A Lifelong Fan Relishes the New Look Chicago Bears

For the past few weeks I have been tossing and turning pondering an oh-so-tantalizing question: are the Bears actually good…and interesting? Is this real?

As a diehard Bears fan for past 30 years, I have been fooled time and time again.  I was barely 7 for the ’85 season, and came of age watching a team that squandered their once-in-generation talent through family infighting, mismanagement, and injuries.  After that, the Bears would periodically make the playoffs on the backs of their hallmark defense, only to lose when their offense fizzled.  And they were always, ALWAYS boring.  I mean, want to poke your eyes out boring.

We were teased during the Lovie Smith era, when “Sexy” Rexy Grossman led the Bears to a 7-0 record and Super Bowl berth in 2006, but did anyone really think they were going to win that game?

Then multiple years of misery later begot the even more miserable Jay Cutler era.  Oh, where to begin.  I will never forget the excitement when GM Jerry Angelo went all-in by trading two first round picks for his unique arm talent. Unfortunately, the arm was attached to the head of Jay Cutler.  It was always just waiting to be harnessed, if only he could get an offensive line, or a decent coach, or receiver weapons.  But in reality, Jay Cutler was a loser and a quitter, and a far better fit for reality TV than the NFL.

When new GM Ryan Pace came in, I was skeptical.  And when he hired conservative poster boy John Fox to replace whatever Marc Trestman was and wasted two draft picks to move up one spot to draft an unproven QB with only 14 college start, I was downright depressed. Last year, Melissa (aka the Managing Editor of TFG and my wife) bought me a pair of Mitch Trubisky socks on a vacation trip basically as a joke. Haha, I thought, these will look good next to my Cade McNown boxers in a few years.

But then something amazing happened.  The Bears jettisoned Fox for Matt Nagy, acquired a bunch of weapons on offense, pillaged Oakland for Khalil Mack, and somehow, someway became….dare I say good? Dare I say interesting?

NBC seems to think so. In addition to Week 11’s game against the Vikings, the network also flexed the  the Bears’ December 9thmatchup against the Rams.

You can’t blame them either. The Bears have rattled off three straight wins to take the lead in the NFC North at 6-3.  What’s more, those three losses were by a combined total of 11 points, with two (Packers and Dolphins) being games where the Bears blew double-digit leads and the other (Patriots) where they were one-yard away from tying even after giving up 14 points on special teams.  Meanwhile, most of their wins have been blowouts.  In fact, the Bears boast the league’s fourth-best point differential (+94), behind only the Saints (+98), Rams (+104), and Chiefs (+113).

Sure, their defense is damn good.  They’re third in total defense, behind only Baltimore and Jacksonville.  And this is even with human wrecking ballKhalil Mack having been out or hobbled for half the season with a sprained ankle.

The offense, however, is what generates the excitement. They’re fourth in scoring (29.9 points/game), with Trubisky boasting a 101.6 passer rating, but it’s not just the numbers, it’s the style. For the first time in their history, the Bears have an offensive-minded head coach who thrives on taking risks and generating big plays. The Bears have an array of weapons, Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller, who consistently run wide open down the field for Trubisky to hit perfectly in stride for huge plays.  As someone who has suffered through thirty years of the oh-so predicable pattern of run-run-pass-punt, watching the 2018 feels almost like an out-of-body experience.  During last week’s Lions game, I was certifiably giddy at our local sports bar in Oakland with a fellow Chicago ex-patriot with whom I would share our collective suffering and newfound offensive windfall.  I’ve never experienced a more cathartic series of high-fives with a perfect stranger.

Thus, by any reasonable measure, it’s hard to argue the Bears are not good.  So why are we even asking the question? Much of it has to do with skepticism over the offense, particularly Trubisky, which I would argue is based on a combination of historical bias and over-reliance on advanced metrics.  Seeing the Bears with a good defense just *feels* right and nobody questions their bona fides, particularly with a healthy Mack. But a dynamic Bears offense is a different, incredibly strange experience.

And this is why the question of whether the Bears are good all comes down to Trubisky. It’s an old cliché to say the Bears haven’t had a decent quarterback since Sid Luckman, but that’s because it’s true!  And the real question for Bears fans isn’t whether they are good at this particular moment in time, but whether we can expect them to be good for the next ten years with a franchise quarterback as the foundation.  This is the NFL holy grail, and the collective anxiety of an NFL team’s fan base can be broken down between teams that have a franchise QB and those who don’t. If you have one and you lose a tight game, or even a playoff game, the natural reaction is, “hey, no worries, we’ll get them next time, just gotta add a few more pieces.” But if you don’t, the reaction is, “let’s blow everything up now and start over.”  There is no middle ground with QBs.

So let’s get back to Trubisky.  There is a debate raging right now as to whether his top-line statistics overstate how good he is.  ESPN’s Bill Barnwell lit the fuse, by having the audacity to compare Trubisky to Blake Bortles(!), and Pro Football Focus put out an eight-minute videojustifying why it gives him such a low rating (30 out of 33 QBs!) under their metrics.  The thinking goes that, because Matt Nagy is such a great offensive schemer and the Bears have so many weapons, his stats overstate his actual on-field performance.  Critics also point out tthat Trubisky has been “lucky” in terms of dropped potential interceptions and low drop rate from his own team.

These are all fair points. Anyone who has watched a Bears games this season knows that Trubisky has made some horrible decisions, can be prone to overthrows, and been bailed out repeatedly by defensive drops.  But, at the risk of going all football meathead, all this in-depth analysis ignores one unassailable point: Trubisky is a gamer. He is stout in the pocket, makes plays with his feet, picks up crucial third downs when they matter, and has a natural mentality to look for that breakout play rather than going with that easy checkdown.  In this respect, he is a marked improvement to someone like Jay Cutler or even Kirk “fumblerooski” Cousins.

The best part is Trubisky is extremely inexperienced and clearly on the rise under a coach with a pulse. Let’s not forget he started only 14 games in college and spent his rookie season “learning” the NFL from John Fox. We are unfairly comparing Trubisky with QBs like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, and Deshaun Watson, who immediately burst onto the scene, but the fact is Trubisky stillhas far less experience than those players did when they started.

If you’re going to compare Trubisky to Blake Bortles, then he would need to be Jason Mendoza’s idealized conception of Blake Bortles (the Good Place), not actual Blake Bortles (the Bad Place).  The promise of Trubisky combined with Nagy and the defense all adds up to a level of hope that would make even (noted Bears fan) Barack Obama take notice.

On Sunday night, I will proudly be sporting my Trubisky socks free of skepticism and worry. So this is what life is like for good, compelling teams, huh?