Bears

Garza thinks Samardzija has the right stuff for October

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Garza thinks Samardzija has the right stuff for October

MILWAUKEE Theo Epstein generally agrees with the idea that the playoffs are a crapshoot, though hes found that certain things show up more in October, like frontline starting pitching.

As the Cubs president begins this rebuilding project, the national media is just starting to pick up on what people in Chicago and around the team have been saying for weeks: Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija could be a devastating one-two punch.

Neither one is a finished product. But Samardzija was a stopper in front of Sundays sellout crowd at Miller Park, even without his best stuff, and thats all part of the learning curve.

Manager Dale Sveum pushed the right buttons, pinch-hitting for Samardzija in the sixth inning of a tie game. Reed Johnson drilled a ball over the left-field fence and the Cubs started to open it up in an 8-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that avoided the sweep.

Samardzija needed 91 pitches to get through five innings. It wasnt always coming out of his hand right, and he left some balls up. But he still limited the Brewers (15-19) to one run and showed that he understands how to make adjustments.

(Earlier in my career), I probably would have stayed hard and really tried to overpower guys, Samardzija said. I thought I mixed my pitches pretty well there with runners on and didnt give them too many opportunities to square the ball up.

Some will question whether this is for real, but Garza isnt surprised by Samardzijas growth. The former Notre Dame star didnt get the win on Sunday, but hes still 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA.

He pitched his tail off all last year, Garza said. Hes always wanted to be a starter. You put a prize like that in front of a guy like that, hes going to go out and get it.

Shoot, he was an All-American in football, a potential top-15 (NFL) pick. He ended up picking this sport and Im pretty sure hes happy he did. Hes throwing the crap out of the ball. Hes big, strong and can throw hard for nine-plus. Thats a bright future. He just keeps getting better.

Garza is under club control through the end of the 2013 season. Epstein has said that the teams performance wont dictate what the front office will do with him. The Cubs dont have to make any final decisions on a potential contract extension by the July 31 trade deadline.

The Cubs are 14-20 and it will take years before they get to the point Epstein wants as an organization. What about the idea of building through a rotation fronted by Garza and Samardzija?

Sounds scary to me, Garza said.

Garza, who has proven to be a good teammate, also made a point to talk up the rest of the rotation, complimenting, by name, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad. But it will start at the top, and this is where you can look toward the future.

Across his last four starts a span of 26.1 innings Samardzija has given up three earned runs. This season, hes rung up 45 strikeouts in 43.2 innings, against only 14 walks.

Hes good, Johnson said. You can tell by the reactions of the other hitters, and some of the at-bats these good hitters are taking. Hes keeping them off-balance, even though hes throwing 96-97 mph.

Hes not just pumping all fastballs. Hes mixing it up enough for them not to be able to just sit back and tee off. I faced him in spring training and nothings really straight. Hes sinking it and cutting it, throwing splits. He makes it tough on those guys.

Garza eliminated the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and picked up the ALCS MVP hardware for the Tampa Bay Rays. Just ask him what this could do for the Cubs.

Samardzijas the type of guy where he craves the spotlight, and thats what you need in October, Garza said. You need a guy whos not afraid to be out there, a guy who, when the lights are on, (isnt all) deer in the headlights.

You stand around him for minutes and its just confidence oozing out of him. For a guy like that to be in October, thats even more fun to watch. Thats why I cant wait to get there.

Why Matt Nagy doesn’t think it's fair to compare Mitch Trubisky to Patrick Mahomes

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Matt Nagy doesn’t think it's fair to compare Mitch Trubisky to Patrick Mahomes

Matt Nagy finds himself in an interesting position, having coached both of the quarterbacks selected in the first 10 picks of the 2017 NFL Draft. He tutored Patrick Mahomes behind the scenes with the Kansas City Chiefs last year, and now is tasked with developing Mitch Trubisky into the successful franchise quarterback that’s eluded the Bears for so long. 

Trubisky and Mahomes are and always will be inexorably linked, as all quarterbacks picked in the first round of a given draft are (add Houston’s DeShaun Watson to that 2017 group, too). And so far, the comparison hasn’t been favorable to Trubisky. 

Through two games in 2018, Mahomes has thrown more touchdowns (10) than Trubisky has thrown in his entire career (nine). Mahomes how holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes through the first two games of a season, a record previously held by Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The Chiefs’ offense is the talk of the NFL; the Bears’ offense, meanwhile, have proven to be a work in progress in two nationally-televised primetime games. 

