What Can Keep the 2024 Bears from Contending? Just the Sacks, Ma’am.

| May 17th, 2024

In February of 2019, the New England Patriots won the most boring Super Bowl game ever played, snoozing the nation with a 13-3 victory over a then dramatically overmatched, and now Scrooge McDuck-esque wealthy Jared Goff. That Pats team defied the statistical odds, specifically in one category: they were one of the league’s worst pass rushing units, finishing the regular season T-30 in sack total.

Sacks, many argue, are an overrated statistic. I do not endorse this argument. Pressure is great, numerically. But pressure doesn’t hurt. Pressure doesn’t lead to a frightened quarterback putting the football on the turf inside his own ten. Pressure doesn’t sideline your rival’s quarterback for multiple weeks in the stretch run. The threat of violence from a street corner bully can be incredibly effective, but your relationship to him is dramatically altered once he’s socked you in the jaw.

Since that New England Super Bowl dud, here are the regular season sack rankings of the Super Bowl champions:

2019 Chiefs: 11th.

2020 Bucs: T-4.

2021 Rams: 3.

2022 Chiefs: 2.

2023 Chiefs: 2.

Sack the quarterback, win the chip. The 2023 Bears were 31st in the sport, 30 sacks behind the league-leading Baltimore Ravens. So, what has to change? A significant amount.

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2024 Bears Offseason Primer: Rounding Out the Roster

| February 16th, 2024

The Super Bowl is behind us, and the NFL offseason has officially arrived. Now is the favorite time of year for fans of downtrodden teams like the Bears. Over the next few months, every team will magically turn their weaknesses into strengths and enter training camp with hopes of playing in next years’ Super Bowl — if you don’t believe me, just survey each fanbase in July.

The Bears might not be Super Bowl contenders in 2024, but they took a clear step forward in 2023 and have the resources to improve the roster this offseason, setting up another step in the right direction next fall. But before we get into the whirlwind of draft prep (the Combine starts February 26) and free agency (starts March 13), it’s worth taking a look at where the roster currently stands. Let’s examine:

  • What the Bears’ depth chart looks like as of today
  • Which Chicago impact players are set to hit free agency
  • What Chicago’s salary cap situation looks like
  • Bears players that could be considered for cuts or extensions

Current Depth Chart

Let’s start by looking at who the Bears currently have under contract for 2024. This is based on the 53 players currently signed as of February 7, sorted loosely into what a depth chart would look like below.

A few thoughts:

  • This looks much better than the version I did at a comparable time just a year ago, but it still needs quite a bit of work before it’s truly become a good roster.
  • The most notable weaknesses that jump out are WR2, WR3, and C, where the current ‘starting’ players are clearly not starting-caliber.
    • I would also argue CB needs some work, as I would feel a lot better about Terell Smith as the top backup than a starter.
    • Still, this is a much shorter list than last year, when I said the Bears needed to add 11 starters.
  • Beyond that, improved competition for starters and/or rotational depth is needed at RB, TE, interior OL (G/C),  DE, DT, and S.
  • The Bears still lack in top-level players. Their only All-Pro from a year ago, Jaylon Johnson, is slated to be a free agent, and they lack difference makers. I count DJ Moore, Teven Jenkins, and Montez Sweat as high-level players, with the Bears hoping youngsters like Darnell Wright, Gervon Dexter, Tyrique Stevenson, Kyler Gordon, and Jaquan Brisker can rise to that level in due time.

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Grading Chicago’s Final Exam: Nobody Passed

| January 8th, 2024

If the Bears’ visit to Green Bay was intended to represent a benchmark for their 2023 season’s progress, they failed their final exam quite emphatically.

