Joniak's Journal: Lots To Like In Bears' Performance

The Bears are making winning plays as they sit atop the NFC North.

Jeff Joniak
September 24, 2018 - 4:55 pm

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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(WBBM Newsradio) – The Bears improved to 2-1 with a 16-14 road win against the Cardinals on Sunday and reside in first place in the NFC North. Here are the notes and observations from Monday.

First impression

One of the biggest plays in the Bears' win against the Cardinals came on third-and-2 from Chicago’s 42-yard line with Arizona driving in the fourth quarter. Rookie defensive tackle Bilal Nichols exploded out of his stance, shot the gap, beat his blocker and buried rookie running back Chase Edmonds for a loss of three yards. Nichols played only six snaps, but he's coming on.

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers grew fond of Nichols, a University of Delaware product, during the draft process. Rodgers is developing Nichols, who's also learning the ropes from Akiem Hicks, who was one of the first to congratulate Nichols on his big play.

Rodgers is doing an outstanding job with another prospect in Roy Robertson-Harris as well, effectively creating a rotation up front that great defenses need to stay fresh and offer change-ups in size and style to defeat blockers and make plays. Like many Bears assistants, Rodgers played quarterback in college, and they're all terrific teachers.

Second thought

While the Bears offense remains a work in progress and may for some time, there are important plays, throws, runs, catches and blocks on display that equate to winning football. Benny Cunningham is a significant presence in the Bears' locker room, balancing his special teams commitment with his role as the leader of the running back room.

His block keyed Tarik Cohen’s 17-yard run in the third quarter that set the Bears up with first-and-goal at the Cardinals' one-yard line. Jordan Howard finished off the drive by slamming in for the touchdown, turning it into a one-score game.

Cunningham also has outstanding hands and picked up a first down on third down with a nine-yard grab, which big for an offense that's moving the ball and collecting first downs and hoping that the next step is turning those into touchdowns. Cunningham is also a reliable straight-line kick returner who gets vertical and rumbles for what he can get.

Third degree

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is fifth in the NFC with a 69.2 completion percentage. The Bears can win with that, but to be a more productive offense, consistent intermediate-to-deep connections need to take root.

"Those are important to have, and we need to start connecting on those," coach Matt Nagy said. "It’s great to take the opportunity of going deep, those are great, but they’re way better and they mean a lot more when you connect on them."

Nagy remains positive about what's coming from Trubisky and the offense, but patience rules the day. A new offense takes time to develop the pinpoint timing, diagnosis and chemistry that only time and repetition will conquer.

"We’re moving the ball," Nagy said. "We’re getting first downs. We’re chewing up the clock, and we’re getting stopped in the red zone and we’re kicking field goals. We need to score touchdowns."

What Trubisky is seeing and processing along with his 10 teammates on the field is a day-to-day development project. With the defense dominating, every little bit of growth the offense can have will help until they start humming.

"This is a ‘we’ thing," Nagy said. "This is who we are right now, and we need to make sure that everyone understands that."

The defense only cares about winning, Nagy said.

"That’s special," he added.

Special is a good way to describe what this defense, fueled by Khalil Mack, is capable of becoming if the unit stays healthy and continues to grow as well. Nagy sees signs Trubisky and the offense will get it going as well.

"There was a few throws that he made in there with conviction that I say to myself, ‘That right there is what we about to get to,'" Nagy said.

Trubisky's next chance comes against the Bucs on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Fourth-and-short

Here's the Mack attack breakdown after three games. He shares the league lead with four sacks. He leads the league with three forced fumbles. He's second in the league with 10 quarterback knockdowns or hurries. Entering this year, he was already the last player to record a sack and a forced fumble in three straight games -- doing so back in Weeks 12-14 in 2016 -- and now he has done it again with the Bears.

What's next for No. 52?

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.