For the third consecutive game the Bears dispatched an inferior foe with relative ease while also covering the spread with their victory Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field beating the Detroit Lions 34-22. What’s even more impressive about this victory is it should have been even more lopsided.
There was a drive extending missed call on what should have been called a fumble and resulting in another takeaway for the Bears That Matt Nagy tried to challenge but couldn’t throw the challenge flag in time. Something that wouldn’t have been a factor if the refs called it a fumble like they should have. All turnovers are reviewed by the replay officials automatically. Since it wasn’t deemed a turnover Nagy had to challenge it and he admittedly was slow to do so as he was looking at his play sheet planning his next offensive possession. Ultimately, that allowed The Lions to quick snap it, maintain possession and score a touchdown on that drive for the Lions first points of the game.
Than there’s the two ton elephant in the room in the form of Bears Placekicker Cody Parkey who wiped off a possible 8 points by missing two field goals and two extra points. That’s about all there is to say about that As Nagy said there was no chance the Bears were not going to bring in any kickers and Parkey is in no danger of losing his job. I highly doubt Pace says otherwise as he signed Parkey to a 4 year deal with 9 million dollars guaranteed. The one black mark on Pace’s otherwise slam dunk executive of the year 2018 performance (if you can call General Managing a performance that is). However, if this continues expect Parkey to get replaced and leave town on a rail 9 million dollars or not.
There were also some curious calls by the refs that hurt the Bears. The Anthony Miller unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was comically bad. However the illegal contact penalty on Fuller who played perfect trail technique defense and swatted the ball away forcing a 4th down was one not really talked about but was equally as bad of a call as the Miller one or the missed fumble. Sure, Fuller had a hand on the receiver but in no way grabbed him, chucked him or impeded his progress in any way.
Bears also lost a possession late on an onside kick when Miller swatted the ball out of bound. If he had done so behind the point of contact it would have been fine, but he swatted it ten yard forward and that is a no no. Not only was it a penalty on Miller it negated a penalty on the Lions which would have given the Bears possession. Forget the fact Miller could have just caught it and gained possession that way. This gave the Lions a second chance and one they capitalized on by recovering the ball about 40 yards downfield in a fluke recovery which subsequently led to a touchdown thus skewing the margin of victory even more.
This past week leading up to the Lions game the main narrative in regards to the national media’s take on the Bears was quite the opposite of what it was after taking the hapless Lions to the woodshed. All we were hearing about was how the likes of Michael Lombardi, Brady Quinn and Shannon Sharp didn’t buy into Mitch Trubisky and the Bears. Even ESPN analyst Greg Cosell while doing his media hit on Chicago sports talk radio’s 670 am the Score mentioned Trubisky wasn’t a natural thrower of the ball. He did say he didn’t necessarily think Trubisky would fail because of it just that he wasn’t sound mechanically which would not necessarily prohibit him from being a good Quarterback. Even compared him to Chargers Quarterback Phillip Rivers in that way. All three parties were church mouse silent on social media this past Sunday not so ironically.
However, on almost every national media show the pundits were singing Trubisky and the Bears praises. Even pregame on ESPN’s NFL Sunday countdown Rex Ryan and Tim Hasselbeck both mentioned the Bears as Superbowl contenders and even Louis Riddick said the Bears were about to explode. All day long on Twitter guys like Matt Bowen, Daniel Jeremiah, Josh Norris etc. sung Trubisky’s and the Bears praises and even a tweet from the NFL Network stating this is why Trubisky was the 2nd pick in the 2017 draft.
Even Rams Quarterback Jared Goff approved.
Ok, that may have been about his former college team the “Golden” Bears.
Trubisky’s response to criticism:
When asked about the criticism he got from some hot takes by several media members in the week leading up to the Lions game he said that he paid it no mind. Mitch Trubisky on the criticism: “I know there’s been talk and noise going on this week. I didn’t hear it directly, but I heard my teammates having my back and that’s the only thing I care about. That’s what means the world to me.”
I’m going to have to call bullshit on this. In my opinion he did hear it, took it personally and went out more focused and made damn sure he shut the outside noise up. For one game at least. In my opinion, this is a very good thing. I love the fact that Trubisky has the ability to read or hear this kind of criticism and rather than turtle he gets angry and takes it personally and goes out and performs at a high level. One has to love and be encouraged by the competitive nature of Trubisky.
