Bears' running success took attention from Mitchell Trubisky's struggles

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Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen (29). Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI
Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen (29). Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's return to the field produced less than desirable results.

So it was good that the Chicago Bears still have a running game to fall back on, even if they had to dust off plenty of cobwebs.


Coach Matt Nagy had to turn to Jordan Howard, while Tarik Cohen continued to provide a strong big-play complement in the Bears' 15-6 Sunday night win over the Los Angeles Rams.

"We got into a good rhythm," Howard said. "We did some good run schemes. They gave up a lot of yards on the ground, so we knew we could attack them."

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Howard had 101 yards on 19 carries. He had not gained at least 100 yards in a game since the 13th game last year.

But he stuck to the team-first approach he has used after most games, whether he had 10 yards or 80.

"I feel like winning makes a lot of things easier," Howard said.

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One key to the running attack was how left guard James Daniels and right guard Bryan Witzmann did against Rams defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Donald, in particular, can wreck an offense.


Daniels lined up across from Donald the most and didn't give up a sack, while providing key blocks in the run.

"So that was one of the biggest challenges that he's ever going to have, not all the time, he was not going against him every play, but there's times where he's out there and Aaron has so many great moves," Nagy said. "But I thought his technique was really good last night. He never lunged too much, he stayed balanced.

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"One of James' biggest strengths is if he happens to lose a little leverage he can recover, but for the most part he was very consistent. And, man, for being such a young kid, very calm, composed and that was one of the big things we talked about as a team was to stay calm and composed and next play mentality, he did that."

Trubisky said the Rams helped out with a defense that gave the Bears the run if they wanted it. At the start of the season, no defense would have dreamed of playing back to prevent passes while giving Chicago room to run. But this is how far Chicago's passing game has progressed.


"They were playing a lot of zone, they were playing really soft defense, taking away some of our downfield throws," Trubisky said. "We spread them out a little bit. I think the O-line did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage -- opened up holes for Jordan.

"Kind of like the defense, he made up his mind (Sunday) when he touched the ball he was going to run hard and finish runs and pick up tough yards for this offense."

The Bears were pleased to be able to run the ball, but what they really wanted to see was Trubisky throwing well after missing two games with a shoulder injury. It didn't happen, as he threw for 110 yards on 16-of-30 passing with a career-high three interceptions.

"When you look at it numbers-wise, I think there were some throws -- some of the interceptions sailed on him a little bit. It wasn't his best game," Nagy said. "You know, what I told him, I said, 'Who cares. I mean, we're about winning the games.'

"He knows that we can all play better. It's not all on him. So he's going to get better from it."


Nagy didn't think rust from a few weeks away was a factor, although in the past Trubisky has said he is a "reps guy" who gets better with more practice and more game-action.

"Both defenses had their own unique ways of making things happen yesterday," Nagy said. "There's gonna be some throws really in every game where -- you'd like to have pinpoint accuracy on every throw. And there's some that he was slightly off. But that's my job, too, to make sure that I'm putting him in good positions with the play calls that I have.

"And then we talk on the sideline and make sure that we're on the same page. I think that's the biggest thing. Just talking to Mitch last night after the game, the thing that I love about him is he cares so much. He knows that we as an offense can play better, and he's gonna be the first one in here to try to make sure that we're doing everything the right way."

After the game, Trubisky wanted to avoid sounding too focused on his own problems with the team celebrating.

"I mean, I'll get everything corrected," he said. "I'm going to go back to work this week, just work really hard to get it corrected, play a lot better. But I'm just very proud of the way the team had my back."


--The Bears lost nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan to a foot injury during the game, and Nagy on Monday had no further update on his condition, saying it would be 24 to 36 hours or more before he would have anything new on it.

Callahan has been a key in the nickel defense at keeping the areas between the tackles protected against routes from slot receivers. He does it with speed, because he's giving away 20 pounds or more to some slot wide receivers. He has two interceptions and six passes defended this year.

The Bears turned to veteran special teams ace Sherrick McManis after the injury. McManis is the longest-tenured Bear and has filled this role as a reserve well in the past, but the Bears lose some speed if he has to cover receivers down the field.

--Offensive tackle Bradley Sowell was part of another trick play by coach Matt Nagy. On this one, called "Santa's Sleigh," the tackle-eligible TD pass to Sowell came on a lineman-heavy formation. The Bears brought in four linemen to replace backs and receivers, and faked a handoff to defensive end Akiem Hicks before Sowell made the play look easy, even high-pointing the pass like a receiver.


Sowell was a tight end and tackle at Mississippi.

The week before it was Hicks scoring on a Refrigerator Perry-style play called "Freezer left." The Bears have also run a version of the Philly Special they called "Oompa Loopa," and scored on trick end-around flip pass called "Willy Wonka."

"It's a good thrill when you score," Nagy said. "You see the excitement on the players, and they say stuff to you on the sideline. They're excited. They see it in practice and they, I don't know what they think when they see it in practice, if they think, 'This coach is crazy' or if they think that, 'No, this is pretty good,' or 'Is he gonna call it?'

"But then when they do get called, you can feel it. You can feel the excitement. And why not? Why not? If you have a 'why' behind why you do it, then it makes sense. They're not all gonna work. There's gonna be some where I'm gonna be standing up here and you (media) guys are gonna be saying, 'You're an idiot.' But that's inevitable. I'll accept that."

With nothing but linemen or tight ends on the field with Trubisky, Nagy was asked if it might have been the biggest offensive package in history.


"I don't know. It might be," he said. "But, yeah, there's a lot of beef out there."

--The four interceptions, forced fumble, three sacks and a safety by the Bears pass rush hid somewhat the job they did on Rams running back Todd Gurley. The league's rushing leader had 11 runs for 28 yards.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had players watching for Gurley to cut back.

"The one thing with Gurley was that, a lot of this mid-zones and outside zones, there's a cutback," Nagy said. "He cuts back. and I thought we did a good job of containing that. He had one or two where he cut back a little bit. But we were there in groups. It was gang tackling.

"I felt like we were playing fast. I felt that the whole entire game, and then watching on tape you saw that. You have to."

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