.

Something never made complete sense, that Loggains, had thrown the ball around Soldier and other Fields more than 61 percent of the time with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Yet with a talent like Trubisky, he was calling only a more-balanced 53 percent passing. The accuracy reality helps you understand some of the reason why; The young QB just hadn’t really thrown accurately down the field, or anywhere, for that matter, looking at his 59.4-percent completion rate even with the top of the field dialed back.

Downfield accuracy can be a quirky thing. Rex Grossman, for instance, was quixotically more accurate when passes were directed longer than 15 yards, yet maddeningly scattershot on, say, bubble screens. Trubisky is not that, most quarterbacks aren’t, but positive plays are the objective, wherever they lie for the particular thrower.

But all of that’s not really important now, just looking at Trubisky with some perspective; the downfield accuracy that’s a true work in progress wasn’t there then. And best guess is that Fox, Loggains and the rest of the staff weren’t going to tell Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Cody Whitehair or anyone else on offense to get their bodies pounded just so the kid could learn how to throw deep. The point was, and is, to win the game (thank you, Herman Edwards).

More to matters of more recent perspective….

Using the right evaluation scales

One simple (well, maybe not completely simple) fact is that Mitch Trubisky is improving, and in many respects, substantially, even as frustration and dissecting continue.

First, a note of explanation: Evaluating Trubisky against expectations, even for a No. 2-overall pick, isn’t useful. Neither is evaluating him strictly vis’a’vis other young quarterbacks.

What is useful is evaluating Trubisky vs. Trubisky, No. 1, and No. 2, more important, is the team winning with him?

The answer to No. 2 is “yes.” Two wins in three games, being within on defensive stop of having his team 3-0—that’s a “yes.” He had his team 2-1 last year after three starts, albeit against better competition (Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina), so he is at least as win’ish as he was as a rookie.

As to No. 1, the footwork isn’t where he or his coaches want it. Neither is his decision-making. Nor the accuracy thing.

But evaluating Trubisky against Trubisky and not Allen, Mahomes, Watson or anyone else, the point is signs of improvement. Consider:

In his first three starts last season, Trubisky barely qualified for “inaccurate” or “productive.” In his first three starts this season, he’s earned both, even with his distance issues:

 

                           2017                                    2018

 

                  Cmp.     Yards                    Cmp.      Yards

 

Gm 1         48.0%       128                    65.7%       171

 

Gm 2         50.0%       113                    73.5          200

 

Gm 3         57.1%       107                    68.6          220

 

Even with a couple of untoward throws and interceptions, his INT rate is still a respectable-if-not-great 2.9 percent.

Trubisky’s meaningful arrows are pointing up when compared to where he finished that rookie season, when he went out 1-2 with declining performances:

Gm 14      67.4%       314

 

Gm 15      60.9%       193

 

Gm 16      55.6%       178

Putting a final assessment of Trubisky is still quite some weeks off for 2018, and quite sometime longer for what he is big-picture. But in the meantime, comparing Mitch Trubisky ’17 to Mitch Trubisky ’18, the new one is better.