Behind Enemy Lines: New-era Bears visit Cardinals
Steve Wilks isn’t alone. Six first-year NFL head coaches have started the 2018 NFL season with a combined 3-11 record through two weeks of play.
Arguably, it’s the Chicago Bears under former Kansas City Chiefs innovator Matt Nagy who have showed the best early on. The Bears enter a Week 3 meeting at State Farm Stadium to face the winless Arizona Cardinals with a 1-1 record.
They come off a 24-17 Monday Night Football victory over the Seattle Seahawks but started the season being victimized by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who shook off an injury and led the Packers to a 24-23 win thanks to three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
But the Bears were close in that one. Whether it’s Nagy’s unique offense keeping the Cardinals off balance or newly-acquired pass rusher Khalil Mack leading what looks to be a talented defense, Arizona will have its work cut out on Sunday.
To keep you up on the what’s happening in the Windy City leading to kickoff, it’s Behind Enemy Lines.
Sunday, September 23
• What to Watch for: Bears vs. Cardinals (Daily Herald)
Coach Matt Nagy’s team is coming off an exhilarating and at-times-dominating victory on Monday night over the Seahawks, while the Cardinals have been outscored 58-6 this year. The Bears proved they could respond after a devastating Week One loss; now they must show the same resiliency after a big win.
• Three keys and prediction: Bears – Cardinals (NBC Sports Chicago)
The Bears’ defense has dominated for six of the eight quarters it’s played this year, but of the 41 points it’s allowed, 35 have come in the final 15 minutes. Granted, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are two of the more clutch late-game quarterbacks in the NFL, while Bradford has been horrendous this year (maybe the fourth quarter quarterback will be rookie Josh Rosen, for all we know).
Saturday, September 22
• More sacks for Bears’ Khalil Mack? Cardinals rule out starting right tackle (Chicago Sun Times)
The Chicago Sun Times answers four questions as the Bears prepare to play the Cardinals, whom they’ve beaten four times in five chances in the Valley of the Sun
Most reasonable Bears fans realize they’re watching a very good defense and a developing quarterback and are OK with it … for now. As bad as he’s looked, even the most cynical sports radio callers know Trubisky is capable of getting better. His career has just begun. How good will he get in 2018?
• Three keys and prediction: Bears – Cardinals (NBC Sports Chicago)
The best chance the Bears’ offense has of success, even against a defense that’s allowing a touch over six yards per play, is for Trubisky to link up with a receiver for a big-chunk play. It could be on a downfield throw, or maybe a catch-and-run to Gabriel or Tarik Cohen. Either way, Trubisky and this offense needs to quickly establish that they can make big-chunk plays through the air.
• Final thoughts: Taylor Gabriel doing the little things to become a complete receiver (NBC Sports Chicago)
While Gabriel hasn’t had an explosive play yet — though he could’ve against the Seattle Seahawks had Mitch Trubisky not overthrown him when he was open over the middle in the first quarter — he has made contributions in two important areas: Run blocking, and scrapping for yards on quick throws.
• Ostrowski: Take the under on a couple of the NFL’s worst offenses (The Athletic)
Two rookie head coaches with two of the NFL’s worst offenses face off in the desert. Fun stuff.
Matt Nagy would actually receive some criticism if it weren’t for his successful, scripted opening drives and if he weren’t so affable with the media. The Bears’ first drives have accounted for a whopping 32 percent of their offensive yardage. If you remove those two touchdowns, Mitch Trubisky has led his team into the end zone once in 19 drives.
Friday, September 21
Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon is a very good blitzer and he’s developed better instincts for finding the football in the run game. So he’s really the classic example of where the NFL is going, taking an athlete who has some size and striking ability and moving him closer to the line of scrimmage.
• Can the Bears beat the Cardinals on the road? All our writers say yes (Chicago Tribune)
The Bears defense is firing on all cylinders, and the Cardinals have managed just six points in their first two games. That points to a two-game winning streak for the Bears, according to our team.
• Go deep: Why the Bears’ offense is incomplete until Mitch Trubisky airs it out (Chicago Sun-Times)
If Matt Nagy’s scheme is going to thrive, the Bears need to be able to throw deep — starting Sunday at the Cardinals.
