Notes from Bears @ Buccaneers

| September 18th, 2023

This Bears season has gotten off to the worst start possible — they haven’t just lost two winnable games, they haven’t just watched the coaching staff struggle, but the QB that carried the weight of the franchise into the 2023 season looks like the most worry-fraught version of himself imaginable. Right now, every part of this football team is ugly to watch.

Worse yet, if you listen to the early portion of the Twitter Spaces that Jeff and I recorded pre-game, it’s as if we could see this loss coming. After so much struggle in Week 1, how far could the team truly bounce back in Week 2?

It’s heartbreaking. If Chicago loses to the Chiefs next week (and certainly if they lose to the Broncos the week after), the season may be over before it fully started. So how do we assess the blame?

The Head Coach

Let’s start at the top. Matt Eberflus took over for Alan Williams as the defensive playcaller in yesterday’s game, but the results were every bit as uninspiring as they were the week before.

It’s not as if the Bears didn’t try to make changes — Matt Eberflus called quite a few blitz/pressure looks early, but Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers offense handled the extra rushers and punished the Bears with the brutal efficiency of a bona fide NFL offense.

Now 2 weeks into the 2023 season, the Bears’ defense has allowed an almost perfect passer rating on 3rd & 4th downs — that’s unacceptable. It’s one thing to understand that Chicago’s defense lacks talent in the front 4, but to invest the money and draft picks that they did into their defense & produce so poorly on key downs is untenable for a coach that specializes in that side of the ball.

Expectations for this defense were never high, but after signing 3 new defensive linemen in Free Agency (DeMarcus Walker, Yannick Ngakoue, Andrew Billings) and drafting 2 more with Top 70 picks (Zacch Pickens, Gervon Dexter Sr) I think it’s fair to expect better from this unit than what what may be the worst results in football for the 2nd year running.

Injuries did not help matters in this game as Eddie Jackson (foot) & Jaquan Brisker (illness) left the game early, but for a team whose secondary should’ve been be a strength it’s telling how easily a QB in his 1st major start (Love) and a QB the NFL has largely discarded (Mayfield) have found it to throw against the defense on the biggest downs in football.

Their comfort in the pocket calls the entire scheme into question. But we’ll know more on that once the All-22 releases.

The Quarterback

I won’t presume to know what happened, but between Year 1 and Year 3 of Justin Fields’ career we’ve seen his problems worsen over time, not improve:

Note: This is all written before I’ve had a chance to see the All-22, we’ll be more comprehensive tomorrow.

  • His anticipation seems to be worsening over time (as if he’s losing confidence in his ability to fit the ball into throwing windows)
  • He freezes in place at the top of his deep drops, meaning opposing EDGE rushers never have to change their pass-rush aim points, exacerbating any pressure he feels.
  • He looked like he was actively trying not to run yesterday, which inexplicably removed one of the hardest-to-defend elements of his game from the offense
  • After likely getting blasted last week for ‘being too quick to check the ball down’, he once again held onto the ball for years in the pocket and resulted in 6 sacks on 35 dropbacks.

It’s bad. The offensive construction isn’t helping, but it’s bad all the same. He’s got to own that.

Here he is missing a read:

Part of me wonders if footwork is an issue that’s exacerbating the problem:

His aggressiveness is dying:

It’s bad, and it has to get better or else Chicago is going to run him out of town. I’m still a believer in his talent, but days like yesterday have me thinking his time is Chicago is limited. A fresh start somewhere else (with results ranging from Trubisky to Tannehill) may be in the cards.

The Offensive Coordinator

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow as well, but it’s ugly out there. Chicago’s offense largely relies on their QB to be a pocket passer but has stripped him of his 2022 calling-card in bizarre fashion.

When opposing players are saying ‘everybody knew what was coming’ on a key play, you’ve got problems.

It’s not just me that thinks it’s ugly out there either, here’s Tim Jenkins (former QB and current YT analyst) saying the same thing:


Postgame Podcast:

If you’d like more content, Nick and I went through the game yesterday & broke everything down here:

Your Turn: How are you feeling about the rest of the season?

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