Six days after an impressive 33-14 blowout win at Foxborough on Monday Night Football, the Chicago Bears came crashing back down to earth in Dallas on Sunday. Their 49-29 loss wasn't pretty on paper, and although they never led in the game, it was a much more exciting game than the score would indicate.
The defense was the story of the day, as they couldn't stop a nosebleed in route to giving up 28 first-half points. On the other hand, the offense appears to be figuring things out behind their second-year quarterback. In regards to "good" losses during a rebuild, Sunday's game could be classified as one of those. The key? Never get too high coming off a win, and never get too low coming off a loss. With a full week of rest and preparation ahead of them in Week 9, we'll dive into Week 8's loss before we turn the page in this week's 10 takes.
1. For the second straight week, quarterback Justin Fields looked like the best second-year quarterback in the league.
Don't be fooled by any of the box score scouts that Twitter has to offer over the next few days. Yes, Fields only threw for 151 passing yards, but he had his highest career passer rating and completion percentage on Sunday afternoon. He also added another 60 yards on the ground and accounted for three of the offense's four touchdowns.
Simply put, the offense has consistently improved over the past few weeks (more on that in a few). A big part of that? Their young quarterback is making the progressions we had all expected at the start of the year. Fields once again accounted for over 60% of their offensive yardage, and frankly, he was once again their best offensive player.
Being at Sunday's game, here's what I can tell you from a full-field view.
- Fields' decision-making was considerably better than what I saw earlier in the year on the All-22. It's very clear he's seeing the entire field better, and overall, he's reading coverages much better.
- His confidence and overall comfort in this offense are growing. I'm sure part of that is due to his ever-growing experience, but I think the bigger reason is the changes offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has made to tailor his offense to his personnel's strengths.
- Receivers are getting open. The next real step is getting this offensive line to hold up better on straight dropbacks and hope pass catchers can make the tougher catches.
All in all, I was very impressed by what I saw from Fields in person today. The growth is there, and the results are starting to follow. That should excite even the most skeptical of Bears fans.
2. Speaking of the quarterback, this offense appears to be figuring things out, even if it isn't always pretty.
This is still not a unit that can overcome big penalties or dropped passes. But it is a unit that has learned its identity and is now forming its play calling and overall scheme around its personnel's strengths. Let's go back and look at that first offensive drive.
The Bears opened up the game with a deep shot down the field. Yes, Fields underthrew the ball, but Equanimeous St. Brown needs to fight back to the ball and either 1. draw a pass interference call or 2. make the catch. It's also worth noting that Darnell Mooney was NFL "open" on the other side of the field as well. The biggest takeaway? If they complete that pass, they are in business and likely find a way to get points.
The Bears had six drives that got past the Cowboys' 35-yard line on the day. The offense is consistently moving the ball, even against good defenses. Their biggest issue is missed plays, penalties, and sacks. If they can find a way to clean that up, there's a chance that the same offense that has averaged 31 points over their past two games can get even better. Getsy deserves a lot of credit for his successful changes during their mini-bye week.
3. As most of us had predicted, the Bears simply do not have enough offensive weapons. That should be something that becomes a priority starting in March.
I know many had higher hopes for Darnell Mooney coming into the season, but things have not gone as hoped for this Bears' receiving group. Mooney is a quality receiver that will likely need another quality receiver opposite of him to be at his best. The best comparison I can come up with is Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Lockett is a quality receiver on his own, but having Metcalf on the other side of the defense allows him to use his speed and face one-on-one coverage much more.
For many of us, the results so far come as no real surprise. On paper, the Bears entered the year with one of the worst groups in the league. So far, it has played out exactly that way. N'Keal Harry could be a nice No. 3 option as a big body. Dante Pettis is a journeyman and a quality bottom-of-the-depth chart option. Same with St. Brown. Velus Jones Jr. has not lived up to his early draft status (yet), but we'll dive into that more in a few.
At least, in my opinion, this group would look a lot better with a true No. 1 receiver. Who the Bears land will be interesting. Could they swing a trade? There aren't expected to be many top-end options in free agency. Their best bet could be to add another No. 2 in free agency and draft their top target early in the draft. Only time will tell how it all plays out, but you'd have to believe general manager Ryan Poles will make this a priority in the off-season.
4. Speaking of priorities, the Bears must rebuild the trenches in a hurry, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
There are obvious needs on the offensive line, and I would fully expect a few quality names to be added during the off-season in that regard. On the other side of the ball, the Bears need a serious overhaul on the defensive line. Yes, they are in the first year of a new scheme, and they do have some quality depth options. The issue? I'm not sure they have one "blue chip"-caliber starting option right now.
Three-technique is likely to be a top priority this off-season but so should defensive end. Again, they have some quality depth options, but in order for this defense to reach a Top 5 status again, they need to sink multiple top-end resources into this defensive line and the trenches overall.
5. It may not always be pretty, but this team has a lot of fight in them. That's something that has shown up in almost every game this year, and it's becoming a large part of establishing their new identity.
I've come to realize that while I'm not convinced that this coaching staff can lead the Bears back to the promised land, this appears to be a relatively well-coached team with a severe lack of talent. Breaking news, I know. In the first year of a rebuilding year, the Bears are devoid of talent?! Say it ain't so!
