The Bears rode linebacker Khalil Mack’s pressure on quarterbacks to a 3-1 start.
After two losses, they’ll simply have to adjust until Mack can recover from an ankle injury. And that adjustment could come in many forms.
On Monday, Chicago head coach Matt Nagy sifted through the rubble of the first Bears losing streak since he became head coach, and determined the Mack situation is one where the team and player will have to work closely to determine if he’s better off sitting or playing until his right ankle heals.
“We all know that he’s not 100 percent, but where are you at?” Nagy said. “That’s where we trust him, he trusts us and then we go ahead with the action plan and that’s what we ended up doing. It’s not an easy decision or process.”
The solution to a pass rush with only one sack to show for in the two games since Mack suffered his injury is simply players getting off blocks, Nagy said.
One player in particular who needs to be more of a presence in the pass rush is Leonard Floyd, who doesn’t have a sack. He had 11.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Akiem Hicks had three sacks in the first four games and none since Mack suffered his injury.
Nagy said he has no problem with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s approach, which had Floyd and Mack playing more pass coverage than they normally had in past games. It simply comes down to players taking better approaches in their rush.
“We say it on the offensive line — you have to win your one-on-one battle,” Nagy said. “Defense? Same thing. You get home.”
If the Bears had a running game they could rely on, it might solve many of the problems their defense is having. They would be on the field less.
The running game is struggling mightily, and it’s putting pressure on Mitchell Trubisky and the passing game. Jordan Howard has run more than 15 times in a game only once after averaging 17.1 carries in his first two seasons.
“It doesn’t mean that you change the pass-run ratio or anything like that, but when you do run, your yards per carry has to be better,” Nagy said.
Howard is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and Nagy said it’s apparent the run blocking scheme hasn’t taken hold the way some aspects of the offense are.
“The easy answer is that, again, learning this offense as a whole, all of us together and kind of going through this deal, the run game, trying to figure out the identity of who we are, has taken a little bit longer than the pass game,” Nagy said. “And so what we’re going to do — that’s why we’re coaches — is figure out who we are, what we do best and we talk about it.”
Trubisky suffered through inconsistent passing Sunday in going 26-for-50 with 333 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He played a game better than most people think he played,” Nagy said. “There were some throws now that he missed in the later part of the game — see, early in the game, there are some throws that look like he missed them but he missed them because the guy isn’t open and it’s more of a throwaway.”
Trubisky made some strange decisions, like throwing into a crowd twice in the end zone. Both easy interceptions were dropped. One play was a tackle-eligible that never materialized and his only targets — a third-string tight end and a tackle — were both covered.
“That’s a critical error that you cannot do,” Nagy said. “There’s no excuses for it. He knows it.”
Trubisky finished the game upbeat after he got the ball to the 1-yard line with a Hail Mary pass to Kevin White as time expired.
“We’ve just got to keep battling throughout the game, and when it’s rolling we’ve just got to keep it going, and when we’re in a little slump we’ve just got to make sure we get out of it,” Trubisky said.
WR Allen Robinson’s groin injury was aggravated in Sunday’s loss to the Patriots and his status will be watched throughout the week.
DB Bryce Callahan had come into Sunday’s game questionable with an ankle injury and left briefly, but returned and finished the game.
CB Kevin Toliver, playing on special teams, missed a tackle on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kick return for a touchdown with the Bears leading 17-7. “It’s not hard,” Toliver said. “It’s football. It’s a football play, and I have to make that play next time.” No other Bears player had a good shot at Patterson besides Toliver, who charged upfield and missed Patterson as he broke into the open field.
WR Kevin White on Sunday against the Patriots caught his first passes of the season, a 10-yarder and then the Hail Mary from Trubisky to get the ball to the 1-yard line. White tried to turn and get into the end zone but four defenders and then another kept him from getting beyond the 1-yard line.
QB Trubisky ran for a career-high 81 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown. “They just kept dropping out, and Cody [Whitehair] was kind of leading the way in front, and I just decided I’m just going to follow him, and he cleared the way for me,” Trubisky said. “And I was able to walk in. So just great job by our guys not giving up, just extending the plays.”