Since Matt Nagy’s hiring, we have been waiting for an offensive onslaught like we saw Sunday at Soldier Field. Even though the Bears were 2-1 going into the game, many fans were frustrated because the offense had been inconsistent at best and quarterback Mitch Trubisky had struggled some early on in this, his second season.
People close to the team preached patience — and they were right, as the Bears offense put up close to 500 yards and 48 points in the blowout win against Tampa Bay. After scoring 38 points in the first half, the Bears played it a bit more conservatively in the second half. If Nagy had wanted, the Bears could have scored more points, but why bother in a game like that?
Like the offense, the defense was strong. The NFL’s leading sack team earned four more, as well as forcing three Tampa Bay turnovers. Khalil Mack got yet another strip-sack, and as a whole the defense came up with one big play after another.
We have all been waiting for Mitch Trubisky’s “breakout” day, and it came yesterday. In what can be described as just about a perfect game, Trubisky went 19-of-26 for 354 yards, a 13.6-yard average per pass, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Trubisky had struggled going through a progression and getting the ball out quickly. That was not the case Sunday, when he often released the ball before his receiver made his cut. He read the defense much better, and was confident with his reads. Except for a couple of throws, his accuracy was exceptional. He spread the ball around, hitting five different receivers, and there were multiple big-play throws. For the most part, the receivers were put in positions to get yards after the catch. Hopefully, this is the beginning of what we can expect to see on a consistent basis.
The group combined for 10 receptions, 147 yards and four touchdowns. There wasn’t a need to throw too often, as a high percentage of the completions were “big” plays. The group did a great job running routes and beating both man and zone coverage. Taylor Gabriel finally had the big game we were hoping for, with seven catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Kevin White got some playing time and, though he wasn’t targeted, did an excellent job with his downfield blocking, helping to spring some long gains.
Trey Burton was targeted four times and had two receptions for 86 yards and a 49-yard touchdown — which was the Bears’ first score of the day. That was a double move deep route in which the second move caused the defender to fall. Burton did a good job when asked to block, as did Dion Sims, who was only used as a blocker. This position hasn’t been as productive as we thought it would but has consistently produced big plays this season.
Jordan Howard was not a big part of the game plan yesterday, as Tarik Cohen got his most extensive playing time as a Bear. We could describe his game as a breakout day. He finished with seven receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown and 13 carries for 53 yards. With his quickness and change of direction, Cohen consistently turned runs that looked like they’d be short gains into very good plays.
Howard did not play that much in the first half, really getting the bulk of his work in the second half. He finished the day with just 11 carries for 25 yards. Howard did not look as explosive as he usually is, and I wonder if he was playing at less than 100 percent.
Except for one play in the Bears’ second offensive series, the pass blocking was excellent. Jason Pierre-Paul beat Charles Leno for a sack on that particular exception, but for the most part the Tampa Bay ends were nonfactors.
The line did a good overall job with run blocks, as both Cohen and Howard had space, as did Trubisky on some read-option plays. Still, there were too many plays that resulted in a loss — and that has to be corrected. Rookie James Daniels earned his first regular-season action, playing in a rotational role with Eric Kush. Daniels played very well and was able to generate some movement with his run blocks. The Bears may be trying to ease Daniels into action and give him more and more snaps each game, as he is raw but more talented than Kush.
This was another strong game for the D-line. All five players who were active got extensive playing time, and once again all contributed. The lone negative is that Akiem Hicks was ejected from the game late in the first half for contact with an official.
The group came up with two sacks and numerous pressures. Special mention has to go to rookie Bilal Nichols, who for the second week in a row came up with some big plays in limited action. Sunday, he had a half-sack and a tackle for loss. On the latter play, he got off the ball very quickly to hit the runner for a four-yard loss. Look for Nichols to get more snaps as the season goes on.
Another solid day for the inside linebackers. Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith each made four tackles, and Trevathan also had two PBUs and an interception. The speed and instincts of this group stands out every game.
The Bears have played four games, and Khalil Mack has four strip-sacks (one in every game). It sounds like a broken record, but Mack makes everyone else on the defense that much better. Leonard Floyd hasn’t done what we had hoped for as a pass rusher, but his injured hand has something to do with that. Used more in coverage than in previous games, Floyd came up big in that area, where he had a pass defensed and was never out of position. Aaron Lynch played in a rotation with Mack and Floyd and continues to get better and make plays. He had three tackles, a sack, a pass defensed and and an interception. He is becoming a valuable part of this defense.
Going into the game, I was worried that the Bucs would target rookie corner Kevin Toliver, causing problems for the Bears defense. I was wrong about the latter part. Making his NFL starting debut, Toliver was more than up to the challenge. He got beat once deep by DeSean Jackson, but that happens to NFL corners on a weekly basis. I felt his footwork, positioning and awareness were good. Kyle Fuller — who gave up a couple of big plays in the first two games — has settled down and since played very well. He was excellent Sunday. Bryce Callahan was also very good while playing over the slot. He got a few snaps outside in the third quarter when Toliver was banged up. He came up big early in the game, stopping bubble screens for little or no gain.
The safeties almost had a boring game with the front seven doing such a good job that they could almost sit back and enjoy. Still, with another interception, Eddie Jackson is beginning to show that he will become one of the elite safeties in football. If he hadn’t lost his balance, it would have been a pick-6. The safeties usually are among the leading tacklers for the Bears each week, but not Sunday. Jackson and Adrian Amos combined for five total tackles.
Another solid day for special teams. No breakdowns in kick coverage, and except for a block-in-the-back penalty, the return units were good. PK Cody Parkey was 2-for-2 on field goals — a including a 50-yarder — and Pat O’Donnell averaged 48 yards on two punts.
Greg Gabriel, Pro Football Weekly’s lead talent evaluator and the author of the annual PFW Draft Guide, has more than 30 years of NFL scouting experience, including nine seasons as the Bears’ director of college scouting. This column first appeared in PFW’s newsletter. To subscribe, go to www.profootballweekly.com/subscribe/bears/