Not many of us expected the performance that we were treated to last week. I know I didn’t. It makes you wonder what changed for the Bears. Has John Fox—sensing his impending firing—given Dowell Loggains full control of the offense? Perhaps he simply has accepted his fate and no longer cares what Loggains does, or maybe he wants to give him an opportunity to put some good tape together for his next job interview.
Who knows, and more importantly, who cares? All I know is that was some of the most enjoyable football I have watched in a long time. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, that was a poor Bengals team that the Bears beat. They were bad, injured, and their star players fell flat. The good news is that—for those of us who wish to enjoy the final few games of the season—the rest of the schedule isn’t exactly daunting.
This trip to Detroit will set the stage for the final two games of the season. If the Bears come out and play an aggressive brand of football, we will have an exciting finish to the season. If they revert back to their conservative game plans, the 2017 season will end with a mere whimper. Personally, I think finishing strong and putting good tape out there is hugely important to this off-season. An off-season in which the Bears are searching for a new coaching staff and trying lure free agents. Drumming up some optimism is worth more than the potential loss in draft position.
What to Watch For
On offense, I want to see the same game plan employed against the Bengals. The Bears were aggressive, mixed the run and pass well, weren’t predictable, and finally opened up the playbook. They basically did what many of us have been asking them to do all season. The one thing that seems to be missing are the deep shots. They did attempt one deep ball last week, look for them to take a few more chances.
The Bears were also highly successful running out of the shotgun (imagine that!). Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Mitch Trubisky are all comfortable in that formation and you saw the variety that it can bring to the running game.
Defensively, the Bears weren’t really tested last week. I don’t think they will have that luxury again with Matthew Stafford and the Lions this week. Unfortunately, the Bears defense is really banged-up. The bright side is, there are a lot of young players who are seeing playing time.
As the offense gets more aggressive, so to should the defense. With the lack of a pass rush and a gaggle of young players in the front-7, it would seem like the prime opportunity for Vic Fangio to empty his blitz packages. Let’s face it, the Bears aren’t playing for anything but pride—or their next contract—so letting it fly doesn’t really hurt you in any way.
Who to Watch
Mitch Trubisky: With a more aggressive approach and an open playbook, Mitch Trubisky rose to the occasion last week. We saw poise, accuracy, good decision-making, and an overall rhythm and flow to the offense that has been missing. What I want to see is Trubisky stack good performances and finish the season strong. One thing to keep an eye on is the run/pass option (RPO). Trubisky’s rushing touchdown was on an RPO last week and this should be a staple of the offense for the final three games.
Adam Shaheen: This was Shaheen’s best game of his (short) career. Obviously, the first step here is him actually getting on the field. But if he does, can Trubisky start to find a connection with his fellow rookie? It seems like most of the really good/great quarterbacks over the past two decades have had a tight end that they had chemistry with. My hope is that Shaheen gets the opportunity to do so as well.
Lamarr Houston: Houston has been solid—if unspectacular—in his return to the Bears. Given that the Bears are so thin at EDGE right now, and will likely be heading into this off-season as well, there is a great opportunity to see if Houston still has enough in the tank as a rotational player for 2018. If he is willing to accept that role and wants to be here, then this is the time to see if he can fill that void.
Nick Kwiatkoski: I thought that Kwiatkoski had a really strong game last week. I know that Christian Jones has had a solid season but he is coming out of contract and Kwiatkoski is fourth-round draft pick with two more years of control. He would appear to be the heir-apparent to Jerrell Freeman going forward and he needs the reps. The Bears need to see what their inside linebacker pairing is going to look like for next year.
Keys to the Game
Keep the Foot on the Gas: As I alluded to earlier, the Bears offense was much more aggressive last week. They need to keep their foot on the gas pedal and allow Mitch Trubisky to run the whole offense. Whether or not any of these coaches will be in Chicago next year is immaterial. They are going to need to show that the beginning of the season was a limitation by the head coach and not their true ability. There is simply no reason to play a conservative style any longer. Keep mixing it up, running the full playbook and the Bears offense can be successful.
Blitzkrieg: Just like the offense should stay aggressive, Vic Fangio needs to dial up the pressure in order to maximize the potential of this decimated defense. I expect to see a lot of Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski showing off their rushing skills against the Lions. The Lions offense is dead-last in rushing this season and to-date, are the only team in the NFL to not have eclipsed 1,000 yards. For reference, Jordan Howard has 1,032 yards already. There is not much to worry about when defending the run, so unleash the hounds and let them hunt.
The X-Factor: John Fox is admittedly on his last legs as the Bears head coach. Miraculously, he went for it on fourth-down last week. When you have resigned yourself to your fate, you are generally more willing to try something different. We saw that last week and I expect Fox to make more un-Fox-like decisions in the final weeks of the season. Expect to see some trickery and more aggressive decisions this week.