At one point on Sunday, the Bears were given an 82.6 percent chance to defeat the Saints by ESPN’s win probability meter.
As the team began to collapse later in the game, though, it became apparent that that 17.4 percent chance of a defeat was going to take place. It did, and the Bears fell to 5-3 in a 26-23 overtime loss.
Both the Bears’ offense and defense had its moments of brilliance, but as has been the case for the entirety of the 2020 season, those flashes were often hidden in between spurts of ineptitude and overall incompetency.
Here are some takeaways from this week’s loss.
The Bears have two quarterbacks who are not good at football.
Chicago made the switch from Mitchell Trubisky to Nick Foles midway through the third game of the season with the hopes of seeing improvement on the offensive side of the ball. While Foles has admittedly faced tougher defenses than Trubisky did, that improvement still hasn’t happened.
Foles completed 68 percent of his passes and threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, but the statistics don’t tell the whole story. While he only threw one interception, he essentially had two—Marshon Lattimore had an easy interception on a fourth-down throw but opted not to make the catch to give his team better field position. Foles often looked like a confused rookie, showing slip-ups with his footwork and weight distribution that a nine-year veteran should not be making. He threw off of his back foot way too often and struggled to keep calm under pressure.
The latter in particular especially hurt the Bears, considering how often Foles faced pressure from the Saints’ defensive front. Chicago gave up five sacks on Sunday, as well as eight quarterback hits. Basically all of the Bears’ offensive linemen made mistakes at some point in the game, as five New Orleans defensive linemen came away with at least half of a sack, with Malcolm Jenkins securing one as a blitzing defensive back, as well.
The Bears weren’t without their flashes of hope on offense. They saw nice production out of each of their top three wide receivers: Allen Robinson caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown, Darnell Mooney had five catches for a career-high 69 yards and a touchdown—including a 50-yard bomb that served as the Bears’ biggest offensive gain of the season—and Anthony Miller had a season-high eight receptions for 73 yards. All three players played well and did a fairly good job of getting open.
David Montgomery also put together a decent game on the ground. The second-year back had 89 yards on 21 carries, including an impressive 38-yard run, which as of this writing is the second-longest run of his career. He ran with a determined style of play and, even though he rarely saw much daylight to work with, made the most out of every rep he got.
Overall, though, the Bears’ offense was just far too inconsistent to sustain a lead. Matt Nagy had some well-designed plays in the first half and coached a good game early on, but he fell apart later in the evening and made some questionable calls. Foles’ up-and-down play prevented Chicago from getting into a rhythm. Drops from the likes of the aforementioned Miller and Jimmy Graham also played roles in the team’s inability to put together more sustainable drives.
The Bears had a handful of good plays on offense, but they came few and far between. Nagy has yet to prove that he can coach a full four quarters of good football with this team, and the players themselves have yet to prove they can consistently dominate whichever teams they face. That’s cause for concern going forward.
Though the Saints were without starting wide receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on Sunday, the Bears still had trouble slowing down their offensive onslaught.
Alvin Kamara was the star of the show for New Orleans, tallying 163 yards from scrimmage on the afternoon. He rushed for 67 yards on just 12 attempts—a 5.6 yards-per-carry average—and caught nine passes for 96 yards. The Bears went with a passive, zone-heavy defensive scheme through the air, which allowed the Pro Bowl running back to torch them after the catch, as well as on the ground.
As has been the case for much of the year, the Bears’ defensive line generally struggled to hold their own at the point of attack in run support. They got moved around easily by a talented Saints offensive line, providing several open lanes for Kamara and $16.3 million backup quarterback Taysom Hill.
Arguably more disappointing than their struggles against the run, though, was their troubles in coverage. More of that falls on defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano than anything, seeing as though the Bears played incredibly conservative in coverage and seemed to focus more on not giving up the deep ball—which never came, by the way—than preventing the short passes across the middle of the field that plagued Chicago all game.
The pass rush also struggled a bit on Sunday, though plenty of factors played into that. For one, the Bears barely called blitz plays, often giving Drew Brees plenty of times to sit in the pocket and scan the field. Given Brees’ general lack of athleticism at 41 years old, sending extra pressure his way would seem like a smart idea, but Pagano decided otherwise. The Bears’ defenders up front also struggled to win their individual battles at the line of scrimmage, as Brees was sacked just once—Khalil Mack being the one to bring him down—and hit just twice all game.
