Bears

Bears have two-phase plan to upgrade Kevin White, pass offense

Bears have two-phase plan to upgrade Kevin White, pass offense

A featured part of the offensive shortcomings last Sunday against the Houston Texans was, unfortunately, Kevin White after the rookie wide receiver mis-ran a route, leading to an interception. White’s inexperience obviously can’t be overcome in one week but the Bears have some options for maximizing what they get out of their young wideout, and they involve more than White.

But they don’t come without a little risk and making some choices.

The first is to make full use of No. 3 wideout Eddie Royal. But the Bears started just three games last year with nickel personnel, and their preferred personnel packages favor running the football. Eight times they opened with two or three tight ends last season, and against Houston, fullback Paul Lasike started.

That said, Royal played 36 snaps (White played 55 of the Bears’ 56, and Alshon Jeffery 53), and it was Royal catching a 19-yard pass just before halftime for the Bears’ second touchdown.

“It was good to have Eddie out there,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “He definitely gives us a reliable veteran presence at wide receiver. He made some big plays for us. He played really smart in the two-minute drill at the end of the half, which was important to us to go down and put points on the board.”

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Royal also is a familiar comfort blanket for Jay Cutler, extending back to the two playing together with the Denver Broncos. And while White is still mastering route-running, Royal is among the NFL’s best at that art.

“Eddie can play outside, he can play inside,” Cutler said. “He’s a savvy vet. I’m comfortable with him. I think he is one of the best route runners on the outside in the league and he’s a smart football player. He’s kind of that catch all, comfortable guy, you put him in ‘12’ [personnel: one back, two tight ends, two receivers], you put him in ‘11’ [personnel: one back, one tight end, three receivers] and you can kind of move him around and he’s gonna get the job done.”

The second option for getting greater impact out of White is simplifying elements of his job.

White had just two years at West Virginia and the reality is that he was not required to run a wide range of routes from both sides of the field. Necessarily, he’s playing some catchup, against NFL competition.

The result has been that he is thinking and not playing as fast as his 4.35 speed suggests. The burden is on White to learn the offense — all of it — but coaches routinely tailor plans to the skillsets of their players, and dialing down White’s playbook should not be ruled out.

“Just making sure that when we’re putting in route concepts that we ‘put the birds in the right place’ is what we say,” Loggains said. Coaches will be charged with “just making sure that we do stuff that Kevin is able to practice and he gets the looks that he’s able to see and just making sure that he feels really comfortable with the things he’s done. His route tree may be limited, but it’s going to continue to grow weekly in the things as he grows as a player.”

Could the Bears have done more to help their offensive line in loss to the Packers?

Could the Bears have done more to help their offensive line in loss to the Packers?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mitch Trubisky finished the Bears’ season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers with his second-highest passing yards total of the season (334). The obvious and obligatory caveat: he reached that total on 53 attempts, good for a meager 6.3 yards per attempt.

That point has been central the popular laments of Trubisky and the Bears offense. When things tighten up and the pocket constricts — as happened early and often against a boisterous Packers pass rush on Sunday — Trubisky is often prone to shoddy footwork, erratic backfoot throws and general checkdownery. 

Those themes pervaded Sunday’s game. Kenny Clark, specifically, feasted, notching two sacks on the afternoon and seemingly disrupting every rush the Bears attempted between the tackles. Trubisky completed 29 of his 53 passes, good for a 54.7 completion percentage. 

“I felt like they were pretty good,” Trubisky said. “They had a really good front.”

The protection around Trubisky was inconsistent all day, but on plays when Trubisky found success, he operated with a clean line-of-sight and space to step up into. According to Trubisky, that’s not a matter of coincidence.

“I felt like our O-line played really well. I thought we could’ve taken more pressure off them moving in the pocket a little more and me getting out,” Trubisky said after the game. “We’ve got to continue to find ways to take pressure off our O-line. With a good rush like that, continue to mix it up, whether it’s with screens, running it, draws — all that kind of stuff helps.

