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Turning the Page on the 2018 Bears

| January 11th, 2019

What a ride.

The Bears’ 2018 season ended with a doink a few weeks before anybody wanted it to, but man oh man what fun it was. After four straight years of shifting attention to the draft by November, the Bears went 12-4, established themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL, and laid waste to the division. Along the way, they got to officially end the season of both the Packers and Vikings and made the entire city of Chicago go crazy with football fever.

Lest we forget some of the highlights of 2018:

  • After three brutal games to start the season, Mitchell Trubisky finally had his coming out party when he laid waste to the Bucs in week 4. Just to make sure you knew it wasn’t a fluke, he followed it up with 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in both of the next two games.
  • Khalil Mack, Eddie Goldman, and company embarrassed the Rams on Sunday Night football with the whole world watching (and picking against Chicago), proving once and for all that this team was in fact for real.
  • Eddie Jackson just kept scoring touchdowns, Kyle Fuller led the NFL in interceptions, and the defense as a whole made big play after big play.
  • Linemen and linebackers kept scoring touchdowns on trick plays, just for fun.
  • The Bears finished the season winning 9 of their last 10 games, with the only loss coming on the road in overtime with their backup QB.
  • The Bears finished with the NFL’s 3rd best W/L record, 4th best point differential, and 3rd best turnover differential, all key indicators of the best teams in the league.

And then…

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From Knicks to Hicks: A New York Basketball Fan Waxes Poetic About the 2018 Chicago Bears

| January 10th, 2019

Outside of the Bears, my only other serious sports fandom belongs to the wayward New York Knicks. The Knicks only flash of national relevance in the last twenty years was quickly snuffed out by a ballhog unwilling to share the limelight. The team has drafted in the top ten for the last three years and only missed it in 2014 because they had traded their pick away for the chance to get Carmelo Anthony a few months before free agency. When the reports came out in the summer of 2017 that Phil Jackson was shopping Kristaps Porzingis because he didn’t show up for an exit interview (really), I hit the point where I seriously considered resigning my allegiance to the team. That was a bridge too far.

I mention all this because I know what the hopelessness of fandom can feel like.

That’s what confused me so much throughout this Bears season. Despite winning nearly every week it felt like all I was seeing (from both Bears fans and the national media) were questions about the quarterback. While life has interfered with my Bears fandom over the last few years, Nagy, Mack, Hicks, Cohen, and, of course, Trubisky, made it fun to watch the team again this season. I didn’t miss a game on TV, I taught my three year old “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” (it’s very cute), and I read all the Bears coverage I could find every Monday morning for the past 19 weeks.

Sports are entertainment and this team was nothing if not entertaining. So what’s the point in trying to pick apart a kid who holds the keys to a decade of possible relevance? I trust Jeff and the rest of the crew here are going to spend quite a bit of time breaking down the game, the season, and what’s in store for the next nine months, so I thought I’d spend a bit of time trying to get inside the head of the fans who love to hate Trubisky.

Here are my three best guesses for why people feel the need to pick apart a player who offers them their greatest hope for football salvation:

Protection From Disappointment

This is the most understandable reason, but then why be a fan? The difference between liking a sport and liking a team is whether you feel something when your guys win and lose. For the past 10 years in the NBA I’ve liked the sport more than the Knicks. It’s fun, I watch a bunch of games on League Pass, but there’s no real emotion there. I wanted LeBron to beat the Warriors, but I didn’t care when he didn’t. We are human and we crave feelings, both good and bad. It makes some sense to try and protect your emotions by playing down the hope, but if you really care about the team you’re going to lose that game with yourself.

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The Five Plays that Defined the Regular Season for the 2018 Chicago Bears

| January 2nd, 2019

Usually I write a paragraph here, introducing the concept below. But doesn’t the headline do all that work? Do you really need further explanation of this piece? I don’t think you do. So read away…


(#5) Kyle Fuller’s Dropped Interception

Yes, this was a negative play. But it is the singular moment of adversity that seems to have inspired the entirety of the 2018 campaign. Every big play, every dance routine, every sack of the quarterback, seems to have been motivated by that Aaron Rodgers pass sailing off the chest of Fuller.


