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Wildcard Weekend Diary: Bears Lose to Eagles

| January 6th, 2019

Saturday January 5th – 12:19 PM 

I love the Drake Hotel. It’s old. It’s beautiful. The Coq D’or is my favorite hotel bar in the world. (Go there just to have the Bookbinder soup.) When I come through those doors on Walton Street, I feel like I’m stepping into the history of Chicago. It doesn’t have the amenities of a newer hotel. But it has character. A ton of it.

This morning I decided to order breakfast to the room. Two eggs, over easy. Home fries well done. Bacon. English muffin. Orange juice. Pot of coffee. Room service at a good hotel is one of life’s delights, especially for someone who has spent years crafting an existence centered around the avoidance of pants.

I rented a movie. I hadn’t seen Can You Ever Forgive Me. $20 too steep? Probably, for a movie that I’ll be able to rent for $6 in a week or two. But I’ve been dying to see it. (You too should see it. It’s brilliant. And Melissa McCarthy gives the performance of the year.)

I did all this because Noah isn’t getting to town until the afternoon and I can’t be trusted to wander the streets and not end up in a saloon. With the great football coming later, I didn’t want to be asleep at 6:30 pm. (It would not be the first time.)

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I decided Monday’s column  (what you’re currently reading) won’t be the standard bullet-point recap of Sunday’s game with the Eagles. I’ll be in the building and I find it hard to get the full context of a game in that environment. Plus, I’ll inevitably miss stuff waiting to take a piss. And with a playoff game, there will be so much coverage for you to wade through. Why not create something different?

Instead I’m going to write a little now. Write a little more tomorrow morning. Then write something Sunday night/Monday morning. Walk you, the reader, through this experience. Emotionally, mostly. And right now my emotions are steady. I’m confident. Here’s why:

  • The Bears are the better team. They’re just better at almost every single element of the game, outside of the kicker position.
  • The Bears are a dominant defense with a dominant home field advantage. Those almost always hold up in the postseason.
  • I’m expecting an insane crowd. Unlike most games I’ve attended in Chicago, the town is not covered with Bears gear. The hotel lobby and elevators aren’t laden with fans here to see the team. Partly because the tickets are expensive, I’m sure, but mostly I think it’s because people plan trips around those Bears games during the season and they would only have had a week to prep for this. This is going to be a local crowd.
  • Nick Foles has never thrived in an environment like he’ll face tomorrow.

Let’s see how I feel in the morning. But right now, I expect great things from the Bears.

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Week 15: Packers at Bears Game Preview

| December 13th, 2018

This is the moment. Are you ready?


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and the champagne is on ice at Josie Woods Pub. There are few occasions that warrant excessive celebration in the basement bar I’ve called home for eighteen years. Beating the Packers to win the NFC North would absolutely be one of them. And I expect the Bears to deliver.


The Game Haiku

They have earned this stage.

And the lights that shine on it.

Glory approaches.


Why the Bears Will Win.

  • Soldier Field. I mean, I wrote an entire piece on this topic a few days ago. Just go ahead and read that. If you don’t want to read it, here are the CliffsNotes™: the Chicago Bears have become a dominant team at home in 2018.
  • Pass Rush. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 41 times, and hit a lot more than that. He’ll be playing Sunday with about 40% of his starting offensive line. I expect an angry performance from Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the rest of the Bears front. They know that if they give Rodgers time in the pocket, he’ll find holes in the secondary. Expect them to hit the Green Bay quarterback and hit him often.
  • Run Run Rudolph! Green Bay is one of the league’s weakest run defenses and the Bears are starting to find their identity on the ground as they make their playoff push. This is not a game Matt Nagy is going to ask Mitch Trubisky to win by throwing it 40+ times. This is game Nagy is going to win by controlling the line of scrimmage and keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. They’ll throw it effectively. But the run game will dominant.

Why They Won’t.

