At the start of the preseason, we tried to bring you the joy and the doubt of being a Chicago Bears fan. To that end, Robert explained why the arrow was pointing up and Josh explained the reasons for concern. This week, with the “dress rehearsal” Game 3 in the books, we’re here for you again. This time, Josh is ready to point out ways the arrow is pointing up, while Robert is ready to pump the brakes on undue enthusiasm over back-to-back preseason wins.
Josh: Any discussion of what went right this week has to start with the quarterbacks. Plural quarterbacks, in Chicago, doing positive things. Mitchell Trubisky now has three preseason games under his belt with a composite passer rating of 112.67. Meanwhile, Mike Glennon finally showed a little bit of the consistency that caused him to attract the attention of the Bears in the first place - not only did he put together a solid opening drive, but he also moved the chains in a reliable fashion. Basically, Glennon managed to prove that he could hold down the fort and Trubisky showed every sign of developing into the quarterback of the future.
Robert: Sure Glennon looked “solid” against Tennessee: if you count completing three passes on third and long on one drive to Kendall Wright as sustainable and quality future offense. Or that 84 of his 134 passing yards came on one drive against one of the worst secondaries (yes they made free agent additions, but those guys still have to mesh) in the league last year in the Titans. Lest we not forget in summation, the Bears didn’t sustain much offensive rhythm aside from that opening possession and were still playing a team that’s trying to find itself on defense.
From Trubisky’s perspective, it’s easy to see why he might not technically be ready yet. That’s most concerned with having trouble getting the snap off in time (multiple occasions) and general confusion at the line of scrimmage. Not something you want your future and field general to do. He’s been solid and he’s been good, but there’s a long road ahead here for Trubisky. Really for both quarterbacks in that light.
Josh: If the biggest problem the Bears face this season is that Glennon leads awkward scoring drives instead of pretty ones, I’ll call that a win. 11 for 18 and a passer rating north of 100 is efficient by any reasonable standard. 22 first downs on 66 plays gets the job done. Glennon showed enough to suggest that he won’t be totally incompetent and that’s all that’s needed for now. Of course Mitchell isn’t ready. We all knew that coming in. The fact of the matter is he’s closer than we feared, and that Glennon isn’t as bad as we dreaded. For the Bears, this is real progress at the quarterback position. Greater efficiency will develop over time.
Robert: Speaking of, I know most really appreciated the Bears’ relative offensive efficiency against Tennessee (if we can call it that), but I can’t forget those unsustainable third down conversions I mentioned. The offense came in with a solid game plan and it reflected in a meticulous long possession where the Titans had no answer. But a good defense stops passes on third and long or those short of the sticks where Wright made multiple plays to convert. The Bears’ early success was more about the quality of competition or lack thereof and enjoying an ample step up in play from Wright. Better offenses set themselves up with more manageable third downs and even they don’t convert at the same rate on such inefficient plays. It’s just an issue of consistency that no one can match.
With Cameron Meredith now out for the year too, it boggles the mind as to how the Bears will ever successfully keep a drive moving barring play against one of the worst defenses in the league. Chicago’s receiving core was already limited pre-Meredith injury. Doing what they did this past Sunday will now be that much more difficult. This is a smash mouth offense that will have really concerning limits when the time calls for a big play, in essence.
Josh: I fail to see how converting hard third downs is a bad thing. It seems to me like the Bears did sustain that conversion rate (50%), and that they did so after the #1 receiver went out. Remember--not a lot of people knew who Cameron Meredith was last year, and let’s not pretend Julio Jones went down. Honestly, this is the advantage of Ryan Pace’s methodology--he found a lot of replaceable cogs to fill in on offense, and so when one goes out there’s a chance for someone else to step up. This sort of “next man up” philosophy is essential for a team trying to become competitive, and the receiving corps really does have some depth, at last. It’s not just “big guy to throw every down to and a bunch of people who hope to get the ball a couple of times.”
Okay, setting aside our disagreements on offense, maybe at least some sort of enthusiasm could be found for Chicago’s front seven? After years of irrelevance, this unit is a relief. Here’s a fun stat line - five different Bears recorded a sack or a tackle for a loss. These guys played hungry.
The secondary is finally secure enough that the men in front can bring some pressure without fearing how badly they will get burned and it showed when Bear after Bear stifled the Tennessee offense. Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Willie Young, and Isaiah Irving all brought pressure, and even Lamarr Houston acquitted himself well. This is the sort of thing that can force a quarterback into errors, and I think it showed in Mariota’s performance.
Robert: I think we can all appreciate the Bears’ front seven depth and a hungrier defense. But what’s going to happen when Chicago has to defend against a multi-faceted offense with better wideouts. This secondary still has huge question marks to me, especially at cornerback. Is Prince Amukamara going to be healthy? Is Kyle Fuller really going to maintain this aggressiveness he’s shown recently? Is Marcus Cooper anything tangible? I think the Bears are ripe to be abused against a quality quarterback surrounded by weapons and solid protection.
