Bears Grades: Turnovers, quarterback errors unravel offense one final time

Bears Grades: Turnovers, quarterback errors unravel offense one final time

MINNEAPOLIS – In the end, rolling with a third-string castoff quarterback (fourth string, if one presumes that Connor Shaw was more in Bears plans than Matt Barkley before Shaw broke his leg in preseason) truly caught up with the Bears.

John Fox and every other coach cite turnovers as the key to most games and Bears poor ball security effectively undid Fox’s team again. Three giveaways (two by the offense, one by special teams) set up 17 Minnesota points in the first half, and two more in the second half ended one Bears drive and gave the Vikings 7 more points on another. The Bears turned the football over four of the first seven times they had their hands on it, including a muffed punt by recent-addition Bralon Addison.

The offense generated 323 yards after topping 400 in three of the last five games. Coaches let the running game loose, with some success, but the turnovers destroyed opportunities. Those will be on Barkley’s mind heading into whatever future the Bears or anyone else offers him.

“Every turnover or every play that could have been a touchdown,” Barkley said without citing any one mistake over another. “I do not want to say ‘haunt,’ but I do not ever want to make those mistakes again. That is my goal going forward, to not make the mistakes I made this year. My outlook will be positive going into this offseason.”

Quarterback: F

The quarterback evaluation needs look no further than Matt Barkley being pulled in the fourth quarter after losing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, followed by David Fales getting into the game and himself sacked once, for symmetry if nothing else. “We just wanted to look at David,” Fox said. “We had not seen him. Neither one of those quarterbacks were even on our team in [training] camp. So again, it’s an opportunity for us to evaluate.”

Barkley, who finished with 10-of-14 passing for 125 yards, opened his day the way his one against Washington generally went, with an interception. This one killed a promising opening drive on which the run game appeared to be in gear. Instead, Barkley off play-action forced a back-foot throw toward Alshon Jeffery, into double coverage and underthrown such that cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a better chance at the football than Jeffery.

“We knew that he was going to throw some balls and we just had to be in position to make [takeaways],” said Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.

It was one of two Barkley interceptions, plus losing the football a final time in the fourth quarter when he was sacked by Linval Joseph. The ball was recovered and run 20 yards by Everson Griffen for Minnesota’s final touchdown.

Running back: B+

Jordan Howard has been the offensive story for the Bears for 2016 and that held true on Sunday when Howard rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries (5.9 ypc), setting the franchise rookie rushing record at 1,313 yards. It marked the seventh 100-yard rushing game for Howard and the 11th time in 13 starts that Howard has topped 100 combined yards from scrimmage.

“[The record] means a lot,” Howard said. “My teammates did a great job opening the holes and the coaches getting us in the right place… . It does mean something to me and the offensive line because they did a great job."

Damaging the overall grade for the position was Jeremy Langford losing a fumble in the Bears end of the field on his second carry, without the Vikings even going for a strip on a second-quarter run. The turnover resulted in 7 Minnesota points and a loss of momentum when the game was still forming. Langford caught 3 passes for 41 yards, with a long of 19.

Receivers: C

Receivers were generally non factors, partly because of the score, partly because of poor play at quarterback killing off three possessions. Cam Meredith led the Bears with four catches, the seventh time this season he topped the Bears or was tied in receptions. His 61 yards also were a team high and he was able to make two acrobatic catches to convert near-throwaways into first downs.

Meredith also contributed the Bears’ only touchdown pass, taking a handoff from Langford on a reverse and flipping to a wide-open Barkley in the right side of the Minnesota end zone.

Alshon Jeffery was again ineffective as the Vikings repeatedly devoted double coverage to the wideout, limiting him to 1 catch on 3 targets, with one pass intercepted as Barkley tried to force the ball to him in the end zone.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Offensive line: A-

Any ‘A’ grade in a defeat with only 10 points scored can be suspect. But the Bears offensive line pounded on a very good Minnesota front to get 183 rushing yards and allow 2 sacks, but both in the fourth quarter when the Vikings had no need to worry about defending the run.

Guard Josh Sitton was dominant at the point of attack, getting consistent movement on the Vikings’ down linemen and getting to the second level as Howard in particular powered late in plays rather than going down on first contact. Center Cody Whitehair was stout in the middle despite crowd noise and interior Minnesota linemen among the NFL’s best.

Coaching: C+

The game turned on giveaways, mostly by the quarterback, and no game plan is going to overcome those on offense. Coaches stayed with pounding the football in the first half, with 22 rushing plays vs. nine passes. The offense generated 211 yards for the half and 10 points, which likely would have been substantially more but for a fumble and interception by the offense and a special-teams punt muff, all combining for 17 Minnesota points. The offense began the second half with another strong drive but were done in again by a Barkley interception deep in the Vikings end.

Defensive execution was poor, particularly in the secondary, and Sam Bradford was not sacked, and hit only once, the entire game. Tackling and angles throughout were not good.

