Christmas came five days early for the Bears this year.
When they needed a win the most, they were able to come away with a crucial 33-27 win against the Vikings to improve to 7-7 and keep their playoff hopes alive.
At no point in the game did the Vikings hold the lead, and although it seemed as though the game was within reach for Minnesota at numerous points, the Bears were able to shut them down. It wasn’t a perfect game, but considering how they’ve played in other games this season, it was still a very good one.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Sunday’s action.
David Montgomery is really coming into his own.
In the three games prior to Sunday, Montgomery had tallied 288 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns on 7.4 yards per carry. He continued his hot streak with his performance against the Vikings, tallying a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. 11 of his carries went for over six yards, indicating his ability to consistently pick up high-quality runs.
Since he returned on Week 12 from his concussion, Montgomery has looked much more explosive and decisive. He has always run with a physical style of play that has seen him run through defenders with his top-notch contact balance, but he has been able to maximize that skill-set with quicker processing in between the tackles and seemingly improved acceleration and lateral quickness.
Kudos should also be given to the Bears’ offensive line, which has looked a lot better in recent weeks. Part of that comes down to the switch to Bill Lazor as the play-caller, and part of that comes down to the play of Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars along the interior offensive line. Either way, that offensive line deserves a lot of credit.
It was a good game through the air for Chicago, too. Mitchell Trubisky was only able to attempt 21 passes with the Bears holding the lead for much of the game, but he was able to complete 15 of those attempts, giving him a 71.4 completion percentage. He also threw for 202 yards, giving him his highest yards-per-attempt total since Week 10 of the 2018 season.
Lazor’s gameplan saw Trubisky stretch the field a little bit with more intermediate throws beyond the sticks, and the quarterback proved to be capable of taking on that task. He looked comfortable on the move and was able to deliver throws with great timing and velocity much more often than not. He was also productive on the ground, as he added 34 yards on eight rushing attempts, his highest number of rushing attempts since his 10 carries in Week 14 of the 2019 season.
Trubisky did throw a bone-headed interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter, but he generally was able to make smart decisions with the ball. Part of that came from the simplified reads that Lazor’s scheme called for him—more on that in a bit—but he did what he was asked on Sunday.
As a result of their run-heavy approach, the Bears’ receiving targets weren’t able to put up outstanding numbers, but that certainly doesn’t mean they played poorly as a unit.
When called upon to do so, they were able to get open and come down with key grabs on a consistent basis. Allen Robinson led the team with 4 receptions for 83 yards, proving once again to be a reliable target across the middle of the field who could get open and help stretch the field. Darnell Mooney joined him in catching four passes, gaining 49 yards and scoring a touchdown. The rookie looked explosive—as has been the case all year—and was able to make some plays out in space.
While no other Bears players finished with over two catches, they didn’t necessarily need to. The offense was able to spread the ball around through the air and regularly shove the ball down Minnesota’s throats on the run game. There isn’t a whole bunch of room to complain about that.
Despite the electric performance the Bears’ offense put together, the Vikings found themselves playing close for much of the game, and Chicago’s defense was heavily responsible for that.
Dalvin Cook ran all over the Bears, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown with 5.5 yards per carry against the same defense that held him to just 3.2 yards per carry in their previous meeting. The All-Pro running back is tough for most defenses to stop on a regular basis, and that proved to be the case again on Sunday. His explosiveness and vision allowed him to exploit open running lanes and break away for a handful of big gains.
Roquan Smith was limited to six tackles, which is still a solid game for most linebackers, but he has only had a lower tackle count in two games this season. Danny Trevathan led the team in tackles this week with 11, and though he didn’t make as many splash plays as Smith, he was able to bring down Cook a handful of times at the second level once he made it past the line of scrimmage.
As one would expect from two of their top three cornerbacks being out due to injury, the Bears struggled a bit in coverage. Minnesota rookie Justin Jefferson was able to carve them up in zone to the tune of 8 catches for 104 yards, continuing his magnificent rookie season. Numerous Bears defensive backs were tasked with covering him—Kyle Fuller, Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor among them—but their scheme often made it tough to stop the red-hot wide receiver. Sherrick McManis was able to contribute a last-second interception, though.
The coverage struggled weigh more on the shoulders of Chuck Pagano, but the circumstances of having a depleted secondary should play into effect when evaluating Sunday’s performance. Shelley did do well in the slot in place of Skrine, though: he finished with seven tackles and was physical and reliable as a tackler who made his fair share of key plays.
While their secondary wasn’t stellar, the Bears did see good play in their pass-rushing unit. They were able to sack Kirk Cousins three times and hit him a whopping 11 times. Bilal Nichols was the star of the show up front, notching two half-sacks and finishing with seven tackles and three quarterback hits. The third-year defender has had a sack in each of the past three games and has really come into his own as both a pass-rusher and as a run defender this year.
Akiem Hicks only finished with one tackle, but he also made his presence known on passing downs, tallying three hits on Cousins. Khalil Mack and Brent Urban both had half of a sack that they split with Nichols, while Robert Quinn notched his first sack since Week 2 of the regular season. Though the latter had only two tackles in the grand scheme of things, he was able to make his presence felt rushing the passer on Sunday.
It was far from the Bears’ best performance on the defensive side of the ball, but they were able to play just well enough to complement their high-powered offense. That seems weird to think about, but after all, it is 2020.
Three and out
3. Bill Lazor has proven that he is a much more efficient play-caller than Matt Nagy.
Lazor has been the play-caller for five games, and the Bears have scored 25 points or more in all but one of them. They have also topped 30 points in three consecutive weeks. For reference, the Bears only had two games under Nagy in which they topped 25 points in nine weeks.
The ground game has looked significantly better, and Lazor’s scheme has played to Trubisky’s strengths, emphasizing his mobility and getting him on the move, while also eliminating half of the field to simplify his reads. Sure, the Bears have played against easier competition in recent weeks than they did earlier in the year. Still, Lazor deserves plenty of credit for how he’s been coaching since taking over play-calling duties.
2. What do the Bears do with Trubisky now?
Since he took the starting job back after Nick Foles’ injury, Trubisky has been playing much better than he has for most of his career. The offense has been able to move the ball down the field efficiently, and he’s looked much more accurate than he did earlier on in the year. Part of that does come the aforementioned scheming that Lazor has done, but Trubisky does deserve credit for how he’s been playing. With his job on the line and his team’s postseason chances in the balance, he has been able to come back from his benching and play well. That’s commendable on his end.
1. Regardless of your feelings for Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace, there’s no denying that these past two games have been huge for their job security.
After their six-game losing streak, it seemed to be all but over for both their jobs and the Bears’ playoff hopes. Two more wins and a three-game losing streak from the Cardinals later, though, they find themselves still in the hunt heading into Week 16.
While there’s still no guarantee Pace and Nagy will be in charge of the Bears this offseason, making another postseason appearance would be a huge boon for their employment. It could result in Chicago deciding to run it back for another year and take one more shot at a playoff run.