The Chicago Bears are playing perhaps the most contrasting style of offensive football the NFL has seen all season.
After naming rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky their starter, the Bears have gone 2-2, while Trubisky has thrown the ball just 80 times, far and away the fewest attempts in the league during that span. The Bears meanwhile, have been competitive in spite of Trubisky, whose ineptitude under center has been stunning. And it begs the question of just how sustainable this actually is.
When Trubisky “led” the 3-5 Bears to an overtime road win over Baltimore in Week 6, the 23-year-old compiled just 16 pass attempts while Chicago ran the ball a remarkable 50 times. In a Week 7, 17-3 victory over Newton and the Carolina Panthers, Chicago ran 37 offensive plays — total. To put that staggeringly low number in perspective, consider that since the merger, only 24 times has a team run 37 or fewer plays in a single game.
Trubisky attempted a measly seven throws against the Panthers, the first time a quarterback did that since 2006. He hardly seemed thrilled about his performance either.
“I thought I played really poor,” Trubisky told reporters after the Panthers win. “I just have to be better overall.”
He added: “It was a bit disappointing.”
Better is a relative term. Drew Brees could have been better on third down against the Packers. Tom Brady could have been better with his deep ball against the Falcons. For Trubisky, better appears unrealistic, not because he lacks the talent, but because his head coach, John Fox, won’t afford him the opportunity.
Fox’s philosophy is highly unusual.
In a league consumed by the aerial attack — think dynamic offensive schemes with multiple wideouts and creative ways to throw the ball — Fox is sitting on the football, content to ensure his offense doesn’t lose games so that his defense can win games.
In other words, Fox has zagged when the rest of the league has zigged. And yet, it has worked. If the Bears continue to play .500 football, they would finish the season 7-9. Or, in other words, progress. Remember, last year’s team finished 3-13, tied for the fourth worst record in the NFL.
Mitchell Trubisky faced nothing but top-10 defenses in his first four starts, but won’t this weekend against the Green Bay Packers.
Trubisky may have been the second overall pick in May’s draft, but he’s also extremely green, having made just 13 starts as a collegian at North Carolina. He surely possesses the raw tools — size, athleticism, big arm — but nothing about his limited sample size says he’s ready to take off the training wheels. In a 20-12 loss to New Orleans in Week 8, he missed a slew of routine throws that any NFL quarterback has to make.
“It’s not always going to be perfect,” Fox offered, via J.J. Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago.
There is also the matter of the Bears’ starting wide receivers, an uninspiring blend of no-names forced into marquee roles. Names like Tre McBride (six career catches), undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, fifth-year man Deonte Thompson (795 career receiving yards) and Steelers castoff Markus Wheaton (one catch) are whom Trubisky is targeting, not to mention tight end Zach Miller, lost for the season due to injury.
Consider Trubisky’s late-game situation woes as well. In the final 3 minutes of regulation or overtime, he has had six full possessions with a chance to lead a go-ahead or game-tying drive. The results of those possessions: interception, punt, punt, game-winning field goal, turnover on downs, interception. Hardly Brady-esque, barely Browns-esque.
With Jordan Howard and the dynamic rookie Tarik Cohen coming out of the backfield however, why take risks until the young quarterback proves he can consistently make the correct decisions and deliver accurate strikes?
The other side to this blueprint is a Bears defense, which has quietly become one of the NFC’s better units. It’s a stark contrast from last year’s defense, which forced just 11 forced turnovers in 16 games, tying the 2015 Cowboys, 2013 Texans and 1982 Colts for fewest ever. This year, however, they’ve already forced nine turnovers, including three that went for scores. It’s not exactly a Buddy Ryan 46 squad, but it has undeniable become a stout unit.
Just look at what it did to Newton, who had accumulated nine touchdowns over his previous three games, only to toss two picks with zero touchdowns at Soldier Field. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson proved to be Newton’s kryptonite, returning both a pick and a fumble for touchdowns.
Credit defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for Chicago’s resurgent defense. One of the league’s most respected defensive minds, Fangio has apparently gotten his players to completely buy in.
One of them is former New York Giants washout Prince Amukamara, who is starting at corner and playing the best football of his career.
“The crazy thing with Vic … it’s hard to explain,” Amukamara said, per the Chicago Tribune. “He has to be just one of the top DC’s just because of how he calls things.
“That’s why he went away from Cover Two. You see a lot of DC’s in the league just being stubborn, ‘This is all I know or this is what I am staying with.’ Not Vic.”
Whether or not the Bears continue to win football games with an extremely limited offense remains to be seen, but they are certainly bucking the trend. And in a copycat league, there is something to be said about that.
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