The Bears played terrific defense in each of their three preseason games, doing so mostly without the involvement of their two best defensive players, Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn. The veterans (Morrow, Jones, Muhammad, etc.) contributed consistently and the kids (Brisker, Gordon) were the summer’s shining light. If this group can find enough pass rush, still a significant if, they will be a unit easily slotted into the top half of the sport.
The Bears also looked solid on specials in their preseason games and on the Lake Forest practice field. Cairo Santos is one of the most reliable kickers in the league. Trenton Gill is looking like a seventh-round steal, especially considering that the more ballyhooed punter in the draft, Matt Araiza, has now been accused of participation in a gang rape and is out of the sport. And the team has what you want when it comes to return men, the steadiness of a Dante Pettis and the explosiveness of a Velus Jones Jr. (Coverage units are difficult to evaluate during the summer because they are formed by the bottom third of the roster.)
When it came to the competitiveness of the 2022 Bears, it was always going to come down to the offense. Would the quarterback take the next step? Could the young line hold up? Do they have enough playmakers on the outside? How long would it take this group to grasp Luke Getsy’s system – a system that has historically struggled in year one? Questions, questions, questions, questions. But did the summer provide any answers?
Yes, I think one could argue it did.
The quarterback had his moment Saturday night. And it was a moment many inside the building were desperate to see. He was poised in the pocket, processed the field well, and was decisive and accurate with his throws. It was still a practice game, and it’ll be forgotten by the middle of the week, but it has to instill a tremendous amount of confidence in Justin Fields as he embarks upon the journey of his sophomore season.
The young offensive line has looked just fine and should improve when Lucas Patrick makes his expected return in September. This group is going to have its struggles. Braxton Jones is a rookie. Teven Jenkins is playing his first season at guard. Larry Borom probably shouldn’t be a starting tackle, but the team’s future will be better served getting him on-field experience this year. There will be drives that frustrate fans and drives that enthrall fans. That’s the story with young starters in the NFL. But this unit has certainly not been the liability this summer many predicted.
As for playmakers, of course the Bears don’t have enough. Not even close. Look at the talent outside for contenders like the Bucs, Rams, Bengals, Bills and the entirety of the AFC West. “Why can’t the Bears contend for a title this year?” is often asked by the most optimistic of fans on social media. (They must know, but they ask anyway.) This is the answer. But a few things should be noted here. First, a Larry Mayer tweet:
Justin Fields’ 14 completions went to 10 different receivers.
— Larry Mayer (@LarryMayer) August 28, 2022
This is how the Bears will have to be effective throwing the football. They’ll need to spread it around, and not just to the wide receivers. They’ll need Montgomery, Herbert and Blasingame to catch balls. They will need production from not just Cole Kmet, but Ryan Griffin and perhaps Naperville’s Jimmy O’Shaughnessy too. Darnell Mooney will likely catch about 100 balls from Fields this year, but he’ll also draw the attention of the opposing defensive coordinator each week and, subsequently, the opposition’s best defensive backs. Pringle, Pettis, St. Brown and Jones will all need to be factors week-to-week. When you lack the elite talent, the uncoverable player, your strategy must be a de facto “passing game by committee”. Saturday night was perhaps a preview of what is to come over the next four months.
A warning, however: it would be something of a miracle for all of these questions to be resolved in the positive. This offense will still struggle, and one should see a ranking in the top 20 as significant step in the right direction. But this summer has shown the offense is capable of being a capable group. They are capable of blocking it, running it, moving it through the air. And the quarterback showed Saturday, overreaction or not, that he is capable of being one of the most exciting players in the sport.
Capability is the thing, and it should somewhat raise expectations for what the 2022 Bears can be. Because a capable offense paired with good defense and specials results in a team playing meaningful football games in December. (As has been stated many times on this site, that is how late Giants owner Wellington Mara defined a good season.) And if the Bears are playing meaningful games in December, the organization will have found itself on the fast track to contention.