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Notes: Bears’ season ends after lifeless Wild Card loss to Saints

The Bears’ season has come to an end after an abysmal showing in the Wild Card round.

Wild Card Round - Chicago Bears v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It’s all over.

A tumultuous 2020 season has come to an end for the Bears after a 21-9 loss to the Saints in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday.

The Bears were far from the favorites in this matchup, and it showed. Even when they were within four points of tying the game up—which proved to be the case for more than half of the game—the lead still often felt out of reach. They flat-out struggled on offense, and their defense started falling apart as the game progressed.

It is a commendable achievement to make it to the playoffs, but losing in the fashion the Bears did does make a postseason appearance lose a bit of its luster.

Here are some of the key takeaways from Chicago’s final game of the season.

Offense

Even with a garbage-time touchdown to close out the game, the box score alone reflects how bad the Bears were on offense on Sunday.

In a game which saw his job on the line, Mitchell Trubisky went just 9-for-18, 100 yards, and no touchdowns with two and a half minutes minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He does deserve credit for going 10-for-11 with 99 yards and a touchdown on that final offensive drive. He looked accurate and was able to hit his receivers in stride in more of a fast-paced setting, so kudos to him for still fighting when the game was out of reach.

However, the aforementioned stat line before his garbage-time drive against a conservative Saints defense was more reflective of his performance in the Wild Card. His footwork looked skittish and he appeared generally indecisive with his reads, either overthinking and double-clutching in collapsing pocket or forcing throws to covered receivers.

He did have two good throw in particular, both of them being to Javon Wims. His first throw saw him hit Wims in stride on the fade, traveling 26 yards through the air and hitting him perfectly in the hands. The second throw was another well-thrown deep ball that went roughly 44 yards past the line of scrimmage, but Wims flat-out forgot how to catch a football and dropped an easy touchdown in the end zone.

Overall, though, Trubisky was what he has been throughout his tenure with the Bears: a quarterback who can occasionally make a few nice throws per game, but lacks the consistency needed to stretch the field and regularly excel against good defenses. If this was his last game in the navy and orange, then it was a fitting way to go out.

Trubisky isn’t the only player who disappointed this week. Several receivers struggled to get open, and even fewer were able to do so on deep-to-intermediate routes on a regular basis. Allen Robinson was the only receiver to have what one would consider a “decent” game, catching six passes for 55 yards. He had two particularly impressive catches near the beginning of the third quarter, but was generally use in more of a possession, short-yardage role outside of those two plays.

The absence of Darnell Mooney was apparent in how ineffective the Bears’ receivers were. Anthony Miller had two catches before a boneheaded unsportsmanlike penalty that saw him get ejected. Wims caught just one of his four targeted passes, and Riley Ridley didn’t even make a dent until garbage time, although he did have two nice 18-yard gains on that final drive. Jimmy Graham scored the team’s lone touchdown, but neither he nor Cole Kmet did much of note throughout the course of the game.

Whether more of the blame for a lack of separation should go more on the personnel or the coaching staff is tough to determine until the All-22 film comes out, but at first glance, it appears to be yet another combination of poor coaching and just having an inferior group in the passing game.

The Bears didn’t have much help from their ground game, either. David Montgomery finished with just 31 yards on 12 carries and didn’t have a single rush go for beyond six yards. The run blocking is front of him certainly didn’t help him at all, but he didn’t seem to be as explosive as he had been in the latter half of the regular season. A lot of running backs are only as good as their offensive line and scheme around them, and in Montgomery’s case this week, they weren’t all that great.

Chicago’s offensive line does deserve a bit of praise for their work in pass protection, though. They held a vaunted Saints pass-rush to just one sack and three quarterback hits all game, despite being clearly inferior to New Orleans’ defensive line on paper. They did allow some additional pressure, sure, but they did a lot better against a talented group, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Bears in the game offensively. It was a disappointing performance that showed little to no spark throughout much of the game, save for that final garbage-time drive with the game sealed up in New Orleans’ favor.

It wasn’t just Trubisky’s fault. It wasn’t just Matt Nagy’s and Bill Lazor’s fault. It wasn’t just Javon Wims’ fault. There were plenty of factors that played into the Bears’ lackluster offensive outing.

Defense

Both Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson were sorely missed this week.

The Bears’ issues on defense came down to two things in particular: tackling and coverage. Those aren’t two good things to struggle with now, are they?

The play of the secondary was a major reason for the Bears’ collapse on defense in the second half, and that blame falls both on defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and the actual players themselves. As is the case with Chicago’s receivers, a look at the All-22 should confirm this, but Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor both seemed to have struggles in coverage.

Drew Brees’ passing chart according to Next Gen Stats backs up the belief that the Bears struggled along the outside.

Deonte Harris had a great game for the Saints in particular, catching all seven of his targets for 83 yards. Michael Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, and while the three-time Pro Bowler has had better games, he still made his presence felt in his return from injury.