(#4) All Those Touchdown Passes Against the Bucs (tie)

After three games, 2018 felt like it was going to be a long, developmental-type season for Mitch Trubisky. Then Week 4 happened. 354 yards. 6 touchdowns. Yes, it was against the hapless Buccaneers but it was still the kind of explosive performance this organization was not using to seeing from the quarterback position. Seeing it was important for Bears fans, Bears players/coaches and for the quarterback himself. That game elevated expectations for the entire year.


(#3) Akiem Hicks Scores a Touchdown

Week 13, in the Meadowlands, Daniel handed the ball to Hicks at the goal line and the behemoth scored (easily). It was the play that best symbolized the sense of pure fun Matt Nagy has brought to this organization. He’s not afraid of comparisons to the ’85 edition of this franchise. Fridge be damned! He’s just out there calling plays, having a good time and inspiring his players to do the same.

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ATM: Trubisky Can Lead Bears to Something Special

| January 1st, 2019

“BOOM!

One more!

BOOM!

And another!

BOOM!

And now it gets real.”

That was the message from Matt Nagy after thoroughly kicking the butt of a team that fully expected to be contending for the Super Bowl this season. The Bears didn’t just knock the Vikings out of the playoffs. They offered a glimpse of how talented they actually are.

It’s been convenient to say the Vikings weren’t good or that they lost before the game even started. But that ignores the primary storyline heading into the game: the Vikings were “fixed.” They fired Flip and found Stefanski! Their offense had been corrected and they were the team nobody wanted to play.

Then the Bears broke them…again.

The Bears didn’t do anything flashy. The offensive game plan was vanilla. They did what they do defensively. They won that game simply because they were too good to lose it. They were that much better than a team that had a Super Bowl-worthy roster.

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ATM: Mitch Trubisky, Warden of the North

| December 18th, 2018

When the Bears needed life Sunday, second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky stepped in.

The strengths of the team were flailing. The defense was mid-collapse. The coach made numerous bone-headed calls. Throughout the third and early fourth quarters the Packers had all the momentum. They were going to steal the game. Everyone knew it.

After a strange fake punt allowed the Packers to drive 50 yards for a touchdown and the game-tying two-point conversion, the Bears looked dead. They got the ball back.

First down: incomplete to Burton.

Second down: incomplete to Burton.

Third down: Trubisky takes off for 14.

Later in the drive, Trubisky made a sharp throw to Gabriel for 14 on second-and-13. Then he hit Adam Shaheen for 16 yards on second-and-eight after scrambling to his left.

Then Matt Nagy took the ball out of his hands, calling a Wildcat run in which Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard botched the exchange on third-and-one and the Packers recovered.

That was supposed to be the time Aaron Rodgers took control of the game. Everyone with a working knowledge of the game of football expected it.

Sack.

Incomplete.

Incomplete.

Enter Mitch

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Bears 24, Packers 17: Rapid Fire Reaction to a Division-Clinching Victory

| December 17th, 2018


This was not a clean effort by the Chicago Bears. But just think about that. The Bears played sub-par ballgame and beat Aaron Rodgers to clinch the NFC North. This simply has not been possible for the last decade. More thoughts…

  • Mitch Trubisky was great. He was calm and smart under pressure, decisive and accurate with the medium-range passing game and also flashed a few moments of absolute brilliance, including the the left sideline/cross-body toss to Shaheen and the bullet to Bellamy over the middle. This might not have been his flashiest box score but it might have been his best performance of the season.
  • But I’m sure today someone will write that Trubisky can only go to his first read or that he struggles throwing to his left. Why? Because the Bears played Sunday at 1 PM and most national guys didn’t watch the game.
  • Aaron Rodgers did something yesterday I haven’t seen from a QB. Every time Khalil Mack got near him, he switched the ball to the opposite arm. Rodgers knew Mack was going to get him. He wasn’t going to let him get the ball. Smart stuff. (And I don’t know how to write about Mack anymore. He’s everything a superstar player is supposed to be.)
  • DBB will be sending Lou Malnati’s pizza to Jon Gruden today. Updates will be available on the blog over the next few days.
  • Tarik Cohen’s season: 88 carries, 405 yards (4.6 per) and 2 touchdowns. 68 catches, 710 yards, 5 touchdowns. And he’s also the best punt returner in the NFL. The Bear are not division champions without him.

