2019 has not been kind to the Bears, especially not to Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky. For the first half of the season, the Bears were an offense without an identity, led by a quarterback who seemed lost, coached by someone the city had turned on.
The image of Mitchell Trubisky being talked to on the sideline during the Bears Week 11 blunder at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams appeared to be the dagger in the Trubisky experiment. Hip-injury or not, Trubisky had been a mess all season. The Bears were 4-6, and only darker days seemed ahead.
But since the Bears humiliated themselves on the national stage, they’ve gone 3-0, their most recent win being against a formidable Dallas team that, albeit, is decidedly in a rough patch of their own.
“When you win, your confidence goes up,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Players, they play different in regard to when you’re winning. You play looser. You don’t press as much. I think right now the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn’t feel like one of those deals where if we don’t hold them to under 14 points, we don’t have a chance to win.”
Early in the season, the Bears seemed to not know what to do with Trubisky. The offensive line was porous at best, and the complete absence of a run-game rendered the offense completely ineffective; only once in their first 10 games did they break 300 total yards. But in their last three games, their lowest yardage total is 335. The importance of small sample size cannot be overstated, but for what the Bears looked like for most of this season, the improvements they’ve undergone are important.
“Really steady improvement comes from focusing on incremental steady improvement,” said Trubisky, who completed 23 of 31 pass attempts for 244 yards and three touchdowns. “That’s what we’ve been preaching since really training camp when we were talking about that.”
The hesitation in Trubisky seems to have dissipated, and much of that can be credited to improved play-calling. Trubisky works well when rolling outside the pocket, which, as Kyle Long said in his Twitch stream, allows him to see the whole field. As Nagy has incorporated them more into his playcalling, Trubisky has gotten more comfortable. Rollouts off hard play-action make the offensive line’s job easier and it mimics their run-blocking assignments, putting them in a better position to run the ball.
The Bears ran primarily out of shotgun early in the season, but that has changed in the past couple weeks as they’ve gone under center more. They have also shown more willingness to incorporate their tight ends, with Jesper Horsted and JP Holtz being pleasant surprises on offense in the absences of Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen.
But it all comes back to Trubisky, who threw with conviction and confidence last night. He threw an interception to Jourdan Lewis on the opening drive, but settled down significantly after that. Throughout the night, he whizzed the ball through tight windows and put it in spots where only the receiver could catch it or in spots conducive to catch-and-runs. Both of these improvements were evident in his trust-driven throw on Allen Robinson’s second touchdown reception over Jaylon Smith and Anthony Miller’s touchdown off a bubble screen.
“I can’t tell you what I specifically said, but I was just telling him that, ‘You’re doin’ it, man. You’re running stuff. You’re proving the doubters wrong,’” Miller said. “You know what I mean? We been rocking with him this whole time and finally, everything is clicking, and you might see some people just try to jump on his bandwagon or something like that, but we know who’s been there the whole time and who hasn’t.”
Perhaps most assuring to see is a willingness by Trubisky and the coaching staff to use his legs. Through the Bears’ first 10 games, Trubisky rushed for only 58 yards on 15 attempts. He outdid that last night alone, rushing for 63 yards on 10 attempts comprised of designed runs and scrambles. The longest came on a perfectly blocked read-option in which Charles Leno Jr. took safety Darian Thompson completely out of the play, opening up a hole for a 23-yard touchdown rush by Trubisky.
Trubisky’s legs are a weapon, and when he uses them it gives defenses yet another problem to worry about. He has had more to throw and make decisions as a passer, and the run game has gotten bigger holes to get through. David Montgomery, who now has 183 rushing yards over his last three games, has gotten more space to maneuver and has given a degree of life to a Bears rushing attack that was dead in the water.
“I’m just taking it one game at a time and I keep chipping away at the armor,” Montgomery said. “It’s being able to create chemistry with my O-line. Those guys have been doing good. I credit them with the little bit of success I’ve had towards the end of the season. I’m just happy to be here.”
A Bears defense that was without Prince Amukamara, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan took another hit when Roquan Smith exited the game with a pectoral injury that prompted Nagy to say, “It doesn’t look real good for him.” But a thin Bears defense shut down an explosive Cowboys offense for most of the game until they added to their stats in the fourth quarter. Khalil Mack had a sack and three quarterback hits, while Nick Kwiatkowski continued to play strong defense, collecting 10 total tackles.
“I just looked at it like it was going to be an NFL football game and the team that was more prepared, more hungry, was going to go out there and win,” said Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper. “I don’t think we really showed that tonight.”
The Bears look revitalized now and Trubisky finally has on-field confidence. They have extra time to prepare for the Packers in Green Bay as they cling to their playoff chances. They are about to run a gauntlet, closing out the season with the Chiefs and Vikings. Every win matters and the Bears are now 7-6 after taking out Dallas
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