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Week Six Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Packers

| October 14th, 2021

Edited. Original photograph by Mike Dinovo, USA TODAY Sports.


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.)

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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.

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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.

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Predictions & Projections for the 2021 Chicago Bears

| September 7th, 2021


No reason to bury the lede.

If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.

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What Would Starting Fields Do?

This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.

With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.

Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.

And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: CB Pass Coverage

| July 1st, 2021

Finally, let’s end with a look at the cornerbacks, who will have some personnel changes from 2020. Gone are veterans Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine, while Desmond Trufant has been brought in to compete with a host of late round picks from the last few drafts.

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The table below shows 2020 coverage stats for all 2020 Bears and Desmond Trufant, who was in Detroit last year. The * for Vildor and Shelley indicates that I included their playoff stats to increase their sample size, since they only played the last few games of the regular season. The rank compares their yards/target mark to all NFL CBs. The median value is included on the bottom, but you can view the full data here.



A few thoughts:

  • Losing Kyle Fuller, who was a cap casualty this offseason, is a massive blow for a secondary that was already full of questions. He was the best player in the secondary by a wide margin last year, and his departure leaves a cornerback group with nothing but questions.
  • However, there are some reasons for optimism among the cornerbacks, if you look closely enough. Desmond Trufant was very good in 2018 (6.2 yards/target) before struggling through injuries the last 2 years. He’ll be 31 at the start of the season, but maybe he can buck the odds, stay healthy and regain his prior form.
  • At nickelback, losing Skrine isn’t actually a problem, as he was not good last year. Skrine missed the last 5 games of the season (including playoffs) in 2020, and Duke Shelley stepped right in and matched his production.
  • Of course, that’s not to say Shelley was good, as he also ranked below average in yards/target. However, if you want to be optimistic, you can point out that Shelley was pretty solid outside of getting torched by Justin Jefferson in one game against Minnesota. In that one game, Shelley gave up 101 yards on 8 targets (11.2 yards/target), but he only allowed 75 yards on 14 targets (5.4 yards/target) in the other 4 games combined. Those other 4 games look good, but you can’t just ignore that he got destroyed by the best WR he faced.

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The NFL Season Begins in Two Weeks. (What Don’t We Know About the Chicago Bears?)

| August 28th, 2020


It’s remarkable to think the NFL is going to kickoff the 2020 season in Kansas City two weeks from yesterday. But barring a Covid tsunami or another testing lab debacle in New Jersey or the players mounting an NBA-style walkout, the show will seemingly go on. So with so little time remaining before they start keeping score, what don’t we know about the 2020 Chicago Bears?


How Will the Backfield Look?

In the wake of David Montgomery’s injury, the Bears could use Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen to piece together their backfield. Or they could elevate the status of undrafted free agent Artavis Pierce. And why not? We see “scrap heap” type backs emerge around the league every year. If Juan Castillo gets them blocking up front, Pierce could become as a key component of the offense. Why not give the kid a shot to carry the load? He’s got talent.


Who is the Quarterback?

A tale of two tweets.

Tweet 1.

Tweet 2.

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Ranking the Potential 2020 Impact of This Draft Class

| April 30th, 2020

This column does not seek to project the impact these players will have long-term.

This column seems to project the impact these players will have this coming season, assuming the summer’s off-season program will be truncated or non-existent.


(7) Arlington Hambright, G

An athletic freak but a true offensive line project. The work/coaching he’d require to get on the field in 2020 simply won’t be available this summer. If he plays a snap during the regular season, something has gone terribly wrong.

But the Bears should put him on the roster. And they should sell the jerseys on the homepage of their website.


(6) Lachavious Simmons, G

Simmons gets the nod over Hambright for two reasons: (1) he’s got a bit of mauler in him and (2) his transition to guard at the next level will be easier. Again, it’s unlikely Simmons plays a down this season. But it’s more likely for him than Hambright.


(5) Trevis Gipson, Edge

The raw talent is there but Gipson’s 2020 role will almost assuredly be limited to sub-down, pass rushing situations. And with Mack and Quinn WELL ahead of him in the pecking order, the Bears would be happy if Gipson saw limited defensive snaps this season, while making his presence felt on special teams.


(4) Kindle Vildor, CB

Buster Skrine is still the starting slot corner. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Vildor backing up that role very early on in his career. My guess is Vildor surprises many and is active on most game days.


(3) Cole Kmet, TE

There’s been a lot of talk about tight ends struggling to assimilate to the NFL. And big, physical players like Kmet are asked to do a lot more than stand up, run fast and catch passes.

Jason Witten had 35 catches his rookie season. Kyle Rudolph had 26. Kmet, especially at his position, could use a full summer slate of practices and preseason games. If he doesn’t get it, hard to think he’ll be be more than a 30-35 catch, 400 yard, 4-5 touchdown player in his rookie campaign.

But I think that’d be a brilliant sign for his future.

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On Ryan Pace’s Sturdy, Steady Second-Round Selections

| April 26th, 2020


On Friday night, I floated the idea of the Bears trading back in the second round to a friend of mine – a scout for another team in the NFC. He quickly shot back, “Pace shouldn’t back up too far. After about 65, there’s a big drop-off in this class.”

This is the kind of things scouts love to say.

Is it true? Who the hell knows? But what is important is the perception of its truth. If my scout friend believes the 2020 NFL Draft was 65 players deep, so does his organization. If his organization believes that, rest assured it is common throughout the league.

Thus, there was not much jockeying for position in the first and second rounds this year. Teams believed they would get a terrific prospect no matter where they selected. Maybe Ryan Pace had offers, maybe he didn’t. We won’t know and he won’t tell us. And now, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is how Pace approached the second round. His two selections – Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet and Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson – were not reaches. They were not gambles on potential, on athletic ability. They were two of the steadiest, sturdiest prospects in the whole of this draft. Immediately after their selection, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah pronounced, “No first-round pick for the Bears but I think you can argue they got two first-round players.” Every relevant person I texted with Friday night seemed to echo this sentiment.

These are the kinds of picks a team confidently makes when they think they are close. And the Bears are close, especially with Nick Foles’ professionalism taking over under center. The club had needs for September: defensive back, interior offensive line, tight end, speed outside. They addressed two of them. Simple as that. Kmet and Johnson will expected to contribute/start immediately. I’ll state that again. Kmet and Johnson will expected to contribute/start immediately.

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