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Jets-Bears Preview: Q&A With Windy City Gridiron

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NFL: New England Patriots at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

With the Jets getting set to take on the Bears in Chicago this Sunday, I was able to ask Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron a few questions on Matt Nagy’s team on the shores of Lake Michigan.

  1. Let’s start off with the Bears’ franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He’s currently got decent numbers across the board ranking 13th in quarterback rating and 15th in yards per attempt, and he’s coming into Week 8 hot with over 300 yards in each of his last 3 games and a total of 11 touchdown passes over that span. What were the biggest questions for him going into this year coming off of his rookie season and how good of a job has he done answering those?

Franchise quarterback. I like the sound of that. I think most Bears fans are reluctant to consider him that until he proves worthy of a second contract, which, to be fair, is off in the distance. I’d say Mitchell Trubisky was facing every imaginable question coming in the season. Can he be accurate? Will new weapons help him elevate his game? Can he run the Matt Nagy system? Can he eliminate stupid throws? Can he throw to the left (seriously, that’s a take)? Is that facial hair a good look on him?

I’d say for the most part, it’s been a mixed bag. What I’m seeing a lot of from Bears fans is whiplash between “he’s great” to “he’s garbage” on a seemingly throw-to-throw basis and it’s really annoying me. I think he can be accurate (70% completion percentage going into last week) but he’s making 3-5 terrible decisions every game. I’m not worried about the occasional air-mailed pass on an open receiver – I think that can get corrected – I’m talking about the playground, throw back across your body stuff. That needs to die a quick death.

Head Coach Matt Nagy admitted he had expected to be able to run the full playbook from the start and that he needed to pull back a bit. That only makes sense given that Trubisky is inexperienced and just about everything changed for him in year 1 to year 2. Having the improved weapons starting on the same page with him and figuring out how this offense works with new personnel has been fun to watch – if you’re willing to take the emotion out of the short run returns. I think he’s showing enough good aspects to his game to have faith that he can iron out the bad. Oh, and yeah, he can throw left and that facial hair probably needs to go.

2. The Bears made a huge splash right before the season going out and getting Khalil Mack, beating out a Jets team that was also rumored to have had heavy interest in him. Can you tell us about what the process of getting Mack to Chicago was like and what kind of an impact has he had on the team as a whole this year?

A guy like Mack, a true leader in the locker room and on the field, a former Defensive Player of the Year, in the prime of his career comes available… never, that never happens. So, when the rumors started to leak that the great Jon Gruden was considering trading Khalil Mack because the Raiders defense wasn’t very good with him on it last year, I thought – you know, if there’s any truth to this, I think General Manager Ryan Pace would be bold enough to make that happen. As the Twitter-sphere started to push that this was a real possibility, I truly felt like the Bears were the favorites to make the move because they had the room for a “max” contract and needed an impact pass rusher. Plus, if there’s one fan base that will sign off on acquiring a franchise linebacker for 2 first round picks – it’s the Chicago Bears.

I imagine the Bears were either the only team to offer the 2 firsts (and the Raiders give back a 2nd rounder), or the Raiders believed the Bears were headed nowhere fast in 2018, thus providing the best draft pick value. Once the deal went through, there was an unbelievable level of excitement. Bears fans basically broke the pro shop and made Mack’s Bears jersey a top 5 seller in the preseason. They were backordered for weeks. Again, to say that Chicago likes its linebackers is an understatement.

During September, before the ankle injury, he took that defense to an elite level. The Bears were leading the league in sacks with the lowest blitz percentage through 4 games. That’s all due to Mack either providing the pressure himself or unlocking his teammates for better one on one looks. That in turn helped the secondary with shorter coverage times and opportunities to turn the ball over. That’s championship caliber defense. Since the debacle in Miami, and the ankle injury, the defense hasn’t looked good. Both Miami and New England used quick passing attacks to beat the pass rush and were able to break long runs with speedy wideouts. It will be interesting to see if Mack can get back to full health soon and how the Bears can counter that quick passing attack before they get into the divisional games against the Lions and Vikings who excel in that area.

3. Chicago made it a priority to get some weapons for Trubisky this offseason as they paid up to bring in Trey Burton and Allen Robinson. How well have those guys lived up to their contracts so far?

The numbers do not support me saying yes, but I’m going to do it anyway. Allen Robinson II has looked the part to me and I believe that the Patriots did what they could to scheme him out of last week’s game (1 catch, 4 yards). Now, he’s currently on a pace to finish with about 66 catches and that’s not enough for a guy of his talent level. I hope that the scheme starts to prioritize his targets and he finishes more in the 80-85 range. Plus, let me say that signing Robinson was a great indication that things were starting to change in Chicago as they were finally able to land a coveted free agent who seemed genuinely excited to play for the Bears.

Burton has been good and you get the sense that there’s a potential for him to consistently put up numbers like he did against New England. He’s a natural pass catcher and has been able to work the middle of the field effectively. Another great guy to cheer for, Burton was such an obvious FA target that fans weren’t surprised when he inked his deal. Both of these guys, plus Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller, have a chance to form a solid corps of guys that can stick together for the foreseeable future as Trubisky develops. They fill their individual roles well and when it’s all clicking, it is fun to watch.

4. Is this Bears offensive line more of a strength or a weakness - both in the run and pass games?

I like the Bears offensive line overall, but there’s still some work to be done. Rookie James Daniels has been rotating in at guard with journeyman and tank top enthusiast Erik Kush. I just simply don’t understand why Daniels isn’t starting at Center with Whitehair back at guard, but who knows? Whitehair struggles with shotgun snaps, so that’s not ideal, and Bobbie Massie isn’t a great pass blocker. Otherwise, I think this offensive line is good. So far in 2018, they’ve been better in pass protection than they have in the run game but overall are a good unit in both areas. Tarik Cohen has been more effective than battery mate Jordan Howard so far, but that might be scheme-driven. It will be interesting to see if Howard can get anything going or if the Bears continue to emphasize Cohen as the top back in the offense.

5. How have things played out in the secondary? The Bears lead the league in interception rate but have allowed the 4th-highest touchdown pass rate and 8th most passing yards per attempt. Has this unit been more of a liability or an asset thus far, and how correctable are their problems?

Interesting numbers. The picks are certainly a reflection of the pass rush, for the most part, but Kyle Fuller has played pretty well and is starting to hold onto a few (he dropped one that would’ve closed out the GB game). The problem recently is their inability to tackle. I don’t want to use the heat as an excuse but that secondary was absolutely gassed against Miami and let up a few huge plays to fast wide receivers. The best player in the secondary is probably Eddie Jackson, second year Safety out of Alabama. He’s been able to take the next step in his progression and the unit overall has been solid and stable (all five guys back from last year). They won’t be able to carry games on their own merits, but are a good complement when the front 7 is effective.

6. What are the expectations for the Bears over the remainder of the year? Is there a sense of patience knowing the Bears should have a bright future and are playing under a 2nd year quarterback and rookie head coach, or has the team’s hot start and aggressive offseason created a mentality that will result in disappointment if the team fails to make the playoffs?

That is the perfect question for this team and its fan base. If you can take emotion out of it and look at just how many positive signs this team has shown through 6 games, there is a lot to like. The vast majority of the key components of this roster are locked up with long term deals to try and compete in Trubisky’s rookie window. Matt Nagy is still learning how to be a Head Coach and that Nagy / Trubisky pairing is only going to get better as they continue to work with one another. I do think that Bears fans are hungry for a playoff appearance this year given the fast start but I’d say 8 or 9 wins is an acceptable outcome to feel good about going into 2019.