After the Chicago Bears’ (0-4) start, their season was effectively over. At least when talking about their playoff chances. Even so, there was still plenty of time to salvage certain aspects of another losing season. Many of those reasons were surrounded by their third-year quarterback, who left Sunday’s game with a thumb injury. Even when throwing out the (1-5) record, it’s hard for there to be sustainable progress with the amount of key injuries this team has sustained.
It was a valiant comeback effort, especially in the second half. The defense held strong, and undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent did his best to win the game. Unfortunately, it came up short due to an underthrown deep ball on the final offensive drive. The bigger focus is who wasn’t out on the field on the final handful of drives, though. We’ll dive into the injuries and what that could mean down the line for the Bears in the final 11 games of the season. All of that and more in Week 6’s 10 Bears Takes.
1. The prognosis of Fields’ injury will determine many off-season moves and should not be overlooked. Injuries are mounting all over the roster.
Week 6 was one of Fields’ rougher games on the season. While some of it wasn’t on him, he was having trouble seeing downfield and was not playing as “free” as we’d seen him play the two weeks prior. The third-year quarterback took five sacks overall, but the last hit he took might have been the most costly of his career. As Bagent showed in his brief appearance, regardless of who the quarterback behind center is, this is not an offense that is setting their quarterback up to succeed.
Fields finished the game 6-of-10 for 58 passing yards and an interception. The interception was one of those plays where the supporting cast around him failed him. D’Onta Foreman did not do a good job picking up pressure against Danielle Hunter, and Fields was blasted as he threw the ball. The throw itself wasn’t “bad” or “good.” His throwing arm was impacted with such force the ball popped up about 50 feet in the air and down into the arms of linebacker Jordan Hicks. He was the team’s second-leading rusher with 46 yards on eight attempts and helped the team pick up a few first downs. Suffice it to say, it was not one of Fields’ better games.
The bigger issue? We now must wait on an MRI to see the extent of Fields’ dislocated thumb, which was reported by Fox’s Jay Glazer a few hours after the game. The bigger concern is going to be ligament damage. It was said that Fields wanted to come back into the game but simply couldn’t grip the ball. Considering the injury is to his throwing hand, it’s problematic and could lead to an extended absence, which clouds the full-picture evaluation needed to make a key decision this upcoming off-season.
Sure, the season is all but “lost” at this point in terms of playoff expectations, but one of the primary objectives heading into 2023 was getting a true evaluation on the third-year quarterback. Depending on the time he misses because of this injury, we could see another “incomplete” when it’s time for the team to evaluate him in January. Why is this so problematic? For starters, it likely impacts any hopes of salvaging the season. Without Fields out there, the offense will be severely limited. The bigger issue, at least for me, is how unfavorable his missing a 4-6 week stretch of football will become for the Bears brass at season’s end. Especially if they land a Top 2 pick. There are still 11 games remaining on the season, but if Fields misses close to half of those games, it would almost assuredly work against him, especially when considering the up-and-down season he has experienced to date. I’ll continue to maintain that the organization has failed him much more than he has failed them, but at a certain point, opportunity, a new contract clock, and a third coaching staff in four years play big factors in any potential decision made next off-season.
In my opinion, Bagent does not factor into the Bears’ calculus moving forward as a starting option. If anything, his status on the roster could become murky if the Bears opt for a rookie quarterback in 2024. Most teams value a veteran backup quarterback behind a younger signal caller. It’ll either be Fields or a rookie for 2024. How much time Fields misses and where the Bears finish will go a long way in what the final verdict is.
Right guard Nate Davis was rolled up on and did not return to the game. It was reported post-game that he had a boot on his leg in the locker room. Considering he was taken out of the game and quickly ruled out, a stint on Injured Reserve is possible, if not likely. Safety Eddie Jackson left Sunday’s game after re-aggravating his foot injury. This is the same foot that caused him to miss a large chunk of last season with a lisfranc injury. Eberflus did his best to downplay the injury in his post-game presser, saying that he “could have come back in,” but one has to wonder... If he could have come back in, why didn’t he? Especially in a close game.
