In Sunday’s 19-7 Bears victory over the Titans in the all-important dress rehearsal preseason game, there were two big takeaways that stood out above all else.
Bears quarterbacks turn in solid performances
The first is that we now know with virtual certainty who will be taking snaps from under center on Sept. 10 against the reigning NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. Following a solid performance in which he completed 11 of 18 passes for 134 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and a 102.5 passer rating, veteran Mike Glennon appeared to have locked up the starting job to open the regular season.
After two subpar performances against the Broncos and Cardinals, paired with the success of rookie Mitch Trubisky, Glennon’s job security appeared to be on the rocks. He needed to turn in a successful performance on the road against the Titans’ stout defense to prove to the organization — and, quite frankly, himself — that the job was indeed his to lose.
For his part, Trubisky turned in another fine outing — 10-of-15 passes completed, 128 yards, a touchdown and a 115.4 passer rating — and did nothing to “lose” a shot at the starting job. But we have to remember that in the eyes of the front office and of the coaching staff, this never was an “open quarterback competition” to begin with. The Bears have stated all along that Glennon would start the season and the Trubisky wouldn’t play until he was ready and/or needed.
After Sunday, one can make the argument all they want that Trubisky has the brighter future, but nothing that transpired on the field can alter the Bears’ original stance on the quarterback hierarchy.
Bears lose starting wideout Cameron Meredith to knee injury
The second most important takeaway from Sunday’s game with the Titans is that No. 1 wide receiver Cameron Meredith, who came out of obscurity as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and has worked his way to the top of the depth chart, was carted off the field following a gruesome knee injury.
The injury appeared to be — and was feared to be — a torn ACL, which not only would put Meredith on the shelf for the entire season, but would likely eat into his offseason preparation next year, leaving the Bears with a thinned-out receiving corps in dire need of a talent upgrade.
As it stood before Sunday, the Bears already were thin at the receiver position. Next to Meredith, question marks abound with the uncertainty of Kevin White’s durability, how much tread is left on the tires of Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, and Markus Wheaton, and whether players like Josh Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Deonte Thompson, and training camp standout Tanner Gentry had any kind of future at the receiver position.
With Thursday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns looming large, the Bears will ask a lot out of their receivers and let them know that this is their final opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
One closed door opens another
It’s important to remember that one man’s misfortune can create opportunity for another. And while we all feel bad for Meredith, we must acknowledge that his absence opens a door to others.
After all, Meredith only earned an opportunity to get where he was on Sunday due to injuries sustained by wideouts Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson, among others over the past two seasons.
So, who’s going to step up to fill the void? For the sake of argument — because this is far from a certainty — let’s just say that White finally manages to stay healthy for a season. You’d figure that he will get increased targets, but the team will not change his overall role due to Meredith’s injury.
No, instead we’re going to see someone else have the chance to step in and be “the guy” who runs with the first team alongside White. Will it be Cruz? Will it be Wright? Will it be Wheaton? Bellamy had a bad case of the drops toward the end of the 2016 season, so if he remains on the team, it’ll largely be because of his special teams ability.
I know Bears fans were impressed with Gentry during training camp and the preseason — and he caught a 45-yard bomb for a touchdown from Trubisky on Sunday. And even though a potential opening was created at the bottom of the depth chart for him after Meredith’s injury, he’s not going to step into a starting role, obviously.
Defense will carry the Bears for much of the season
All offseason long, I’ve been excited about the outlook of the Bears’ front seven on defense. The Bears have a beefed up defensive line with newcomer Jaye Howard — who had a dumb penalty that led to an ejection on Sunday — joining Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman to form a formidable presence up front.
Behind them, the Bears bring a wave of linebackers who will be wreaking havoc in opponents’ backfields all season long. Thus far in the preseason, Leonard Floyd has looked like a Pro Bowler in the making. Assuming he continues his upward trajectory, he’s bound to get some name recognition throughout the league. Willie Young has been a solid presence, Jerrell Freeman will be his typically solid self. The fact that the Bears’ first-string defense has been solid this preseason without the presence of Danny Trevathan and Pernell McPhee speaks volumes about the type of defense they can be this year.
The front seven was expected to be good, but the big questions surrounded the secondary. What’s encouraging is the way the defensive backs played against the Titans. They looked active in run support and they largely prevented the big passing play — although giving up a first down to the Titans on 3rd-and-31 was the one big blotch of red ink on an otherwise passed test. Quintin Demps and Eddie Jackson had a chance to stop the receiver before he picked up the first down, but failed to do so. That obviously can’t happen during the regular season.
A lot of the success of the secondary on Sunday could be attributed to the pressure applied by the front seven. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, expected by many to make the leap into the upper echelon of quarterbacks this year, had bodies in his lap all afternoon and couldn’t really step up into the pocket to deliver his throws. That made it difficult for us to assess the secondary in pass coverage because they weren’t really tested much.
The final takeaway that I had from Sunday’s game was how disciplined the Bears were. Outside Jaye Howard’s poor decision to take a swing at a Titans offensive lineman, which led to his ejection, the Bears took advantage of a Titans team that committed too many penalties, in a 6-2 first-half margin.
Penalties and turnovers often can mean the difference between a win and a loss in the fourth quarter. And for a Bears team that played competitively into the fourth quarter in most games last year, they’ll need every little advantage they can get to pull off those tight games this year.
Up Next: The Cleveland Browns
There’s nothing more depressing and anticlimactic after a somewhat purposeful “dress rehearsal” than a flat-out worthless and pointless exhibition against the Cleveland Browns to close the preseason.
But that’s exactly what awaits the Bears on Thursday at Soldier Field.
As always, I wouldn’t expect to see much of the starters, if at all. They might not even suit up. I would make the case that there is nothing left to be gained for Trubisky at this point. The starting quarterback job is Glennon’s and Trubisky has already shown what he can do against backups — which is, quite a lot. He has nothing left to prove at this point and I’d rather the Bears not trot him out in harm’s way when nothing can be gained from it.
I’d expect to see a lot of backup quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Connor Shaw, just to get the Bears through the game.
As I mentioned previously, the wide receiver position is going to be an important one to watch as we see which players will step up to help fill the void created by Meredith’s injury.
Another position to watch is running back, where a surplus of contributors will have to be sorted out. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are locks to make the roster. Do the Bears keep special-teamer Benny Cunningham? Is Jeremy Langford on the way out? With Ka’Deem Carey on the shelf for at least six weeks, do the Bears keep all four of them and put Carey on PUP? Or does Carey just reach an injury settlement with the team? So many questions needing answers.
Lastly, I’d like to see more from the secondary. The Bears brought in several veterans and rookies to add depth and competition at the position and I’d like to see progress from the youngsters and see how the depth chart fleshes itself out.