Bears

Bears grades: Defense falls flat, and a longer look at Matt Nagy’s decision-making

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Bears grades: Defense falls flat, and a longer look at Matt Nagy’s decision-making

QUARTERBACKS: B

There’s a lot to unpack here. Mitch Trubisky’s first half was bad, with him completing nine of 14 passes for only 89 yards (6.4 yards/attempt), and while he wasn’t picked off he was sacked twice. His decision-making wasn’t good beyond checking into a quarterback sneak on third down here and there, and he missed a wide open Anthony Miller on the Bears’ first offensive possession of the game. 

But the second half was completely different — Trubisky threw for two touchdowns in the third quarter and made an outstanding throw to Taylor Gabriel for a 54-yard gain that set up Tarik Cohen’s rushing score. Really, everything Trubisky did in the second half was excellent…except for the interception he threw in the end zone. Trubisky has to take care of the ball in that instance, with the Bears leading by eight and in position to at least go up by a two-score advantage with a field goal. Instead, Trubisky thought he had looked off safety T.J. McDonald, who easily picked off a pass intended for an already well-covered Ben Braunecker. 

Trubisky’s final line of 22 completions on 31 attempts for 316 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 122.5 looks like he followed up his magnificent Week 4 with a strong performance. And while his resiliency should be praised for how he operated the offense in the second half, that one interception was a critical turning point in a three-point overtime loss. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Talk about a game of high and lows for this unit. Cohen had a 21-yard touchdown and caught seven of nine targets for 90 yards, including an outstanding route, catch and run on a 50-yard reception. Jordan Howard carried 14 times for 69 yards, and he gained 34 yards on back-to-back runs in overtime that set up Cody Parkey’s game-winning attempt (which he missed).

But both running backs lost fumbles in critical spots. Howard coughed up the ball on the Dolphins’ one-yard line in the first half, making sure the Bears didn’t score in the first 30 minutes. And Cohen lost a fumble on the Bears’ 45-yard line with the score tied late in the fourth quarter — while Miami didn’t turn that into points, the way the Bears’ offense was going, had Cohen not fumbled they probably would’ve at least got into range for Parkey to attempt a go-ahead field goal without much time left on the clock in regulation. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A-

Gabriel made a phenomenal catch on a 47-yard gain and caught a 54-yarder to pace his five-catch, 110-yard day, while Allen Robinson caught five of six targets for 64 yards with his second touchdown of the year. Miller only caught one of four targets, though that was for a 29-yard touchdown and he should’ve had a big-chunk gain on the Bears’ first drive when Trubisky overthrew him. The talent in this group has been apparent for a while, and was again on Sunday. 

TIGHT ENDS: B-

Trey Burton did some good things in the run game — he landed a perfect block to set up Cohen’s touchdown run — and caught a shovel pass for a touchdown as one of his four receptions for 23 yards. Nagy felt like Burton couldn't have -- and shouldn't have -- done anything differently on his rub route that was flagged for pass interference. Also, if you’re wondering who Burton raced over to give the ball to on his touchdown, it was his brother. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: C+

Bobby Massie and Kyle Long were credited with sacks allowed, per Pro Football Focus, and the Bears’ offensive line wasn’t consistent enough blocking for Howard and Cohen. This wasn’t an issue of defenses stacking the box, either — only 7.7 percent of Howard’s 14 runs came with eight or more defenders in the box, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The James Daniels-Eric Kush rotation, though, wasn’t an issue, and Charles Leno Jr. did play well, especially in the second half. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

For whatever reason, this group didn’t get a consistent push on a Miami offensive line missing its starting left guard and center — and even with those guys, this wasn’t a particularly impressive group. Frank Gore (15 carries, 101 yards) and Kenyan Drake (13 carries, 57 yards) were given plenty of opportunities to get to the second level, and Brock Osweiler was rarely pressured, too. This group is better than what they showed on Sunday. Akiem Hicks does get a mention here, though, for forcing a miraculous fumble on the one-yard line in overtime that gave the Bears a chance to win the game on Parkey’s field goal attempt. Roy Robertson-Harris did make a nice play to break up a pass in the first half, while Goldman crucially recovered Hicks’ forced fumble. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: F

