Bears ‘D’ stays strong in New Orleans; ‘O’ grasping at straws

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The Bears had an opportunity to close out the first half of their 2017 season and head into the bye week with a .500 record, but instead fell a touchdown short to the New Orleans Saints, losing 20-12 Sunday.

From a numbers standpoint alone, Mitch Trubisky took a step back in his progression, completing just 14 of 32 passes (43%) for 164 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 46.9 and his pick came on the Bears’ final possession of the game when they were attempting to tie the game with a last-minute touchdown drive.

This is now Trubisky’s second time in four tries as a starter that he has essentially closed a game with an interception. Bears fans who had Jay Cutler fatigue are probably curled up in a ball on their living room floors right now. I can’t blame you for being discouraged — heck, I am, too — but let’s not start scouring the college ranks for a new signal caller for 2018.

For starters, the Bears have given Trubisky a serious handicap this season. It was never their intent to play him this year, we know that. The Bears highly paid veteran Mike Glennon to be the “bridge quarterback” for 2017 while Trubisky learned from the bench.

The problem is that the bridge collapsed and Trubisky became the life preserver floating aimlessly upstream without any paddles or engines and with a bunch of stiffs aboard.

Rookie (or first-time) quarterbacks are going to make mistakes. That’s the price to pay when you’re adjusting to the speed and talent of a higher level of competition. Some of the best quarterbacks to play the game bombed in their first seasons. It is with this knowledge that I have a degree of tolerance and understanding for every mistake Trubisky makes.

The goal, however, is to reduce the quantity of the same mistakes being made. Or, to put it another way, to learn from a mistake and quickly correct it. And even though Trubisky committed a second comeback-killing interception in his four weeks as a starter, I wouldn’t be quick to say that he made the same mistake.

The first game-clinching interception — in his first appearance against the Vikings — was a result of a poor read by the quarterback. He zeroed in on Zach Miller in that game and Harrison Smith, a Pro Bowl safety, jumped in front of Miller and secured the pick.

In Sunday’s game, his final interception was not so much a terrible read as it was a poor throw — something that certainly can be improved with more practice and experience. He did have backup tight end Daniel Brown breaking free in what would have been a wide open crossing route for a huge gain — but to ask him to stand in the pocket longer than he already was as he waited for that route to develop would have been a bit much.

Let’s talk about some of the other handicaps that Trubisky has been given. For starters, his leading receiver was Tre McBride, who caught three passes for 92 yards — one of those receptions went for 45 yards on a well-thrown, well-timed ball down the left side of the field midway through the first quarter. Kendall Wright, Trubisky’s safety valve the past month, caught just two balls for 23 yards. No other wide receiver caught a pass for the Bears.

Halfway through the third quarter, Trubisky’s other “go-to” guy this season — tight end Zach Miller — caught another well-placed throw in the back of the end zone for what seemingly was a touchdown that inexplicably got overturned upon review. Miller sadly suffered a brutal knee injury, which is heartbreaking for him and now also removes yet another offensive weapon for the rookie quarterback.

It’s bad enough that Trubisky has had a severe deficit of pass catchers to work with, but the offensive line has had injuries and protection problems as well. Charles Leno has been less than adequate protecting Trubisky’s blind side the past four weeks, and right tackle Bobby Massie had a poor game on Sunday as well. On top of that, the Bears lost Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair to injuries against the Saints and had to do some in-game reshuffling. Veteran guard Josh Sitton had to slide over to center to replace Whitehair and backup Tom Compton jumped in at guard.

And in case you weren’t aware of this, the real NFL is not like a Madden video game, whereby you can insert any offensive lineman at any position and carry on business as usual.

While Trubisky seems to be fighting the wolves by himself on offense, the defense actually continues to show signs of being a top-level unit in the NFL.

The fact that the defense held the high-powered Saints offense to just 20 points is a testament to them. The run defense had a little trouble early in the game but settled down and held the duo of Mark Ingram and the elusive rookie Alvin Kamara to just 103 yards rushing on 26 carries, a 3.9-yard average. They also held All Pro quarterback Drew Brees to just 299 yards passing. Most of his 23 completions were underneath because the Bears secondary largely did a good job of keeping the action in front of them.

The Bears now head into their bye week with a 3-5 record and will have two weeks to prepare for the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. It is certainly a game that they’ll be able to compete in and should have a shot at a victory if they can scheme up an offense that can overcome their deficiencies.

New wide receiver acquisition, Dontrelle Inman, should be up to speed by that point and give the receiving corps a boost. Markus Wheaton hopefully can make a comeback to the lineup with two more weeks of rest. And the hope is that the offensive line can regroup and stabilize by the time the Bears take the field once again.

I don’t have a problem with Trubisky committing rookie mistakes and mental mistakes — sometimes they are the same thing. I do have a problem if he has little to nothing to work with around him because it’s wasted development time. I think the bye week comes at a perfect opportunity for both Trubisky as an individual and the Bears as a team. They badly need to get healthy and put bodies around him, and Trubisky needs to review his first month of action as an NFL quarterback and strive to make improvements for the second half of the season.

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