By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
It may be a couple weeks after initially expected, but for the first time this season the Chicago Bears can boast having an above-.500 record (2-1) after their 31-15 victory over Washington Monday night in Maryland.
Most of the night was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bears woes. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had his best game of the young season and the turnovers were flowing for the defense. Things did get perhaps a little too close for comfort in the fourth quarter after a run from Washington. Nonetheless, the Bears defense did what it does best and shut the door at a critical junction of the game.
It was a must win for a Bears team with great aspirations. Losing this game could have put them way too far behind even this early into the season, but a beautiful thing in the NFL is that winning makes everything alright, for at least one more week anyhow. Win consistently enough and the prize that comes is games with higher stakes and that’s the current position of the Bears.
Chicago next welcomes Minnesota to Soldier Field for a huge early season match-up that can only be described as an intra-divisional, NFC-playoff-staking extravaganza between two teams that are risking losing a second in-division game in September, which would surely wipe away any chance of catching the Packers and securing prominence in the North.
Before we get consumed in Viking Week fever and anticipation for this Sunday, lets take a look back at some more observations from Monday’s encouraging win.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The Bears had a nice team formula last year when it came to their success. They deployed a simplified version of head coach Matt Nagy’s offense, relied on their defense be the League’s best unit and took advantage of other team’s mistakes without committing many of their own.
For the first time this year the Bears looked like the identity they established a season ago. Sure the offense still needs more improvements and the running game isn’t where it needs to be, but that being said, the Bears offense looked a lot better. Applause needs to be given to the coaches for scheming quick throws and calculated shots to aid the passing game.
Then when they needed to run the ball, the offensive line and rookie running back David Montgomery responded. Trubisky had his usual bouts with deep ball inaccuracy but on one play while moving in the pocket, he did hit wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on a beautiful 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel his record breaking third on the night. Gabriel became the first player to get three touchdown catches in a quarter on Monday Night Football. Overall the offense was solid and functional doing similar things from last season.
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Nagy even got Trubisky on the run a little more and deployed the Rams’ strategy of getting set at the line fast so Nagy can instruct Trubisky on how to attack the defense. Even with all these positives the whole group has to be better and perform with more regularity. The disparity in offensive output between halves in Monday’s game is a embodiment of what has been this team under Nagy — up and down.
Each week the offense has been better and if they keep taking advancing steps forward then patience should be afforded to them…as long as they are winning games.
Trubisky’s Second Act?
Things haven’t been pretty to start off the year for Trubisky. Everyone in Bears nation, including the quarterback, were hoping for a clear progression from last season. Sadly, that progress has looked more like regression or if anything not improving at all.
No doubt that Trubisky played better this week and has been playing better each week. Great call by Nagy to throw the ball a lot in this game and early. Struggling against this terrible Washington defense would have been a damning sign for his trajectory but instead maybe its the confidence boost he needed. The Bears have to find a way to get more from the quarterback position and letting him get a lot of reps against a bad team will hopefully accelerate any type of positive growth. It was a good formula schematically of quick high percentage throws as well as some calculated shots down field with Nagy advising pre-snap.
Unfortunately and frustratingly, Trubisky continues to miss on open receivers a majority of the time downfield. He did hit one to and it looks clear that throwing on the move seems to be an area where he can really do damage. Stats like a 116.5 quarterback rating is deceptive regarding how he actually played.
Overall though, this is the type of game Trubisky really needed and his team needed. Sunday will set up a huge game for the Bears and they are playing their best ball right now. Quarterback efficiency is a telling stat when the competition stiffens, can’t wait to see if will Trubisky will be able to carry this performance over to next week.
Return of the (Fill in the Blank)
Probably the most encouraging sign of the night was the amount of takeaways and overall performance from the Bears defense. It looked just as sweet as last year when the Bears forced five takeaways and scored a touchdown. Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix returned an interception all the way against his former team to get the takeaway fest started. Fans have been waiting to see this defense go “BOOM” like it had so many times last year.
Pressure, hard hits and dynamic plays were on full display and a wave goodbye to all the regression on defense talk. National pundits believed the Bears couldn’t repeat their success on defense mainly because its hard to repeat takeaways.
The problem with that theory has always been that the Bears just simply have too many players that create A LOT of turnovers. Monday’s game had contributors at every level force a turnover from pass rusher Khalil Mack’s strip sack to inside linebacker Danny Trevethan’s punch out to cornerback Kyle Fuller’s break on the ball pick and Dix’s two overtop interceptions.
Heading into the game it was no secret that quarterback Case Keenum will give you the ball and it was great to see the Bears capitalize. A lot of Bears defenders had really good night’s and if there were any issues it came in the form of too many bad penalties. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will have to get some things cleaned up immediately.
In the meantime, it was great to see the return of players, coaches, takeaways and swag, this defense is ready for the challenge ahead.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR