CHICAGO — The Bears first-stringers were outplayed on both sides of the ball in their exhibition debut against the Bengals on Thursday. Yes, they were missing key contributors and did not game plan, but the same applied to the opponent.
If anyone needed a reminder of the last-place, double-digit-loss hole the Bears must climb out of, the first quarter provided it. There were too many lost blocks, a critical dropped pass, penalties and poor tackling, to list a few of the miscues.
"We don't want to be -- it can't be -- it can't happen where it's the Bears beat the Bears," coach Matt Nagy said.
Here are five observations about the starters' performance from re-watching the Bengals' telecast.
1. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was OK on his seven dropbacks (including plays negated by penalties).
As Nagy said immediately after the game: "Nothing extraordinary but nothing bad."
There were some positives behind his modest stat line of 2-for-4 for 4 yards. Before the first snap, Trubisky identified the single-high safety on which the deep pass to Kevin White was contingent. He knew he had White running a vertical route -- White's specialty -- against single coverage and took the shot accordingly.
Two plays later, Trubisky again identified man coverage and picked out White, who was open at the line to gain on an in-breaking route. He delivered an accurate throw that White dropped. If White had caught it, maybe the offense would've generated some momentum and more of a rhythm. Who knows where the game would've gone from there?
Also, Trubisky's pocket presence was good for the most part. Yes, he was sacked by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins on an interior rush. There wasn't much Trubisky could have done about that. But he escaped the pocket on two other dropbacks on which he was hurried. And on the two incompletions to White on the first set of downs, he stood tall in the pocket and surveyed the field with poise.
"It felt like I was moving around pretty good," Trubisky said. "It's just, for me, keeping my eyes downfield and moving as little as possible in the pocket, just to keep my eyes downfield and be ready to throw at all times.
"Hopefully (I) just get more and more in the rhythm moving forward, feel my way around the pocket, keep my eyes downfield and get the ball to the playmakers. We've just got to keep going over protections and blitzes and play a little faster. And if we have better operation in and out of the huddle, I think that allows us more time to just process things at the line of scrimmage, so it allows us to think less and play faster. That definitely helps being in the pocket, as well, when you're just reacting and not thinking."
One of the Bears' top offseason priorities was to improve the caliber of pass-catchers at Trubisky's disposal. So it didn't help that Allen Robinson (knee) and Taylor Gabriel (foot) sat out and that Tarik Cohen played only one snap. They are the three most dynamic receivers in this offense. Just a hunch: Things will look much better with that trio moving all around the formation.
On the wrong side of Trubisky's balance sheet was the missed deep ball on the first play. White, to his credit, got open (more on that below). Trubisky had space on the field to complete the pass, and he has hit a few deep shots on the practice field in Bourbonnais. He didn't miss by much, which indicates it's just a matter of perfecting the timing and chemistry with White. That was a missed opportunity.
Also worth noting is that the Bears burned a time out third-and-13 on the first series. That's not necessarily on the quarterback, but it is a poor reflection on the operation as a whole.
Third-and-13 is not a high percentage down-and-distance, certainly not good value for using a time out. There appeared to be a problem with someone's alignment. Nagy was waving frantically on the sideline before he signaled for time out.
"Our standards are higher that we expect to be better," Trubisky said. "No excuse for first preseason game. We have a bunch of experienced guys from last year, so there shouldn't be any jitters. Maybe guys were excited. But it's very simple -- come out here, do your job, do exactly what we were doing in practice."
2. White needs to make this game the starting point of an ascent and not a downward spiral.
Fellow Tribune scribe Colleen Kane spoke to White after the game and described him as upbeat, happy and smiling. That doesn't quite match up with the fact he finished without a catch and dropped a pass that would have converted third-and-9.
My initial reaction to learning of White's postgame demeanor was to wonder whether it was false confidence. After all, White is making such a dedicated, conscious effort to stay positive during his latest comeback attempt. Thurday's drop could undermine his mental progress if he let it.
But upon further review, White had good reason to smile: He got open twice against cornerback William Jackson, a starter and first-round pick of the Bengals in 2016. Playing fast and getting open have been the biggest challenges for White when he has been healthy. But he accomplished that in that opening set of downs. He can build on that.
On the incomplete deep ball, he got past Jackson with an outside release. White lined up about 2 yards outside the left numbers, which gave him about 10 yards of width to work with before the sideline. By the time Trubisky's throw descended, White was about a yard inside the boundary; I wonder how intentional they were about using all of that space to the outside. Surely that falls under the details category to which Nagy so often refers. Anyhow, White had a step on Jackson, was close enough to the sideline to be unaffected by the single-high safety and was available to catch the ball if Trubisky had executed the difficult throw.
