New York Giants

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix continued productive season in Week 12 win over Giants

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix continued productive season in Week 12 win over Giants

The Bears faced a difficult decision last offseason when free-agent safety Adrian Amos was about to hit the open market. Instead of re-signing the former fifth-round pick from 2015, Ryan Pace's first draft as Bears general manager, Chicago allowed the hard-hitting defender to test the open market. It resulted in a four-year, $36 million contract with the Green Bay Packers and left the Bears scrambling for his replacement.

But maybe it wasn't much of a scramble at all. Maybe Pace had his eye on another member of last year's free-agent class who he thought could actually provide an upgrade to the secondary: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Clinton-Dix signed a one-year, $3.6 million prove-it deal with the Bears to fill the void left by Amos' departure, and through 11 games this season, he's provided the secondary with more juice and upside as a playmaker. In Sunday's 19-14 win over the New York Giants, he led the team in tackles (seven), added a pass breakup and was seemingly in the right place at the right time whenever the Bears needed a big play.

This is nothing new for Clinton-Dix, who entered Week 12 fourth on the Bears in tackles, second in interceptions and fifth in passes defended. He's been the kind of all-around third-level defender they were missing opposite Eddie Jackson, whose play has regressed a bit this year. Clinton-Dix's presence in the backend has helped offset the damage.

Pro Football Focus recently named Clinton-Dix the Bears' most underrated defender, and Sunday's performance was proof of that. According to PFF, Clinton-Dix has allowed a passer rating of just 43.9 when targeted, ranking sixth-best at his position in the league. 

The Bears haven't had many bright spots in what's been an all-around down year, but Clinton-Dix is an exception. He's been fantastic and has played his way into what should be a new multi-year contract this offseason.

Will Mitch Trubisky's third quarter success save his starting job with the Bears?

Will Mitch Trubisky's third quarter success save his starting job with the Bears?

Here are two stat lines for Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky:

A: 39 completions on 60 attempts (65 percent), 521 yards, 8.7 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 107.7;

B: 162 completions on 263 attempts (62 percent), 1,337 yards, 5.1 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 74.3.

A is what Trubisky has done in the third quarter this season, including in Sunday’s 19-14 win over the New York Giants. B is what he’s done in the first, second and fourth quarter.

That bizarre discrepancy played out against the Giants. Trubisky completed 10 of 14 passes for 155 yards with both a passing and rushing touchdown in the third quarter, as the Bears surged to a lead they didn't relinquish. In the other three quarters, Trubisky and this offense were woefully ineffective: 15 of 27, 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

“You'd like to have that coming out of the tunnel in the first quarter, so we've got to figure out a way to do that,” Trubisky said. “But I think just coming together, halftime adjustments, and when things get frustrating, we kind of pull together and have each other's backs.”

Trubisky was not in the mood for platitudes regarding himself and the Bears’ offense, sticking to a theme of “it’s not good enough” throughout his postgame press conference. If anything, though, the first half of Sunday’s game proved what general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy have communicated for weeks: Trubisky has to play better, but it’s not all his fault.

Trubisky was, indeed, victimized by some things out of his control. There were a handful of drops, none more egregious than a wide-open Ben Braunecker’s in the first quarter. A hands to the face penalty on Cody Whitehair wiped out what would’ve been a 60-yard completion to Allen Robinson. More penalties and poor run blocking did not help Trubisky, either.

On Trubisky’s first interception, he said there was miscommunication with Robinson, leading the quarterback to expect the wide receiver to do something he didn’t. Whether it was mostly Trubisky’s fault or mostly Robinson’s fault, the end result of Alec Ogletree picking off the pass was the same.

And Trubisky, certainly, is not absolved of blame for what was a three-point half, with those points coming when the Bears started to unlock their offense with an up-tempo two-minute drill late in the second quarter. But an organization with “serious confidence” in Trubisky can point to the failures around him as a reason to stick with him into the future.

More importantly, though: Can the Bears take what Trubisky has done in the third quarter this year and use that as reason to still believe in the future ahead of the 2017 second overall pick?

