The holiday season is supposed to bring the first noel, but the Chicago Bears didn’t get the memo, because they were unable to avoid getting “no Ls”.
Terrible seasonal joke aside, the Bears fell to the Bills in a 35-13 matchup on Saturday. The weather was cold, the attendance was sparse by NFL standards, and the football was…decent? It certainly could’ve been better, but it definitely could’ve been worse.
Here are my takeaways on this lovely Christmas morning from the Bears’ eighth loss in a row.
There was the first possession, and then there was everything else.
To start off the game, the Bears were decisive, precise and effective. It took them 8 plays to go 64 yards and march down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive. They did a good job of blending pass concepts, designed handoffs and quarterback runs, keeping the Bills on their toes, and utilizing the strengths of the offensive unit they had at hand.
Then, predictability and vanilla strategy followed.
For starters, Luke Getsy was addicted to running the ball on 2nd & long like I was addicted to the kolaczkis on my mom’s side and the arancini on my dad’s side at Christmas Eve.
The #Bears had 11 plays that came on 2nd & 8 or farther against the Bills today.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) December 25, 2022
They ran the ball on 7 of those plays, and none of them got first downs. Not only does that show the predictability in Luke Getsy's play calls, but it also shows unwillingness/inability to adjust.
For every 44-yard dime to Velus Jones Jr. that Justin Fields was allowed to throw, there were many short dump-offs that didn’t result in much of anything. I get there’s an extent of using the short pass to set up the deep ball, and the cold and windy weather didn’t help much, either. However, some form of stretching the field — even from just an intermediate perspective — should be included more in the passing attack than it was on Saturday.
Justin Fields finished the game 15-for-23 through the air, throwing for 119 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He fell victim to a few drops: most on offense, but one being a potential interception a Buffalo defender dropped. Fields averaged just 5.8 air yards per attempt — ranking 22nd among the 24 quarterbacks to have played before Sunday — and that’s including his deep ball to Jones. He was accurate more often than not, though two of his incompletions got deflected at the line of scrimmage by Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver.
The threat of Fields running the ball was the lowest it has been at any point in the 2022 season. He ran the ball 7 times for just 11 yards, his lowest rushing total of the season. He didn’t look as fast as he has at various different points throughout the year. Granted, part of that may be due to the quality defense played by the Bills, while part of that may come down to the conditions of the field. I’m not one to speculate on why that explosiveness seemed to be lacking by Fields’ standards, which is still well above-average for the quarterback position.
David Montgomery carried the ball 16 times for 62 yards, with a rushing touchdown having been called back due to a penalty. He was quite up and down on Saturday — 6 of his carries went for 2 yards or fewer — but he also had a few encouraging runs in which he made something out of nothing. He had a 28-yard run on the opening drive and had a 10-yard gain later in the first quarter, but most of his plays just resulted in nothing out of Buffalo’s preparation to attack the run. Khalil Herbert was also a nonfactor in his return, rushing for just 7 yards on 6 carries.
Dante Pettis and Cole Kmet were the most targeted players on the Bears with 5 and 6 passes thrown their way, respectively. Pettis scored the team’s only touchdown, but he caught just 2 of his 5 targets for a total of 11 yards. Kmet caught 5 of his 6 targets for a total of 27 yards; his lone miss was a drop, but he was otherwise a reliable security blanket, and the Bears didn’t ask him to do much. Jones’ aforementioned deep ball was one of his 2 catches, whereas Byron Pringle was the only wide receiver who had multiple catches result in significant gains.
There’s only so much an offense can do with an injured offensive line and an injured group of wide receivers in cold and windy weather. I won’t use this game to entirely condemn the Bears given the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects they couldn’t have improved upon.
The Bears’ defense kept them in the game for quite longer than many expected them to be on Saturday.
In the first half, they allowed just 6 points against one of the top offenses in the NFL. Sure, a missed 38-yard field goal from Tyler Bass helped them out a bit, but the point stands that they were very efficient against a talented unit. In fact, with 7 and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bears allowed just two genuine, full-field scoring drives — Buffalo’s third touchdown was aided greatly by starting off the drive after a Montgomery fumble on Chicago’s 35-yard line.
