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Week Three Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Browns

| September 23rd, 2021


VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)

84.9%

The Bears have a rookie quarterback, making his first start on the road, against one of the league’s better teams. This is quite clearly an uphill climb.

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What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • Allow Justin Fields to get comfortable. This is a big moment in the kid’s life. If the Bears come out tossing it every down it will look like a starting pitcher that gets too amped up to start Game One of the World Series – a lot of high fastballs. Put the ball in David Montgomery’s hands. Throw a few bubble screens. Call a few designed runs for the quarterback. Slow the game down early.
  • The Texans moved the ball effectively against the Browns until Tyrod Taylor left the game with an injury. And they did so by throwing the ball down the field. The Bears can’t win this game with the dink and dunk approach they favored under an Andy Dalton regime. They must stretch the field, and that means Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin over the top. The Bears have now what the speed they’ve desired for years. Use it.
  • Tight ends, tight ends, tight ends. The Bears have talent at the position. Jimmy Graham is still a matchup nightmare in the red zone and Cole Kmet can dictate terms in the middle of the field. But Matt Nagy can’t stick them at the end of Fields’ progressions and hope he gets there. Call their numbers. Make them the first read. Give them a chance to make plays.

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What Must the Bears Do on Defense:

  • Stop the run. Yes, this is a generic, goes-for-every-game bullet point but the injuries are starting to stack on the outside for Cleveland. Jarvis Landry won’t play this week. Odell Beckham doesn’t look like he’s playing anytime soon. The Browns will want to run the ball 25-30 times and if they’re productive with those runs, the Bears have very little chance of keeping them out of the end zone.
  • Contain Baker Mayfield. Mayfield isn’t considered one of the game’s running quarterbacks but his ability to move the chains/score with his legs has been a difference maker for the Browns through the first two weeks. With receivers struggling to get separation down the field, the Bears can’t be undisciplined with their pass rush. They have to keep Mayfield in the pocket and when he breaks out of it, they can’t let him roam free.
  • Tight ends, tight ends, tight ends. The Browns completed 11 passes to their tight ends – Harrison Bryant, Austin Hooper, David Njoku – last week. Baker only completed 19 passes the entire game. This is not the week to see aggressive, pass rushing Roquan Smith. This is the week for Roq to work the middle of field and limit the effectiveness Cleveland’s dynamic collection of tight ends.

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Rookie QBs: Hope For The Best, Prepare For the Worst

| September 22nd, 2021


While recent NFL history has plenty of success stories when it comes to rookie quarterbacks, Bears fans should prepare themselves for the most likely scenario: rookie quarterbacks struggle.

The 2021 season is the perfect case study.

All of the rookie quarterbacks were tremendous in the preseason. Trevor Lawrence went 11-for-12 with two touchdowns in his last action and Zach Wilson finished 9-for-11 with two scores. Those two are currently the lowest-rated passers with at least 20 attempts in the regular season. If you drop the number of minimum attempts to 15, the four lowest-rated passers in the league are Fields (38.2), Wilson (56.1), Lawrence (57.1) and Davis Mills (58.1).

Not good.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Fields had a dropped touchdown pass that went right threw Allen Robinson’s arms. Even with that completion on Sunday, his passer rating would’ve only been 71. Maybe better chemistry with Darnell Mooney could’ve led to a couple of more completions, but the interception and the fumble still happened and were nearly catastrophic.

In August, Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic did a story looking at rookie quarterbacks, wherein he determined that 24 of the 31 were below average. “The median rookie season was Mike Glennon,” Kapadia wrote.

In the last five years, there have been 17 teams that have had rookie quarterbacks play extensively. Only two of those teams finished inside the top 15 in terms of scoring and three were in the top half of the league in yardage. From 2016 to 2019, the worst offenses in the league were all quarterbacked by rookies.

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As Fields Becomes the Starter, Opportunity Moves to Nagy.

| September 21st, 2021


Justin Fields is now the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Could Andy Dalton come back from injury and find himself on the field? Sure. But it’s highly unlikely. Even Dalton knew, as he watched Fields from the sideline, that he wouldn’t be able to survive an injury as the starter. Fields will start Sunday in Cleveland, start at Soldier Field the week after, and assuming he stays healthy, start every subsequent Bears game for the next decade or more.

And now Matt Nagy has 15 games to prove he’s the right guy to coach him.

It’s a pretty simple enterprise. The Justin Fields that plays January 9th against the Minnesota Vikings has to be an improvement over the Justin Fields that plays September 26th against the Cleveland Browns. And the two men have to develop the kind of working relationship the best coach/quarterback combinations seem to enjoy. If those two things are achieved, Nagy safely stays on as head coach in 2022. If either is in question, the Bears can’t risk wasting a second year of Fields’ rookie contract and will have to move on to a new coach.