Khalil Mack suffered an ankle injury during the first half and was the recipient of plenty of extra attention from Miami. (“I don’t know,” Miami coach Adam Gase said when asked how his team was able to stop Mack. “We had about four guys blocking him.”) Mack recorded one pressure, per Pro Football Focus, as did Leonard Floyd. Floyd was flagged twice — his suplex of Danny Amendola earned a 15-yard flag (“I just keep trying to play football. I feel like he was trying to gain more yards. I had to stop him,” he said) as did a bizarre roughing the passer call when it appeared he grazed Osweiler after the Dolphins quarterback threw the ball (“Now that I don’t know how that was called. I don’t even think I touched the quarterback,” Floyd said). Either way, there wasn’t close to enough pressure on Osweiler from this group. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: D+

Roquan Smith racked up 13 tackles and made a few good stops, but he took a bad angle on a late overtime pass to Drake, winding up chasing the Dolphins running back on a play that set up Miami’s game-winning field goal. Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski combined for half of the Bears’ four quarterback hurries, which speaks to how non-existent the pass rush was for most of the game. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+

While Kyle Fuller had two interceptions, those were about the only big-time positive plays from this group. Safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson had rough games, missing far too many tackles and not containing Albert Wilson on both of his big catch-and-run touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Prince Amukamara left with a hamstring injury and Kevin Toliver II was beat on an extended play by Kenny Stills for a game-tying two-point conversion. The big-chunk plays allowed by the Bears were especially concerning for this unit, given that’s been a common thread between the Week 1 loss to Green Bay and Sunday’s loss in Miami. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Parkey missing the game-winning 53-yard field goal earns this unit a failing grade. No matter how difficult the kick was — and 53 yards is hardly easy — the Bears guaranteed Parkey $9 million in march to hit kicks like that. There wasn’t much else on which to evaluate this group — that was Parkey’s only field goal attempt, and while he had touchbacks on all six of his kicks, if he makes that 53-yarder the Bears win. 

COACHING: C-

There’s a lot to evaluate here. Some broad points: The Bears’ offense was flat in the first half, with an over-reliance on using speed to get to the edge against an athletic Dolphins defense. But the second-half surge was a major positive for Nagy, who was able to scheme up plenty of throws Trubisky was able to make, leading to touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Maybe Burton could’ve been coached up better on his rub route that was whistled for pass interference, but Trubisky’s end zone interception wasn’t Nagy’s fault. 

Continued: Why did Nagy wait about 20 seconds before calling timeout prior to Miami punting with under a minute left in the fourth quarter? Nagy’s explanation was that he didn’t know what Miami would do, and if he calls timeout quickly and the Dolphins go for it, they have more time to drive into field goal range. That’s fair. 

And, most notably — the decision to run Howard on third-and-four with a 50-plus-yard field goal looming deserves added scrutiny. Nagy said he had “ultimate trust” in Parkey’s ability to hit a 53-yard field goal — and, it’s worth noting, Parkey had hit seven of eight kicks from 50 or more yards in his career before Sunday, including a 54-yard game-winner for the Dolphins last year. 

But from a larger picture, placekickers have hit 57 percent of attempts from 53 or more yards since 2008, while the Bears were eight of 12 (67 percent) on third down on Sunday. Nagy brought up a concern of getting sacked on third down and taking the Bears out of field goal range, but if that were to happen, the Bears would’ve punted and probably wound up with a tie, not a loss. 

The over-arching point here, though, is that the Bears came out flat and got conservative in a spot that brought about plenty of second-guessing outside the walls of Halas Hall. Nagy likely will learn from this one, just as he did following Week 1’s loss to the Packers.
 

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

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USA TODAY

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’