Someone’s Era Is Over In Chicago, But Whose?

| October 16th, 2023

Having been a Bears fan for over a decade, I’ve seen Sunday’s game more times than I’d like to admit.

Chicago was given a myriad of circumstantial advantages heading into the weekend’s tilt against a listing 1-4 Minnesota Vikings team. These advantages included (but were not limited to):

  • A ‘Mini-Bye’ that afforded Chicago extra time to rest, scout, and prep for this game
  • A surprise Wednesday announcement that Vikings’ superstar Justin Jefferson would be placed on IR, undoubtedly causing the Minnesota to scramble while planning their offense
  • Plenty of tape on how the Vikings would handle Justin Fields defensively (thanks to Jalen Hurts providing a close comparison)
  • A parade of returning Chicago starters (Kyler Gordon, Jaylon Johnson, Teven Jenkins, and Eddie Jackson) that looked to boost both sides of the ball
  • All of the intrinsic momentum that winning your first game of the season provides

And yet, despite these advantages, Chicago lost the game and fell to 1-5 on the season. That may be the death knell for any playoff hopes the organization still had.

It’s a damn shame they managed to lose too. The Bears’ defense held the Vikings’ offense to 220 total yards and 12 offensive points, yet Chicago allowed its 4th defensive touchdown in 6 weeks and lost 19-13 all the same. The 2023 Bears always make one mistake too many — that’s a direct indictment on their coaching, if you ask me.

There are conversations to be had about Fields’ eyes against Brian Flores’ blitzes, how strange it was to see the Bears abandon the run while it was hot, Tyson Bagent’s overall performance & more, but now that Chicago’s starting Quarterback is likely to miss time with a dislocated thumb, the story of the season may change in a flash — next the Bears host a “Bad, But Not That Bad” Las Vegas Raiders team in a game that would’ve been winnable with Fields but has now become a battle of backup QBs.

If this team falls to 1-6, what keeps them competing?

What do Matt Eberflus’ season goals become?

Does a total reset of the organization become inevitable?

We’ll cross some of those bridges when we get to them, but I can’t help feeling like an era ended on Sunday. I’m just not sure whose era it was.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • Everyone on Defense chipped in. The 2023 Bears defense has received plenty of grief on this site this year, but with the season in the balance they played as good a game as you could ask yesterday. Jaylon Johnson broke up passes, Tyrique Stevenson stopped Jordan Addison on a key 3rd & long, Zacch Pickens added a TFL, and TJ Edwards powered past Alexander Mattison to get home on a blitz & tip a Kirk Cousins pass in the air & create a huge interception that Tremaine Edmunds was ready for.
    • It wasn’t the Vikings offense’s best game (I’m still not sure why they were so averse to spreading out their WRs and passing relentlessly), but that’s not important — the defense did what they had to do on Sunday by shutting out Minnesota in the 2nd half and offering their offense 6 opportunities to take the ball and score. Plenty of good from that unit.

  • Special Teams were special. Cairo Santos has yet to miss a kick this season. Trenton Gill posted a solid 44 yard Net Punting Average & pinned Minnesota deep once. Velus Jones Jr looked… dare I say ‘dangerous’ on kickoff returns? The role players may play smaller roles, but they played them well on Sunday.
  • Tyler Scott came to life late. Once Tyson Bagent began throwing the ball, it quickly became clear that he had little to no chemistry with the Bears’ starting Wide Receivers. When the chips were down, Bagent leaned on rookie WR Tyler Scott whenever he needed a play — in my opinion, Scott delivered.
    • Scott drew a 36-yard pass interference penalty early & separated on a key 3rd down late, and in so doing he tripled his 2023 yardage total (he’s now at 18 total yards). Fields’ lack of chemistry with the young WR was totally understandable, but as the season shifts towards developing young players I’m interested in seeing what Scott does next.
  • D’Onta Foreman ran hard. How do you not love that?

The Bad

  • Despite a Mini-bye’s prep time, the Bears had no answers to Minnesota’s blitzes early. From the sack Justin Fields took on the first play of the game (a 6-man blitz that you could see coming from orbit) to constant pressure throughout the first half, the Justin Fields-led Chicago offense did not seem to leverage hot routes, quick throws, or any common blitz-beaters and instead tried to protect their way through the best blitzes Brian Flores could design. When pressured, Fields commonly dropped his eyes & looked to scramble his way out of trouble. This culminated in an abysmal passing performance in the first half, featuring 45 net yards on 13 plays and an interception.
    • Everyone that had a hand in the offensive design is accountable for this. They knew these blitzes were coming and, apparently, that gameplan was their answer. As a coach, you’re either teaching or you’re allowing poor play — for the offense to stall like this against similar blitzes to what you saw in Week 2 feels unconscionable. Maybe the All-22 will tell a different story than the broadcast tape did, because I can’t understand how they thought that passing attack would win.
  • Injuries suck. Nate Davis and Eddie Jackson leaving when they did was a damn shame, hopefully the pair gets healthy soon.
  • Tyson Bagent is a rookie, and that means we’re back on the Rookie QB Rollercoaster. Had you forgotten what it was like to live and die by the random wild results that rookie QBs provide? On one play, Bagent is ripping a quick-out on time to Velus Jones Jr for Velus’ first catch (and target) of the season, and then on the next play he gets caught up evading a rusher in the pocket and exposes the ball to a secondary rusher that forces a fumble and scores a defensive touchdown. Assuming Fields misses at least a game or two, Tyson Bagent should provide an entertaining grab-bag of play at a position where inconsistency is punished severely — as long as we can all agree not to overreact to his ‘Rookie Moments’, he should be fun to watch.
    • Regarding Bagent’s turnovers, the first play doesn’t bother me as much as the second play does — Rookie QBs are notorious for not yet having their ‘internal clock’ set to match the NFL’s speed, so I can forgive him for navigating one rusher well and not feeling the second rusher approach from behind. His INT did feel like he stepped into pressure more than pressure reached him, but he’s a rookie QB that was thrust into action with no notice — I can forgive a few flubs.

The Ugly

  • In an unfair business, a multi-week Justin Fields injury may spell the end of his time in Chicago. Fields did not start the 2023 season well, so if his 1-5 team falls to 1-8/2-7 in his absence, the damage to the season may be irreparable and Flus’ job may not be salvageable. If Flus is fired for poor team performance, we can assume that Chicago will have at least one high draft pick between their own 2024 1st rounder and Carolina’s — with 2 ‘good’ games and 3-4 ‘bad’ games on Fields’ 2023 resume, will Justin have enough time left after his injury to justify continued investment over simply choosing a new QB in the draft? I worry that even a strong 8-game stretch at the end of the year simply won’t be enough.
    • We’ll talk more about Fields’ pre-injury performance later this week as I think he further emphasized questions I had about his ability to process defensive post-snap movement, but I write this ‘Ugly’ to emphasize that Fields’ injury may officially make the decision to replace him bigger than his play — Fields, with this injury, becomes a QB that’s missed time in every starting season while failing to deliver consistent results. If Flus is fired, I can’t imagine a new HC passing on the opportunity that a rookie QB provides.

Postgame Podcast:

Nick and I recorded a podcast where we talked through the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs of Chicago’s latest loss here:

Your Turn: How do you feel about yesterday’s game?

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