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.

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Stock Up/Stock Down, Teven Jenkins, and a Small Vikings Preview

| October 12th, 2023

5 weeks of the Chicago Bears’ 2023 season has come and gone, and in that time we’ve seen unexpected leaders emerge in the locker room (Andrew Billings) as well as disappointing performances from players we’d hoped could be cornerstones (Tremaine Edmunds). But aside from those two names, where does the rest of the roster stack up coming out of the Mini-Bye?

To answer that, Nick and I officially opened the ‘Mini-Bye Chicago Bears Stock Exchange’ and gauged whether the stock of ~25 players has risen or fallen since the start of the season, including (but not limited to):

  • Teven Jenkins
  • Nate Davis
  • Darnell Mooney
  • Tremaine Edmunds
  • Justin Fields
  • Cole Kmet
  • Greg Stroman
  • Jaquan Brisker
  • Cody Whitehair
  • And much, much more

Afterwards, we previewed the Bears’ upcoming tilt with the Minnesota Vikings as well. It’s a hell of an episode of Bear With Us, so check it out and let me know what you think!

Plus, a few more things…

The Vikings defense is chaos embodied. Justin Fields is going to have his hands full on Sunday, because what the Vikings’ defense lacks in talent they attempt to make up for in crazy, kooky post-snap motion that should challenge Justin Fields’ eyes.

This chaos can create as many issues for Minnesota as it creates advantages, but after a week that saw Justin Fields and DJ Moore dominate based on pre-snap looks I’m curious to see how they’ll respond to a defense that challenges QBs to adjust post-snap.

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Reviewing the Rookies: Checking In On 5 Weeks of Progress (Part 2)

| October 10th, 2023

We’ll pick up right where we left off yesterday — let’s review the rest of the Bears draft class, stopping only once we reach the players that have yet to log meaningful snaps.

Zacch Pickens:

  • Overall: Pickens has underwhelmed in the eyes of some, but I can’t help feeling like he’s better described as a player miscast within this defense — at South Carolina, Pickens was a reliable 1-gap run defender with a quick first step that flashed nuanced hand-usage when rushing the passer at the Senior Bowl. He’s a lighter defensive lineman (listed at 300lbs by Chicago) better suited for quick penetration than he for holding up against double teams… but why then have the Bears asked him to be the backup Nose Tackle? It doesn’t make sense, though I continue to hope that one day it will.
    • The weight difference between Andrew Billings (listed at 330lbs) and Zacch Pickens (listed at 300lbs) tells the whole story, especially since Billings and Pickens are likely heavier & lighter than their listings respectively. It’s no surprise Pickens is struggling, especially against double-teams, but when he’s allowed to do the job I think he better fits he flashes reps like the Tweet below.
  • Where he’s surprised me: His first step was always good in school, but I’ve been surprised at how many plays (~3 come to mind) he’s made in limited action due to his first step alone. Also, we did see Pickens anchor a few times successfully in the preseason — that was a nice surprise. Rooting for him.
  • Improvement area: A player like Pickens can always use more refinement with his hands, though he flashed a wonderful long-arm pass rush against Washington that gives me hope for the future. Pickens is often used as the ‘set up man’ within stunts for his teammates, so he doesn’t get nearly as many opportunities as teammates like Dominique Robinson, Rasheem Green, or DeMarcus Walker — I’d love to see him get more pass-rush opportunities before I attempt to grade him further.

Roschon Johnson:

  • Overall: Roschon looks like a young star. He runs hard, he catches the ball well, and he’s a reliable pass-blocker when picking up blitzes or assisting his defensive linemen. The RB position can be fairly self-evident, so I don’t know how much more there is to say — it’s a shame he’s currently injured, but he should be back soon. And as this offense gets healthier overall, he should get plenty of opportunities to create chunk plays.

