Another NFL season gives us the opportunity to return to the Presteblog tradition of examining big sports wins from the perspective of the losing side.
This tradition started with the Chicago Bears because no sports media eviscerates the home teams quite like Chicago does, as proven by the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs:
Be careful. Don’t blame Matt Nagy for sitting his frontline players throughout nearly all of the preseason for the pitiful performance by his offense.
I’m positive that is what some folks are already doing, rationalizing a terrible showing by the offense on a little rust that wasn’t knocked off in preseason. The Bears were so bad on offense that it’s not something 40 or 50 snaps in preseason games would have cured.
It’s a best-case scenario that the reason the offense was disjointed and terribly ineffective on third down and suffered from communication breakdowns because the starters were observers throughout the preseason. But it’s really difficult to imagine how the Bears — who had since April to prepare for the rival Packers — could come out and look simply awful.
Nagy was the NFL’s Coach of the Year last season, an award he deserved. He didn’t forget what he was doing since then. But there’s no other way to describe it other than to say he was completely outclassed in this game. Never before had the Bears been held to three points or less in the season opener at home and this was in front of a national television audience with a huge crowd in Grant Park watching an offensive implosion.
Credit is due to the Packers, who reshaped their defense in the offseason with some bold moves in free agency, including a $36 million, four-year contract for former Bears safety Adrian Amos. Green Bay also made moves to bolster the front seven, signing outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. But the Packers don’t have the 1985 Bears defense. Heck, they don’t have the 2019 Bears defense.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was as bad as he was in the playoff loss to the Eagles last January. He completed 26 of 45 passes for 228 yards and was sacked five times, a couple of them avoidable losses. Amos picked him off in the end zone with 1:58 remaining to just about end the game. A good chunk of his 228 yards came on check-down throws.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson, the intended target on the interception, had a nice game with seven catches for 102 yards. But that’s about it if you’re searching for offensive highlights. I told Robinson folks will be wondering if a preseason without any action would be an explanation for a poor showing.
“They can keep wondering that,” he said. “We can’t change that. I felt very prepared to go out here and make plays and I think everyone else did the same. But we just got behind the sticks, whether it was a penalty, no matter what it was. In a crucial situation, for whatever reason, we end up getting — what — first-and-40? You know what I am saying? We were down four points at that time. First-and-40? It’s hard like that. We’ve gotta do a better job on first and second down to give ourselves a shot on third down. And we also have to do a better job on first and second down to stay out of some third downs too.”
Said Trubisky: “I know you guys are going to try to draw comparisons like that, but really it had — I wish I could have said this before, the snaps in the preseason has nothing to do with the way we execute or the sloppiness of tonight because we weren’t doing that in practice. We were smooth in practice, it was crisp getting in and out of the huddle, getting calls in and just everyone doing their job and executing our plays. So it just seemed a little scattered tonight with all our personnel (groups) and just trying to find a rhythm and trying to find our identity on offense, and we just put ourselves in bad situations and shot ourselves in the foot.
“You could maybe attribute it to that, but I think it’s kind of a stretch. It’s just we were uncharacteristic of usually who we were tonight as an offense, and I think we just need to do our job. But we just couldn’t find a rhythm, and I don’t think it’s because we didn’t play in the preseason, because we were rolling in practice, and it just didn’t translate the week of practice we had to the game. We’re going to look at the film and try to find out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
None of the other wide receivers distinguished themselves. Taylor Gabriel has only been over 52 yards once in the last 13 games, including the playoff loss. Cordarrelle Patterson caught one pass for three yards and Anthony Miller and Javon Wims were held without catches.
Robinson is right — the Bears were abysmal on third down, converting only 3 of 15. They failed on third-and-1 on two occasions. On one of them, Patterson lined up as the only running back and took the handoff on what was essentially a dive play. That didn’t work and it might not be the best use for Patterson. Yes, he carried the ball some for the Patriots last season, but if New England’s coaches, who are genuinely regarded as pretty sharp, can’t get a ton out of him, maybe the Bears can’t. On another failed third-and-1, the Bears ran an RPO that turned into a sack.
“Just trying to do too much with the pull,” Trubisky said. “It should have just been an easy hand and ride the wave and convert on the one I pulled. It kind of looked like I was going to have a throw with the RPO, so I know that one was on me.”
