Bears need early “turnaround” vs. Eagles

Bears need early “turnaround” vs. Eagles

No game is insignificant in a sport where the season consists of only 16 of them, but some games take on added significance for a variety of reasons. And Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles is one of those games, for many of those reasons.

The obvious is to avoid an 0-2 start. The Bears have reached the playoffs after losing two of their first three games (1977, 1994, 2005) but never after losing their first two. And for a franchise still working to shake free of any vestiges of the losing culture of Marc Trestman, the need is there to avoid a second straight start under John Fox losing the first two (first three last year).

One of the ancillary things the Bears did this offseason was to bring in free agents from winning programs (Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England). Ex-Bronco Danny Trevathan never lost a season opener before last weekend. Right tackle Bobby Massie lost only one in four years as a Cardinal. (Josh Sitton and the Packers did lose week one three of the last four years, but with Aaron Rodgers, all of those seasons ended in the playoffs).

“The first game by itself doesn’t matter,” Massie said. “All the games obviously count for the season but in our case, there’s no change, because it wasn’t like we got blown out 60-0 or something. We had opportunities but just couldn’t capitalize on them, and nobody’s down or approaching anything differently.”

The Bears are entering the stretch of their season that offers perhaps the greatest chance for upward movement. The Philadelphia game begins a run of five straight games against opponents without winning records in 2015. After that come the Packers and Vikings, and after the Bears were the only NFC North team not to win in week one, this weekend began with the Bears already looking up at a difficult division.

The mission statement is pretty simple: “We want to limit turnovers, we have to be more efficient on third down, we have to keep the chains moving,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We have to stay on the field.

“We got into a situation there in the second half [vs. Houston] where we got behind and we got in a little bit of a ‘throw’ situation with going against that front… Second down we have to improve on, I thought we were really good on first down, second down we have to get a little bit better in that area. We watched the film, there wasn't anything crazy on there that we have to change.”

Own the middle

With their signing of Sitton, the Bears field a tandem of Pro Bowl guards (Kyle Long) flanking a second-round draft choice. That is the strength of an offense that Fox envisions with a dominant running team.

The problem is that the middle also is a defensive strength of the Eagles, beginning with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and backed by veteran safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod (13 combined seasons). And running their defense is coordinator Jim Schwartz, a Bears nemesis while Detroit Lions head coach.

“The Eagles are strong up the middle,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “’91’ [Cox] is a really good player. The ‘Mike’ linebacker [Jordan Hicks] is a good player and the safeties are both good.

“I worked with Jim Schwartz for multiple years in Tennessee. I know that that’s how he believes in building a football team. Those guys quarterback the defense. They’re smart and you have to make sure what they’re doing and where they’re lined up because they can be a big problem for you.”

Get the rook

The objective of the Bears defense is to be a big problem for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, a rookie making his second start. Wentz benefited last week by his team getting up 10-0 on the Cleveland Browns, who didn’t score until mid-second quarter, and Wentz never played from behind on his way to 278 passing yards and two TD’s without an interception.

But the Bears called unflattering stereotypes of rookie quarterbacks “myths” and one member of the defense has seen Wentz up close.

“Cannon for an arm, not afraid to run it, so he’s not one-dimensional by any means,” said cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, who faced Wentz more than once while playing at Northern Iowa and Wentz was at North Dakota State. “A lot of his check-down passes to his tight ends was what he did a lot of NDSU. He wasn’t running it as much but we definitely know they have it in their system.”

And the winner is…

The Bears’ 1-7 record in Soldier Field was perhaps the biggest mystery of the 2015 season, with glaring late-game mistakes by veterans leading to losses to Minnesota, San Francisco and Washington. The defensive front-seven can take over this game by disrupting Wentz, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s creativity with blitzes in particular have the potential to control the game if the edge rushers can get home more than they did at Houston.

Bears 20, Eagles 13

View from the Moon ’16 record:    1-0

Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots


Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

One yard. Less than one, really. That’s all that separated the Bears and the New England Patriots on Sunday, after Kevin White’s efforts to tug a Hail Mary into the Patriots end zone came up just that short in a 38-31 loss to the NFL’s greatest team over the better part of the past two decades.

And normally for a team under a first-time head coach (the Bears’ fifth coach since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady started their run in 2001) would feel good about nearly overcoming giving up two special-teams scores and two turnovers of their own, all against one of the NFL’s elites.

But feel-good was hard to find after a second straight loss of a winnable game to a good team.

“’Close’ doesn’t cut it,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky,  who set career highs in pass attempts (50) and rushing yards (81) on his way to two passing and one rushing TD’s, but his lowest passer rating (69.8) of the season after throwing two interceptions.

“There’s a new standard here, and coming up one yard short and not tying the game and going to overtime, that’s not good enough anymore.”

Perspective isn’t particularly easy with a young team that dropped to 3-3, still its best scorecard after six games since 2014 but now back behind Minnesota and idle Green Bay, both at 3-2-1, and tied with Detroit (3-3).

Still, with their best individual player (Khalil Mack) hobbled with an injured ankle and a pass rush that got virtually no pressure on Brady, the Bears did find themselves at the Chicago 45 with a chance to tie with 2 seconds to play.

