Bears

Bears thinking Super Bowl, but worried about Lions

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Bears thinking Super Bowl, but worried about Lions

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
Posted: 10:40 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

This time a year ago, the Bears were standing at 4-7 after a humiliation at the hands of Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, the fourth in a string of losses that buried their season. The talk at that time was about playing for pride, because there wasn't much else to play for at that point.

Now they stand 8-3 after the fourth in a string of wins and, even if they don't want to utter the words, they are playing for a Super Bowl.

And they have been truly playing for one a lot longer than most outsiders were aware. Now they are being asked about games with Roman numerals and no one is laughing when they answer honestly.

"We've bottled up a lot of our emotions for a long time, and some of us get real excited -- we're 8-3 right now -- when people ask us questions about how we feel about ourselves," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "We want to jump out and tell you how we feel.

"But at the same time, you want to stay humble and you want to stay the course because we could get into the playoffs and have home-field advantage all the way through and lose the championship and never make it to the Super Bowl, you know. Then, to me, all would be lost."

What should concern the Bears

If the Bears are going to "lose" their 2010 Super Bowl, losing to the Detroit Lions would be a precipitous first step. And they know it.

"We've got to get past the Lions first and I think everyone in the locker room understands that," said quarterback Jay Cutler, going through one of the best stretches of his career.

While critics have continued to point to the first Detroit game as one the Bears were handed via a dubious call by an official, the Bears see a game that they dominated and could done so even more thoroughly.

"You look at the film and we left a lot of stuff out there," Cutler said. "We left a lot of points on the board, missed some big opportunities. We did really good things, did third downs well, red zone, limited the turnovers. If we do those things and keep improving on the little things, we're going to be in good shape."

The requisite cliche for division-rival games is that you can throw out the records. In this case, however, you might be better served to just push them a little off to the side and not entirely ignore them.

The win-loss record is one thing. Bears 8-3, Lions 2-9 and losers of 18 straight division games. The last time they won an NFC North game was in Chicago in 2007.

But while the Bears' offense has begun to look both competent and cohesive over the past four weeks, the Detroit one has been suspiciously more productive over this season as a whole than the Bears'.

The Lions have more substantially more passing first downs than the Bears (142-115); they complete a higher percentage of their passes (60.3-59.8); their quarterbacks have been sacked less than half as many times (20) as the Bears' (41).

Quarterback issues

Those numbers have not been put up for the most part by franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford but by backup Shaun Hill. Now both are injured and Drew Stanton will start, and Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli saw things in Stanton while Marinelli was Lions head coach that he would prefer not to see this Sunday.

"I know him," Marinelli said. "He's highly competitive. He's a great competitor. You treat him a little bit like No. 7 Michael Vick in Philly, in terms of, he can run. Once he gets out of the pocket, his accuracy goes up. Very impressed, because he's really developing as a pocket passer.

"You watch the New York Giant game, in the second half. He did a really nice job. And we know what he can do with his legs. He can extend plays."

The Lions return kickoffs on average (27.5 yards) farther than the Bears (26.5) and have a KOR TD, which the Bears do not. They have a rookie defensive tackle (Ndamukong Suh) with more sacks (eight) than any Bears defensive lineman.

No team scores touchdowns on a higher percentage (71) of their red-zone possessions than the Lions, who have come away with points on 87.4 of their red-zone opportunities.

The Bears have had four more red-zone possessions (35-31) than the Lions but score touchdowns only 45.7 percent of the time (24th). Simply put, if the Lions get close, they can be expected to draw blood.
Lions tamed
What the Lions do not do, however, is stop many people and they have, in fact, allowed more than 100 more points (282) than the Bears (172). They also allow 4.6 yards per rush vs. the Bears' 3.6.

Detroit allows an average of 128.6 rushing yards per game (26th) and the Bears have righted their season by rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games, all wins, and averaged 34 carries and 125 yards per game.

