Dowell Loggains

The big picture vs. narrow mindset for developing Mitchell Trubisky

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USA Today

The big picture vs. narrow mindset for developing Mitchell Trubisky

On Wednesday, Dowell Loggains said having Mitchell Trubisky throw 46 times in last weekend’s loss to the Detroit Lions was an “awesome opportunity.” Coach John Fox didn’t necessarily see it that way, given Trubisky had to throw so much because the Bears were losing by multiple possessions for the majority of the game. 

“It’s kind of Catch-22 when you get in that situation,” Fox said. “There’s no doubt you expose the quarterback more when you do that. So it’s a fine line. From an experience standpoint, I can see what Dowell’s basically relating that to. But again, you want a guy to have success. I think Mitch has kind of made that steady success. As I mentioned even after the game, people just see the box score and the interceptions. But there were really some tremendous reads, tremendous throws that knowing Mitch to this point he’ll learn and grow from.”

Fox has argued that Trubisky has played his best game in each of the last three weeks, following games against San Francisco, Cincinnati and Detroit. There wasn’t much arguing against the Bengals game (25/32, 271 yards, 1 TD, 112.4 passer rating), of course. While Trubisky played well against San Francisco (12/15, 102 yards, 1 TD, 117.2 passer rating), he did so within the confines of a conservative gameplan that only resulted in one scoring drive. And against Detroit, Trubisky did make some good throws and do some operational things better, he still threw three interceptions, one of which came on third down from the Lions’ five-yard line. 

Ideally, for Fox, the Bears wouldn’t have had Trubisky throw 46 times, because that meant the score of the game dictated what they’d do offensively. And that’s fine — Fox’s job is to win games, though he hasn’t done that in three years with the Bears (13-33). But it does miss the bigger picture for the franchise, which seems likely to move on without Fox in 2018: The development of Trubisky is paramount, and the best way to develop him is to have him throw as much as possible. 

Trubisky hasn't been afforded that chance on a consistent basis, though. Perhaps a 4-10 team will keep those opportunities coming in the last two weeks of the season, even if the coaching staff isn't put in a position where they have to throw the ball. 

“Just as many reps as you can accumulate, that’s how he’s going to grow,” Loggains said. “That’s how he’s going to better is being able to sit back and do those things, having poise in the pocket, in every game that you get to play in you start to become more comfortable in the pocket, sitting in there and understanding the timing of each play, reading coverage. There’s nothing you can do, as much work as he spins and virtual reality and watching tape, there’s nothing like getting the real thing.”

Bears hit new low in loss to Lions: 'It's been going on like this all year'

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USA TODAY

Bears hit new low in loss to Lions: 'It's been going on like this all year'

The Bears thought perhaps they had put the wheels back on at least a small part of their lost 2017 season last week in Cincinnati. It was illusory.

In the latest game that justifiably falls under the heading of “embarrassing,” the wheels were completely off in a 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions (8-6) that said that the Bears (4-10) are not even within hailing distance of their NFC North cousins at the end of a third straight, and presumably last, season of double-digit losses under coach John Fox.

The Bears have had worse losses under Fox. They have had few worse games, top to bottom.

Any faint chance of Fox surviving for a fourth season as Bears coach depended on a run of solid performances to finish out the season. This was anything but and was yet another game marked and marred by inept performances in all three phases, four if coaching counts as a separate one.

The loss was the sixth in the seven games since the Bears held their destiny in their own hands at 3-4, only to deteriorate rather than improve as the season went along. And it was a game that at different points, in particular during a collapsing second half, the sense reached the point of “you couldn’t make this up.” The Cincinnati game now stands as a clear outlier; the Green Bay and San Francisco games and this Detroit game have become the hood ornaments of the 2017 Bears.

As for specific bewilderings: The NFL’s No. 32 rushing team (Detroit) finished with more than double the rushing yards of the Bears, 91-43, one game after the Bears rushed for more than 200 yards for the fourth time this season — including 222 the last time they saw the Lions on Nov. 19. Against the No. 20 rushing defense (Detroit) the Bears threw the football 43 times and ran it 15, including two by quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Much more on that shortly, because it gets at deeper problems.

