The Bears performed well on offense on Sunday, but major struggles on defense saw them fall on the losing end.
That seems like a sentence that has rarely been typed in recent years. However, that was the case with the Bears’ 49-29 loss on the road against the Cowboys. Their passing attack was encouraging and their run game consistent, but porous run defense and soft coverage allowed Dallas to have their way in front of their home crowd.
Here are some of the key takeaways from this week’s Bears loss.
It feels weird being optimistic about the results of a 20-point loss, but that’s where I’m at with how the Bears’ offense played on Sunday.
After a super slow start to the 2022 season offensively, the Bears have scored 62 points over the last two games. They dominated the time of possession battle, which would greatly aid them under normal circumstances. Their ground game was phenomenal, and the passing attack was quite efficient.
Justin Fields put together one of his strongest outings of the season on Sunday after tearing it up against the Patriots last week. He finished the game 17-for-23 with 151 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also scored a rushing touchdown and tallied 60 yards on 8 carries. That’s a solid outing in the box score, but his impact went beyond the stat sheet.
Fields looked decisive, regardless of whether he was throwing or running the ball. When under pressure — which was fairly often, unfortunately for him — he did a better job of quickly identifying the checkdown option, getting the ball out and delivering an accurate ball in a collapsing pocket. His confidence radiated when watching him on screen, and he complemented his solidified status as one of the league’s best rushing quarterbacks with a precision that hasn’t been consistently seen much since his days at Ohio State.
The Bears’ ground game was also quite efficient. In addition to Fields’ aforementioned performance on the run, Khalil Herbert tallied 99 yards on 16 carries. A 36-yard gain helped inflate his numbers a bit, but even removing that run, he was 0.7 yards per carry more efficient than David Montgomery, who had 15 carries for 53 yards. That’s not a bad total from Montgomery by any means, but Herbert was the star of the show in Chicago’s backfield on Sunday. Kudos also belongs to the offensive line, as while their pass protection was hit or miss, they blocked quite well in the ground game upon first glance.
Darnell Mooney led the Bears with 5 catches for 70 yards, including a 36-yard completion that helped the team flip the field and march down for a touchdown drive in the third quarter. N’Keal Harry and Cole Kmet each used their size to bully their way to touchdowns in red-zone situations. Since Chicago took a run-heavy approach, it was difficult for receivers to put together truly dominant stat lines, but they were generally pretty effective through the air.
The Bears didn’t lose this game because of their offense. Some things could have been better — pass protection being among them — but it was a pretty strong outing against a Cowboys defense that is viewed as one of the better defenses in the NFL. That’s worth celebrating, especially looking down the road.
The Bears allowed the most points in a single game they’ve played since 2014, so that’s not great.
Truthfully, the less said about Chicago’s defensive performance, the better. Whenever you allow 49 points in a single game, your defense didn’t do its job. Even taking out the touchdown that Micah Parsons scored on his fumble recovery, allowing over 40 points is concerning.
The Cowboys were able to run the ball down Chicago’s throat all afternoon. Tony Pollard dominated on the ground to the tune of 14 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Dallas flat-out won the battle in the trenches, consistently generating movement up front and preventing the Bears from eating up gaps on a regular basis against the run.
According to PFF, Pollard forced five missing tackles and had four carries go for more than 10 yards. Upon first glance, the likes of Roquan Smith and Nicholas Morrow seemed to struggle with shedding blocks and making tackles at the second level, while nobody on the interior defensive line proved to be consistent defending the run.
Generating pressure was also an issue for the Bears. They only sacked Dak Prescott once — on a designed safety blitz by Jaquan Brisker — and Trevis Gipson was the only other Chicago defender to hit Prescott all game. The unit has struggled with rushing the passer this year, and while trading Robert Quinn for a 2023 fourth-round pick was certainly the right move for their rebuild, they will need to invest in their front seven this offseason.
The Bears have had worse days in coverage, but the Cowboys were still generally able to move the ball down the field at will. Eddie Jackson had a beautiful interception in a robber technique, tallying his fourth pick of the year. Jaylon Johnson also had a key pass deflection to force a fourth down, but the middle of the field was a weak spot for the Bears in coverage. CeeDee Lamb was able to get open on slants, drags and crossers, while Dalton Schultz had one of his better outings of the year.
As a Bears fan, this defensive performance was one to forget. As a member of the organization, though, it’s one that should be put under a microscope and dissected after Chicago dominated defensively against the Patriots just a week ago.
Three and out
3. I have plenty of confidence in the Bears’ secondary in the long run, but they’re going to need to make some investments to their front-seven this offseason.
That’s not to say they shouldn’t have traded Robert Quinn a few days ago, because they made the right call moving on from him and obtaining more draft capital. It’s going to be a talented group of free agent edge rushers, though, and the Bears could also use help at defensive tackle alongside Justin Jones. They’ll also have to decide whether to extend Roquan Smith and, if so, determine how much money to spend on adding a complement to him at linebacker. The offense will be the focal point this offseason, but Chicago’s defense will require improvements, as well.
2. I consider myself to be a fan of David Montgomery, but we’ve reached the point where Khalil Herbert is decidedly the better running back in the Bears’ backfield.
His home-run hitting ability is far superior to Montgomery, as is his general athleticism. That’s not necessarily to knock Montgomery, who is a good NFL running back who has gotten quicker since entering the league. Rather, it’s just more of a reflection of how good Herbert has been.
1. My Justin Fields confidence level is quite high at the moment.
Is there room for him to improve still? Absolutely. He’s far from an elite quarterback right now. That said, he seems to be improving over the last few weeks, and he’s showcasing a level of confidence and comfortability that we didn’t see out of him all the time as a rookie. Hell, he struggled with looking comfortable early on in the season. However, his level of play has been getting better over time, which is the most important takeaway — and therefore, the most encouraging takeaway.