It was yet another frustrating offensive performance on Sunday afternoon, as the Chicago Bears failed to score a touchdown in their 20-12 loss against the New York Giants. It’s become very clear that the team’s offensive struggles aren’t going away, and neither are the team’s woes against the run. Is it time to adjust expectations, or are the Bears right on schedule in the first year of an extensive rebuild?
We’ll cover all that and more in this week’s installment of our 10 Bears Takes.
1. The Bears’ offensive struggles aren’t going away any time soon, but their lack of faith in quarterback Justin Fields continues to hamper any real progress.
If you’re somebody who pays attention to the rest of the NFL, you’ve probably been keeping tabs on the second-year quarterbacks and other offenses that had struggled in 2021. Zach Wilson’s season debut happened on Sunday. He was awful for three quarters, yet the New York Jets trusted him enough to throw the ball 37 total times, and they ultimately won the game due to his improved play. The Detroit Lions, missing their top two receivers and top running back, scored 45 points behind Jared Goff and a bunch of replacement-level receivers.
Then you look at the Bears, and they’ve yet to have a 200-yard passing performance through four games. Even worse, on their most key offensive drive, they were down eight points with less than six minutes left in the game. They called one pass play and punted the ball on fourth and two from their own 45-yard line. On the day, Fields had just 22 pass attempts and only 4 in the fourth quarter. Yes, the offensive line did not hold up, which caused Fields to scramble on a few other called pass plays. Yet, when it really mattered, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy continues to show he doesn’t trust Fields. I’m still trying to understand how this approach is ultimately helping the development of the second-year quarterback. Something needs to change soon.
2. Speaking of Fields, I thought today was a sizable improvement over his Week 3 performance.
Would I categorize Fields’ day as a “good” one? No. I also don’t think his numbers were nearly as indicative of his overall performance on the day. He finished the game (11/22) with 174 passing yards and also added 52 yards on the ground. On the day, Fields accounted for (70%) of the team’s total offensive yardage.
The reality is quite simple. The Bears’ offense is terrible. Their offensive line is a mess, and they have one of the worst groups of pass catchers in the league. Their offensive play-caller has also called a run-heavy attack thus far. Because of that, Fields never gets a chance to get into a rhythm, and when they do call pass plays, he’s running for his life more often than not. This is a product of a rebuilding team and one that put very little emphasis on surrounding their young quarterback with help.
Without making excuses for Fields’ pedestrian numbers (and overall poor play through the first four games), this context is needed when dissecting games like Sunday. More are expected down the road, but one can hope this is the start to incremental improvement as the season presses on.
3. While this coaching staff is just four games into their tenure, their lack of aggression and urgency this early into the rebuild is starting to get concerning.
It seems each week we’re seeing head coach Matt Eberflus and this coaching staff err on the side of caution. While that can be expected for experienced teams with playoff chances on the line, the Bears are in Year 1 of an extensive rebuild. If anything, this is the time to be aggressive.
There were multiple moments in Week 4’s game where Eberflus’ conservative approach backfired. The offense found themselves in the red zone on three different occasions early in the game. They settled for three field goals and did not attempt a single fourth down on the day. The two drives that stand out as missed opportunities? A fourth and two from the four-yard line and a fourth and two from their own 45-yard line.
The 4th and two from the four-yard line came when the Bears were down 7-3. That would have been a prime spot to use Fields’ athleticism and try to take an early chance. The second of the two chances came with 3:15 left in the game after throwing the ball just once on a four-play, 20-yard drive.
At some point, the Bears will have to get more aggressive. Not only to win games but to find out more about their young, developing team. While I fully understand that NFL coaches don’t think the same way as fans do, this regime will never have more of a leash than they will in Year 1 of a rebuild. The time to take chances is now.
4. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: It’s time for the Bears to make a change on the offensive line.
Through the first three games of the season, the Bears were the second-best team in the league running the football. Their offensive line has struggled against the pass rush, but they had been holding their own in the rushing attack. On Sunday, neither thing worked. Fields was sacked six times and pressured plenty more. Their running backs averaged just (3.88) yards per carry.
Left guard Cody Whitehair left the game and was quickly ruled out. That brings his immediate future into doubt, but it might be time to switch things up with the team’s offensive tackles. Both left tackle Braxton Jones and right tackle Larry Borom have struggled as pass protectors. They have reliable veteran Riley Reiff on the bench, and at this point, it’s time to see if he can make a difference. If the decision were up to me, I’d move Larry Borom to the bench and give Reiff a shot at right tackle. Only time will tell if any moves are coming, but this current configuration is not working in pass protection, and it’s not getting any better.
