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Game Notes: Bears offense shows signs of life in Thanksgiving win over Lions

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The Bears improve to 6-6 with their third win in the last four games, keeping their long-shot playoff hopes alive for now.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Mitchell Trubisky put forth his best outing of the 2019 season so far in a Turkey Day win over the Lions.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't entirely pretty, but the Bears gave their fans a victory to be thankful for on Thanksgiving this year.

Chicago held off the Lions in a 24-20 shootout that saw inconsistency on both sides of the ball for the Bears, but ultimately enough promise in all phases to come away with their sixth win of the year.

Here are some notes from this week’s matchup.

Offense

Mitchell Trubisky finally put it together this week.

The Bears’ quarterback looked the part of a reliable starting quarterback more than he has at any other point this year. He finished the game with a season-high 338 yards—his first game over 300 yards in 2019—and went 29-for-38 with 3 touchdowns and an interception.

The occasional forced throw and singular read still reared its familiar head, and his decision to run laterally (and then backwards) on that 3rd-and-4 play near the end of the first half was mind-boggling, to say the least. However, in terms of throwing the ball with consistent accuracy, Trubisky looked sharp against Detroit this week.

He threw the intermediate ball very well, as 11 of his completions came off of passes thrown at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. He delivered well-placed balls commonly with great velocity and was able to hit targets across the middle of the field and outside of the hashes. His ability to hit deeper throws greatly benefitted the Bears’ offensive game plan and gave them a spark they haven’t shown all season.

Trubisky had some help from his teammates, many of whom stepped up and put on great performances this week. Anthony Miller put together the best performance of his career, catching 9 passes for 140 yards. The second-year receiver, who has had 21 catches for 271 yards over the past three weeks, was able to torch Detroit’s secondary, using his route-running skills to consistently separate from man coverage with his lateral quickness and stemming ability. Miller appears to be stringing together impressive performances late in the season and is proving to be an effective weapon when targeted. Aiding his development by continuing to give him more targets would be a wise strategy for the Bears.

Allen Robinson also put on a show, tallying 8 receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. He continues to be a reliable target for Trubisky with his strong hands, physicality and intelligence as a route runner. He feasted on a mediocre Lions secondary—Thanksgiving pun entirely intended. Javon Wims saw an uptick in snaps with Taylor Gabriel injured and produced in wake of the injury, catching 5 balls for 56 yards on 6 targets. The second-year wide out has shown flashes in limited playing time and played very well when given more playing time, which should bode well for his long-term role with the team. Jesper Horsted also contributed a stellar 18-yard touchdown grab in his lone catch of the game and just his second catch of his young NFL career.

The Bears’ offensive line also did a good job of pass protecting for Trubisky, giving him opportunities to sit comfortably in the pocket and diagnose the play. They allowed just one sack and three quarterback hits all game as a collective unit, putting forth a commendable effort for a group that started two backups. Cornelius Lucas in particular had a very good game at right tackle in place of Bobby Massie. Chicago’s offensive hog-mollies also looked improved blocking for the run, as well.

A good offensive line showing benefitted David Montgomery, who ran for 75 yards on 16 carries—just shy of 5 yards per carry. The third-round rookie ran with toughness and determination this week, fighting hard for yards and hitting the open hole aggressively upon diagnosing the play with patience. Some of the plays he made this week were indicative of the running back he could develop into in the future. Though his rookie campaign hasn't consisted fully of high points, he has shown in flashes potential to become a high-end back.

Chicago’s offense had arguably its best game of the year, even though scoring 24 points isn’t exactly jaw-dropping. The unit was effective in multiple aspects overall, the weapons made plays and Trubisky played well. That was enough to lead the Bears over the hump.

Defense

After falling behind early in the game, the Bears’ defense adjusted to David Blough very well and were able to shut the rookie down after the first quarter.

Blough, a third-stringer who replaced Jeff Driskel relatively last minute, took advantage of the Bears’ lack of preparation for his skill set, throwing for 136 yards and two touchdown passes in the first quarter alone. Chicago’s secondary looked lost, with both Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller getting burned by Kenny Golladay early on.

With some time, though, the Bears’ defense caught on and was able to neutralize the undrafted Purdue alumnus’ hot start: Detroit only scored 6 points for the rest of the game after scoring 14 in the first quarter.

After allowing the touchdowns, the Bears forced four three-and-outs for the rest of the game—five if you include the four-play drive that was just a three-and-out extended by a Golladay penalty. The secondary found its footing and showed some improvement later in the game. Every starting defensive back contributed a pass deflection, and Eddie Jackson secured his first interception of the year on the last drive of the game.

The star of the show on defense was Roquan Smith, who kept up his recent hot streak en route to a 15-tackle performance that also saw him finish with two sacks and two tackles for a loss. He was fantastic this week, showing off physicality, sideline-to-sideline speed and the consistent knack to bring down ball carriers. He also excelled as a blitzer this week, showing up in a role that Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has not used him in incredibly often this year. With this week being the fourth time in five weeks that he has reached double-digit tackles, Smith is playing at a high level and is on pace to finish the season with monster tackling numbers, despite missing a game. Watching his development in recent weeks is an encouraging sign that the first-rounder can be an elite linebacker sooner rather than later.

Nick Kwiatkoski also had a good game with 8 total tackles on the day. The backup has filled in for Danny Trevathan well and has brought consistency and physicality as a tackler up the middle, as well as some improvement in coverage from past years. Kwiatkoski’s contract expires at the end of the year, and with the way he has played in recent weeks, he has been doing a good job of increasing his value on the open market.

Blough started the game off hot, but Pagano did a good job of adjusting his strategy to stop the hot rookie and bring him back down to Earth. The Bears’ defense recovered from a poor start to shut Detroit’s offense down and fend them off for the win.

Three and out

3. Can we just take a second to sit back and appreciate the special teams blocking that Kevin Toliver and Duke Shelley put on display on Thursday?

Both defensive backs have seen much of their playing time come on special teams this year, but it’s encouraging to see them put forth such effort like they did on this play. Such tenacity surely garnered them some praise from coaches after the play.

2. Even though Thanksgiving has now come to an end, I thought I’d still share a list of what I am thankful for, even in a disappointing Bears season.

  • Allen Robinson
  • Roquan Smith
  • The emergence of Nick Williams in place of Akiem Hicks
  • The legendary Jesper Horsted making plays in the regular season
  • Cordarrelle Patterson’s special teams play
  • Khalil Mack’s presence (even if he doesn’t always make the plays directly)
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
  • At least we’re not the Lions

1. The Bears improved to 6-6 with their win against the Lions, keeping their unlikely playoff hopes alive for another week. They now enter the imposing gauntlet that is their final four games of the season, which they must win all of for a realistic shot at a playoff spot.

Chicago takes on the Cowboys at home next week in a matchup that will be crucial for both teams. Dak Prescott has been playing at a very high level this year, but two straight losses and rumors of Jason Garrett’s firing plague a Dallas team that needs a win to fight off the Eagles atop the NFC East. The Bears will likely be in for a fight next Thursday, but if they want to cling onto their playoff hopes dear life for yet another week, it’s a matchup they must win.

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