The Bears spent a good amount of time this offseason reliving their 16-15 wildcard playoff loss to the Eagles last January. Head coach Matt Nagy had the team rewatch the game multiple times during OTAs, as a motivational tactic to remind them how close they were to advancing in the playoffs. They re-watched the end, the painful double doink last-second field goal miss, as a tactic to generate productive anger. But this week leading up to a rematch with the Eagles, Bears players weren’t interested in looking back anymore.
“I just remember we lost,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said Wednesday at his locker. “They are a new team, we are a new team.”
The Bears are a new, and worse, team, but they have the same underlying problem as they did last year against Philadelphia. Just like last time, Chicago rallied late, and the reason it fell short of completing a comeback is the same as it was last January.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles created too big of a hole for the Bears to dig themselves out.
Trubisky led the Bears to a historically bad first half of offense for Chicago. According to Elias Sports, nine yards is the Bears' fewest in a first half over the last 40 years. Eight of those were rushing yards, and Trubisky’s 24 passing yards were wiped out by a loss of 23 yards on three sacks.
Chicago’s first three possessions netted negative-2 yards and three punts from deep in its own territory. On Trubisky’s first pass play of the game, he badly misfired a throw to Allen Robinson. He looked lost on other pass plays, and his hesitation to make a quick strike made him a sitting duck for the Eagles' pass rush.
The Bears nearly went the entire first half without a first down. With 57 seconds left in the half, Trubisky scrambled seven yards for a first down. It’s no surprise that was the first of the game, because Trubisky is consistently better when he’s on the move. The majority of his problems occur when he is contained inside the pocket. The Eagles' offense had 26 first downs for 373 yards, while the Bears had just 10 first downs for 164 yards.
With this fourth straight loss, the postseason is a pipe dream for the 3-5 Bears, and now the most important goal for the remainder of this season is to figure out what the team has in Trubisky. The third-year quarterback was expected to take a big step in his second season in Nagy’s offense, but instead, Trubisky has regressed. They’ve analyzed his game film and even the broadcast footage. Fox sideline reporter Jennifer Hale said on the broadcast that Nagy reached out to his old mentor Andy Reid for advice on how to help Trubisky get going again.
Nagy has expressed full confidence in Trubisky, and said after the Eagles loss that he did not consider a mid-game quarterback change, even after the abysmal first half. Nagy’s reasons for remaining supportive of his young quarterback are obvious. The team is invested in Trubisky, they traded up to select him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, and to make a change during the season would risk losing the trust of the players. Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are committed to Trubisky, because his success will determine their success.
Nagy has shrugged off questions about making a switch to backup quarterback Chase Daniel, but this loss proved that Trubisky’s struggles are now seeping into the rest of the team. Even though the Bears were playing catch-up and fighting the clock, Nagy didn’t go for two on either of the Bears' touchdowns, suggesting a lack of confidence in the offense.
Last season, a league-leading defense masked Trubisky’s flaws by forcing turnovers and scoring their own points. This season, the Bears 'defense is still a strong unit, but well off the pace of maintaining its league-high 36 takeaways. The Bears didn’t record any turnovers against Philadelphia.
The Eagles' offense had the ball for 40 minutes, two-thirds of the game. This puts a huge responsibility on the Bears' defense to keep the team in the game. When the Bears' offense can’t stay on the field past three plays, the defense struggles to sustain a high level of play. At halftime, Chicago was only down 12-0, but the frustration on the defense was visible. Safety Eddie Jackson was flagged for a late hit on Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. Defensive end Nick Williams was flagged for roughing the passer on fourth-and-1, a 15-yard penalty that gave the Eagles a fresh set of downs and led to their first touchdown of the game.
The Bears defense' had an uncharacteristically sloppy game. They combined for three neutral zone infraction penalties and another offsides penalty. As a team, the Bears committed nine penalties for 70 yards.
The Eagles' offensive line attacked their blocks to the second level and minimized the impact of linebackers Roquan Smith and Trevathan in the run game. Last week against the Chargers, the Bears only allowed 36 yards on 12 carries. The Eagles racked up 146 yards rushing.
Philadelphia sealed the game with a 16-play, eight-minute drive, where the Bears' defense had four chances to get off the field. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson put on a clinic calling third-down plays, the Eagles used up the clock and ended it with a field goal.
Chicago is still in the middle of an offensive identity crisis. The Bears showed first signs of life on the first drive of the second half, when Nagy brought back the I-formation plays he had introduced with success last week against the Chargers, using tight end J.P. Holtz as a fullback for running back David Montgomery. These plays take pressure off of Trubisky, and his passing immediately improved when balanced with I-formation runs.
Trubisky’s best play of the game came in the third quarter, on second-and-8 at Chicago’s 38. The heavy 13 personnel signaled a potential run play: three tight ends, one running back and one receiver. Tight ends Holtz and Trey Burton stayed up to block, and tight end Adam Shaheen and receiver Taylor Gabriel went out for routes. Trubisky faked a handoff to Montgomery and then found Gabriel on an over route for a 53-yard completion. It was a rare moment of conviction for the quarterback.
It was also Chicago’s first play of over 40 yards in 2019. Coming into this game, the Bears were the only offense in the league that did not have a pass play of 40 yards or more this season.
Last week, Nagy was criticized for his red-zone play calling. He had success with I-formation run plays, but did not call one in the red zone, where the Bears were 1-5. Against the Eagles, Nagy fixed that, and Chicago’s first touchdown play was a Montgomery run with Holtz in as the lead blocker, and Chicago’s second touchdown was another Montgomery run with two tight ends on the left side of the line as his blockers. This is a big play calling shift for Nagy, who comes from a pass-happy West Coast offense background. The I-formation runs found success for a second game in a row, but Nagy didn’t start to use Holtz as a fullback regularly until the second half Sunday.
The Eagles are above .500 for the first time this season, and take some much-needed momentum into their bye week. The Bears will head back to Chicago to answer some tough questions. And unlike last week, and the last time they faced the Eagles, there isn’t a kicker to blame.