Bears Grades: Defense achieves 'finish' goal, shuts down Vikings in win

Bears Grades: Defense achieves 'finish' goal, shuts down Vikings in win

The Bears defense played with an obvious fire Monday night in shutting down the Minnesota Vikings. But the more important element was not how hot the fire burned, but how long.

“We’ve played a lot of good football on defense [this season] but we haven’t finished games,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “I’m happy we played this whole 60 minutes, not 30, not 45, the whole 60.”

The defense forced five straight punts to open the game, the best start since stopping Detroit’s first four possessions in Week 4, and the last four of the stops were three-and-outs. The Vikings converted just two of 10 third downs through three quarters. The defense in total hit quarterback Sam Bradford nine times on 37 dropbacks.

Defensive line: A

Minnesota has been one of the NFL’s poorest rushing teams and the Bears kept them that way while bringing enough pressure to disrupt Bradford. The Vikings rushed for just 57 yards, the second time (Jacksonville) in three games that the Bears have limited an opponent to less than 60 rushing yards.

Cornelius Washington took another step as a nickel rusher with a pursuit sack of Sam Bradford in the first quarter, his second of the season. “He started right but then he came back around and got to the outside,” Washington said. “Then I had to do all that running. I was thinking, ‘I got to get him, got to get him,’ because it would’ve been my fault.”

Big Corn inadvertently left the bench early after an apparent incomplete pass, drawing a correct but unfortunate unsportsmanlike-conduct flag for leaving the bench too soon.

Hicks was a force, with two sacks and two tackles for loss. Jonathan Bullard closed down on a Vikings first-quarter run to force a third down Minnesota could not convert.

Willie Young, operating as an end in nickel personnel, deflected a screen pass in the third quarter after drawing a holding penalty that effectively was as good as a sack for creating a long-yardage conversion the Vikings couldn’t make.

[MORE GRADES: Offense responds well to Jay Cutler's return in win over Vikings]

Linebacker: A

Leonard Floyd used a superb counter move of speed and then power against Jake Long for a second-quarter sack, his third in two games. “We were studying [Long] all week and I knew he was pretty much a ‘no-hands’ guy so I knew I had to use a lot of speed-to-power to get to the QB,” Floyd said. “I think everybody in the OLB room did a good job.”

Pernell McPhee, in his second game after a missed year until the Green Bay game, came off the bench in the first quarter with some significant pressure on Bradford, which built into a second-quarter sack on a third down. He also had a near-sack hit of Bradford to force an incompletion. McPhee accounted for a sack, tackle, forced fumble and three quarterback hits

Danny Trevathan delivered a pass deflection in Bears territory, one of two for him. Jerrell Freeman led the Bears with seven tackles.

Secondary: A

The Vikings hurt the Bears through the air last year. This year, with pressure up front, the Bears kept Stephon Diggs relatively in check, with eight catches but a moderate 76 yards and only one longer than 16 yards. Tracy Porter will get credit for a pass-defensed in the first quarter but might’ve had an interception if he’d been able to get turned around in time, with good position.

“Sacks don’t come for this defense without corners who are covering their butts off,” said Hicks, who had two of the Bears’ five sacks.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Special teams: B+

Cre’Von LeBlanc again put the offense in a deep hole by not fielding a punt, allowing 20 yards of roll on Minnesota’s second punt to leave the offense at the Chicago 5 in the first quarter. LeBlanc recovered for a 13-yard return to put the offense into plus-territory in the second quarter.

Pat O’Donnell again topped 40 yards in net (41.4) on five punts. Connor Barth hit his sixth straight field goal, from 30 yards in the first quarter for an early lead. He converted from 28 yards in the second.

Sherrick McManis delivered a punt-tackle inside the Minnesota 20 in the fourth quarter when the Vikings would have gained a boost from field position after stopping the Bears’ offense.

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a game full of pivotal moments, one seemed to irk the Bears in particular following Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Driving on the Dolphins three-yard line, the Bears lined up in a T formation with Jordan Howard, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen lined up left to right in the backfield behind Mitch Trubisky, who was under center. Burton motioned out of the backfield and to the right, and ran his route into linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Trubisky threw a short pass to a wide open Cohen for a touchdown, with Alonso late getting to the running back after being hit by Burton. But that score was taken off the board for offensive pass interference, with officials ruling what Burton did amounted to an illegal pick play.

“Trey did everything I asked him to do,” Matt Nagy said, sharply.

On the next play, Trubisky forced a pass into double coverage in the end zone, which was easily picked off by Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald. Miami turned that interception into eight points on Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown and an ensuing two-point conversion.

The way Burton understood the rule was that offensive pass interference was only assessed on a pick play if he intentionally ran into a defender without running a true route. That’s what Burton felt he did; the officiating crew disagreed.

“I thought I ran a route and the guy ran into me,” Burton said. “I thought they changed the rule this year or last year — if you run the route, it doesn’t matter if you pick the guy or not, you’re good. Obviously they called it.”

A Rough Return

The conversations surrounding the Bears Sunday into Monday would be awfully different had a number of things happened — Trubisky doesn’t throw that interception, the Bears’ defense gets a stop, Tarik Cohen doesn’t fumble near midfield, etc. In that same group: If Cody Parkey hits what would’ve been a game-winning 53-yard field goal in overtime.

