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Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears’ quarterback taken second overall in the 2017 draft, should reveal his career potential this season. Though his passer rating shot up from 77.5 to 94.5 last year, you don’t hear many people saying he’s heading toward being a top-tier NFL gunslinger.

While Trubisky hasn’t wowed people, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes either. In each of his games against the Packers last season, he distributed the ball around to eight separate receivers, and avoided any interceptions. In Game 1 he went 23 for 35, but only for 171 yards through the air – yielding a passer rating of 77.2. On December 15 at Soldier Field, however, he was much more effective: 20 of 28 for 235 yards and a 120.4 rating.

The QB’s primary weapon, Allen Robinson, who came over from Jacksonville to the Bears last season, was held to 4 catches for 61 yards and 7 for 54 yards in the two games against Green Bay last season. Drafted in the second round by the Jags, Robinson recorded 90 catches, 1,400 yards (17.5 average), and 14 touchdowns in just his second year, but he’s never come within 500 yards of that total in the three years since.

The Packers’ Davante Adams, drafted 53rd overall in 2014 – eight picks before Robinson – would appear to give Green Bay a decided advantage at WR1. It’s the two scatbacks who worry me. The Packers are often victimized by little water-bug types, though Green Bay has a lot more defensive speed now than in recent years.

Running back Tariq Cohen was an All-Pro returner last season in just his second NFL campaign. The 181-pounder doesn’t knock people over, but he excels in open space. Though he had 10 catches in the two games against the Pack last year, he was nicely held in check, with just 47 yards gained.

Then there’s Taylor Gabriel. The sixth-year receiver is another recent Chicago addition, coming to the Bears last year, when he registered 67 catches for 688 yards. Taylor makes Cohen look large: he’s listed as 5’8” and 165 pounds – that’s undersized for a middle-school player. How does the undrafted receiver do it? With 4.27 speed! He too was largely a non-factor against Green Bay last year, with 8 catches for 58 yards in the two games.

Though the team’s final preseason game, against the Chiefs, was played by second- and third-team players, I noticed that the Packers’ DBs were consistently late in covering running backs and receivers who drifted into the right or left flats. Such easy completions almost invariably resulted in gains of from 8 to 12 yards – but the Packers’ coaches never corrected the problem.

The short passes, whether to wide receivers, tight ends, or running backs, allowed the Chiefs to out-pass the Packers 294 to 211 yards. The Chiefs resorted to dink-ball, with only two completions going for more than 13 yards. With all their youth and speed, maybe the Packers starting DBs will jump all over the short passes that I expect from Trubisky.

CB Jaire Alexander

Dec 16, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) tackles Chicago Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy (15) at Soldier Field. Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Another thing to watch for: will cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, or others, at times contest receivers at the line of scrimmage? That’s something Packer fans have seldom seen in recent years, including under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The last Green Bay DB I can recall who tried to hold up receivers at the line of scrimmage was LaDarius Gunter – but he didn’t have the speed to catch back up with them once they got by him.

Sports Illustrated ranks the Bears’ WRs/TEs 22nd among the 32 NFL teams. For that matter, they rank Chicago’s QBs 21st and their RBs 22nd. Thursday’s game will be an opportunity for Mike Pettine’s guys, including his three spendy new starters, to throttle one of the league’s more suspect offenses.

With Coach LaFleur intent on the Packers having a better balance of run and pass plays, it could be a low-scoring affair.

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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7 Comments

  1. Deepsky September 4, 2019

    Good observations.

    The Bears passed to their backs nearly 100 times last season, mainly to Cohen. That’s about twice as often as Mike McCarthy passed to the backs last year. Even Nagy’s mentor Andy Reid didn’t pass that many times to the backs. My guess is that part of this is Trubisky is coached to take the check down, where as Rodgers is reluctant to take a check down.

    Look for the Packers however to pass more to the backs, which I think is a good thing. At least LaFleur will call more passes to backs.

    And here’s an interesting story. Matt Nagy, coach of the Bears, was a QB who had a try out with the Green Bay Packers right when he got out of college. The day he had a try out was the day the World Trade Center was attacked. He said he spent the day watching the news with Brett Favre and Doug Pederson.

