Mitch Trubisky tossed three touchdown passes to Taylor Gabriel and the defense took the ball away five times as the Bears defeated the Redskins, 31-15, on Monday Night Football.
For at least one night, the Bears resembled the team we came to love in 2018.
Now, let’s publicly acknowledge that the Redskins are hot garbage. Their quarterback — Case Keenum — was responsible for all five turnovers. The run game is nonexistent. Their defense has allowed an average of 31.3 points per game through three weeks, the second-worst total in the NFL.
If your glass is perennially half-empty, chances are you viewed the Bears’ performance as on par with the Redskins’ other two opponents this season.
But there was a lot to be impressed with regarding how the Bears conducted business. Winning on the road is never easy, and the Bears are perfect thus far.
The game slowed down for Trubisky
Trubisky’s adaptation to NFL game speed has been one of the biggest criticisms he has faced through 30 professional games. Passes have come out too slow. He’s struggled to complete his reads. Defenses have jumped routes and have seemingly confused him.
On Monday night against the Redskins, Trubisky appeared to have more control over the game.
Give credit to head coach Matt Nagy, who sent his offense onto the field and operated out of the no huddle for much of the game. This benefitted Trubisky for multiple reasons.
First, the no huddle allowed Nagy to be inside Trubisky’s headset at the line of scrimmage. It allowed both coach and player to see the defense and adjust. Second, it gave Trubisky more time to breathe and see the field. In the past two weeks, the Bears haven’t always gotten the play call from the sideline in a timely fashion. As a result, the offense has had to rush to the line of scrimmage, limiting Trubisky’s time to read the defense pre-snap. Lastly, as a byproduct of getting the play in quickly, the pressure subsides and a rhythm is easier to develop.
Notwithstanding a few errant throws, Trubisky delivered the ball better
Aside from game speed and Trubisky’s ability to read the field, the other knock on him is his accuracy on downfield passes. The Bears combatted that issue by running a lot of short, quick routes. This enabled Trubisky to read the defense quickly and get the ball out faster.
Trubisky completed 25 of 31 passes (80%) with a 116.5 passer rating, an impressive statline to be sure. The fact that many of those passes were of the garden variety and underneath the defense should not be a deterrent.
Yes, downfield passing is critical in tight games with little time left.
For instance, when the game is on the line and the Bears have a good distance to go, can Trubisky push the ball down the field with accuracy? He did last week against the Broncos, connecting with Allen Robinson on a 25-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal. But can he do it regularly? That’s the big question.
Outside those instances, is it a problem if the Bears aren’t airing it out? If the Bears recognize that Trubisky’s accuracy downfield is a liability, why not do as they did last night? I’ve got no issue with him completing 70-plus percent of his passes on routes under 10 yards if it keeps moving the chains.
The errors that are concerning
My biggest beef with Trubisky, last night primarily, but throughout his career as well, is how he leads receivers.
Or how he doesn’t, to put it more accurately.
The Bears were on the move late in the third quarter Monday night. The Redskins had just scored a touchdown on the previous drive, bringing the score to 28-9. The Bears were knocking on the door, ready to answer back with a score of their own.
On second-and-three at the Washington 6-yard-line, Nagy called a timeout. At which point, I tweeted this:
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) September 24, 2019
If you miss on second down, you have third down (and maybe even fourth down) to get three yards. I thought it was the right call to allow Trubisky to throw the ball.
Unfortunately, Trubisky badly underthrew Robinson and the ball was picked off at the goal line.
I’m going to give Trubisky the benefit of the doubt and say that he was attempting a “back shoulder” throw rather than it being an underthrow. But if that was the case, that was not the time to throw the back shoulder. Robinson had a step on Josh Norman and Trubisky should have delivered it to the back corner of the end zone — leading his receiver.
That was Trubisky’s one major mistake of the evening. But even on passes that he completes, he has to deliver the ball with better touch.
If he hits receivers in stride, there’s no telling how many more yards they can pick up after the catch. Unfortunately, too many times his passes require receivers to slow down, stop, or even jump, thus giving defenders time to make the tackle.
If the Bears continue to go with the short, quick passing routes, it can be an effective game plan if Trubisky leads his receivers a little better.
Bears utilized David Montgomery better vs. Redskins, but could increase his workload more
With seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the defense clearly looking tired, the offense needed to step up. Last week against the Broncos, the Bears offense failed to “close out” the opponent, which gave the Broncos offense time to march down the field and take the lead.
Against the Redskins, the Bears offense delivered thanks to strong runs from rookie David Montgomery.
It wasn’t a close out, but it was effective. The #Bears offense chewed up more than 5 minutes. Eddy kicked the field goal to make it a 2-touchdown, 2 two-point conversion game. #CHIvsWAS https://t.co/vLnAxyWsey
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) September 24, 2019
The Bears marched 58 yards on 10 plays, burning more than 5 minutes off the clock. Eddy Pineiro hit a 38-yard field goal to push the lead to 16 points — a 2-touchdown, 2 two-point conversion lead. This was a critical drive because it not only resulted in points, but it gave the defense a much-needed breather.
Montgomery can do that for the Bears if they only give him a chance. He had runs of 8, 4, 25, and 3 yards to open that drive. Montgomery is a beast to take down, which is particularly valuable in the fourth quarter when defenses are tired. He finished with 13 carries for 67 yards on the night and caught 3 balls for 14 yards.
I think his role will continue to increase as the season goes on, and that will only benefit the Bears.
Defense feasted on Keenum, Redskins
In addition to the offense looking more like its 2018 version, the defense got back to its roots as well.
On the Redskins’ first offensive possession, Keenum overthrew his intended target and former Redskin HaHa Clinton-Dix scored a pick-six, giving the Bears an early edge.
For whatever reason, the Redskins didn’t scheme to take Khalil Mack out of the game and the linebacker terrorized the Washington backfield. Mack had two sacks, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and three quarterback hits. Keenum was likely experiencing nightmares after last night’s game.
Clinton-Dix added a second interception later in the game and Kyle Fuller snagged one as well. Danny Trevathan had a monster game for the defense, recording 8 tackles, two for a loss, one sack, one pass defense and two quarterback hits.
Akiem Hicks left the game with a knee injury, so the hope is that he’s okay. The Bears have such depth that they can ride with “next man up,” but Hicks clearly is a monster force for opposing offensive lines to deal with.
Big divisional game with the Vikings next on the agenda
The Bears will have a short week to prepare for their next game, which is a huge divisional battle with the Vikings. They already are in the hole with one divisional loss to the Packers. To lose another would be detrimental to their NFC North chances as well as to their playoff hopes.
Now, it’s certainly not a must-win game (we reviewed that phrase previously), but it’s a critical one, nonetheless.
The Vikings have the NFL’s leading rusher, Dalvin Cook, who is averaging 125 yards per game and 6.6 yards per carry. The Bears’ run defense, one of the league’s best, will certainly face a good test.
On the other side of the ball, this new-look Bears offense — if we can call it that after one week — will get a stiff test from a strong Vikings defense. If the Bears can manage to take the same approach they did against the Redskins — in which Trubisky called plays at the line of scrimmage and then got rid of the ball quickly after the snap — I don’t see any reason why the Bears can’t experience similar results to Monday night and defend their home field in Week 4.