If the Chicago Bears can play an AFC North opponent every week and take them to overtime, this team would go undefeated. Alas, NFL schedules don't work that way. The 2-4 simultaneously fun as well as bad Bears have their work cut out for them down the stretch of the 2017 season. There's a lot of promise to be appreciative of (hello a rising secondary?) and a lot to keep an eye on for improvement (will they ever be able to complete more than a few passes downfield to wide receivers?).
At any rate, an injury to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers only slightly cracks open the door for a Chicago team to get into the postseason that's still learning how to win consistently. There's going to be excitement and potential. And there are going to be growing pains. These last 10 games will be about sorting through the entirety of this mess to set up for a hopeful near-future contending platform.
This week's mailbag focuses on the questions of that near future from Trubisky, to Fuller, to even ... Bryant?
How would you judge a successful first season for Trubisky? Based on what you have seen from him in two games, what does he need to improve on and what has he been doing well? - JDelly
An important caveat in evaluating Trubisky's first season is to note that he's clearly farther along than everyone originally believe in that he's ready to play and grow. But, he still has a ways to go regarding polish, passing in the pocket, and successfully reading a defense mixing up looks at him - the other half of everyone's initial concern with him playing immediately.
However, Trubisky will only learn how to apply those aspects of his game with tangible experience and that's what the 2017 season will ultimately boil down to: how Trubisky learns from his mistakes and initial trial by fire. I'd say you've already seen a measure of quality success given how raw he still is. These Bears are clearly his team as he's taken the locker room by storm; he just has to learn how to play at a consistent quarterbacking level beyond handing the ball off and throwing 15 times a game.
I'd say the goal should be to see Trubisky ably run a passing offense at a higher degree of comfort by the end of the year. A statistical line is irrelevant in this process. You saw the growth from the young quarterback in taking less chances after his mistakes against the Vikings in the Bears' win over the Ravens, for example. The expectation would be to see that incremental development to continue each week.
The defense vs. Ravens ...
Facing a terrible offense?
Or a sign of things to come? - GiveHowardTheBall
The Ravens currently have the NFL's fifth-worst offense yardage wise and are 26th in Football Outsiders' DVOA following their three-turnover malaise of a performance against the Bears last Sunday. However, to dismiss Chicago's defensive dominance purely because of competition would be mistaken. The Bears of late, after all, have been capable of letdowns regardless of who they were playing.
In that light, the actual wherewithal to take advantage of inferior competition for the first time in awhile points more at No. 2 and No. 3 in your line of questioning: the Bears dominated a bad team with a bad quarterback in Joe Flacco and also showed signs of ascension and potential across all three levels of their defense.
I had said often before this season started that this Bears' defensive unit had the ability to be in the top-10 performance-wise, to be a winning defense. But certainly not from the beginning. They'd have to get comfortable and work within the confines of their new talent. The advent of a surprising secondary led by a resurgent Kyle Fuller only helps that initial assessment.
Overall, I don't expect the Bears to hold teams to zero touchdowns every week but I do see a healthier unit (hello, Nick Kwiatkoski) being able to carry a Fox-ball team to several more victories in 2017. The positive signs of chemistry are all there.
Other than Akiem Hicks and Jordan Howard, which Bear do you think has the best chance to make the Pro Bowl? - Mr_IrreleVince
First of all, we need to take a moment to appreciate how dominant Hicks has been so far.
Fresh off of his monster contract extension before the regular season, the 27-year-old has easily been the Bears' best player this year. He's a consistent force in both defending the run and as a powerful mammoth pass rusher with five sacks in six games - obliterating all previous career-highs at this pace. If these Bears were more win-ready, people would be qualifying Hicks' impact on this defense to Julius Peppers in 2010. In my opinion, he's not only a Pro Bowler this year, but an All-Pro at his position. There isn't a better 3-4 defensive end in the NFL at the moment. A little less than one and a half years into his Bears career, Hicks is by far one of the greatest free agency signings the team has ever made.
Breaking off that crucial tangent, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, and or Josh Sitton are the next likely candidates after the team's two best players on the primary sides of the ball. Floyd's sack numbers will have to go up (because statistics for whatever reason mean everything), which I expect them to. Still, he's been doing it all for the Bears defensively. At an abnormally high snap count (played all but one snap against the Ravens) due to a lack of depth on the edge, Floyd is setting the pace defensively against the run, covering tight ends, and is finally a dynamic consistent edge rusher. As long as he hits a minimum of double digit sacks, voters will be hard pressed to leave him off any Pro Bowl ballot.
The cases for Long and Sitton are obvious: the two still help form the best guard duo in the NFL and are playing at an extremely high level. Any time either step out of the lineup, the drop in production is definitely noticeable even if some of the Bears' interior depth is serviceable. These two set the tone for Chicago on the offensive line and warrant proper recognition.
What should the ideal run, pass ratio (or balance) look like for this team? Two games in and the picture is unclear. A solid run game and a skilled but young quarterback are fantastic to have. but get too greedy with either and neither may prosper. - abynum
As much as many will lament how little the Bears are throwing the ball with Trubisky at the moment, there's a method to the madness.
- The Bears have no consistent threat downfield aside from a man who was supposed to be their slot No. 3 receiver in Kendall Wright. A more experienced passer such as Tom Brady might thrive regardless of circumstances. Trubisky isn't there yet, though.