Mack is up to 6.5 sacks in 8 games, showing exactly why the Bears are paying him as much as they are, but the rest of the defensive front has struggled in recent weeks. Robert Quinn only has one sack all season, while Akiem Hicks has slowed down somewhat after a hot start to the year.
The Bears did see nice performances out of their starting inside linebackers, though. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan combined for 20 tackles, the former getting 11 and the latter getting nine. Smith continued his hot start to the 2020 season, while Trevathan had what was easily his best game in a year where he has more or less struggled. Both players made crucial tackles and helped keep the Bears in the game.
For a team with the personnel that the Bears have, they should have played a lot better defensively than they did. The coverage in particular was weak, and while Buster Skrine struggled out of the slot a bit, most of the blame shouldn’t go on Chicago’s secondary.
Pagano needs to evaluate his personnel and realize that he has two talented outside cornerbacks in Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson, as well as several defenders who can rush the passer well more often than not. The team’s lack of aggressiveness has come to bite them in games past, and it certainly bit them again this week.
Three and out
3. As if it wasn’t already apparent, Sunday displayed not only the lack of talent the Bears have in their starting lineup along the offensive line, but also their lack of depth up front.
Sam Mustipher stepped in at center for the injured Cody Whitehair, and while he performed admirably given he was just on the practice squad a few weeks ago, it’s unlikely he will develop into much more than a serviceable backup. Rashaad Coward continued his struggles at left guard in place of the shelved James Daniels, getting blown past in pass protection and overwhelmed as a run blocker. Jason Spriggs sprung into the right tackle spot when Bobby Massie went down and provided up-and-down results. Even Alex Bars played for a while when Spriggs suffered a minor injury.
Sure, it wouldn’t be wise to expect the Bears’ backup linemen to play markedly better than their starters—who themselves aren’t very good—but the unit’s poor performance showcased Ryan Pace’s hesitance to invest in an offensive line. Chicago has no long-term developmental starters on its bench, nor do they have any young, promising blockers up front outside of Daniels, who is out for the season.
Pace may have been able to survive this long without making the offensive line a priority year in and year out, but if he wants to avoid making the 2021 offseason his last, he will have to address the need aggressively through free agency and the draft.
2. As if there was any doubt, Cairo Santos must be the Bears’ starting kicker going forward.
Just two weeks after nailing a 55-yard field goal against the Panthers, Santos came through in the clutch again this week. Despite bustling winds throughout the game, he nailed both of his extra point tries and all three of his field goal attempts, including one kick from 51 yards out.
Santos is currently sitting at an 87.5 field goal percentage, hitting 14 of his 16 attempts. While plenty can change between now and the end of the year, the six-year veteran is on track to put up the Bears’ best field goal percentage since Robbie Gould made 89.7 percent of his attempts in 2013. It’s a tough task kicking in the Windy City, but Santos has proven capable of succeeding, and even though Eddy Piñeiro is the younger option, the former is clearly the better one.
1. As the NFC stands as of this writing, the Bears would be the eighth seed in the conference, meaning they would miss out on the postseason.
After a 5-1 start to the year, they have quickly come crashing back down to Earth with two straight losses to talented teams. While their 5-3 record is still a pretty good one, and the concept of taking a perennial playoff contender like the Saints to overtime may seem like an intriguing one on paper, this was a game the Bears should have won. These next few weeks are considered the “hard part” of their schedule, but even though some losses are expected to come from facing tough competition, their inability to seal the deal against good teams—save the lone Buccaneers game—is concerning for long-term success.
The NFC West will inevitably eat itself alive, so it’s possible that only one of the Rams, Cardinals or 49ers will make it into the postseason. However, the Bears can’t just rely on other teams to lose games; they need to take matters into their own hands. Some changes need to be made if the team is going to make it into the playoffs. Whether that change be a trade before the deadline, a veteran free agent signing or two, or adjustments in the scheme on both sides of the ball, I’m not sure. The bottom line is, though, something has to be done, because while their record still looks solid, the Bears are not playing like a playoff team.