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Notes: Bears get trounced by Packers at home, but make playoffs anyway

Despite a painful loss to the cheeseheads up north, the Bears will still be playing in the postseason.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

With their playoff hopes in the balance, the Bears got blown out at home by their biggest rival. But it didn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Despite losing to the Packers 35-16 on Sunday, the Bears were able to secure the No. 7 seed in the NFC with the Cardinals falling to the Rams, thus giving Chicago the final Wild Card spot in the new expanded playoff.

The score admittedly is more harsh towards the Bears than their actual play, as they were able to stay within one possession until the 3:47 mark of the fourth quarter, after which things quickly went south. However, it wasn’t a perfect game, and they enter the playoffs with quite a few things they need to iron out.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the final regular season game of the year.

Offense

The Bears did not trust Mitchell Trubisky to stretch the field very often on Sunday.

While that won’t be a sustainable approach in the long term, Trubisky was able to complete 78.6 percent of his passes, going 33-for-42 and tossing it for 252 yards. His stat-line honestly isn’t all that bad, save for a lack of touchdowns. He wasn’t ask to do much, and he did that well. He was accurate enough on those shorter throws, and that helped the Bears inch their way down the field. That plan of attack helped the Bears win the time of possession battle with 35:29 as opposed to Green Bay’s 24:31.

However, there is an issue with the approach the Bears took with their passing attack. Trubisky went 2-for-7 in passes that were thrown seven yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. Seven yards! That’s not a quarterback taking several deep shots and struggling. That’s a quarterback who is flat out incapable of executing deep patterns, so the coaching staff is too afraid to let him try. One of those incompletions resulted in an interception to former Bear Adrian Amos on a deep ball thrown to Cole Kmet in double coverage. The Packers then scored three plays later after starting with the ball at Chicago’s 26-yard line.

With Allen Robinson limited to two catches and 37 yards after see plenty of reps against Jaire Alexander, the Bears needed another receiver to step up to get the offense going. Luckily for them, Darnell Mooney was able to do exactly that, as the rookie notched a career-high 11 receptions and 93 yards on Sunday. Essentially all of his catches required him to make defenders miss in space, as all but two of his targets saw him run routes in which he went more than six beyond the line of scrimmage. He was able to use his agility to make something out of nothing, though, and he also added an incredible 53-yard jump-ball reception over Packers safety Darnell Savage. Though Mooney exited the game with ankle injury, he was reliable all game and played a big role for Chicago’s passing attack.

Outside of Mooney and David Montgomery—more on him in a bit—no pass-catcher on the Bears had more than two receptions outside of Cole Kmet. The rookie out of Notre Dame has completely secured the starting role as not only the Bears’ primary ‘Y’ tight end, but their primary tight end, period. He caught seven of his eight targeted passes for 41 yards, and while his yards-per-catch totals may not be the sexiest numbers in the world, he did what he was asked in Chicago’s dink-and-dunk offense and was able to showcase his toughness after the catch and powerful frame to box out defenders at the catch point and churn his legs through contact from tacklers. He had a fumble that resulted in the Packers getting the ball back near the red zone and eventually scoring a touchdown, and that play ended up hurting the Bears down the line. Kmet had a pretty good game in the grand scheme of things, however.

On the ground, Montgomery once more took on the lion’s share of the carries, taking on 22 of the team’s 31 rushing attempts. He finished with 69 yards, and while he finished with a lower total tally in seven games this year, his 3.1 yards per carry was an average that was worse than all but three games of the 15 games he played in the 2020 regular season. Granted, not a lot of that was his fault, as the Packers’ defense did a very good at the point of attack in run support: defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry had five tackles each on Sunday. Montgomery ran tough in the opportunities he got, but as is generally the case with the running back position, he was only as good as his offensive line.

The second-year back did contribute quite a bit as a receiver out of the backfield, though. He reached a career-high 9 receptions for 63 yards, serving as a reliable pass-catching option on swing, flat and stab routes, the latter of which seeing him creep just past the line of scrimmage and sink inward. He caught every single one of the passes thrown his way, further showcasing his natural receiving ability.

The Bears showed some promise on offense, as they were able to move the ball down the field and execute long, sustained drives. However, the problem came with putting points on the board with those drives. They had five drives that went for 10 or more plays, but they only scored one touchdown in total on those drives. That lack of finishing ability will doom you against any team, but that rings particularly true for a Packers offense led by Aaron Rodgers.

All told, Chicago has definitely seen worse offensive days. However, not being able to put the ball in the end zone consistently and having such a limited aerial attack is going to put a capped ceiling on this team’s performance.

Defense

The Bears have the fourth-most expensive defense in the NFL. You wouldn’t tell that by how they played on Sunday, though.

Sure, two of the Packers’ five touchdowns came on drives where Green Bay started with favorable field position due to a Kmet fumble and a Trubisky interception, respectively. But the Bears only forced Green Bay to punt two times all game, and they allowed Aaron Rodgers to complete 79.2 percent of his passes in a 19-for-24 game with 240 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers did only complete four of his eight passing attempts that traveled beyond 10 yards through the air, but three of those completions were touchdowns.

