Chicago Bears

Looking Ahead: the Chicago Bears

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Its meeting number two between these ancient rivals. This one carries greater importance for both the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

For the Packers, the 1 seed is on the line. A victory against the Chicago Bears would be the nail in the coffin, while a loss would leave it up to fate. A win for the Chicago Bears means a playoff appearance, while a loss would leave it all on the L.A. Rams to eliminate the Arizona Cardinals.

Either way you swing it, the Chicago Bears are playing for a Wildcard appearance, as the Packers wrapped up the NFC North weeks ago. The victory against the Bears during week 12 in Lambeau went a long way in securing that title.

In that meeting, the Packers took an early lead, holding the ball for over 20 minutes over their first three possessions, scoring touchdowns on each of them. That lead grew to 41-10 by the end of the third quarter, until the Packers took their foot off the gas. The Chicago Bears were able to put together two scoring drives in garbage time to bring the final score to 41-25.

During this game, the Packers were able to keep Rodgers upright against a good Bears defense, allowing him to throw 4 TDs and 0 INTS for a passer rating of 132.3. The unit netted just under 400 total yards without turning the ball over, which is expected.

Defensively, this was arguably the Packers’ best performance of the season, rivaling Sunday night’s snowy victory against the Tennessee Titans. The Chicago Bears’ offense opened with a 57-yard run from David Montgomery, then sputtered in the red zone. From there, the Bears’ offense was stagnant and turnover-happy, until the Packers transitioned to their prevent defense. Even with that 57-yarder, the Bears totaled under 200 yards over the first three quarters.

Should we expect similar performances on both sides of the ball for this week 17 matchup? What do the Chicago Bears have planned for the regular-season finale?

Gameplan

Offense

Since their dismantling by the Packers in week 12, the Bears’ offense has been on a roll. In the four games that followed, the Bears have averaged 35 points per game, which would rank 1st in the league over the season, and 397 yards per game, which would be 2nd.

In all fairness, though, the Chicago Bears played the Lions, Texans, Vikings, and Jaguars over that stretch – all 4 of those defenses rank in the bottom-ten of the league in almost every metric. Still, this is the NFL where – you know the saying – “The other team gets paid too.”

If posed the question “What are the Bears doing differently?” The answer is simple – “Not much”. Since my Week 12 Looking Ahead article the Bears are running the exact same offense. One major difference has been Head Coach Matt Nagy’s priorities in the passing game.

Now that the Chicago Bears have sunk back into their ‘Mitch’ Trubisky investment, Nagy has been calling plays that are a better fit for his QB’s skillset. We’ve seen more calls to move the pocket and plenty of throws on the run. Nagy has been emphasizing high-percentage short throws and quick reads.

This has allowed Trubisky to deal the ball to what is a fairly talented group of pass-catchers. I spoke at length about Allen Robinson prior to the week 12 matchup. He’s been ripping it up all season and might be in line for his second Pro Bowl appearance.

Darnell Mooney has usurped Anthony Miller as the WR2 due to his ability to get open deep and his creativity after the catch. Both David Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson have been productive out of the backfield. Cole Kmet has also come on as of late, garnering more targets and more snaps than Jimmy Graham over the last four weeks. Graham has been dealing with a hip issue but he’s also underperformed when he’s been on the field.

This hasn’t changed the gameplan. It’s still plenty of ‘11’ and ‘12’ personnel for Nagy and company, with Trubisky under center. Though in the past four weeks, Nagy has been more willing to empty the backfield and walk Trubisky back to the Gun.

We’ve seen improved play along the offensive line as well. Trubisky has been getting rid of the ball quicker which has helped the offensive line’s sack numbers but they’ve also shown an improvement moving bodies in the run game. It helps that the Bears have been able to stay healthy along the offensive line, boasting the same starting five since their bye week.

Defense

While we’ve seen a shift in offensive production over the past four weeks, however, it’s been business as usual on the defensive side of the ball. When we last analyzed the Chicago Bears defense, they ranked in the top-ten in both yards allowed (340.1) and points allowed (20.9). Those numbers have fallen a bit as the Bears now rank 11th in yards allowed per game (346.9) and 10th in points per game (22.3).

Khalil Mack remains atop the list of predators for the Chicago Bears. His 56 pressures on the year are 9th among edge rushers in the league but Mack rarely gets a clean opportunity at a one-on-one pass rush. Even when he’s chipped and double-teamed, Mack is still one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the NFL.

Akiem Hicks was unavailable the last time the Chicago Bears played the Packers but he’s back on the field, wreaking havoc on the interior and defending the run efficiently. Mario Edwards Jr has improved his play as well, though still in a limited role. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan are still performing. Smith recorded two interceptions just last week.