  2. PF4L September 4, 2019

    Good piece Rob.
    ***
    It seems pretty clear that the bears formula to winning, is what it usually is on the rare occasions they win. Build a strong defense that can create scoring turnovers, or put the offensive in good field position to capitalize on the turnovers themselves. If Kyle Fuller could hold onto potential interceptions they’d be all the more potent. I don’t see this bears defense going limp, even without Fangio, like some people have speculated.
    ***
    I think the consensus on Trubisky is that this is the year (his third) where he shows what kind of QB he is. He greatly improved last season with his td/int ratio, and also raised his CMP% 7 points. Much of that seems the result of reigning in the offense to shorter high percentage passes and check downs, and plenty of run plays. You play to your strength, if that means relying on the defense, and implementing a game manager for a QB, then it is what it is. Which may very well be his role on his team.
    ***
    I’m hopeful the Packers can somehow steal this game, i’m thinking for that to happen, the Packers need to be +2 in turnover differential, and score on those opportunities. I want to see a charged up fast playing Packer team on a mission giving the bears all they can handle. The world will be watching this game.

    1. Deepsky September 5, 2019

      If Packers were using their familiar offense, this would be a very close game. The Packers were awful last season, yet they won the first game and lost the second game by only a TD. This game won’t be close.

      I’m not sold on this offense. I’m not sold that Rodgers is buying into this scheme (allegedly Rodgers called a play on Family Night that LaFleur said wasn’t even his playbook – it was a McCarthy play!!). I’m not sold on the Packers coaches, even Pettine. I’m not sold that the Packers are ready for a dominating defense. And finally, given the fact the Packers got the bad end of the Kizer/Randall deal, look for a revenge motivated Clinton-Dix, who played better once he left the Packers, to have a career game while Adrian Amos will be just a guy.

      With this new offense, receivers will be going the wrong way, running backs will fumble, the offensive line will miss blocks leaving Rodgers exposed. The Packers will turn the ball over 2-3 times. Bears 27 Packers 10.

      1. PF4L September 5, 2019

        Deep makes a few very valid points.The bears defense wouldn’t be my defense of choice to begin unveiling a new offense. Remember that Rodgers had basically one offense his whole career, mental memory, muscle memory, whatever you want to call it, may show it’s face while the new offense develops. To expect them to implement a new offense without any hiccups is foolish. If the offense struggles, don’t be surprised to see some remnants of the old system here and there.
        ***
        I do disagree about Rodgers not being sold on this new offense. I think he’s all in, for a few reasons. (1) I think he absolutely hated the old offense when it got stale and wasn’t revamped like McCarthy said it was going to be, and then there was nothing new after McCarthy said they were going to redo the playbook from page 1 ( that was reason to fire him right there). (2) Also….i think he has a lot more input in this system than fans realize, LeFleur seems smart enough and respects Rodgers enough to include him in building this offense. I’ve listened carefully to what LeFleur has to say and i don’t believe he’s anybody’s fool. This man knows his career as head coach is going to be determined largely in part by Rodgers and their offense. You think he’s shutting him out? I don’t either, he’s all in.
        ***
        With all that said, i’m going to repeat myself again…In a new offense, the question isn’t whether they have growing pains or not, of course they will. The question is, how long does it last until they can operate without thinking too much, until it just becomes natural and everyone can play fast and their timing is down. It’s not a wave of a magic wand, it’s a process that needs time to develop. Even the 2nd year guys have somewhat now become rookies having to learn 2 offensive systems in 2 years So keep that in mind before screaming at your tv like i used to do on a weekly basis. Expectation need to be realistic.
        ***
        As far as the defense, i don’t cut them as much slack, they are in Pettine’s 2nd year. they signed veteran players to huge money. If the defense falls on it’s face, feel free to throw that beer mug at your tv, you probably need a 4k or a new OLED tv anyway.

        1. PF4L September 5, 2019

          Not too bad for a guy who’s not that bright, you feel me J P?

          1. Jason Parker September 5, 2019

            I stand corrected, sir

  3. PF4L September 5, 2019

    “They’re a good defense, but nobody is scared,” Williams said, via the team’s website. “Everybody bleeds red. Everybody is mortal. We’re going to play our game. We’re going to play Packers football.”

    They misspelled Daniels name.