One thing the Bears wanted to improve this summer was huddle efficiency. They wanted to get in the huddle and get out of it quickly, giving Trubisky more time at the line of scrimmage to survey the defense in order to get an edge in the pre-snap process. The Bears had two delay of game penalties; that’s not managing the huddle.
What’s done is done in terms of the preseason. The Bears have a healthy roster, so maybe Nagy tweaks his approach next summer. But this was so bad in so many ways that I refuse to believe preseason is the explanation.
“It was terrible, absolutely terrible,” Nagy said. “It’s unacceptable. There’s no excuses. Every fan that showed up from Chicago today, that was a Chicago Bears fan, they should be upset, because that’s not who we are. We’re better than that. And like I said, it starts with me. Again, I told the guys that. “We didn’t have that all year last year. So, is it a preseason thing? No, it’s not a preseason thing. Our defense, they played pretty well today not playing in the preseason. But what it comes down to is just us needing to be better. If there’s one thing that I feel like is one of my strengths, it’s being able to accept this kind of stuff and then try to do everything you can to fix it. You man up, you talk to your players, you get input, you talk to your coaches, and you demand better, and that’s what we need to do.”
That sure seemed to be the case once again as the Bears handed the ball off five times on the first two possessions and then just seven times the rest of the game when they never trailed by more than seven points. It was a four-point game most of the way, but Mitch Trubisky dropped back to pass 53 times and there were a total of 12 handoffs.
“I think it was the flow of the game,” Nagy said. “We just couldn’t get in a rhythm. It’s as simple as that. And then you have a big play — I think we had that play to (David) Montgomery down the seam and then it happened, and then we have the miscommunication, the personnel, and then it’s just like, here we go again. We had a third-and-40 at one point. I don’t have a play call for third-and-40. You know, now you’re just trying to flip the field and do whatever you can.”
It’s hard to see what they have in the rookie Montgomery when he gets a total of six carries and only one in the second half. His 27-yard reception on a seam route was nice, but he didn’t get the ball enough, especially when the passing game was backfiring. This has to be a point of emphasis for Nagy and his coaching staff over the weekend and into next week because Trubisky isn’t good enough for the Bears to win this way consistently and the defense is good enough to carry the team to victories if they are more balanced.
“When (Montgomery) had his touches, which I think there was six of them, he did well,” Nagy said. “He had that nice catch down the sideline. It’s hard for me because I want to watch the tape and truly see, again, all three of those (running backs). That part is new to us a little bit, so we’ve got to make sure that, again, we figure out how to get that thing right. And luckily it is the first game of the year.”
Perhaps in Nagy’s evaluation he will determine that the running game needs to be a bigger factor, even if the flow of the game is choppy or worse.
“We’ve got to get the run game going a lot more,” Trubisky said. “I think when this offense is at its best, it’s a balanced attack with the run game and the pass game, and we just didn’t do a good enough job to get in a rhythm, and we had to lean more on the pass, which made it easier on the defense because they know it’s coming. When this offense is at its best, it’s balanced, it’s running, it’s passing, and we’re definitely getting the run game going.
“So I think that’s something we’ll look at. I’ve still got to watch the film and see exactly what happened. But we’ve got three great running backs. We definitely need to get them going and get the ball in their hands, and we’ve just got a bunch of playmakers, and it’s frustrating when we have all these playmakers and you just feel like you left a lot of plays out there with not getting the ball in these guys’ hands.”
Amos did just that and the irony is that if there was a consistent knock on Amos’ game during four seasons with the Bears, it’s that he didn’t make enough plays on the ball. This wasn’t a particularly difficult play. Trailing by seven, the Bears were facing third-and-10 from the Packers’ 16-yard line just before the two-minute warning. Allen Robinson ran a corner route and was fronted by cornerback Tramon Williams. Amos bracketed him on the back side and it was an easy catch for what turned into a game-sealing interception.
“I had a real feeling that play was coming and I felt right,” Amos said. “I wanted to make a big play to help us win.”
Amos figured Robinson, lined up in the slot to the left, would try a corner route as he had earlier in the possession.
“He called it,” Williams said. “He came to the sideline and said it. He came up with the play. Big play for Amos, especially here in Chicago.