5. It’s also time for the Bears to stick Kyler Gordon as a boundary corner and leave him there.
The second-round rookie has caught a lot of heat so far this season, and rightfully so. He has struggled mightily, and despite what the coaching staff believes he can handle, it has become painfully obvious Gordon is not ready to play both in the nickel and on the boundary.
Again, if it were up to me, I’d move Gordon outside and keep him there. The Bears have a pair of intriguing options in Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell. They could even slide Kindle Vildor inside once Jaylon Johnson is back. Either way, it’s very evident that they have put too much on the rookie’s plate, and it’s time to reel it back in.
6. For all the bad from Sunday’s game, Eddie Jackson’s resurgence has become the season’s brightest storyline through four games.
Through four games, Jackson has caused four turnovers. On Sunday afternoon, he added his third interception of the year. He’s currently tied for the league lead in interceptions. So what has changed? Jackson’s buy-in to this new defense has been evident. Rookie Jaquan Brisker is also the closest thing to Adrian Amos that Jackson has seen since Amos’ departure after the 2018 season.
It appears that the perfect storm has been created, and because of that, he’s having a career resurgence. Considering his remaining contract for the next few years, this type of season was much needed. While there’s still a long way to go in the 2022 season, Jackson is back to being a premiere playmaker, and that’s a welcomed sight.
7. It was good to see Darnell Mooney get involved, but I’m starting to wonder what exactly Cole Kmet does consistently well.
Had Mooney come down with a low throw (that he should have caught) earlier in the game, he would have broken the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Even so, he still had four catches for 94 yards, including a 56-yard bomb from Fields earlier in the game. One has to hope that Sunday’s game was the breakout performance many have been waiting on.
Then there’s Kmet. So far, the third-year tight end’s season has been a massive disappointment. Yes, he’s been a good run blocker, but anything involved in the passing game has been a mess for him this year. Kmet finished the game with three catches for 16 yards, but it continues to be the plays he’s not making that are the bigger issue. At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether or not he’s anything more than a complimentary tight end in a quality offense. The issue? The Bears need him to be much, much more.
8. Hats off to kicker Michael Badgley, who accounted for all points just 24 hours after being elevated from the practice squad.
Last Thursday, kicker Cairo Santos popped up on the injury report with a “personal” designation. Most didn’t think anything about it because it’s relatively common at points during the season. Then Friday, it was more of the same. The team brought in multiple kickers and ultimately signed Badgley to the practice squad. On Saturday, the team elevated him from the practice squad, and Sunday, they announced Santos would miss the game.
It would have been completely understandable for Badgley to come out and have an uneven performance. Yet, he went four-for-four and accounted for all 12 points from the Bears’ offense. Once Santos is back, Badgley will be back on the market, but if anything, this performance may help him land another job later in the season.
9. Looking around the NFC North, I’m not convinced there’s a runaway team in this year’s race
The Green Bay Packers barely won a game in overtime against a New England Patriots team that saw their second and third-string quarterbacks play. The Packers’ offense is not firing on all cylinders, and so far, their defense has been uneven. The Minnesota Vikings currently hold the lead in the NFC North (due to their head-to-head win against the Packers), but they barely pulled out a win against a New Orleans Saints team that was missing their starting quarterback, top receiver, and star running back. Finally, the Detroit Lions are scoring a lot of points but cannot get a quality defensive performance.
This is not to say the Bears will win the division or even come close. It is to say that the race between the Packers and Vikings might end up being a lot closer than most (including myself) had expected it to be back in the preseason. I’m still not sold on Kirk Cousins in big situations, but the Packers also don’t look nearly as strong as they have in past years.
10. Week 5 look ahead: A second straight road game against the Vikings
The Bears and Vikings find themselves in similar situations on the surface. Both teams finished disappointingly last season, which led both teams to make sweeping changes, including a new general manager and head coach. The Bears opted for a clear-cut rebuild, while the Vikings decided that they wanted to run it back with the same core and plan on a new coaching staff making the difference. So far, it appears both organizations made the right decisions.
Despite the Vikings sweeping the season series last year, the Bears have always hung tough against the Vikings, despite how both teams are playing. Week 5 proves to be a quality test for the Bears and one that sees the Vikings coming off somewhat of a short week as they make their way back from London. It’s worth noting that they opted to bypass an early bye week, so we’ll see how it affects them on Sunday.