I recently started the “Face of the Franchise mode” in Madden 21. The game starts in your high school and college career, and the difficulty for those games seems to be in rookie mode territory. Once I was drafted by the Bears (you can choose this year, thank you EA sports) and started my first game against the Lions, it became clear that the difficulty ramped up dramatically. I ended up throwing four interceptions as supercharged Lions wrestled contested catches away from Bear after Bear, and was about to lose to the Lions before I cheated reset the game. With a fresh start and knowing what to expect, I threw 4 touchdowns and beat the Lions by 20 despite playing with all the same players on the field on the same difficulty. Life isn’t a video game. But the Bears first three opponents we basically, rookie mode.
I choose to believe if the Bears could reset that game and start over, they could have a similar change of fate.
Let’s start with the good news. The Bears defense played admirably overall. After giving up an early touch down, they gave up just 4 field goals on roughly 1000 Colts offensive drives, most of which started on short fields. I came into the game concerned about the Goldman-less defensive line to hold up against Quenton Nelson and the Colts running game. I stayed worried through the first quarter, as it seemed quarantine loneliness was driving the Bears linebackers towards the embrace of any willing Colts blocker. But the Bears figured things out as the game went on and Bilal Nichols did a tremendous job of nosing up the middle against the stiffest competition he’s faced.
The one touchdown the Bears gave up was a cumulative effect of some early trouble in the run game and Jaylon Johnson underestimating Zach Pascal for a big gain to set up the opportunity for a great play by Mo Allie-Cox. Luckily, Allie-Cox didn’t see many more targets in the game, presumably because the Colts were so excited to get Trey Burton more revenge opportunities against the team that overpaid him and set his family up for generations before heartlessly cutting him.
It was great to see Roquan Smith get more tackles than Darius Leonard in this game. Since Leonard was drafted a round after Roquan, his resounding success has been a constant annoyance to Roquan-rooters everywhere. Nit-pickers will tell you that it’s not a fair comparison because Leonard was injured early in the game, but not getting injured is just one more way Roquan outshined his competition, gaining 13 tackles to Leonard’s 1 and 3.5 tackles for loss to Leonard’s 0.0. Roquan also caught a beautiful “heads-up” interception that was taken away from him because some jerk decided to paint a sideline right where Smith’s foot was going to land. Good Bear.
If one wants to complain about the Bears defense, you can point out they missed opportunities for turnovers and failed to score any points when it was clear the offense wasn’t going to do it for them. When Khalil Macked dropped the interception that literally hit him in his hands I said out loud to only my cat, “this game is dumb.” That’s also how I feel about the expectation that a defense should be able to win a game on its own.
The Bears’ second best unit of the day put together what I imagine was a top 30-type performance across the league—though to be honest, I haven’t found the two teams who performed worse yet. Cordarrelle Patterson returned kicks all the way to the 15 yard line, which incidentally is the amount of penalty yards he earned for taking his hat off too quickly. The Bears forgot to block Jordan Glasgow and let him tip a punt that set up the Colts only tuddy. Ted Ginn took over punt return duties from Tarik Cohen, and looked about as agile as Nick Foles running them back. New plan: Mitch Trubisky returns punts. Who says no?
The one highlight of the Bears special teams performance is their impressive 313 total punt yards. Just don’t look at the number of punts or yards per punt and pat O’Donnell on the back for racking up some big numbers.
Do we have to?
It turns out the Colts defense is obnoxiously good. They came into this game ranked #1 by many metrics, and I have no doubt they left it that way as well. After three weeks of refreshingly effective offensive line play from the Bears, our Beloved chubby cuddlies got seriously out-trenched by DeForest Buckner and friends. The Bears offensive line looked adequate as long as they weren’t trying to run block or pass protect: they huddled well, and all of the snaps were successful. Maybe it was an off day, maybe the Colts defensive line will prove to be supremely dominant against everyone, or maybe the Bears O line just looked good because they were playing against Lion-level scrubs. I’m definitely feeling concerned it might be the latter.
I was excited to see Nick Foles run this offense. I was decided to see a quarterback who could process zone coverage, make efficient decisions and throw accurate deep passes, and I was excited to see if there was more Matt Nagy could do with a quarterback he could trust between the ears. Early results were not exciting.
It’s clear that the Bears offense is suffering from a lack of reps with Foles as QB1, and it was most evident on their one early trip to the red zone. At 2nd and 5 on the Colts 9, Foles shouted “kill kill” and it was clear he believed he was switching the play to a run, but it wasn’t clear to the rest of the Bears. The offensive line dropped to pass block, and when Foles turned to hand off to Montgomery, he was already on a route. I can only imagine Foles was worried the O Line had blocked downfield, still believing he’d called a run, because there was no other reason to lumber his sloth-like form for a zero yard scramble when there were receivers open. To be fair, Foles had some good plays and good decisions, but was not in synch with the team and made some terrible throws and bad decisions under incessant pressure.
This was not a good game for Matt Nagy. The plays weren’t working, and there weren’t any successful adjustments (aside from convincing the Colts to switch to prevent defense late in the 4th). I’m sure there was some rationale behind running the ball repeatedly into DeForest Buckner’s face, but to the average fan it looks like stubborn foolishness. I suppose it can be used as a defense that when the Bears did try outside runs, or a glaringly telegraphed jet sweep to Darnell Mooney, there attempts were equally unsuccessful.
I hoped we would see a lot more from a Matt Nagy offense in this game, but I’m certainly not ready to give up on his play calling and I’m certainly not buying the Nagy has his “hand-picked” quarterback now, so he’s out of excuses. Sure, Nagy approved of the trade for Foles, and you may disagree that he was the best option of the other-teams-scraps available to the Bears, but he isn’t a quarterbeast moulded from Nagy’s imagination and it’s not like he had his pick of any quarterback in the league. It’s like someone asking you if you want to be punched in the face or the stomach and they saying you chose to be punched in the stomach so it’s your fault you have internal bleeding.
Speaking of which, I think we all feel like we got punched in the stomach after watching that game.
Three and Out
3. Remember after week one when Nagy said the Bears need to get better at converting third downs, and then they converted almost every third down in the first half against the Giants. Maybe we should go back to that plan.
2. Anthony Miller had another off game. I think Miller and Foles can eventually find good chemistry, but its becoming increasingly frustrating to watch Miller’s ups and downs. He was literally my favorite receiver in the 2018 draft, and when he’s on, he looks like a true number one. I can’t help the fear that he will continue to expect his immense talent to carry him without every taking in the criticism that he’s behind schedule in terms of being in the right place at the right time—even if he’s wide open somewhere else.
1. Akiem Hicks has dropped below a 16 sack season pace and I’m very upset about it. I don’t blame Hicks. I blame the Colts offensive line and Philip Rivers. Stupid horses.