“Could’ve done a lot of stuff, yeah,” Trubisky added, when asked if he thought the team could have done more to help the offensive line.

But he also credited the Packers’ defense for making things difficult on them. Matt Nagy did the same.

“There’s some things they did. We know what some of that is, and that’s just week-to-week how that goes,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to find out how to communicate that. Not every week is going to be like last week running the football. That’s just how it goes.”

Juxtaposing those sentiments seems to illustrate a rift between quarterback and coach, which would explain the stilted, hot-and-cold nature of  the Bears’ 2019 offense. As the team now turns the page towards the final chapter of a largely forgettable season, the interplay between Trubisky and Nagy is worth monitoring — even without potential postseason contention to fixate on. 

After all, regardless of your thoughts on either, the most likely scenario for the Bears’ 2020 season involves each of them again dictating the fates. As for today, though, the feeling of wanting more stings.

But it wasn’t an entirely discouraging outing for Trubisky. Embedded in a 13-point team performance that fell woefully short of keeping the Bears’ season alive were the flashes we’ve come to expect from him — flashes that make you wonder if, in the right situations, Trubisky could be capable of helming a potent NFL offense. 

One sequence stands out in this respect: Late in the second quarter, with the Bears trailing 7-0, Trubisky sold a play-action fake and grooved a 33-yard pass to Anthony Miller in stride, taking the Bears down to the Packers’ 28-yard line. The team rushed to the line, then Trubisky ran a timely RPO keeper, on which a fake to David Montgomery opened enough space for Trubisky to scramble for nine yards and into the red zone. 

To that point in the game, the Bears had not run the ball effectively (after the first quarter, Montgomery and Tarik Cohen had combined for -2 yards on five rush attempts). But they’d done enough establishing the run to open up some inventive actions for Trubisky, actions that allowed him to utilize his most valuable asset: his feet. 

Two of Trubisky’s other most dazzling throws of the day — one an across-the-body sling to Riley Ridley to convert a 3rd-and-5 early in the second quarter, and a play-action rope down the sideline to Allen Robinson in the third — both featured a moving pocket. 

It’s no secret he and the Bears offense are at their best and most unpredictable when he’s free and loose.

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Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

The Bears' Week 15 loss to the Packers brings to an end any far-fetched hope that Chicago would complete a miraculous late-season turnaround and sneak into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. And while there's still a chance the Bears can finish 2019 above .500, the theme of this year will be disappointment.

There will be plenty of time to nitpick the 2019 Bears and identify what went wrong to derail a club with Super Bowl aspirations over the summer. For now, though, it's worth pointing out a positive development from Sunday's loss that advanced a recent trend of production in Chicago's passing game.

Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller each eclipsed 100 receiving yards against the Packers and continued to provide the Bears with a look at what could emerge as one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL next season.

Miller caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown while Robinson secured seven catches for 125 yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky targeted the duo a total of 29 times in the game.

"We are just trying to make plays," Robinson said Sunday after the game. "Anthony Miller is a very competitive dude. He makes plays when he gets his chance. So for me I am just trying to do the same thing; make plays and give our offense a shot to move the ball and score some touchdowns.”

Robinson's big afternoon brings his season totals to 83 catches, 1,023 yards and seven scores. It's the first time A-Rob has gone over 1,000 receiving yards since his breakout 1,400-yard season in 2015.

Miller, who was an afterthought in the passing offense for the first month of the season, now has career-highs in receptions (50) and yards (649). He's averaged 86 receiving yards per game over the last five weeks.

Trubisky's stat line has benefited quite a bit from Miller's recent surge, too. He's averaging 298 passing yards per game over the last four weeks, which spread across an entire season would total more than 4,700 yards.

It's OK to be frustrated with how 2019 turned out for the Bears. The season got off to an unbearably slow start and didn't come anywhere near the lofty expectations fans had when training camp broke. But it's become very clear over the last several games that the Bears have a strong foundation for an explosive passing game in place with Robinson and Miller.

The goal in 2020 should be to make sure the explosive duo is unleashed much sooner in the season.

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