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Reviewing the Rookies: Checking In After the First 5 Weeks (Part 1)

| October 9th, 2023

It’s Mini-Bye week in Chicago! With that in mind, let’s check in on the 2023 Bears rookie class — today, we’ll do the first & second round players, then tomorrow we’ll cover the rest of the class.

Darnell Wright:

  • Overall: In my opinion, Wright has been about as good as you can ask a rookie tackle to be. He’s displayed natural power in his hands both as a run and a pass blocker, but it’s been his pass-blocking that’s stood out through 5 games so far. Wright is often left on an island with little to no help and fends for himself nicely — he’s been beaten at least once or twice in every game he’s played in, but that’s all part of playing tackle as a rookie.
    • The key is that he bounces back — getting beaten happens at tackle, but he doesn’t let bad reps snowball. Montez Sweat beat him early in Washington (just like Rashan Gary beat him early in Week 1) but he adjusted his kick-step in later reps and held Sweat off as the game wore on. I love seeing that from a young-gun.
  • Where he’s surprised me: Wright is fast when he’s run-blocking on the move, which I didn’t expect based on his Tennessee film. That WR conditioning test clearly paid off.
  • Improvement area: Wright’s kick-step can be sluggish off the snap, making him vulnerable to rushers that can bend the edge with speed. Players like Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary, Aiden Hutchinson and others will give him trouble until this is resolved, but I doubt this problem will persist for long. If the issue is still present closer to Week 11, we’ll take a deeper look.

Gervon Dexter Sr:

  • Overall: So far Dexter has looked more raw than I expected him to at the NFL level, and my expectations weren’t particularly high for his rookie year — his Florida film showed a bully with the brawn to take on anybody, but NFL OL are taking advantage of Gervon’s naturally high pad level and have stopped him in his tracks.
    • He clearly spent the preseason working on his get-off (which doesn’t appear to be an issue anymore), but now he’s got to find a way to apply his natural power to reps more often — if he can, he’ll impact many more reps.
  • Where he’s surprised me: Dexter did a much better job of landing strong hands on his OL matchups early in reps against Washington, leading to some of his first pass rush wins of the season. You can see his power flash in reps like the two clips below (second one is a reply to the first, so click the link to see it).
  • Improvement area: Beyond Dexter refining his fundamentals and finding way to lower his pad-level, right now Gervon Dexter has a funky quirk as a pass-rusher — I’m not convinced he can rush to his left. Even going back to Florida, he’s always preferred to attack towards his right-hand side or drive through his OL, and while he did attempt a few left-side rush attempts against Washington, those reps looked much less dangerous than many of his other rushes in the game.
    • This could be an offseason project, but keep an eye out — maybe Dexter surprises us.

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Everything Is Better When It Ends With A Win

| October 6th, 2023

Amidst swirling rumors that foretold Matt Eberflus’ impending doom, the Chicago Bears shook their fist at destiny and blew out the Washington Commanders on the road. Given that the Bears were 5.5 point underdogs, it’s safe to say that no one expected this result — but this morning? I’m much happier for it all the same. Who doesn’t love a win?

The Bears’ big Thursday Night victory brings up a series of questions the team will look to answer over their next few weeks:

  • Where has this level of play been all season?
  • Now that he’s decidedly not-fired, how long is Matt Eberflus’ leash for the rest of the year?
  • What will it take for Justin Fields to declare himself ‘The Guy’ in Chicago going forward?
  • Has the locker room fully bounced back from the 0-4 start to the season?

