The Bears extended their winning streak to three Thursday night, scoring 24 unanswered points in a 31-24 victory over the Cowboys at Soldier Field. Here are three things that stood out in the game:
(1) Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky energized the Bears offense with his legs, rushing for a season-high 63 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries.
Trubisky threw three TD passes for the second straight game, but the damage he did on the ground was reminiscent of last season when he rushed for 421 yards. He entered Thursday night's game with just 80 yards rushing this year.
Of Trubisky's 10 attempts, he scrambled four times for gains of 5, 13, 5 and 9 yards, picking up three first downs. He also hung onto the ball on four read-option plays that went for 4, 9, -1 and 23 yards with the 23-yarder resulting in a touchdown that gave the Bears a 31-14 lead. His two other carries were a 1-yard gain on a third-and-one sneak and a 1-yard loss when Trubisky took a knee in victory formation on the final play of the game.
Coach Matt Nagy credited the success of the scrambles to Trubisky climbing the pocket and a Cowboys defense that frequently runs stunts with its linemen.
"On some passes, instead of pushing sideways to the sideline, pushing vertical up in the pocket," Nagy said. "They do a lot of stunts. When that happens, you can get out of whack a little bit, and you can create lanes for the quarterback. When you push vertical up into the pocket, you see nothing but green grass, you take off, and that's what he did a few times."
In terms of Trubisky's decision-making on read options, Nagy said that the quarterback is "evolving in a good way."
"There's a lot of different looks that are presented with the defensive ends and how they play it and then how they do different things with the linebackers," Nagy said. "Yesterday you'll see on tape there several times where they did the squeeze/scrape, where they crash, he pulls it and now the 'backer scrapes over the top. Well, our tackles did a great job of kicking out and he hit it up in there.
"And so that kind of stuff between coaching with our offensive coaches, between executing with the line and decision-making with the quarterback that when you put it together it's hard to stop. And yesterday you felt that. We were all kind of clicking at the same time. There were 11 people producing and making the right decisions and it's effective."
(2) The latest example of the Bears successfully employing their "next-man-up" philosophy on defense came early in Thursday night's game.
The Bears were already playing without three injured defensive starters in tackle Akiem Hicks (elbow), inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (elbow) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring). But then things went from bad-to-worse when inside linebacker Roquan Smith exited with a pectoral injury he suffered on the Cowboys' game-opening 17-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
The Bears' leading tackler, who had been playing extremely well in recent weeks, was replaced by Kevin Pierre-Louis. The unheralded six-year NFL veteran stepped in and recorded five tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one quarterback hit and two pass breakups.
Other players who helped fill the void for injured teammates included tight ends Jesper Horsted (4 catches for 36 yards) and J.P. Holtz (3-56), who replaced the injured Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker; right tackle Cornelius Lucas III, who made his second start in place of Bobby Massie; and cornerback Kevin Toliver II, who filled in for Amukamara.
"After watching the tape, I thought we had a lot of guys that stepped up in different roles," Nagy said. "We appreciate that. That part's good."
It appears that the Bears may have to continue to rely on Pierre-Louis, who is in his first year with the team after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Seahawks (2014-16), Chiefs (2017) and Jets (2018).
Asked about Smith's prognosis Monday, Nagy said: "Just like I said yesterday, we're still getting more information. It doesn't look good. But we have some time here to get more information on him. We're going to do that."
(3) One key to the offense's success Thursday night was that the Bears finally got a productive game from their tight ends.
Horsted and Holtz—which sounds more like a law firm than a pair of NFL teammates—combined to catch seven passes for 90 yards. In the Bears' previous six games, their tight ends had produced a total of seven receptions for 73 yards.
"Tight ends are big in any offense," Nagy said. "You want to be able to have production from your tight ends. They help out in the run game; you saw that [Thursday] night. And then they help out in the pass game in certain areas. All tight ends are different. J.P. Holtz is different from some other U-style tight ends, but he's been able to play both. It's just a benefit when you don't always have to throw to wide receivers."
Neither Holtz nor Horsted opened the season on the Bears' 53-man roster. Holtz was claimed off waivers Sept. 11 from the Redskins, while Horsted was promoted from the practice squad Nov. 20.
Nagy is still learning what both players can do. "You don't know exactly what you're getting from them," he said. "They're new to the offense, let alone their skillset. I think now we're kind of getting an idea what their strengths and weaknesses are, and we're trying to feed off their strengths."
Holtz set up the Bears' first touchdown Thursday night, turning a short reception into a 30-yard gain on a perfectly-executed screen pass.
"We caught them in a blitz," Nagy said. "Sometimes if you run that same play versus drop eight, it's a bad play call. But it ends up being a good play call. We got them in a blitz, and then the guys executed it. Timing, the execution, the details of why you run that route, why you block the way you block in that type of gap screen … that's when you put on for down the road clinic."