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Bears at Saints Wildcard Weekend Preview: Special Teams

| January 6th, 2021

Sunday at 3:40 CT, the Bears will play a playoff game in New Orleans. This is the first in a three-part preview of that contest.


Kickers

Cairo Santos has been the biggest surprise on the Bears roster this season and is due a contract extension. Santos hasn’t missed a field goal since September, and has missed only one extra point on the season.

Will Lutz has had a down year for the Saints, making only 82.1% of his field goals. But his numbers have been substantially better at home, where he has not missed an extra point and missed only one field goal.

If this game comes down to a big kick late, both teams will be comfortable sending their kicker out there to make it.


Punters

Pat O’Donnell has become one of the more consistent punters in the game. But if there’s a flaw in his game it’s the absence of the great punt. He is fourth in the league, leaving 28 punts inside the 20, but in a game where the Bears’ specials need to be special, PO’D needs to pin Brees deep a few times.

Thomas Morstead is having (arguably) his weakest season but the metrics used to judge punters are often yardage-based and those don’t always compute. But Morstead’s punts have been fair caught more than any in the league and returners are averaging 2.3 yards per return against his punt unit, best in the league.


Return Game

Cordarrelle Patterson is the best kickoff return man in the sport but I don’t imagine a scenario where Sean Payton gives him an opportunity to dramatically alter momentum. And the Bears simply haven’t found a replacement for Tarik Cohen on punt returns. (The playoffs are no time to experiment back there, either.) As a team they rank 10th in kickoff return average and 22nd in punt return average.

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A Small Player in the Big Moment: Trubisky Blows Chance to Change His Narrative

| January 4th, 2021

(If you know why I chose this picture, I give you much credit.)


In the end, Mitch Trubisky was Sunday what he has been throughout his Bears career: a small player in the big moment. With a chance to change his narrative, a chance to pay off his achievements of the last month against a terrific opponent, Trubisky again failed against the Green Bay Packers. Inaccurate throws all over the field. Another nightmare toss into the end zone that somehow was not intercepted. More poor decisions from the pocket. More refusing to use his legs, this time to the dismay of color analyst Daryl Johnston.

It wasn’t about the play calling. It wasn’t about the limitations of the quarterback.



But folks, this isn’t much of a story.

This was the expectation.

Forget the final score at Soldier Field. The Bears had every opportunity to make this contest with their oldest rivals an old fashioned shootout. They kept the ball. They moved the chains. Their tough-to-tackle weapons were once against tough to tackle. Even the defense did its job in the third quarter, with the help of an awful drop. There was an exciting game waiting to be played. But it required two quarterbacks. And like so many other Sundays in the modern history of Bears vs. Packers, only one showed up.

As has been stated by most of the sane folks writing about this franchise, Trubisky had done nothing recently to prove he was the long-term answer at the quarterback position. Nobody is going to pay starting quarterback money to a player that can’t be trusted to throw the football into the end zone and right now Mitch can’t be trusted to do that.

But Trubisky, with the assistance of his head coach and offensive coordinator, had done enough over the last month to show this offense could be productive with him under center. Even historically productive! Sunday he had a chance to cement himself as the front runner to be the team’s starter in September. If, as was argued in this space last week, he simply played to his mean and pitched that mid-90s quarterback rating, the Bears would have had a chance to beat the Packers late and the Trubisky improvement argument would have had some supporting data. He failed.

The Bears have a playoff game next Sunday in New Orleans. Trubisky will be the starter. Against one of the best rush defenses in the league, and a coaching staff that will do everything they can to stop David Montgomery, the Bears will need their quarterback to make plays down the field if they hope to advance. Does anybody believe he can do that?

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A Poem For the New Year

| January 1st, 2021

2020/2021

by J. Hughes

A song with no tune

We’ll always remember

No beach bars in June

No race in November

 

No seat on the aisle

To play the mad foreigner

No billy goat smile

In Wise Guys Corner

 

The year that was not

Has come to an end

Accepting our lot

We turn ‘round the bend

 

It’s time for a star

In the dark night sky

A sweet au revoir

To the merde gone by

 

But what is that sign?

Oh what will it be?

What moment divine

To set our souls free

 

It could be this Sunday!

It could be this team!

A new world on Monday,

From nightmare to dream.

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Week 17: Packers at Bears Game Preview

| December 31st, 2020


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears. And…


Three Things the Bears Must Do To Win

  • Pressure Rodgers. Yes, this seems like an obvious point but it’s even more important with the injuries in the secondary. Rodgers is a master at identifying the weakness in the opposing defense and exploiting it until the score is out of hand. Mike Glennon, with a clean pocket, was able to attack Vildor and Shelley successfully. If Jaylon Johnson doesn’t return, what will Rodgers do to them?
  • Trubisky Plays to His Non-Packers Norm. No, Trubisky is not a great quarterback. But he’s also not the AWFUL player he has been against the Packers.
    • He completes 63.65% of his passes overall. He’s sub-60% against the Packers.
    • His career passer rating is 87.4. It’s 79 – a massive drop – against the Packers.
    • He’s been sacked 110 times overall. 21 of those sacks have come against the Packers. (Detroit got him 13 times, Minnesota 8.)
  • Pound the Ball. 
    • Bucs beat the Packers with 158 yards rushing. Colts beat the Packers with 140 yards rushing. Vikings beat the Packers with 173 yards rushing. Jaguars took the Packers to the wire with 109 yards rushing. The Bears have to know, right now, that anything south of 100 yards rushing won’t get it done against Rodgers and the Packers. This has to be a David Montgomery game.