Left tackle Braxton Jones can come back in Week 7, but with his neck injury, we’ll see if he’s ready to go. With Equanimeous St. Brown, Khalil Herbert, Josh Blackwell, and Khalid Kareem already on Injured Reserve, the long-term injuries continue to mount for a team that lacks both quality starters and depth. All eyes will be on the status of Fields, though.
2. Despite a few rough first half drives, the defense had one of the best games we’ve seen under head coach Matt Eberflus.
On the day, the Bears defense gave up 12 points and held a high-powered Vikings offense to 220 total yards. They also forced what should have been two takeaways, even though only one of them counted. The bigger issue continues to be getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, especially with their front four. Even so, they did end up with a pair of sacks, four quarterback hits, and five tackles for a loss.
It was good to see the entire starting secondary out there, even if Jackson left partway through the game. Rookie Tyrique Stevenson continues to be up and down, but his flashes are still noticeable. Jaylon Johnson got beat a few times across the middle but did have a nice pass breakup. Without going back to review the All-22 yet, I’d grade Jaquan Brisker as having his best game of the season, too. There was plenty to like on Sunday, including opening up the second half with a pair of three-and-outs. They locked down a very good Vikings offense and didn’t allow a second-half point. Overall, I’d count this as one of the better defensive performances we’ve seen in the Eberflus era. Even Justin Jones flashed for a pair of tackles for loss and quarterback hits.
3. The decision to take Cody Whitehair out of Sunday’s game was understandable. Eberflus’ reasoning for why they did it is confounding.
Since sliding over to center halfway through last Thursday night’s game, Whitehair’s snapping has been a continuous problem. The number of snaps that have been high, wide, or low is hard to keep track of. It was understandable that the Bears would go to their well of center-capable offensive linemen.
What doesn’t make sense to me is Eberflus’ explanation of the decision. He stated that the team decided to swap out Whitehair for Lucas Patrick because Patrick had “more experience” at the center. Going by career snaps at the position, that’s not remotely true. Whitehair’s 3,928 career snaps at the position are more than triple Patrick’s 1,258 career snaps at center. If he meant that Patrick has taken more recent snaps at center, he’d have a point. Especially considering Whitehair had not played center since the 2020 season this season.
Even so, why not give Dan Feeney a chance? You know, the same player that general manager Ryan Pace opted to trade a 2024 sixth-round pick for, right before Week 1... Feeney has experience in a similar system, and at this point, could he be a much worse option than what we’ve seen with Whitehair and Patrick?
For anyone who followed my thoughts this off-season, I was strongly against Poles’ approach at the center position. Sure, there weren’t a ton of free agent options, but they needed some youth at the position, and they failed to do so. At this point, I’m not sure they have much to lose by giving Feeney a shot. Regardless, swapping players out mid-game without a factual explanation is yet another reason to question this coaching staff.
4. Speaking of coaching, it’s hard to understand how offensive coordinator Luke Getsy had 10 days to scheme up an offensive game plan and came up empty against one of the worst passing defenses in the league. It all starts with not getting the ball to DJ Moore.
How many times have we seen Getsy completely go away from what has worked for this offense? Take out the slow starts in back-to-back seasons and simply focus on adjustments. Last year, it was the mini bye week that allowed Getsy to cook up a great offense to use Fields’ strengths to their advantage. After five or so weeks, things started to revert. Many assumed we’d see an offense similar to start this year, but it took Getsy four weeks to finally get back to a successful approach. Two games later, the pocket is no longer moving, two inexperienced tackles are being left on an island against top-end pass rushers, and Moore is no longer the focal point of the offense. In the two games where the Bears have scored their most points of the season (28 and 40, respectively), Moore’s involvement was a big reason why. What better way to build confidence for a young quarterback than to feed his best weapon the ball?
