…and I’m no longer going to deny what I’m seeing with my eyes. This is a very, very good Bears team. And they have been absolutely dominant in their building.
Also, this is the last time the Bears will be favored this season, barring the Saints being upset in the divisional round. A win Sunday puts something of a exclamation point on the regular season success.
The Playoff Pastoral
The shepherd wears a visor,
and walks within the cool, charming breezes of the lake.
His flock are bears,
and with a tap of his crook on the wintry terrain,
and a rapturous “BOOM”,
he calls upon them to defend their hallowed home from feathered foes.
And in the placid peace of victory, the shepherd sleeps.
Why the Bears Win
NFC’s worst secondary. Philly has sacked the quarterback 44 times this season but when they don’t get home they are the conference’s worst pass defense. This is not the kind of game Matt Nagy is going to attempt to grind out on the ground with Jordan Howard. This is a game to attack the back end of the Eagles defense, which includes former Bears like Cre’Von LeBlanc and Corey Graham.
The Defense. The Bears are giving up 17.5 points per game at home but those numbers are skewed by (a) New England’s special teams scores and (b) a shit load of garbage time points throughout the season. Nick Foles has breathed life into the Eagles offense but they have not played a defense this talented, well-coached and explosive because there isn’t another defense this talented, well-coached and explosive.
Soldier Field. Bears are 7-1 at home. But here’s the weird part of that run: they really weren’t even pushed in the seven victories. The Packers kept it close. The Seahawks put up some late points. But only the Patriots – who won the game on specials – even threatened to beat the Bears on the lakefront. The Bears do everything better at home.
Why They Don’t
Trubisky inaccuracy/turnovers. Barring weather conditions, the Bears should be expected to throw more Sunday than they have in recent games. That means Trubisky has to be both (a) accurate and (b) careful with the football. Turnovers are almost always the difference in the postseason.
There’s been a good deal of talk this offseason about how the Bears will model their offense after the Kansas City Chiefs, which makes sense given that new head coach Matt Nagy spent his last several years in Kansas City learning from Andy Reid.
But I think Chicago’s offense will end up looking more similar to what Philadelphia has run the last two years under Doug Pederson, another branch on the Reid coaching tree. Even though both offenses are similar, there are some subtle yet important differences that are worth looking at. So today I want to start by looking at personnel to see which one Chicago matches better, and then I’ll compare and contrast offensive styles.
Kansas City’s offense was built around three main producers: running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce. Those three combined for 4,069 of Kansas City’s 6,007 yards from scrimmage, meaning they were about 2/3 of the offense.
Quite frankly, the Bears just aren’t built to be that reliant on a small number of players. Outside of Jordan Howard and Allen Robinson, nobody has been a high-volume producer, and even Robinson has only hit 1,000 yards in a season once in his four years.
So much of the credit for the Eagles success has gone to their offensive coaching staff, but they also have one of the five best defenses in the league. A defense that harassed Case Keenum again and again. I have a strong dislike for Jim Schwartz and the constant sour puss face he has on. The guy threw a fit because Jim Harbaugh shook his hand too hard. But he built a bully defense and they are fun to watch.
Say what you will about Keenum, but the Vikings offense was legitimately good this year. And Schwartz’s defense just pushed them around.
The Bears hope they have this same formula with Vic Fangio and they may be right. Fangio built defenses that pushed good offenses around in the playoffs. The 2017 Bears defense was better than the 2016 Eagles defense so it isn’t unreasonable to think they could have a similar leap into the top five. Especially if…
2. Keep Adding Pass Rushers
The Bears had one of the best pass rushes in the league in 2017. I don’t care. Add more guys who can get the quarterback.
The Eagles didn’t need to improve their defensive line after the 2016 season because they were certainly good enough. Then they added Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long and Derek Barnett. Jernigan helped them completely shut down the Vikings run game while Long and Barnett both help create takeaways.
The following is the beginning of a series breaking down what the Bears can learn from the two Super Bowl teams. Andrew will take on the Philadelphia Eagles. Emily will handle the Pats.
5. Make Sure You Have a Decent Backup QB
Nick Foles isn’t great. He probably isn’t even good; at least not good enough to be a starting quarterback in the league. But prior to Sunday’s game, he showed the ability to have some success in the NFL. That was key.