A dominant front seven can only take you so far if the guys on the back-end can’t make plays and pick up the slack when they occasionally have to. The Titans have one of the best offensive lines and running games in the NFL but are still a bit lacking on the outside weapons-wise for Marcus Mariota. If the Bears play a more versatile offense, like say the Falcons in Week 1 or Steelers in Week 3, I’m not sure the pass rush and push up front will be enough. Against a better quarterback with better receivers, someone will make Chicago’s secondary pay tremendously if the pass rush doesn’t get home.
Josh: Of course a better quarterback and receivers will make most teams pay. It’s what they do to earn the distinction of being a “better player” in the first place. However, in this case, the Bears’ secondary has gone from a unit that couldn’t stop anyone to a unit that can stop a middling offense. That’s called progress. Mariota is a quality player and the Bears put him off his game. The Titans’ line is solid and the Bears got penetration. Those are steps in the right direction. There’s a lot of talented guys on the Bears’ defense this year.
Robert: It would be nice if some of those talented guys could maintain better discipline. If the best position group on the team can’t stay on side or even on the field, then how are they a strength? It’d be nice if Willie Young and Lamarr Houston would stop jumping on hard counts, for example (caught three times in total over one sequence by Mariota). It’d be even better if a supposed stalwart such as Jaye Howard could not get himself involved in a fight and thrown out of the game in the first quarter.
The Bears’ possess excellent depth at defensive end and have a solid rotation, provided they have everyone to choose from. Keep your cool and composure. From the other side, these offsides issues were prominent for Young last year as well. You simply can’t have that from your starting outside linebacker in Young and likely swing edge guy in Houston committing such mindless infractions. All that talent gets you nowhere if you’re constantly flagged or restricted by officiating.
Josh: I’m not worried about guys getting chippy after a long week of practice. Was the ejection unfortunate? Yes. However, it also reinforced to the players’ the exact points you just made, and it did so in a way that cost the team nothing. I’ll take that bargain.
How about the fact that for a wonderful change, the Bears’ special teams have actually looked special over the last couple of weeks. Not only have there been some impressive returns, but that block was a thing of beauty. It’s important to point out that even when the other team had strong execution on special teams as well (for example, those two solid punts by the Titans), decision-making has been good for the Bears. They haven’t been fooled into making big mistakes, and changes in personnel have been met with a next-man-up mentality instead of panic.
Robert: We’ll have to see how that translates to competitive games. For example, I’ll believe Deonte Thompson will stop taking kicks out of the end zone consistently when I see it. I’ll believe Pat O’Donnell has become a coffin-corner punter (as he’s shown of late) when I consistently see it in games that matter. I’ll believe that the kicking game is better when I see Connor Barth do it over a full season (sample size enough). The coverage and return units have certainly improved and that’s due to a more talented roster that pushes depth down. I, however, still maintain significant doubt concerning the pure specialists and am on a need-to-see more mentality.
Josh: For two back-to-back games, special teams has been a strength. I agree that it needs to translate into the regular season, but so far they have done what they can with the opportunities given, and that’s what matters. Somehow, I think you’re not going to let it go. What’s still bothering you?
Robert: Let’s get back to those receivers for a second and go on down the line of what the Bears are now working with. Kevin White (four professional games under his belt), Tanner Gentry (undrafted free agent rookie), Markus Wheaton (has largely missed most of camp and the preseason), Victor Cruz (has almost certainly lost his “salsa” edge of late), Wright (on a prove-it deal for a reason), and two specialists who are average or below in Joshua Bellamy and Thompson. What an inspiring group for a quarterback to throw to. Real “solid” and trustworthy group of playmakers.
I’m sure the Bears were already planning on featuring their tight ends and running backs more anyway, but barring some kind of huge trade for a star player on the outside (not going to happen and shouldn’t happen), you’ve got the makings of what the Titans offense kind of is right now. A good offensive front boosted by a solid running game, but no receivers you can rely on at the moment. It’s just that Tennessee has the better quarterback in Mariota. Either White grows up quickly as a true No. 1 or this offense will be in trouble and in dire straits.
Josh: I am not going to claim that Chicago has the best receivers in the league. I am not going to even pretend that the list you just rattled off represents an awe-inspiring cadre of players. I am also not going to worry about it for one minute. The receivers mostly need to keep defenders honest’ This is going to be an offense defined by its running game (Howard and Cohen, primarily) as well as its tight ends group. If Loggains needs to put in 22 personnel sometimes, then that’s what he should do.
Overall, the third preseason game was a performance by a team that has moved beyond the 3-13 stink of last year. That’s enough to have this fan excited for the start of the regular season.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. Josh Sunderbruch is a writer and analyst for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.