Special teams had breakdowns in several areas but against one of the NFL’s better return games, the Bears were put in position to succeed but appeared to fail to maintain lane integrity, allowing good returners openings they exploited.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

On Saturday, President Trump talked to several commissioners of professional sports leagues and reportedly told them that he believes the NFL season will start on time despite the ongoing pandemic. A day later, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about that possibility.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Jake Tapper asked Pritzker if the Bears would be playing in Soldier Field in September, and if there would be fans. Pritzker did not give a definitive prediction.

“Well, the Bears are a great team whether they’re playing or not, but I will say this, it’s not up to us,” Pritzker said. “We don’t know. None of us really knows. But what I do know is this; if the researchers are able to come up with a treatment, something that will save lives, something that will keep people off ventilators, maybe even keep them out of hospitals, then that will be an enormous development for our country and for the future. It may allow us to open things up in the way the president is describing. But the truth is that no one predicts now that we’re going to have that treatment any time in the next few weeks or even in the next month, and no one really knows if we’ll have it by September.”

“What we do know is that if you have a vaccine, that ultimately will help us deal with the problem,” Pritzker said. “Because it’s either going to be a treatment and herd immunity that ultimately allows us to open everything back up, or it’s a vaccine.”

The sports world will continue to hold its breath until there are more answers.

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Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

I used this space on Friday to explain why I see Nick Foles as the clear favorite to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Based on the information we have, it’s easy to see why Foles should beat out Mitch Trubisky in the Bears’ “open competition.” 

And I very much believe that'll happen. But I do want to acknowledge something here, an unknown of sorts: We don’t know how Trubisky will handle a legitimate competition. 

“The competitor that Mitch is, the way that he was with us was really neat to see because he embraced it,” Matt Nagy said. “It wasn’t about excuses, it wasn’t about anything other than, ‘OK, I understand that, I’m gonna give you everything that I’ve got, we’re gonna compete, and you’re gonna get that best that I’ve got.’”

Nagy and Ryan Pace both talked up Trubisky’s competitive nature when discussing the Foles trade over about 40 minutes on Friday. It’s all they can talk up at this point — anything else about his game or past results would’ve been hot air. Maybe the competitiveness thing is hot air, too. 

But this brings up a question that’s lingered as Trubisky’s career has drifted into disappointing territory, so follow my tangent: Why wasn’t he North Carolina’s starting quarterback sooner in college?

Trubisky sat behind Marquise Williams for two and a half seasons before taking over as the Tarheel’s QB1 in 2016. Williams spent one training camp with the Green Bay Packers before being cut and spent the next few years as a backup in the CFL, AAC and XFL.

Trubisky — the second overall pick in 2017's draft — couldn’t beat that guy out? Huh?

The thing is, though, there wasn’t really a competition in Chapel Hill for the Tarheels’ starting gig. Williams QB’d five consecutive wins to get North Carolina to a bowl game in 2013, then was pretty good in six-win 2014. North Carolina went 11-1 in 2015, Trubisky’s third year on campus, with Williams as their guy. 

Former UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf explained to me after the 2017 draft why there wasn’t truly a competition for Trubisky to win. 

“That success we had as a team with Marquise made it hard for us to pull him out of the lineup,” Heckendorf said. “And I think if (Williams’ success in 2013) hadn’t happened, there may be a completely different conversation. It was not for a lack of talent, it was not because (Trubisky) wasn’t capable, but it’s hard to take a guy who had the success — not only as the team winning but individually — as Marquise had and put him on the bench for an unproven commodity.”

Of course, if Trubisky were lighting things up in practice and limited game reps, he would’ve forced UNC’s hand. He didn’t.

But the point is Trubisky’s failure to win a starting gig in college sooner wasn’t necessarily the product of him losing an open competition. He pushed Mike Glennon as a rookie in 2017, but he didn’t show up to training camp in a true “battle” (especially as he QB’d the third-team offense so much). He took over for Glennon because, first and foremost, Glennon was a disaster.

So we don’t really know how he’ll handle a competition the Bears are framing as fair and even.

Could Trubisky all of a sudden grow with the challenge to his job? Could the mere presence of Foles get him to start hitting more deep balls, or make the right reads at the line, or help him avoid those head-scratching interceptions?

Probably not. Football types love to say competition brings out the best in everyone, but it’s hard to see it erasing three years of inconsistent tape.

But we don’t know for sure. For what it's worth, this worked for Kyle Fuller three years ago, when the Bears signed Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara and he wound up winning his old job back, and then keeping it.

Trubisky, too, still has more upside than Foles. The Bears would much rather start the version of Trubisky Pace hoped he was getting in 2017 rather than a 31-year-old with 13 starts over the last four years.

Still, Foles is most likely going to be the Bears’ starter when the 2020 season begins (hopefully on time). But the Bears should at least take a look at Trubisky in a true competition.

It may not need to be a long look. But it should be a look.

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