I have honestly never been this unenthusiastic about watching a Bears game in my life. Not only has the 2017 season passed the Bears by, but they are playing the 0-14 Cleveland Browns.
What is the storyline for this game? I find myself at a loss for words, which is pretty difficult to accomplish for me. The decision on the coaching staff appears to have been made already. The Browns don’t have any free agents or head coaching candidates. On the Bears side of things, we have seen enough of the rookies and young players that this doesn’t seem to be a storyline any longer.
Besides being a hardcore Bears fan, what is the reason for watching this game? The only thing I can come up with is simple player evaluations for next season. The Bears have a lot of decisions to make next season and there are two more opportunities to see which players should be re-signed and which they can let walk. This game feels like one of those awfully named college bowl games. I am going with the Guaranteed Rate Mistake by the Lake Bowl for this one, it should be a barn-burner!
What to Watch For
On offense, it’s time to throw caution to the wind. Whether or not John Fox believes he has any future in the NFL, I would imagine that he doesn’t want to go out losing to a winless Browns team. He needs to allow Mitch Trubisky to atone for his poor performance last week.
In that same vein, I want to see Jordan Howard be able to pile up some yards. The guy deserves to have a shot at back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons. He has been the workhorse for the Bears this year. Do him a favor, throw the ball early and run out of the shotgun. It shouldn’t be this difficult to know how to be more successful running the ball, but the Bears coaching staff is common sense challenged.
Defensively, I crave aggression. Take advantage of a rookie quarterback who is clearly struggling. Stop making it easy by having Sam Acho cover wide receivers. Stop sitting back in zone coverage and allowing short, easy throws. Allow your defensive backs to cover, allow your pass rushers to rush the passer, allow your linebackers to fly around and blitz. There is no sense in playing conservative any longer, this team is well past the point of having nothing to play for.
Who to Watch
Mitch Trubisky: The rookie needs to bounce back from his performance in Detroit. There are some lessons to be learned from that game. First off, Trubisky needs to drill his throws to the left side. His mechanics moving to the right are pretty good, but moving left, they need a lot of work. The other big one for me was the end zone interception. It appears that he simply didn’t see the safety. On throws like that, I think he needs to make the mantra “facemask or higher” a staple in his vocabulary in the end zone.
Dontrelle Inman: Here is one of the players I described earlier as those needing to make a decision on. Inman has shown some nice things but has also disappeared a lot. For my money, Kendall Wright should be re-signed. Kevin White will be back simply because he costs the same whether he is here or not. Cameron Meredith is likely your number one or two next year (depending on free agency). Markus Wheaton cannot possible be brought back, and Joshua Bellamy is a special teams player. So that leaves Inman is the guy that has shown the most promise but that we know the least about. He needs to be a focal point for the remaining two games of the season.
Lamarr Houston: Houston has been really solid since re-joining the Bears. He is too much of an injury liability to be counted on as a number two EDGE next season, but as a number three or four, he could certainly be worth it. With Pernell McPhee and Willie Young likely to have played their final snaps for the Bears, Houston would seem to be the last man standing for a potential rotational spot in 2018.
Prince Amukamara: If reports about Kyle Fuller wanting to leave are true, then the Bears need to put as much pressure on Amukamara as possible. He has had his fair share of injuries since coming into the league, but he is also a really good number two cornerback. If the Bears can somehow pry away a player like Trumaine Johnson in the off-season, have Amukamara lineup opposite him would make for a really good secondary moving forward.
Keys to the Game
Keep the Pace: I want to see the young players play and I want to see the offense moving with some tempo. When you are playing for nothing, against the 0-14 Browns, does time of possession really matter? Let’s see some more shotgun, let’s see some up-tempo where I think Trubisky is most comfortable, and let’s see the running game come out of the shotgun spread. It shouldn’t be difficult to move the ball against the Browns...
Man Up: As I alluded to earlier, stop this zone nonsense. This team was built for man coverage with a single-high safety. Let’s see that come to fruition. Let the linebackers read their keys and if a back or tight end stays in to block, let them blitz. Football is not as difficult as some seem to want to make it out to be. This team struggles when it has to rely on the scheme to prevent plays from happening. Let the players play and if it backfires, well then you know what these players can’t do.
The X-Factor: Stop with the dumb penalties already. It’s not like it’s one or two players that are struggling with this, it is the whole time. The injury epidemic has been an issue since Fox got here. Sometimes the penalties are solely on the player, but when you have so many pre-snap penalties on offense, doesn’t that tell you that the coaching staff is to blame? It is time to clean that up and if the players can’t complete their assignments without committing a penalty, then that player needs to be replaced.