Nagy, on Tuesday, offered his take on why comparing Mahomes to Trubisky isn’t quite an apples-to-apples thing. Specifically: While Trubisky was learning and operating a completely different offense designed by John Fox and Dowell Loggains in 2017, Mahomes was digesting Nagy’s offense in Kansas City, giving him a significantly larger knowledge base on which to work in 2018. 

“He’s had a full year, more than a year to sit behind it and learn and understand and watch tape with those quarterbacks last year and get to see all the talk, all the discussions of where you go on this play and that play, whereas Mitchell hasn’t had that,” Nagy said. “He’s being forced into this thing right away, and so that’s where these growing pains are going to occur. That’s where — I just want to make it clear to him and to everybody, if you’re realistic about it, it does take a little bit of time and in the mean time, as you saw last night, we have a defense that can help us out during this process. And so the sooner we get it and it starts clicking, then the better, but that’s the difference between the two, and it’s obviously neat to see Patrick doing so well right now.”

Every quarterback is different, and every situation is different, but Mahomes’ instant success coupled with the massive Year-2 gains made in 2017 by the Rams’ Jared Goff and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz does put Trubisky’s growing pains in more of a spotlight. While Mahomes and Wentz are/were in their second year in an offense, Goff made the Pro Bowl in Year 1 of operating Sean McVay’s offense. 

Things can change quickly, though. A year ago, the question wasn’t if the Bears screwed up by not drafting Mahomes, it was if they screwed up by not drafting Watson, who lit the NFL on fire with 21 total touchdowns in seven games before tearing his ACL. Through two games in 2018, Watson only has three touchdowns to two interceptions for an 0-2 Texans side as the takes have shifted to pitting Trubisky against Mahomes. 

This isn’t to say that the Bears got it right or wrong with Trubisky. We don’t know that yet. The Bears believe they got it right, but Trubisky still needs to prove them right. Others believe Bears got it wrong, but two — or 14 — games is too small a sample size to make that sweeping declaration. 

There are things in Trubisky’s game that can be picked apart and scrutinized that go beyond the box score, but the counter-argument presented around Halas Hall is that these things take time. And that’ll continue to be the case in Chicago, no matter how much instant success Mahomes has in western Missouri. 

“I think a lot of outsiders will because it’s easy to compare two people because they were drafted in the same draft, top 10, one ahead of the other, so those comparisons are easy,” Nagy said. “But what’s real behind that is what I just said. You have one guy that has had plenty of time now to learn it, and when I say plenty of time trust me, (Mahomes is) learning this thing too. So he’s just had an extra year to go through it. I don’t think that’s fair to Mitch to be put in that position, and so I know Mitch doesn’t put that on himself. We certainly don’t do that. Hopefully in the end both of them have great, long careers in this type of offense.” 

Bears Grades: Defense shines, Trubisky struggles in win over Seahawks

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USA TODAY

Bears Grades: Defense shines, Trubisky struggles in win over Seahawks

Here are J.J. Stankevitz's grades from the Bears' Week 2 victory over the Seahawks at home.

QUARTERBACKS: C-

We’ll start with the bad for Mitch Trubisky: He overthrew a wide-open Taylor Gabriel on the first play of the Bears’ second drive, then didn’t step into his throw on a deep shot down the sideline to Allen Robinson, which was underthrown and easily picked off by Shaquem Griffin. The second interception Trubisky threw looked to have more to do with good “shot-blocking” execution by the Seahawks, who had a safety and a linebacker jumping to deflect a short pass that round up being tipped into the arms of a Griffin. But with the Bears driving late in the first half, Trubisky fired an egregiously ill-advised pass to the front corner of the end zone that should’ve been intercepted. In the first half, there still were some instances of Trubisky seemingly having “happy feet” and not looking altogether comfortable in the pocket.

But the good for Trubisky was how he operates the offense on the Bears’ first drive, which went 10 plays for 96 yards and ended when he made the correct read on a shovel pass option to Trey Burton for a three-yard touchdown. He did everything asked of him on a critical 11-play, 66-yard scoring drive midway through the second half, too. That drive ended with an excellent throw to Anthony Miller while rolling to his left for a touchdown.

Overall, Trubisky’s final line of 25 completion on 34 attempts for 200 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns and a passer rating of 83 feels about right. There were more encouraging signs from Trubisky in Week 2 than in Week 1, but that underthrown ball to Robinson and the lucky-to-not-be-picked-off throw in the first half drive this grade down a bit.

