Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:20 AM

Is Chicago's Nick Foles experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan
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When I wrote earlier this year about the Bears benching Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, I said that I was surprised that Trubisky had been named the pre-season starter, that I expected Foles would eventually have the starting job, and that I was still surprised that Trubisky was suddenly benched in the middle of the week 3 game against the Falcons. It all seemed so indecisive. Trubisky had supposedly earned the job in training camp, was playing well, had lead a comeback victory in week 1 against the Lions, but was benched after a single mistake.

From my position as an un-informed spectator, the whole thing made no sense.

Then Foles came in and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard either. Foles lead the team to 2 victories, and it almost looked like the decision to change quarterbacks wouldn't hurt the team. Then the Bears' offense started playing far worse with Foles as starting quarterback, dropping the next six games straight. Granted, most of those 6 losses were against solid good offenses, such as the Saints, Packers, and Titans, and the Bears struggled to keep up. But Foles just wasn't looking good, and he wasn't helped by a stagnant run game while Tarik Cohen has been sidelined with injury. By the time of the week 10 matchup against the Vikings, I was starting to expect that a switch back to Trubisky probably should happen.

Mitch Trubisky has re-taken the starting job from Nick Foles. But was it too late to save the season?

That switch waited a few more weeks until the week 12 game against the Lions. The Bears still lost that game with Trubisky playing, but the offense did put up 30 points. The offense has also gone on to score more than 30 points in the Bears' 2 wins since, including a victory over the Vikings this past weekend that moved the Bears up to the top slot for playoff runner-up. The Bears are now 1 game behind the 7-seed Cardinals with 2 games left to play. They're also 2 games behind the Buccaneers and Rams, but only have a tie-breaker with the Buccaneers. Their victory against the Vikings puts them 1 game ahead of the Vikings (who are the only remaining team eligible for a wildcard berth). The Bears basically need to win both their remaining games (including a week 17 rematch against a Packers team that embarassed the Bears at the end of November), and then also hope that the Buccaneers, and/or Cardinals lose their last 2 games.

The most likely path to a playoff birth is if the Cardinals lose both their remaining games, and the Bears win both. That would give the Bears a 1-game lead over the Cardinals. The Cardinals' remaining games are a home matchup against the 49ers (coming off an upset loss to the Cowboys) and a road game against the Rams. Both are tough matchups for the cardinals, but very winnable ones. The 49ers also have nothing left to play for except pride and the satisfaction of maybe playing spoiler to a division rival.

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Monday, September 28, 2020 05:00 PM

Is Chicago's Trubisky experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan

Readers of my blog know that I was not a big fan of the Chicago Bears' decision to trade up in the 2017 draft to select Mitchel Trubisky. The decision seemed flat-out stupid considering how much money they had given Mike Glennon in the trade with the Buccaneers. Why spend so much money to trade for veteran QB, if you were planning to go all-in on a QB in the draft? It was especially non-sensical considering that Trubisky wasn't even the highest-rated passer in the draft.

This past offseason's decision to trade for Nick Foles initially excited me. That excitement turned to disappointment when head coach Matt Nagy announced that Trubisky would remain the starter. The move to pay for a high-profile QB in a trade, only to keep the under-performing incumbent as the starter wreaked of poor decision-making in the same way that the Glennon / Trubisky situation did 3 years ago.

Mitchel Trubisky has not been nearly as infuriatingly bad as Jay Cutler was.

It isn't like Trubisky is a horrible quarterback. He had a phenomenal 2018 season that lead to a Pro Bowl invitation. His 2019 season was a noticeable regression (possibly due to nagging injury), but it was never as bad as the worst Jay Cutler years. Remember that Cutler lead the NFL in interceptions multiple years during his tenure in Chicago that got three coaching staffs fired. Trubisky has not been that bad, and he is a big upgrade over Cutler.

But Foles seemed like an upgrade over Trubisky. Foles had, after all, lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl (as a backup to injured Carson Wentz). If the Bears made the trade for Foles, then I had to conclude that it meant they didn't have faith in Trubisky.

When Nagy announced that Trubisky had won the job in offseason competition, I expected that he must have looked damn good to have beat out Foles. In fact, Trubisky did look fantastic in the comeback win against the Lions in week 1. The offense then went on to struggle in week 2 against a bad Giants team, then appeared to falter again in the first half against the Falcons. Apparently, all it took was a single interception from Trubisky for the Nagy to decide to pull him out in favor of Foles.

