Most of the talk leading up to Sunday’s game centered around a question about Tampa Bay’s quarterback situation.
Who was going to start at quarterback for the Buccaneers against the Bears? Was it going to be the real-life pirate look-alike, the swashbuckling, bearded Ryan Fitzpatrick? Or, were the Bucs going to stick a cold Jameis Winston, fresh off his three-game suspension, into the lion’s — er, Bears den?
It turns out that question was moot. Both quarterbacks played a half. They both were sacked, smothered, and stifled. And both turned the ball over to a sloth of hungry Bears.
Mitch Trubisky’s coming out party
The real question in Week 4’s buildup should have been about the quarterback on the other side of the field.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky had his best game as a pro and it came at an opportune moment.
The Buccaneers’ pass defense limped into Sunday’s game as one of the NFL’s worst units through the first three weeks of the season. They did nothing to dispel that label as Trubisky diced them up for 354 yards and 6 touchdowns en route to a 48-10 Bears victory.
Trubisky completed 19 of 26 (73%) of his passes and finished with a 154.6 passer rating, just a few points shy of the perfect 158.3. His improved downfield accuracy and poise in the pocket were encouraging developments from previous weeks.
Trubisky, Bears offense finding itself in Matt Nagy’s system
Implementing Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s offensive system was always going to be a process. It’s a process that received a kick in the ass from an emerging championship-caliber defense. But it’s a process nonetheless.
As with any new system, some assembly is required. It’s not an out-of-the-box, off-the-shelf, ready-made solution.
Learning the intricacies and terminology of the playbook, as well as developing proper timing and a rapport with teammates, takes time to cultivate before it comes to fruition. Like learning a new dance move, there will always be missteps and miscommunication.
The Bears showed signs on Sunday of learning to waltz as Nagy had intended.
Nagy was the mad scientist fresh out of the laboratory ready to scream in a creepy voice, “It’s alive!” For an offense that supposedly cut down the playbook for Trubisky to keep things simple, Nagy sure threw the kitchen sink at the Buccaneers. He even brought in backup Chase Daniel as a second quarterback decoy, lined up next to Trubisky, which led to a Taylor Gabriel touchdown.
Bears offense takes what the defense gave them
The Buccaneers have had a solid run defense in the first quarter of the season. At least according to the numbers. But was that because they have a good run defense? Or were teams were ignoring the run and finding success in the passing game?
The Bears largely ignored the run game in Sunday’s victory.
Not counting Trubisky’s scrambles — three carries for 53 yards — or Daniel’s victory-formation, clock-killing kneels, the Bears attempted 26 running plays against the Buccaneers. Seven of those came in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.
Much to the consternation of Jordan Howard — and all of his fantasy owners — Howard carried the ball just 11 times for 25 yards despite logging a majority of the snaps. Most of those carries came on the Bears’ next-to-last drive of the game. Nagy instead chose to deploy scatback Tarik Cohen in a variety of ways because he caused matchup problems for the Bucs’ defense.
As it pertained to Sunday’s game, the lack of a run game didn’t matter. A win is a win no matter how you get it. Moving forward, it shouldn’t matter whether the Bears win by the run or via the pass, but it’d be nice to know they can do both.
Contenders or Pretenders? How legit are the Bears?
We’ve wondered for three weeks how good this Bears team could be if the offense caught up to the defense.
For at least one week, the offense outplayed its big brother.
It’s not realistic to expect 48 points from the Bears offense every week. Nor is it feasible for Trubisky to throw six touchdowns, for that matter. But it’s completely reasonable to expect the efficiency that was on display.
Trubisky completed 73% of his passes against the Buccaneers. Through four weeks, Trubisky sits at 70%, which presently ranks him fifth overall in the NFL. If he can maintain that consistency moving forward, while also taking care of the football, there’s no reason to believe that the Bears’ offense can’t continue to close the gap with the defense.
With a defense as good as the Bears have, they’re already legitimate playoff contenders. If Trubisky maintains his completion percentage and limits turnovers, there’s reason for optimism that the Bears can be title contenders.
What lies ahead?
After the bye week, the Bears will play the entire AFC East in consecutive weeks.
First come the Dolphins, winners of three straight before being pummeled by the Patriots. They should still present a formidable opponent.
Next, Tom Brady’s Patriots will come to town in Week 7. This will offer the next serious litmus test regarding how good this Bears team really is.
In Weeks 8 and 9, the Bears will take on the Jets and Bills, respectively. These are games that are currently considered “should wins,” although nothing is a gimme these days.
In Weeks 10-12, the Bears play a slate of three division games that will give them the opportunity to create some distance in the NFC North.
The Bears conclude the regular season with three of four games against playoff contenders. The Rams, Packers, and Vikings present a difficult challenge. If the Bears are big boys on the block, this string will certainly let us know.
But before we can look ahead that far, the first step is getting healthy over the bye week. All the focus should be on taking down Adam Gase’s Dolphins two Sundays from now.