When the Chicago Bears traded for Khalil Mack, the Bears were letting everyone know that they were “all in” to compete, at the very least, for the NFC North title. The Bears hierarchy and fandom dreamed of the amount of pressure Mack would bring to opposing quarterbacks. That dream became a reality when Aaron Rodgers was crumpled beneath a pile of Bears defenders last weekend. But as you now know, Rodgers returned, Willis Reed style, to come back and haunt the Bears 24-23. Now the pressure has shifted to second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and the offense’s failure to put the Green Bay Packers away.
That the offense “failed” is probably too strong a word. But there was the fandom calling the Bears postgame show on @670TheScore, according to postgame radio host Hub Arkush on Twitter. Saying that three out of every four calls were, “Trubisky’s a bust, get rid of him!” or “That bum Trubisky is killing us, they should play Chase Daniels!”
Sometimes being a sports fan in Chicago is like attending a bachelor party. Some people you know, but there are the “others”, people you have seen before but don’t really know. Watching them get disgustingly drunk, acting horribly, saying inappropriate things, isn’t really that much fun.
Makes a normal person want to take a shower and brush their teeth. Makes athletes like Mitchell Trubisky want to quit social media altogether like he did during training camp. From the time he was drafted Bears fans have held the belief that Trubisky was going to prove to be the franchise quarterback they have long been waiting for. Fans have been rabid in anticipation of this season with many talking playoffs and super bowl on fan message boards. They are a fickle bunch. Texting each other “can you believe this”, when the Bears got off to that great start against the Packers.
A Good Start
The first drive for Trubisky against the Packers had worked out so well because it was scripted, planned and rehearsed for weeks. Starting with a nod to the “T” formation of old, head coach Matt Nagy threw a variety of looks at the Packers. You could tell on the first two drives a wider variety of play calls kept the Packers on guard playing slow and tentative. Chicago jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and the defense, already playing well, started to tighten the screws on Rodgers and the Packers offense.
Khalil Mack and the Bears defense took over in the second quarter. First, they knocked Rodgers out of the game, when Roy Robertson-Harris, Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd had a meeting at the quarterback. Robertson-Harris landed on top of Rodgers, which pinched his knee in a sideways downward dog yoga position. Rodgers was clearly hurt and left the game, while his team punted.
On the Packers next drive, backup quarterback Deshone Kizer entered the game as Rodgers was carted off the field. Kizer drove the Packers to the Bears 10-yard line before Khalil Mack intervened. He sacked and stripped the ball from Kizer all at once. Mack even recovered the ball on the remarkably athletic play.
After a short drive by the Bears, they punted, giving the ball back to Kizer and the Packers. A couple completions and a penalty later the Packers were looking at 3rd down and 19 yards for a first down. Desperate to put points on the board before halftime, Kizer dropped back to pass, as Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris came up the gut on a stunt. Robertson-Harris got into the face of Kizer, who tossed the ball into Khalil Mack’s belly, and Mack ran 27 yards for the pick-6 touchdown. The Bears went to halftime with a 17-0 lead as boos rained down on the Packers at Lambeau Field. Packer fans are fickle too.
Once the teams took the field after halftime, Trubisky led the Bears on a good drive that took up nearly six minutes. They used screen passes with pretty good success to get into the red zone. But the Packers covered a third-down play pretty well and Trubisky threw the ball away so the Bears could kick the field goal that made it 20-0.
Before the Bears could really feel good about their lead, Aaron Rodgers put his helmet on and trotted onto the field. It only took a two-step drop out of a shotgun formation, and a quick 10-yard completion to Randall Cobb to make Bears fans feel a little nervous.
The Packers went no huddle for pretty much the rest of the game and Bears defenders Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks‘ conditioning was no match for the suddenly energetic Packers. After the first pass play, the Packers went away from Hicks and Mack’s side of the field. When Hicks and Mack left the game to get a breather as the Packers crossed the Bears 40-yard line. Rodgers went back to the right side for completions against a suddenly tired pass rush. Two incompletions in the end zone resulted in the Packers settling for a field goal, but momentum had already shifted.
After that, the Bears went three and out. Not because of Nagy’s play calls, or Trubisky’s lack of execution. But because running back Tarik Cohen took a screen pass on first down and turned it back up the middle for a loss of a yard. If he had gone up the sideline he would’ve gained at least five yards. The Bears may have been able to turn second and five into a first down, but 11 yards to go is more difficult. Cohen led the league in negative yards last year and needs to learn to take what he is given.
On a critical third down and 14 yards to go at the start of the Packers next drive. Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman wasn’t in the game. Akiem Hicks moved over with Mack playing left end, and Sam Acho in Mack’s linebacking spot. Fangio decided to have Mack run around Hicks in a stunt back up the middle, which took to long to develop. Mack didn’t get close to Rodgers as he completed a strike to Geronimo Allison for 15 yards.
As with the previous drive, Hicks and Mack left the game to get rest after the Packers crossed midfield. Rodgers wasted no time under no pressure as he completed a perfect 39-yard touchdown to Allison. Kyle Fuller had the play well covered, the pass was perfect. 20-17 Bears.
Packers Defense Comes Alive
What has been lost in post-game analysis is how disciplined the Packers defense played the final three quarters. Packers defenders stayed in their lanes on a critical third down and a yard to go for the Bears. Ha Ha Clinton Dix stopped Bears tight end Dion Sims for a loss on a misdirection tight end naked screen. Trubisky executed what was called, the Packers just stopped him often enough to give Rodgers a chance to win.