I didn't get to watch the game because it wasn't televised in my region of the country. The highlights that I saw made it look like Trubisky was playing a good game up until that interception. The offense was moving the ball. They just weren't scoring points, and some of that is on the kicker for missing a field goal on the opening drive.

Trubisky was benched after botching the primary read on a dagger concept.

Even though the interception was a bad decision, there must've been more going on that wasn't in the highlights that I saw. I can't imagine that the one interception by itself was enough to replace the starter. Even though Trubisky ultimately is responsible for botching the primary read and throwing the drag route right into a flat zone defender who Trubisky is supposed to be keying off of (instead of the wide open deep in route), Jimmy Graham didn't help Mitch by running a lazy-looking route and carrying it right into the defender (as opposed to stopping and sitting in the hole of the zone). So this one wasn't all on Mitch.

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Full disclaimer: I haven't been able to watch any of the Bears' games this year that haven't been nationally televised. That's part of the reason that I've been so quiet about the team this year. I don't have any fancy satellite TV subscriptions, nor do I even have cable. And my local affiliates are never showing the Bears games, even when the Bears are supposed to be the top-bill game that week. Whatever. I've had to resort to watching highlights and listening to other sports pundits because I haven't been able to see the Bears' piss-poor play for myself.

I expressed concern in the offseason over the loss of Jordan Howard and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. But I didn't expect the team to be this bad. I knew the Vikings and Packers would be in the hunt of the NFC North title, but I expected the Bears to be neck-and-neck in the contest. At the very least, I had hoped they'd be a top-contender for a wild card spot. What I didn't expect was for them to have to win a mid-season game against the Lions to keep themselves out of last place in the NFC North.

Chicago Bears - David Montgomery
The running game has struggled without Jordan Howard.

And it isn't like the Bears are losing to great teams. They aren't losing to the Patriots or the Chiefs or the Ravens or the 49ers. The only good teams they've lost to have been the Packers and the Saints. They lost embarrassing games against the Raiders, the Chargers, and a disappointing Eagles team. That Raiders loss was especially criticised because it was played in London, and the Bears' coaching staff decided not to fly out until Friday night. So the team came into the first half looking groggy and half-asleep -- just like they did in the first week of the regular season, after Nagy decided to rest the starters. Those are both bad decision that are squarely on head coach Nagy's shoulders.

Trading away Jordan Howard was perhaps the biggest personnel mistake that the Bears have made since trading for Jay Cutler. It might even be a more costly mistake than letting go of Robbie Gould. The Bears just haven't been the same team without Howard. The running game has been pathetic, and Trubisky and the passing game have not been able to make up the difference.

The lack of a running game is a problem, but I still put most of the blame for this season on Trubisky and Nagy. The play-calling has just not been as smart or creative as it was last year. But maybe it can't be, because Trubisky is making terrible decisions when Nagy tries running more complicated plays. Nagy seems to have dumbed-down his offensive play-calling in order to help Trubisky out, but even with simpler play concepts, Trubisky is struggling. He's making bad decisions and even worse throws. He often looks more like a confused college freshman than a third-season pro. It's like watching those Jay Cutler-led offenses all over again.

Trubisky is starting to look like a baby Jay Cutler.

In that win against Detroit, the entire first quarter was dominated by Trubisky completing short routes and check-downs to build his confidence, before showing flashes of why the Bears drafted him in the second and third quarters. The Bears were helped overall by the fact that starting Lions quarterback Matt Stafford sat out of the game. Even though Driskel played well, the Lions offense just wasn't as explosive as it usually is with Stafford behind center. The Bears couldn't run the ball, and Trubisky failed to convert several third downs late in the game that would have helped to ice the game. The game came down to an offensive pass interference that took away a fourth down conversion by the Lions, and resulted in a turnover on downs when the Lions failed to convert the retry. So it wasn't a pretty win, nor was it a convincing win. The Bears will be playing the Lions again in a few weeks on Thanksgiving day. I have zero confidence that the Bears will win the rematch.

This 2019 Bears team is bad. The offense cannot move the ball, let alone score. And the defense is not bailing the offense out with game-changing turnovers.

I expect the Bears to be looking for a new franchise quarterback in the next draft or two. They should probably also look at running backs while they're at it. Sadly, they don't have a first-round pick in the 2020 draft (because they gave that pick to the Raiders in the Khalil Mack trade). Maybe they can find some late-round sleepers?

