(photo via Chicago Tribune)
By Thomas Gibbons
For the first time since Week 16 in 2013, the Bears are atop the NFC North. Jay Cutler was at quarterback, Jermon Bushrod was at Left Tackle, and the leading tackler was James Anderson. Holy flashback.
The Bears defeated the Cardinals 16-14 after being down 14-0 near the end of the first quarter. Khalil Mack and the defense forced four turnovers and held the Cardinals to just 53 yards rushing. Hmm, this reminds me of another come from behind win with a dominant defense.
Writers, analysts, and especially fans were very high on the Bears taking care of business in the desert. So it was quite shocking for the Bears to fall behind by two touchdowns to a Cardinals team who only scored six points in the first two weeks. But the Bears defense put their foot down and put on a remarkable performance to move to 2-1.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we’re winning games because of our defense,” Coach Matt Nagy said after the win. Very fitting quote from Nagy, who will look to lead the Bears to their first three-game win streak for the first time, well in a long time.
Here are my takeaways from Bears-Cardinals.
It’s worth repeating: Mitch Trubisky has a long way to go. He left plenty of throws out there on the field, some possible touchdowns. The second-year quarterback does plenty of things well, such as making plays with his feet and throwing on the run, but going through his reads and pocket presence being a glowing issue. You do not become a great quarterback after one offseason in the NFL. It’s going to be a process and Nagy lets us know that again after Sunday’s win.
“I know people don’t understand this — it takes time. We will get this,” he said about the offense. “These guys are putting in a lot of valuable time and energy in trying to learn this thing. We are as a staff. And when we figure it out and we get it, it will be fun.”
Only four touchdowns after three games. There have been a handful of impressive drives, primarily their opening drives in weeks one and two. Their opening drive on Sunday almost resulted in points but Cody Parkey was no good from 46 yards out.
Trubisky finished Sunday’s game with 220 yards on 24/35 passing with one interception.
It’s tough on the fans to see the second overall pick not performing as good as many think he can. His skillset yells success. But again, it’s going to take time. This offense is still very new to Trubisky. And he only has three games into it. I’m staying optimistic. You can point to Pat Mahomes success in Kansas City and say how is Trubisky not at that level yet? First, Mahomes spent last season with Nagy and the system and knew it coming into camp. And do not forget his coach Andy Reid is one of the best in developing quarterbacks.
Trubisky has shown flashes of his abilities, but the consistency is not there yet. His pocket awareness and his reads are the biggest concerns. He is just not there yet. And we have to accept that. Right now, he is just a game manager but his weapons, the staff around him, and his talent can launch him into elite status.
I really liked how Nagy used Tarik Cohen throughout the game. It started with the scripted plays to begin the first series on offense, breaking a 21 yard run on an outside zone play call. He was involved in the offense and should be a huge part of the game plan going forward.
Cohen had five carries for 53 yards and three catches for 15 yards. I’d like to see 10-12 touches a game for the speedy back. He is dangerous in space and we should see an uptick in production going forward. Outside zone, stretch, jet are all options in the run game with angle routes, bubble screens, and slants in the passing game. Again, it was not a big game for him but he helped move the chains.
If you have not recognized it yet, Khalil Mack is a special player. He has recorded at least one sack and a forced fumble in each of the three games and make everyone around him better.
I still find myself smiling every day that we actually have Mack. It was really nice to have a hole filled on our roster going into the season opener. You should not upset that Ryan Pace traded away two first round picks for a proven star in the NFL.
Mack finished with two sacks and a forced fumble that led to the game-clinching field goal. The Bears went on a 13 play, 59-yard drive that took 6:52 off the clock in the final quarter. His effect has been amazing and it’s only the beginning.
“I just saw 52 making a play,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said about Mack. And I was just trying to make another one, hopping on that ball. The man is a highlight reel. He plays his tail off. He appreciates the game. And he has that leadership factor to him. It feeds off into our defense.”
Mack’s playmaking is no doubt making the defense better. The Bears picked off Sam Bradford twice and rookie Josh Rosen once. The front seven providing constant pressure forces quarterbacks into bad decisions. The Bears are right there at the top of the league in interceptions and lead the league in sacks. This unit is doing special things and we owe a lot of it to Mack.
Leonard Floyd has been a nonfactor through three games but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The 2016 first round pick has been recovering from a broken hand and Week 3 his club was downgraded to a smaller cast on his hand.
The Bears are really hoping Floyd can come into his own. His first two seasons in the NFL were both cut short by injuries, but there was plenty of tape that showed flashes and a reason to believe he can become an elite pass rusher. Yet so far this season, Floyd has not registered a sack. I give him a break after playing the first two games with a club on his hand. Your hands are your best friend for fighting off blocks and pass rush moves to get home to the QB. But I thought Sunday would be a coming out game for the former Georgia Bulldog. Guess we will have to wait for Tampa Bay.
A lot of weight has been taken off Floyd’s shoulders with Mack being acquired and Aaron Lynch contributing as well. But I really hope he turns it on in game four. The speed is there. Now he just has to put it all together. Ryan Fitzpatrick has only been sacked two times this season heading into Monday night’s game vs. Pittsburg. So it’s going to be a test for Mack and the front seven to get to Fitzpatrick. But hopefully, Floyd is healthy and can let loose.
Special teams demon Sherrick McManis had an interception and a sack on Sunday. Mostly known for covering kicks and punts, McManis made plays when it mattered. It was his first interception since his rookie season and his sack on the final play of the game was the first of his career. I bet we see more of him in Dime, six defensive backs package, moving forward.
With Marcus Cooper inactive, Nagy said Kevin Toliver II would be the next man up at cornerback. After Prince Amukamara injured his hamstring in the third quarter, Toliver II entered the game.
After going undrafted, Toliver II ended up in Chicago and it was instantly deemed ” a steal”. He had his shares of problems in Baton Rouge but to get a player of his caliber was a nice break for Pace.
Toliver II impressed the first few days of camp but a hamstring tweak would stunt his development. His chances of making the 53-man roster were slim but a really good chance to be brought back on the practice squad.
The Bears surprised many when they released Cre’Von LeBlanc, but it opened the door for Toliver to make the cut. The rookie saw plenty of playing time in Arizona and he got caught on a double move by fellow rookie Christian Kirk. There is going to be growing pains but to see that the Bears have a high level of trust is Toliver II to throw him out there is promising.
Amukamara said after the game that he doesn’t feel like his hamstring its nothing too serious or anything to worry about.
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