Chicago’s report cards are currently under review and will be returned to our students throughout the next week. Until then, let’s review yesterday’s season finale one last time.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • The Silver Lining… is that there is no Silver Lining. There’s no easy excuse for why Chicago lost — after all, the ball bounced the Bears’ way early and often:
    • Packers’ K Anders Carlson missed an early Field Goal
    • Green Bay’s rookies allowed the clock to run out on the 1st half before picking up extra points
    • Packers’ WR Bo Melton dropped a sizzling TD pass that hit him in the hands
    • A Packers’ DB dropped an end-zone INT as Chicago rallied
    • And then on 4th & 1 I thought the officials credited Chicago with a first down they may not have actually gotten.
  • Still, despite all of this, Chicago lost an emphatic 9-17 game. George McCaskey, Ryan Poles, and Kevin Warren are going to have to look this loss in the eye — they have no one to blame for it but the players in the locker room and the coaches that lead them. Do they think this plan would’ve worked if the team had more talent on it? Do they think this Quarterback gives them their best chance at success going forward? These questions felt easier to answer last week than they do now… and that’s likely for the better. If they can’t beat Green Bay, what’s the point?
  • Tyrique Stevenson, have a day. The Bears’ 2nd round pick felt like the only reason the game remained close during the first half of yesterday’s game — his pass deflection in the endzone robbed Green Bay of 7 points, then he stole another 3 points just before the first half ended. As if that wasn’t enough, he created the game’s only turnover as well by dislodging the ball from Jordan Love’s grasp in the mid-3rd quarter — He came to play.
    • On a day where Chicago’s DBs struggled to compete with Green Bay’s receivers, Stevenson stole downs back for the Bears throughout the game and I loved watching him do it. Hopefully the All-22 paints as rosy a picture of his performance as watching the game seemed to.

The Bad

  • Same song, different verse. Chicago opened the season with a game-plan in mind: stop the run with our front 4, play Cover 2 & Cover 3 behind them, and make opponents grind their way down the field. Early in the year, that’s exactly what opponents did.
    • Then, as the defense delivered one underperformance after another, the defense pivoted to running more Man Coverage defenses paired with blitzes up front — this worked, shutting down the offenses in the middle of the Bears’ schedule. As Chicago dominated lesser offenses, they rode this mix of Man Blitzes and Zone-Drop looks to becoming the NFL’s leader in Interceptions.
    • But then, for reasons I cannot explain, it is as if Matt Eberflus grew tired of the risk involved with his pressure packages and reverted back to his early-season game plans — after all, the media was so mean to him about Justin Jones dropping into coverage that one time, how could he possibly call plays like that again?
    • Thus, the door opened for Green Bay to exploit holes in soft zones with a quick-hitting pass game paired with a wide-hitting run game and, unsurprisingly, Matt LaFleur had no issues walking through that door. The vaunted Bears defense gave up 400+ yards, including a 6-minute backbreaker of a drive that closed the game, as Matt Eberflus’ best-laid plans unwound in front of his eyes.
  • Luke, I think it’s over. A Week 18 performance with less than 200 yards of offense feels like it should seal Getsy’s fate in Chicago. His tenure has been mired by poor communication across the offense, an inability to adjust to mid-game defensive changes, and a seemingly frayed relationship with the Bears’ signal caller… but at least we got a few nice opening game scripts.
  • Coffee is for closers only. Maybe I’m writing this out of frustration, maybe I have a point, honestly it’s hard to tell. But yesterday would’ve been a great day for Justin Fields to make a statement with his play in the 4th quarter. Instead, his two final drives resulted in a would-be interception and the final punt of the season.

The Ugly

  • The future seems far too uncertain. It’s easy for me, a writer, to write pretty words about the failings of Chicago’s head coach, but do George McCaskey, Kevin Warren, and Ryan Poles see things that way? Surely they can’t be satisfied with verdicts against quality teams always seeming to break away from them, but with Eberflus’ recent string of victories I can’t help but wonder if the front office is willing to move on. It feels like the perfect time to make a change to me, but I’m not the one signing the org’s checks. We’ll see what Black Monday brings.
    • With a new Quarterback likely waiting in the wings and a reset coming at both defensive and offensive coordinator, this feels like the perfect time for the Bears to pick a new direction at HC — either Jim Harbaugh, Bobby Slowik, Ben Johnson, or whoever else you may have in mind would then have the opportunity to customize the team to their needs via Free Agency before drafting a Quarterback that, theoretically, would become the best QB in Chicago’s history given the environment Ryan Poles may craft for him using free agent money and draft capital. But is the front office willing to fire Eberflus ‘one year early’ rather than ‘one year late’? Only time will tell.

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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Bears Should Move on from Matt Eberflus

| January 3rd, 2024

Chicago’s season will come to a close in Green Bay on Sunday, when the Bears will finish without a winning record for the 5th season in a row and 10th time in the last 11 years. Since the Bears are already out of the playoff race, the game itself is fairly inconsequential for them, but the offseason that follows it will be hugely important, as Chicago will have to decide whether to stay the course or make a change at both head coach and quarterback.