At this point, I’m not sure what to think. Minnesota’s passing defense had been atrocious coming into Week 6. Their saving grace had been their pass rush. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores had the highest blitz percentage in the league, too. Yet, the Bears didn’t seem to account for any of that, and it started on the first offensive snap of the game. Fields was blasted on his blindside for a sack by an untouched pass rusher. They were successfully running the ball in a close game, and Getsy went away from it. The problems are vast, and the solutions are scarce.
It’ll be interesting to see how much their approach changes, especially when they figure out how much time Fields is going to miss. The quick passing game was non-existent for Fields, and the focus on Moore was also missing. It’s just hard to imagine how Getsy’s game plan was designed to put his quarterback in a position to succeed, regardless of who was under center.
Bagent’s NFL regular season debut wasn’t a complete disaster and saw some quality drives, but a pair of turnovers hampered his day. Regardless of who the Bears trot out at quarterback, Getsy must have a better game plan, especially against defenses that can get after the quarterback.
5. With colder weather comes more opportunity for kick returns. Sunday was the first time that Velus Jones Jr. was allowed to become a factor. Maybe it’s time the Bears use him more offensively, too.
What a welcomed sight it was. The second-year speedster opened up the game with an impressive 37-yard return. He was decisive, and his speed showed. Two kickoffs later, Jones Jr. took the kick from five yards deep and came out with a 34-yard return. On the day, he averaged 30 yards per kick return and looked explosive doing so.
With St. Brown going on IR, Jones Jr.’s role on offense has not expanded much despite his game-changing speed. He did have a nice 17-yard run out of the backfield and had one catch for five yards. It would be nice to see the Bears get him involved more downfield and maybe even a little bit more in the run game. In many ways, they have a younger version of Cordarrelle Patterson at their disposal on a rookie contract. The former third-round pick needs more touches, although they might require a more creative offensive playcaller. Either way, this was a positive game for Jones Jr. and one that the team should hope he can build on.
6. Taking a look at some potential deadline pieces the Bears could sell.
At (1-5), the Bears should be sellers as the October 31st trade deadline approaches. It’s clear that this will not be a team competing for a playoff spot, and any added draft capital and/or saved cap space should be counted as a bonus. With that being said, how many tradable assets does Chicago have?
Offensively, Darnell Mooney and Robert Tonyan stand out as the lone names that could make sense to trade. I’d still like to see them hold onto Mooney, but with the current regime in question (pending the final results of this season), it might make more sense for them to trade Mooney, rather than letting him walk in free agency once March rolls around. Tonyan’s role in Chicago hasn’t been what I expected. Sure, the Bears have used more than 12 personnel as of late, but if they can get a Day 3 pick for an upcoming free agent, why not?
Defensively, things get a little more interesting. Yannick Ngakoue is the first name that comes to mind for me. Despite signing a one-year, $10.5 million deal in August, he has not delivered the way many Bears fans had hoped, with just two sacks in six games. Jaylon Johnson could be an attractive name if Poles decides to shop him. In my opinion, the Bears should be trying to extend him, but the same concept goes for Johnson, as it does for Mooney. If you’re not going to extend him, trade him for value. Justin Jones could interest a team and would open up more playing time for the rookies. Eddie Jackson’s contract and recent health issues could be a concern, but a team looking for safety help could make it work for the rest of this season. Andrew Billings has been playing outstanding football and should be extended, but he’s another player that could make sense to off-load if he’s not in their future plans.
Unlike the NBA or MLB, activity at the deadline is not nearly as prolific. Even so, I don’t see a reason why the Bears can’t make a few moves to gain some draft picks and save some money in the process.
7. It might be about time to start researching head coaching candidates.
Like I’ve said previously, it’s easy to “write off” last year’s (3-14) year while also expecting a considerably better product in 2023. Well, through six games, the Bears are considerably worse than last year, and that’s a big issue. Is there still time to turn things around? In my opinion, that ship might have sailed. Blowing that game in Denver and then failing to build on Week 5’s dominant win are just recent examples of why things are not working in Chicago with this current coaching staff. Eberflus’ (4-19) record would rank last in winning percentage among past Chicago head coaches. Even more damning? Eberflus is (0-8) in the NFC North and has yet to win more than one game in a row. It’s hard to live up to Poles’ opening line of “Taking the North” when your team can’t win a single divisional game.
