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Gabbert, 49ers loom as potential trap for emerging Bears defense

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Gabbert, 49ers loom as potential trap for emerging Bears defense

The San Francisco 49ers do not throw the football very well, based on combined statistics for the year. They run the ball only slightly better, and have been wracked by injuries at running back.

The Bears need to beware of a trap, however, one with some possible complexity owing to a domino effect. By improving their passing offense with one major personnel move, the 49ers have become respectable at throwing and, by extension, potentially more of a threat running it by creative scheming.

The Bears were hurt the past two games by scheming of the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers. With quarterback Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco becomes more capable of scheming to have the Bears in their preferred 3-4 alignment and then do damage throwing, something they weren’t able to do with an inept Colin Kaepernick.

Gabbert replaced Kaepernick after game eight and since then the 49ers have been able to throw. Gabbert has averaged 256 passing yards in his three starts. That would place him right in the middle of NFL passers if he had enough attempts to qualify, and ahead of Jay Cutler (251), Aaron Rodgers (246) and Cam Newton (224), among others.

[MORE BEARS: Bears short at wide receiver, leaning on Marc Mariani, others]

Defensively, the Bears are No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game but 29th in rushing yards. The 49ers, for the year, are 31st in passing yardage.

But the body of work was primarily that of Kaepernick, the 28th-ranked passer before he was replaced by Gabbert, the 10th-overall pick of the 2011 draft by Jacksonville, the second quarterback taken after Newton.

“Pretty familiar with him coming out,” said coach John Fox. “I know he's very athletic. Some of our guys weren't quite as familiar with him until you turn on the tape and look at how he avoids the rush, and scrambles, and the athleticism and speed that he has. On top of, he's become more acclimated each game, and obviously has performed better in the passing game.”

The problem for the Bears has been stopping the run, and the presence of Gabbert, with 90-plus passer ratings his past two games, complicates that considerably. With Kaepernick’s anemic passing, the Bears could focus on the run with relative impunity and get their run defense turned around with less concern over Kaepernick. Gabbert adds a worrisome dimension.

[MORE BEARS: Packers' Hail Mary win over Lions a setback for Bears' playoff hopes]

“They’re still running a lot of the same stuff they were running with ‘Kaep’ prior,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “Some of the stuff they’ve backed off of. It’s still the same offense, so you need to look at all their games and see what they’ve done for the entire season."

The Bears’ past two opponents have been able to scheme to exploit personnel matchups that led to massive rushing totals.

The Packers, for example, run the preponderance of their 1st-and-10 plays out of three-receiver personnel groupings. They run the ball 45 percent of the time out of those ostensibly pass-oriented settings and against defenses typically in lighter-weight nickel packages.

The Broncos, by comparison, use two primary personnel groupings on 1st-and-10 plays: the “11” personnel with three wide receivers and one tight end, and “12” personnel with two tight ends and two receivers. The Broncos run 47 percent of the time out of those two primary groupings on 1st-and-10. Bears linebackers noted the Broncos’ use of tight ends as receivers out of those packages, netting 10 catches for 137 yards, adding to the difficulty in apparent run personnel.

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Those offenses trampled the Bears, for 170 and 177 yards, respectively.

“People have different packages,” Fox said. “I think this game is definitely about matchups. Sometimes good for you, sometimes not so good. So you do try to dictate and create as many of the positive matchups as you can.”

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

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Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.