Foles was calm and able to make big throws under pressure against the Vikings. While there’s no arguing he had a lot of help (more on that later), his success shouldn’t be a complete shock because we’ve seen him play well in a similar situation. His career playoff passer rating is now 116.1 and he hasn’t thrown an interception in any of his 96 attempts.
Really, this is a lesson the Bears should already know. They have had potential Super Bowl seasons derailed by incompetent backups more than probably any other team over the last three decades. Had they had a competent backup quarterback in either 2010 or 2011, Lovie Smith might still be the coach. (I might never forgive them for allowing Todd Collins to enter the NFC Championship Game.)
What I’d look for is a player who has starting experience and has had success. You know who fits the bill land might be really interesting: Mark Sanchez.
In his rookie season, Mitch Trubisky got to play 12 games and throw the ball 330 times. In those 330 attempts, he threw 7 interceptions, which is actually pretty good. That rate – an interception on 2.1% of his throws – was 12th best in the NFL among qualified passers, ahead of established veterans like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers.
As that list above shows, there’s more to being a good quarterback than simply not throwing interceptions. But avoiding interceptions is an important part of a quarterback’s job; in no small part because they can be game-changing plays that make it a lot harder to win.
But not all interceptions are created equal. Sometimes it’s the quarterback’s fault, sometimes it’s on the wide receiver, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. In general, I think you can group them all into one of four categories:
Bad decision. These are throws that should never be made because the receiver isn’t open and a defender has a good chance at an interception. Bears fans have seen plenty of these in the last 8 years from balls being chucked up into double or triple coverage.
Bad throw. The target is open, but the pass is off target. The problem here comes not in the choice to throw but in the throw itself.
Miscommunication. The quarterback thinks the wide receiver is running one route, the wide receiver runs another route, and the defensive back is the beneficiary.
Receiver error. The receiver is open, the pass is good, but the ball bounces off of the target’s hands and gets intercepted.
The first two are both the fault of the quarterback, though in very different ways. The third one makes it pretty much impossible for us to assign fault. The last one is the fault of the target.
Well that was ugly. This one felt like a few drubbings the 2014 Bears received after the Bears had quit on Marc Trestman. The John Fox era is officially over, though we almost certainly still have to endure 5 more games before it becomes official. Hopefully those games aren’t all this ugly.
The Bears were never going to win on the road against the best team in the NFL, but they looked completely unprepared in every possible way. They picked up penalties, had zero creativity or imagination anywhere, and were generally outschemed, outcoached, and out-executed.
I’m not going to focus much on coaching, because this staff is obviously finished, but one particular atrocity deserves special attention. Facing 3rd and 17 from their own 1 yard line, the Bears called time out to save half a yard from a delay of game penalty. That’s bad enough, but the worst is the offense had only 10 men on the field after an injury time out gave them more than 2 minutes to prepare. That’s a team with comically inept coaching.
I’m going to focus most of my specific observations on the first half, because quite honestly I didn’t pay as much attention after that. The 24-0 halftime deficit meant the game was over by then anyway (honestly, it was over well before halftime).
Mitchell Trubisky threw an early INT on an inaccurate throw, and it caused the coaching staff to turtle back into their worst habits. It was a long time before they let him throw past the line of scrimmage again, and even then that only came on 3rd and long. Instead, they chose to repeatedly run out of heavy sets into loaded boxes. You might be surprised to learn this was not an effective strategy.
NFL sold me their Preseason Live package. They might as well have sold me the Brooklyn Bridge. Most of the night the program failed to load. When the program loaded it was awful. I shall keep you up to date on the battle I began with folks at the league last night. Apparently I’m not alone.
A few thoughts…
If you’re Martellus Bennett, what are you thinking this morning? You are away from the team because you’re an insane person and last night you watched two tight ends with a tenth of your ability – Rosario and Miller – flourish in what should have been your role. Maybe, I don’t know, stop being crazy, apologize and get yourself back to practice.
Anybody can look at the numbers and state Jimmy Clausen played well. But what struck me was how confident he looked from the second he walked onto the field. He was lost throughout his tenure in Carolina. He looked like he didn’t belong in the NFL. Last night he looked like he very much did.