Li­ons at Bears

A lot on their plates for Mack, Tru­bisky, Tre­vathan vs. Li­ons

Chicago Tribune - - CHICAGO SPORTS - Page 3

Noon Sun­day, FOX-32 Top sto­ry­lines for Sun­day’s game, plus NFL picks against the spread.

As the Bears dive back into NFC North play against the Li­ons on Sun­day, here’s the in­side slant on three notable sto­ry­lines.

Mack, crackle, pop

At some point dur­ing the Bears’ 41-9 blowout of the Bills last week­end, in­jured linebacker Khalil Mack got a lit­tle hun­gry. So from out of nowhere — per­haps from the pouch of his hooded sweat­shirt — Mack pro­duced a snack, squeez­ing a Rice Krispies Treat from its wrap­per and tak­ing a bite.

Mack couldn’t have known the Fox cam­eras would be fo­cused on him at that mo­ment. But the snap­shot ac­cen­tu­ated the awk­ward­ness of Mack’s last two Sun­days.

Sud­denly, one of the NFL’s most fe­ro­cious pass rush­ers had be­come an or­di­nary Joe — just a rest­less spec­ta­tor watch­ing a game and need­ing a snack.

Need­less to say, this isn’t the way Mack would choose to spend his Sun­day af­ter­noons. And the ex­pec­ta­tion now out of Halas Hall is that the vet­eran edge rusher will be back in his com­fort zone this week­end — on the field when the Bears play host to the Li­ons.

Be­fore be­ing de­clared in­ac­tive for the Week 8 game against the Jets, Mack never had missed a game in his NFL ca­reer. So he al­ready is feel­ing a height­ened sense of ea­ger­ness to re­turn. But if Mack needed any more in­cen­tive to get revved up for Sun­day, all it takes is a quick dose of Li­ons film.

Start with the first time Matthew Stafford was sacked Sun­day against the Vik­ings, when de­fen­sive tack­les Shel­don Richard­son and Tom John­son plowed through the mid­dle of the Li­ons of­fen­sive line and en­gulfed Stafford.

Or the sec­ond time when Danielle Hunter and Ever­son Grif­fen each dom­i­nated the Li­ons’ right and left tack­les and met on top of Stafford. Or the third, the fourth or the fifth. Or the ninth. Or the 10th. Yep, 10 times the Vik­ings sacked Stafford. Hunter col­lected 3½ and then picked up NFC De­fen­sive Player of the Week honors Tues­day. Hunter’s big day should in­vig­o­rate Mack­be­cause it wasn’t a first-time thing. Last sea­son, Hunter col­lected three of his seven sacks against the Li­ons, con­sis­tently beat­ing right tackle Rick Wag­ner.

This is the op­por­tu­nity await­ing Mack on Sun­day at Sol­dier Field, a chance not only to get back into the flow of things for the Bears de­fense but to morph back into a ma­jor game-wrecker.

Sim­ply put, Wag­ner will need help to con­tain Mack. From the Bears’ per­spec­tive, this is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to get their best player feel­ing spry and con­fi­dent again.

Sail away

The throw was so off tar­get there had to be an ex­pla­na­tion. Mid­way through the third quar­ter Sun­day against the Bills, Bears quar­ter­back Mitch Tru­bisky fired a shot down­field pass to­ward tight end Trey Bur­ton. Only the ball kept fly­ing. High and away. Cue the Bob Uecker. Tru­bisky’s sev­enth in­ter­cep­tion of the sea­son may have been his least costly. At the time, the Bears were ahead 31-3 and coast­ing. Chicago fans’ blood pres­sure barely moved. Easy to shrug past.

But still. With a throw that way­ward, some­thing had to be amiss. Maybe Bur­ton was sup­posed to run his pat­tern higher. Maybe re­ceiver Tay­lor Gabriel should have bro­ken his ver­ti­cal route off. Cer­tainly Bills corner­back Tre’Davi­ous White shouldn’t have caught the ball 6 or 7 yards from the near­est Bear. Mitch? “Just sailed on me a lit­tle bit,” Tru­bisky ex­plained im­me­di­ately af­ter the game.

His re­sponse was curt. It lacked fol­lowup de­tail be­cause, well, there was no fol­low-up de­tail. The ball just sailed.

Still, per­haps this was just a quar­ter­back be­ing a leader, own­ing the turnover with­out throw­ing a team­mate un­der the bus. Right? Maybe? Matt Nagy’s di­ag­no­sis? “It lit­er­ally just sailed on him,” the Bears coach said. “The first thing he said when he walked to the side­line (was) ‘That one just got away from me. It sailed.’ ” Noth­ing more to it what­so­ever. Ma­jor deal? Not by a long shot. Just an ugly throw and the Bears’ lone turnover in a road romp.