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The One About Chuck Pagano

| December 30th, 2020


The Bears are allowing 22.3 points per game.

The Packers are scoring 31.6 points per game.

Split the difference. 26.95. Let’s round it up for a good time. 27.

That’s the number. Chuck Pagano needs to keep the Packers under that number. Would everyone around the Chicago Bears like to see his defense keep Aaron Rodgers WELL below that number? Of course. But they just haven’t been that kind of unit since returning from the bye. Rodgers, the last time, got to 41. Stafford got to 34. Even Cousins got to 27.

Criticizing a defensive coordinator is always tricky. So many times it devolves into, “We’re not getting enough pressure with our front so why don’t we blitz?” Or even the sillier, “That wide receiver is good, why don’t we cover him?” So many times what looks like bad defensive coordination is actually orchestrated by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage. So often that matchup that leaves a fan scratching their head has been mapped out all week by the opposing offensive coordinator.

The problem with Pagano’s defense is they’ve often looked like a passive group. They don’t dictate the terms of play. They are reactionary. Yes, that’s a product of the modern rules. But it’s also a product of attitude.


Why Are They Struggling?

A lot of that is the result of a pass rush that has failed to live up to expectations.

Khalil Mack has been reliably disruptive but offensive coordinators have been willing to use as many players as necessary to keep him off their quarterbacks. (Several times Sunday the Jags used two OL and a chipping back to keep Mack at bay.) Robert Quinn has played better of late but has had perhaps his most forgettable season. Akiem Hicks has had his least productive (healthy) season as a pass rusher since coming to Chicago.

The Bears pass rush ranks middle of the league in most viable categories: sacks, pressure rate…etc. Middle of the pack is poor when the GM has committed this much money to it. The pockets have been too clean, too often, and that’s left the secondary vulnerable.

A clean pocket for Aaron Rodgers is a death sentence.

What is Sunday?

Which brings us to the bigger point. There’s been much talk around this team that Sunday is a season-defining game. Dan Pompei went so far as to suggest it’s the only game of the 2020 season that matters. But I’ve got some sad news for Bears fans: the Bears aren’t as good as the Packers. And as long as Rodgers is the quarterback up north, that’s likely to be the case. Does that mean the Bears can’t win Sunday? Of course not. Anybody can beat anybody in this league, especially this year.

But if I had an abs off with Brad Pitt, guess what? I’m going to lose. He has intense dietary restrictions, a tireless workout regiment, and an expensive personal trainer ensuring he stays sculpted. When I walk into my local bodega, I don’t even tell them which beer I want. I just give them a number and that’s how many 24 oz. Coors Banquets show up on the counter.

But if Brad and I contest our battle on a different playing field, perhaps the golf course, his abs become a secondary issue.

The Bears can’t make this game about Rodgers’ success. If that’s the playing field, they’ll lose.

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The Roquan Smith Game: Rapid Fire Reaction to Bears 41, Jags 17

| December 28th, 2020


Playoff scenario is clear. If the Bears win Sunday, they are in. If the Rams beat the Cardinals, the Bears are in. Simple as that. Somehow the team that many of us left for dead after an absurd collapse against the Detroit Lions is alive and well and living in January.

Some thoughts on Bears 41, Jaguars 17.

  • Yes, Trubisky is going to have several moments in almost every game that leave the world scratching their collective heads. But Mitch’s stat line for the season is now 1,803 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs, 95.3 rating. His 2018 stat line was 3,223 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs, 95.4 rating. This is what he is as a player and the Bears can win with that.
    • Until yesterday, I had never seen a quarterback attempt a Hail Mary from the 10 yard line. But that’s exactly what Trubisky did. How do you coach this out of a player? Is it even possible?
    • But it’s difficult not to be impressed with his bounce back drive coming out of the half. He had one incomplete pass, was pinpoint accurate and used his legs to get six. His short memory is becoming a real asset.
    • So is his hard count.
  • Was Roquan Smith motivated by his Pro Bowl snub? After a slow start from the defense, Roquan delivered his most dominant performance as a Bear. It will never make any sense that this franchise – which hasn’t had a franchise QB in sixty years – consistently churns out Hall of Fame inside linebackers. Oh and hey, I have a crazy idea! Maybe we should wait to choose who makes the Pro Bowl until after the season is actually over? If voting started today, Smith walks onto the Pro Bowl roster.

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  • The Bears’ identity on offense is quickly becoming clear: they are tough to tackle. David Montgomery. Cole Kmet. Even Darnell Mooney. These guys almost never go down on first contact. This has become a physical group.

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