On top of Eberflus’ failures in these numbers, questions of development and putting their players in the best positions to succeed have become urgent. Simply put, there hasn’t been a ton of development happening on this roster. All of this despite a large turnover since the Ryan Pace era. At a certain point, perception is reality. This is a bad football team that is not getting any better, and leadership needs to be in question.
Some of my favorite candidates off the cuff: OC Ben Johnson (Detroit Lions), OC Bobby Slowick (Houston Texans), OC Kellen Moore (Miami Dolphins), OC Eric Bieniemy (Washington Commanders), OC Shane Waldron (Seattle Seahawks), DC Dan Quinn (Dallas Cowboys), DC Brian Flores (Minnesota Vikings), and Jim Harbaugh (University of Michigan). As an added bonus, if Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is fired, he’d be a top candidate for me, too.
As you can see, I’m very much in the camp of the Bears going with an offensive-minded candidate. Most of those names are going to be first-time names. It is what it is at this point, but offense needs to be the focus this coming cycle.
8. With the first and second picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select...?
Is Week 6 too early for “If the season were to end today”? Quite possibly, but let’s be honest, most Bears fans have at least thought about it by now, right? Thanks to the Bears’ weaker strength of schedule, they “lead” all 1-5 teams for the No. 2 overall pick in next April’s draft. Even better news? The Carolina Panthers, at (0-6), currently hold the No. 1 overall pick. The Bears are one of six teams with one win or less. Even crazier, there are only four more teams (pending Monday night’s results) that have just two wins. There are 10 teams currently sitting at .500.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of season left to be played. Plenty can change between now and the beginning of January. It’s also completely understandable if you’re not ready to “root” for losses. Even so, we can all “root” for the Panthers to finish as the worst team in the league, and if the Bears follow closely behind, you can be assured that they’ll land two elite players in the draft and that there will be some much-needed change in the organization. Either way, the Bears appear to be heading toward more organizational changes. Whether or not that includes a new general manager is up for debate, but it’s never a bad thing to have a pair of Top 3-5 picks if you’re going to be nowhere near a winning team.
9. NFC North Lookaround: Are the Detroit Lions an NFC powerhouse?
The NFC North is compiled of the Lions and then three other teams who might not sniff .500 again this season. Don’t look now, but Detroit is (5-1) and currently sits as the third seed and are tied for the best record in the NFL after their dominant 20-6 victory in Tampa Bay. Their (4-1) conference record is the only thing holding them back from being the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Green Bay Packers were idle this week after losing to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5. The Vikings beat the Bears and hold sole possession of third place. How the next few weeks play out for the Packers and Vikings will be fascinating. Green Bay is in a “re-tool” year with a first-year starting quarterback and a roster that is one of the youngest in the NFL. Minnesota is also in a transitional spot with a much older roster, especially at quarterback. Don’t be surprised to see the Vikings as sellers at the deadline, but it does not appear that Kirk Cousins will waive his no-trade clause to go anywhere this season.
10. Week 7 look ahead: The (3-3) Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas is currently on a two-game winning streak after victories against the Packers and New England Patriots. Although they haven’t been overly impressive in either victory, they are getting it done with a balanced effort. Starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo left Sunday’s game and was transported to a local hospital after a lower back injury, which puts his status for next Sunday in doubt. If he cannot go, look for veteran Brian Hoyer to get the start in his place. Hoyer came into Week 6’s matchup and went 6-of-10 for 102 yards, including a big 48-yard bomb to rookie Tre Tucker.
Running back Josh Jacobs is off to a slow start this year but has been much more productive of late. Las Vegas’ pass rush could pose some issues for the Bears offensive line, especially with Maxx Crosby leading the way. The Raiders open up as three-point favorites, and I would expect that line to remain close, considering both team’s quarterback situations. There’s a very good chance we’ll see a battle of the backups. Now we get to see how “comfortable” the Bears are going to be starting undrafted free agent Tyson Bagent, if it comes to that.