But it’s also im­per­a­tive Tru­bisky learn from that in­ter­cep­tion and un­der­stand why it hap­pened. If the first-place Bears have se­ri­ous as­pi­ra­tions of play­ing foot­ball in Jan­uary, it will be Tru­bisky who will have to guide them there. And pretty soon, in a sec­ond-half sched­ule that will test the Bears’ met­tle and their start­ing quar­ter­back’s poise, ev­ery one of Tru­bisky’s er­rors will go un­der an even more in­tense mi­cro­scope.

A throw like that in a run­away vic­tory is no big deal. A throw like that in a three-point loss will feel so much heav­ier, so much more de­flat­ing. It will trig­ger a week­long ther­apy ses­sion for fans in a dream-big city that senses the Bears’ resur­gence is ahead of sched­ule with the door to grand pos­si­bil­i­ties now cracked.

That’s why all turnovers have to be ex­am­ined with the same ur­gency and seen through the same crit­i­cal lens. It’s why Tru­bisky went back Mon­day and searched for a rea­son why that par­tic­u­lar throw sailed.

“Bad tim­ing,” he said. “My drop, I rushed it a lit­tle bit. And so the ball just sailed on me a lit­tle bit. I was out of rhythm, out of funk and just let it go a lit­tle too high.”

That play came out of the shot­gun, with Tru­bisky of­fer­ing a play fake to Jor­dan Howard and then tak­ing a slight drop back. His tim­ing is­sue is dif­fi­cult to de­tect. It’s pos­si­ble that Lorenzo Alexan­der’s out­side rush against right tackle Bobby Massie brought enough heat to the pocket that it af­fected the quar­ter­back’s com­fort and foot­work. Still, Tru­bisky had enough space to make a con­fi­dent and ac­cu­rate throw.

Said of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mark Hel­frich: “His foot­work prob­a­bly led to a lit­tle back­ward lean and a miss. He missed it. … For a right-handed quar­ter­back throw­ing that to your right, you re­ally have to fin­ish that throw.”

Is it a small hiccup? Ab­so­lutely. But it’s a re­minder of just how many minute de­tails a quar­ter­back must han­dle to play the most im­por­tant po­si­tion at a high level on a con­sis­tent ba­sis.

Col­li­sion sport

Linebacker Danny Tre­vathan boarded the team char­ter back from Buf­falo, N.Y., with a feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion. Tre­vathan had made a dozen tack­les, in­clud­ing two for a loss, and watched the Bears de­fense score two touch­downs in a blowout of the Bills. For the fifth time in eight games, the Bears had held an op­pos­ing of­fense to fewer than 20 points. Still, there was some­thing an­noy­ing Tre­vathan.

“We gave up a rush­ing touch­down,” the in­side linebacker said with a tone of ex­treme dis­ap­point­ment.

With 5 min­utes, 43 sec­onds to play, Bills quar­ter­back Nathan Peter­man crossed the goal line on a 1-yard sneak. On third-and­goal. It was — and is, be­lieve it or not — the only rush­ing touch­down the Bears have al­lowed all sea­son.

“I hate it,” Tre­vathan said. “On a quar­ter­back sneak. We had him. He just turned side­ways to get in there.”

Peter­man’s TD also came just two plays af­ter Tre­vathan had made the nas­ti­est of the 61 tack­les he has racked up this sea­son, a jar­ring shot on Chris Ivory inches short of the end zone. Tre­vathan’s re­ac­tion at the snap was ter­rific. His re­ac­tion to fill the hole was ideal. But it was the hit …

Man, that hit. Ivory is 223 pounds. On that se­quence, he looked like a mos­quito meet­ing a wind­shield on the high­way.

“A linebacker’s dream, man,” Tre­vathan said. “That’s all I want. Just square him up and hit him. … I liked that col­li­sion. That’s what lineback­ers are in it for. Clean. Right down the mid­dle. No shy­ing away from con­tact. Noth­ing.”

Half­way through the sea­son, Tre­vathan has es­tab­lished him­self as a con­sis­tent con­trib­u­tor on a top-tier de­fense. To hear co­or­di­na­tor Vic Fan­gio tell it, Tre­vathan’s dura­bil­ity and avail­abil­ity this sea­son has been a ma­jor key. In 2016, the vet­eran linebacker missed seven games with se­ri­ous thumb and knee in­juries. Last sea­son, Tre­vathan missed three games in No­vem­ber with a strained calf.

Even in weeks that Tre­vathan didn’t miss games, he of­ten missed sig­nif­i­cant prac­tice time. This year? He has yet to be listed on the in­jury re­port through the sea­son’s first two months. His pro­duc­tion is adding up. His pres­ence on a ter­rific de­fense is be­ing felt.

BRIAN CAS­SELLA/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Danny Tre­vathan drills Bills quar­ter­back Nathan Peter­man on Sun­day, one of 12 tack­les for the Bears in­side linebacker.

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