Leonard Floyd

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests. 

Bears OT loss to Miami proves they are for real – but the real what, exactly?

Bears OT loss to Miami proves they are for real – but the real what, exactly?

Going into the Bears-Dolphins game on Sunday, a question in Chicago and in more than a few corners of the NFL was: Are the Bears for real?

After the amalgamation of failures behind their error-riddled 31-28 overtime loss to the Dolphins (4-2), the answer was: Yes, the Bears (3-2) are for real.

But the real what exactly?

“We win and lose as a team,” insisted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, “and today we lost. But the important thing is we stuck together. We fought hard, a lot of ups and downs, battled, overcame adversity. Just have 100 percent faith and trust in what Coach Nagy is putting.

"We were in a great spot. We had our shots.”

For real on defense?

The exalted Bears defense that had given up barely 16 points per game allowed 31 points and 541 yards to a Miami offense without its starting quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and with a backup quarterback (Brock Osweiler) who came in with his only practice being Friday’s session, which typically is little more than a refresher walk-through.

The NFL’s sack-leading defense, which also led the league in forcing three-and-outs, never sacked the largely immobile Osweiler and limited Miami to a three-and-out on just two of the Dolphins’ 13 possessions. Behind a makeshift, injured offensive line, the Dolphins rushed for 161 yards.

For real on offense?

Trubisky followed his massive game against Tampa Bay with 22-of-30 passing for 316 yards, three touchdowns and a 122.5 passer rating. But a forced fourth quarter throw into the Miami end zone was intercepted, costing the Bears a virtually assured three points and giving the Dolphins the football for one of its four straight second-half scoring possessions.

The offense turned the football over three times, twice in the red zone and twice in the fourth quarter.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Trubisky said, “myself included.”

For real on special teams?

Cody Parkey’s 53-yard attempted game-winner was wide right in OT. The kick needed to be 53 yards because the Bears were stuffed on a third-and-4 run by Jordan Howard, and coach Matt Nagy was in no mood to explain the run-vs.-pass call, even whether it was just a play to move the ball into better position for a kick.

“We could do that all day long,” Nagy replied with a touch of irritation. “You go ahead, you throw it and then [the media is] up here asking me why you took a sack. So, you could go all day long with that kind of stuff.”

For real as a discipline-coached team?

The offense had a touchdown pass to Tarik Cohen nullified by a pass-interference penalty on tight end Trey Burton. Linebacker Leonard Floyd drew two 15-yard penalties, one for picking a Miami ballcarrier up and slamming him to the ground.

Trubisky took a delay-of-game penalty in the first quarter, and a goal-line fumble was lost by Howard on a play on which the Bears were flagged for an illegal formation. A second illegal-formation flag was thrown in the fourth quarter.

“There’s a lot that you could say about it,” Floyd said. “’We haven’t played in a week.’ ‘The weather is quite different from Chicago.’ It’s a lot of things you could say, but at the end of the day, we got to execute and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

What lessons this time?

Nagy was visibly testy with questions afterwards and without some good reason. He has made a point of noting that he has learned a little bit more about his football team with each passing week. On Sunday against the Dolphins, he learned even more, although not necessarily what he’d hoped to.

His team had successfully rebounded from a loss (Green Bay). It responded well to a victory (Seattle) with another victory (Arizona), and then a third (Tampa Bay). The “challenge” Sunday was how his team would perform after a complete off-week break, with Nagy giving players the entire week off after the 48-10 mashing of Tampa Bay.

This time the Bears, who confessed to a bit of complacency back in the opener when they effectively eased up with a 17-0 halftime lead at Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers apparently injured, appeared to come out complacent with the news that Tannehill was out and Osweiler starting.

This time the Bears sleepwalked through the first half, the first scoreless first half since week 12 last season against eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, and didn’t get into the end zone until their first possession of the third quarter.

“We didn't do well the first half,” Nagy said. “We didn't score many points, zero in the first half. But you know what our guys did is they battled. They came out and we scored 21 points in eight minutes. When you do that, something ... That's a good thing. And so they battled, and we had the lead throughout the rest of the game, and credit to Miami for making good plays.”

The problem was that while the offense was on its way to 28 second-half points, the defense seemed to rise up – Kyle Fuller nabbed the second of his two interceptions, leading to a second Bears touchdown in the span of less than four minutes – and then go into its Green Bay shell.

Miami ran up 266 combined yards on its next four possessions, scoring two field goals and two touchdowns with an offense that the Bears had virtually shut down on five of its first six possessions, two on Fuller interceptions.

Not an exact indicator of anything conclusive, but the prospect of Tannehill out and Osweiler in was on the minds of the defense.

“There was talk about it [Saturday] night, and everybody heard the talk,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “But we weren’t sure, and we found out what it was today just before the game.”