RUNNING BACKS: C-

From a pure production standpoint, Jordan Howard rushing for only 35 yards on 14 carries was disappointing, even if the Seahawks were selling out to stop the run. Howard did have three catches on four targets for 33 yards, including an 18-yard catch on which he showed impressive concentration. Tarik Cohen made a great catch on a broken play toss from Trubisky, but only had eight yards on four carries.

On some level, though, there just wasn’t much there for these running backs. And credit Howard for trying to get what he could — he spent, on average, 2.56 seconds behind the line of scrimmage; in 2017, he averaged a shade over three seconds behind the line of scrimmage, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

WIDE RECEIVERS: B

Both Gabriel and Robinson could’ve had big-chunk gains had Trubisky made good throws on those two missed opportunities in the first half. But while Robinson averaged 8.3 yards per catch, he accounted for six first downs, and Gabriel made a number of plays in the second half. Miller ran an outstanding route to beat cornerback Akeem King for his first career touchdown, too.

TIGHT ENDS: C+

Trey Burton caught all four targets that came his way, including that shovel pass touchdown, while Dion Sims did plenty of good things as a run and pass blocker on the Bears’ 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive in the third and fourth quarter. The run blocking as a whole probably could’ve been better from this group, though, with Seattle selling out to stop the run. Burton also picked up a first down in the red zone running the read option in the first half.

OFFENSIVE LINE: C+

Only two offensive linemen allowed pressures, according to Pro Football Focus: Charles Leno (2) and Bobby Massie (1). The pass blocking was solid but the Bears needed more from their run game, which falls on this group as well as Howard.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A

The objective for Jay Rodgers’ unit was to contain Russell Wilson, and this group did so successfully. Wilson only had 17 yards on three rushing attempts and was sacked six times, including by nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard all notched tackles for a loss, too.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack dominated again, with a sack-strip for the second consecutive game as he terrorized Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi. Aaron Lynch had a disruptive game, too, recording his first sack of the season as well as a hurry and tackle for a loss. Leonard Floyd didn’t do much to pressure Wilson but was fine in coverage and notched a defended pass.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Danny Trevathan played one of his best games in a Bears uniform, coming through with a late-game sack-strip of Wilson and finishing with a monster stat line: A team-high eight tackles, two sacks and two hurries, as well as a tackle for a loss and that forced fumble. Roquan Smith had a bit of a slow start but after self-admittedly shaking off some rust, he finished with seven tackles and a pass break-up while, from a more qualitative view, looked like a difference-maker on this Bears’ defense.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A

We’ll be interested to hear Vic Fangio’s take on how Kyle Fuller defended Wilson’s 19-yard touchdown toss to Tyler Lockett in the back corner of the end zone — should Fuller have got his head around to make a play on the ball in the air, or was his attempt at dislodging the ball from the receiver’s hands the proper technique? Either way, that’s now twice Fuller has been beat by excellent throws this year, which on one hand isn’t his fault but on the other, he’s being paid to be able to defend those throws.

Prince Amukamara’s pick-six, though, covers for whatever mistakes may or may not have been made by this unit earlier in the game. Also worth noting: Eddie Jackson recorded his first sack in the NFL (he figured it was his first sack since he brought down Dak Prescott his sophomore year at Alabama) while Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis both executed some well-designed pressures dialed up by Fangio. Callahan had a good day in coverage, too.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Cohen gets dinged for a fair catch on a punt at the four-yard line, but he later caught a Michael Dickson punt at the seven and dashed 32 yards on his return. Pat O’Donnell had a punt downed at the one that almost resulted in a safety. Credit Anthony Miller with successfully recovering a drop-kick onside kick to seal the Bears’ win, too.

COACHING: A

Nagy’s playcalling on a crucial 11-play, 66-yard scoring drive that started midway through the third quarter and ended early in the fourth was excellent. He set up easy, short-chunk completions for Trubisky and attacked the edges of a Seahawks defense that had clogged up the middle of the field for most of the game. The Bears were on schedule on that drive and efficiently chewed up 6:15 to get in the end zone.

Once again, the script Nagy and Mark Helfrich came up with led to a first-drive touchdown. And Nagy called two smart timeouts: One facing a third-and-five at the Seattle 27-yard line with about four minutes to go in the second quarter (which led to a first down completion) and another to regroup his hands team with Dickson ready to attempt a rare drop-kick onside kick.

Fangio’s defensive plan to use his defensive line to contain Wilson and bring pressure from guys like Callahan and McManis worked well. And it was clear, from an overall standpoint, that the Bears weren’t experiencing negative aftereffects of that loss to the Packers — instead, this was a team motivated by how they lost that game.