Bears

Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

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Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
9:35 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The 2010 season has continued to play out as Lovie Smith envisioned it (or as much as it can with three losses in seven home games.) The Bears played their way into a reasonable (4-3) if not commanding position through October, then ran off a 4-0 November that carried over one week into December.

The New England game rocked them backwards but the Bears are now in a new position that has been missing in two of the last three seasons and was blown in 2008 when they had a playoff berth in front of them before a final-game loss to the Houston Texans.

Its nice to have games that mean something in December, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We havent had that in a while. Two years after the Super Bowl, we had a chance to go to the playoffs, and we lost that game at Houston.

But to have a few games here at the end of the season that actually mean something, its fun. Youre practicing for a reason, for a purpose. Its easy to come to work when you know you have a goal in mind to get to, and its still attainable.

It clinching the NFC North division title for the first time since 2006 -- is indeed attainable after the Green Bay Packers teetered to the brink of playoff elimination with their loss to the Patriots. The Bears can accomplish that with a win over Minnesota.

But it is far from a given.

The 2008 missed opportunity should still be seared into their minds, losing on the road to a team that had nothing particular to play for beyond an 8-8 record, not unlike the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. It helped place Smiths job in jeopardy.

Be careful with teams like that. They got one mission and thats to start knocking off playoff teams and guys still in it will make a run for it. So weve got to take them seriously, a tough team. We played well against them the first time. Still doing a lot of similar stuff offensively and defensively.

The 1993 Dave Wannstedt Bears stood 7-5 and proceeded to lose their final four games, failing to score more than 14 points in any of them.

The 7 points scored against New England last Sunday should be an anomaly for an offense that has averaged just under 20 per game. But the home team has won 15 of the last 17 games between Minnesota and Chicago and last year it was the Bears who upset the playoff-bound Vikings, at home.

And Minnesota is the only NFC North opponent against which Smith does not own a winning record.

Playoffs is one thing that youre playing for, but theres a lot more than that, especially when youre playing a division opponent, Smith said. Well get their best effort. I dont have any doubt on that.

Whats missing? The football

The running of Adrian Peterson, the play of a rookie Minnesota quarterback (Joe Webb), the ability of the Bears offensive line to control the line of scrimmage against a stout defensive front all are points of analysis. Same with Bears LT Frank Omiyale vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen; footwear and field conditions; or Jay Cutler playing at night, which he doesnt do very well.

But Bears defensive players and coaches are of one mind on the one true key to this game and most:

Take what the offense gives you, beginning with the football.

During the Smith era the Bears are 36-7 when they have a more takeaways in a game than giveaways. They are 5-0 this season with a plus-turnover ratio.

They are also 3-2 with a negative turnover margin, a tribute to their defense delivering stops after giveaways. But they are 1-2 when the defense produces zero takeaways, which was the case against New England and Detroit the past two weeks. They were also takeaway-less in the loss to Seattle.

And that has killed not only some chances for wins. It also sapped out some of the swagger that had come to characterize the defense through the Bears winning streak.

Weve got to get takeaways, Urlacher declared. We havent gotten a takeaway in two weeks. So we need to get takeaways again, start getting to the quarterback, and just start having fun again. Were a fun group when were playing well. So weve got to start doing that again.

Peterson once could be counted on to turn the ball loose. He has not done it once yet this season.

Obviously hes very conscious of it, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. You can tell. Its not been popped out yet so its credit to him. Hes cleaned that up but part of our deal is weve got to go take it away.

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.

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.” 

With free agency in his future, Robbie Gould says he 'will always be a Bear'

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USA TODAY

With free agency in his future, Robbie Gould says he 'will always be a Bear'

Robbie Gould will always be popular among Bears fans, but his name is popping up a bit more frequently after Cody Parkey’s tipped/missed decisive field goal in the playoffs.

Gould, who was with the Bears for 11 seasons, was on the Prostyle Podcast with fellow former Bear Earl Bennett. Bennett asked Gould about a number of hot topics, including Gould’s view on Parkey’s miss and what’s in Gould’s future as a free agent this offseason.

For starters, Gould said he harbors no ill will about his exit from Chicago and still lives in the city.

“I’m not mad about it at all,” Gould said. “At the end of the day, football is a business. Unfortunately as a player you don’t get to say when your type is up at a place. More often than not the organization is your employer, just like other businesses. They get to tell you where, when, how, why and for what reason. As a player you have the opportunity to say yes or no and you have to make those decisions. They made a decision to go in a different direction. I’m happy that they got back to the winning ways this year.”

Gould attended the playoff loss to the Eagles with his kids. Bennett asked Gould if he believed he would have made the crucial kick. Naturally, Gould wasn’t about to step on another kicker and played it safe in his answer.

“We’re talking about a hypothetical,” Gould said. “I wasn’t out there. I didn’t get a chance to kick it. Obviously I feel for Cody Parkey and what he went through on Sunday. I have a lot of respect for him, not only as a person, but also as a kicker. We’ll never know.”

Gould went on to recall his missed potential game-winning kicks in his career. He rattled off five different kicks and some details on all of them, which shows how scarring missing a game-winning field goal is for a kicker.

Then, the big question: would Gould rejoin the Bears? It sounds like the Bears are going to move on from Parkey, both for his on-field performance and the ensuing Today Show appearance, which didn’t seem to endear him to coach Matt Nagy.

Gould said the 49ers have exclusive rights to negotiate with him until the middle of March. He is focusing on spending time with his family in the meantime. Earlier in the interview he talked about the 49ers and their future as if he would be a part of it, but went politically correct when asked about Chicago.

“I love Chicago,” Gould said. “I live here. I still live here. Whether you go to the grocery store or whether you go to the restaurant, that’s the question everyone is asking me. I get it, right? I understand it, but Cody is their kicker right now. He’s the guy on their roster. He’s the guy that I think can rebound and have a great season and do some big things for the Bears down the road. For me, Chicago will always be home. I love the Bear fans. I love this city. I’ll always be a Bear, no matter what team I’m on or where I’m going or whatever happens. One day I’ll probably retire a Bear and you know it’s one of those things, free agency is much out of your control.”

 

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