The work is there to be done. Fields needs to develop an internal clock on the field, guiding his decisions whether to run or not. He also needs to clean up everything pre-snap, both with his cadences and his protection calls. And Nagy needs to completely reconfigure his offensive approach for Fields, a quarterback who shares almost no traits with the former guy. Fields needs to be on the move constantly. The Bears need to take advantage of his 4.4 speed.

It’s on Nagy now, as he enters the most important three-month period of his coaching life. If he succeeds, he’ll be the coach in Chicago for a long time.

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Bears Beat Bengals to Guarantee Tie for First Place: Rapid Fire Recap

| September 20th, 2021


The story will be Justin Fields. Every week, from here out. Fields played how a rookie with no first-team reps should play. Bad interception. Cadence issues with the line. Some brilliant throws (that the receivers didn’t catch). Extended a crucial drive with his legs. Now the season becomes about his progression. And if the Bears can win while he progresses, this becomes a fascinating season.

Other thoughts. Rapid fire is back, baby.

  • The other progression to track is Kindle Vildor. Vildor made enough plays Sunday to provide hope but also looked lost at times. If the Bears can find a second corner on this roster it’ll make the offseason so much easier to navigate.
  • Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson are young cornerstones for this defense. Roquan is a weird combination of Briggs and Urlacher – an attacking run stuffer who’s also brilliant in space. Johnson, if he stays healthy, has All Pro corner talent.
  • Robert Quinn’s hit on Burrow out of bounds was absurd but this was his best game as a Bear.
  • Allen Robinson has to catch the touchdown pass from Fields. He just has to. It’s not only pivotal in the game but it would have given the organization a huge moment to celebrate. Don’t complain about the quarterbacks you’ve played with in your career when you can’t make plays like that.
  • Cole Kmet. One target. That just isn’t enough. The Bears have to get their tight ends consistently into the game plan.

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Week Two Game Preview Volume II: Defending Cincy’s Big Three, Saluting Norm, Bears Fall to 0-2?

| September 17th, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

And this is a game, at least one on paper, the Bears are expected to win. Do I expect them to win? Stay tuned.


Chase, Higgins, Boyd.

That’s the game.

The Bears should be able to move the football against the Bengals, especially at home. (They were able to comfortably move the ball for much of the game in Los Angeles, against a far superior unit.) But moving the football is only as valuable as the points generated and the Bears, especially with Dalton at quarterback, lack explosiveness in the red zone.

The Bengals have one of the more explosive collections of pass catchers in the game. Ja’Marr Chase is going to be a top receiver in the league sooner than later. Tee Higgins is built like a tight end but runs like a wideout. Tyler Boyd is the sort of crafty inside guy that will give the Bears fits all year. Sure, the Bears are three-point favorites but the Bengals seem like a matchup nightmare for this Bears secondary.


Norm, the great.

I was on a golf course when Reverend Dave called me. I didn’t answer. People don’t call me, so I figured, “This is either Justin Fields is now the starter or something bad.” A few moments later I got a text from another friend. “Gutted” was all it read, and this is not a person known for their emotional responses to anything. A few moments later a text thread began between my two oldest friends – two guys I have known since I’m four years old. The thread began with a clip montage of Norm Macdonald on Conan.

And I knew.

I don’t want to talk about why Norm was one of the funniest people to ever set foot on this earth, or what he meant to me. I feel like Norm, of all people, would fucking hate that. So I’ll just share some of my favorite Norm stuff.

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Norm Macdonald Live.

The silliest, craziest talk show ever produced.

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Norm at the ESPYs (1998)

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Norm with Conan.

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Week Two Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Bengals

| September 16th, 2021


Two things to note before proceeding here.

(1) This analysis is based on film from one game – the Bengals opener with the Vikings. There is no way to know if the approach and tendencies displayed in that game are prescriptive for the entire season or matchup-specific. It is probably best to assume a bit of both.

(2) This column is not a fantasia. This is not “How the Bears Beat the Bengals if the Bears Had a Different Roster”. The Bears can’t cover the Bengals outside. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are – with Tampa, Dallas and Pittsburgh – among the best wide receiver groups in the sport and the Bears have one corner.

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VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)

52.5%

This game is a relative toss-up, but the Bengals have a slight advantage.