Jordan Howard was handed the football exactly 10 times, just three in the second half. The stated reason for it will be that the Bears were playing from behind, but the Bears didn’t fall behind by three scores until midway through the third quarter.

“Lack of rhythm on offense, penalty, and I need to take care of the football,” Trubisky said by way of summarizing a day of yards (349 vs. 293 for Detroit) but too many of the plays that epitomize what bad football teams do, or don’t do. Trubisky finished with 314 passing yards, his first 300-yard day, but turnovers and a handful of poor decisions overshadowed any positives for his 10th NFL start.

Franchise-quarterback-in-progress Trubisky went from the best game of his career a week ago against the Bengals to arguably his poorest, based on three second-half interceptions when the game was still within reach, at least emotionally.

One, on the second play of the second half from the Bears 22, was turned into a Detroit touchdown. The second was thrown into double coverage in the Detroit end zone and cost the Bears at least three points. The third ended the final Bears possession at the Detroit 16.

“Sometimes quarterbacks have those days,” Fox said. “He’ll have better days.”

Fox has had better ones, too.

In a return of another issue reflecting very poorly on Fox’s coaching staff, the number and kinds of penalties became a statement in themselves. Special teams lost a 90-yard kickoff return by Tarik Cohen because of a holding penalty against DeAndre Houston-Carson.

Later, with the football at the Bears' eight-yard line: a holding penalty on fill-in offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu, followed a snap later by a holding flag on wide receiver Josh Bellamy, capped off by a delay of game call, which falls on Trubisky. With five minutes still to play in the fourth quarter the Bears had had 13 penalties walked off.

Coaching mysteries

A Detroit team that came into Saturday giving up at least 100 rushing yards in the past five games — including more than 130 in four of those — "held" the Bears to 43. Those last five teams ran the football 28, 27, 41, 30 and 33 times; the Bears on Saturday ran it a total of 15. Late in a season with a 4-9 record the Bears were ordered to punt on a fourth-and-one situation in the second quarter from their own 41 — doubtless the safe play intended to set up field position. But the Bears ran the football football four more times in the half, gaining four, two, four and five yards on those. And three of the Bears’ previous four run plays before that situation had gained at least one yard.

As for the field position resulting from the punt, the Lions took the ball 92 yards for a touchdown, the third time in four possessions that the Bears defense had allowed a drive of at least eight plays and for points.

In one of those moments that sparks a “what are they teaching these guys?” question, safety Eddie Jackson was inexplicably passive waiting on a third-and-18 pass from Stafford to wide receiver Marvin Jones, who took the ball that was made for Jackson. Instead of an interception, the Lions had a 58-yard completion and the Bears had one of those plays that turned a small spotlight toward secondary coaching. Two years ago it was veteran Antrel Rolle failing to attack a looping, wobbling third-down heave by the Minnesota Vikings that resulted in a completion that cost the Bears that game.

Saturday marked the 10th time in 14 games in which the Bears have allowed 20 or more points. That encapsulates the decline and fall of defensive hopes under coordinator Vic Fangio, while the fact that the Bears have lost nine of those games says it all as far as the offensive ineptness under coordinator Dowell Loggains.

For his part, Loggains earned another question mark at the end of the first half when, after a takeaway gave the offense the ball at the Detroit 27 with 12 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in hand, Trubisky settled for a four-yard flip underneath to tight end Daniel Brown. Nothing in the middle of the field, nothing challenging the Detroit end zone down 13-0. The Bears settled for a field goal, probably not the kind of “drive” that general manager Ryan Pace had in mind when he made sure the Bears landed Trubisky on draft day.

To the point of the overall, however, which transcends any specific bad or good coming out of Fox’s fifth loss in six Bears games vs. Detroit, former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, linebacker Lance Briggs and quarterback Jim Miller voiced identical sentiments on NBC Sports Chicago’s “Bears Postgame Live” show:

“It’s been going on like this all year.”

John Fox, Dowell Loggains handling of Mitch Trubisky not all it appears

John Fox, Dowell Loggains handling of Mitch Trubisky not all it appears

A double-digit win over a phoning-it-in Cincinnati Bengals team likely doesn’t change the direction of where John Fox’s future has been trending ever since the off week. But it does at least halt the slide for a few days, and for reasons far more important than the 33-7 score.

