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This Week in Football: The Trubisky disaster, the Packers dominate, the NFC East mess

OUR TOP STORY

Right around this time last year, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace was on top of the world.

After losing to open the season in wild fashion, the Bears took off and dominated the NFC North on their way to a playoff berth for the first time since 2010. He had assembled a fearsome defense with arguably the best edge defender in the league as the pièce de résistance, not to mention several homegrown studs. Matt Nagy, then a first-year coach, was dialing up crafty, effective offensive game plans. And the quarterback he moved up in the 2017 draft to get was playing well enough that he wasn’t costing the team games.

Flash forward to 2019.

The defense isn’t producing as well as it did last year because intense fatigue is setting in since they never get a rest. Nagy’s play calling and coaching in general has come under heavy scrutiny.

Most importantly, the quarterback is unplayable.

The Mitchell Trubisky experiment is a failure.

In just his third season in the NFL it may seem unfair to completely write a player off like that, but one three-hour viewing session is more than enough to realize that he can’t get it done at this level. He is a bad quarterback and it’s a major black mark on Pace’s record.

Trubisky’s failings directly correlate to the aforementioned issues. His inability to make plays means the offense can’t give the defense a break; they come on, go nowhere and the defenders come right back out. Nagy hasn’t been particularly impressive with the play calling duties this year, but he’s severely limited by his quarterback.

Where things really get hairy, though, is when you realize that they don[t have a better option. Backup quarterback Chase Daniel isn’t a tenable long-term plan under center. Chicago has invested a lot in Trubisky and its offense, but its plan is rapidly unraveling.

There are too many pieces just on the offensive side of the ball for this to not be working. Allen Robinson is proving to be one of the most underrated receivers in the league, using his fantastic hands and massive catch radius to save Trubisky from having even worse numbers. Anthony Miller was taken in the second round last year to fill the role of a quality No. 2 receiver, and he’s looked mostly good in his brief career. Pace drafted running back David Montgomery, a star at Iowa State, to pair with scatback extraordinaire Tarik Cohen.

Chicago’s flaws extend beyond Trubisky alone, but he was the ultimate investment and the return is driving the Bears deep into the red.

They bid against themselves to move up one spot to take him in 2017. Despite starting just one year at North Carolina because he couldn’t beat out current XFL quarterback and CFL flameout Marquise Williams, he was the first quarterback off the board.

Bears fans don’t want to be reminded of this again, but that board also included national champion and college football darling Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s huge-armed gunslinger, Patrick Mahomes.

Watson is one of the best and most popular quarterbacks in the league already. Mahomes was the league MVP in his first year as a starter.

Through five starts in his third year in the league, Trubisky is 28th out of 31 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in ANY/A.

A 4.65 ANY/A is atrocious.

It is inexcusable that the Bears don’t have a 300-yard game this season in terms of total offense. Six games, none with over 300 yards from scrimmage. That’s both baffling and embarrassing. Nagy can take some blame for that, but Trubisky is the one distributing the ball and handling the task of moving the offense. He just can’t do it.

This entire week is going to be filled with more and more dogpiles on Trubisky, which at some point becomes cruel. And at some point it’s not his fault that he’s just bad. It’s hard to watch and he’s sinking the team, but he can’t help being awful.

The biggest failure here is on the front office for the Bears, who reached to the point of hyperextension to take a quarterback with a tiny track record and far fewer physical skills than the two quarterbacks picked after him.

Chicago sports media is a beast and a half, and it didn’t take long after Sunday’s disaster against the New Orleans Saints for the Bears’ most prominent punching bag to come under fire once again. This is what Pace deserves. It was a bad pick in 2017 and that’s only more apparent in 2019. The experiment is a failure, and now a year of what was arguably the best defense in the NFL is being wasted.

The NFC is a deep conference with difficult, competitive teams up and down each division. The Bears just happen to be in the best one of the four. They’re already 2.5 games behind the Packers for first place while simultaneously being evidently worse than the Vikings. The division race has already moved beyond them.

The wild card race doesn’t afford Chicago an easier road to the postseason by any means. If both the Packers and Vikings make it to the playoffs, which they are currently in position for, there are at least eight teams competing for the other four spots, and three of those are reserved for other division winners.

Where do you go from here?

Nagy needs to do everything he can to help his quarterback make plays. The defense needs to stay healthy and play at a higher level than anyone else in the league. Pace should be looking for offensive line reinforcements at the trade deadline.

Admitting failure is an important step for an organization. We can all plainly see the Bears just need to be honest about it. But without a better option readily available they need to live and die with Trubisky for the rest of this season. If current trends hold, it will be a lot more of the latter than the former.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Unlike their neighbors on Lake Michigan, the Green Bay Packers are playing lights-out football right now. While their defense had one of its worst games of the season in Week 7, allowing Darren Waller to run free down the field all day and failing to sack Derek Carr even once, Aaron Rodgers took over in a way he literally never has before. Rodgers became the first Packers quarterback to ever throw for a perfect passer rating in Sunday’s win over the Raiders. He accounted for six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) while throwing just six incompletions. He accomplished that without having his top receiver, too. If it’s not Rodgers ripping apart a defense it might be his running backs doing the same, or if not them then it’s been the defense that’s stepped up throughout the first half of the year. Green Bay may not be the best team in the NFC right now, because the Saints certainly have a claim among other teams, but the combination of a hot Rodgers and an actually formidable defense makes the Packers as scary as they’ve been in a decade.