Despite only completing four passes with 10 or more air yards, the Packers had nine passes result in gains of more than 10 yards. Obviously, statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they do a good job of reflecting what the eye test put together from the Bears’ performance on Sunday: their coverage was soft, and they had some issues with tackling.

It is far from an understatement to say that Chuck Pagano’s scheme simply is not working for the Bears. Even Vic Fangio had his moments of being conservative in coverage, but those often didn’t come until after his team already had the lead. Pagano’s zone-heavy, vanilla scheme with very few exotic blitzes has often given opposing wide receivers plenty of cushion to make catches, particularly across the middle of the field.

The most agonizing play of the game to watch was Rodgers’ 72-yard completion to Marquez Valdes-Scatling. Pagano had the Bears in a Cover-0 defense with no safety help, with Eddie Jackson covering a hitch route by Davante Adams on the play-side. That left Valdes-Scatling—a receiver who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the 2018 Scouting Combine—one-on-one on a go route with Danny Trevathan, who isn’t exactly known for being the fastest linebacker out there. To add onto the questionable decision-making, Pagano called for a cornerback blitz by Duke Shelley against a Packers formation that had five wide receivers lined up with an empty backfield and no in-line tight ends.

I can’t be one to determine right off the bat if Jackson was designed to cover the hitch or he simply made the wrong read, but Pagano deserves plenty of blame for that touchdown, regardless.

That big play and favorable field position on two of their touchdowns would have been enough for the Packers to put away the Bears with their 16 offensive points. That doesn’t completely exonerate the Bears’ defensive woes; in fact, far from it. Rodgers had a very good game, as per usual for the MVP candidate, and the defense struggled to contain him.

Danny Trevathan led the team with eight tackles, and save for the touchdown that wasn’t really his fault to begin with, he had a solid enough game. The Bears clearly missed Roquan Smith next to him, who left late in the first quarter with an elbow injury. Josh Woods replaced him and finished with four tackles, but he looked like what he was: a replacement player. Woods and Eddie Jackson had some miscommunication in coverage on Rodgers’ second-quarter touchdown to Dominique Dafney—who is a real player I had totally not just found out about right when he made that catch—which saw Dafney take advantage of neither Woods nor Jackson picking him up on the crosser route. Woods looked lost off the snap, and it appeared as though it was his job to picking up Dafney in coverage. He didn’t, and the Packers extended their lead.

The Bears were able to generate six quarterback hits, but just one sack. Khalil Mack was the beneficiary, finishing with nine sacks on the year. Robert Quinn looked solid off the edge, generating two hits and putting solid pressure on Rodgers against right tackle-turned-left tackle Billy Turner. Akiem Hicks also helped out with two hits of his own, as did rookie Trevis Gipson with one hit. They gave Rodgers a solid roughing, but they were unable to convert most of their pressures into sacks.

Another depressing statistic is the three dropped interceptions the Bears had on Rodgers. Jackson, Barkevious Mingo and Kindle Vildor all had passes hit them right in the hands, but they were unable to come away with the turnover. Jackson in particular struggled this week, but having so many chances to make a play wasted undoubtedly hurt the Bears’ chances of winning.

It’s odd to be ranting this much about the Bears’ defense, but that’s exactly where we are at this point of the year. They’re down Jaylon Johnson and lost Roquan Smith early, sure, but they still have former Pro Bowlers like Mack, Hicks, Quinn, Jackson, Kyle Fuller, and Tashaun Gipson, as well as numerous other solid contributors. The personnel as a whole struggled this week, and another poorly-coached game by Pagano should ideally seal the deal on his termination after the season.

Three and out

3. The Bears will face the Saints in the Wild Card round at 3:40 p.m. CST on Sunday next week.

This won’t be the first time that the two teams have squared off this year, as the Saints beat the Bears early in November off of a late overtime field goal. While Chicago was able to score 10 points in the final three and a half minutes of the game to force the game into overtime, it wasn’t an incredibly strong game for either side of the ball.

Despite being the No. 2 seed, the Saints are a beatable opponent, but the Bears will need to tighten up on some things. They struggled heavily in pass protection in Week 8, giving up five sacks and eight quarterback hits. The offensive line has been better in recent weeks than it was at that point of the year, but the Saints still have a pass-rush worth planning extra for. Trubisky’s mobility could help him out more in avoiding sacks and generating more throws on the move, but that will be a key aspect of the game the Bears will need to focus on next Sunday.

2. With their clinched playoff berth, the Bears have officially made it to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Given their seven-year playoff drought prior to 2018, making postseason appearances should be celebrated, as flawed as the team may be. The last stretch of seasons to be that accomplished came in 2005 and 2006, when they made back-to-back playoff games and went to the Super Bowl in the latter year. Granted, this current team is not nearly as good as those mid-2000s teams, but, after years of pedestrian and suboptimal play, making the playoffs under any technicality is enjoyable.

1. No matter what happens, it will be fun to watch next week’s action.

Sure, the Bears have no long-term plan at quarterback—or short-term plan, for that matter—a shortage of up-and-coming young prospects, and a coaching staff and front office that will likely be sticking around in the face of mediocrity. But, at the end of the day, they’re in the playoffs. We can all get back to moping and complaining about the state of the organization after they get eliminated, of which I will personally do plenty, but for now, let’s just enjoy the moment. And, besides: anything can happen in the NFL. Right? Right?