It’s week 3 of the regular season, and the 0-2 Washington Redskins will be facing off against the 1-1 Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.
Although the Bears offense disappointed in week 1 with a 3-point outing, the Bears defense has looked every bit as ferocious as it did last year. Meanwhile, the Redskins offense has put up two 20+ point games, while the Redskins defense has given up 30+ points per game.
I asked Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron five questions to better understand the state of the Bears and what to look for in this game.
1. How do Bears fans view Mitchell Trubisky? Is he a franchise QB, and how has he developed since joining the team? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
The Mitchell Trubisky experience is not for the faint of heart. I would say that Bears fans had mostly rallied behind the young signal-caller to start the season on the strength of his progress through 2018 (there are always a few contrarians).
He started that year off slow, but really played well over the middle of the season until a shoulder injury slowed him down.
The start to his 2019 has been somewhat of a shock to me as he’s looked more like a rookie than the developing QB of mid-2018. Bears fans simply have to hope that it’s a combination of rust, good opposing defenses, and bad Matt Nagy game plans in the first two weeks if he’s going to take the Bears on a deep playoff run.
Right now, I would say the average Bears fan is feeling a moderate level of panic about his performance, but is still optimistic he can get back on track.
I’ve never known exactly what the definition of a “franchise quarterback” is, but let’s say it’s someone you’re happy breaking the bank for on a second (or third) contract. If that’s the case, he hasn’t earned that yet. I’d go even further and say that if he shows no improvement the rest of the season from his first two weeks, the Bears would need to go out and find a different option for 2020.
However, we’re still sitting here in September and there is a lot of football left to be played. If he can turn it around and get this ship steered in the right direction, I can see a scenario where he earns that title by the end of the season. He put a lot of positive football on film in 2018 so there’s hope.
The book on Trubisky last year was that he played well on scripted plays early in the game, and then, late in games, maybe his brain turns off and it’s more about reaction and not out thinking himself. His struggles were generally in the middle of games when he’d make a bad throw or three to let teams back into it, or not sustaining drives to salt it away. He basically forced himself into needing to play well at the end of the game to pull off a comeback because he would squander leads.
It’s a bit of a roller coaster.
He throws well on the run and is a fair improviser. He’s an incredible athlete and a real threat as a ball carrier. In fact, I’ve been a little surprised we haven’t seen more of that from Trubisky, but I believe that’s a direct result of that shoulder injury from 2018 and Matt Nagy not wanting to expose him to more hits. He’s good on intermediate throws, particularly over the middle of the field, but his first two games have not showcased that at all.
On the flip side, he hasn’t had much success on deep throws. Whether that’s timing or mechanical breakdowns is hard to tell — he’s been below average in that aspect. He will lock onto his primary receiver - particularly Allen Robinson II - and he will force throws that simply aren’t there. He’s overall inconsistent in that he’ll airmail a wide-open receiver one play and then thread an absolute dart on the next. Again, the Mitchell Trubisky experience is not for the faint of heart.
2. What have you seen from the Bears run game so far this year? Can you point to anything holding it back or propping it up, and do you think the move from Jordan Howard to David Montgomery was a good one?
The run game was essentially non-existent against the Packers as Matt Nagy called 33 passes to end that game. Normally, that would tell you the Bears were down by multiple scores but of course, it was a one-score game the whole time. Nagy over-corrected that gameplan in Week 2 by really committing to the run against the Broncos. There was one big play out of Cordarrelle Patterson that led to the TD but otherwise, the Bears ran into a stout Broncos front all day.
While the stats weren’t eye-popping, one of the best developments from the Broncos game was the ascendance of David Montgomery to the top spot in the backfield. He had some impressive runs in both games and I think he’s already established himself as the lead back.
He’s a better fit in this offense than Jordan Howard, showing good hands out of the backfield and elite contact-balance. Bears fans liked Howard but he was simply a casualty of a new offensive regime. If Nagy sticks with that mix in the backfield, success will come soon.
3. We are now entering Matt Nagy’s 2nd year as head coach. Although it’s still early, how would you describe his performance so far? What has impressed you, and in what ways do you think he needs to improve? Has he improved from year 1 to year 2?
Well, it’s tough to do better than winning Coach of the Year so I’d say he was at an A+ coming into the season.
The first two weeks of 2019 have been rough, and I’ve been particularly critical of his playcalling and some of his in-game decision making. I mentioned 33 straight pass plays above in a 1 score game but it’s just the lack of flow to the playcalling.
Even going back to last year, there were a lot of three-and-out sequences that seemed to completely lack rhythm and didn’t put his offense in a position to succeed.
Maybe it’s not understanding what Trubisky can and can’t do at this point, or he’s still figuring it out as a play-caller, but there’s room to improve there.
So far, he, like Trubisky, has actually taken a step back this year from last year. He made what I would consider a big game management mistake in the Green Bay game by passing up a 50-yard field goal to go for it on 4th and 10 in the 3rd quarter. Statistically, that wasn’t the right move at all - either try the 50-yarder to make it a 1-point game or try to pin them deep.
On the flip side, the culture that he’s created is awesome. General Manager Ryan Pace deserves a ton of credit for bringing in a group of guys that are a lot of fun to cheer for and honestly seem to buy into the team mentality. Nagy has been able to bring them together around a “we, not me” mindset and they encourage a fun atmosphere. Nagy introduced “Club Dub” last year in the locker room and the players seem to love playing for him. When things were going well in 2018, he was designing and calling a lot of fun, creative plays that had a high success rate. We need to see him get back to that soon.
4. Fans’ expectations rarely survive contact with week 1. In what ways has this Bears team looked different than fans expected through the first 2 games and in what ways does it look different than last year? How much of that do you think may be a mirage based on your opponents so far?
Let me just say that this defense is exactly what I thought it would be. It’s a more aggressive version of last year’s unit and that should legitimately scare people. They get a lot of pressure on the QB, play the run extremely well, and are ready to take the ball away. They’re hungry.
The Bears offense has been much, much worse than expected in the first two weeks. I do think that the defenses they’ve played are going to be good this year and that playing (and winning!) a game in Denver in September has a certain degree of difficulty to it. The Bears play at Washington, Minnesota, and Oakland / Vegas in London before their bye. I think we’ll have a better understanding of what this team truly is going to be after those games.
5. What kind of game do you expect this to be and what do you think will be the critical factors in determining the outcome? If you were HC of the Redskins, how would you gameplan for this matchup and what would you do to exploit the Bears?
I think the Bears have to take at least an incremental step forward on offense in this game. Washington’s defense has given up 32 and 31 points, so, for a struggling unit like the Bears, 20 points seems like a fair number to get to.
On defense, the Bears need to be ready to take the ball away from Case Keenum when he tries to give it to them. The Bears missed three interceptions last week, two of which likely would have been returned for a score and would have completely changed that game. Capitalize on those and reduce hope for a team looking for its first win.
Note that I do think Terry McLaurin is going to get loose on a big play at some point - he terrifies me. (Editors note: That’s why we call him “Scary Terry”)
My gameplan against the Bears...
On defense, I would throw every exotic coverage and blitz package I have at Trubisky to confuse him and force him into mistakes. I’d put Josh Norman on Allen Robinson II and I’d shade help over that way to try and take him away. Finally, I’d have my rushers maintain discipline and keep Trubisky in the pocket and force him to throw from a set point and not on the run.
On offense, I’d throw as many quick-hitters as I have to slow down the rush, and use misdirection / play-action to try to hit something over the top - maybe a double move with a pump fake to use Safety Eddie Jackson’s aggressive nature against him.
Thanks again to Jeff Berckes for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Bears.