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Week 15: Packers at Bears Game Preview

| December 13th, 2018

This is the moment. Are you ready?


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and the champagne is on ice at Josie Woods Pub. There are few occasions that warrant excessive celebration in the basement bar I’ve called home for eighteen years. Beating the Packers to win the NFC North would absolutely be one of them. And I expect the Bears to deliver.


The Game Haiku

They have earned this stage.

And the lights that shine on it.

Glory approaches.


Why the Bears Will Win.

  • Soldier Field. I mean, I wrote an entire piece on this topic a few days ago. Just go ahead and read that. If you don’t want to read it, here are the CliffsNotes™: the Chicago Bears have become a dominant team at home in 2018.
  • Pass Rush. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 41 times, and hit a lot more than that. He’ll be playing Sunday with about 40% of his starting offensive line. I expect an angry performance from Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears front. They know that if they give Rodgers time in the pocket, he’ll find holes in the secondary. Expect them to hit the Green Bay quarterback and hit him often.
  • Run Run Rudolph! Green Bay is one of the league’s weakest run defenses and the Bears are starting to find their identity on the ground as they make their playoff push. This is not a game Matt Nagy is going to ask Mitch Trubisky to win by throwing it 40+ times. This is game Nagy is going to win by controlling the line of scrimmage and keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. They’ll throw it effectively. But the run game will dominant.

Why They Won’t.

  • Rodgers. The Bears have 25 interceptions. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 1 all season. Something’s gotta give, right? And historically it gives in the Green Bay quarterback’s favor. (See: Fuller, Kyle’s only negative plays of this entire season.) A question that may arise on Sunday is will Rodgers pick on Sherrick McManis, filling in for the injured Bryce Callahan? Don’t be surprised to see a bunch of targets for Randall Cobb from the slot.
  • Trubisky. The quarterback was awful Sunday night against the Rams and that was without much pressure. The Packers can put together a pass rush and one would expect Mike Pettine to dial-up blitzes Trubisky hasn’t seen to try and force hurried decisions. Trubisky’s development is still ongoing, even if the rest of the team is on a different plateau now. He’s going to have bad games. But he can’t stack bad games if this team has serious aspirations for January.
  • Specials. Other than Tarik Cohen on punt returns, I don’t trust a single piece of the “third phase”. Not the punter, even off his best outing in years. Not the coverage units, especially with McManis moving into a starting role on the defense. Certainly not the kicker, who is the team’s most substantial liability down the stretch. The Bears need to do a lot of work here in the offseason. But that won’t help them Sunday.

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ATM: Defensive Performance Makes Championship Dreams Valid

| December 11th, 2018

After holding one of the ten best offenses in the history of the league to just one legitimate scoring drive, Super Bowl dreams no longer seem far-fetched for the 2018 Chicago Bears.

Yes, they have to take care of business the rest of the season and any playoff run is going to require Mitch Trubisky to be infinitely better than he was Sunday night. But now that we’ve seen the defense be that good, there’s no reason to put a cap on what the Bears can accomplish this season.

Say what positive you will about the Bears teams of the early-to-mid 2000s, but they never faced — much less beat — an offense like the 2018 Bears just did.

  • 2005 Bears held a Carolina team that averaged more than 24 per game to just three but then got smoked in the playoffs by a legendary Steve Smith performance.
  • 2006 Bears limited the fifth-ranked Saints to 14 points, but that’s still not really comparable as indoor Saints and outdoor Saints are very different things.
  • 2010 Bears played two top-three offenses and gave up 26 and 36 points in those games respectively.

While the defense’s performance Sunday makes the games against Brock Osweiler, Eli Manning and gimpy Aaron Rodgers even more confusing, it also gave validity to their claim as a potentially historic defense. If they can do THAT to the Rams, they can beat anybody — especially when you consider the defensive issues the other top scoring teams have.

