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Notes: Bears improve to 5-1 with strong defensive outing against Panthers

Watching the Bears win will never be an unwelcome sight, no matter how well the team plays in doing so.

Chicago Bears v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Call it shaky, call it inconsistent, call it streaky.

Whatever you want to call the Bears’ start to the 2020 season, there’s one fact that is undisputed.

The Chicago Bears are a 5-1 football team.

Four sacks, two interceptions, and one forced fumble was the story from the Bears’ 23-16 victory on the road against the Panthers on Sunday. Their defense looked like their old selves again, putting together a mostly dominant performance that played a big role in their team’s win. Combine that with an offense that was able to move the ball down the field just enough to succeed, and it proved to be a strong enough effort to pick up the victory.

Here are some takeaways from this week’s action.

Offense

As has been the case all season, the Bears’ offenses had its ups and downs. In the end, though, they were able to take advantage of situations given to them by their defense and execute on them more often than not.

Nick Foles finished the game 23-for-39 with 198 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page as elite, and they shouldn’t. Foles made a couple of questionable decisions and downright airmailed some passes. He had a couple of nice throws—his touchdown pass to Cole Kmet in particular—and was able to move the ball down the field a bit, but overall it was an inconsistent outing from him.

Luckily enough for the Bears, they would end up being able to afford a couple of stalled offensive drives.

Allen Robinson led the team with five catches and 53 yards, including an impressive 23-yard grab. While not quite his sexiest game with the Bears, he was still a reliable target who showed that he could get open and make plays. David Montgomery and Jimmy Graham proved to be effective security blankets in the passing game for Foles, as they ended up with four and five receptions, respectively. Graham showed off his ability to make grabs in tight windows, while Montgomery offered some wiggle and power after the catch.

Speaking of Montgomery, the second-year back had a fairly average game on the ground. The Panthers were able to plug up holes against the run pretty well, making it tough for Montgomery to find much in the way of running lanes. He made do with what he had, but he may not be able to reach that upper echelon of NFL running backs unless he is given more opportunities to shine behind a better offensive line.

Some mistakes plagued the Bears throughout the game. Anthony Miller bouncing backward after a third-down drag route that could have resulted in a first down if he had just fought forward was a questionable decision from the third-year receiver. Foles’ errant interception on a roll out off of his back foot to Jeremy Chinn—who played incredibly well for the Panthers, by the way—was certainly a costly move, especially considering they were given tremendous field position after an Eddie Jackson forced fumble.

Matt Nagy’s decision to throw the ball on 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter was another confusing call, seeing as though the Panthers had just one timeout and simply running the ball would have forced them to use it, even if Montgomery or another running back was unable to pick up that short of a gain.

In the end, though, those mistakes and inconsistent play on the offensive side of the ball wasn’t enough to prevent the Bears from picking up the win. There’s plenty to improve upon going forward, but for the time being, it’s been good enough to give them one of the best records in the NFL.

Defense

For all of the changes the year 2020 has brought us, the fact that the Bears are being led into playoff contention on the backs of a talented defense brings some form of normalcy to the world.

The Bears came to play on the defensive side of the ball. Their pass rush was dominant all afternoon, and their secondary made some plays that really helped the team out.

It wasn’t necessarily a perfect game. The run defense still struggled, particularly against Teddy Bridgewater on scrambles up the middle. The pass rush did their jobs, but the middle of the field was left completely uncovered for the quarterback to climb the pocket, escape the pressure and pick up yardage. Whether that falls on the linebackers or the coverage Chuck Pagano called can be better determined when the coaches film drops.

While Mike Davis ended up with just 2.9 yards per carry, that total should’ve been even lower than it actually was. Many times were the Bears able to penetrate the backfield, but they just weren’t able to disengage or plug up holes.

However, there was much more good than bad to be taken out of Sunday’s action, and that starts with the pass rush.

The Bears tallied four sacks for the afternoon, with the likes of Khalil Mack, Bilal Nichols, Mario Edwards and the tandem of James Vaughters and Barkevious Mingo all getting to the quarterback. They did a good job of putting pressure on Bridgewater both off the edge and along the interior. All told, the Bears hit Bridgewater six times over the course of the game.

The production of Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan from the game is somewhat misleading to their actual performances, as both players had a couple of plays where they were a step or two too late to making a necessary tackle. Overall, though, they both had pretty solid outings, especially Smith. The former led the team with 12 total tackles, while the latter ended up with 10 of his own. Both of them were able to bring down ball-carriers consistently when they had to break down and square up in space.

Jaylon Johnson didn’t have the greatest performance of his career, as he was often tasked with covering D.J. Moore, who exploded for five catches and 93 yards. He did break up two passes, though, so not all was bad from the rookie. He has been very good overall throughout the season, and while this game was arguably his worst outing yet, some patience is still to be required for his development, even though his start to his career has been fantastic.

The rest of the secondary did do pretty well, all told. Kyle Fuller finished with four tackles, including a key 2nd-and-goal tackle on Teddy Bridgewater near the goal line. He also blew up a short dump out to Robby Anderson in the first quarter, and he appears to be sharp in coverage, continuing his red-hot start to the 2020 season. Tashaun Gipson and DeAndre Houston-Carson both contributed key interceptions, while Eddie Jackson had a pick-six called back after a questionable defensive pass interference call on Fuller. The score arguably should have counted, but regardless, Jackson again played well in coverage.

Chicago’s run defense can still stand to improve, but when they’re able to rack up sacks and force turnovers the way they did on Sunday, they can get away with it. All in all, the Bears showed why they have one of the best defenses in the NFL with their performance against the Panthers.

Three and out

3. Even though the Bears faced the Panthers this week, I will say this: the future looks bright in Carolina.

Teddy Bridgewater looked pretty good, the Panthers’ run game was pretty reliable, and their receivers were able to get open fairly often. Matt Rhule looked like a seasoned veteran calling plays for Carolina and has been a big reason they’ve exceeded expectations so far this year. The Bears’ defense definitely had a great game, but all things considered, the Panthers showed some spark.

2. The reliance on Demetrius Harris in the passing game needs to stop.

While Harris is a solid blocker, he should not be trusted as much as he has been as a pass-catcher. At this point, he is taking valuable reps away from Cole Kmet as the primary ‘Y’ tight end, and I’m not even the biggest Kmet fan in the world. You’re not going to be able to see what you have in the rookie if you don’t give him a chance, and if he keeps making plays like his touchdown grab on Sunday, he could be a nice complementary piece for this offense.

1. Do the Bears even bother activating Eddy Piñeiro off of the injured reserve?

Cairo Santos has looked pretty good in recent weeks, including his 3-for-3 performance on Sunday which saw him nail a 55-yard field goal with ease. With how long Piñeiro has been on the sidelines for, there’s no real guarantee he’ll be able to come back at full strength. He may be the younger and better long-term option, but is he the better kicker right now? That is heavily up for debate, and with how the Bears have been playing lately, they may not be able to afford to take a risk like that at the kicker position.