By Thomas Gibbons and Johnny Hatelak
Thomas Gibbons and Johnny Hatelak tackle some questions surrounding the Chicago Bears in this joint post.
Q: Does Mitch Trubisky’s performance over the course of the Bears current three game win streak change your overall opinion on him?
Johnny Hatelak: A little. I always knew he could perform well in a 2-read progression offense with emphasis on play action off of a successful power running game. As a matter of fact, I wrote about it in my blog last night. Using tempo and misdirection helped as well. However, nothing in this streak shows me that Trubisky can run Nagy’s offense. It was nice to see him make the right reads off the RPO game which is an element of the offense but they still run it just 15% of the time at maximum. Trubisky still has to prove he can process on the fly consistently in a more complex scheme. Think the Cowboys are a bit over-rated and give up big plays by the boatload. Let’s see what happens when teams take away this basic version of the Bears base offense. Can’t ignore the bad from Trubisky to this point in his three seasons in the NFL.
Thomas Gibbons: The bad tape still outweighs the good. Matt Nagy finally tailored to Trubisky’s strengths over the past few games. First, it started with Nagy establishing the run game with David Montgomery. It opens up throwing windows in play-action for Trubisky. Next, designed runs for Trubisky were on full-display in their win vs. Dallas. Many wonder where this type of play-calling has been all season. Trubisky has struggled throwing the ball deep downfield and progressing through his reads. In Thursday’s win, Trubisky got the ball out quick into the hands of his playmakers. And when it was time to make the big play, he delivered with two big touchdown throws to Allen Robinson and kept it on a read option for a score. It was the best game of the season for both Trubisky and Nagy. Let’s see if they can build off of it.
Q: With Roquan Smith expected to be out the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral, which linebacker on the roster do you expect to see have a more significant role?
JH: Easy answer is Kevin Pierre-Louis. For obvious reasons. The bigger question for me is does this kill Danny Trevathan’s chance of returning as it may force the Bears to IR him to open up a roster spot to add a player to deal with the attrition at off ball linebacker.
TG: Danny Trevathan has not been placed on IR so there is always a chance for his return but we did not get an update on his status from Nagy on Monday. We may know more Wednesday but the Bears have to be prepared to finish the season without him. That being said, I agree with Johnny that Kevin Pierre-Louis is the next man up. He made some plays last Thursday night including 2 pass breakups and a tackle for loss. We will see if he is ready for a bigger workload Sunday in Green Bay.
Q: After being criticized for penalties and running his routes wrong, Anthony Miller has produced as of late (18 receptions for 259 yards receiving, 1 TD in last three games). Where do you stand on Miller? Can he be an elite receiving option for the Bears going forward?
JH: Yes. He has elite talent and a high football IQ. The question with him that needs to be answered is can he control his volatile nature to stop from making poor decisions and maintain his concentration on the field to be more detailed in his reads on his option routes.
TG: I liked the Miller draft choice. Deep threat at Memphis and exploded onto the scene in his rookie season with 7 touchdowns. This season, penalties and poor route running has landed him in the doghouse with a lot of fans. Yet in recent weeks he has been on of Trubisky’s go to targets, especially when they go up-tempo on offense. If he really works at the little things, like route running, and becomes more disciplined, he is going to be one of the Bears core offensive players for a long time.
With the play of Holtz, Horsted and before that Braunecker as well as picking up Eric Saubert is the Tight End solved or do the Bears still need to invest in the position via draft &/or free agancy?
JH: The latter. Bears will have Burton back most likely and hopefully he’s healthy. Not sure there is a better option than in the draft. Bears will have to be frugal. Not too much in the way of talent in free agency and a guy like Ebron will cost way too much money. Bears have some players they need to decide on signing or letting go so they need money to sign the guys on the roster or possibly their replacements. They need to think development. This coaching staff is paid well to do just that.