Maybe the marvel was that they were even that close to the Patriots, after special teams allowed a punt-block return for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“We were right there. I think our offense is growing and I like where we are right now, I really do,” Nagy said.

More than that, as he told the players in the locker room afterwards, “With everything that happened to us and we were a yard away from tying the game. Take that and think about that a little bit.”

The ebbs and flows of the game notwithstanding – the Bears led 17-7 early in the second quarter, and were down 38-24 midway through the fourth – the game was arguably another small indicator that the Bears are the cliché’d “for real.”

Whatever that actually means.

The defense, which failed to protect leads in the fourth quarter in two of the Bears’ first four games, was unable to deliver a stop in the final minutes Sunday, allowing New England to drive 96 yards for score to go up 38-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

They “held” Brady and the New England offense to 24 points without Mack, the linchpin of their defense. But the Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski, the perennial Pro Bowl tight end and favorite target of Brady.

"I think it just comes down to knowing,” said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who intercepted his third pass in the past two games, “that if you are going against a good team, your room for error is slim, so you have to be on point the whole game."

And after some shaky handlings of in-game situations this season, Nagy was not out-coached by Belichick, who routinely takes an opponent’s strength away and who effectively took leading receiver Taylor Gabriel out of the offense. Nagy and Trubisky turned to tight end Trey Burton for 9 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Trubisky hurt himself and the offense with a handful of bad misses of open receivers, including Anthony Miller in the end zone in the first half. New England forced him into quick-react decisions with an array of blitzes alternating with eight-man zones, and Trubisky was able to make the Patriots pay with short- and mid-range targets of Burton.

Accuracy cost Trubisky when he underthrew wideout Josh Bellamy who was two steps behind cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the third quarter for another missed touchdown opportunity. A subsequent sloppy throw on the run to Bellamy was intercepted when the ball was thrown to the defender’s side of Bellamy instead of toward the sideline, costing the Bears a chance at at least a field goal. A mis-placed fourth-quarter pass toward Miller later in the fourth quarter was intercepted at the New England 4.

But Trubisky’s 333 yards marked the third straight time he has passed for 300 or more yards and Nagy cited a number of throws that Trubisky didn’t make as evidence of improved decision-making.

“I came away pleased with how he played,” Nagy said.

Added Gabriel: "He's a playmaker, man. A guy that wanted to win. You can see that out of him. He's the leader of this team and I would go to battle with Mitch any day."

Bears still have much to prove after disappointing loss to Patriots

Bears still have much to prove after disappointing loss to Patriots

 Beating the, arguably, best coach and quarterback pairing in NFL history is a difficult enough task. Trying to do it while allowing two touchdowns on special teams? Good luck. 
The Bears will leave Soldier Field frustrated with their 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday for a number of reasons, but top of the list will be Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kickoff return score and a blocked Pat O’Donnell punt that was raced into the end zone by Kyle Van Noy. A special teams unit that had been solid all year — and forced a fumble on a Patterson kickoff return in the first quarter Sunday — suddenly became a disaster, allowing an uncharacteristically undisciplined Patriots side back into the game, and then ahead in it. 
Add in an inaccurate game from Mitch Trubisky — who completed 26 of 50 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions — and an uneventful afternoon for Khalil Mack and the pass rush, and the Bears had to scratch and claw to hang with New England. 
Interestingly, after all week hearing from Bears coaches and players about how they couldn’t let the Patriots take them out of their own game, it felt like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady did exactly that. Mack frequently dropped into coverage — but so did Leonard Floyd, so maybe it wasn’t all about Mack’s injured ankle. While Brady frequently got the ball out quick, when he didn’t he was rarely pressured. 
And on offense, Taylor Gabriel had the same number of targets (one) as offensive lineman Bradley Sowell until midway through the fourth quarter. Trubisky dazzled with his legs, covering over 70 yards on an eight-yard touchdown run and dancing his way to a 39-yard scramble that set up a touchdown in the third quarter. 
But Trubisky’s struggles were clear, with the second-year quarterback throwing two ill-advised passes that should’ve been picked off in the end zone and then underthrowing Anthony Miller in the fourth quarter, allowing Patriots safety Jonathan Jones to make a tremendous interception. New England drove 96 yards after that pick into the end zone, with Brady taking apart a defense that missed two tackles on a 55-yarder to Josh Gordon, extinguishing any hope the Bears had of a comeback.
While Trubisky did lead a scoring drive after Adrian Amos assisted Kyle Fuller for an interception, cutting the deficit to seven. And Trubisky nearly pulled off a miracle with a Hail Mary to Kevin White, which was completed just shy of the end zone. 
The loss dropped the Bears to 3-3 and heaps plenty of pressure on Matt Nagy’s side to win seemingly-winnable games in the next three weeks: At home against the New York Jets, on the road against the Buffalo Bills and at home against the Detroit Lions. But then again: When the Jets come to town next weekend, it’ll have been nearly a month since the Bears’ last win. How the Bears fare over these next three games will be a clear window into if this team is a legitimate contender or one that faded after a strong start.