So now what?

If there was any complacency and whether or not that played any part in the Bears’ two losses of 2018, it is unlikely to be present around Halas Hall or Soldier Field this week with New England next for a team that still is statistically at the top of the NFC North.

But the Bears are one of seven three-win teams among the 16 in the NFC (plus division-leaders Los Angeles with 6 and New Orleans with 4). The Packers could make it eight three-win teams tomorrow when they host San Francisco on MNF.

Maybe the problem is at the “top.” Teams for which Nagy was on staff (Philadelphia, Kansas City, Bears) are a woeful 1-6 against teams with Miami coach Adam Gase on staff (Denver, Chicago), albeit both serving as assistants, not head coaches. Before this time.

“As a team, it’s frustrating because coming out in the third quarter, we see what our identity is,” said running back Tarik Cohen. “And then to let that slip away and come away with a loss here is just...

“We have to do better, and we have to get back to the drawing board.”

 

3 tipping points as Bears begin 2nd 'half' of 2018

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USA TODAY

3 tipping points as Bears begin 2nd 'half' of 2018

3 tipping points as Bears begin 2nd “half” of 2018

The math of a 16-game NFL seasons lends itself to thinking of two, eight-game halves to the football year. But the reality is that the off-week represents a dividing line in a season simply because it is a “reset point” in terms of player health, self-scouting and other internal operations and perspectives.

So it is, as the Bears come out of their earliest off-week since the same fifth week in 2009 and begin the second “half” of their season, under a rookie head coach in Matt Nagy who apprenticed under one the NFL’s best (Andy Reid) coming out of an off week (16-3). Nagy was Reid’s quarterbacks coach in 2016 when his Kansas City Chiefs had the week off following game four and went on to win 10 of their 12 games after the break. As Reid has done for many years, Nagy gave his players the off-week off.

“Coach Reid's had a hell of a record coming after [off] weeks,” Nagy said. “And it doesn't mean that you win every time coming off the ‘bye,‘ but there is a method to the madness, and I think the biggest thing with this is that, it's OK.

“You want to give your coaches and your players a breather, and you have enough trust in them to understand that they're professionals and they need to take care care of themselves. It's important in so many different areas. I feel like sometimes you can overdo it and you can try to just squeeze every little ounce of time that you're allowed or permitted with these guys, and in my opinion I think it's just better to let them have their time, regroup, understand that this is a long stretch here.”

The success of the Nagy’s Bears over that long stretch will turn on three principle points:

The quarterback

The issue at the elite, professional level in any sport is: “flashes” of your ability vs putting your talents to good use consistently. Mitch Trubisky has just 16 games of NFL experience but has earned the confidence of the huddle with his play and with a presence that has maintained an emotional consistency even if the play hasn’t always had that consistency.

“He’s still the same guy, demanding and wanting to be great,” said wide receiver Josh Bellamy, who has seen Trubisky over two seasons and has had as many combined targets by Trubisky (29) as Taylor Gabriel and second only to Allen Robinson (32). “In this game it’s pretty hard not to be emotional when you care about the game.”

Trubisky delivered the consummate game that was the hope/expectation when GM Ryan Pace invested a No. 2-overall pick and other draft capital to ensure the relatively raw prospect became a Chicago Bear. Six touchdown passes, 19 of his 26 attempts completed and none to a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and an all-around game that lifted his 2018 completion percentage (70.0) and passer rating (101.6) to levels required for “franchise quarterback” status

The performance helped vault is career passer rating (84.3) and completion percentage (62.4) into respectability.

But “respectability” is where Jay Cutler lived for virtually his entire career (62.0 percent completions, 85.3 rating). If that were good enough, Pace would’ve gone a third year with Cutler instead of going all-in for Trubisky (and Mike Glennon).

But consistency was nowhere to be found. Cutler had a dozen career games with a passer rating above 120; after only four of those 12 did he follow with a game at even a 100 rating.

For loose comparative purposes, Brett Favre had 36 games of 120-plus ratings that weren’t final games of seasons; in 24 of those, Favre followed those with 100-plus ratings. Consistency.

The point is not to measure Cutler, Trubisky or anyone else against Favre. But it is a point to whether Trubisky can deliver to an elite NFL standard at a consistent level. That is an incomplete point of assessment after just 16 (Trubisky) games.

Trubisky had just three 100-plus-rating games prior to the shredding of Tampa Bay, none higher than 118; he followed those with a second 100 game just once, the same consistency pace as Cutler.

Also, Trubisky was 2-2 last year against teams that finished 2017 with winning records; none of his three 2018 conquests (Arizona, Seattle, Tampa Bay) hold winning records through the first quarter. The Buccaneers were 2-1 when they faced Trubisky and the Bears, but they also own the worst scoring defense in the NFL.

