DENVER — Regardless of what the scoreboard ended up saying Saturday night, it was clear that the Bears were going to leave Colorado feeling much better about themselves than they did a week ago in Cincinnati.
As it turned out, backup quarterback Chase Daniel led a fourth quarter comeback that resulted in a 24-23 victory over the Broncos, but more important than just the game, the Bears can say they won the week — clearly taking a step in the right direction after two joint practices and a game in Denver.
Here are a few important observations from Saturday night’s game, in which the Bears’ offensive starters played well into the second quarter, while most of the defensive starters were limited to just two series.
Offense Gains Momentum
After officially netting -1 yards on seven snaps against the Bengals, the Bears came to Denver looking to build some positive momentum for Matt Nagy’s starting offense. They leave Colorado having accomplished that goal, but it wasn’t always pretty. Mitch Trubisky was able to move the ball downfield in three of four possessions, primarily by targeting Trey Burton, who caught four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
But Trubisky’s night ended on a sour note as a poor route by Tarik Cohen and an ill-advised throw resulted in an interception. Broncos safety Justin Simmons jumped the pass like he knew it was coming and, well, that’s because he did.
“It was a play we were expecting,” Simmons said.
Trubisky took responsibility for the throw, but he may have been taking the heat for his teammate, as Nagy seemed more worried about the route.
“29, he’s a really good route-runner from the backfield and does a lot of good things,” Nagy said. “On that one in particular, if you look at it, he was going to cut inside and then for whatever reason he felt the defender cut in front of him and he stopped. I think he learned that you can’t do that.”
Meanwhile, Trubisky also dropped a snap in the end zone, which resulted in a safety. While snaps were an issue throughout the week, center Cody Whitehair didn’t have any glaring errors Saturday night, and on that particular play, Trubisky just fumbled the shotgun snap. No matter who’s at fault, the center-quarterback exchange continues to be a problem and needs to be fixed before something really bad happens at Lambeau Field on Sept. 9.
“I just dropped it,” Trubisky said, while Nagy said he didn’t notice any snap problems from Whitehair in the game.
All-in-all, Trubisky and the No. 1 offense got better in Denver. The unit — and especially the tight ends — had a lot of success against the Broncos, both in practice and in the game. But Saturday night served as a reminder that there are going to be growing pains. There needs to be continued growth this coming week and in next Saturday’s game against the Chiefs.
While there have been a fair amount of minor injuries, the Bears have mostly avoided the big injuries in camp. And they’re hoping that didn’t change Saturday night.
Tight end Adam Shaheen left the game in the first quarter with what the team called an ankle injury, and it didn’t good on the replay. He was able to stand up on the sideline, but needed a cart to get to the locker room. The second-year tight end has had an impressive camp and is playing an important role in Nagy’s scheme. Losing him for an extended period of time would be a blow.
Meanwhile, everyone knows that losing edge rusher Leonard Floyd would be a terrible problem at a position that lacks depth. He left Saturday’s game with a hand injury and did not return. That might not sound terrible, but hand placement has been a huge emphasis for Floyd and he simply needs to stay healthy.
When asked if either player suffered a “fracture,” Nagy said: “I don’t think so, but we don’t know that yet. So yeah, I think we’re good.”
Shaheen left the stadium on crutches with a boot on his foot, while Floyd had a cast on his hand.
Robinson, Trevathan Make Preseason Debuts
Both wide receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Danny Trevathan made their preseason debuts, but did not play very long. Trevathan handled the defensive signals with the starters and had one tackle, while Robinson was not targeted. There’s really no point in analyzing their performances any further since the sample size was so small. More importantly, both players handled a full week of practice and looked good in the joint sessions against the Broncos. They’ll likely get the chance to do more against the Chiefs next week.
Unsurprisingly, Roquan Smith did not play after just three practices and only two in pads. The Bears opted to be smart and postpone his debut until next week. There’s a reason why there are two weeks of training camp before the first preseason game even gets played. Players need to get into football shape. I was encouraged by what I saw from Smith in his two practices against the Broncos — the speed and instincts were there. He’ll now have two weeks worth of practices before likely making his debut next Saturday against the Chiefs.
Nagy’s In-Game Coaching Encouraging
With three preseason games in the books, we have a decent sample size in which to evaluate Nagy’s in-game coaching and, I have to say, I’m impressed. No glaring errors stand out. He correctly challenged a play Saturday, which could be worthy of a statue being built at Soldier Field. He’s had two moments across three games where he debated accepting or declining a penalty, and made the right call both times. He also hurried the offense up after the Bears received a fortunate spot Saturday, and Trubisky nearly got the play off before Broncos head coach Vance Joseph threw the challenge flag. Honestly, my only gripe in three games is that Nagy called a quarterback sneak with Trubisky in a preseason game, but hey, it worked. Trubisky picked up the first down on 4th-and-1.
“Knock on wood, I feel like one of my strengths is that I really enjoy time-management. I enjoy it. This is great for me to now be thrusted into it and have it live. These are fastballs coming at you and there are so many different situations,” Nagy said.
The meaningful evaluation won’t come until the regular season, but for a rookie coach, Nagy’s off to an encouraging start.