But rushing to answer any of these questions too soon could lead to a foolish answer in the long run — for now, let’s all sit back and enjoy a weekend of stress-free football. Cheers!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • DJ Moore is the offensive weapon that Chicago has dreamt of for years. On 10 targets, Moore caught 8 passes for 230 yards & 3 TDs. Need I say more? He broke tackles, he hauled in difficult passes, he accounted for ~81.5% of Justin Fields’ passing yardage, and he produced throughout all 4 quarters of the game. From start to finish, Moore looked nearly unguardable — in fact, Commanders HC Ron Rivera benched the rookie corner guarding him (Emmanuel Forbes) on account of his struggles. I don’t know if a greater hat-tip exists in the league.
  • Justin Fields followed up his Broncos game with another great day. Fields’ role was more the steward than the superstar role on Thursday Night, but when his 1st passing option plays like DJ Moore played last night I’ll never fault him for feeding his playmaker the ball and getting out of the way. Quintessential quarterbacking.
    • Fields finished the day with another 4 TDs and a combined 339 yards between passing and rushing — he was efficient when throwing downfield & picked up key first downs with his legs, proving that his athletic toolkit can create sustainable offense outside of an over-reliance on splash plays.
    • The most impressive thing Fields did, in my opinion, was keep the Bears out of disaster on offense — Cody Whitehair’s snaps weren’t perfect and there wasn’t always an open man downfield (I assume), but Fields managed to throw away dangerous footballs when necessary and consistently caught the bad snaps, even turning a particularly bad one into a rushing first down. Sometimes a QB’s job is simply to keep the offense on schedule, and that’s exactly what Fields did.
  • No Turnovers from the offense. Hell yeah.
  • Darnell Wright, Nate Davis, Tevin Jenkins, take a bow. The Offensive Line is always hard to pick apart on the live watching, but it seemed as if Fields had consistent pocket time and the Bears ran the ball without issue. Remember, Washington’s Defensive Line is full of stars — for Nate Davis, Darnell Wright, and Teven Jenkins to hold their own like they did is remarkable. Hopefully they can keep it up.
  • Gervon Dexter Sr & the Rookie Class stepped up when needed. Wright has been as good as you can ask a rookie OT to be. Both Bears starting CBs in today’s win came from their 2023 Rookie Class and each player held their own. Gervon Dexter Sr. contributed 3 pressures tonight. It was a banner day for Poles’ latest draft class — hopefully the group keeps it up.

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Reviewing Justin Fields’ Game Against Denver

| October 3rd, 2023

Below is an honest review of Justin Fields’ game against the Broncos:
Fields looked like a dynamo early, doing nearly everything Bears fans have begged him to all year — he hit throws over the middle, he hit long balls down the sideline, and he did it all on-time & within the structure of the offense. Banner day.
But why did it happen on Sunday? In my opinion, Fields’ success was largely due to a bizarre Broncos’ first half gameplan — for some reason, despite knowing Fields struggles against zone coverage, Vance Joseph called man coverage with a ridiculous 10-yard cushion all the way through halftime.
Knowing this, Fields & Getsy dialed up every WR pick play & isolation play they had in the playbook. Everything worked, and Fields never needed to look past Read #2 — usually, read #1 was open, but if not #2 absolutely was. Bootlegs worked great too because the cross-field chaos created natural picks & generated WRs in space with a linebackers in pursuit.
All of this meant that while Fields had to make plenty of physically demanding throws (like the strike to Moore over the middle rolling out or the corner TD throw), more often than not Fields knew where he was throwing the ball before each play started. He could laser-lock on the target he wanted, and the Broncos defense would reward him for it.

Fields finished the half with phenomenal statistics that attested to his great day. 3 strong drives, 3 TDs, and only 1 incompletion — the Hail Mary Chicago attempted at the end of the half.
But then, beginning in the first drive of the 2nd half, Vance Joseph started calling more and more spot-drop zones & Fields started checking the ball down. The deeper shots within the offense disappeared while Herbert & Kmet got peppered with backfield targets — some targets picked up yards, some didn’t. Slowly, the Broncos got more stops.

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Somehow It Keeps Getting Worse

| October 2nd, 2023

According to ESPN Analytics, the Chicago Bears had a 98.1% chance of winning Sunday afternoon’s game with 4:11 remaining in the 4th quarter. Despite these odds, Chicago bravely managed to wrestle defeat from the jaws of victory and ruin a record-setting day for their Quarterback.