  • Rodgers. The Bears have 25 interceptions. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 1 all season. Something’s gotta give, right? And historically it gives in the Green Bay quarterback’s favor. (See: Fuller, Kyle’s only negative plays of this entire season.) A question that may arise on Sunday is will Rodgers pick on Sherrick McManis, filling in for the injured Bryce Callahan? Don’t be surprised to see a bunch of targets for Randall Cobb from the slot.
  • Trubisky. The quarterback was awful Sunday night against the Rams and that was without much pressure. The Packers can put together a pass rush and one would expect Mike Pettine to dial-up blitzes Trubisky hasn’t seen to try and force hurried decisions. Trubisky’s development is still ongoing, even if the rest of the team is on a different plateau now. He’s going to have bad games. But he can’t stack bad games if this team has serious aspirations for January.
  • Specials. Other than Tarik Cohen on punt returns, I don’t trust a single piece of the “third phase”. Not the punter, even off his best outing in years. Not the coverage units, especially with McManis moving into a starting role on the defense. Certainly not the kicker, who is the team’s most substantial liability down the stretch. The Bears need to do a lot of work here in the offseason. But that won’t help them Sunday.

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On Sunday Night Against the High-Flying Rams, the Bears Re-Established Their Home Field Advantage

| December 10th, 2018

The 2017 Chicago Bears were 3-5 at home, winning only one game in their building after October 22nd. The 2016 Bears were 3-5 at home, winning (again) only one game at Soldier Field in November and December combined. The 2015 Bears? Glad you asked. 1-7 at home. That win came on October 4th.

The home of the Chicago Bears has been a wonderful place to play football. If you’re not the Chicago Bears. Not any longer.

Sunday night the Bears won their sixth game on the lakefront in 2018. It is the first time they’ve registered six home wins since their Super Bowl-losing campaign of 2006. And they did it as underdogs. They did it against the team with the best record in the league. They did it against one of the sport’s best offenses, and the game’s most lauded offensive mind. An offensive mind so fertile it can memorize TEN names.

But it wasn’t just what happened that resonated. It was how it happened. There were four primary components to Sunday night’s victory.

I. The Crowd

The Soldier Field faithful knew this was a massive game and acted like it. Their raucousness was bursting through my television set in Queens, NY.

II. The Weather

As predicted here, the boys from Los Angeles were desperate to trade-in Navy for Santa Monica Pier as quickly as possible.

III. The Defense

They held the Rams to 214 total yards and an average of 3.5 yards per play. They sacked Jared Goff three times and intercepted him four times. They were, in a word, dominant.

IV. The Running Game

The much-maligned rushing attack finally had their breakout performance, setting the tone and keeping the opposition on their cold, cold sideline.

There was also a fifth component.

V. The Nagy Element (Also called “Fun, Fun, Fun”)

In many ways, this vintage of the Chicago Bears has restored some of the most endearing qualities of the franchise’s history.

Celebrating every interception with an elaborate dance? This is an organization that once did a music video in the middle of the regular season to announce their coming Super Bowl title.

Handing off to fat guys at the goal line. Hell, the Bears did this in a Super Bowl.

But faking the hand off to a fat guy and throwing a touchdown pass to another fat guy? That’s next level. That’s the Nagy Element. That’s the kind of fun-loving, fuck-it-why-not shit that has permeated every single aspect of the franchise. You can see it on the sideline. You can hear it on the 400 level. You can see it in the “Club Dub” videos across Bears social media.

The head coach of the Bears is constantly telling his players to “have fun out there”. They are. And so are we.

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Week 14: Rams at Bears Game Preview, Volume II

| December 7th, 2018

…continued.


