There’s no debate as to whether or not the Chicago Bears are in the beginning stages of a full-on rebuild. That alone should make their (2-1) start to the 2022 NFL regular season an impressive feat. Yet, it’s hard not to feel concerned for the future with how things have played out through the first three weeks for this team.
Heading into Sunday’s Week 3 matchup against the Houston Texans, most believed this would be the type of matchup that could lead to a breakout game for this offense. Somehow, most came away wondering if this offense is somehow producing a worse product than most of what we saw in the Matt Nagy era.
How good should we feel after the Bears’ 23-20 victory at Soldier Field? We’ll dive into that and more in this week’s installment of our 10 Takes.
1. Patience is required for the development of quarterback Justin Fields, but how can you not be worried after these first three games?
Through three games, the results have not been kind to Fields. There’s no denying that the Bears have arguably the worst supporting staff in the league for their young quarterback. Especially when considering the performances from both their offensive line and pass catchers so far.
Even so, Fields has looked lost for the most part. Week 3 was arguably his worst performance of the young season but the issues same issues keep appearing weekly, and that’s cause for concern. He’s taking more hits, his confidence is shaken, he’s not seeing the field well, and his hesitation when throwing passes is costing him positive plays. It has also become increasingly evident that this coaching staff does not trust him to throw the ball 30-plus times a game. At this point, can you blame them?
The Bears find themselves in a tough position. They are balancing trying to win football games with the critical aspects of developing their young quarterback. Hence why offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has called a run-heavy attack over the first three games of the season.
So, what can the Bears do to improve the situation? That’s what everyone would like to know. Fields’ confidence is going in the wrong direction, but somehow, they are (2-1) and in a good spot to exit October around .500. Despite their current record, one could argue that the development (or clarity) of their young quarterback is vastly more important than winning a few extra games in Year 1 of their rebuild. The book is far from written on their young quarterback, but the warning signs are not going away, and that’s cause for concern moving into these final 14 games of the season.
2. The Bears might be in the early stages of a rebuild, but it’s also clear that this coaching staff is learning on the job
So far, I would categorize this coaching staff as “conservative.” That’s something I do not consider a positive when evaluating any team’s head coach. Sunday’s game was a battle between the past and the present regarding Lovie Smith versus Matt Eberflus. Yet, I would argue that both teams and how they operated looked eerily similar in most facets of the game.
Does that mean things can’t change? No. But I was also a bit disappointed to see the lack of trust they had in their passing offense early on, despite Fields having a tough day. I was also not a fan of seeing a 31-year-old veteran in Joe Thomas getting the start at SAM over the undrafted free agent in Jack Sanborn. Again, these are just small details, but it plays into the early evaluation of any rookie head coach.
Hopefully, as the season goes on, Eberflus will gain more trust in his roster and will be able to take more chances. After all, what better time to take risks and learn on the job than Year 1 of a rebuild where expectations will never be lower?
3. The early word on running back David Montgomery’s “lower leg” injury is positive, but Khalil Herbert’s continued production should lessen the urgency of rushing him back
Shortly following Sunday’s victory, Eberflus addressed the media in his weekly postgame presser. Although he did not give any specifics, he did say that the team is confident that Montgomery would be OK long-term and went as far as calling him “day-to-day.” That’s good news for a team that has relied heavily upon their rushing attack to create points offensively.
The injury did allow Herbert to get a more extensive look, and the second-year running back did not disappoint. He finished the game with 157 rushing yards on 20 carries for a whopping (7.9) average. Herbert also had the team’s lone two touchdowns.
On the season, the reserve running back is averaging (7.27) yards-per-carry on 33 rushes in three games. His 240 rushing yards so far this year is also extremely impressive, considering his usage coming into this game was considerably less than Montgomery’s.
Once Montgomery comes back, he’ll very likely retain the starting role. That said, Herbert has shown that he’s a great fit in this offense and can create explosive runs with regularity. Herbert should see a bigger workload moving forward regardless of Montgomery's status. The Bears have a pair of above-average starting caliber running backs, which is not a bad problem to have.
4. If Sunday’s game was any indication of things to come for Roquan Smith, he might be worth that big contract after all.
Smith’s numbers over the first two games gave off an appearance of quality play that simply wasn’t there when you watched him on the field. It was a rough start for the veteran linebacker, which was problematic, considering his contract squabble this off-season.
But if Week 3’s performance is a sign of things to come, Smith and the Bears will be just fine with each other. It was far and away the best we’ve seen the fifth-year linebacker look in quite some time. He finished the game with a team-high 16 total tackles, which was just one short of his career-high. He also had a pair of tackles for loss and the game-changing interception that led to the final field goal of the game as time expired. This performance followed a week of no practice due to a hip issue, making it much more impressive.
The Bears’ defense is still finding its identity, but Smith’s play is key for any sort of success moving forward. Fans must hope this is a sign of things to come for their star linebacker.