Kyle Fuller has been consistent at outside corner, while Jaylon Johnson has been up and down – as rookies typically are. The passing defense has been middling as a result. The rushing defense is allowing 115.7 yards per game, 15th in the NFL. However, the Chicago Bears are tied for 2nd in rushing TDs allowed (10).

Defensive Coordinator, Chuck Pagano, has applied the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He’s got the Chicago Bears operating out of a base 3-4 though most snaps are of the 4-2 nickel variety. Pagano still emphasizes man coverage but mixes in plenty of zone concepts.

Three Factors for the Chicago Bears

David Montgomery’s Rise

David Montgomery is on a serious run right now. Over weeks 13-16, he’s carried the ball 83 times for 426 yards (5.13 avg) and 6 touchdowns. He’s also averaging 3.78 yards per carry after contact. Those numbers cast a huge shadow over Montgomery’s performances over his first 11 games. He isn’t really playing any better, however, as Montgomery has been a fringe top-ten back all year.

Continuity along the offensive line has led to improved play in the run-game. According to Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics, 3 of the Bears’ top-5 run blocking performances have come in the last four weeks. It should come as no surprise then, that Montgomery has been on such a hot streak.

The Curious Case of Eddie Jackson

We’ve seen it all from Eddie Jackson this season. He’s had games where he’s a sieve in coverage and against the run. We’ve seen games where he’s terrible in coverage and great against the run, and vice versa. We’ve also seen some games where he’s been an absolute stud, much like he was throughout his first three seasons (2017-2019).

Jackson’s play peaked in 2018 when he recorded, 51 total tackles, 1 sack, a 54.9 passer rating allowed, 8 passes defended, 9 turnovers, and 3 defensive touchdowns. He absolutely filled the stat sheet in his 14 games, en route to a 1st team All-Pro selection. He cooled off a bit in 2019, receiving Pro-Bowl honors.

This season, he’s mostly been a liability, so what’s changed? Maybe it’s just 2020, maybe it’s Pagano’s system, or maybe Eddie Jackson is content after signing an extension last offseason that makes him one of the highest-paid safeties in the league through 2025. Whatever it is, Packer fans should be happy about it, as Jackson has been a gaping hole for the Bears this year.

‘Mitch’ Trubisky’s Over-rated Play

Speaking of undeserved contracts, this four-week run might create a situation that will take the Chicago Bears years to recover from. Fans are clamoring for Trubisky to be re-signed after leading the team to 3 straight wins and a potential playoff-berth. While Trubisky hasn’t been as terrible as he was earlier in the season, he certainly hasn’t been special.

His superficial statistics have improved, as four of his top-five passer-ratings have come in the last 4 weeks. However, Trubisky is still useless at the intermediate and deep levels of the field, which is where you get value from a quarterback. He’s completed 1 of 9 pass attempts of 20+ air yards with 1 touchdown over the last 4 weeks. From the 10-19 range, he’s 16/31 for 0 TDs and 3 INTs over the same period.

Those numbers would be considered unacceptable in most NFL offenses but Nagy has been content to let Trubisky lean on his receivers. That MO will eventually catch up to the Bears, as most defenses are better than the units they’ve faced recently. If the Chicago Bears believe that Trubisky is even a mediocre quarterback, they’ll have to pay him to keep him, as Trubisky’s contract expires after this season.

The going rate for a mediocre quarterback (average yearly salary between the 14th-25th highest paid quarterbacks) is $17.5 million per year. The Bears offering Trubisky a salary even close to that would be on par with the Panthers signing Teddy Bridgewater to a 3-year, $63 mil contract. That being said, if the Chicago Bears want to make a franchise-threatening move like this, I will happily support it.

 

The Chicago Bears’ 2020 season has been fun to follow. They got off to a 5-1 start, then dropped 6 straight games, which didn’t surprise anybody. They followed that with a 3-game win streak and now hold the 7th seed in the NFC. They control their own destiny and can wrap up the third and final wildcard berth with a win against the Packers.

That’s a tough ask for any team, let alone a Bears squad that lost by two possessions to the Packers mere weeks ago. The Packers have the blueprint on the Chicago Bears and will look to continue a three-game win streak against them.

The Packers are early road-favorites, with a 5.5-point spread. Green Bay is arguably the hottest team in the league but you can never take a divisional matchup for granted. There’s so much on the line for both teams and I expect each of them to come out swinging. Expect some trick plays on offense and big plays on special teams by the Chicago Bears, and obviously a couple fights. This should be another bloody showdown featuring the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. We’ll follow all of it, here at Game On Wisconsin.

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