The Bears went on the road to face the Bengals and stranger things happened. Chicago picked up its fourth win of the season: in dominating fashion. While there might be those that lament the loss of draft position, others might be lost wondering where this team has been all along. Therefore, to save energy, Windy City Gridiron is going to offer strong reactions in order to save fans the effort. Josh is going to celebrate the positive and Robert is going to offer his laments. One way or another, here’s the Week 14 Bears Overreaction (Winning Somehow edition).
Josh Sunderbruch: A sort of sorcery must have been at work in Halas Hall, because not only did Mitchell Trubisky come out slinging it (recording a fantastic 112.4 passer rating without a single turnover), he spread the ball around. The “Pretty Boy Assassin” connected with eight different weapons, and four of those targets had receptions go for more than ten yards. Add in a 78-percent completion rate, and it’s clear that with a decent offensive game plan, Trubisky can deliver. He cut apart an admittedly staggering Bengals defense, and he did it like a pro.
Some are going to knock Trubisky’s performance given who it came against.
So what? This is what a top-end passer is supposed to do to weak and struggling defenses, and Trubisky delivered like a boss. By refusing to play down to the Bengals, he received much-needed momentum for his development.
Robert Zeglinski: Trubisky’s performance should be all the more impressive considering how it acts as a tremendous indictment of this coaching staff yet again. The Bears let their confident young quarterback play. They opened up the offense for him, gave him run-pass options, put him on the move, had him do full-field reads, and he delivered. Why they waited until Week 14 to allow the future of the franchise to take control of a game properly, will always boggle my mind.
Speaking of said staff, mostly Fox, it wasn’t all peachy in Cincinnati. The Bears’ young players such as Trubisky must be that good that they can win in spite of a veteran coach that seemingly does his absolute best to bungle in-game management of timeouts and challenges. Seriously, who is in the replay booth telling Fox to challenge clearly short plays? How do you waste an early timeout on defense because you weren’t expecting the opposing offense to go for it on fourth down? How do you have one to no timeouts for a two-minute drill at the end of the first half? The Eddie Jackson late forced fumble must have felt like a tremendous relief for the Bears in that regard.
Needless to say, not to downplay the performance totally, but the Bears are fortunate their four young offensive horsemen of Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, and Trubisky played so well. That, and that the Bengals seemed like they kind of gave up effort-wise (lest we not forget that Marvin Lewis has been a lame duck coach for some time now).
Otherwise, Chicago might have been running into more almost-win Fox territory against a more competitive team.
Josh: It pains me to say it, given my well-established trend of criticism for Ryan Pace, but this victory was basically the 2017 Draft class’s show. Shaheen was finally used as a true weapon, and he delivered with an 80-percent catch rate, 44 yards, and a touchdown. Cohen proved himself to be a true joker and not a gimmick player. However, the real star of the game (excluding Money Mitch) was Jackson.
Jackson was a steal in April. It’s as simple as that. Between the heads-up play that netted an interception and the forced fumble that came the hard way, Jackson generated a pair of turnovers and did it by playing smart football. His were not big plays earned at the expense of abandoning his primary assignments. Rather, he did his job and then brought a little something extra to the party. He’s looking like a future leader of this defense.
Robert: Again, not to totally downplay his or the secondary’s performance (because Kyle Fuller was also fantastic in coverage of A.J. Green), but I’d like to see these kinds of games with more consistency from the young guys. The biggest issue for this team, which is understandable given their inexperience, is consistency.
This was Jackson’s first game with a takeaway since mid-October against the Panthers. He’s still a growing ball hawk, which is okay, but if he’s going to be a franchise player like we all regard him to be, the flash plays have to come more often. The Bears count on Jackson to do so much already given his range, which is extremely heartening. He now has to finish more plays on a regular basis is all. Especially if this team is ever going to make a leap towards contention.
Regarding Chicago’s supposed franchise cornerback: the yet again aggressive and confident Fuller we’ve seen the past two games was not the mediocre Fuller of old we saw in November. Fuller is almost certainly going to receive a lucrative deal at the open of free agency in March.
You don’t have a career high 16 passes defended (tied for fourth in the NFL this season) and 60-plus tackles without being able to cash in. Which is eye-opening when you note how often offenses have tried to pick on the 25-year-old to no avail. Fuller has been targeted 98 times this season, the most of any NFL cornerback. And he saved his perhaps career best for Cincinnati as mentioned.
If that team that indeed elects to open the paycheck for Fuller is the Bears, there can’t be any month-long lapses. The Fuller that locks down a superstar receiver such as Green has to also be present against Davante Adams, Marvin Jones, and Nelson Agholor. There is too much invested in promising play and players like this to not want them to strive for more. Play like you’re paid. Play like your draft status. Play to your heavy responsibilities.
For what it’s worth: this is a team-wide Bears’ development and play issue that a fresh coaching staff could offer heavy assistance in next season.
Josh: A final positive note that merits discussion is the record-setting performance from Chicago’s Pro Bowl running back in Howard. It’s amazing that with this team’s rich history at running back, a player can still set a record, but that’s exactly what No. 24 did. Jack already covered this well, so I’m just going to leave this here:
Robert: There’s only so much you can say to add to the performance and continued excellence of Howard. Aside from catching the ball (which the Bears shouldn’t ask him to do ever again) he’s clearly yet another great Chicago tailback paving a special career week by week. You can’t find a way to knock him otherwise. In the face of a mostly abhorrent passing game all season, Howard has still excelled and persevered, sometimes even gutting his way through agonizing injury all for his team. A beyond patient and powerful runner who will not be denied if you choose to trust him, which the Bears are often wise to do.
The hope in Chicago for 2018 has to be that the Bears have their running back duo of Howard and Cohen dominating every week (again, consistency) in the mold of New Orleans’ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. It’ll almost be disappointing if they can’t have the same impact in a more diverse offense.
One way or another, the Bears picked up a rare victory. There are signs of life in this franchise, and that’s a little jarring. Though, optimism is always welcome around these parts in December.
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.