Why the Bears defense needs to be healthy, ready when the bell rings

Why the Bears defense needs to be healthy, ready when the bell rings

John Fox has yet to win a game as Bears head coach in the month of September. And when the schedule was released a few weeks ago, fans probably didn’t feel it would get much better in 2017.

While the offense adapts to new quarterbacks and receivers trying to learn a new system, the defense (particularly the secondary) will still be in the fresh stages of “getting-to-know-you.” If there’s any unit that needs to be ready (and, especially healthy) at the starting gate, it’s Vic Fangio’s guys. The offenses they’ll face will be powerful, with weapons galore.

To wit:

Sept. 10 vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons were the league’s No. 2 offense last season behind MVP Matt Ryan. The quarterback ranked first in passer rating (117.1), second in touchdown passes (38) and passing yards (4,944) and third in completion percentage (69.9). The NFC Champions also had the receiver with the third-most yards (1,409) in Julio Jones, and the ninth-leading rusher in Devonta Freeman (1,079). He and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,600 yards on the ground

Sept. 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs only ranked 18th in offense a year ago, and the NFL’s second-best rusher from two years ago, Doug Martin, may be out due to a suspension, forcing them to lean on ex-Bear Jacquizz Rodgers. But he still averaged 4.3 yards per rush in Martin’s absence before a season-ending injury. Jameis Winston enters his third season coming off two 4,000-yard passing seasons to begin his career. Mike Evans was a big part of that, especially last season, when he was tied for second in TD catches (12), fourth in yards (1,321) and sixth in receptions (96). But all they’ve done in the offseason is add receivers DeSean Jackson (free agency) and Chris Godwin (third round draftee), and All-American tight end O.J. Howard (19th overall draft pick).

Sept. 24 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

A week later, it’s back home against the Steelers and their seventh-ranked offense from a year ago. Ben Roethlisberger tied for sixth in touchdown passes (29) and ranked 11th in passer rating. Main target Antonio Brown was second in the NFL with 106 catches, tied for second with a dozen TD catches and was fifth in receiving yards (1,384). Not to be outdone, Le'Veon Bell ranked fifth with 1,268 rushing yards. Second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster is insurance if Martavis Bryant can’t stay off the suspended list.

Sept. 28 at Green Bay Packers

So four days after the black and gold on the lakefront it’s the green and gold up the road at Lambeau. Do we really need to go there? Well, if you want: the No. 8 offense featured the quarterback who led the league in touchdown passes (40) and finished fourth in passing yards and passer rating (4,428 and 104.2, respectively), not to mention the fact Aaron Rodgers almost always finds a way to beat the Bears. They may need to turn to fourth round rookie Jamaal Williams to run the ball, but remember how ex-wideout Ty Montgomery had no problem facing the Bears (with a 5.9 yard rushing average for the season). Then there’s Jordy Nelson, first in touchdown catches (14), fifth in receptions (97) and sixth in yards (1,257). Davante Adams’ 12 touchdown catches tied for second with Evans, as he and Randall Cobb combined for 135 receptions. Oh, and they signed former Bear Martellus Bennett to fill a “need” at tight end.

If the defense can keep the games close (a big “if”), there’s no doubt the offense will lean on Jordan Howard. Against the run a year ago, Atlanta ranked 17th, Tampa Bay 22nd, Pittsburgh 13th, and Green Bay eighth.

Mitch Trubisky begins throwing again as Bears continue to monitor his status for Sunday's game

USA Today

Mitch Trubisky begins throwing again as Bears continue to monitor his status for Sunday's game

The Bears returned to practice on Monday, the first time the team was at Halas Hall since they left for London almost two weeks ago. Among those who did practice was starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who has been out for most of the last two games with an injured non-throwing shoulder. Head coach Matt Nagy wouldn’t definitively say whether Trubisky would start on Sunday against the Saints, but was encouraged by what he saw from the quarterback in practice. 

“His situation for us is seeing exactly where he’s at with pain,” Nagy said on Monday. “Just all of us collaborating exactly to see where he is, so that we can make a decision as to which way we want to go for this week –– whether he’s ready or if he’s not ready.” 

It was reported that Trubisky suffered a dislocated left shoulder, along with a slight labrum tear, when Minnesota defensive lineman Danielle Hunter tripped up the QB on the Bears’ first offensive drive of their Week 3 win over the Vikings. 

Monday was the first time he had thrown footballs since suffering the injury, a progression that –– along with the Bears moving 3rd string QB Tyler Bray back to the practice squad –– indicates Trubisky may not be far from returning. He wasn’t put on a pitch-count during Monday's practice, and the next step is assessing his pain tolerance. Nagy was adamant, however, in his assurance that if Trubisky is back on the field against New Orleans, it’ll be because the team is fully confident in his ability to absorb hits. 

“If he ends up playing, then he plays,” he said. “... You can’t tell someone to play a game and not get hit. You can’t do it. If you’re okay to play a game, than you’re okay to get hit. It’s not hard – it’s pretty simple.” 

Coming out of the bye, the Bears now head into a doozy of a schedule that includes games against (among others) Philadelphia, New Orleans, Dallas, and Kansas City. The Bears had one of, if not the, least productive offenses in football with Trubisky at the helm through the first three weeks, and Nagy talked on Monday about how the team is quickly approaching the point in the season where title contenders move away from the pack. There’s a good bit of pressure on the offense to figure out a quick fix, but it’s not changing what type of progression they’re expecting to see out of their third-year QB. 

“If he’s able to play, then I want to just be able to see the stuff I’ve always been looking for,” Nagy said. “Which is just in-and-out of the huddle, making throws at the right time, and then making proper decisions –– whether it’s in the run game or the pass game.”

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Kyle Long placed on Injured reserve

USA Today

Kyle Long placed on Injured reserve

The Bears have guard Kyle Long on injured reserve due to hip injury. The Bears announced they moved DL Abdullah Anderson from the practice squad to the active roster. They have also signed TE Dax Robinson to the practice squad.

Long is a seven-year vet of the Bears and had played the first three games of the 2019 season. He sat on Week 4’s matchup against the Vikings due to his hip but came back to play against the Raiders in London in Week 5.

This news is tough to take considering the Bears offensive struggles this season and Long’s history with the team.

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