Why the Bears Will Win

  • Soldier Field. The Bears are simply a different team at home (5-1), where they’d be undefeated if not for a special teams meltdown against the Patriots. Sunday night this high-flying Rams offense is going to experience 20 degrees on the lake. It won’t bother the Bears. It won’t bother their crowd. Will it bother Los Angeles? I have images of the 2005 Atlanta Falcons and 2013 Dallas Cowboys in my head. High-powered, warm weather offenses that boarded their buses to the airport midway through the third quarter.
  • Mitch’s Return. Trubisky’s ability to stretch the field with his arm and extend drives with his legs was sorely missed during the Chase Daniel period. And this is a defense that can:
    • Be exploited at the back end, with Marcus Peters having a nightmare season and Aquib Talib slowly working his way back from injury.
    • Leave huge gaps if they don’t get home to the quarterback. Russell Wilson put up nearly 100 yards on the ground in his last meeting with the Rams.
  • Jared Goff vs. Bears Secondary. One thing that stands out watching is Rams tape is the alarming number of wide open receivers Goff has over the course of a game. (The Chiefs game was an embarrassment.) But Goff was challenged last week in Detroit and probably delivered his most inconsistent/inaccurate performance of the 2018 season. Aside from a few breakdowns at the Meadowlands last week, this Bears secondary usually forces opposing QBs to hit 4-5 good throws to mount a scoring drive. In these conditions, with this pass rush bearing down, that will be a challenge for Goff.

Tweet of the Week


Why They Won’t.

  • Aaron Donald. James Daniels and Cody Whitehair have never seen anything like Donald in current form. I’m not quite sure many guards/centers have, as the man is coasting to the Defensive Player of the Year prize. Donald may not dominate for sixty minutes but he’s sure to make a big play (or three) at critical moments of the game, especially if he decides to line up over the struggling Bryan Witzmann.
  • Run Defense. The Giants may have laid something of a blueprint for attacking Vic Fangio’s aggressive pass rush. (Eli Manning hinted at such during his weekly radio spot on WFAN New York.) Run right at it. Yes, it helps to have a back of Saquan Barkley’s quality but the Rams have that in Todd Gurley. So Fangio should expect McVay to follow the Shurmur template and run Gurley directly at Khalil Mack for much of the evening. If Gurley gets going, the Rams will be unstoppable.
  • Shootout. If this game gets moving in a particular direction, are the Bears really prepared to go toe-to-toe with a high-powered offense? Are they prepared to score 40 if they NEED 40 to win? They have the scheme. They have the talent. They’re more equipped than any time in history to engage such a battle but they’ve never actually done it. The Rams are seasoned as playing such games. They play them every other week because they don’t defend well.

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Week 14: Rams at Bears Game Preview, Volume I

| December 6th, 2018


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and I like this moment for this team.  This game is the litmus test. This game will tell us whether to be content with taking the first big step and making the postseason or whether the 2018 Bears are capable of challenging the best teams in football for a Super Bowl title. Any result is an interesting one.


The Aaron Donald Limerick

There now lives a monster at tackle

Who moves with the burst of a jackal

He’ll rip up your guard

Leave him battered and scarred

Then cover the QB in Spackle™


Three Thoughts on the L.A. Rams

  • There really is no way to describe what Aaron Donald is doing this season. The last two games for the Rams – against Kansas City and Detroit – have been dogfights. In both of those games, Donald turned the tide with sacks and forced fumbles. He has four sacks and three forced fumbles in those two games ALONE. This is not a good Rams defense. You could argue this is a BAD Rams defense. But they make big plays and they feature the best player in the entire league through the first twelve games of 2018.
  • This is a prolific, well-coached offense. But the best defense they’ve faced on the road this season is Denver and in that game they mustered only 23 points. (With Todd Gurley rushing for more than 200 yards!) Rams were also up only 16-13 on the Lions in the fourth quarter last week until Donald did his thing. The approach for the Bears defense here is simple: keep the Rams in third-and-long and then get home with the pass rush. But that’s kind of the game plan against every offense.
  • The Rams allow more than five yards per carry, putting them near the bottom of the league. No, I’m not going to predict the Bears to have a breakout game on the ground. The dog ain’t gonna hunt in 2018. But this is a game where the creative run game – Gabriel and Cohen outside – and Mitch Trubisky’s legs should pay dividends. The Bears need to do everything in their power Sunday night to keep the football out of Jared Goff’s hands. That means running the ball and moving the chains.

Tomorrow: More Analysis & Prediction!

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