The aforementioned weather conditions can be applied to Josh Allen, who certainly didn’t have the best game of his career, but the Bears also took advantage of questionable decisions that Allen made. A big part of that was the play of the secondary throughout the afternoon.
More often than not, Chicago’s defensive backs held their own against a talented group of Buffalo weapons. Allen completed just 56.7% of his passing attempts, and 4 of his 11 incompletions got deflected by Bears defenders. Kyler Gordon had an especially good game, notching his third interception of the season and finishing with 5 total tackles. He more than held his own in coverage when asked to cover Stefon Diggs, who finished the game with just 2 catches for 26 yards.
Jaylon Jones broke up two passes of his own, and while some inconsistencies were there, he looked a lot better than an undrafted rookie had any right to look at cornerback. Nicholas Morrow led the Bears with 8 tackles and also had an interception, proving his value against the run and in coverage on Saturday. Jaquan Brisker had the team’s lone sack, increasing his total to 4 in his rookie season.
While the Bears’ coverage was pretty admirable, the performance against the run was not. The Bills ran for a combined 241 rushing yards as a team, with Devin Singletary and James Cook alone combining for 205 yards. Singletary had 106 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while Cook had 99 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. The lack of gap integrity was apparent, even upon first glance. The defensive line struggled to plug up holes at the line of scrimmage, allowing the Bills’ offensive line to generate push and clear up running lanes for their teammates.
Those struggles up front translated in the pass rush, as well. Brisker, a safety, being the lone Bear to tally a sack isn’t an incredibly rare occurrence this year, and it happened again this week. Justin Jones and Trevis Gipson each had a quarterback hit — the latter marking the first hit by a Bears defensive end in 5 games. However, there was little pressure on Allen throughout the course of the game, and most of the Bears’ defensive success came down to coverage and scheme.
Things fell apart in the fourth quarter, especially on the second to last drive which saw the Bills march 56 yards down the field for a touchdown. On the final two drives Buffalo had on offense, they ran the ball on 10 of their 12 plays, and both drives ended in touchdowns. Granted, the second drive started on Chicago’s 20-yard line after their offense failed to convert on 4th & 14 (yuck), but the run-heavy approach to close out the game allowed the Bills to put the nail in the coffin.
The Bears’ secondary performing well is a good sign, especially considering not only how young the group is, but also the fact they’re currently without two of their best players, Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson. Encouraging play from their young defensive backs makes the defense’s future bright, but it does remain clear that the defensive line needs to improve if they are ever to take the next step as a collective unit.
Three and out
3. I don’t believe that the 35-13 score does the Bears justice.
Sure, the Bills were the better team on Saturday. With 7 minutes left in the second half, they were only up by 8 points over a 3-win Bears team. Chicago’s late-game performance wasn’t very good when Buffalo ran the ball down their throats, but for three quarters, a young, injury-depleted Bears team was extremely competitive with a Super Bowl contender. It’s clear Buffalo had some struggles on offense from time to time, but at a certain point, the Bears deserve some credit for bringing those mistakes out of a good team. With a better group next year, these types of games should be much more winnable for the Bears.
2. It sounds completely counterintuitive to what I had been saying prior to the season, but the Bears absolutely need to invest in the trenches this offseason.
They’re still a wide receiver away on offense, and they could use another linebacker and cornerback. However, the two biggest weaknesses on their roster are the offensive and defensive line, and the latter was especially apparent through their porous performance against the run. There’s no excuse to not invest heavily in that group once the season comes to an end.
1. This loss for the Bears was like getting socks for Christmas.
Sure, it’s not your ideal situation. You’d certainly be much happier with certain gifts, and getting socks isn’t going to cause you to jump around on Christmas morning. But in the long run, it might be necessary.
The Bears are a game closer to solidifying a top-2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and with Houston’s win on Saturday, the Texans are only half of a game ahead of Chicago for the first overall pick. With the playoffs well out of reach, now is an opportunity for the Bears to see what works and what doesn’t for next year. For their sake, they’ll hopefully identify certain questionable coaching strategies and work to strengthen those weaknesses, doing so with personnel, as well. We’ve passed the point of wins having much of any significance. The rest of this year is about the future, and another loss is probably best for them.