“I still own you.”
The four aforementioned words pierced the hearts of Bears fans everywhere on Sunday, when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers beat them at Soldier Field 24-14. Though it did not have to be said for that statement to be considered true, Rodgers twisted the proverbial knife into the back of Chicagoans upon scoring a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, reminding them of his success against the Monsters of the Midway.
In a game that appeared to be within reach for the Bears early on, it was slowly but surely made known that the Packers were the superior team, even if they themselves hadn’t played to the fullest of their potential.
Let’s break down some of the top takeaways from this week’s Bears loss.
The highs with Justin Fields were high this week, but the lows were pretty darn low.
The rookie quarterback finished the game 16-for-27 with 174 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He made his fair share of intriguing throws, showcasing impressive touch on intermediate passes and hitting the likes of Allen Robinson, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney on good-looking throws both in between and outside of the hashmarks. His speed was also on display, as he was able to extend the play with his feet often and also picked up 43 yards on six carries.
At the same time, though, there were some clear issues in Fields’ game. His problems didn’t seem to stem from a talent perspective, as his arm talent, accuracy and athleticism didn’t really come into question against the Packers. Rather, it was his decision-making and processing speed that seemed to hinder Chicago’s offense a bit.
He had a tendency to hold onto the ball a bit too often, a trait which played a role in his getting sacked four times and prevented him from being able to hit open targets on some occasions. His lone interception seemed more so an issue of his expecting the refs to call an offsides penalty, but he did have his fair share of questionable forced throws. Said issue is one that has plagued many a rookie quarterback, so it should be one he could minimize in time, but his playing style does see him hold onto the ball longer than the average quarterback due to his occasional scrambling nature.
Chicago’s offensive line is also partially to blame for the passing attack’s inconsistency. They struggled along the interior, with Kenny Clark notching two sacks and Dean Lowry ending up with another. Cody Whitehair in particular had issues in pass protection. The line did do a pretty good job creating some running lanes, but their shakiness in forming a clean pocket made it tougher for Fields and Co. to consistently stretch the field.
The Bears saw some solid plays from their receivers, though a review of All-22 tape would be able to better show how consistently they separated. Darnell Mooney had a touchdown with 5 receptions and 45 yards, and Allen Robinson contributed 4 catches for 53 yards. Cole Kmet also had a career day as a pass-catcher, tallying a career-high 49 yards on 4 receptions. None of those stat-lines were particularly amazing, and Robinson in particular has underperformed compared to his standards over the previous two seasons. However, the two receivers both made a couple of solid snags in tight windows.
Though the Bears were up-and-down in the passing game, they certainly played well in the run game. Khalil Herbert averaged 5.1 yards per carry, coming just three yards short of 100 yards on 19 carries. The sixth-round rookie was the only running back on the roster to receive a carry, and he made the most of his heightened workload. He looked explosive coming out of the backfield, calculated as an outside-zone runner and creative in extending the play by changing direction or bouncing outside of the tackles. He was also able to stay low and keep his legs churning through contact, too.
The Bears had some promising plays on offense, but the consistency was simply lacking to help them win this game. With how the Packers controlled the time of possession battle, Chicago was backed into a corner and forced to air it out a bit late, which they simply didn’t have the capacity to do reliably.
Though not a barnburner by any means, the Bears had their flashes of solid play on defense.
With three sacks against Aaron Rodgers, the trio of Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks was able to tally a sack each for the Bears. Mack has 6 sacks through six games, and Quinn has 5.5 sacks in that same stretch. Their dynamic duo off the edge has done a very good job of penetrating opposing backfields. Quinn in particular showcased tremendous speed and bend for an edge defender over the age of 30.
The pressure off the edge was solid for the Bears, but the presence along the interior in the run game was lacking. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon both averaged more than 5 yards per carry while reaching double-digit carry numbers, which helped the Packers move the ball down the field consistently. Roquan Smith was consistently by the ball at the second level — he had 12 tackles and increased his tackle total to 62 in six games — but the defensive line was inconsistent in its ability to clog running lanes and anchor at the point of attack.
The Packers didn’t pass the ball a lot, as they attempted just 23 passes to 31 rushes. Rodgers did a solid job of spreading the wealth around, with seven players catching at least one pass. Though none of their weapons had particularly great stat-lines in the passing game, Davante Adams did finish with 89 yards on 4 catches. Limiting him to just five targets was solid by Jaylon Johnson, who shadowed the All-Pro in coverage no matter where he lined up. However, the Packers were able to line Adams up in the slot, putting Johnson in a position he wasn’t comfortable in. This week was probably his worst of the season, though the circumstances aren’t really worth worrying about.
It’s tough to determine the play of defensive backs from a broadcast angle, but at first glance, both Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson struggled. The two safeties appeared to have issues in run support and making tackles after the catch, save for one run to the outside that Jackson stopped. The general lack of effort and physicality as downhill defenders saw the Bears weakened in coverage.
The Bears’ defense wasn’t the reason they lost the game, as scoring just 14 points against an Aaron Rodgers-led team isn’t a recipe for success. There was certainly room for improvement, though, and they’ll have to iron out their run fits and safety-to-cornerback communication going forward.
Three and out
3. I talked about it with Robert Schmitz on the postgame recap of Bear With Me, but looking at this stage of the season, the Bears are honestly about where many of us expected them to be record-wise. However, it feels like they could be — and arguably should be — in a better situation.
Had their offense showed up this Sunday, there’s a strong chance they would’ve been able to beat Green Bay. Not only did their offense not show up, though; they were very inefficient. That seems to be a trend that has occurred over the last 6 years or so.
2. Over the last few weeks, it seems like the Bears’ secondary has a “Jimmies and Joes” problem, more so than an “Xs and Os” problem.
Sean Desai has done a good job of disguising coverages and creating confusion up front with twists against the pass, but it appears that his group of defensive backs simply aren’t of a high-end NFL caliber. Outside of Jaylon Johnson, there haven’t been any cornerbacks or safeties who have truly played at a high level on the Bears’ roster. Keep an eye on the two positions as areas they could improve at in the 2022 draft.
1. Justin Fields is going to have more rollercoaster games like this week over the course of the season, and he likely will end up having some next year, as well.
I point this out to illustrate that Bears fans should be patient with his development, especially this year. This is not a roster built to be a legitimate contender just yet, and rookie quarterbacks often end up struggling to varying degrees in their first NFL seasons. As Fields continues to gain experience and pick up reps with the starters — the latter being a problem that was avoidable from the beginning, but I digress — he should improve. Having a rookie quarterback does come with its inevitable ebbs and flows, though.