It was Week 11 and emotions were running high. There will be a natural tendency to react strongly over the last few games of the 2017 season, so Windy City Gridiron is here to take things down a notch and slow up a bit. That’s right, we’re going to under-react to the events of the Bears-Lions game at Soldier Field. Josh is present to explain why any silver lining in the defeat is actually tarnished, and Robert will step up to provide a bit of sunlight against the dark clouds that have gathered. Welcome to Week 11: Underreaction (Really Barth? edition).
Josh Sunderbruch: So, it would be easy to be enthusiastic about Mitchell Trubisky’s performance this week. After all, he had 179 yards in the air and a touchdown without a single interception. On the final drive, despite his best playmakers inexplicably sitting out, he drove the team downfield and (in all honestly) could have gotten off a play and still saved the field goal attempt if not for conservative play calling. He also picked up 53 yards on the ground, even scrambling to pick up a first down in a desperate fourth down situation. Great, right?
Not so fast. The stuff of future legends this play was not. The relatively mediocre 88.1 passer rating reflects that Trubisky was actually hit-or-miss, and that doesn’t even include his ridiculous early fumble that led directly to seven points for the Lions (and essentially cost the Bears the game).
The kid was okay. “Okay” is not exactly what you want out of the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Robert Zeglinski: Consistency is always an issue for young quarterbacks. Managing to punt on every possession of the third quarter (and becoming the NFL’s worst third quarter offense) should almost be an expectation of sorts when it comes to developing a passer. If Trubisky is regularly only “okay” next year, then we can start to have this conversation more. Instead he’s steadily improving game by game.
For Trubisky, as you mentioned, it was heartening to see an actual game plan that kept Detroit’s defense off balance, at least in the beginning. A scheme and script that allowed him to get comfortable, despite his inconsistencies later. Finally you saw run-pass options, delayed screens, advanced route trees, and solid management of talented offensive dynamos such as Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen.
We would be remiss not to mention how Trubisky responded to adversity too. It’s cliche, but mental toughness doesn’t seem to be an issue for the 23-year-old. Immediately after his fumble, he led the Bears right down the field for a touchdown. Without any of his best playmakers on the field and the game on the line on the final possession, he pulled out his metaphorical wand to put the Bears in prime position to win. And he did it the way the truly great quarterbacks that have defenders across the league confounded time and again even when they play everything perfectly.
Poise under pressure is clearly off the charts for the face of the franchise.
Josh: Some might have been relieved by Adam Shaheen’s performance against the Lions. Four for four on targets and receptions for 41 yards with a touchdown looks okay. He had a couple of good blocks, too. However, he basically disappeared after the first half and he wasn’t even in on the final drive. A second-round pick should play all four quarters of football, and while Shaheen has clearly stepped up, it probably says something that he only notched his second touchdown of the year in the tenth game of the season.
Robert: Shaheen coming on early and disappearing late isn’t a knock on him. Not even close. With the way the big tight end was creating separation and making plays in traffic yesterday, like his particularly sick touchdown grab (6-foot-6 tight ends are ample targets in the red zone, who knew?), yet again it’s on the Bears’ offensive staff for not implementing him roughly the last 21:30 of the game.
By my estimation Shaheen looked like the player with all of the raw athleticism and potential they drafted on Sunday. He’s already establishing a chemistry with Trubisky and should he receive proper opportunity to flourish down the stretch, the Bears will have themselves quite the core piece on offense in a league where elite tight ends are paramount to success. Two players from the same class on the rise, even if gradually.
Whenever Dion Sims returns from his mystery illness, it’s absolutely crucial that he take no playing time away from Shaheen. The rookie is already a better option and player from my vantage point.
Josh: If I were to tell an average fan that this game would be one where Mitch Unrein, Christian Jones, and Nick Kwiatkoski all recorded sacks, then there might be the expectation that the younger Bears were finally developing. However, the reason those players’ efforts are so easy to ignore is that they came against the Detroit Lions. The Bears managed 3 sacks against an offense that has given up 3.3 sacks per game. Wow. Feel the pass rush. Even worse, this pedestrian effort by backups was made possible by what can only be called the complete disappearance of the more established defenders.
Pernell McPhee and Akiem Hicks were placeholders on the stat sheet, and Leonard Floyd only got to Matthew Stafford twice, with neither of those pressures in time for a sack. Basically, the Vic Fangio defense looked average, and that’s reflected in the final outcome of the game.
Robert: People have understated the absence of Danny Trevathan, as his loss has been felt tremendously in the past two games. This is a top-five inside linebacker that gets everyone lined up and organized on defense in addition to making game breaking plays.
Nick Kwiatkoski may well be a fine starter eventually in his own right. And Christian Jones is solid depth. But neither of the two are stars by any means, nor do they have the successful defensive experience as the “Mike” linebacker that Trevathan does. Without Trevathan, the glaring hole on the edge on the opposite of Floyd is that much more apparent and the pass rush as well as defense as a whole suffers. This Bears defense is talented and on the rise, however still too flawed to suffer any meaningful injuries to maintain the same level of play we saw in October. Guys like Hicks and Floyd can’t be playing almost every snap of the game. This is not a long term plan for success. There’s youthful depth and talent here, at least behind Hicks’ position, but it has to stay healthy and be optimized.
With all of that being said: Can someone please tell me how the Bears are going to keep Buddy Ryan … I mean Fangio? Oh my, I’m so worried. I think I might break out into a cold sweat. Please, someone assuade my concerns. Promote him to head coach, perhaps!
Josh: So, with six games to go, this is our reminder that no matter what happens, it’s important to keep things in perspective. There’s not much to play for the 2017 Bears as far as playoff positioning now, but growth from building blocks is necessary to see.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. Josh Sunderbruch is the numbers man for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.