…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.
Usually I write a paragraph here, introducing the concept below. But doesn’t the headline do all that work? Do you really need further explanation of this piece? I don’t think you do. So read away…
(#5) Kyle Fuller’s Dropped Interception
Yes, this was a negative play. But it is the singular moment of adversity that seems to have inspired the entirety of the 2018 campaign. Every big play, every dance routine, every sack of the quarterback, seems to have been motivated by that Aaron Rodgers pass sailing off the chest of Fuller.
(#4) All Those Touchdown Passes Against the Bucs (tie)
After three games, 2018 felt like it was going to be a long, developmental-type season for Mitch Trubisky. Then Week 4 happened. 354 yards. 6 touchdowns. Yes, it was against the hapless Buccaneers but it was still the kind of explosive performance this organization was not using to seeing from the quarterback position. Seeing it was important for Bears fans, Bears players/coaches and for the quarterback himself. That game elevated expectations for the entire year.
(#3) Akiem Hicks Scores a Touchdown
Week 13, in the Meadowlands, Daniel handed the ball to Hicks at the goal line and the behemoth scored (easily). It was the play that best symbolized the sense of pure fun Matt Nagy has brought to this organization. He’s not afraid of comparisons to the ’85 edition of this franchise. Fridge be damned! He’s just out there calling plays, having a good time and inspiring his players to do the same.
The 2018 Chicago Bears played six games against the NFC North this season. The same number they always play. But these six were different.
Yes, the Bears were 5-1, with a point differential of +44. Yes, they were 3-0 at home, with a point differential of +24. But it was more than the numbers that told the story of these Bears. It was how and when they handled each opponent. Let’s look at them.
Green Bay Game I set the tone for the entire season. The Bears left Lambeau on the opening Sunday night knowing they should have won, knowing Kyle Fuller should have caught the game-clinching interception, knowing they were the better team. Matt Nagy didn’t let that game bring his team down. He used it as inspiration. It worked.
Detroit Game I was a bloodbath. The 12-point victory didn’t represent how lopsided the ballgame was. But the result was still important because the Bears had been struggling with the Lions for the last several seasons. No longer.
Minnesota Game I was the biggest regular season game at Soldier Field in a decade. In primetime the Bears had to prove they were the favorite to win the division. And from a hotel room in Paris, in the middle of the night, I silently watched them do just that.
This is such a weird week. Traffic is down because nobody is around. The game will have little-to-no juice unless the Niners make a game of it in Los Angeles. And we’re on the precipice of getting to big boy football. January football. Playoff football. So this is a Friday thought dump.
I’ve gone back and forth on how Nagy should handle Sunday a million times but I’ve settled on The Olin Kreutz Approach. The Bears legend believes (a) the Niners are not beating the Rams under any circumstances and (b) subsequently the Bears should sit Mack, Hicks, Cohen and Robinson while playing everybody else for the first half. This takes the game seriously while protecting the club’s most important assets going into the postseason.
A logical question: what about the quarterback? I’d argue Trubisky would benefit from facing that defense on the road, even if it’s only for two quarters. If the Bears are going to be playing in February they will more than likely need to win a tough game (or two) on the road. Experiences like Sunday could benefit the young QB.
“But Jeff, why not wait and see how the Rams/Niners game plays out?” Again, fair question. And I don’t have an answer. The value of the two-seed can not be overstated. The two-seed means win one game at Soldier Field, where the Bears have been dominant, and you’re in the NFC title game.
…but I don’t love ’em this week. One team is home, playing for their postseason life. The other team has eleven wins and is playing for a bye if a ten-point favorite (the Rams) loses at home. Motivation matters. And I don’t think the Bears have much this week.
Special thanks to the folks at Lou Malnati’s for liking and following through on this DBB original concept. It’s a great company and a great pizza and I’m hoping to develop this relationship further in the years to come.
Thoughts on the Actual Game
One has to assume Matt Nagy learned a lot about how to attack this Vikings defense when the two teams played on November 18th. With the most likely scenario being them meeting at Soldier Field next week, why would Nagy roll out any of that this week? Yes, I know Nagy is an aggressive coach and play-caller but putting anything useful on tape for a potential playoff opponent seems reckless.
The Bears defense has received a lot of praise and rightfully so. But what they’ve done the last three games is absurd.
They held two of their last three opponents out of the end zone entirely.
They’re allowing 10.67 points per game over that span, nearly a touchdown less than the best scoring defense in the league (Baltimore).
The opposing QB rating over the last three games: 51.3.
Rushing yards per game: 62.33.
If you looked at only the score line from Vikings at Lions last week, you’d think Minnesota handled them with ease. They did not. Detroit dominated the first half but was forced to kick field goals. Then Cousins hit Rudolph for the easiest Hail Mary ever executed in NFL history, giving Minny a lead going into the half. If Bears play their starters and commit to the game, they’ll win.
I’ve often joked on Twitter that Kirk Cousins stinks. Well, he doesn’t stink. He’s a good quarterback. But that’s all he is. Good. And you don’t pay players that are just good $30 million dollars a year in a league with a hard cap. This goes especially for Minnesota – a team built to win on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings weren’t a quarterback away from the championship last year. They got obliterated by Nick Foles and the Eagles passing attack in the NFC title game, a game they had no business being in.
Some folks have suggested avoiding Minnesota in the wildcard round. I’d welcome Kirk Cousins into Soldier Field on a cold Saturday evening with open arms. But there’s definitely a contingent inside Halas Hall that wants to send Minnesota home. Let’s see how influential they can be.
It was not an exciting game. So let’s get right into rapid fire…
The score of this game was 14-9 with about five minutes left in the third quarter. That’s how good this Bears defense is. They simply dominate inferior opponents. Akiem Hicks was unblockable, Leonard Floyd has been one of the better defenders in the league the last several weeks and Khalil Mack is, well, one of the best football players I’ve ever seen.
Yesterday is the game the Bears need from Mitch Trubisky on the road in the postseason. He was poised, accurate and (mostly) smart with the football.
Great individual play by Trubisky. But watch him in the pocket before he vacates. Tries to climb. 2nd straight week he’s done it. 👌
He grows as a passer with stuff like this. Progressions, patience, eyes down field. Then go if it’s not there. pic.twitter.com/fzxsMXEMOk
The Trubisky-to-Cohen fumble was an awfully stupid moment for both the quarterback and the coach. Matt Nagy’s signature flaw as a play caller is a failure to recognize when simplicity is working. When Jordan Howard gains 9 yards on first down, you don’t need to run a college option on second down. You turn around and hand Howard the ball again.
George Kittle is a pain in the ass.
From Dan Pompei on Twitter: “The 49ers are one of the best teams ever at pulling the ball out after the runner is down.”
If I were Nagy and Ryan Pace I would have seriously considered benching all my star players due to the conditions yesterday. What was that field? Levi’s Stadium made Soldier Field’s turf look like Augusta National. Kyle Fuller fell down three times in the first half! Once again, if you believe the league is concerned with player safety, you’re a dupe.