On the third-and-9 drop, White was outside the frame of the telecast when he broke in at 9 yards. But we know he did gain separation from Jackson, which is a victory, given White's ongoing work to refine his in-breaking routes (specifically his tempo, footwork and how he drops his weight to get in and out of cut).
Again, getting open has been the difficult part for White. So it's possible for him to compartmentalize that positive from the negative of failing to secure the catch.
"I need to keep my eyes on it for a second longer," White said. "Those are routine plays. Sometimes the easiest plays can be the hardest. It takes a little more focus. I just need to catch the ball and get the yards I can get."
Now, it goes without saying that White must catch that ball for Bears coaches to trust him in the rotation. Must catch it. Getting open, obviously, is insufficient by itself.
And that goes back to the original point here: That must be a starting point for White. Now he must incorporate the catching component to the route running. Let's see how he works forward, given Thursday's contrast of positive and negative.
3. Inconsistent blocking by the offensive line put the Bears in low percentage third-down distances.
The blocking losses weren't isolated, either. Granted, the Bengals have a good defensive line, led by the six-time Pro Bowler Atkins. But what better way to prepare for the regular season?
On second-and-10 on the first set of downs, left guard Eric Kush pulled to his right and ran into the back of right guard Kyle Long, which didn't aid that block. Meanwhile, linebacker Nick Vigil was unblocked and stopped Taquan Mizzell for 1 yard.
On the next set of downs, second-and-5 became third-and-13 when Atkins got past Kush for a sack. Kush got his hands into Atkins, but Atkins won the subsequent hand fight and got Kush off balance.
That third-and-13 then became third-and-23 because center Cody Whitehair held Atkins when Trubisky tried to escape the pocket.
On the second possession, Mizzell lost 2 yards on second-and-6 when defensive end Carlos Dunlap penetrated the backfield inside right tackle Bobby Massie. Massie came off the ball hard to his right. Whether Dunlap was his responsibility can't be said for sure, but Massie whipped back as Dunlap easily got past him. The blocking breakdown put the Bears in a third-and-8 they did not convert.
"We didn't get a great rhythm going with only a couple drives, but it's the preseason," Long said. "This is where you get out there and knock the rust off."
4. Tackling and coverage were shoddy too often.
The Bears were without their best tackler (Danny Trevathan) and best cover corner (Prince Amukamara). Go figure.
Trevathan's replacement, veteran John Timu, failed to take down running back Joe Mixon on Mixon's 24-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Timu was in a mismatch against Mixon on the outside in man-to-man coverage, and he stopped his feet before trying to tackle Mixon high. Then Mixon spun through Adrian Amos' lunging tackle attempt, which was of higher quality but equally ineffective.
Earlier on that drive, Timu got picked by tight end Tyler Kroft, which freed A.J. Green for a 22-yard catch-and-run on a drag route underneath.
On the second series, cornerback Marcus Cooper didn't use the sideline to his advantage after a short catch by John Ross, enabling Ross to turn it into a 20-yard gain. Cooper trailed Ross on an out route and might've steered him out of bounds to minimize the damage, but his angle to the ball was deep, allowing Ross to cut back inside and upfield.
Coverage was inconsistent, also, and that hurt the Bears.
Cooper stayed close to Green on a third-and-6 back-shoulder throw near the left sideline, but he didn't find the ball on arrival. Green caught it, while Cooper flailed at it too late. He ran for a gain of 26. That play shows just how difficult it is for corners to defend some throws. But, hey, that's their job.
Kyle Fuller's pick-six was a terrific exploitation of Ross' poor balance. But he also was beaten for a 3-yard touchdown by receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd had enough space on his slant to the inside that Fuller was a tick too late to prevent the completion.
5. Leonard Floyd had two disruptive inside rushes.
The outside linebacker appeared to be the most consistent defensive starter, with honorable mention to Eddie Goldman. That was a reassuring sign in his first game action since knee ligament surgery last November.
Floyd deserved an assist on Fuller's interception. He got into quarterback Andy Dalton's vision by using a swim move to get inside the tight end Kroft. Kroft kicked out with his hands down, which gave Floyd an opening to use length and speed. He didn't appear to deflect the pass, but Dalton did seem to rush the throw a little. It didn't help the Bengals that Ross fell down.
On the first series, Floyd got Dalton off his passing point by beating right tackle Bobby Hart to the inside using speed. Hart set heavily on his outside leg, and Floyd read it. Dalton ended up rushing for 4 yards on that third-and-3.
When the Bears are game-planning in the regular season, Floyd will put a higher priority on containing certain quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, for example) in the pocket. But the two inside moves he won with Thursday show he's regaining his explosiveness and varying his arsenal.