- Trubisky still has a lot to improve on (there are obvious yet temporary limitations) and refine before he's ready to throw the ball 30 times a game at an efficient, quality rate that gives the Bears a chance to win.
With those two ideas in mind, the ideal ratio is at least 60-40 in favor of the running game.
There is no reason for Howard not to get 25-plus carries a game. He's the Bears' best offensive player who gets better as a contest wears on with his bruising, will-breaking style of rushing. Tarik Cohen is also the perfect compliment to Howard, provided he's running vertically not horizontally. This offense will be predictable until the passing attack can be diversified but not completely unsuccessful. A commitment to the running game with a great defense supporting a youthful quarterback is the proper approach as Trubisky grows.
How much is it going to cost to keep Kyle Fuller? - Ditkabear
If Fuller continues to excel as he has in the first half of the 2017 season, the man is going to get paid come March. He's going to be able to back up a truck for any suitor that needs a physical cornerback reaching his potential and only now hitting his prime. Picture Scrooge McDuck diving into a pool of gold coins and you have an accurate idea of the money Fuller will command.
Better said: expect a range of $10-14 million per year.
That's been the price for recent high-level or at least, the top cornerbacks available on the free agent market. For pure comparison's sake, the Jaguars' A.J. Bouye received an average of $13.5 million over five seasons with $26 million guaranteed. That kind of offer at a slightly higher level is likely what it will take to keep Fuller in Chicago.
However, all of this makes the assumption that Fuller wants to stay with the Bears.
There could be underlying tension for Fuller with Chicago management after his 2016 debacle of a season lost to injury (or not). All of this contract year play may simply lead him to greener pastures in a new city right as he blossoms. I would imagine Ryan Pace and company would love to sternly avoid that situation if Fuller continues to prove himself as he has.
Is trading for Martavis Bryant something the Bears should look into? And if they should, do you think they will? - Charles Vaughn
I love how a sports fan's mind works. Literally any player that becomes available or has the possibility of merely becoming available, no matter how minute, is immediately an option for their team. Worlds of optimism. What a football fan in particular ignores, is that trades almost never happen in the NFL, especially at the deadline. The NFL's trade deadline is routinely the least active of the four major sports, by far.
That's because it's much more difficult to seamlessly fit in a new acquisition on the fly, have the risk of him getting injured, and find the right value to make a deal - among several extraneous factors.
In the case of Bryant, no the Bears shouldn't pursue the supposedly embattled Steelers receiver. Let's shut this down right now.
For whatever reason, a receiver with a career high of 50 receptions, 765 yards, and 6 touchdowns way back in 2015 is still considered this prime asset. Yes, suspensions for marijuana use have played into limiting Bryant's career which then turns the tables towards the Bears: why would this traditional grounded family ever pursue that kind of player with that kind of risk. Anyone's reasonable social beliefs on recreational drug use not withstanding, I'm confident the McCaskeys and Pace wouldn't sign off on that deal.
Never mind the 25-year-old's struggles in a current anemic Pittsburgh passing offense with a mere 17 receptions and 231 yards in six games. This is the game changer the team needs, for what, half of a season? Why give up draft assets in a rebuilding, retool year for your franchise quarterback anyway? Save the picks for more valuable players with potential. That's what makes sense.
What Bryant would offer the Bears is a deep threat with the ability to stretch the field: which they desperately need. However he doesn't even do that consistently enough at this stage. Bryant is one of those players in sports that everyone overrates because of a few flashes who is always "ready" to breakout. Hard pass on any trade from all sides.
Who has made more sub-optimal decisions thus far in October: John Fox or Joe Maddon? - Mr_IrreleVince
A questionable move to leave All-Star closer Wade Davis out of Game 2 of the National League Championship series and some other issues aside, it's still Fox. It's always Fox.
No matter Maddon's faults, he's without a doubt one of the best managers in baseball. The Cubs have one of the most talented cores, but they don't merely win in spite of him. He is the perfect manager to literally get out every drop of his team. He maximizes this current roster and is what will make them a World Series contender for years to come, regardless of his postseason flubs.
In Fox's case, "Fox-ball" - that being a focus on the running game and defense in the modern NFL - is somehow still a concept for an archaic coach stuck in the past. He's great for team culture but not great at adapting on the fly or having his team prepared for every situation. He's 2017's Jeff Fisher when you take into account the recent trick plays run by the Bears. A guy whose on his last legs, merely happy with his team being competitive, who has issues with basic game management. Ho-hum, right?
This gap across sports' coaching couldn't be any wider.
Who is the best backup quarterback: Zach Miller, Tarik Cohen, or Pat O’Donnell? - Urlurker
Listen to Cohen and you'll believe that "numbers don't lie" in the words of the swag-filled rookie.
There are only two players with a perfect passer rating in the NFL right now (sample sizes be damned): Cohen and O'Donnell. By that fact, one would probably say either of those two. Hall of Famers through and through. It's time to trade Trubisky!
However, Miller was an actual quarterback in his earlier football playing years. I would bet that in an emergency situation where Chicago's quarterback room is decimated, or where the Bears had a first choice, they'd have Miller throwing tosses downfield and he'd be generally effective with all matters considered.
The only problem with Miller throwing a ball at the moment is that he's the Bears' best receiver. So who would he throw to on a trick play? Certainly not a good threat.
If the Bears did have Miller theoretically throw the ball, how about a shot towards the 6-foot-6, 250 pound Floyd? Give the defensive star some love in the red zone. From tight end to a man with tight end build. Feel the Flo all the way.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.