The Bears’ rout of the Bengals produced overdue feelings of hope, especially with rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky and other youngsters playing key roles.
Now it’s time to finish strong.
Here’s what the organization wants to see from seven of the building blocks in these last three weeks:
QB Mitch Trubisky: a game-winning touchdown drive
In five of Trubisky’s nine starts, he has had the ball in his hands with a win or a tie within his reach. And he delivered twice:
† Against the Ravens in Week 6, Trubisky’s 18-yard throw on third-and-11 set up Connor Barth for his game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime.
† Against the Lions in Week 11, Trubisky put the Bears in position to tie the game with a 19-yard scramble and a 15-yard pass, but Barth missed from 46 yards.
It’s time to go all the way and score if the Bears keep things close against the Lions, Browns and Vikings as they always seem to do under coach John Fox.
A game-winning touchdown drive would accelerate many aspects of Trubisky’s development, whether it’s scanning coverages and identifying blitzers under pressure, handling his emotions during the moment or rallying his teammates to victory.
RB Jordan Howard: a touchdown off a screen pass
Howard thought undergoing eye surgery in the offseason would improve his pass-catching after drops marred his rookie season, but it hasn’t.
He still has a bad habit of taking his eyes off the ball before making a catch.
According to Pro Football Focus, Howard has a 25 percent drop rate on his catchable targets, the worst among NFL backs. Last year, he had 21.6 percent drop rate, which also ranked worst among qualified backs.
Twelve of Howard’s 18 catches this season have been check-downs. Five were screens in second- or third-and-long situations. One was a blown screen that went for a five-yard loss against the 49ers.
Tarik Cohen (41 catches, 311 yards, touchdown) and Benny Cunningham (13, 139, TD) have established themselves as better options.
To be a complete back, Howard must become a better pass-catcher. He has three games to ease concerns. Scoring on a screen play, regardless of the yardage, would help.
RB Tarik Cohen: a three-game stretch without negative runs
Cohen is a big threat in a little man’s body. But he has said several times that he needs to be more patient to allow running plays to develop and also understand that dancing around for more yards can be destructive.
The Bears lead the NFL with 57 negative runs, and Cohen is a big culprit.
He had four negative runs against the Bengals, though all were in garbage time.
Discounting the Bears’ disaster against the Eagles — in which Cohen had a reverse snuffed out — he has six games in which he has averaged 2½ yards per carry or worse.
Of Cohen’s 80 runs, five have gone for two yards, seven for one yard, three for no gain and 21 for negative yardage.
S Eddie Jackson: an interception in which he breaks on a pass
Jackson has been the Bears’ best playmaker in the secondary, but he can be even better. During training camp, his range and instincts stood out as he cut off various routes to break up and intercept passes.
Both of Jackson’s interceptions have come on tipped passes.
He might be getting closer, though, to showing off his ball skills. Against the Eagles in Week 12, Jackson read quarterback Carson Wentz on a fourth-and-six from the Bears’ 35 in the third quarter. He then undercut the Eagles’ routes, but Wentz’s pass went through his hands.
TE Adam Shaheen: a ‘Gronk’-like jump-ball touchdown
All three of Shaheen’s touchdowns have come off play fakes on the goal line with him starting off in a three-point stance.
Shaheen might be a prototypical in-line tight end, but he also has the size, strength, athleticism and hands to fit the “move” role, too. He’s a mismatch waiting to happen on jump balls.
The Bears tried to take advantage of Shaheen’s size against the Saints in Week 8. He was one-on-one against safety Von Bell over the middle on third-and-goal from the Saints’ 9. But Trubisky’s throw went over both players.
Tight ends coach Frank Smith later said Shaheen would’ve been a better option with a better release out of his upright stance.
DL Eddie Goldman: a sack or two and a healthy finish
Goldman has battled double teams and injuries since he was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft.
His run of good health this season ended last week when he missed the game against the Bengals because of a hip ailment, but he’s expected to play in Detroit.
It’s time for Goldman to improve his sack total. He’s invaluable as a run-stuffer, but the Bears always have believed he could do more.
Goldman had 4½ sacks in 15 games as a rookie and 2½ in six games last year. Goldman only has 1½ this season.
LT Charles Leno Jr.: a sack-free, mistake-free finish
Leno, 26, is a building block after signing a four-year, $37 million extension before the season, and he has had a better season than most think.
According to PFF, he has allowed two sacks, three QB hits and 13 hurries on 416 pass-blocking snaps. His 18 total pressures are the seventh-fewest allowed among 52 qualified tackles.
The Bears also average more yards on runs to his side than to the right.
Penalties are a problem for Leno, though.
He leads the Bears with a career-worst 10 penalties, including five for holding and four for false starts.
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