TG: There are some intriguing free agents on the market like Austin Hooper and Eric Ebron which the Bears could explore bringing in. But as Johnny mentioned above, Ebron may cost a lot. And the Bears still have a lot of money tied up in Trey Burton and all signs point to him being back next season. As far as guys on the active roster, Jesper Horsted has had his number called in recent weeks and has delivered (54 yards and a touchdowns in his last two games). His role should increase in the offense over the next couple weeks. In addition, JP Holtz had three catches against the Cowboys, one being a TE screen pass for a big game. Primarily used in the run game as blocker, Holtz has transitioned to a passing threat last week. I hope Nagy continues to keep these players involved in the offense because they have produced.
Q: With the way the Bears backups have played with all the injury attrition the Bears have had, does this change your opinion on Ryan Pace’s roster building, Matt Nagy’s ability to oversee the entire team as an administrator, and the coaching staff’s ability to teach and develop the talent on this roster? If so, elaborate in detail with the how’s and why’s and highlight examples for this if you can.
JH: Yes. More so Ryan Pace and maybe a couple members of the coaching staff. After the results of the Cowboys game the depth suddenly looks great. I have always maintained my confidence in Matt Nagy. My contention has always been that Nagy is coaching with an arm tied behind his back. Until this recent stretch in the second half of the season I did lose faith in Heistand but I am on board again. To do what he has done with the injuries to the right side of the line and the center/right guard switch is nothing short of spectacular.
TG: There is no doubt Ryan Pace has built a contending team. The defense speaks for itself. He found Akiem Hicks, drafted Eddie Goldman and Eddie Jackson, stuck it out with Kyle Fuller, and traded for Khalil Mack. On offense, he has surrounded Trubisky with weapons like Allen Robinson and Miller. Besides botching multiple first round picks such as Leonard Floyd and Kevin White, Pace has done an above average job in Chicago. Another big offseason awaits though as holes continue to show up on the roster. Futhermore, Nagy continues to be a good hire by Pace. While the offense struggled mightily to start the season, it has come alive recently. Nagy can also be given credit for re-establishing a winning culture in Chicago last season and the team has rallied around his energy.
Q: Play GM here. Regardless of the results with the rest of the season, what is your opinion on what are the Bears biggest needs and how would you go about shoring it up if you were put in charge of the process?
JH: In spite of this recent stretch and what happened during the Cowboy game I still say Quarterback which I wrote about here if you want to read my thoughts in long form of the subject matter. Look, Mitch has played better but I can’t ignore all the bad I’ve seen from him to this point. The fact that Nagy has had to take up to two thirds of his offense because he isn’t capable of processing information quickly enough doesn’t exactly instill confidence in him moving forward. I will say edge defender is a close second as Leonard Floyd has been a flop opposite Khalil Mack.
TG: Quarterback still remains the biggest need. The Bears must bring in competition to push Trubisky to new limits or realize he’s not the guy at all. Signing a veteran and drafting a young QB to learn the system would be ideal. Other needs include edge rusher, offensive tackle, and safety. Leonard Floyd has been a big disappointment and may just be a rotational player at this point. The Bears did sign Bobbie Massie to a contract extension in January but they will need to develop a young player behind him. As for the secondary, HaHa Clinton-Dix only signed a one-year deal with the Bears and they will unlikely be able to afford him next offseason.
Q: In your opinion has this recent stretch with the Bears winning 4 of their last 5 and three in a row, what is the biggest factor for this? Is it the Bears figuring it out or the fact the expectations have lowered and the pressure is off with no one expecting them to make the playoffs? If you have another reason elaborate.
JH: I think it’s coaching. Particularly Nagy who has drastically cut his scheme to fit what his personnel does well while putting his pride aside. I can’t discount the level of competition and the fact expectations have lowered along the way. I certainly hope it isn’t because the team is playing better because of less pressure due to lowered expectations. I do think it’s because some of their new guys who have been put in place of injured players starting to get used to the offense as well as the coaches learning how to use them better and incorporating them into the offense. Better tight end play has helped a lot as well.
TG: It goes back to Nagy utilizing Trubisky’s strengths. The Bears defense is still a strong unit despite injuries. They currently rank 4th in the NFL with 17.8 point per game. The offense still ranks toward the bottom of the league in the major categories, but the Bears are playing their best football to keep their playoff hopes alive. While Nagy and Co. are going to have to win out and get help from NFC foes, you cannot but help root for the Bears with a chance of the postseason on the line.