Bears

Jay Cutler, Jordan Howard lead Bears past Vikings

Jay Cutler, Jordan Howard lead Bears past Vikings

CHICAGO (AP) — Jay Cutler's halftime speech — yup, that Jay Cutler — helped the Chicago Bears turn a strong start into one surprising victory.

Cutler threw for 252 yards and a touchdown after missing five games with a thumb injury, rookie Jordan Howard ran for a career-high 153 yards and a TD, and the Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-10 on Monday night.

Chicago (2-6) sacked Sam Bradford five times while handing NFC North-leading Minnesota (5-2) its second straight loss.

Cutler was on target in his return from a sprained right thumb, and Howard easily surpassed his previous high of 118 yards. Alshon Jeffery got his first touchdown reception of the season while helping Chicago outgain Minnesota 403 yards to 258.

"I think it was more fun just to watch my teammates and see how hard they played and how well they played," Cutler said. "One win coming into this one, they had a lot of outside noise."

Cutler has faced criticism for his body language and leadership skills throughout his time in Chicago, but Jeffery said the quarterback told his teammates to "keep our pedal to the metal" at halftime.

"Everyone in there is from different backgrounds and different cultures, societies," Cutler said. "Whatever it takes to find the inspiration — because motivation usually wears off at some point during the game. Those guys played inspired football."

Minnesota's performance was far from inspired.

"We're a good team," guard Brandon Fusco said. "It's not us. It's not Viking football. That's what is frustrating, we're such a good team. What we're putting out on the field is not us. We have to watch the film and get better from this."

Cutler had not played since he left the second game of the season against Philadelphia. But with his future up in the air after coach John Fox wavered in his commitment to him as the starter, he made a triumphant return.

Cutler completed 20 of 31 passes, including an 11-yard touchdown to Jeffery early in the third that made it 20-3. Whether he quieted fans who thought the Bears were better off with Brian Hoyer is another issue. But that became a moot point when Hoyer broke his left arm last week in a Thursday night loss at Green Bay.

Howard had a 69-yard run, the longest for Chicago in seven years. Zach Miller added 88 yards receiving as the Bears stopped a three-game losing streak.

Bradford, playing behind a porous line, had another rough game after getting sacked six times the previous week against Philadelphia. He was 23 of 37 for 228 yards.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Matt Asiata ran for 42 yards with Jerick McKinnon sidelined by an ankle injury.

With a sparse and quiet crowd looking on, the Bears led 13-3 at halftime. It was almost a bigger advantage, but Chicago settled for field goals on its first two trips inside the 20.

GOING LONG

Howard, a fifth-round draft pick, broke off a 69-yard run to the 13 on Chicago's first possession. It was the longest rushing play for the Bears since Kahlil Bell's 72-yarder against Philadelphia on Nov. 22, 2009. But instead of a touchdown, the Bears got a field goal from Connor Barth.

DENYING DISCORD

Fox denied a report of discord between the coaching staff and front office and that the organization has brought in an outside consultant to examine the football operation.

"There's no truth to that. This is as unified of an organization and football team as I've ever been associated with," Fox said.

OFFICIAL INJURED

Head linesman Ed Walker was taken from the field on a cart after he slipped on the Soldier Field grass in the first quarter. Walker was injured running down the Vikings' sideline as the Bears punted. His legs buckled, and he was tended to for several minutes by medical personnel before being placed on the cart.

INJURIES

Vikings: G Alex Boone was being evaluated for a concussion. ... CB Captain Munnerlyn hurt his foot. ... SS Andrew Sendejo (ankle) sat out and Jayron Kearse started in his place.

Bears: The Bears held out RG Kyle Long (strained triceps) and LG Josh Sitton (ankle). Ted Larsen started at right guard and Eric Kush at left guard.

UP NEXT

Vikings: Face division rival Detroit for the first time this season when they host the Lions on Sunday.

Bears: Have a bye before visiting Tampa Bay on Nov. 13.

 

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

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USA TODAY

Assessing misperceptions about Bears' Mitch Trubisky – the young QB is trending where Bears want him

First things first, getting some ancient history out of the way but also looking at it in a different light….

Turns out Dowell Loggains may not have been an idiot or John Fox an offensive restrictor plate, either, in the matter of using and developing Mitchell Trubisky. They in fact appear to have known some things that Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are finding out about one young NFL quarterback: that Trubisky simply isn’t particularly accurate or effective going downfield with his passes. At least, not yet.

The Bears did their ongoing due analytics through Trubisky’s rookie year. In the requisite pursuit of putting a player in the best chance to have success, they determined what he wasn’t good at, and trimmed back much of the field from his scripting and play rolodex early. The sense now is that Nagy also may be doing just that with Trubisky.

Something never made complete sense, that Loggains, had thrown the ball around Soldier and other Fields more than 61 percent of the time with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Yet with a talent like Trubisky, he was calling only a more-balanced 53 percent passing. The accuracy reality helps you understand some of the reason why; The young QB just hadn’t really thrown accurately down the field, or anywhere, for that matter, looking at his 59.4-percent completion rate even with the top of the field dialed back.

Downfield accuracy can be a quirky thing. Rex Grossman, for instance, was quixotically more accurate when passes were directed longer than 15 yards, yet maddeningly scattershot on, say, bubble screens. Trubisky is not that, most quarterbacks aren’t, but positive plays are the objective, wherever they lie for the particular thrower.