I already examined Chicago’s decision about Fields yesterday, so today I want to take a look at head coach Matt Eberflus. The decision on Eberflus will actually come first, as the Bears will likely officially announce whether he is fired or returning for 2024 in the 1st half of next week.

In-season turnaround

Through the 1st four weeks of the season, the Bears were 0-4, had been outscored by 62 points, and looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Since then, they are 7-5, have outscored their opponents by 57 points, and look like a dangerous team. It’s a real credit to Eberflus that he kept the team focused and resilient so they could bounce back from their disastrous start to the season.

However, there are 2 points to consider here:

  1. If Eberflus deserves praise for the Bears’ good stretch starting in week 5, then he also deserves significant blame for their 0-4 start. Why did it take a month for his team to look like they belonged in the NFL?
  2. It’s also worth noting that Chicago has faced a remarkably easy schedule this year.
    • Their opponents cumulatively have a win % of 0.461, which is the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL.
    • When the Bears have played decent teams, they have really struggled, posting a 1-7 record against teams who are currently .500 or better.
    • To be fair, 4 of those games were the 0-4 stretch to start the season (though 3 of those 4 teams are exactly .500 right now, so not exactly stellar), but the Bears are still 1-3 against .500 or better teams since then, compared to 6-2 against sub-.500 teams in the same stretch.

Defensive Improvement

The other main point in Eberflus’ favor is that Chicago’s defense has gotten really good since he took over calling plays. It took a few weeks for him to find his footing, as Eberflus took control of the defense in week 2 but the turnaround didn’t start until week 5. From weeks 1-4, Chicago’s defense gave up 29 points/game (which would be 31st in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 31st in expected points added (EPA) and 26th in success rate. Since week 5, Chicago’s defense has given up 17.4 points/game (which would be 3rd in the NFL over the full season) and ranked 3rd in EPA and 6th in success rate.

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Consequence of Blown Leads: Poles, Warren Face Risky Decisions at Coach, Quarterback

| December 26th, 2023

On Sunday, against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bears were exactly who they have been since Montez Sweat arrived in the middle of the 2023 season. They play terrific defense, at least for most of the game. Their quarterback is one of the most electric runners in the league, and also a mediocrity at every other element of the position. (Even Mark Sanchez was frustrated at the speed at which Fields processed the action.) Their head coach looks primed to let every big lead slip away, but this Sunday the opponent simply wasn’t up to the task. In a league where most teams reside in the middle of the pack, so do these Chicago Bears, and that was most everyone’s preseason expectation.

So why does this season feel like a disappointment?

The answers are simple: Denver, Detroit, Cleveland.

If the Chicago Bears, and their defensive head coach, simply held on to those three double-digit, fourth quarter leads in games where they were clearly the superior team, their record would be 9-6. They would be firmly in the postseason, threatening the Cowboys for the fifth seed and keeping the Lions honest at the top of the division. They would have overcome their embarrassing start to the season, a disaster on and off the field. They would have weathered a multigame stretch with a backup quarterback whose last start was against the Colorado School of Mines. To quote The Great British Bake Off‘s Prue Leith, this season would have been a “triumph.”

But it’s not. Now Ryan Poles and Kevin Warren have decisions to make, and those decisions will come down to a fundamental question: do they believe the coach and quarterback are capable of improvement? Objectively speaking, neither has been good enough in 2023 to warrant confidence in them moving forward. Confidence in them moving forward would require a belief in their potential, and both men have done enough to suggest they are capable of being winning assets for the franchise.

But is that a risk worth taking when you have the first pick in a QB-friendly draft? Is that a risk worth taking when Jim Harbaugh is refusing to sign a $100 million plus extension at Michigan because it requires him not flirting with the NFL this offseason?

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Previewing a Christmas Eve Dance with the Desert Birds

| December 21st, 2023

The playoff push may have ended before it started, but with 3 games remaining on Chicago’s schedule backs are truly against the wall now — Matt Eberflus now has three late-game collapses in a 2023 season where, had Chicago taken care of business with all three fourth-quarter leads, he’d have firm control of the NFC’s 6th seed & might be a weekend away from clinching a playoff spot.

It’s hard to imagine the powers that be at Halas Hall aren’t every bit as disappointed as we fans are, leaving three critical weeks for Eberflus to make his final statement — if his team finishes the year with three strong wins, they might just save their coach’s job.