Trubisky played decent against the Lions, but the Bears were helped by the Lions starting backup QB Jeff Driskel.
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I was really impressed with Matt Nagy's first year as the Bears' head coach. I wasn't the only one, as Nagy was named the Coach of the Year by the NFL itself. The accolades were warranted, as Nagy was routinely out-scheming the Bears' opponents in game after game last season.

The coaching prowess wasn't limited to Nagy either, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also named the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year. Fangio was helped by the shocking trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears at the end of preseason, who provided immediate results to the team.

After tripping over their own two feet in the 2017 NFL draft, it was starting to look like the Bears' management (including General Manager Ryan Pace) were finally putting together winning personnel. This was the smash-mouth, ground-and-pound, suffocating defensive team that I want the Bears to be. I could finally stop hating the Bears and start to love them again.

Chicago Bears - Matt Nagy Chicago Bears - Vic Fangio
The Bears had two coaches of the year in 2018!

New defensive coordinator

I'm not sure if it's going to last though. I expect Nagy to have a long and [relatively] successful career with the Bears, but my immediate expectations have sunk due to a few key changes in the team during the 2019 offseason.

The first bit of bad news came in the form of losing former Assistant Coach of the Year Vic Fangio. Fangio accepted the head coaching job with the Denver Broncos. Congratulations to him, as he deserves it! I think his schemes will work very well for the Broncos' defensive personnel, so it's real good news for Broncos fans. But damn, that stings for us Bears fans.

They get Vic Fangio from us, and all we ever got from them was Jay Cutler and John Fox?! This is not a fair deal at all...

Chicago Bears - Chuck Pagano
Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will replace Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.

The silver lining is that the Bears' new defensive coordinator is head-coach caliber. Chuck Pagano (formerly with the Indianapolis Colts) accepted the job as the Bears' defensive coordinator going into the 2019 season. I stopped paying as much attention to the Colts after Peyton Manning left, so I can't really speak to how successful I think Pagano might be. The most optimistic stat line for Pagano is that he helped coach Colts' safety Mike Adams to be tied for takeaways in the 2014 season. That bodes well for safety Eddie Jackson, who very well might have been the Bears' best defensive player if Khalil Mach hadn't been getting all the attention.

So maybe the loss of Fangio won't be as painful as it might have at first seemed.

...

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I think I might finally be buying into this 2018 Bears team. They locked up an NFC North division title by beating the Packers this past weekend, and might still be able to clinch home field advantage if the Bears can beat the 49ers and Vikings, and if the Rams and Saints manage to drop their last two games. In fact, the Bears have the head-to-head tie-breaker against the Rams, and would be the second seed if they tie. I don't think it's gonna happen, but it is possible...

While the Bears do seem to finally have a complete team with talent at every level of both the offense and defense, I really feel like most of the credit deserves to go to first year head coach Matt Nagy. After suffering through the years of Mark Trestman and John Fox, I am finally happy with Chicago's coach hiring decision. Nagy is regularly out-scheming and out-coaching the Bears' opponents and putting his players in position to make plays and let their talent shine. Trading for Khalil Mach from the Raiders seems to have pushed the Bears from a good team to a legit playoff contender. Finally, this organization is making the right decisions!

I was actually pleasantly surprised to be in this position. I had some initial concerns with the hiring of Nagy. He's an offensive-minded coach with the pedigree of one of the best QB coaches of all time, Andy Reid. Chicago has tried hiring offensive-minded coaches, and they have all failed miserably. Nagy was also coming off of an offensive collapse by the Chiefs in the playoffs, so there was some doubt about whether he was really as good as Alex Smith's Pro Bowl-level performance was making Nagy look. My expectations were not particularly high. I figured that Nagy would get a better performance out of the offense than Trestman and Fox (and even Lovie Smith) were ever able to do. He also benefits from not being burdened with having to deal with Jay Cutler. But I prefer watching smash-mouth football with dominant defense and a battering run attack. I was not expecting that from Nagy's team.

Nagy is really getting quality performances out of his players.

I was wrong. The Bears are playing "Bears football". The kind of football that I love to watch. They are devouring teams defensively, and making the offense look good by giving them plenty of opportunities with the ball. What's really surprising me, however, is that the offense looks to be genuinely good on its own. Unlike that 2006 Bears' Superbowl run, this team's defense does not appear to be carrying the offense.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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