Joniak's Journal: Bears Defense Has Big Test Against Bucs

"These guys are really good," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio says.

Jeff Joniak
September 27, 2018 - 7:07 pm

(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (2-1) on Thursday were preparing for a matchup against the Buccaneers (2-1) this Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are the notes and observations of the day.

First impression

We learned more about how Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky handles down-to-down disappointment from offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Trubisky’s competitive engine runs hot, and you want that in your quarterback. Letting go of play that don't go as planned is something Helfrich is helping Trubisky conquer.

"He has a great quality that way, but it’s also a quality that we always talk about just letting it go, flushing it, whatever the press-the-clear-button type of thought process is in his mind," Helfrich said. "He carries the weight of the franchise on his shoulders."

Helfrich emphasizes to Trubisky on every snap to trust his eyes, trust his feet and trust with total conviction in the process of making the play.   

Helfrich also identified the biggest problem with the offensive execution through three games.  

"We just need to make the routine plays routine," Helfrich said. "That obviously is magnified at the quarterback position and the blame and the praise is maybe unfairly put on that position, and it always will. He needs to make layups. Our right guard, left guard, whoever it is that happens to have had a couple of breakdowns in certain situations just need to make routine plays."

Second thought 

First downs lead to touchdowns -- but not if the series bogs down in the red zone. The Bears have two rushing and two passing touchdowns on 10 red-zone opportunities. With that 40-percent touchdown efficiency, the Bears rank 27th in the league.

"We are getting first downs, but we need to understand that first downs don’t help win ballgames," coach Matt Nagy said.

The Bears are at 90 percent in red-zone scoring efficiency when you add in kicker Cody Parkey's five field goals.  However, in a league in which one-score games are prevalent, the touchdown is the preferred choice. It especially becomes significant against a potentially high-scoring opponent like Tampa Bay. 

"Offensively, you got to hold up your end of the bargain," Nagy said.

Third degree

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit digs in for quite the test against the Bucs.

"You get 16 final exams in this league every week," Fangio said. "Yeah, it’s a test. These guys are really good."

Led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay's offense leads the NFL in yards gained. The production has come against three preseason Super Bowl contenders in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

That has caught Fangio’s attention. How wellhis defense handles tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate will be a significant part of the outcome. 

"(Howard is) a real threat as is Brate," Fangio said. "That’s why they’re moving the ball so well. They’ve got really good receivers, four of them, they’ve got two really good tight ends."

On every play, someone is going to have a hard down for the Bears, Fangio said. Howard has nine first-down catches in trhee games, and Brate sizzled two years ago at Soldier Field with seven first-down catches on seven targets against the Bears.


Fangio is a big fan of defensive back Sherrick McManis. Fangio believes in him defensively, noting that his his kick and punt return coverage reflects his quality open-field tackling ability. 

"He’s tough, he’s fast and he’s athletic," Fangio said. "Based on the way he plays special teams, he should have a role on defense. I am not afraid to use him."

McManis impressed in the win against the Cardinals on Sunday, with a key sack and an interception.

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