The Bears' offense, led by Trubisky, is explosive and efficient in the third quarter. They score touchdowns and don’t settle for field goals, and are good enough to match up against defenses both good and bad. This is what "Football 202" was supposed to look like. 

“We made some adjustments and came out with some more energy and we started making plays,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “Mitch was dicing them up. We got some plays that we really liked and we called them and it was all good.”

Part of that third quarter success, too, might be explained by what the Bears did in the two minutes before halftime. By necessity, the offense was up-tempo, eschewing substitutions for speed and quickly marching downfield for a field goal.

“When we get in it it’s just like a machine,” wide receiver Anthony Miller, who had four catches in Sunday’s two-minute drill, said.

Miller added the rhythm he and Robinson got into late in the first half made them feel “untouchable, like nobody could guard us.” That level of confidence has not been evident for most of the season.

Is the Bears’ answer to start a game with an up-tempo drive, largely keeping the same personnel on the field and trying to get a defense on its heels that way? That may be a little too simplistic, but this offense seems to operate at its best when it’s moving fast and not becoming bogged down in the complexities of it.

“On the ball, (the defense) can't substitute and we're not substituting either, so everybody knows where their spots are at and we're playing fast, and I think that's when we play free and guys are getting in the right spots and guys are making plays,” Trubisky said. “I’m seeing the defense, and they're not doing a bunch of crazy looks because we're going fast, and they've got to respect that.”

For an offense that’s had plenty of issues with its details this year, it sounds like an ideal solution. Or at least worth a calculated shot, understanding that it might not be feasible to go up-tempo for an entire game. Whatever it is, if the Bears want to prove their internal confidence in Trubisky is grounded, finding a way to translate that third quarter success into the rest of a game would be a start. 

Because what the Bears have done in the third quarter shows there is a good offense buried beneath this year’s mountain of failures. That can either be a good thing, as in something on which to build for 2020. Or it can be a massively frustrating point, if the only glimpses of the offense this was supposed to be come right after halftime and disappear well before the game ends.

“Enough is enough — it's the sloppiness, the mistakes, everything, it has to stop,” Trubisky said. “We've got to get better as an offense. We have too much talent and we're wasting, because we're hurting ourselves, so we've just got to be better and if everybody does their job I think we'll be fine and I think that's what you see in the third quarter coming out.”

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Little cause for celebration: Bears escape with 19-14 positives-lite win over Giants

Little cause for celebration: Bears escape with 19-14 positives-lite win over Giants

In a classic confrontation between the NFL’s most resistable force – the Chicago Bears offense – and one of its most movable objects – the New York Giants defense – the force won. Well, it didn’t lose, anyway.

“A win is a win,” said linebacker Leonard Floyd, whose fourth-down rush of Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones forced an incompletion that sealed the 19-14 Bears victory. “No matter how you get it, as long as you get the win, that’s all that matters.”

At this point, that's absolutely the case for the Bears. Their win over the Giants, aided by a pair of New York field-goal misses inside of 45 yards, gave the Bears two wins in the last three games. Regardless of opponent quality, that has to pass for progress at this point of a supremely disappointing season. Of the Bears’ (5-6) five wins, two have been over two-win teams (Giants, Redskins ) and two have been over three-win teams (Broncos, Lions).

Sunday’s result kept the Bears in at least the mathematical playoff picture heading to Detroit for the Thanksgiving game against the Lions, although the teams just above the Bears (Eagles, Rams) hold head-to-head wins over them. The schedule has favored the Bears with back-to-back, get-right games, finishing the third quarter of a sagging season against the Giants and Lions, two teams that finish Sunday with a combined record of 5-18-1.

Surviving against one of the NFL’s bottom feeders at least briefly stanched the 2019 bleeding for a desperate team that has been largely unable not only to put together enough plays to comprise a quality football game, but also even able to come up with reasons why not.

“We scored more points than them, but it’s not good enough.” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said in an apt summary that eschewed false positives. “It’s not nearly good enough.”

Clearly not nearly good enough, particularly because the Bears don’t have any more Giants or Redskins on their schedule this year. After Detroit, the Bears face three division leaders (Cowboys, Chiefs, Packers) and the eight-win Vikings to finish the season.

