Bears 'leak' in second half, fall to Texans in opener

Bears 'leak' in second half, fall to Texans in opener

HOUSTON – One member of the Bears’ offense told this week that the Bears would be “a lot better than people think,” and that he considered four games to be swing games in this season.

One of those games he named came Sunday against the Houston Texans. And it was indeed there for the Bears, leading a division champion going into the fourth quarter on the road. It’s only one game but don’t try selling patience around Halas Hall.

“We don’t have time,” said guard Kyle Long. “Our house is on fire and we’ve got to put it out.”

Lots of fires, actually.

Enough mistakes were made, early and late, in all phases, to let a game slip away into a 23-14 loss to the Texans, the fourth in four games against the one-time expansion franchise. Teams that lose fourth-quarter leads rarely play more than 16 games in a season. There was no feel-good from getting close, and the frustration was palpable afterwards, particularly from new Bears not accustomed to losing.

“We know how dominant we can be,” said former New England defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, shaking his head. “We expect better of ourselves.”

Said linebacker Danny Trevathan, not accustomed to coming up short from his years with the Denver Broncos: “We’ve got to a better job of finishing. I know we are so much better than that.”

But until they are better than that, they aren’t. And until they show they’re finishers, they’re not. The Bears were 2-3 last season when leading or tied after three quarters, so this was a disturbing flashback. And the season clock is ticking.

The Bears answered some questions and created others. And in a bit of troubling irony, even some of the apparent positives revealed negatives lurking beneath.

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The offense managed two first-half touchdown drives totaling 150 yards. They amassed just 108 in their other 10 possessions and crossed midfield just once in the second half in Dowell Loggains’ first game as offensive coordinator.

Listed among the supposed high points will be Alshon Jeffery’s 105 receiving yards. But that now makes the Bears 4-9 in games in which the franchise wideout goes for a century, meaning that few if any others are taking advantage of Jeffery, who had those 105 through three quarters. None in the fourth, when with the game on the line, the Bears netted just 41 yards.

Houston ran just three plays longer than 20 yards. Normally good, limiting big plays. The defense that was built to stand up to elite offenses was pushed around for 131 rushing yards and 231 passing by a Houston offense that was in the NFL’s lower half last year, and which converted 12 of 20 third downs.

The Bears bled to death.

“We just couldn’t stop the ‘leaking’ yardage,” said nose tackle Eddie Goldman.

Arrows up? Or down?

The Bears started nine players with zero or one year of NFL experience. So this was more than a casual referendum on the young foundation of the Bears, the players who will determine the outlook for the organization beyond this week and even this season.

Some was good; if you didn’t know Cody Whitehair was a second-round rookie playing his first game at center, it was far from evident in his play against one of the NFL’s best fronts.

Whitehair failed to get a fourth-and-one direct snap into Jay Cutler’s hands, resulting in a fumble and missed fourth-down conversion. “That’s on me,” Whitehair said. “It’s up to me to get the ball up higher for him.”

Some was bad; if you didn’t know Kevin White was a No. 1 pick, the guess might have been a practice-squad call-up. White back-slid from an optimistic finish to his preseason, with drops, a pre-snap penalty and a costly route-running mistake that ended in an interception.

Cutler swung his arm in apparent frustration in the direction he expected White to run on the pattern. “We’ve just got to watch it on film and move on to the next play,” said White, who caught just one of four Cutler targets through three quarters and three of seven for the game for 34 total yards.

[RELATED: Bears Talk Podcast: Positives and negatives of loss to Texans in season opener]

Linebacker Leonard Floyd shared a sack with Goldman, but Floyd was impact-lite overall and too often failed to get close to Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler often, and that against a second-tier left tackle in backup Chris Clark. Floyd did share a sack with Goldman.

“I’ve got a lot to learn,” said Floyd, initially credited with six tackles (two solo). “But I think this is going to be a great defense.”

Maybe. And while mistakes are expected from youth, successful teams are the ones where young players make impact early. The Bears did not get enough from theirs on Sunday.

Leadership role’ing

Some outsiders expressed surprise when Jeffery and not Kyle Long was voted by teammates as the other offensive co-captain along Jay Cutler. But inside the locker room the lack of surprise was telling, and reflected very well on Jeffery, a man of few words but who has quietly this training camp and preseason won over any doubters among teammates.

On Sunday, Jeffery played and acted like a team captain.

“The guy is a stud, and all the guys really look up to him,” one offensive player said privately. “He’s a leader on this team for a lot of guys, and not just the receivers.”

Jeffery led by example, putting 105 receiving yards on the Texans in the first half. He did drop a key third-down throw in the third quarter and put the responsibility squarely on himself.

“I think I should’ve caught that with my hands instead of my body,” Jeffery said. “I feel like that was a turning point right there.”

But one of Jeffery’s biggest contributions may be to the psyche of Kevin White after the latter struggled mightily in his first NFL game. As far as White's catastrophic wrong route that led to an interception, “that’s going to happen,” Jeffery said. “[I told him] ‘Next play,’ gotta always be ‘next play.’”

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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