The Bears are trying to do something uncommon in the NFL. They are trying to win games while developing a rookie quarterback. That is not to say other franchises who have brought along a rookie QB didn’t want to win each Sunday. (The Jags and Jets are DESPERATE for victories.) But the Bears believe they have a playoff-caliber roster around Justin Fields – due mostly to this roster making the playoffs last season – and have now entrusted the kid to help them get to the tournament.
If the Bears beat the Packers at home on Sunday, their odds to play meaningful football in January will take a massive jump. (And selfishly, I want the Bears playing a playoff game when I celebrate my 40th birthday the weekend of the 15th in Atlantic City.)
What Must the Bears Do on Offense:
- This is a difficult stretch coming but if there is a bag of tricks, this is the week to empty it. The Bears have been predictable on early downs and even more predictable in short-yardage situations. That has to change this week. Why?
- The Packers rank right with the Bears in every meaningful defensive category, with the exception of points per game, where the Bears currently sit 7th and the Packers 19th, a four-point difference. This is a good Green Bay defense but injuries – especially to elite corner Jaire Alexander – leave them more vulnerable.
- The Bears sit alone in the basement of offensive rankings. They are 20 yards below the next worst team in yards per game, Miami, and 200(!!!!) below the Ravens, who rank first. Their conservative strategy has worked against Jared Goff and Derek Carr. It won’t work against Aaron Rodgers.
- A win gives them a nice pressure cushion. Beating the Packers, getting to 4-2, and taking first place, would allow them to play their next four (Bucs, Niners, Steelers, Ravens) at 2-2, or even 1-3, and still maintain a level of excitement for this season. 5-5 may not sound like much but 5-5 with a rookie quarterback is reason for serious optimism.
- Take what’s underneath. One of the things Joe Burrow did so well against Green Bay was understand the value of getting five yards on 3rd and 4. Instead of waiting for plays to develop downfield in those situations, he got the ball out quickly and moved the chains. This is still a developing element of Fields’ game and it will hopefully be a major coaching point during the week. (If this is a 6-8 catch game for Damien Williams, the Bears are being productive offensively.)
- On two fourth downs in the second half, the Bengals ran a simple QB draw with Burrow and got the first down both times. These were both called and they both worked because of the pace of execution. This is a game where Fields can be more deliberate with his runs. If he drops back and it’s there, take it. Avoid unnecessary contact. Slide. But keeping those chains moving, and keeping the defense rested, are essential Sunday. Fields’ legs may be the key to doing both.
What Must the Bears Do on Defense:
- Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have the most symbiotic quarterback/receiver relationship in the league, and that relationship appears telepathic the nearer they get the end zone. This is the week to stick 33 on 17. Let Jaylon Johnson follow Adams around the field and take your chances with Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, Aaron Lazard, etc. If Adams beats Johnson consistently, live with that result. There’s no better option on the roster.
- No quarterback has been more willing to attack the Bears deep than Rodgers. (Especially after drawing the DL offsides.) And this season the defense has shown a significant vulnerability over the top. When the pass rush doesn’t get home, which is more than 3/4 of the time, the secondary can’t allow receivers to simply roam free, ten yards clear of the nearest defender. This might seem like an obvious point but it’s happening weekly, including Sunday in Vegas, where Bryan Edwards could have changed the game if he simply caught the football while standing alone downfield. This could be a game to sit Eddie Jackson in center field and hope he relocates some of the ballhawk skills that made him very, very rich.
- Force field goal attempts. Mason Crosby wasn’t just missing field goals in Cincinnati. He was borderline yipping them. The kicks had no chance. If the Bears can get him to miss early, it could destroy his confidence and disrupt the Packers game plan. And if the Bears can force the Packers to try and win this game on Crosby’s leg, there is a good chance they will be in first place come midday Sunday.