In the span of just one season, the Chicago Bears transformed from a team dwelling in the NFC North’s basement for the fourth consecutive season to the divisional champions.
It has been a long couple of years, but the Bears have finally reached the top of the NFC North for the first time since 2010. Not only did they bury their rebuilding stage for good on Sunday, but they did so in the most poetic way possible: by defeating the Green Bay Packers at home. The 24-17 win bumped Chicago up to 10-4 and cemented their spot atop their division. All three phases showed up this week, resulting in their first win against the Packers at Soldier Field since 2010.
Here are some of my notes and takeaways from this week’s game.
After a rough performance last week against the Los Angeles Rams, Mitchell Trubisky bounced back to put together a solid outing for himself. His decision making against the Packers was much better than it was the week before, as he forced fewer throws and looked more controlled when sitting in the pocket. His ball placement, though not quite perfect, looked good throughout the game. The velocity behind his throws - especially on his touchdown pass to Trey Burton on a corner route - showed up in spades. Although he only had 16 rushing yards, his athleticism played a huge part in the effectiveness of Chicago’s offense, as he was able to scramble and evade pressure on a consistent basis.
Trubisky stretched the ball down the field enough to keep the Bears rolling on offense, and he came through in a very important game. Though there’s still some room for improvement, he had a good game, and he played a lot better in his second game back from injury.
The Bears weren’t on fire on the ground, as they failed to reach 100 yards as a team on a combined 29 carries. Nonetheless, there was still some promise to be taken from their running game. Jordan Howard cooled off a little bit as the game progressed, but he flashed the athleticism and vision that brought him to the 1,000-yard mark in his first two NFL seasons. He picked up his fifth touchdown of the year on a nine-yard run right up the middle in the first quarter, hitting a hole that many fans in attendance would have been able to identify.
Tarik Cohen had a combined 52 yards on offense, but his impact on the game was bigger than what the stat sheet captured. He had a 44-yard punt return that set the Bears up in scoring position and nearly went for a touchdown. He contributed on offense with a 12-yard receiving touchdown on a wheel route, as well as a 22-yard run that displayed his scary lateral agility. With his versatility and explosiveness, Cohen will be a very important piece to the Bears’ offense in the postseason.
While none of Chicago’s receivers put up spectacular numbers, the variety that their offense had resulted in a nightmare for Green Bay’s defense. Allen Robinson picked up 54 yards on three catches, including a 30-yard catch on a hitch that saw most of his yards come after the catch. His production hasn’t been befitting of that of an elite receiver, but he has provided the Bears with a big presence who can open up opportunities for his teammates, and his just being on the field helps their offense tremendously.
In total, nine skill players received touches for the Bears yesterday. Cohen caught five passes for 31 yards, tacking on the aforementioned touchdown. Taylor Gabriel had three catches for 33 yards, while the tight end tandem of Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton combined for six catches, 75 yards and a touchdown. Now that both of them are healthy, the offense has two formidable targets across the middle of the field who can draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Even Josh Bellamy got in on the action, making an impressive 18-yard snag over rookie stud Jaire Alexander. He also helped track down a Pat O’Donnell punt to pin the Packers inside of their own five-yard line, proving his value on both offense and special teams.
I won’t have a better understanding of the performance of the offensive line until later, but it showed some promise against a depleted Green Bay defensive line. It wasn’t quite as good as it was against the Rams - a sentence that seems just weird to write - but they gave Trubisky his fair share of clean pockets, and they opened up some holes in the run game.
Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd ran through Green Bay’s offensive line like the Road Warriors ran through wrestling tag teams in the 1980s. The two edge rushers combined for 4.5 sacks, with Bilal Nichols contributing with half of a sack of his own.
Mack has been productive all season, and he continued his trend of getting to the quarterback with his outing yesterday. He abused whichever offensive tackle he went up against, whether it be left tackle David Bahktiari or right tackle Jason Spriggs, the latter of whom being the recipient of a Mack mauling right before sacking Aaron Rodgers with his back. Yep, that’s not a typo. Khalil Mack is so good that he picked up a no-look sack. Move over, Patrick Mahomes.
The biggest development here is Floyd putting together what might have been the best performance of his career. The 2016 first-round pick has been fantastic after a hand injury slowed him down early in the year, but most of his value has come from pressuring the quarterback, not bringing him down. With a true breakout game under his belt, he has made a statement that he might just be worth extending a fifth-year option on this offseason.
Eddie Jackson picked up his sixth interception of the season, but he exited the game right after the play due to an ankle sprain. The severity of the injury is currently unknown, but it is never encouraging to see an All-Pro talent like him go down with an injury. I’m far from a doctor, but my assumption is that he will be ready to go for the playoffs. Even if he is able to play before then, the Bears would be better off sitting him until the wild card round. There’s no need to risk further injury to such an integral piece of their defense.
The rest of the defense put together a very solid performance. Sherrick McManis was no Bryce Callahan, but he had two pass deflections out of the slot. Kyle Fuller also contributed two pass breakups, even though his three-game interception streak came to an end. He has been playing at an All-Pro level, too, and he should be considered as an elite cornerback in the NFL. Roquan Smith reached the 100-tackle mark with his 10 total tackles this week, putting him behind only Brian Urlacher for the most tackles in a single season by a Bears rookie. Akiem Hicks put together a solid outing, as well, penetrating the backfield on his way to three tackles.
Overall, the Bears were able to sack Aaron Rodgers five times and prevent him from scoring a touchdown all game. Not too bad of a day, if you ask me.
Three and out
3. The last time the Bears clinched the NFC North was on December 20, 2010, when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. Yes, that was the game when Corey Wootton ended Brett Favre’s career by slamming him into the turf. As a fun way to remember how long it has been since the Bears have been good, here are some of the things that were going on at that time:
- The top song on the Billboard 100 charts was “Firework” by Katy Perry
- There was a heated NFL MVP race between Tom Brady and Michael Vick
- The iPhone 4 was only six months old
- Black Swan and Tron: Legacy were among the most popular new movies
- Matt Nagy was an assistant coach in an administrative role for the Philadelphia Eagles
2. Speaking of Nagy, the Bears had far from their best coaching performance this week. Perhaps the best example of this came midway through the third quarter, when they decided to toss the ball to Taquan Mizzell on 3rd-and-3. Predictably, the play didn’t work out. The real kicker, though, was their decision to go for a run up the middle with Benny Cunningham on a fake punt at midfield. After the play resulted in a one-yard loss, Green Bay had a five-yard touchdown drive to tie the game up. The Bears also ran a Wildcat look on 3rd-and-1 with an option snapped to Tarik Cohen, who bobbled the hand off and fumbled the ball. Although creativity in the offense can pay off in a big way, there have been some times when Nagy has been too “cute” instead of going for a more reliable way of moving the ball. He’s still in the first year, so of course he won’t be perfect, but his team’s wins have resulted in the expectations for him growing exponentially.
1. With the Bears winning and the Dallas Cowboys losing this week, Chicago holds a two-game lead for the third seed in the NFC. If the Bears were to lose the rest of their games and the Cowboys were to win the rest of theirs, then the Bears would fall to the fourth seed, as they would have one more in-conference loss. However, considering that this scenario is unlikely, the third seed is pretty much secured at this point. Chicago will face one of the Vikings, Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers or Philadelphia Eagles in the wild card round. The Bears have beaten the Vikings at home before, the Panthers are on a five-game losing streak as of this writing, and the other two teams would likely be without their starting quarterbacks in a hypothetical matchup. Either way, the first round is shaping up to be a very favorable one for the Bears.