The saying goes that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the Chicago Bears better hope that isn’t the case.
Plenty went right for them in their 20-9 win against the Las Vegas Raiders on the road, with a dominant defensive performance and promising play on offense leading them to an upset victory. As they head into a tough stretch of matchups, coming away with a win on Sunday and improving to 3-2 could prove to be huge down the line.
Here are some of the takeaways from this week’s matchup.
Somehow, the Bears only threw for a combined 119 yards and still put together an offensive performance that could actually be described as pretty solid.
Fans of old-school football likely loved how the Bears played offensively on Sunday, as they attempted 37 runs to just 21 passes. Still, even in today’s pass-heavy brand of football, they were able to march down the field consistently and win the time of possession battle.
I normally start by describing the passing attack, and while there was plenty to like from how Justin Fields played against the Raiders, I would be remiss if I did not mention the efforts of Khalil Herbert and Damien Williams. With David Montgomery out with a knee injury, the backups did a great job of carrying the load and combining for 139 yards on 34 collective carries.
Williams had his moments, rushing for 64 yards and tallying a four-yard touchdown run that helped the Bears take a two-possession lead late in the first half. Of his 16 carries, 7 of them resulted in gains of over five yards, including a 14-yard run in between the tackles. He also broke away for an 18-yard gain catching the ball, as well. Though his runs were a bit hit-or-miss and resulted in the occasional stuff at the line of scrimmage, he held his own and had some solid plays.
Herbert was especially intriguing, especially considering his status as a rookie and — to this point — his limited role in the Bears’ offense. He finished with 75 yards on 18 carries for an average of 4.2 yards per carry, which includes his final three garbage-time runs for a total of a yard that dragged down a total that was previously over 4.9 yards per carry. The rookie showcased plenty of burst out of the backfield, low pad level to maintain optimal contact balance, and a Montgomery-like drive in his lower half to keep pushing for extra yardage. He likely played himself into a bigger role for Chicago going forward.
The Bears didn’t have as large of a sample size through the air, but one thing in particular stood out about Justin Fields on Sunday: toughness.
Fields took his fair share of hits, both in and out of the pocket. He was taken out of the game for a couple of plays due to a tweak in his knee, and he also banged up his ribs in a manner that saw him receive medical attention while the Bears’ defense was on the field. Nonetheless, he didn’t play scared and was composed in his decision-making process. The timing behind some of his throws seemed a little bit off at times, but he was generally accurate and seemed more comfortable going through his progressions and sensing soft spots against zone coverage.
The rookie quarterback also had his first passing touchdown of his career, hitting Jesper Horsted across his body and on the run for a two-yard score. Though a 12-for-20 stat line with 111 yards doesn’t seem pretty, he was able to do what was required of him more often than not, even if he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot (also, quick shoutout to Andy Dalton for stepping in when Fields got hurt and executing a first down on 3rd-and-7 to keep the Bears’ drive alive).
With such a limited sample size of a passing attack, it’s no surprise none of the Bears’ pass-catchers lit up the stat sheet this week. However, Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson were each able to come away with some solid catches in contested situations to the tune of 35 and 32 yards, respectively.
A pass-to-run ratio of nearly 1:2 isn’t necessarily the ideal formula in today’s NFL, but in this case, it did the trick for the Bears. They were able to run the ball down the Raiders’ throats slowly but surely, which allowed them to string together some solid drives and put points on the board. As Fields progresses and the offense continues to find its identity, weeks like this are a solid start for the Bears as a whole.
The Raiders were one of the most explosive offenses in the league heading into Sunday, but one couldn’t have determined that by how the Bears shut them down.
The Bears limited Las Vegas to scoring just one touchdown, having allowed just 3 points in the first three quarters. Their passing attack wasn’t able to consistently stretch the field against Chicago, thanks largely in part due to consistent pressure up front. Derek Carr was sacked three times on Sunday — technically four times, but we’ll get to that later — and often saw former teammate Khalil Mack pressuring him in the backfield.
Mack was the star of the show for the Bears’ defense, notching a sack, 8 tackles and making his presence felt on numerous passing downs. His explosiveness, flexibility and power were on full display in his “revenge game” of sorts, and he was a nightmare for the Raiders’ offensive line to handle. With 5 sacks in just as many games, he has been a force to be reckoned with all year.
Robert Quinn contributed with some pressures of his own, while Trevis Gipson and Tashaun Gipson each came away with sacks. The players obviously deserve plenty of credit for how the Bears’ pass-rush looked on Sunday, but Sean Desai’s ability to get creative with stunts and blitzes, as well as his ability to disguise coverages, seemed to confuse the Raiders’ offense and generated plenty of pressure up front.
In coverage, the Bears did better than many had likely expected. Darren Waller was held to just 46 yards on 4 catches on the afternoon, while Carr completed just under 63 percent of his passing attempts. DeAndre Houston-Carson came away with a beautiful interception in a centerfielder role, tracking down the deep ball with ease and notching the second pick of his career. Though individual coverage performances are tougher to seek out on broadcast viewing, Jaylon Johnson seemed to have blanketed his side of the field.
If there’s one area the Bears struggled in defensively on Sunday, it was their tackling. The Raiders were often able to pick up a handful of extra yards after the catch, with Chicago’s secondary having issues wrapping up and bringing ball-carriers down. That problem didn’t extend to the linebacker position, primarily with Roquan Smith, who led the team with 10 tackles and once again proved to be a heat-seeking missile in run support. However, some fine-tuning as a unit could benefit them greatly down the stretch.
Overall, the Bears put together an impressive outing against a quality NFL offense and were able to get the upper hand in all facets of the defense. Desai and Co. have plenty to be proud of.
Three and out
3. In my opinion, the NFL should really start counting stats racked up on two-point conversion attempts.
Mack technically had two sacks on Sunday, but since one of them came on a two-point conversion attempt by the Raiders, it didn’t count in the box score. Feel free to disagree with me, but I believe that said conversions are often too important to a game’s outcome for the result to be nullified in the stat sheet.
2. People don’t talk about him enough since special teams is a thankless job that often sees players go unnoticed unless they do something bad, but Cairo Santos has been phenomenal over the last two seasons.
He picked up right where he left off after a strong 2020 season, as he has made every field goal and extra point attempt he has taken through the first five games of the 2021 campaign. With 34 straight field goal attempts having been completed, his accuracy and consistency has arguably flown under the radar, both nationally and in the Chicagoland area.
1. For the fun of it, here are the Bears I would nominate as Pro Bowlers through the first five games of the 2021 season:
- Khalil Mack
- Robert Quinn
- Roquan Smith
- Jaylon Johnson
- Cairo Santos
David Montgomery’s injury unfortunately cost him a spot on the list, as he had certainly played well enough to earn that moniker before he went down. I know the Pro Bowl isn’t the most meaningful thing out there nowadays, but it’s fun to still keep track of the whole voting and nomination process.