”We wanted to make Mitch play quarterback. We knew they had a lot of weapons. We knew they were dangerous. We knew all of those things. We knew if we could make Mitch play quarterback, we would have a chance. Plus we got some new toys up front. They did their thing today.”
The Packers did get good pressure on Trubisky and I think what Williams means is they wanted to keep the quarterback in the pocket and make him beat them that way. They brought only four rushers on a zone pressure on the interception.
“That was a frustrating one,” Trubisky said. “I wish I would have had that one back. It felt really good when it left my hand and I thought I put it in a good spot for A-Rob. Didn’t keep my eyes on the safety (Amos) long enough, and it looked like there was a little contact there, that maybe I should have went in a different spot.
“But we kind of were in our stuff rolling there, and that’s one where I’ve just got to protect the ball and try to find the completion, to allow us to stay on the field. That’s one of the tough ones that I’m just going to have to look at on film, see what actually what happened, and then see if it was what I saw on the field at the time and just make a better decision next time and come back and can’t put my team in a position like that. It’s very frustrating. You don’t want that stuff to happen.” …
This one ranks worse, in my opinion, for the simple reason that the Bears performed so poorly at home. They scuffled in San Diego that day and Rex Grossman was hammered by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on one of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen a quarterback take.
There are some similarities, though, as that Bears team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance and expectations were sky high. Expectations for this Bears team are massive, but there’s a difference between laying an egg on the road and doing it at home. That Chargers team had Ron Rivera as an inside linebackers coach and he had a good idea what the Bears were doing on offense. In that regard, you better believe Broncos coach Vic Fangio has an idea of what to expect next week when the Bears travel to Denver.
“There’s humility there just for the fact that I know that our guys — we feel really good, we felt good going into it,” Matt Nagy said. “I don’t know what the exact word is for it other than that what you can’t do and what you can’t fall into the trap of is all of a sudden making this seem like it was the Super Bowl and we just lost the Super Bowl. We didn’t lose the Super Bowl, we lost the first game of the regular season. We just need to make sure that we pull back and understand, okay, we’re 0-1, we were 0-1 last year, let’s go ahead and figure out how we rally together.” …
The Packers were a runner-up in the Khalil Mack sweepstakes last September, making a strong bid to acquire him from the Raiders. The thinking is one of the reasons Oakland dealt with the Bears instead is that the Raiders figured draft picks they acquired in return would be better than those they’d potentially receive from Green Bay. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was asked earlier this week about missing out on Mack.
“We kind of talk about, there’s deals every week, over the last week every day, that you’re talking about,” Gutekunst told Green Bay media. “I’ve always looked at it, you just keep moving forward. The one thing whether it was (former Packers GMs) Ron (Wolf) or Ted (Thompson) that I learned, there’s always opportunities coming your way so you don’t know what the next one is going to be. You can’t really worry about the ones that were behind you, you just worry about the ones that were coming.
“And so, whether it be the guys we acquired this offseason or this year’s draft or next year’s draft, you just keep moving forward looking at your team and seeing how you can make it better. For every kind of door that’s shut, there’s a window that’s open, you know what I mean? That’s kind of how I look at it. Where we are today, if we would have made a move, we might not be where we are today. And I kind of like where we are today.”
The Chicago Sun–Times:
It’s not good when the operative word of an enormously hyped football game is “boo.’’ It’s not good when the object of a crowd’s disgust is the quarterback of a team with Super Bowl aspirations and the head coach whose offensive creativity is supposed to make a team rise above.
It’s not good when boos are raining down on the Bears during and after a 10-3 loss to the hated Packers at home in the opening game of the NFL’s 100th season, which happens to be the Bears’ 100th season, too.
It’s not good when, afterward, coach Matt Nagy is talking about his “high character players’’ and the great week of practice the Bears had leading up to Thursday night’s opener.
It’s not good when the burning question of a year ago is still raging: Is Mitch Trubisky any good?
From beginning to end Thursday night, the quarterback was not good. Very not good.
“I definitely feel like I let my teammates down and the fans down with the way I played,’’ said Trubisky, who finished with 228 passing yards and a 62.1 passer rating.
If it’s hard to believe we’re still having this discussion about Mitch, you either haven’t been paying attention or you’re in denial.