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Week 14: Rams at Bears Game Preview, Volume II

| December 7th, 2018

…continued.


Why the Bears Will Win

  • Soldier Field. The Bears are simply a different team at home (5-1), where they’d be undefeated if not for a special teams meltdown against the Patriots. Sunday night this high-flying Rams offense is going to experience 20 degrees on the lake. It won’t bother the Bears. It won’t bother their crowd. Will it bother Los Angeles? I have images of the 2005 Atlanta Falcons and 2013 Dallas Cowboys in my head. High-powered, warm weather offenses that boarded their buses to the airport midway through the third quarter.
  • Mitch’s Return. Trubisky’s ability to stretch the field with his arm and extend drives with his legs was sorely missed during the Chase Daniel period. And this is a defense that can:
    • Be exploited at the back end, with Marcus Peters having a nightmare season and Aquib Talib slowly working his way back from injury.
    • Leave huge gaps if they don’t get home to the quarterback. Russell Wilson put up nearly 100 yards on the ground in his last meeting with the Rams.
  • Jared Goff vs. Bears Secondary. One thing that stands out watching is Rams tape is the alarming number of wide open receivers Goff has over the course of a game. (The Chiefs game was an embarrassment.) But Goff was challenged last week in Detroit and probably delivered his most inconsistent/inaccurate performance of the 2018 season. Aside from a few breakdowns at the Meadowlands last week, this Bears secondary usually forces opposing QBs to hit 4-5 good throws to mount a scoring drive. In these conditions, with this pass rush bearing down, that will be a challenge for Goff.

Tweet of the Week


Why They Won’t.

  • Aaron Donald. James Daniels and Cody Whitehair have never seen anything like Donald in current form. I’m not quite sure many guards/centers have, as the man is coasting to the Defensive Player of the Year prize. Donald may not dominate for sixty minutes but he’s sure to make a big play (or three) at critical moments of the game, especially if he decides to line up over the struggling Bryan Witzmann.
  • Run Defense. The Giants may have laid something of a blueprint for attacking Vic Fangio’s aggressive pass rush. (Eli Manning hinted at such during his weekly radio spot on WFAN New York.) Run right at it. Yes, it helps to have a back of Saquan Barkley’s quality but the Rams have that in Todd Gurley. So Fangio should expect McVay to follow the Shurmur template and run Gurley directly at Khalil Mack for much of the evening. If Gurley gets going, the Rams will be unstoppable.
  • Shootout. If this game gets moving in a particular direction, are the Bears really prepared to go toe-to-toe with a high-powered offense? Are they prepared to score 40 if they NEED 40 to win? They have the scheme. They have the talent. They’re more equipped than any time in history to engage such a battle but they’ve never actually done it. The Rams are seasoned as playing such games. They play them every other week because they don’t defend well.

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After 99 Years, the Bears are Finally Exciting.

| November 26th, 2018

The 2018 Chicago Bears season has been as surprising as any in my lifetime, soon to hopefully be entering it’s 37th year. It is certainly as surprising as any since the launch of this website in early 2005.

It’s not that the team has been competitive. That was expected. It’s not even that the team is winning. Many of us saw a clear path to eight plus victories even before Ryan Pace acquired one of the sport’s two most dominant defensive humans.

No, this season has been surprising – shocking, even – because of the seismic cultural and identity shift that has occurred at Halas Hall. Seemingly overnight, but of course decidedly not overnight, the Chicago Bears have transformed themselves not only into one of the league’s better teams but unquestionably one of the league’s most exciting.


These are the Chicago Bears, aren’t they?

Their most prolific passing campaign before Erik Kramer’s 1995 one-off was in 1943. For a few periods of the Lovie Smith era, a few weeks of the Trestman tenure and a few moments of the Ditka days they could score points in bunches. But this organization hasn’t done anything one could deem “exciting” on offense since Clark Shaughessy helped the team implement the “T” to beat the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL Championship Game.

Efficient? Sure. Effective? Okay. Hell, even excellent at times. But exciting? No chance. Devin Hester is the most exciting offensive weapon the Bears have had since Gale Sayers. And Hester literally couldn’t play offense.

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