Eberflus’ final stand begins this Sunday as he takes on a hapless Arizona Cardinals team that should be easy prey… but this is the NFL. Nothing’s ever easy, is it?

Nick and I dove deep into this matchup and the state of the Bears within the latest episode of Bear With Us, including discussion topics like…

  • What was Luke Getsy doing throughout that game in Cleveland? What could he have done better?
  • Who played well on defense last week? What went wrong at the end?
  • Where do the Bears match up well with Arizona on defense? What weak links in the Cardinals’ offense can they exploit?
  • How does Chicago’s offense match up with Arizona’s ragtag defense? Should this be a big day for Chicago?
  • A review of Matt Eberflus’ defense against the Lions, including the driving forces behind Chicago’s success.
  • Holiday chatter & fan Q&A
  • And much, much more…

It’s one of our best episodes yet — check it out and let me know what you think!

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Checking the Tape: Bears @ Browns

| December 19th, 2023

Happy All-22uesday, folks!

Tonight at 8PM CST I’ll be going through the Bears’ game as usual — come join for an evening of breakdowns & analysis of:

  • Where the Bears won on defense
  • Where the Bears lost on defense
  • Who’s to blame within Chicago’s offense?
  • And much, much more

See you there!

Editor’s Note: With Christmas approaching, this week may be a bit content light. Be sure to enjoy time with family and those around you this week!

Your Turn: How have your feelings changed about Sunday’s game over the last day?

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Three Strikes, You’re Out

| December 18th, 2023

For the 3rd time this season, the Chicago Bears held a 10+ point lead in the 4th quarter. For the 3rd time this season, they surrendered their lead and ultimately lost in regulation, with a final offensive rally falling flat.

Just like the Denver & Detroit games that predated their trip to Cleveland, ESPN’s analytics gave Chicago a 90+% of winning this game just as the 3rd quarter ended. But, just like those games, the Bears found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

These three games plainly hammer home the most frustrating part of the Bears’ 2023 season — the 5-9 Bears, currently the 5th-worst team in the NFL via draft order, are not a talentless bunch. They don’t lack playmakers, they don’t struggle to compete with the team across from them. If football games ended after the 3rd quarter, Chicago would be 8-6-1.

But, of course, that’s not how football works. NFL games are won & lost in the 4th quarter, and it tells you everything you need to know that the 2023 Chicago Bears have yet to win a game that weren’t already winning when they entered the 4th quarter. Combine that with yesterday’s NFL season record-tying third blown 10+ point lead in the 4th quarter, and you start to see a worrying trend — this roster has the talent to earn leads in this league, but it’s coaching staff can’t seem to close.

It’s never as simple as ‘just blaming the coaches’ — Robert Tonyan & Darnell Mooney dropped game-changing passes, TJ Edwards and Jaylon Johnson had opportunities to end the Browns’ early touchdown drive early via interceptions that got dropped, and Trent Taylor muffed two punts, with only one of those muffs coming back to bite him. The players need to execute, and everyone (including the quarterback) needs to own these rough results.

But fool me once against the Broncos, shame on you. Fool me twice in Detroit, shame on me. Fool me a third time in Cleveland, and I think it’s simple — with three strikes against him, Matt Ebeflus is likely out.

What that would mean for Justin Fields remains to be seen, but with Carolina’s pick looming large and Fields entering the 4th year of his rookie contract, I’d imagine the odds of him staying in Chicago under a new head coach are slim. If he wants to stay, he’ll have to prove it over these next 3 games.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • Chicago’s defense played unbelievably well and I’m heartbroken for them over the result. Montez Sweat has unlocked a turnover-hungry unit that’s getting contributions from everyone — Justin Jones got early pressure that led to an Eddie Jackson interception returned to the 1-yard-line, TJ Edwards dislodged a football that Tremaine Edmunds took back to the house, and even CB Tyrique Stevenson came up huge to steal points away from Cleveland after Trent Taylor’s second muff of the day. The defense made mistakes late, but ultimately scored (or directly led to scoring) nearly as many points as their opponent scored against them — it’s a shame Chicago’s offense couldn’t win this game for them. They’ve been outstanding.
  • Braxton Jones might be the real deal. Myles Garrett is too good to not affect the game across from him, but Chicago’s 5th round LT kept Garrett from logging even one QB Hit on the day. All-22 will paint a better picture of how well Braxton battled Garrett, but given that Justin Fields logged a 3.48 second time-to-throw on the day I have a feeling the tape will be kind to the Bears’ offensive line.
    • Update: This bullet is looking like a phantom memory, Braxton effectively gave up pressure all day. Not sure what I thought I saw, but I’ll know more on review later.