“We knew if we could get Mitchell Trubisky to play quarterback, we could win,’’ Packers cornerback Tramon Williams told reporters after the game.
Very, very not good.
Nagy came up with a lot of wimpy play-calling against the Packers, but Trubisky didn’t ever look like he was capable of carrying the Bears to victory. That’s a massive red flag, even if it was the first game of the season.
“Three points is ridiculous,’’ Nagy said.
The start and the end of the game tell the story.
Before the Bears were forced to punt on their first series, Trubisky had a pass batted down, overthrew a receiver, had a run stuffed rudely by former teammate Adrian Amos and was sacked for a six-yard loss.
His last two series of the game ended in an interception in the end zone by Amos and a sack at his own 5-yard line. The interception was thrown into double coverage.
In between those ugly bookends was a lot of nothingness from the quarterback and a bizarre lack of energy from Nagy. It looked like a case of a coach trying to protect a quarterback in over his head. But that can’t be because Nagy has told us over and over again that Trubisky is on the verge of making big progress.
“I think he saw (the field) OK,’’ Nagy said after Thursday’s loss. “But I didn’t help him at all. I didn’t help him. I’ve got to help him.’’
Trubisky’s struggles in training camp were chalked up to the excellence of the Bears’ defense. The rationale for his unevenness in Bourbonnais was shouted from the rooftops by the team and by various analysts: You try being a good quarterback going against Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson every day!
Thursday’s opener against the Packers was supposed to be a chance for Trubisky to finally breathe without concerning himself with the loss of any more self-esteem. Even though he didn’t throw a pass in a preseason game, the Packers defense, though improved from last season, wasn’t nearly the Bears’ defense. That was the thinking, anyway.
By the first drive of the third quarter, Bears fans were booing the offense. They booed a Trubisky pass on third-and-10 that went for a two-yard gain. If you were a veteran boo reader, you sensed a good deal of frustration was with Trubisky, who, to that point, had almost been picked off twice.
If Trubisky had been overly amped, it would have been understandable. Just before kickoff, members of the ’85 Bears, waving white towels, walked out of one of the Soldier Field tunnels. You know, in case the crowd wasn’t at full froth already.
Maybe that’s why Nagy, having seen the ugly first “drive,’’ had Trubisky hand off four straight times to start the Bears’ second drive. Trubisky then completed his first pass of the night, for one yard to Tarik Cohen, but it fell short of a first down. That was OK because it allowed rookie Eddy Pineiro to make a 38-yard field goal and Chicago to forget about Cody Parkey for a moment.
You figured 3-0 would hold up for the victory. The Bears’ defense was that good.
When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a 47-yard completion in the second quarter, there were shrieks of disbelief from the Soldier Field crowd, as if it had never occurred to fans that the Bears’ defense could be breached. And when Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham with an 8-yard touchdown pass on the drive, the crowd went into mourning. Black shawls. Keening. The works. It was 7-3 Packers.
Trubisky’s halftime stats – 11-for-16 for 73 yards – didn’t inspire music or literature. It wouldn’t get much better.
Rust could have been an issue. But some of his problems against the Packers looked suspiciously like some of his problems in the first two years of his Bears career. It was disconcerting.
So was the play of the offense, which managed just 46 rushing yards.
We spent so much time worrying about the Bears‘ kicker situation that we forgot they might have an even bigger problem at quarterback. It turns out the question isn’t, It really might be, can the U.S. women’s national soccer team legend play quarterback?
Against a revamped, hyped and young Packers defense, Trubisky went 26 for 45 (57.8 percent) for 228 yards (an ugly 5.1 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, a game-losing interception and a fitting 62.1 passer rating. It was as awful a performance as the numbers suggest.
Bears coach Matt Nagy deserves blame for his play-calling (a third-and-1 running play up the gut with Cordarrelle Patterson, to name one example), decision making (his decision to go for a fourth-and-10 instead of trying a long field goal, to name one example), and his eagerness to abandon the running game (the Bears ran the ball 12 times, not including Trubisky’s keepers). And the offensive line was overrun by the Packers’ defensive front. However, most coaches and O-lines wouldn’t have been able to win a game with that version of Trubisky.