Below are just a sample of what the media has been saying about Trubisky after the Lions game and posting of all these positive stats he’s compiled this season particularly of late.
Bears weapons have the league taking notice:
The Bears weapons are quickly becoming the envy of the league. Not only do the Bears have some of the most explosive and smart group of pass catchers in the league they have among the most reliable. They have the lowest percentage of dropped passes in the league. 2.1% tied with the Houston Texans.
Clearly a far cry from last season and most seasons past. They did have a nice group of Weapons recently which included Wide Receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellius Bennett and Matt Forte who contributed as a receiver every bit as much as a runner. However, that group wasn’t as deep as this group nor was it lead by an innovative offensive coach. This group feels different. They all are selfless and seem to have the team ahead of their own interests which could not be said of malcontents Marshall and Bennett who seemed to have their outside interests and brands ahead of winning with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery had his issues too appearing to put preserving himself for free agency rather than gutting out a few soft tissue injuries to help the cause of the team.
This offense thrives on spreading the ball around rather than force feeding plays to feature specific players which makes this offense even more impossible to predict aside from its various formations and motions. There is not a discriminatory bone in this offensive systems body. It will target or not target any receiver based on who is open or not and has the best chance for the biggest play regardless of players name or importance of the moment. Not only is the offensive philosophy a frightful thought for any defense to defend but add in the plethora of receiving options on the unit. Even a relative unknown like Ben Braunecker will burn you if the moment allows for him to just as it did this past Sunday with a big 20 yard leaping grab for a big play downfield on an off schedule throw by Trubisky.
The Bears are among the league leaders in various personnel groupings with 18. Only one team has run more in the Saints with 25 different personnel groupings. Keep in mind Saints Head Coach Sean Peyton and Quarterback Drew Brees have been together forever along with most of their players. This is incredible considering the Bears have only played 9 regular season games and had one off season together. As the Bears add more personnel and stay together longer expect this number to grow exponentially.
As it is now the Bears are using a bunch of players playing a bunch of roles which tells you a lot about the high football IQ of this team’s offensive personnel. This is leading to opportunities on the field because of their abilities to absorb the offense and gaining the confidence of their coaches. Thus leading to installing all these various groupings giving the Bears better opportunity to exploit matchup in their favor. This leading to the amazing amounts of plays to an amazing amount of players.
The Bears have thirteen players with at least one catch. They have five players with 24 or more grabs including four with over 30 and Six with double digit catches in only 9 games. They have eight players with over 70 yards receiving, five with more than 332 yards and four with 411 or more. Six players have caught at least 1 touchdown. 1 for Josh Bellamy, 2 for Taylor Gabriel, 3 for Tarik Cohen, 4 for Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson II and 5 for Trey Burton. The Bears figure to add at least one more weapon to the mix with the Return of Adam Shaheen who many expect to be this week versus the Vikings.
Good Offensive Line/Bad Offensive Line:
Piggybacking off my last topic, the Bears have one of the best pass protection units in the NFL. The Bears are ranked the 13th best pass protection wise by Pro Football Focus with Charles Leno ranked the 5th overall tackle in the league with an 85.1 pass pro grade. Football Outsiders has the Bears ranked 10th best as a pass pro unit giving up the 7th least amount of sacks in the league at 18 with the 10th best adjusted sack rate of 6.0%.
At NFL.com the Bears are ranked 9th overall. The Bears have not only given up the 7th least amount of sacks but the 4th least Quarterback hits with 36 as well. This in spite of rotating a rookie Guard who came in as a center out of Iowa in James Daniels and now has firm hold of the Left Guard starting position beating out Eric Kush.
Of course the loss of Kyle Long for the season was also a huge blow who was on his way to a pro bowl season. Add on to that the Bears picking up freshly cut Kansas City Guard Bryan Witzmann just a couple qeeks ago and starting him over Kush at Right Guard yet playing perhaps their top pass pro game of the year this past Sunday. Whether that continues remains to be seen because he did look to be over powered in the run game. However, he does know the system, Nagy is familiar with him and the Bears are clearly a pass first team so we’ll see.