5. It might be about time to re-evaluate the starting five on the offensive line
Make no mistake, Fields has been responsible for a decent amount of the 10 sacks he’s taken so far this season. Despite that, the team’s pass protection simply has not been good enough, and the first place they need to look is at their pair of tackles. At least from my evaluations (PFF grades be damned), left tackle Braxton Jones has been the better of the two tackles overall. Both had rough moments again today, and that’s why I think it may be about time to put Riley Reiff in the mix at right tackle.
This offense needs stability, and I’m not sure this current configuration is going to give them what they need. The good news? Lucas Patrick no longer has the club on his hand and should be starting at center soon. The bad news? Most of the sacks have not come from the interior. That’s why they need to re-evaluate their tackle situation and make a change to try and help this passing offense. We’ll see if any changes follow this coming week.
6. Eddie Jackson’s resurgence through the first three games hasn’t just shown up with interceptions
Right now, the Bears’ most improved player has to be Jackson, and it’s not even all that close. Yes, he has a pair of interceptions in three games this year. Yet, it’s been everything else that has impressed me even more. He looks much more free to roam center field. He’s reacting quicker, and most importantly, he’s been a much more physical tackler. All in all, the veteran looks rejuvenated and, more importantly, appears to be a fantastic fit in this new defense. I’m sure it also helps that rookie safety Jaquan Brisker has played pretty well and has been a stabilizing force in the box. This team has a lot of questions, but safety doesn’t appear to be one of those.
7. Sunday’s game was the first time that I can remember not noticing the quality of Soldier Field’s field conditions
About six days before Week 1, Eberflus led the charge to get the city’s grounds crew to shift from Kentucky Blue Grass to a new strain of Bermuda. The game against San Francisco brought gallons upon gallons of rain, which made it extremely difficult to truly assess the new turf. Sunday was a great time to get a true feel, and at least to my untrained eye, it appeared to pass the test with flying colors.
I didn’t see any slipping, no big dead spots, or anything crazy that we’ve been conditioned to seeing at Bears home games. Only time will tell how the grass holds up over time (especially in cold weather), but so far, I’ve been impressed with the switch, and it’s something that could benefit the Bears as the season moves along.
8. Despite quite a few negatives and even more unknowns, it’s hard to believe the Bears are (2-1). Yet, here we are.
The Bears have had considerable struggles on offense. Their depth chart is comprised (65%) of new faces, and many of those new names lack experience. Somehow, some way, this team finds themselves at (2-1) with a real shot to start (3-1) on the year. Part of that is how the schedule shakes out early in the year, but this is also a group that has shown that they won’t give up on any game. No matter how ugly it may look in the moment.
One of my biggest unknowns coming into the season was how long it would take for this team to figure out how to close out games. That’s usually something inexperienced rosters and new regimes struggle with. So far, they’ve closed out a pair of teams in the fourth quarter, including Sunday’s game against a similarly built team. I’m still not expecting anything too great in the win column once Week 17 closes out, but for all of their struggles, this team deserves some credit thus far.
9. Looking around the league, there appears to be a lot of inconsistent play from week-to-week. This seems to be the most wide open the NFL has been in quite a while.
Heading into Monday night’s game, there are a ton of teams that are either (2-1) or (1-2). There is currently only a trio of unbeaten teams, and the Las Vegas Raiders (0-3) and Texans (0-2-1) are the only two teams without a win. Considering we are just three weeks into the season, it’s pretty remarkable to not see a bigger spread of the two extremes. Only time will tell how all of this pans out, but I have a feeling that the Miami Dolphins won’t finish as the best team in the league, the same way that it’s highly unlikely that the Raiders will end up finishing as bad as they have started.
Looking at the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and the Bears all sit atop the division at (2-1). The Detroit Lions have played very impressive offensive football but find themselves at (1-2) heading into Week 4. While I still believe the Hard Knocks’ shine clouded some analysts’ judgment on a flawed team, the Lions have played much better football than they did at any point last year. Much like the Bears, they are still learning how to win football games. It will be interesting to see how these teams separate themselves as they play more games against each other within the division.
10. Looking ahead to the Bears’ Week 4 opponent, the New York Giants have had quite a bit of luck getting off to their strong start
As I’m finishing off things for Week 3, the Giants still have not played their Monday night game. So, all we can do is go off of the first two games they’ve played, and the reality is simple. They’ve won both of their games by a combined four points. Those two wins are against a pair of teams that have combined to start the season (2-4) on the season.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the Giants, but I do think their record is a little deceiving, considering their margin of victory or the strength of their opponents. The reality is that both of these teams are in similar spots (new regimes in Year 1) and have plenty of questions on both sides of the ball. Although the Giants have opened up at (-2.5) for next Sunday’s game, I believe the Bears have a good shot to open up the season (3-1). We’ll also see a defense that is willing to play a lot more man coverage. That means Fields will have another tricky defense to maneuver.