There were missed openings that Trubisky didn’t see — just ask Allen Robinson, who was wide open on more than occasion, but didn’t always get the target his openness demanded. Below, in videos courtesy of NFL Game Pass (start your free trial today to rewatch Thursday’s game), Trubisky missed an uncovered Robinson and instead fired a late pass into traffic that very easily could’ve been picked.
There were wildly thrown passes sailing over the heads of his receivers — just like the missed passes that sailed over the heads of his receivers last year.
There were carelessly thrown passes that should’ve been intercepted. He was fortunate to finish with only one interception instead of three or four.
And there was a game-losing interception on a pass that never should’ve been thrown — into double coverage.
The angle from behind the play is particularly damning. You can see Trubisky lock in on his target, which allowed former Bears and current Packers safety Adrian Amos to follow his eyes, which created the double coverage. And you can see exactly how Trubisky struggles against the blitz, lofting up a softball without stepping into the throw. It was a lazy pass that deservedly resulted in an interception.
In fairness to Trubisky, he made a couple nice throws — mainly to Robinson, who was the lone bright spot on offense with seven catches for 102 yards. But it’s those moments of brilliance that make his inconsistencies that much more frustrating.
It felt a lot like last year, when Trubisky posted decent enough numbers,Over the course of a 14-game regular season, Trubisky completed 66.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, threw 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and generated a 95.4 passer rating. Those numbers are fine — good even for a second-year quarterback in a brand new system. It’s how he posted those numbers that was concerning. In six starts, he posted a passer rating below 80.0. In six starts, he posted a passer rating above 100. Consistency was lacking.
The problems that plagued him a year ago were the exact same problems that plagued him Thursday night. Missing open targets with both his eyes and arm. Forcing passes into interceptable coverages. Not handling pressure with poise and composure. Making unforced errors.
Last year’s Bears managed to capture the NFC North crown with a 12-win season and would’ve been onto the divisional round of the playoffs if not for Cody Parkey‘s double-doink, which is why the Bears (and all of us) spent the offseason obsessing over their problem at kicker. But the Bears’ problem at kicker feels rather trivial after witnessing their problem at quarterback.
The problem is, if the Bears are going to take the next step, they’re going to need Trubisky to take the next step in his development and emerge as a consistently good quarterback, and based on what we saw Thursday night, Trubisky isn’t at that point — at least not yet.
Jeff Dickerson piles on:
Chicago’s offense, captained by Trubisky, ruined a stellar effort by the defense, losing 10-3 to Green Bay in front of a capacity Soldier Field crowd that just before kickoff believed the home team had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Now, not so much. It’s early, but the offense — lowlighted by Trubisky — looked worse than last year when Nagy first took over. It’s not a good sign, either, that, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has reached the Super Bowl after failing to score a touchdown in its season opener.
QB breakdown: Bad, bad, bad, bad. Outside of a couple of nice throws to Allen Robinson, Trubisky looked out of sync the entire game. A third-year quarterback can’t let the offense be called for two delay of game penalties on the same drive, as Trubisky allowed in the third quarter when Chicago appeared on the verge of scoring. The Bears praised Trubisky’s during preseason at every turn, but all the 25-year-old quarterback did in Week 1 was provide fodder to those who criticized the Bears’ refusal to play starters in preseason games and brought up familiar criticisms about Trubisky’s viability as a franchise quarterback. Trubisky capped off the evening by throwing an interception in the end zone into double coverage. It was a fitting end to such a lackluster game by Chicago’s starting quarterback.
Readers of this blog are familiar with Keith Olbermann (formerly of more media outlets than you can list) and his identification of “one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions” back in 2008 when Da Bears were about to change quarterbacks … again. “With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, this job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired. There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him.”
I last quoted Olbermann when Trubisky was a rookie and about to replace Mike Glennon, for whom Da Bears ridiculously overpaid. Sure enough, out went Glennon and in came Trubisky. Two years later, there is not an apparent heir apparent, but when your home crowd boos you, that’s not a good harbinger of things to come.
Meanwhile, the Packers haven’t played defense like that since the 2010 season. That may be irrational exuberance, but starting 1–0 is better than starting 0–1 regardless of what kind of game it was. Offensive slow starts under new coaching staffs are not uncommon. (Recall that Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy lost their first two games each, and McCarthy got shut out in his first game by Da Bears.)