Among the myriad second-half problems the Bears encountered in their come-from-ahead, 24-23 loss to the Packers in Week One was an inability to convert shots down the field.
Everyone is aware of the deficiency and eager to make improvements. But, in a nascent offense, connecting on the chunk pass plays that are so important to any attack may take awhile.
For Trubisky, the dilemma is weighing the urge to go for it with splash plays vs. the responsibility for game management and not making critical mistakes.
“For me, the emphasis is going to be to continue to take care of the football, but also, you can’t be too conservative,” he said. “So I’ve got to know when to take my risks, take shots to create explosive plays for the offense and (still) take care of the football.”
The Bears showed their potential to strike deep early in Green Bay when Trubisky went deep down the right side to Taylor Gabriel for 31 yards to set up their only offensive touchdown. On the next possession, Trubisky put up a 50-50 ball that Allen Robinson won from Packers CB Jaire Alexander for a 33-yard pickup, setting up a field goal.
But, in the second half, when Trubisky connected on 12-of-21 passes, they produced just 62 yards, including two completions of one yard, one for no gain and one for minus-1 yard.
“We always talk about shots, and the shots didn’t happen as much in this game as we would’ve wanted,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Sometimes shots happen in this offense when you call a three-step drop, (but) because of the defense it becomes a shot. It’s not that they weren’t necessarily called; it might be that the defense takes it away or you call a shorter (pass), and it doesn’t turn into a deeper call because of the coverage. Shots are part of this deal, and we’re always going to test them. For that game, we didn’t have as many as we’d originally like.”
Establishing a ground game should open up opportunities down the field. The Bears ran 27 times (including seven Trubisky carries) for an impressive 5.1-yard average vs. the Packers, but just 12 times in the first half. In defense of Nagy’s play-calling, the offense had the ball for just 10 snaps on the final three possessions of the first half after taking a 10-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
“Getting the run game going always helps, when you can suck up the linebackers and safeties with the run game and open up vertical threats downfield,” Trubisky said. “(Then) take advantage when we have calls, and everyone’s got to be on the same page.
“It takes all 11 guys for a downfield pass to work. You’ve got the protection, you’ve got the fake, you’ve got everything. Everything has to come together, and for me it’s just repetition in practice, and when it’s there, just putting the ball where it needs to be. When we do it well in practice, that’s when coach Nagy really believes in us and trusts in us even more that he can call it.”
In Jordan Howard, the Bears know they have the workhorse back who can force opposing defenses to overcommit to stop him, as OG Kyle Long pointed out.
“I think Jordan could run behind five blocking dummies and get 100 yards every week,” Long said. “It’s a testament to his work ethic and his toughness. The guy runs very hard. He understands what the defenses are trying to do to him, and he understands our schemes.”
There are other ways to open up deep shots, such as multiple short completions in front of the secondary that still produce acceptable gains. But offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich believes there’s no substitute for the ground game.
“I think it’s imperative,” Helfrich said. “You certainly have to have, not only the ability to run the football when you want to, but the appearance of being able to run the football when you want to, to get into the play-action game. In terms of alluding to last week, there were times when we shoulda, woulda, coulda run the ball better in certain situations. We had a couple of shots set up that worked out, (and) a couple that didn’t. That’s certainly something we need to improve upon.”
Monday night, the Bears have an opportunity to get better in a hurry. They face a Seahawks defense that allowed 146 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry and also permitted five different receivers to catch passes longer than 20 yards in a 27-24 loss to the Broncos.