The Lions' difficulties on defense are mildly surprising because of the upgrades Detroit made in an aggressive offseason of rebuilding the defensive line in particular: trading for tackle Cory Redding, signing free agent end Kyle Vanden Bosch and drafted Ndamukong Suh, a leading candidate for defensive rookie of the year with 8 sacks already, including one of Cutler in the opener.

"The thing that's impressive about these guys is they're relentless," said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. "The front is very impressive. The interior two guys are playing better than they have all year. They just get better. It's an impressive group to watch. It really is. They're better now obviously than what we played in the opener."

And one more thing ...

This is the NFL where "any given Sunday" lives. If the Cleveland Browns can ambush and annihilate the New England Patriots; if the Cincinnati Bengals can beat the Baltimore Ravens; then the Detroit Lions can ruin a Sunday afternoon for the Bears.

But not this one.

If the Lions are allowed to stay in this game into halftime and begin to believe they can win, the danger quotient for the Bears increases exponentially. But the Bears of the last four games have played with a purpose on offense behind a viable running game that has built confidence in their offensive line and quarterback.

A fifth straight game for Mike Martz calling more than 25 running plays will be a fifth straight Bears win.

Bears 30, Lions 10

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Matt Nagy named Head Coach of the Year by Pro Football Writers of America

Matt Nagy named Head Coach of the Year by Pro Football Writers of America

The awards have started pouring in for Matt Nagy. 

This afternoon, Pro Football Writers of America named Nagy their Head Coach of the Year:

It's a fitting award for Nagy, who led the Bears to a 12-4 record and their first NFC North division title since 2010. 

He wasn't the only coach on the 2018 Bears staff that won an award, though. Ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also named the Assistant Coach of the Year:

Fangio is of course now with the Denver Broncos, but it never hurts to leave town with a few extra awards in hand. 

Hyperbole aside, did Bears really get needed progress in Mitch Trubisky? They think so, but…

Hyperbole aside, did Bears really get needed progress in Mitch Trubisky? They think so, but…

The 2018 season ended with a predictable tsunami of feel-good about the play and prospects for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky:
 
From GM Ryan Pace: “I think it was just good to see the natural growth in the offensive scheme as [Trubisky] gained more comfort and then also more comfort with the players that are around him, that chemistry that developed. And I was just talking to Mitch today about that, just the excitement of going into an offseason with the pieces in place around him and then Year 2 in the same offensive scheme and how much growth can take place. So I just felt like you saw him playing more with his instincts because he was more comfortable in the system.”
 
Coach Matt Nagy, for whom total buy-in on Trubisky as the franchise quarterback was an understandable condition of employment, was even more lavish with his praise in the immediate aftermath of the playoff loss to Philadelphia: “We're lucky to have him. I'm looking forward to the future. I really am, with him, because the city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback.”
 
But gushy talk is easy, particularly when the immediate objective is positivity. Exactly how “lucky” is Chicago to have a civic treasure like Trubisky? Did the organization get from Trubisky the improvements that it needs to move into the echelon of New England, Kansas City, New Orleans and the rest of the NFL’s Final Four?

Some indicators say “yes.” Others, maybe not so much. Still others, wait ‘til next year.
 
The Bears reached the 12-4 NFC North level they did in largest part because of the defense, which improved from No. 14 to No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, picking one apples-to-apples measure. The offense with 14 Trubisky starts vs. the 12 of 2017 improved from No. 28 last season to No. 20. Not good enough to get past Philadelphia, Cody Parkey notwithstanding.
 
The top five offenses (Chiefs, Rams, Chargers, Saints, Patriots) all reached the divisional round, and all but the Chargers are in the conference championships. Notably, all were top-10 and in the playoffs in 2017 as well, saying something about their quarterbacks’ consistency (and the relevance of the DVOA measure).
 
Better, but how much?
 