Against the Giants (2-9), who were in the process of losing a seventh straight, only three of 11 opponents totaled fewer yards than the Bears’ 335. Only woeful Washington (3) managed fewer than the 19 points the Bears managed against New York on Sunday. Six of 13 possessions went three-and-out against a defense that had been allowing 41 percent third-down conversions.

In the plus column was the Chicago defense that held its fourth opponent in the last five to 17 or fewer points. In the not-good-enough column was the reality that the Bears lost two of those four games.

Mistakes still dominate

The overarching fact is that the Bears in virtually all probability lose Sunday to anything but a team as non-funtioning as the Giants. They were essentially the same team that lost five straight and that's inconsistent, disorganized and self-destructive.

The 335 yards were the second-highest offensive output of the year. But major mistakes cost the Bears more than 100 yards and at least 10 points:

  • Tight end Ben Braunecker, wide open after his defender fell down, dropped a touchdown pass from the New York 29;
  • Trubisky failed to loft a pass sufficiently to get over New York linebacker Alex Ogletree, resulting in an end-zone interception in the second quarter;
  • A 60-yard completion to wideout Allen Robinson was nullified by a hands-to-the-face flag on center Cody Whitehair.

Trubisky’s first-half passer rating was a dismal 50.1, an ugly half marred with drops and poor throws in an all-around inept offense against a defense allowing an average opposing passer rating of 103.5. For the game Trubisky finished with a rating of 69.0, on 25-of-41 passing, a 32-yard touchdown pass to Robinson, a rushing touchdown and two interceptions.

That was good enough for another case of coach trying to build up quarterback, finding a positive of some kind, any kind.

“I really want to give him credit for running the show, and being able to run the offense,” head coach Matt Nagy said, “and I think that we have different personnel that come in and out. It's not easy. So we want to try to help him out as much as we can, but probably a lot of that stuff [you (media)] don't see, but he did a really good job with that.”

Running the show and different personnel groups should be Quarterbacking 101, but this has not been an easy season for Trubisky, who has generally regressed back toward that 101 level.

Trubisky got little help, beginning with a run game that averaged 2.5 yards per carry, the eighth time in 11 games that the Beras have averaged less than 3.5 yards per rush.

For their part, special teams did the offense and defense no favors for most of the afternoon. The day began with Eddy Pineiro banging the opening kickoff out of bounds for a Giants start at their 40 (to prove it was no fluke, Pineiro pulled a PAT wide-left in the third quarter). Besides punt coverage allowing a 40-yard return in the second quarter. Pat O’Donnell mishit a 13-yard punt in the second quarter to give the football to New York in the Chicago end.

New York ineptitude prevented the gaffes from resulting in points but added burden on the defense having to stop four first-half possessions starting no worse than the New York 40. This had a trickle-down, field-position effect on the offense as well.

Decision-making concerns

Nagy said last week that Trubisky had shown significant improvement over the past two games, citing decision-making as one piece of evidence. Regardless of how much of that was fact vs. trying to build up Trubisky, certain of the quarterback’s decisions Sunday raised eyebrows.

Trubisky decision-making problems surfaced almost from the outset, when he inexplicably forced a third-and-2 throw to a tightly covered Allen Robinson instead of an open Braunecker, curling open beyond the first-down marker. The result was yet another in a season-load of three-and-out’s, particularly on third-and-short, and impotent opening series for the Bears.

With a chance for a rare first-quarter score, Trubisky threw within reach of New York linebacker Ogletree at the back of the end zone. The resulting interception, Trubisky’s third either in the end zone (Green Bay, New York) or just short of it (Washington, 1-yard line), was the more egregious because it was not the first of the season for a third-year quarterback. He was victimized shortly before that by a dropped pass to Braunecker, left wide open in the red zone when his defender slipped.

At the start of the fourth quarter Trubisky badly underthrew Javon Wims, resulting in a second interception and an opportunity that the Giants were incapable of exploiting.

“We can't have the turnovers,” Trubisky said. “Got to be better on 3rd down (4-for-15). Got to the better in the red zone (1-for-4). Enjoy the win, but quick turnaround this week obviously playing on Thursday, so we've just got to find ways to get better, improve and quit making mistakes, especially myself.”

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