I don't say this to be Captain Obvious or even to convey some sort of negative tone. I bring it up to note that this team has established an identity, and it's been refreshing to see. Especially when comparing it with how quickly and easily this team gave up last year under the old regime. That doesn't mean it will always be this way, but even at (3-5), this is a hard team to face, and ultimately, they are a hard team to put away. Yes, they'll likely still get handled by good teams (like the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills), but they should keep most games close and pull out a few improbable wins over the final 9 games.
Despite how boring the year started, this has turned into an entertaining team. Even if they don't keep it close for all four quarters.
6. Linebacker Roquan Smith's performances this season have been about as up and down as it gets. Could a franchise tag be in both parties' best interest?
It seems like every time Smith strings together a great game, he follows it up with a less-than-stellar performance. That's exactly what we saw again on Sunday. Following an outstanding showing in Week 7 against the New England Patriots, he looked lost and was late to react far too often in Week 8.
So far, I'd classify Smith's season as very "up and down" through the first eight games of the season. When their defensive leader is on, he's one of the best linebackers in the league. When he's not, he looks ordinary and very mistake-prone. I'm starting to believe that the best outcome for both sides might be a franchise tag for the 2023 season. Smith has already said he would be OK playing on the tag due to the money it requires. The Bears will have a ridiculous amount of cap space to work with and a cap and cash floor that they must meet. Maybe this could end up being a win/win for both sides and allow Smith to once again state his case to reset the market at a non-premium position.
7. Patience is key when evaluating any rookie, but I'm really starting to wonder how high of a ceiling Velus Jones Jr. can have as a receiver in the NFL.
I say all this while also acknowledging that the third-round rookie missed most of his first NFL training camp and the first few games this season. Even so, Jones Jr. looks extremely far behind the curve for a receiver at any experience level. Even looking past that, his hands have once again become a question. Whether it's as a traditional receiver or a return specialist, it has not been overly pretty unless he's running end-arounds or catching passes near the line of scrimmage.
His speed is something that will keep his perceived ceiling high, but at some point soon, you'd like to see him actually involved as a primary piece in an offense that lacks top-end options at receiver. So far, I've seen nothing that leads me to believe he's going to be any more than a gadget player that many will hope eventually "breaks out." It's also concerning that despite playing in five games, his snap count is not really growing. It tells me that from a developmental standpoint, the coaching staff isn't comfortable enough to play him more. Again, there haven't been a lot of positive signs for a guy that most had projected as a mid-Day 3 selection.
8. A note of appreciation for defensive end Robert Quinn. Will he be the only one dealt by Tuesday's NFL trade deadline?
Roquan Smith's reaction spoke volumes on Wednesday. During his weekly press conference, Smith found out that Quinn was being traded to the Eagles. The fifth-year linebacker was visibly emotional and eventually left his weekly presser. This drew reactions from many fans and media members alike. I believe it also shows how impactful Quinn's personality was in a relatively young Bears locker room.
Quinn's two-and-a-half-year tenure with the Bears with hot and cold. Despite giving him a five-year, $70 deal back in the 2020 off-season, the veteran pass rusher had just three sacks over his time in 2020 and 2022. The reason he had some trade value before the deadline? His franchise record-setting (18.5) sack season in 2021. Although Quinn's production on the field wasn't always consistent, his impact in the locker room always was.
Will the Bears make any more moves before the deadline? It's certainly possible, but I'd label it as unlikely as we head into the 24-hour mark before Tuesday. Yes, David Montgomery could be dealt, as could veterans like Eddie Jackson, Riley Reiff, or any other veteran that could provide some valuable draft capital. Something to keep in mind- The NFL trade deadline is not nearly as active (or as lucrative) as the MLB or NBA trade deadlines. It's much more likely that the Bears stand pat and reassess during the off-season in a few months.
9. I spent quite a bit of time walking around AT&T stadium, and I have to say, it never ceases to amaze me how well Bears fans show out at most away games.
I've been to quite a few away games when watching the Bears over the years, and one thing that has always proven true is just how well this fanbase travels. It was no different on Sunday in Arlington, Texas. Bears fans were everywhere, whether it was in the parking lots of AT&T stadium during tailgates, in the stadium for the game, or even post-game at restaurants and simply walking around.
All in all, it was a pretty fun crowd. I heard a few "Let's go Bears" chants break out throughout the game, and most stayed until the final two minutes of Sunday's 20-point loss. It was a fun experience and one I would recommend to any fans who like to travel to opposing stadiums to catch games. AT&T Stadium is still quite impressive and holds close to 100,000 fans. It's an entire experience on its own, and there's plenty to do in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
10. Week 9 look ahead: The Miami Dolphins' offense is going to be hard to stop, especially with all their speed at receiver. It could be another long day at the office for this Bears' defense.
I'll be honest and say that I didn't expect a Bears win on Sunday. With that being said, I also didn't expect them to give up 49 points to a Cowboys offense that had failed to score more than 25 points through their first seven games of the year. Unfortunately for the Bears' defense, they won't find a reprieve in Week 9 against a high-powered Miami Dolphins offense.
The Dolphins currently hold two of the best receivers in the league with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. While their point total to this point in the season isn't egregiously high, they finally have most weapons healthy, including quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The good news is that the Dolphins' defense isn't to the level of Dallas', and this could be another nice week for the Bears' offense to build off of their last two performances. Nobody will be expecting the Bears to win on Sunday, but it could be another high-scoring game.