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Mark Potash: Breaking down the Bears as they head into the stretch run

With three games to go, the 7-6 Bears have an outside shot at a playoff berth. But even if they fall short, a strong finish by Mitch Trubisky and the offense can re-establish a foundation for success in 2020.

Robert Quinn (58, chasing down Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky last season at Soldier Field) had 11 1⁄2 sacks in 14 games for the Cowboys last season.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky played one of the best games of his career in a 31-24 victory over the Cowboys on Thursday night — three touchdown passes, a 115.5 passer rating and 63 rushing yards, including a 23-yard touchdown. With three games to go, the big question is: Can he continue on that developmental arc?
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mitch Trubisky has played better lately. Is he the starter next season?

Trubisky will go into training camp in 2020 as the Bears’ No. 1 quarterback. The only question is how much the Bears will push him with an NFL-quality starter. Don’t count on it. If this recent surge continues, it only will confirm the Bears’ belief that all Trubisky needed was time to mature with this offense and that 2020 will be a continuation of that process. Only a sharp reversal of the recent trend in the final three weeks of the regular season would alter that.

What made coach Matt Nagy’s offense finally click?

Though the production against the Cowboys’ defense was impressive, it’s a little too early to presume the Bears’ offense has arrived. Improved offensive line play has allowed the Bears to avoid three-and-outs, which has provided Trubisky — but especially Nagy — with a chance to get into a rhythm. I buy that. It can’t be stressed enough that Nagy is developing as much or more than any other facet of the offense.

If Akiem Hicks returns but Roquan Smith is out, is that a net gain?

Yes, provided Hicks is the same Hicks he was when he left. The loss of Smith is huge because he was developing into a playmaker and offered the potential for All-Pro-caliber performances. But if Hicks is right, his ability to create havoc in the pocket and affect every snap makes Khalil Mack a more destructive player and makes every other defender better. Though the defense has survived without him, Hicks rivals Mack as the Bears’ MVP this season.

What’s the biggest question for the Bears down the stretch?

Can Trubisky and the offense continue to make progress and get to a point where they’re ahead of where they were at the end of last season, so that the Bears at least have a better foundation for 2020 than they had for 2019? Until the last two games, they most definitely did not.

What will the Bears’ final record be?

8-8. A sweep of the final month of the schedule would be like finishing birdie-eagle-birdie-eagle — not impossible, but not likely. One caveat: Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL. The Packers, Chiefs and Vikings have had their moments of vulnerability and difficulty this season.

Will it be enough to make the playoffs?

Not at 8-8. But if the Bears finish 9-7 or 10-6, the help they need to make the playoffs isn’t implausible. The key upset would be the Chargers beating the Vikings in Los Angeles in Week 15.

What would qualify this as a successful season?

Relative to preseason expectations, only a playoff berth would be considered success. But the way things have played out, if the Bears can get the offensive arrow pointing up and quell some of the doubts about Trubisky and Nagy heading into 2020, this season — even without a playoff berth — eventually might be considered a successful failure.