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Game Notes: Bears squeeze past Vikings’ backups, finish season at 8-8

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The Bears avoid falling short of .500 with a win in their last game of the season.

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

After a disappointing 2019 season, the Bears now enter the offseason with a little bit of optimism by winning their final game of the year.

Sure, the Vikings rested most of their starters to prepare for the playoffs, but Chicago’s 21-18 victory ensured they not finish with a losing record just one year after winning the NFC North.

The game lacked in spark overall, but a few Bears players stood out enough to help secure the victory for their team. Here are some takeaways from the last game of the season.

Offense

Sunday’s action brought a lot of the same for the Bears’ offense.

Mitchell Trubisky didn’t show anything that he didn’t already show this season, throwing for just over 200 yards and not throwing any touchdown passes. It wasn't his worst game of the year, as he didn’t have quite as many questionable decisions as he has in past games.

However, he didn’t make any “wow” throws—save for his 32-yard completion to Riley Ridley—and his pocket presence and ability to read defenses were troubling, as usual. Considering the Bears didn’t go up against Minnesota’s starting defense, Trubisky’s performance didn’t inspire any confidence.

The passing attack plan brought more of the same, too: target Allen Robinson heavily and use Tarik Cohen to pick up small amounts of yardage. Robinson finished the game with 9 catches for 71 yards, concluding one of the best seasons a Bears receiver has ever had from a statistical point of view. He excelled against the Vikings’ zone coverage, attacking the soft spots in the defense to move the ball down the field. Cohen also has 9 catches, though he only picked up 44 yards. The Pro Bowl alternate returner had his biggest play of the year in the form of a 19-yard run, but he only tallied one total yard on his remaining three carries. The Bears didn’t give up on giving him touches this year, but he wasn’t nearly as explosive as he was in years past. His level of involvement in the offense going forward should be analyzed by coaches this offseason.

Nothing new came from the offensive line, either. Though their run blocking looked better overall, that was to be expected. The unit struggled in pass protection, though, giving up four sacks and six quarterback hits. Trubisky was admittedly at fault for some of the hits and pressures his offensive line allowed, but it’s not like they did him many favors, either. Right guard remains a crucial need heading into the offseason, while an offensive tackle to eventually spell Bobby Massie could be brought into consideration, as well.

The only thing out of the ordinary that came from this game was Chicago’s effectiveness against the run. The Bears feasted against the Vikings’ second-stringers, rushing for 158 yards on the day. David Montgomery had 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, ending his rookie season on a high note. Though he had his fair share of ups and downs throughout the year, the flashes he has put on display this year indicate he has the potential to be a valuable asset in the Bears’ offense going forward. His vision could use some improving over the offseason, but as he continues to adjust to the speed of the NFL game, he should be more decisive as a runner next year, making it possible he takes a big step in 2020.

One of the more disappointing Bears seasons in recent memory came to an end on Sunday, and a big part of that disappointment came from the offense, who played rather mediocrely given the circumstances. Here’s hoping 2020 brings some changes to the unit.

Defense

Most Bears fans didn’t know who Mike Boone was heading into this matchup, but they certainly figured out who the Vikings’ third-string running back was by the end of the game.

The Bears allowed Boone to rush for 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, breaking loose for two carries that went past 40 yards and only one carry that resulted in a loss of yards. The absences of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman hurt Chicago’s defensive front, who struggled to eat up gaps and disengage from blocks in run support.

Chicago’s front lines also failed to generate much of a pass rush, as Sean Mannion was not sacked once all game and was only hit three times. Even with both of Minnesota’s offensive tackles sitting out for the day, the Bears put forth a pretty disappointing effort in terms of getting to the quarterback. Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd combined for two tackles all game, while the interior defensive line also struggled with penetrating the backfield. Though health can be attributed to some of the team’s issues up front, expect them to consider adding some depth at edge rusher to push Floyd for playing time.

It wasn’t all struggles for the Bears’ front seven, though, as their inside linebackers put forth another quality game. Nick Kwiatkoski finished with 8 tackles, including two tackles for a loss and a safety, which ended up playing a major role in the team’s two-point victory. Kevin Pierre-Louis also helped out with 6 tackles of his own, as well as an interception, a pass deflection and a quarterback hit. Both linebackers are slated to hit the open market this offseason—as well as Danny Trevathan—giving the Bears a tough decision to make going forward. Kwiatkoski has played out of his mind this season, while Pierre-Louis has been more than reliable stepping in as an injury replacement for Trevathan and Roquan Smith. Regardless of where the two veterans end up next year, they ended their 2019 seasons on a high note.

The Bears’ secondary also had a solid game. Mannion only completed 12 of his 21 passing attempts, and no Vikings receiver finished with 50 yards or more for the day. Save for a 35-yard catch by Alexander Hollins, he and Bisi Johnson—Minnesota’s starting receivers for the day—combined for just 4 catches and 45 yards all game. Eddie Jackson also managed to secure his second interception of the year on a last-second Hail Mary attempt, bringing the Bears’ interception tally to 10 on the year.

Though Chicago wasn’t as dominant on defense as they were in 2018, they were still a formidable unit that kept their team in a lot of games. With some fine-tuning to their gameplan over the offseason, they can iron out a few wrinkles in their game to help boost their performance even further.

Three and out

3. Eddy Piñeiro finished the 2019 season on a high note, knocking down four of his four field goal attempts and also hitting an extra point. Granted, none of his field goals were longer than 34 yards, but his reliability from short distances helped the Bears come out on top.

Piñeiro’s first season with the Bears saw him hit 23 of his 28 field goal attempts, as well as 27 of his 29 extra point attempts. He had his fair share of ups and downs this year, but he showed enough promise that he’ll stick around for at least another season. As a young kicker, it is important that the team show confidence him as long as he plays at a solid level. 2020 could serve as a good indicator of if he will be the team’s long-term kicker.

2. The Bears will hold the 43rd and 50th picks in the 2020 NFL draft.

Though it’s unknown exactly what the team will do with those selections, there are a handful of different directions they could go down. Offensive line, cornerback, tight end and edge rusher all stand out as possible choices in the second round. They could also go for a quarterback if they choose to not add competition for Trubisky in the form of a veteran free agent.

Whatever path they choose to go down, they better hope it works. This offseason will be crucial for the Pace-Nagy regime to bounce back from a down year.

1. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting on these notes throughout the course of the year. Obviously the season didn’t go the way many of us had hoped, but it was fun getting to dissect the action and analyze the Bears through the day-after game notes. We at Windy City Gridiron will have a lot of insightful and entertaining content coming this offseason, and I for one hope you all come along with us.