The threat opens up the rest of the offense.
• Bears defense has a problem, but thank goodness the Cardinals are the solution (Chicago Tribune)
For all the talk about leading the league in sacks — not to mention the most interception returns for scores and forced fumbles per game — the fact the best unit on the Bears has been at its worst in the most critical quarter is troubling.
• Bears vs. Cardinals: What to Watch 4 (Chicago Sun-Times)
Cardinals defensive end Markus Golden is expected to play for the first time since suffering a torn ACL in Week 4 last year — reuniting the bookend tandem of Golden and Chandler Jones that helped the 2016 Cardinals lead the league in sacks per pass play.
With Mitch Trubisky struggling at times to make plays under pressure, a second standout pass rusher could be a problem.
The Bears have scored opening-drive touchdowns in the first two games, and while that might not sound like a major feat, it’s something they accomplished only five times during the three previous seasons.
• Heavily-favored Bears not taking woebegone Arizona Cardinals lightly (NBC Sports Chicago)
The Bears are 15-35 since the beginning of 2015, and haven’t been over .500 in four years. So this team is in no position to feel overly confident about any game — even if it’s against a team that’s played horrendous football the first two weeks of the season.
• Gabriel: Bears Defense Can Be Scary Good (670 The Score)
The Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks in two games. If they can continue to put that kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it will lead to more turnovers. The defense has already created four turnovers (two fumble recoveries and two interceptions), and I don’t think we have seen what the group is capable of doing. Don’t be surprised if there are some four-takeaway games coming for the Bears.
Thursday, September 20
• After two games, the Bears defense is ________? Bears writers fill in the blanks (Chicago Tribune)
Matt Nagy and the Bears are on the board. Monday night’s 24-17 victory against the Seahawks gave Nagy his first triumph as an NFL head coach. Now, the Bears and their dominant defense look to make it two in a row against a woeful Cardinals team in Arizona. Our team of Bears writers weighs in on four timely topics.
Here are five things we learned about Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky from his and Matt Nagy’s media sessions Wednesday.
Well, Trubisky has completed 69.6 percent of his passes so far, which ranks eighth in the NFL. I agree that stats can be deceiving and he has missed some throws that everyone is expecting him to make. What the Bears haven’t done is successfully throw the ball downfield. I am sure that will come in time. Every decision and throw he is making is being microanalyzed right now and it will be that way for a while. The sample size in Matt Nagy’s offense is extremely small. Let’s see how he develops over the course of the season.
• Bears OLB Khalil Mack’s takeaway knack: ‘The ball is the most important thing’ (Chicago Sun-Times)
Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t need to see outside linebacker Khalil Mack race around left end Monday and bat the ball out of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s hand — ‘‘Just tap the ball,’’ Nagy said, still seemingly amazed — to know what he could do.
• Eyeing the signs of Bears QB Mitch Trubisky’s growth in a ‘microwave society’ (Chicago Sun-Times)
Patience might be a tough sell for the Bears, but it’s the details of such plays that Nagy is closely watching as the outside world incessantly compares Trubisky to the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Texans’ Deshaun Watson.
“It’s a microwave society,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former personnel executive who worked with Nagy with the Eagles, said in a recent interview.
• All-22: How Khalil Mack and the Bears have blitzed their way to top of NFL’s sack leaderboard (The Athletic Chicago)
Khalil Mack is obviously the biggest reason for the Bears’ elevated sack totals, taking care of opposing throwers himself or setting up his teammates, but the coverage helped Monday, too, as the defensive backs had a better performance. Let’s take a look back at those six sacks.
Josina Anderson sheds light on how to Bears’ really feel about Mitchell Trubisky, and his steady development as a starting quarterback.
• Mitch Musings: Can Howard help Trubisky, or is it the other way around? (NBC Sports Chicago)
NFL’s Next Gen stats — which spit out that in-the-box number in 2017 — don’t provide a percentage of Howard’s run with eight or more men in the box for Monday night’s game against the Seahawks.
Wednesday, September 19
• Mack a natural at getting to football (Bears team website)
The impact from Khalil Mack has been felt on every play, but he’s also been a playmaker.
Mack has a sack where he forced a fumble in each of his first two games with the Bears. He also returned an interception for a touchdown.