Wins are the only truly meaningful NFL measuring standard. But subheads under the general heading of “quarterback performance” warrant evaluation in the case of a work in progress like Trubisky. To that end:
 
Back before the start of training camp, before the on-field installation of Matt Nagy’s offense with Mitchell Trubisky and installing the revised Trubisky into the offense, this source identified three critical areas in which Trubisky needed to improve in if he was to take the uber-critical next step that the organization needed from him:
 
•      “Rediscover accuracy” - move from the 59.4 completion percentage of his 12-game rookie season, toward the 68 percent of his passing at North Carolina.
 
Analysis:  Trubisky had obvious accuracy problems early and at various points during the season, badly missing open receivers. But besides his overall completion bump to 66.6 percent, Trubisky had two sub-60 games in the first seven games of his season, only one in the second seven. And that one was vs. the Rams coming off two games missed with a shoulder injury and with an admittedly over-amped mindset.
 
•      “Stay the ball-security course” – improve on an INT rate of 2.1 percent, again toward his UNC ratio of 4:1, TD’s to INT’s.
 
Analysis:  From a very respectable ball-security rookie year, Trubisky slipped to a pick rate of 2.8 percent. He did throw for 24 TD’s vs. 12 INT’s, better than his 7-and-7 rookie totals but far short of the 4:1 rate sought by Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfich. Nagy recalled situations where Trubisky threw into ill-advised places and acknowledged, “I can’t do that” as late as the Philadelphia game.
 
But Nagy and staff established in training camp that they were comfortable with Trubisky pushing envelopes, even to the point of incurring training-camp interceptions normally unacceptable. That was part of their learning curve, and the assumption is that Trubisky was indeed learning and would not be repeating throws that too often weren’t interceptions only owing to DB’s poor hands.
 
•      “Get the ball off on time” – Trubisky was sacked at a rate approaching 9 percent of the Bears’ pass plays; only one team reached the 2017 playoffs at a rate higher than 6.6 percent. All of the fault did not lie with the offensive line.
 
Analysis:  Trubisky was sacked on 5.24 percent of his pass plays (excluding scrambles and vs. 10.6 percent for Chase Daniel in the latter’s two starts). That would rank No. 6, just behind Kansas City and just ahead of the Rams. Not coincidentally, his release time, per calculations by NextGen stats, improved from 22nd (below Trevor Simian) to 11th (2.65 sec.) and quicker than Mahomes, Rodgers, Watson and others of note.
 
 
Qualitative vs. quantitative – and the “It” factor
 
But there are only lies, damn lies and statistics, in ascending degrees of misinformation. Myriad other elements beyond simple numbers comprise a championship quarterback in the fashion the Bears say they have in Trubisky.
 
The future of the Bears and their offense runs through Trubisky the leader. His performance levels can improve simply by eliminating errors rather than pressing for more dramatic plays. Trubisky faced eight teams in 2018 that he hadn’t seen in 2017, and the teams he had seen before (Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco) he was confronting with an offense different than the ’17 one.
 
Very significantly, in the tradition of greats, he got his team into winning range on a final drive in a playoff game, a range (43 yards) from which kickers were 76.7 percent successful in 2018. Cody Parkey had been significantly less successful (69.2 percent) in his career, but that personnel issue is on management, not Trubisky.
 
Trubisky earned the trust of the team, offense and defense and special teams, and took major qualitative and quantitative steps both as an NFL quarterback and, more important, as Matt Nagy’s quarterback:
 
“For him, he conquered the next-play mentality,” Nagy said by way of summary. “He conquered that. He conquered the steps of ‘101’ progressions. By the end of the year, he was reading it, ‘1-2-3 [progressions] -run.’ That, he conquered.
 
“Now, I think level two next year is going to be him really recognizing pre-snap what he's about to see from these defenses. So, last year he was so focused in on, 'What we do we do on offense? Hell, I've never run this offense before. What does that mean?'
 
“Now, he knows it all and can take that next step of figuring out, 'OK, here they come. They got a blitz, cover-0. Now, I know what to do, what to check to, I know the protections, all of that.' That's going to be the big one for him.”