Haugh: Bears D Compensates For Offense, Trubisky

September 23, 2018 - 7:46 pm

(670 The Score) On fourth-and-1 at the Cardinals' 19-yard line with 7:32 left in the third quarter Sunday, the Bears lined up in the shotgun formation and ran a shovel pass to their No. 1 wide receiver. So much for smash-mouth football.

"We felt good about it," Bears coach Matt Nagy told reporters in Arizona.

Nagy felt better after Allen Robinson gained the yard necessary to keep the drive alive and the offense scored its first touchdown three plays later. But the overall reaction to the unorthodox call by Nagy was universal from Glendale, Ariz. to Chicago.

The Bears got away with one.

Funny, that also summed up the prevailing opinion after the Bears escaped State Farm Stadium with a 16-14 comeback victory over a Cardinals team that was charitable enough for the Bidwills to consider the effort a tax deduction.

The Cardinals lost to the Bears more than the Bears beat the Cardinals, and everybody who watched the ugly game understands the difference. Nobody in the NFL ever apologizes for winning, but the McCaskeys will have to resist the urge to send bouquets of roses to the biggest Bears’ fans after this one. A statement game, this wasn’t. This was survival, NFL style.

On the bright side, the Bears showed resilience in digging out of a 14-0 hole in a first half that exposed quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as a quarterback fortunate to have Khalil Mack as a teammate. On the other, how the Bears found themselves in that predicament tempers any enthusiasm they brought home from the desert.

The Bears have a playoff-caliber defense and a pedestrian offense led by a quarterback, Trubisky, playing like a rookie -- except he isn’t. He's the future in charge of making a football city feel better about the present. He's the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft who needs to start making that more obvious.

If Trubisky were developing enough to be the reason the Bears won games this close rather than the liability that allowed a bad team to build hope, the Bears could believe anything was possible this season because of their special defense. Instead, every projection of 2018 comes with an asterisk: *If Trubisky is as good as they think he is.

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know we’re winning games because of our defense," Nagy said.

Nor does it require a mathematician to interpret the NFL standings.

Believe it or not, the Bears moved into first place of the NFC North for the first time in five years with the victory despite too often resembling the division cellar dwellers we have come to know and lament. The defense dominated enough, at times, to envision the Bears being 5-3 at midseason and finishing with 10 victories. The offense made longtime observers wonder if things ever will change at Halas Hall.

Bernstein: Bears display resiliency in comeback victory over Cardinals

Something about the silver football stadium that looks like a space station in the middle of Glendale makes the Bears defense play at an otherworldly level. Famously, back in 2006, an opportunistic defense overwhelmed the Cardinals to help the Bears come back from a 20-0 deficit for a 24-23 victory that precipitated the meltdown from late former Cardinals coach Dennis Green.

Similarly, 12 years later, the Bears defense responded to falling behind two touchdowns by creating enough turnovers to turn a loss into a win. Four takeaways by the Bears resulted in 13 points, the most crucial turnover coming with 11:33 left at the Bears' 21 when Mack forced quarterback Sam Bradford to cough up a fumble with the home team clinging to a 14-13 lead. As the late Green might say, the Cardinals let the Bears off the hook.

Over the next 6:52, the Bears engineered a 13-play drive that culminated with Cody Parkey’s clinching 43-yard field goal.

"I’m as thrilled as a (expletive)," Mack told reporters postgame.

Not any more than Bears general manager Ryan Pace is. In three games since Pace pulled off the blockbuster trade, Mack has made the $90 million the Bears guaranteed him seem like a bargain. Mack added two more sacks and five tackles on a day the Bears' defensive depth surfaced. With starting cornerback Prince Amukamara injuring his hamstring, veteran backup Sherrick McManis stepped up with an interception. On a key third-and-2 with two minutes left, rookie backup defensive tackle Bilal Nichols emerged to make a tackle for a three-yard loss.

"Huge," Nagy said.

The defensive effort had to be for as little as the offense produced.

By halftime, the Bears gave us every reason to turn our attention to a Tiger and a Hawk – Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event in five years and Ken “Hawk” Harrelson announced his final White Sox game of an esteemed career. Meanwhile, out in Arizona, Trubisky struggled making decisions and looking the part of franchise quarterback. A 39-yard pass to Robinson flashed the potential Nagy sees in practice but which surfaces too infrequently in games.

Trubisky lost 17 yards on third-and-6 on an all-out blitz because he failed to recognize the pre-snap pressure. He missed Taylor Gabriel and Robinson on passes capable quarterbacks complete for touchdowns. He allowed poor ball placement to lead to a fumble and committed an inexcusable turnover with 1:06 left in the first half on a tipped pass by Chandler Jones that Tre Boston intercepted.

"Maybe throw a little higher," Trubisky told reporters. "A good player made a good play."

Yeah, but great quarterbacks avoid giving them that chance. Alas, Trubisky remains far from being great and the Bears offense scares their fans more than defensive coordinators. Running back Jordan Howard ran hard and carried 24 times for 61 yards, but where would the Bears be if the undisciplined Cardinals wouldn’t have committed so many unnecessary roughness penalties? And what was Cardinals coach Steve Wilks thinking bringing in overmatched rookie Josh Rosen with 4:31 left after the Bears took a 16-14 lead?​

"It was an ugly hard-fought battle on offense," Trubisky said. "They continue to have our back."

He was referring to his defense – the only thing worthy of discussion on a day the Bears got away with one. The first-place Bears, that is.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.​​​​