Bears

Impact plays forcing Bears into some tough/good roster decisions

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Impact plays forcing Bears into some tough/good roster decisions

None of the 11 starters on defense even saw the field in the Bears’ 24-0 shutout on Thursday of the Cleveland Browns. But the game completed a four-game preseason in which the Bears allowed zero points in any second half, suggesting that if nothing else, Bears backups may offer a small dose of security if the personnel need arises, which it unfortunately almost always does in an NFL season.

“I think guys made cases for themselves, which makes it harder on [the organization],” said coach John Fox. “I think that’s a good thing.”

The very good news out of the 2015 Bears defense was the continuing ability to force turnovers, even if not always by the No. 1 unit. In Thursday’s 24-0 win over the Browns, the Bears came up with three, highlighted by an interception and TD return by safety Sherrod Martin. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell had a hand in a third takeaway of the preseason when he recovered a fumble forced by linebacker Lamarr Houston. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Anderson delivered a sack that forced a Cleveland fumble recovered by the Bears.

[MORE: Bears wrap up preseason on high note with shutout win over Browns]

But the issue in fourth preseason games isn’t always who plays and how much, but sometimes who doesn’t play. With roster cuts due by Saturday afternoon, there were few notables in the starting defensive personnel, which included not one projected member of the 2015 No. 1 unit.

The linebacker depth chart went further into question by two sacks from undrafted rookie Anderson, the second forcing a fumble recovered by defensive lineman Cornelius Washington. John Timu rated an assist on sack No. 2, coming in with a blitz that forced Browns quarterback to step up into Anderson’s A-gap blitz.

Anderson underscored his bid for a roster spot with a tackle-for-loss late in the fourth quarter. He was credited with five tackles total (three for loss), two sacks, a quarterback hit, and even found time to contribute a tackle on special teams. If he didn’t earn that roster spot with the Bears, the Browns may be waiting to welcome him in.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the 2015 season, Bears fans!]

“Really I see each game as an opportunity so I try to make the most of it,” Anderson said. “I didn’t see it as I was playing the Browns. I was seeing it as another opportunity.”

If there was a mild surprise it was 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic in uniform but not playing, presumably because of an ankle injury from the Cincinnati game. “We had a lot of guys who dressed but didn’t play,” Fox said, not volunteering anything on Bostic’s situation. Because of his injury plagued offseason, a harsh possibility is that the Bears do not see a spot for him in 2015 and did not want to put him on the field and risk an injury that could expose them to an injury settlement.

Starting inside linebackers Christian Jones and Shea McClellin did not play, and Bostic, listed behind Jones on the depth chart, was replaced in the starting lineup by undrafted rookie free agent Timu. Bostic missed most of the offseason work with a flareup of a back injury he suffered last season, and he was sidelined this week as well with the ankle injury.

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.