*It doesn’t matter how much rank Reich is talked about, he still doesn’t get enough credit. The Indianapolis Colts are 4-2 and in control of the AFC South after dispatching the Houston Texans this weekend. Jacoby Brissett has always been a good quarterback, but he’s taken off to a whole new level under Reich’s tutelage. Brissett is second in the NFL in passing touchdowns with 14, one behind the leaders despite only playing six games so far. He was the best backup in the league before Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, but nothing prepares you for losing your starter mere weeks before the season opener. Reich has managed to lead his group to a strong start to the year despite that setback. More and more it looks like he may have been the mastermind behind the Eagles’ fantastic offense that led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl 52 victory. The AFC South should have a fun first-place race to the end of the season, and it’s Reich’s excellent leadership that’s been a major difference in the Colts’ favor so far.

*With their win on Monday night over the Jets, the Patriots are now 7-0 this season while their opponents are a combined 11-28. Seven weeks in and New England has beaten one decent team, the Bills. We still can’t definitely say the Patriots are the best team in the NFL because they’ve played a JV schedule, but they do have one of the most impressive defenses the league has ever seen. Per SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt on Monday night, this year’s Patriots have the second-best point differential through seven games in league history, only behind the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans. They already have 18 interceptions after picking off New York’s Sam Darnold four times this week. If you play fantasy football you are well aware of how dominant that group is. The Patriots’ offense is a long way from its most dominant days, but that defense will keep them in the running against any team, especially in a weak AFC.

*No division is more wide open and more confusing than the NFC East. The Cowboys looked incredible through three weeks, like trash for the three after that and then murdered the Eagles for the world to see on Sunday Night Football. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has embarrassing losses (for different reasons) against Dallas and Atlanta while also owning a road win over Green Bay, which might be the best team in the conference. The Giants, despite looking completely inept at times and losing to the Cardinals this Sunday are only two games out in the division race. The Redskins are hapless, of course, but the sky is still blue as well. It’s hard to trust any of those teams, specifically the top two. Dallas is apparently as streaky as it gets and Philadelphia can’t even guarantee its players’ effort levels will be good enough in big moments. Plus, the Eagles can’t cover anyone. The NFC East this year has extreme 2013 NFC North vibes, which means we’re in for great competition and some terrible football.

*If you’re curious what Matt Moore can do for the Chiefs while Patrick Mahomes is out injured, plus for some highlights from Mahomes’ brief appearance in last Thursday’s game, check out the latest edition of the Mahomes Report.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Originally found on the NFL subreddit, we have a continuation of this week’s “Rag on the Bears” theme. Lamar Jackson, who has launched himself into superstardom this season, has more rushing yards than the Chicago Bears as a team (567 vs 420; the link has the wrong Bears total).

This is more about Jackson’s excellence than the Bears’ incompetence, though. Between his passing and rushing totals Jackson would qualify as the 25th best offense in terms of yards per game in the league. He’s the perfect example of why stats don’t tell the whole story. Despite going just 9-of-20 passing this week against the Seahawks and throwing for only 143 yards he was utterly unstoppable and took over the game. Seattle couldn’t stop him. Obviously his running ability is a big reason why, but the threat of him launching a deep ball is a scary proposition for any defense. Comparing him to Michael Vick is certainly lazy, but it feels more and more accurate with every passing week.

FOOTBALL FOLLIES

Unless you’re a fan of the San Francisco 49ers or the Washington Redskins, there was no reason at all to be excited the matchup between the two this week. However, Mother Nature gave us a good reason to be invested.

Nothing is as fun as football in bad weather. It’s not quite the excitement of a snow game, but a game in the rain and slop is plenty fun, too. Watching guys slide around and slip and fall like they’re kids in the backyard is a beautiful reminder of why so many of us fell in love with the game when we were kids.

Speaking of beautiful:

WEEKLY TOP 5: BEST RUNNING BACKS RIGHT NOW

The running game has largely been devalued across the NFL in recent years, which has only added value to backs who are excellent runners and receivers. For some, though, just being a bruising force on the ground is still enough to propel a team’s offense. These five have set themselves apart through seven weeks.

  1. Christian McCaffrey – The worst part of the Panthers having Week 7 off is that we didn’t get a boatload of CMC highlights. Kyle Allen has gotten a lot of publicity since replacing Cam Newton for going 4-0 as a starter this season, but McCaffrey is that team’s offense. Despite playing just six games he’s still leading the league in combined rushing and receiving touchdowns while averaging a preposterous 158.3 total yards per game.
  2. Dalvin Cook – The passing game in Minnesota has attracted most of the headlines this season because of that group’s Guiding Light-like drama. Cook, however, has been the best player for the Vikings this year, racking up over 100 yards in five of seven games and establishing the run coach Mike Zimmer craves so intently. He receives the least attention of this group but is as productive as (almost) anyone.
  3. Alvin Kamara – Kamara and No. 4 on this list could be flipped, but we’ve seen more of New Orleans’ lead back this season (although he did miss Week 7). He’s an excellent receiver alongside his pure rushing abilities, and he’s been a huge factor in helping Teddy Bridgewater acclimate to the full-time starting quarterback role for the Saints.
  4. Saquon Barkley – Barkley returned from injury in Week 7 and had a decent day with 80 total yards on 21 touches. When he gets going, though, there is no one else who can move in space and evade tacklers like he does. And for a Giants team that is devoid of playmakers he is as relied upon as any weapon in the league next to McCaffrey.
  5. Leonard Fournette – This is not a name you would have expected to land on this last to start the season, but Fournette is having a breakout year in Duval County. He has over 100 yards rushing in three of the last four weeks, including a 225-yard game and another 131 yards this week. Another team that doesn’t have a ton of playmakers, Fournette has become a vital piece for the Gardner Minshew-led offense.

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