What Sunday’s game at Cincinnati spotlighted was the development of a rookie quarterback, and Mitch Trubisky’s day was what GM Ryan Pace had in mind when he made a draft gamble for someone with 13 college starts. It also was what the organization had in its fondest imaginings back at the beginning of October when the change was made from Mike Glennon to Trubisky.

This isn’t an especially easy situation to evaluate. For one thing, no single position in sports is more important than quarterback. For another, anything other than demonization of Fox invites dismissive scorn. Just a thought, though: If Fox has been criticized for stunting Trubisky’s growth, shouldn’t he get credit when Trubisky does grow? And for he and O-coordinator Dowell Loggains listening when the rookie spoke up that he was ready to open up his game up more?

Maybe the decision on Fox, Loggains and the staff after this season already has been made. That’s speculation, and three more performances like Sunday’s couldn’t be disregarded. But that’s actually not the main point of Sunday. Trubisky is.

Grading on a QB curve

Trubisky and GM Ryan Pace are destined for careers of comparisons with Deshaun Watson. But Trubisky after nine NFL starts compares favorably with some of the more celebrated young quarterbacks whose careers his will coincide with.

Just for purposes of loose perspective: Trubisky now has upped his passer rating on the season to 80.0, with a yards-per-attempt at a respectable 6.7. Jared Goff’s rookie season ended with numbers of 63.6 and 5.3. Carson Wentz, 79.3 and 6.2.

Marcus Mariota, No. 2-overall in 2015, finished at 91.5 and 7.6. So if Pace wants to second-guess himself about not paying a draft ransom to pry that pick away from Tennessee, at least he has the satisfaction of being right about his take on Mariota.

But Trubisky has impressed a veteran coach who doesn’t impress easily, particularly with rookies.

“I think he’s prepared hard since he’s gotten here,” Fox said on Monday. “Like anything in any walk of life, it takes a minute and some repetitions to get it all figured out. Developing an NFL schedule, it’s completely different than college – what to look at, how to do it, how to study, how to prepare. And then the in-game experience – there’s little tiny things… .

“You can talk about those and stress in situational practice. But until they happen to you, it’s important. You’re going to make mistakes in every game but it’s not making the same ones, and that’s what really impresses me about Mitch.”

Maybe Fox is and has been stumping for his and his coaches’ jobs. Then again, maybe the jobs being done aren’t as bad as the record, because an individual player and his development actually can be critiqued separately from the whole.

Making do

The drumbeat of scathing criticism directed at coordinator Dowell Loggains, and by extension at Fox, has to some degree missed the point. It has centered on a supposed unwillingness to expand the realm of the possible for Trubisky. Given that Loggains last year oversaw an offense that was 61 percent pass, and that with a QB musical-chairs of Jay Cutler/Brian Hoyer/Matt Barkley, this has bordered on the laughable, probably born more out of antipathy toward anything connected with Fox.

Does anyone seriously believe Fox and Loggains, whose offense averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt last season – among the Bears’ highest over the last 20 years – would suddenly choose to go to just dink-and-dunk when they’ve been handed a potential sharpshooter’s rifle in Trubisky? Maybe the reason the Bears have been conservative with Trubisky lies elsewhere, as last year when the offense was late “discovering” Jordan Howard when the real story was that the young man just wasn’t in whole-game shape early on.

Airing it out is more than a little problematic when confronted with protection issues. The Bears were top-12 in sacks per pass attempt when Trubisky took over for Mike Glennon. Since then, with a transient offensive line, backs with blitz-pickup shortcomings, receivers with limited separation skills and a rookie sorting through progressions and defensive schemes, the Bears have slipped into the mid-20’s.

Trubisky was sacked twice in 34 drop-backs by the injury-riddled Bengals, compared with the one every nine drops he’d taken before Sunday.

Not surprisingly, Trubisky averaged 8.5 yards per attempt against Cincinnati. Only six of his 32 attempts went to running backs (19 percent). Against San Francisco, 40 percent of his 15 throws went toward backs. The chief reason for Trubisky’s effectiveness, and why Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen were combining for 227 rush yards, was right in front of them.

“It all starts up front,” Fox said. “Not taking anything away from any of the skill guys, but whether it’s pass protection or its run blocking, I think that all starts and finishes up front. Our front had a good day.”