Trubisky is in nothing less than a prove-it game, as he will be for every game the rest of this season, and until his exact level as a quarterback takes a more defined shape.

Until then, his Tampa Bay performance is the exception, not the rule. For the Bears’ 3-1 first quarter to matter long- or even medium-term, the need is for Trubisky to be a good quarterback more than one game at a time. Coaches believe that is attainable.

“He stays consistent every single day with the way he treats this game,” Nagy said. “He doesn’t have those days where he’s sloppy or he doesn’t care. He’s consistent every day. He wants to just keep getting more and more information. When you do that at a young kid with the limited amount of experience that he has, and with the experience we have as coaches, he’s doing such a good job.”

The schedule

Records at this point of the season aren’t especially useful for projection purposes. But the second quarter of the Bears’ schedule is the only one containing two teams (Miami, New England) currently with winning (3-2) records and those come up in the next two weeks. Additionally, the Bears face the Dolphins in Miami, where the Dolphins have been below .500 just once since 2010 (that being in 2015, which contributed to then-Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase being hired away as head coach). The Dolphins collapsed at Cincinnati on Sunday, blowing a 17-0 lead in barely 20 minutes with two Ryan Tannehill turnovers returned for defensive touchdowns.

The Patriots come to Soldier Field but it rarely matters where New England plays.

Still, the Bears’ 3-1 start is significant, less because it has landed them in the NFC North division race, and more for both win total and against whom those victories were compiled. Because in playoff deliberations outside of division winners and records within the division, wins in the NFC count behind only head-to-head games in determining who advances into postseasons. The Bears are 3-1 in the NFC; only the Rams (3-0) are better in the conference.

Now the Bears begin the only quarter of their season containing AFC games, all against the AFC East. That doesn’t make the games necessarily mean less, since every win counts vis a vis the eventual win totals of the Lions, Packers and Vikings. But early though it may be, the Bears are already very much in control of their own destiny.

The rest

Jordan Howard

The Bears did not divest themselves of Jordan Howard in the offseason and Nagy said all the right things about Howard’s value to the new Bears offense; indeed, Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing last season, on virtually the same number of carries (272) for the Kansas City offense as Howard in the Bears’ (276). If public utterances are to be believed, Howard is a fit in the Nagy offense, and he does have more carries (64) in 2018 than all other Bears combined (52).

But Howard had 11 carries for just 25 yards (2.3 ypc), and zero targets from Trubisky, vs. 13 and seven for Tarik Cohen, whose usage and total production (121 yards) raised questions about Howard’s true fit in an evolving Bears offense.

“I think it’s probably more by game,” Nagy said. “I think again when you have a guy like Jordan, Jordan obviously is more of a run-between-the-tackles guy and he’s really good at it, but yet you can move him out and you can see he can catch the ball and do some good things in space. And then when you have ‘29,’ Tarik, he can come in and do what he did [against Tampa Bay]. It makes it hard for the defense.”

But the third-year running back left the locker room after the Tampa Bay game without even the obligatory platitudes that any win trumps any personal stats. Something seemed vaguely amiss. Maybe it’s personal production. Howard is averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per carry, down from 4.1 ypc last year, which was down from 5.2 ypc his rookie season, and his average of 16 carries per game are the fewest in his three seasons.

And despite improving his catch percentage (83) for a second straight season, Howard ranks only fifth among Bears for Trubisky targets (12). That likely would only be sixth but for an injury that forced rookie Anthony Miller (11) to miss the Tampa Bay game.

Whether Howard was miffed or not (unclear, since he brushed by reporters after Tampa Bay without speaking), and whether he will be after a week off, and whether it has any effect on his play, and what his role/fit is in the Nagy offense become a collective point of scrutiny in the Bears’ “second season”….

Leonard Floyd

Khalil Mack is the hood ornament of a Chicago defense has climbed through the first quarter of the season into the targeted top five in NFL rankings in points, yards and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). Within the overall has been a pass rush netting 18 sacks, doubly notable because 10 different players have been credited with at least a share of a sack.

What makes the sack total particularly noteworthy is that it includes zero from Leonard Floyd, who has been hampered by the wraps encasing his surgically repaired right hand. Floyd still has been a contributor to the overall defense, with 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed and a recovered fumble.

But Floyd was drafted to be a rush-linebacker, and he has been effective at that: 11.5 sacks over his first 22 career games. Meaning: The Bears defense may be poised to ascend to yet another level based on Floyd’s history and the fact that he has never played on the other edge from the likes of Mack, whose presence has lifted the play of Aaron Lynch (2 sacks), Danny Trevathan (2) and even Akiem Hicks, who has collected 3 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 3 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles through four games.

As dominant as the Bears defense has been with an impaired Floyd, without that wrap on Floyd’s right hand… .