After a month and a half of bad luck, the Bears finally came away with a victory on Sunday.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but Chicago played well enough to overcome the Lions for a 20-13 win, bringing them up to 4-5 after previously undergoing a four-game losing streak.
Their offense showed some spark, and the defense held its own for the most part against a sloppy Detroit offense. Here are some notes from this week’s matchup.
Mitchell Trubisky put together one of his best performances of the year this week.
That isn’t saying much, and his definition of “best” is not the same as that for most NFL starting quarterbacks, but he has certainly played worse games. Trubisky finished 15-for-23 with 173 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Though he wasn’t asked to do much, he took advantage of a conservative Lions defense and made a handful of impressive throws yesterday. His touchdown throw to Ben Braunecker was one of the best plays the quarterback has made all year, and multiple darts to Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel provided some life on offense the Bears haven’t seen much of this year.
Granted, Trubisky was far from perfect. His pocket presence remained subpar, as he was sacked five times, much of that total appearing to fall on him at first glance. His sense of pressure, his footwork in a collapsing pocket and his escapability all remained poor, as has been the case all year. He also airmailed a couple of throws and showed disappointing timing and ball placement a handful of times.
However, Trubisky did exactly what the Bears have needed him to do all year: avoid mistakes, make a few splash plays and play just well enough to lead them to a victory. This game wasn't one to prove doubters wrong, but it was a serviceable outing overall.
A handful of Chicago’s weapons put together impressive games. Allen Robinson proved to be his usual, reliable self, notching 6 receptions for 86 yards. His consistent hands, physicality and ability to create separation on a regular basis has given the Bears a true No. 1 target this season. Taylor Gabriel scored his fourth touchdown of the year on an impressive back-corner grab and finished the day with 4 catches for 39 yards.
David Montgomery finished the day with 60 yards on 17 carries, delivering a fairly solid game. Though he looked indecisive and jumpy in the backfield at times, he also showed off the determined running style and top-notch contact balance and he has shown in spurts all year. He’s clearly still adjusting to the game, so he is bound to make rookie mistakes from time to time. The more flashes he can show this early, though, the better, and some of the plays he makes certainly provide hope for the future.
The Bears were far from an offensive juggernaut this week, but they played better than they have in a few of their games this season, and that was good enough for a win. Given their current situation, that might be the best they can ask for to finish out the year.
The Lions started Jeff Driskel in wake of Matthew Stafford’s back injury, and though the Bears weren’t necessary dominant against the backup, they put together a pretty good performance.
Despite losing the time of possession game, the Bears only gave up one touchdown all game, and it took the Lions until halfway through the fourth quarter to get it. Chicago forced their opponent to punt six times, and they showed a bend-but-don’t-break approach that prevents Detroit from marching too far down the field.
The star of the show was Nick Kwiatkoski, who stepped into the starting lineup after Danny Trevathan suffered an injury that could put the rest of his season in jeopardy. Kwiatkoski finished the day with 10 total tackles—with 9 of them being solo tackles—a sack and an interception which led to the Bears scoring a touchdown with a short field. He looked fantastic all game, consistently bringing down ball-carriers and taking good angles to the football. He offers a physical complement to the athletic skill set of Roquan Smith, who himself had a good game with 11 total tackles.
Chicago’s other sack came from Nick Williams, who now leads the team in sacks with 6 on the year. He has stepped up in a major way in the place of Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols, who have both missed time to injury this year. His pass-rushing value and blend of finesse and power in his hands have made him one of the team’s most reliable players this year.
The Bears’ secondary wasn't necessarily great yesterday, as both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara allowed separation too often, both also drawing penalties in the process. Fuller tripped and allowed a 47-yard grab in the end zone to Kenny Golladay, who otherwise bailed out Chicago’s cornerbacks with a lackluster performance of his own. Marvin Jones Jr. put up 5 catches for 77 yards, and T.J. Hockenson put together a couple of impressive plays of his own across the middle of the field.
Jeff Driskel was able to rush for 37 yards on five carries, but the Bears did do a fairly good job of shutting down Detroit’s depleted group of running backs. Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic combined for 52 yards on 15 carries, and 15 of the team’s 27 carries went for three yards for less. The Bears allowed a few somewhat lengthier runs, but no runs from a running back went for more than 10 yards. Credit can go to the linebackers for helping plug up holes in run support.
The Bears put forth another respectable defensive performance, and while it wasn’t necessary jaw-dropping, they did well enough to shut down a division rival pretty effectively.
Three and out
3. The Bears made a change along their offensive line this week, switching Cody Whitehair back to center and moving James Daniels over to guard. An adjustment period was to be expected for the two, and that was certainly apparent on Sunday.
Whitehair looked a bit rusty in terms of his shotgun snaps, a problem that plagued him throughout 2017. The performance of the offensive line as a whole wasn't great, either, as the unit allowed five sacks and couldn’t consistently open up holes for Montgomery in the ground game. Granted, Trubisky’s lack of pocket awareness also contributed to that sack total, but the Bears’ offensive line didn’t show any signs of improvement.
The positional switch has only been in effect for a week, so patience should be preached for both Whitehair and Daniels for now. Time will tell if the switch will provide positive results.
2. The weakness that Chicago’s defense may be fighting with the most is a lack of aggression in their scheme. They don’t blitz as much as many thought they were going to with the transition into Chuck Pagano’s scheme, and they tend to give up too much cushion in zone coverage: a problem that also plagued Vic Fangio at times last year.
All-Pros Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller haven’t been able to maintain their momentum from last season, and the absence of Akiem Hicks has hurt their defensive line’s performance a bit. Plus, Khalil Mack has been effectively shut down by opponents’ game plans, as he only has one sack in the past five games.
However, while player performance can be attributed partially to the Bears’ occasional defensive issues, Pagano should not be afraid to be a little more aggressive with his play calls. Roquan Smith runs a 4.5 40-yard dash; utilize him as a blitzer. Buster Skrine is also one of the better nickel blitzers in the league; don’t be afraid to take advantage of that.
1. At 4-5 on the year, the Bears are in a state of mediocre limbo.
They face a difficult schedule ahead of them, and they will likely need to go 6-1 for the rest of the season in order to steal that secure Wild Card spot, assuming the Seahawks have the first spot on lock.
Chicago takes on the Rams next week, who sit ahead of them in the playoff race currently. A win on the road would put the Bears at 5-5 and would make a playoff appearance a little bit more likely, albeit not by much. They will need to use these next few weeks to build back momentum if they want to pull off an upset and sneak into the postseason.