After finally cracking 300 yards passing for the first time in his career, after throwing 4 touchdowns in the first 3 quarters, and just before he watched all of that effort turn to ruin before his eyes, Fields and the offense finished out their a banner day with a crippling 4-drive sequence that, when combined with Head Coach Matt Eberflus’ defense, ultimately doomed the team:

  • 3 & out, Punt
  • Fumble returned for defensive Touchdown
  • Turnover on Downs (following 7 straight rushing plays)
  • Interception

In the span of just 20 football minutes, the Broncos turned two touchdown drives & a single deep pass to Marvin Mims into a 24-point rally that brought them back from a 7-28 deficit. Soldier Field & the Chicago Bears were stunned.

Reportedly, Chicago’s young signal caller did not take this well. How could he?

Is this rock bottom? With the Bears’ current losing streak now extended to 14 games, it’s getting hard to tell. But with the Commanders on the horizon of a short week, there’s no time to mourn what might have been — Justin Fields, DJ Moore, and the rest of the offense will be needed against a Commanders team that’s consistently scoring points. And if there’s any hope of turning the season around, it’ll have to be on Thursday Night.

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Two Seasons Enter, One Season Leaves

| September 28th, 2023

It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten to this point in only Week 4, but only one of the Broncos and Bears season will survive this weekend’s game.

The Bears and Broncos, both winless, will surely look at each other and see an opportunity to pick up their first win of the season. For Denver, this is a game Sean Payton needs to energize his locker room and kick-start a a season that need wins to justify massive offseason investment. For Chicago, this is a win that would end the longest losing streak in Bears history and keep the emotional bottom of the organization from falling out.

Of the 356 teams in NFL History that have started their season 0-3, only 6 teams have made the playoffs. Of the 103 teams to start 0-4 since 1990, only the 1992 Chargers battled back to a playoff berth. Statistically speaking, this game represents both organizations’ last hope at achieving their coaches goals.

Two seasons enter, one season will leave. It should make for a thrilling, high-stakes game.

But how will the game itself play out? Which matchups favor the Bears? What can Chicago do within their offensive and defensive game plans to take advantage of Denver’s vulnerabilities? Nick Whalen & I put together a hell of a game preview on today’s episode of Bear With Us — check it out and let me know what you think. Go Bears.

Your Turn: How are you feeling about this weekend’s game?

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Something Has To Change in Chicago, But What?

| September 25th, 2023

Eventually, we may point back at September 24th, 2023 and see the day the Chicago Bears’ fortunes changed for the better.

On that day, the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals willed their way to surprise victories over better opponents while veteran quarterback Andy Dalton failed to push the Carolina Panthers over the Seattle Seahawks in a tight game on the road.

Thus, as the Chicago Bears fell to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bears began to separate themselves in the most important football race that nobody wants to win — the race to the top of the 2024 NFL Draft, where Chicago would own the #1 & #4 overall picks if the season ended today.

For an organization in desperate need of talent at all positions (including quarterback), picks like these could be a godsend.

They could be the Bears’ ticket to a generational quarterback (Caleb Williams/Drake Maye) and a generational receiver (Marvin Harrison Jr.) or left tackle (Olumuyiwa Fashanu).

They could be the fuel behind a near-instantaneous Cincinnati-like turnaround, with Williams and his draft-classmate forming the bedrock of an offense that will define Chicago as they push to compete within a few years’ time.

It’s possible that eventually we may see things that way. But today is not that day.

Because what we saw yesterday was, in a word, unacceptable. And it has to change.

Weighing Chicago’s Options

In a game where Chicago managed to fall behind 34-0 at halftime, three things became clear:

(1) The Chicago Bears have a Defensive Head Coach that currently leads one of the NFL’s worst defenses. Details are sloppy, there’s no plan in place to supplement poor pass-rushers, and through three 2023 games we’ve yet to see an opposing QB look bothered in the pocket. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid only needed one set of adjustments to pick this scheme apart on Sunday and once their offense started rolling they never stopped.

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