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What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • Involve David Montgomery in the passing game. The Bengals play an aggressive style of defense, often sending more at the quarterback than a standard front four. (And after studying Bears/Rams, they’ll certainly be doing so on early downs to keep Montgomery and the rush attack in check.) If the Bears want to soften that attack, they’ll need to get Montgomery out in space and get the football in his hands, well-beyond his one-catch, ten-yard effort Sunday night.
  • Play action and boots created a TON of space outside the pocket for Kirk Cousins. (If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback, he’d be looking at 75-100 yards on the ground.) The Bears have to move the pocket for Andy Dalton if they want to stretch the field with the passing game. If they keep Dalton in the pocket, this passing attack will be as dinky and dunky as the opener.
    • It should be noted that this space was reduced greatly once the Vikings fell down 24-14. When you’re down double digits in the fourth quarter, defenses attack the quarterback, not the running back.
  • What does Bears/Rams look like if Dalton doesn’t throw the pick in the end zone? It might not have a dramatically impacted the outcome but it certainly would have given the offense a different confidence on subsequent drives. The Vikings lost to the Bengals in overtime for one reason: Dalvin Cook fumbled the football in Cincy territory. When teams are evenly matched – and these teams are – one crucial turnover can be, and usually is, the difference. The Bears can’t commit that turnover.

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What Must the Bears Do on Defense:

  • Manufacture pressure. Bring linebackers. Bring corners. Bring safeties. The front four is not good enough to wreck the game on their own and without significant pressure on Joe Burrow, the Bears secondary will be watching footballs get spiked in the end zone. (The argument against this approach is usually that it leaves corners vulnerable but Chicago’s corners are naturally vulnerable due to their lack of ability.) The Bears don’t have the horses on defense to line up and beat their opponent. They need a schematic advantage. Sean Desai has to bring that advantage Sunday.

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ATM: Would Justin Fields Be Able to Save Mistake-Laden Bears Offense? Doubtful.

| September 15th, 2021

As different as the Chicago Bears offense looked on Sunday night, familiar mistakes and a suddenly leaky defense opened the question on if we should even want Justin Fields to deal with this mess.

The Bears did a lot of things differently and were even good in some aspects. This wasn’t the same as the group that struggled to get past midfield against the Rams a year ago. They actually moved the ball well until it was a two-score game late in the fourth quarter. The running game was exceptional and Andy Dalton was able to find open receivers underneath to keep the chains moving. The veteran quarterback even showed some mobility, running on one first down and scrambling before throwing for another.

The Bears gained 40 more yards than the Rams allowed on a per game basis last year.

Matt Nagy has, in the past, been killed for his unwillingness to be aggressive on fourth downs, but we saw four attempts during this game. Had any of them been successful, the stat nerds would’ve rejoiced.

But they weren’t.

And the same flaws that have killed the offense for four years were still there.

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So That Happened.

| September 14th, 2021

In David Mamet’s State and Main, Alec Baldwin plays a movie star with a penchant for young women. In the middle of the movie, he flips a car, climbs out the window, looks at Phil Hoffman, and nonchalantly says, “So that happened.” It is quite literally one of my favorite moments (and lines) in movie history.



The inevitable car wreck to open the 2021 Chicago Bears season took place in Los Angeles Sunday night. And as I turned off the television I was left with the same sentiment as Baldwin, climbing out of a comfy living room chair in Greenwood Lake, NY to toss an empty bottle of Labatt’s in the recycling bin.

So that happened.

I felt nothing about it. No emotion whatsoever. And not feeling any emotion about a Bears game actually filled me with sadness. In my game preview I had written what I thought would transpire Sunday night, predicting an outcome of 30-13 Rams. The game played according to that script. The offense was a little bit better; the defense a little bit worse. 34-14 Rams. (The most surprising aspect to the whole evening was the performance of David Montgomery and the offensive line in the run game.)

Now the Bears are left to deal with the damage.

Their stopgap, 39 year-old answer at left tackle isn’t going to hold up. The fifth-round pick that replaced him might not either.

The secondary is one of the two or three worst in the sport and can’t survive unless Khalil Mack dominates opponents. (Mack hasn’t dominated many during his Chicago tenure.)

Eddie Goldman has mysteriously vanished into injury again.

Andy Dalton is Andy Dalton and the Bears have decided to use his backup – a far superior player – for a series of moronic gadget plays sprinkled into the sea of dinks and dunks.

The Bears are bad.

Okay, so you don’t want to go that far?

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Bears Must Acknowledge What They Are: Bad.

| September 13th, 2021


Justin Fields should be the starting quarterback Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Not because of anything Andy Dalton did Sunday night. Dalton was Dalton. He dinked. He dunked. He took no chances. He made several mistakes.

No, Justin Fields should start Sunday because the Bears must look at what transpired in Los Angeles and recognize where they are as a franchise. They’re a bad team. They don’t have top-tier weapons on offense. They don’t have a professional secondary. They don’t have an elite coaching staff. The ceiling for this group is mediocre and the more likely outcome is bottom third of the league.

The focus of this organization must shift from the futile endeavor winning games in 2021 to doing everything possible to get Fields ready for 2022. Every day that shift is delayed is wasted time.

Is this difficult for a franchise to do? Yes. Teams delude themselves to sleep each night with visions of the Lombardi Trophy dancing in their brains. But is it necessary for the Bears to do? Absolutely.

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