Parkey, instead, missed that kick wide right. His career long is 54 yards, which he hit last year while with the Miami Dolphins (and that was a game-winner with about a minute left against the Los Angeles Chargers).

“I had the distance, I just didn’t kick it straight enough, bottom line,” Parkey said. “But you’ve got to move on. I’ve made game winners, I’ve missed game winners. As long as I keep playing, I’m just going to keep trying to kick my best.

“… I control what I can control, and unfortunately I missed a field goal. I’d like to have that one back, but it is what it is and I’m just going to focus on the next game. That’s all I can do.”

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

Their points production in the 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday marked the fourth time in five games under coach Matt Nagy that the Bears have scored 23 or more points. All of the 28 were heaped on the Dolphins by the offense, which churned for 467 yards one game after amassing 483 and 48 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the Bears did in fact lose, and not all of the reasons can be laid at the feet of the defense. Not nearly all of them.

In great position to put the game virtually out of reach for the struggling Dolphins, the Bears offense failed. The yardage total gave the Bears consecutive 400-yard games for the first time since games 14-15 in 2016, and well could have represented a statement that the offense of Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich was indeed hitting a potent stride.

It may be. But a combination of troubling factors gave Sunday’s output a hollow ring.

Against the Dolphins, 149 of the yards came on possessions ending in turnovers, including an interception thrown by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and fumble by running back Jordan Howard both occurring in the red zone with points well within reach.

The offense hurt itself with a handful of pre-snap penalties, and the overarching sense is that the belief in Nagy and the overall offense is growing amid mistakes that clearly rest with players themselves.

“For sure, 100 percent trust in Coach Nagy and what he believes is best for this team,” Trubisky said. “What he believes is what I believe is best for this team. Whatever he calls, we're going to run it to the best of our ability. We put ourselves in a great chance, and I have faith in our guys that next time we get the opportunity we make it.”

Opportunities taken and opportunities missed

For Trubisky, the linchpin of the evolving offense, it was a day of extremes.

His production (316 yards) gave him consecutive 300-yard games for the first time in his 17-game career. His passer rating (122.5) was the seond-highest of his career, behind only the stratospheric 154.6 of the Tampa Bay game. His three TD passes are second only to his six against the Buccaneers. Trubisky’s yardage outputs this season are pointing in a decidedly upward arc: 171 at Green Bay, followed by 200-220-354-316.

But decision-making proved costly at tipping points against the Dolphins. From the Miami 13 with a 21-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, and holding a chance to create potentially decisive breathing room on the scoreboard, Trubisky forced a throw toward tight end Ben Braunecker, who was double-covered in the Miami end zone. The ball was intercepted by safety T.J. McDonald, and the Dolphins went from the touchback to a touchdown and subsequent game-tying two-point conversion.

“I just thought the safety went with the ‘over’ route,” Trubisky said. “He made a good play. I lost him when I was stepping up [in the pocket], and I forced one in the red zone when I shouldn't have… . I forced it and I put my team in a bad position, and I shouldn't have thrown that pass.”

The second-year quarterback started poorly, with an overthrow of a wide-open Anthony Miller on the third play from scrimmage, resulting in a three-and-out and a concerning start for what would be only scoreless Bears first half this season. A failed fourth-and-2 conversion gave Miami the football at its 41 later in the quarter.

Trubisky badly overthrew an open Miller in the second quarter, creating a third-and-long on which the Dolphins broke down his protection for a second sack in the span of just 11 plays. After a 47-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel, Trubisky threw an checkdown pass nowhere near running back Jordan Howard.

Fatigue factor overlooked?

Running back Tarik Cohen totaled 121 yards for the second straight game and the second time in his career. For the second straight week Cohen led or co-led the Bears with seven pass receptions.

But the last of the seven came with a disastrous finish. Cohen was hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso after taking a swing pass and picking up 11 yards, fumbled and had the ball recovered by cornerback Xavien Howard at the Chicago 45. The defense did manage a stop, leading to the overtime, but the result was devastating.

“Personally for me, it’s [frustrating] because I know I took my team out of position to win the game late in the ball game,’ Cohen said. “So personally, that’s frustrating for me… . I feel like I had an opportunity to get ourselves down in scoring position. I let fatigue get the best of me, and I forgot about the fundamentals.”

That Cohen mentioned “fatigue” is perhaps noteworthy. A question was raised to Helfrich last week as to whether there was an optimal or max number of snaps for the diminutive Cohen, who had five carries and was targeted nine times – not including one punt return and plays on which he ran pass routes but was not thrown to in the south Florida heat.

“It was hot,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “It was hot out there.”

Weapons rising

Last offseason and millions in contracts were spent upgrading offensive weaponry. The investments produced in Miami.

Touchdown passes were caught by wide receivers Anthony Miller (drafted) and Allen Robinson (free agent) plus tight end Trey Burton (free agent). Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (free agent) caught the five passes thrown to him for a team-high 110 yards, his second straight 100-yard game after none in his previous four NFL seasons.

Five different players posted plays of 20 yards or longer, including pass plays of 54 and 47 yards by Gabriel and a run of 21 yards and reception of 59 yards by Cohen.

Uncharacteristically for the normally fast-starting Bears offense, the group followed the scoreless first half with 21 points in the third quarter and 343 yards of combined offense in the second half and overtime.

“We came out with more energy and had the attitude that we were going to go down and score the ball,” Trubisky said, “and we played a lot better the second half.”