“I think a lot of that is natural instincts,” said coach Matt Nagy. “You can try to teach it, but I think sometimes you have it or you don’t.”
• Bears’ Trubisky grappling with growing pains (670 The Score)
Mitchell Trubisky threw two interceptions to the Seahawks defense, a defense without secondary mainstays Richard Sherman or Cam Chancellor.
The development of Trubisky as a pocket quarterback accentuates his need to eliminate “happy feet” in the pocket and grow accustom to a new offense built by head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone.
Aside from his two interceptions, Trubisky did complete 73.5 percent of his passes for two touchdowns in the Bears win.
• Rozner: Bears’ Long still fighting good fight (Daily Herald)
Bears right guard Kyle Long has battled injuries and struggled through losing seasons with Chicago, but still suits up with the same fire as he did his rookie season in 2013.
Now, 29-years-old and in his sixth season, the three-time pro bowler prepares for games with a little more athletic tape than he used to. It hasn’t slowed him down.
As the oldest starter on the Bears roster, Long still takes the field with the same punishing mentality as he did as a 23-year-old rookie out of Oregon.
• Bears defense knocks it out of the park to drive win over Seahawks (NBC Sports Chicago)
A Danny Trevathan strip-sack, Prince Amukamara pick-six and another strong performance from newly acquired Khalil Mack led the Bears staunch defense limiting the Seahawks to just 17 points including only a field goal through the first three quarters.
They have, however, struggled in the fourth quarter so far in 2018. The defense gave up 14 points to Seattle in the fourth and 21 points the week before to the Green Bay Packers in the final quarter.
The Bears defense allowed just 80 yards to the Seahawks on their first 34 plays before Seattle got loose in the final 15 minutes.
Tuesday, September 18
• Bears give Matt Nagy his first win, hang on to game-changing pick this time (Chicago Sun-Times)
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw two interceptions in a five-play span Monday. Running back Jordan Howard averaged 2.5 yards per carry. And a defense that flashed waves of dominance against the Seahawks still allowed touchdown drives of 99 and 75 yards.
But say this for the Bears: When they had a chance to intercept a pass to win the game, they did it this time.
One week after Kyle Fuller dropped one that could have sealed a victory against the Packers, fellow cornerback Prince Amukamara jumped a hitch route and returned an interception of a pass by Russell Wilson for a 49-yard touchdown with 6:37 left.
Trubisky made some rough plays in this game. There was a drive-killing run on third-and-short when he ran right into a tackler instead of cutting upfield; there was a forced ball into the end zone that should have been picked off; and there was the first interception of the night, a severely under-thrown ball that probably should have gone for a long touchdown:
None of these mistakes are surprising to see from a quarterback as green as Trubisky, but he was the No. 2 overall pick a year ago, and his development timeline may no longer be on the same schedule as the rest of the team. They have a defense that can dominate large portions of the game, an ideal running back tandem in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, a collection of quick, athletic receivers, and a creative offensive scheme designed to embarrass opposing defenses.
For the second week in a row, the Chicago Bears have looked fantastic in the early going of a football game. They put the Packers on their heels early last week and came out for a long, methodical touchdown on their opening drive on Monday night against the Seahawks as well.
This has long been a staple of Andy Reid’s offenses, scripting out impressive-looking drives to start, using a bunch of different formations to keep defenses on their toes and moving quickly down the field for an easy score. Matt Nagy brought it over — after helping to orchestrate it in KC, although Reid’s done just fine with it this year as well — and it’s working really well for the Bears. Trubisky looks incredibly comfortable operating these early-game scripts.
As the Oakland Raiders struggle to get pressure — imagine that — Mack continues to wreak havoc for a defense that is shaping up to be a quarterback’s worst nightmare. The Chicago Bears sacked Russell Wilson six times in Monday night’s 24-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, giving them an NFL-best 10 after the first two weeks of the season.
Mack had one of those sacks, giving him two for the season. That’s as many as the entire Raiders defense has, for those who might want to track things like that.
“That’s neither here nor there. I can’t really speak on that,” Mack said, refusing to gloat. “Being where I’m at right now — you said we’re leading the league (in sacks)? That’s a great feeling and this win took it over the top.”