In a complete 180 from the start of the 2022 season, it was the Bears’ high-powered offense that kept them competitive against the Dolphins on Sunday.
When Tua Tagovailoa has been healthy, Miami has solidified itself as arguably the most explosive offense in the NFL today. That makes it no surprise that the Dolphins scored at will when they came to Soldier Field, but Justin Fields and the rest of the Bears’ offense kept them in the game with a stellar outing of their own. Alas, Miami was able to crawl away with the 35-32 victory in a tightly-contested matchup.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the Bears’ Week 9 loss.
Justin Fields was that dude on Sunday. Plain and simple.
Fields finished the day 17-for-28, throwing for 123 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Throwing the ball, he was effective more often than not. He made some good decisions with the football, delivered some accurate strikes in key situations and stretched the Dolphins’ defense out laterally. Luke Getsy came in with a plan that best suited the offense, and the Bears were able to execute it with ease.
It wasn’t just through the air where Fields beat Miami, though. His performance on the ground was — statistically speaking — the single-best rushing game from a quarterback in NFL regular season history. He ran the ball a team-leading 15 times for 178 yards and a touchdown. One of those runs was a 61-yard score on third down, in which he climbed the pocket, hit a pump fake — while flipping his hips mid-run — and quickly accelerated to exploit the middle of the field. That score kept the Bears in the game and turned a 11-point Dolphins lead into just a 3-point one.
Regardless of whether it was a designed run like a QB sweep or simply a scramble on a designed passing play, Fields was electric with the ball in his hands. A player as big as he is running with as much speed as he does is a nightmare for any team to go up against, and with how he is developing in terms of his confidence and decision-making as a passer, he is looking like one of the worst mismatches opposing NFL teams can face around the league.
Kudos belongs to the Bears’ offensive line for how they held up in pass protection, too. Miami was able to shut down the likes of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert up the middle, and neither running back was able to contribute much on the ground. That said, Fields often had enough time to make smart decisions and read the defense in a clean pocket. The Dolphins hit Fields just twice all afternoon, which speaks to how reliable the offensive line was on a passing down-by-down basis.
Cole Kmet had his first multi-score game in the NFL, catching 5 passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears did a good job of keeping him on the move across the middle of the field — where he excelled during his time at Notre Dame — and it predictably worked wonders for him in the red zone. He deserves credit for how reliable he was when the ball got in his hands, and Getsy deserves credit for finally using Kmet the way he needed to be used.
Darnell Mooney led the Bears with 7 receptions and 43 yards, scoring a touchdown in the process. He came down with a beautiful contested grab against Xavien Howard in the back end of the end zone for his first receiving touchdown of the year. Chase Claypool caught two of his 6 targets for 13 yards, and they gave him a carry on the ground for 4 yards. He didn’t set the world on fire in his debut, but he shouldn’t have been expected to. Chicago gave him simple tasks in the passing game as he adjusted to the new offense while taking advantage of their new size-speed mismatch with designed touches. Equanimeous St. Brown blocked well but didn’t catch either of his two targets, including a key drop on fourth down.
Fields tore the house down at Soldier Field this week. The Bears now know how to get the most out of him and the rest of their offense, and they have a shiny new weapon in Claypool to work with. As Claypool gets acclimated and Fields gets even more reps under his belt, the ceiling is quite high for Chicago’s offense now that they’ve found their identity.
I’ll try to keep this short, because there’s not much that can be said about the Bears’ defense on Sunday that’s all that positive.
Simply put, the Bears’ defense was outmanned, outcoached and outperformed. The Dolphins have arguably the fastest offense in the NFL, and they stretched Chicago horizontally incredibly well. The middle of the field was barren and allowed Miami to do whatever they wanted. Jack Sanborn fought hard and commendably had 7 tackles in his first game in a bigger role, but putting someone like him or Joe Thomas across the middle to pick up Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle is a mismatch waiting to happen, and the Dolphins exploited that plenty.
Chicago struggled to generate anything in the way of pressure up front, too. Tua Tagovailoa often had a clean pocket to work with, and he was sacked zero times and hit just twice. Tagovailoa doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world, but his accuracy from short and intermediate ranges made it easy for Miami to hit receivers in stride and get them out in space. It certainly helped that the Bears failed to put him under duress very often.
Raheem Mostert was limited to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground, and Tagovailoa was a complete non-factor on the run. The Bears’ front-seven did a solid job of plugging up holes against Mostert in the run game, with the likes of Nicholas Morrow, Justin Jones and Armon Watts making plays against the run. However, Jeff Wilson gained 51 yards on 9 carries, and he also scored a touchdown as a pass-catcher.
Given how much the Dolphins have invested in their offense and how little the Bears have invested in their defense, it’s no surprise Chicago saw similar struggles to their game against the Cowboys last week. The cornerbacks themselves had some issues, but upon first glance, neither Jaylon Johnson nor Kyler Gordon were terrible considering how explosive the weapons they had to guard were. Looking at the All-22 will obviously provide a better explanation.
The Bears have a young secondary and a defensive line that simply cannot get to the quarterback, so their defensive struggles come as no surprise. If anything, it shows that they will need to invest heavily in the trenches this offseason. Luckily for them, there will be plenty of talented veteran free agents and intriguing draft prospects to choose from.
Three and out
3. If the Bears’ offense keeps up their high level of play they have maintained over the last few weeks, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy could end up getting head coaching interviews this offseason.
Will he be hired right out of the gate? Probably not. The Bears might not be able to tally as strong of a record to warrant another team hiring a first-year offensive coordinator as their head coach. That said, Getsy has done a tremendous job of adjusting his offense to play to Justin Fields’ strengths. The passing patterns and designed roll outs allow Fields to make plays on the run, and the ground game has flashed serious potential, especially earlier in the year. Getsy deserves credit for how he’s developed as a play-caller.
2. With the performance of the Bears’ offense on Sunday and the acquisition of Chase Claypool, it seems like a safe bet that wide receiver is trending towards not being the biggest need on the roster.
They would certainly be wise to add more talent for Fields to throw to, but the big focus now should go towards the trenches. They don’t have a long-term starting center, and whether Braxton Jones plays left tackle or right tackle next year, the Bears could use an upgrade over Larry Borom up front. Their defensive line is among the roster in the league, as well. A star 3-technique defensive tackle or a dominant edge rusher could go a long way to help the Bears improve upon what has been a non-existent pass rush this year.
1. I feel very confident about the long-term state of the Bears.
Is this a playoff-caliber team in 2022? Probably not. But this strong play from Fields and this over-achieving roster makes me salivating when thinking about what Chicago can do once the current regime doesn’t have to work with tens of millions of dollars in dead cap inherited from the previous regime. If the Bears are playing teams like the Dolphins close with the roster they have now, just imagine what they can do after spending the most cap space in the league and having an early first-round pick. The future is bright.