With a decisive 17-3 victory over a well-regarded Carolina Panthers team, the Bears have a winning streak of two games and sit at 3-4. While it’s strange to be excited about a losing record, many fans sense a reason for optimism. Others see a team that is below .500 and still struggles to put together all three phases of football.
Once again, Windy City Gridiron is here to provide the ups and downs of the fan experience. While Josh explains the upside of the seventh game of the season, Robert will offer a somewhat more measured approach, providing some criticism. If you’re ready, here’s the Week 7 Bears’ Overreaction (Beating Carolina! edition).
Josh Sunderbruch: This was a dominant performance by the Bears’ defense. 12 plays pushed the Panthers backward (5 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss), 6 passes were defensed, and a pair of interceptions (as well as two defensive touchdowns) were all part of a showing that held the Panthers to three points - compared to an average north of 21 points across the previous six contests.
Special attention needs to be given to the Pace draftees. Leonard Floyd played like a man possessed. While he was only credited with a single sack, a tackle for a loss, and two quarterback hits, the fact of the matter is that his relentless pressure led to the Trevathan interception. Cam Newton is going to have nightmares of being chased by the lanky pass-rusher from Georgia. Meanwhile, Eddie Jackson recorded two touchdowns in a single game, becoming the second Bear this season to manage that feat (the other is Pace-draftee and Pro Bowler Jordan Howard).
This was a defensive masterpiece.
Robert Zeglinski: It’s pretty refreshing to see the Bears play this well defensively over these past few weeks, isn’t it? This is a unit loaded with playmakers that is imposing its will on a regular basis. The sacks are there. The turnovers (six in the last two weeks along with three defensive scores) are there. The pressures and consistent defense is also present. With guys like Floyd, Kyle Fuller, and Mr. Two Touchdown Eddie Jackson swagging out, some Chicago based defensive confidence is back.
With all of that noted, it might sound a bit nitpicky considering what they’ve accomplished of late, it sure would be nice if this Bears defense could get off the field more consistently. There is no reason a team like the Panthers should be able to convert several third-and-long’s against Chicago the way they did Sunday. 40 percent allowed - which over an entire season would be around 20th in the NFL right now - isn’t good enough for an elite defense.
For all of the playmaking of late across every level, and boy has there been a lot, a Bears defense that has been allowing 39.3 percent third-down conversions through seven games needs to pick it up: especially against better offenses with better offensive lines.
Josh: You’re right. That sounds nitpicky. The defense did what it needed to do to give the rookie QB breathing room, and he returned the favor by not screwing up and by executing.
Let’s be clear: Mitchell Trubisky played safe football. In a game that was under control before he ever needed his helmet, he did exactly what he needed to do. With 107 yards and not a single turnover, he showed why “game manager” is not a label to be feared. HIs 101.8 passer rating was an improvement over last week’s performance, and he did more than the numbers suggest.
First, the threat of his passing attack kept the Panthers honest. His brilliant 70-yard bomb to Cohen tilted the field, his scramble for the pylon (barely short of scoring) made Carolina play defense differently, and his willingness to eat the sack instead of forcing the ball into coverage showed that he’s demonstrating real maturity.
Robert: Safe football is being awfully nice to an offense that might as well have turtled for 60 minutes. In the midst of this mostly dominant defensive stretch, it’s completely masked an anemic Bears offense. Next time the Bears want to go back to the kind of football of leather helmets without face masks, please inform me in advance.
Five total first downs. Five first downs. Five.
Seven passing attempts and four completions by Mitchell Trubisky. Four completions. Four.
The Panthers had almost 40 minutes of possession time in comparison to whatever you wanted to label the Bears “offense.”
The last team to win with less than 10 completed passes in consecutive games was the 2011 Broncos - not by coincidence also coached by John Fox.
Yes, it is very understandable this Bears offense has a variety of limitations, especially at receiver. But there is no excuse to not even have a manageable passing offense in 2017. This Bears offense isn’t even “three-yards and a cloud of dust” anymore. It’s like trying to hit a pinata at a birthday party while positioned 20 yards away. It’s close your eyes, and hope and pray for the best while filled with rampant anxiety. And I blame a listless staff, led by Fox and Dowell Loggains.
Where are the quick hitting, rhythm establishing plays? Where’s the mix-up of play calls, not subjecting your quarterback to slow developing play actions on third-and-long after two predictable runs up the gut by Jordan Howard? Where are the run pass options for an athletic quarterback with quick feet?
Furthermore, the Bears clearly tried to use their best weapon in Tarik Cohen all over the field on Sunday, as they have all season. He’s that good and that versatile. And even that has been relatively underwhelming of late production-wise. How does your most electric player get just three touches total? Interesting game plan. This is all so mind-boggling.
It literally feels as if Fox and company would prefer there was no quarterback under center at all versus actually using one. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. We’ll see how much longer it pays off.
Josh: As much as it pains me to say it, Loggains clearly understands where this team is strong, and he seems to (finally) be willing to let the game come to the Bears. There were not many cute passing plays that made things worse, and he leaned on Howard to the tune of 21 carries.
It would be easy to say that the offense failed to put points on the board, but that sort of criticism ignores situational football. What the offense did successfully was what it was asked to do - it helped win the position battle and burned enough clock to give Chicago the win. There is hope, in other words, that Loggains is maturing in his role as an offensive coordinator.
Robert: Cute passing plays is everything Loggains does “well” however. That’s all the Bears have done. That’s how they had Trubisky hit on six of his mere seven attempts on Sunday. How does that happen? How do you let that happen? This isn’t a mature coordinator at all. This is Fox-ball being enacted in the modern NFL through and through. It’s setting offense back years and years.
For Howard, possession time limited him, but he had 10 of his 21 carries in the fourth quarter. This is the kind of back that needs to be established early so he can then churn out the game late, not in reverse order. Why is your best player not being focused on until late game situations. Feed him in proper order.
More egregiously than anything, against Loggains, I fully understand putting the game in the hands of your by far superior unit. It’s just not helping how you’ll actually win a championship and or stay in contention, meaning Trubisky, actually grow up. You’re not doing him any favors. You’re not challenging him. You’re not putting him in position to succeed. And it’s by far the most frustrating aspect of this Bears team.
As fun as these Bears can be by going for some semblance of success in 2017, the priority should be Trubisky’s development. One hard-fought year isn’t going to buy you the same fame and goodwill that a decade-plus of good and balanced football will. The time line is almost stuck in reverse at the moment.
Right now, Trubisky’s reduced to nothing more than a menial game manager at best and I blame that on Loggains and of course, Fox.
Josh: I am not about to nominate Fox for coach of the year, and I won’t defend Loggains except to say this—he possesses the minimum intelligence necessary to get out of his own way, and that itself is an improvement. The Bears still need all three phases to work together. They will not be able to rely on the defense always playing so dominantly. However, they made real strides in Week 7, and they have now matched their win total from 2016. There’s reason for hope on the horizon in Chicago.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times, is an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor for The Athletic Chicago. Josh Sunderbruch is the numbers man and a writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.