As for run blocking that is another story. Although statistically the Bears fair well in the run those numbers are skewed by Trubisky’s running stats. They’ve had a hard time running consistently in particularly getting Jordan Howard off. They’ve faired better with Cohen which may beg the question of scheme fit for Howard but I’ll get to that later.
Eye test wise it’s clear the Bears are still working on doing a better job incorporating the run game into their plan of attack. Nagy admitted as much in his post game presser looking visibly unhappy when asked about the run game and stating it wasn’t good enough and stressing the importance of not being one dimensional. Particularly with the weather due to turn here in Chicago making passing the ball a lot harder to execute. It’s going to be worthy of monitoring moving forward.
Howard phase out continues:
With only 11 carries on Sunday versus the Lions the writing appears to be on the wall for the future of Howard with this team. Particularly with the Bears looking to run out the clock with a big lead. Looked like the perfect time to feed Howard the ball yet it didn’t work out. In the first half when the Bears were building a lead Cohen was the featured back with Howard coming in to give Cohen a blow here and there. That was a statement. The Bears clearly feel they have a better chance for success with Cohen rather than Howard as their lead back.
The Bears are attempting to use Howard as a situational back. He appears to be their short yardage goal line back when building up the lead and their run out the clock with the lead choice. They’ve been successful with the red zone carries as Howard does have 5 touchdowns so it hasn’t been completely unproductive. They’ve even been willing to use him as an outlet receiver too as he has 12 receptions. However, it’s clear the Bears won’t be a complete offense until they’ve gotten their version of Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, James Connor or Kareem Hunt. Expect that to be a priority in the off season.
With Le’veon Bell due to be available as a free agent in the 2019 class it would appear to be a great fit between the Bears and he. Bears have cap room, a need for his services, and he fits the exact profile of the type of feature back the Bears would want. He’s young (26), great in pass pro, an excellent receiver and can run for power as well as being a big play back with take it to the house ability.
For Bell, he’ll be coming to a major market, playing for a historic charter franchise with a wide reaching rabid fan base similar to the team he was on, coming to a dynamic offense that would feature his skill set, coming to an up and coming team about to take over it’s division and likely play in the post season on an annual basis, as well as, the great payday he’d be getting.
If that did fail to come to pass there is always the option of using Howard as a trade chip to move up perhaps in the 2nd round to acquire one of college football’s best two way backs. However it’s done, it’s clear for the Bears to ascend to it’s absolute best offensively getting a back who can run in an outside zone heavy scheme, as well as, catch the ball and pass protect is priority one on the list for this offense.
Playmaking Bears defense de jour:
Not unlike the Bears Offense the Bears defense spread the love around. Kahlil Mack is the undeniable star of this unit but he’s far from the only one featured and put in place to make plays. Like the offense it’s a unit that plays selflessly AND focuses on whatever it takes to get that days win. No one is stat chasing or crying about playing time or how they’re used. Every player is equally willing being the next’s role player to help them make the plays as well being the playmaker. They play truly as a unit. A testament to not only the coaching of course under Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio and his staff, but also in the talent acquisition focusing on the character of the players lead by General Manager Ryan Pace.
The stats are incredible and without comparison. Sure, you can nit pick about level of competition but they are not just getting by against them. They are stepping on their throats. This in an era that makes playing defense almost an after thought. It’s not like they haven’t played good offenses either and faired well against them. New England and the Packers didn’t exactly dominate the Bears defense. As a matter of fact, the Bears dominated the Packers pre injury to Aaron Rodgers. They only let them accomplish anything against them by backing off. Not to mention let some plays slip away particularly on what should have been the game clinching dropped interception to Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson‘s unfortunate decision to dive for a pass breakup rather than secure the tackle. Both plays (or non plays on the Bears part) came on the game winning touchdown drive. The latter play actually being the game winning touchdown on a 70 yard gallop by Bear killer Randall Cobb.
There aren’t any defenses that can stop a great offense. Especially nowadays. So critics who judge what a defense does against a top offense by whether they stop them cold or not are completely asinine to do so. You can only match them by making big plays when you have the chance and hope that your offense is up to the challenge versus the defense they face that game. Given stats like the ones below it’s pretty obvious the Bears should do just that.
The Bears have the opportunity to make it hard for any naysayer to make a case against this being a great unit on a great team with the Vikings coming up and the Rams looming and I have to feel they will do just that. This unit is just way too talented to do anything but.