The Bears tried to put the game away on their next drive. Trubisky executed a critical third down and seven yards with a rollout and completion to rookie Anthony Miller. Two big Jordan Howard runs and the Bears were looking at third down and two yards to go at the Packers 12-yard line. Nagy dialed up a play to go for the touchdown which was well covered. The only receiver Trubisky could throw to was Miller. The ball went through his hands for an incompletion was well covered and would’ve lost yards anyway. The Bears kicked the field goal to take a 23-17 lead.
With every drive the Packers had in the second half, Rodgers appeared less and less mobile. On the first play of the Packers next drive, Rodgers threw the ball right into the arms of Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, who dropped it. The next play Khalil Mack finally got a hand on Rodgers and shoved him as he released the ball for an incompletion. Rodgers hopped back to the huddle looking pretty wobbly. On third down and ten yards to go, Rodgers found Randall Cobb breaking over the middle. Caught in stride, Cobb ran to the endzone for a 75-yard touchdown that completed the seemingly impossible comeback.
The Bears still had a chance though. With 2:08 left in the game and two timeouts left, Trubisky led a drive where they converted a fourth and ten on a roughing the passer penalty. He did manage to complete one good pass to get them near midfield. But on third and ten, and fourth and ten, Nagy called plays that were too aggressive with the amount of time that was left. Both went incomplete downfield and the Packers ran out the clock for the win.
A Hint of Pressure
Right when the trade happened, the media and beat reporters were in a frenzy to get quotes and report on the Bears player reactions. Trubisky was specifically asked by a slew of reporters if he felt any additional pressure to win with the acquisition of Mack. He, of course, said no, but the seed had just been planted.
No one is so robotic they can block something out completely. Even Tom Brady gets mad at reporters, lashes out, channels his anger, and turns reporter hyperbole into self-motivating fuel that he can use to crush souls on Sunday’s.
So far Mitchell has been more “Nuke” LaLoosh than anything. He clearly has a “Crash” Davis in his corner, coaching him to say the right things, to be polite, respectful and earnest. Bears players say he has shown the leadership and earned the respect of the locker room. Actions speak louder than words though.
Creating the Wrong Kind of Pressure
Frequently on the Bears last few drives, the “happy feet” that Trubisky said postgame he needs to correct was on display. Nerves are a powerful thing. Until a person learns what to do and gains the confidence that comes with repetition and success, the nerves will always rise to the surface in a pressure-filled situation. Maybe Mitchell should’ve played more in the preseason, or at least in two-minute drills and no huddle situations. Bears nation and beat reporters who applauded Nagy’s thinking for cutting short first-team reps in preseason games, can thank Nagy for Mitchell’s “happy feet.”
Football is a game of action and reaction. In training camp practices you can’t create the type of pressure necessary to sharpen a quarterbacks reaction, while he wears a red jersey that says DON’T TOUCH! Outside of stripping off the red jersey, the only way you can create real pressure is to convince them that their job is on the line. When the Bears moved up to draft Trubisky, and anointed him the starter with no competition, they dulled his reactions by taking the pressure off. Now the only time he’s physically under pressure will be on Sunday’s running for his life. Trubisky’s “happy feet” is the result of internal pressure he feels to succeed.
One of the phrases I’ve heard continually out of Bears camp was that “iron sharpens iron.” They’ve been referring to the Bears top ten defense being effective at making the offense improve in practice. Iron doesn’t get sharper without putting the necessary pressure on the iron. In the Bears case, Matt Nagy’s practice’s don’t make perfect, even if you have 2000 reps like he says Trubisky has had.
The reason the Bears lost isn’t that Trubisky couldn’t get another first down with a completed pass, or missed a wide-open Trey Burton in the endzone on a play designed for Tarik Cohen. It’s not the play calling, but you’re getting closer. Even though Nagy admitted he called too many screens in the third and fourth quarters leading to consecutive three and outs. You want someone to blame? Take your pic
I give you defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The minute that a hobbled Aaron Rodgers stepped back onto the field, Fangio should’ve dialed up every blitz that he had in his playbook. Yes you could give up a big play that leads to a score, but they did score, didn’t they? Fangio should’ve attacked before the no-huddle offense sapped the strength of the Bears pass rush on Rodgers first drive back. Without the field goal to make it 20-3, the Packers don’t win and run out of time.
He got outcoached by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers pure and simple. He let the Bears blow another fourth-quarter lead like last year when he wanted John Fox’s job. The Bears scored enough points to win, even though the defense and Khalil Mack got one of the scores.
Don’t blame the screen passes for the loss. Blame Cohen for turning a gain into a loss though. It puts his quarterback and coach into tougher positions to convert third downs, which was the Bears achilles heel last year.
Blame Nagy for being too impatient and trying to be as aggressive as his coaching counterpart, Doug Peterson, the Philadelphia Eagles head coach. Both Nagy and Peterson come from the Andy Reid coaching tree. Peterson parlayed his aggressiveness into a super bowl after a couple of seasons.
Nagy should not rush things and let Trubisky walk before he runs. He needs to put his quarterback into more manageable situations in down and distance. He should have given him more game time in the preseason as well.
Kyle Fuller–Dropped an interception that hit him right in the numbers.
Eddie Jackson–Can’t let receivers run past you. Last line of defense.
Cody Whitehair–Bad snap at a critical moment. Trubisky forced to eat ball and Bears kicked field goal after wasting that down.
Illegally downfield penalty that called back 15 yard completion on final drive was a killer mental mistake.
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