But all of that’s not really important now, just looking at Trubisky with some perspective; the downfield accuracy that’s a true work in progress wasn’t there then. And best guess is that Fox, Loggains and the rest of the staff weren’t going to tell Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Cody Whitehair or anyone else on offense to get their bodies pounded just so the kid could learn how to throw deep. The point was, and is, to win the game (thank you, Herman Edwards).

More to matters of more recent perspective….

Using the right evaluation scales

One simple (well, maybe not completely simple) fact is that Mitch Trubisky is improving, and in many respects, substantially, even as frustration and dissecting continue.

First, a note of explanation: Evaluating Trubisky against expectations, even for a No. 2-overall pick, isn’t useful. Neither is evaluating him strictly vis’a’vis other young quarterbacks.

What is useful is evaluating Trubisky vs. Trubisky, No. 1, and No. 2, more important, is the team winning with him?

The answer to No. 2 is “yes.” Two wins in three games, being within on defensive stop of having his team 3-0—that’s a “yes.” He had his team 2-1 last year after three starts, albeit against better competition (Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina), so he is at least as win’ish as he was as a rookie.

As to No. 1, the footwork isn’t where he or his coaches want it. Neither is his decision-making. Nor the accuracy thing.

But evaluating Trubisky against Trubisky and not Allen, Mahomes, Watson or anyone else, the point is signs of improvement. Consider:

In his first three starts last season, Trubisky barely qualified for “inaccurate” or “productive.” In his first three starts this season, he’s earned both, even with his distance issues:

 

                           2017                                    2018

 

                  Cmp.     Yards                    Cmp.      Yards

 

Gm 1         48.0%       128                    65.7%       171

 

Gm 2         50.0%       113                    73.5          200

 

Gm 3         57.1%       107                    68.6          220

 

Even with a couple of untoward throws and interceptions, his INT rate is still a respectable-if-not-great 2.9 percent.

Trubisky’s meaningful arrows are pointing up when compared to where he finished that rookie season, when he went out 1-2 with declining performances:

Gm 14      67.4%       314

 

Gm 15      60.9%       193

 

Gm 16      55.6%       178

Putting a final assessment of Trubisky is still quite some weeks off for 2018, and quite sometime longer for what he is big-picture. But in the meantime, comparing Mitch Trubisky ’17 to Mitch Trubisky ’18, the new one is better.

Bears film breakdown: Two red zone plays show where Bears need to improve, and how they can be effective

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Bears film breakdown: Two red zone plays show where Bears need to improve, and how they can be effective

The Bears had three possessions enter the red zone in Sunday's 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but only managed 10 points on those drives. Another pair of possessions stalled just outside the red zone, leading to Cody Parkey attempting four field goals, making three. 

With explosive plays hard to come by for this offense, an emphasis this week will be converting long drives that get into the red zone into touchdowns, not field goals. Against Arizona, though, we can see in two different plays, two quarters apart, how far the Bears have to go in the red zone but also how this group can find success. 

We'll start with a play that caught some attention on Twitter during the game: 

At the top of the screen, three Cardinals defenders are lined up across from a group of four Bears — Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen — in a diamond stack formation. At the bottom of the screen, Allen Robinson is lined up in single coverage against Cardinals cornerback Jamar Taylor. 

Trubisky takes the snap and doesn't look to his right, only identifying Robinson in single coverage and lofting a pass to him on a fade route. Coming down with jump balls/50-50 balls in the end zone are a strength of Robinson's, but Trubisky's throw doesn't give him the best opportunity to make the catch. 

It's worth noting that linebacker Josh Bynes (yellow arrow) does immediately break left when the ball is snapped, and even if the play was blocked well by the other three guys on that side of the field it wouldn't have been guaranteed to be a touchdown. 

"There are some advantage throws, there’s some choices on that play," Nagy said. "So that’s where he decided to go with the ball, and so we didn’t execute that play. We gotta regroup and pick another one."

****

Alright, on to a well-called and well-executed play in the red zone. 

Trubisky lines up in the shotgun with Cohen (blue arrow) to his right and Benny Cunningham (green arrow) to his left, with Robinson (yellow arrow) on the near side. Trubisky takes the snap and flows to his right, and Bynes (white arrow) drifts that way. Center Cody Whitehair (red arrow) gets two yards beyond the line of scrimmage and has to determine if he's going to block Bynes or linebacker Gerald Hodges. 

By the time Cohen accelerates near the line of scrimmage, Hodges (white arrow) is too far away to make the play. Whitehair (red circle) blocks Bynes. 

"You gotta read the most dangerous guy and make your decision from there," Whitehair said. "I felt like the guy a little bit to my left (Bynes) was the most dangerous guy with the misdirection play."

Cunningham (green circle) lands a strong block on safety Antoine Bethea, which triggers the play. 

"I knew as soon as he called it that I could trust in Benny Cunningham to make the most important block, so when he made that block I knew I had to cut off that and just keep running for the end zone," Cohen said. 

Worth noting: Had Hodges not been fooled by the misdirection on the play, he could've been able to crash toward the line of scrimmage and make a stop. 

"It was a good setup by coach Nagy," Whitehair said. "... If a defense is flowing hard like they were, it was a good time to use it."

Cohen, meanwhile, reads that Robinson's momentum in his block of Taylor is going to the sideline, so he cuts back over Robinson's inside shoulder, even with safety Tre Boston (black arrow) crashing down on the play. 

Boston gets his hands on Cohen around the four-yard line, and Cohen is eventually tackled at the one for a gain of 17 yards. Jordan Howard finishes the drive off on the next play with the Bears' only touchdown of the game. 

Still, "I was supposed to get in there," Cohen said. "I smelled it."