It looked pretty at times, and yet much of the same at others. Still, the Bears knocked off the division-rival Detroit Lions, 20-13, at Soldier Field on Sunday. It was a sorely-needed victory for a Bears team that had lost four straight entering this week’s game.
The most optimistic among us will say it was just the victory they needed to turn their season around. The negative, skeptical, or dare I say cynical will shrug, sneer, and dismiss it altogether.
“It was against a bad ball club with no run game, a terrible defense, and a backup quarterback,” they might say.
But for those of us who fall somewhere in between the two opposite points on the spectrum, Sunday’s victory over the Lions offered at least a glimmer of hope.
No, maybe not hope for a second-half playoff run. Probably not any new optimism that the offense will turn the corner down the stretch. But at the very least, we saw incremental gains from individuals as well as from the collective team.
Trubisky takes another small step forward
Whether Matt Nagy is tailoring his offense to what Mitch Trubisky likes, or the quarterback is seeing the field better, Trubisky took another step forward in his development on the field Sunday.
I know, I know. Patrick Mahomes isn’t losing sleep at night. Deshaun Watson isn’t looking over his shoulder. And the Los Angeles Rams’ defense — next up on the Bears’ schedule — isn’t exactly shaking in their shoes.
But Trubisky committed zero turnovers, he tossed several nice throws — on the money — and finished with a passer rating of 131.0. Two of those great throws were touchdown passes, one to tight end Ben Braunecker in the corner of the end zone, and the other to receiver Taylor Gabriel on a 24-yard scoring strike.
Yes, Trubisky still misfired on a few throws, including one that looked to peeve Allen Robinson. But did you really expect him to fix all his issues in one game?
Matt Nagy adjusted some personnel, play calls
Speaking of Braunecker, it might have seemed strange to see the backup tight end come up with a big score in the game. That was not a touchdown reception by the handsomely-paid free agent Trey Burton. Nor was it a score by the highly-drafted Adam Shaheen.
It was a hell of a catch from a special teamer and proverbial “next man up.”
After Shaheen’s mishandling of the final kickoff of the Eagles game, I tweeted (tongue in cheek):
I’d cut Shaheen before he reached the locker room. Make him fly home on his own dime. #CHIvsPHI
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) November 3, 2019
On Sunday against the Lions, Shaheen was a healthy scratch. Give kudos to Nagy for coming to that conclusion.
No, that does not mean Shaheen’s season is over or his career is down the tubes — anymore than any of you might have thought it was prior to the Eagles game. It just means Shaheen is not good enough to “transcend” a week-to-week game plan. We’ll likely see him play again this season. But until or unless he plays better, he’s the victim of game planning now.
Another big move that Nagy made was switching Cody Whitehair to center and moving James Daniels back to guard.
Whitehair botched a number of shotgun snaps — fortunately, none were costly turnovers. But he’ll improve at that as the season wears on. It’s important to remember that Whitehair was a Pro Bowl center a season ago, and Trubisky is extremely comfortable with him at the position. That is if Trubisky’s postgame comments were any indication.
Defense forced to adjust to another injury
Most fans and analysts will point to the injury to Akiem Hicks as one of the critical turning points to the Bears’ season. Without him anchoring that defensive line, opponents have gashed the Bears’ typically stout run defense.
Now, the Bears might have another huge hole to fill.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan left Sunday’s game with a pretty gruesome-looking elbow injury. The Bears will provide a status on his injury within 48 hours, but he quite expectedly did not return to the game.
Reserve ‘backer and special teams leader Nick Kwiatkoski stepped in to replace him and had quite a remarkable game. Kwiatkoski was second in tackles, recorded a tackle for loss, a sack, a pass defense and one interception. What Kwiatkoski lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with toughness and instincts. He has a nose for the football and is typically around the play on every snap.
Depending on the extent of Trevathan’s injury, we could see the duo of Kwiatkoski and Roquan Smith for some time.
Bears defense bending like Gumby
You’ve heard the expression, bend but don’t break? The Bears’ defense is taking that to a new level.
The Bears allowed 357 total yards to an offense without a run game, and with a backup quarterback who just learned he’d be starting over the weekend.
Give credit to Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel. His elusiveness and agility made him awfully difficult to contain and even to bring down behind the line of scrimmage. The Bears managed to sack him twice, but he made them whiff on a number of other plays.
The inability of the Bears’ defense to get off the field on third down, paired with the offense’s struggles converting third downs, continues to hamper the time of possession. The Bears lost that battle by a margin of 31:54 to 28:06. That’s much better than it was at any point during their four-game losing streak. But it’s still not where you want it to be in order to control games and dictate tempo.
On the season, the Bears have a 28:31 overall time of possession. That ranks 28th in the league.
Where the Bears go from here
The Bears got a gift of playing the Lions at just the right time in the season. They needed a “get right” game because they have the unenviable task of heading to Los Angeles to take on the Rams.
Now, the defending NFC champions aren’t nearly what they were a season ago, but are still a dangerous team. And don’t think for a moment that they’ve forgotten how the Bears beat them on a frigid night at Soldier Field last December.
This poses the stiffest challenge the Bears have faced since New Orleans — and yes, probably an ever tougher test than the Eagles provided.
With the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald, anchoring the middle of the Rams’ defense, the Bears might want to think about getting Trubisky on the move. Between that, a no-huddle offense, and a consistent ground game, the Bears might have a chance.