Chicago’s run defense was relatively hit or miss. Alvin Kamara had nine of his 23 carries go for two yards or fewer, but eight of them went for six yards or greater. When the defensive line did their job, they were able to clog up holes pretty well against a talented Saints offensive line. When they failed, though, Kamara was able to make his mark on Chicago’s depleted second and third levels, making defenders miss and picking up extra yards with his incredible contact balance.

Chicago’s defensive linemen also put together some solid production. Bilal Nichols led the unit with seven tackles, while Mario Edwards Jr. tallied two tackles for a loss and four total tackles. Akiem Hicks finished the game with six tackles and two quarterback hits, as well. It wasn’t a flawless performance from the group, but they had their moments of quality play.

Danny Trevathan had a solid game, leading the team with 10 tackles. Sunday was the fifth time this season in which he tallied double-digit tackles, rebounding nicely after a slow start to the game. Manti Te’o also looked good for a player who hadn’t taken an NFL snap since last season, with five of his six tackles resulting in gains of four yards or fewer for the Saints. Neither appeared to be tremendous in coverage, but such is the case for two linebackers who aren’t exactly known for their athleticism.

The Bears had some promise in their pass-rush, but they were only able to come up with one sack—a Tashaun Gipson blitz onto Taysom Hill. Drew Brees was not sacked once, save for a Khalil Mack sack that was called back for a defensive holding penalty. Mack had one tackle for a loss and two tackles on Sunday, but he was generally contained by the likes of Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Robert Quinn fared better, notching three tackles, a quarterback hit and generating more consistent pressure, but he failed to finish the job on a potential sack opportunity when he got out-maneuvered in the pocket by Brees.

New Orleans relied heavily on the short and intermediate passing game, as just three of Brees’ passing attempts went 15 air yards beyond the line of scrimmage. However, for his physical limitations, the 41-year-old quarterback was able to hit his receivers in stride, tear apart the Bears’ zone coverage and put his teammates in a position to succeed.

The Bears actually didn’t play poorly on defense early on, applying their “bend, don’t break” approach to limit a talented Saints offense to just seven points in the first half. That’s a feat worth being proud of under any circumstances, let along when missing their two most promising up-and-comers.

However, as the game went on, they were able to get New Orleans off the field, and the Bears’ offense was unable to sustain long drives to give their defense a rest. They were clearly tired and out of their element. The Saints ran three offensive drive for the entirety of the second half, yet they had possession of the ball for 21 minutes and 39 seconds out of the possible 30 minutes.

Chicago’s defense was far from the biggest reason they lost in the Wild Card. Much more blame should go on the offense, and given their inability to move downfield on that side of the ball, a more disappointing performance on defense makes sense. That doesn’t completely absolve them, though. It was far from their best defensive outing this season.

Three and out

3. The Bears had plenty of things wrong with their performance on Sunday, but among them was a lack of discipline.

The team as a whole had nine penalties, whereas the Saints had just four. Among the Bears’ penalties was an unsportsmanlike conduct call that ejected Anthony Miller from the game, a neutral zone infraction by Eddie Jackson on 4th-and-3, a defensive holding call by Kindle Vildor that wiped out a Khalil Mack sack, and a neutral zone infraction by Brent Urban that gave the Saints a free first down on 3rd-and-1. The refs weren’t perfect on Sunday, but the Bears didn’t do themselves any favors, either.

That lies heavily on the coaching staff. The players should undoubtedly be held accountable, but if your coaches are either teaching or allowing such reckless play, then they should be held accountable, too. Time will tell if the higher-ups are willing to do something about it.

2. Regardless of whether you’re on board with firing both Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, one of the two, or neither of them, it should be apparent that Chuck Pagano should not have control of the Bears’ defense in 2021.

He came into the 2019 season with the expectation that he would be more aggressive and less conservative than Vic Fangio, but that has quickly proven to not be the case. His stubbornness in playing man coverage or even tighter zone coverage and executing vanilla blitz schemes has wasted one of the most expensive defenses in the NFL. Instead of looking like the world-beaters they have been in years past, their defense now looks relatively average.

Granted, a more conservative approach in coverage can make sense in theory with both Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine out. But Pagano relied so heavily on that coverage that it got the Saints’ offensive weapons out in space, and they were able to run over, around, and past Chicago’s secondary.

He needs to go.

1. It certainly has been an interesting season to say the least, and I wanted to thank you all for reading these recaps each week.

There are going to be a lot of tough decisions that need to be made this offseason, and we could see the answers to some of those decisions play out over the next few days. Whether you’re for or against a potential retooling of sorts, it will be intriguing to see what the Bears plan on doing to turn their franchise around before the 2021 kicks off.

We’ll be here every step of the way, doing our best to make sense of what will surely be a busy offseason.