The Bad

  • You won’t win many games if you can’t score. Chicago finished the day with 3.4 yards per play, less than 250 yards of total offense, nine three-and-outs, and only two drives of 40 yards or more on the day. The run game struggled mightily and the passing game isn’t self-sustaining, so when the Bears weren’t ripping off chunk plays downfield they spent the day not doing much at all.
    • Luke Getsy has to own the Bears’ offensive disfunction, but Justin Fields shouldn’t be exempt from criticism — Fields may not have been the problem in Cleveland, but he wasn’t the solution either. That said, the All-22 will give us a much better picture of what happened on offense yesterday — did Fields pass on open looks downfield? Or did the Browns simply blanket the Bears’ WRs on a day where DJ Moore was clearly hobbled? We’ll find out tomorrow.

The Ugly

  • The future seems far too uncertain. It’s easy for me, a writer, to write pretty words about the failings of Chicago’s head coach, but do George McCaskey, Kevin Warren, and Ryan Poles see things that way? Surely they can’t be satisficed with an overperforming roster and an underperforming record, but with Eberflus finding major wins over divisional opponents recently I can’t help wondering if a spoonful of victory over the hapless Cardinals and Falcons would set the table for Matt’s retention following a big win in Green Bay.
    • In my opinion, if the Bears are going to consider drafting a new QB I’d rather they did so with a new HC in town. I’d love to see the organization do everything they can to support a rookie QB, including hiring the best offensive coaches available to surround their chosen signal-caller with competency & give him the best opportunity possible to succeed where no one else has. But do Eberflus’ defensive accolades help the Bears’ brass look past these consistent late-game failures? Only time will tell.

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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Checking the Tape: Eberflus’ Defense Closes vs. Detroit

| December 12th, 2023

This Defense Is Starting To Feel It

Matt Eberflus’ transformation into Cover 3 Mike Zimmer has been an awesome thing to watch, and Sunday’s Detroit game had plenty of examples of Eberflus’ handiwork.

On this early 3rd & 10, Chicago sends a 6-man blitz paired with man coverage on the back end. Kyler Gordon recognizes Detroit’s pre-snap short motion, passes his assignment to Jaylon Johnson, and from there the back-7 executes flawlessly. When this defense is executing together, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.


Flus Has Gone Wild With Pressure Looks

Gone are the days of Matt Eberflus calling static drop-7 coverages on 3rd or 4th & longs — if Flus isn’t afraid of your Quarterback, he’ll send pressure (and plenty of it) on any down.

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A Big Game Looms Sunday — What Happens Next?

| December 7th, 2023

As we inch ever closer towards Sunday’s game, the Chicago Bears stand a pivot point — the results of these next 5 games may very well decide the direction of the biggest Bears offseason in recent memory, and if Head Coach Matt Eberflus wants to be on the safe side of that decision he’ll need to start winning games soon.

Could the Bears spark a win streak off of a divisional home defense? Cole Kmet seems to think so, but with a hungry Detroit team visiting town on a day that’s slated for snowy, cold weather, all we should expect is a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Anything could happen — after all, if Chicago manages to finish the season 9-8 they may very well land an NFC Wild Card spot. But before us fans dare to dream of the playoffs, first Chicago must force these Lions to settle a debt Detroit incurred only a few weeks ago. The Bears had the Lions within their grasp but let them slip away… if they’re to surge this season, they’ll have to start by winning on Sunday.

There’s enough within this game to unpack that Nick & I managed to record our longest Bear With Us episode yet — in this episode, Nick and I dive into…

  • How can we work to talk about Justin Fields as rationally as possible? What does he need to show by the end of the year?
  • What on earth has happened to the Lions’ defense?
  • Where are the Lions winning on offense? Where are they losing?
  • How does a healthy Bears team match up with this Detroit squad?
  • What does this game mean for every Bear involved
  • What have we learned about defense in the NFL from Eberflus’ 2023 season?
  • Is the league as down on Luke Getsy as most Bears fans are?
  • And much, much more…

I know I say this often, but this really is one of our best episodes yet — check it out and let me know what you think!

Your Turn: How do you feel about this weekend’s contest?

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