The Jekyll and Hyde run of the Chicago Bears continues at home on Sunday afternoon. Despite looking completely unprepared in Week 6 against their divisional rivals, they came out in Week 7 looking like a team that was on a mission. That showed in their dominant 30-12 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders.
From the start of the game until the final whistle sounded, the Bears appeared to be the better team. Chicago opted to take the ball right out of the gate, and while that didn't pan out at first glance, it gave both sides of the ball the confidence they needed to run away and hide in this game. The Bears took the lead on their second offensive drive and never let up. That's a good sign, especially for a team that has struggled to maintain leads in the second half of games during the Matt Eberflus era. For more on Sunday's impressive victory and what lies ahead, let's dive into Week 7's 10 Bears Takes.
1. Despite a run-heavy approach, undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent's first start should be considered a success. We're far from a quarterback controversy, though.
On the day, Bagent's numbers weren't overly impressive. He completed (75%) of his passes for 162 passing yards and a touchdown. He didn't challenge down the field very often, but he was efficient, and most importantly, he didn't make any mistakes to cost the offense. The undrafted rookie also had three scrambles for 24 yards, including a pair of impressive runs for first downs.
Overall, I'd say that Bagent looked confident. He seemed relatively comfortable in the pocket and escaped pressure well. He took just one sack for seven yards and only had a few "rookie moments" where he looked pressed due to pressure. It was a run-heavy attack, and Bagent did exactly what he needed to do to win the game.
With that being said, I think some folks need to take a breath here. Sure, the story of an undrafted free agent from a Division II school making his first NFL start in his seventh professional game is impressive. The broadcast mentioned it more times than I can count, and even the Sunday Night Football broadcast ran with the storyline. It's a fun one, but context is needed. When Justin Fields returns — Which should be within the next two weeks — he will be the unquestioned starter. Again, while Bagent has been a good story, his ceiling is still extremely limited. He has a so-so arm and doesn't do anything "special." Hence why (62.5%) of his passing yardage came after the catch. He only completed three passes that were 10 yards or more through the air. While there's nothing "wrong" with that, it shows the type of quarterback that he is, which is great for a backup but not as ideal for a long-term starter. In the best-case scenario, the Bears will be looking at a Gardner Minshew-like player who will become a good, cost-controlled backup that can come in and win a game or two if called upon. Outside of that, Bagent isn't going to be changing any future quarterback plans for this franchise.
At this point, fans should absolutely enjoy the story for what it is and hope that Bagent can become a quality backup that fans won't have to worry about if he needs to make a spot start or two down the line. Right now, that type of expectation is not only fair, but it's off to a good start. We'll see what Bagent has in store against a better opponent in Week 8, assuming Fields isn't ready to go.
2. The Bears' defense is playing at a surprisingly high level right now. A deeper look into their last three games and why their emergence could lead to more wins down the road.
For the third straight game, the Bears' defense not only looks competent but, dare I say, they look... Good? In Week 5, they shut down a Washington Commanders offense that had plenty of weapons. In Week 6, they held a Kirk Cousins-led Minnesota Vikings offense to 12 offensive points. This week, they held the Raiders to a pair of field goals until the final "garbage time" drive of the game.
More impressively, they've given up an average of just 38 yards per game on the ground in those three contests. Chicago's defense now ranks 6th best against the run. They are moving closer to the middle of the pack in total yardage per game, too. Considering how rough of a start they had to the season, it's been quite an impressive turnaround.
Looking ahead, this defense will see some favorable matchups in the coming weeks. Week 8 will not be one of those, but the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers follow. Assuming the Bears can get Fields back during that stretch of two games, they have a real chance to win both games. Again, it's always important to take each week for what it's worth, but this defense playing at a league-average level could lead to many more chances to win down the stretch. It could also be a big key to Eberflus attempting to save his job. I'd still classify those chances as slim to none, but for a defensive-minded coach, it all starts with this group.
3. Running back D'Onta Foreman had a big day on Sunday. Nobody should be surprised by the team's impressive depth, though. It was a focus during the off-season.
I'm not sure about you guys, but when the Bears lost their No. 1 and No. 2 options at running back, I wasn't overly concerned we'd see a big dropoff. Through two weeks of Foreman, I feel pretty safe in saying that my faith was not misguided. On Sunday, Foreman had his biggest day yet with 120 total yards and a trio of touchdowns. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry on the day and broke off multiple impressive runs, including a long of 14 yards.
If you rewind back to the start of the off-season, the Bears made a conscious effort to retrofit their running back room to a cheaper, more versatile group. That's not a knock on David Montgomery, who has had a very nice start to the season in Detroit. The issue? Montgomery signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Lions in free agency. The Bears added Foreman, Travis Homer, and rookie fourth-rounder Roschon Johnson for less money per year. Not only did they get three players for the price of one (on similar production), but they also got a special teams ace, a bruising runner, and a do-it-all back who should be around for at least four years in Johnson. In my opinion, the way the Bears' running back situation played out this off-season was one of the rare "win-win" scenarios in which one player leaves for another team, and his former team moves on, and both somehow end up better off.
Herbert's stint on Injured Reserve could end as soon as Week 10, and I would have to assume that Johnson will be back from his concussion soon. If/when that happens, they might have a decision to make in terms of who is leading their committee to finish off the year.
4. Earlier this week, it was reported that cornerback Jaylon Johnson would not be traded at the deadline. A few days later, he had his first career two-interception game, including a pick-six. I still believe an extension makes sense before he hits the open market in March.
The Bears find themselves in a tough spot as we inch closer to October 31st's NFL trade deadline. At (2-5), this team is all but out of the playoff race. It's been a disastrous year two for this regime, and there's a very good chance that big changes will once again be made this off-season. That said, I'm not sure how much sense it makes to trade young players who should get extensions. For my money, Johnson, Darnell Mooney, and Andrew Billings are three primary players that fall into this category.
Clouding the future even more is the status of second-year general manager Ryan Poles. Assuming that the coaching staff does not return in 2024, does Poles? That question could go a long way on how much "leash" the team's general manager will receive at the deadline. He's had all off-season and the first seven weeks of the season to strike more than one extension and has failed to do so. If the Bears still deem players like Johnson as extension-worthy, I can completely understand not trading them. If they are simply holding onto contract-year players because they are fighting for their jobs, the process is broken.
For my money, Johnson should absolutely be extended. I won't pretend that his situation is cut and dry. His health and lack of takeaway production have been his two biggest knocks. Johnson has already missed two games this season, but to his credit, his two-interception game on Sunday was a nice step in the right direction. In all reality, Johnson isn't a front-line lockdown cornerback. He's in the tier right below that and should be paid accordingly. At just 24 years old, he still has a ceiling to meet. Johnson's annual average value should fall somewhere in the middle of Carlton Davis ($14.833 million per year) and Jamel Dean ($13 million per year). That would still be a minimum of $6 million per year below the top of the market. The Bears have plenty of cap flexibility in future years and should be motivated to lock down one of their own.
5. Despite quality results on Sunday, I still question the Bears' process when it comes to consistently reconfiguring their starting offensive line.
If there's been one constant on the offensive line, it has been change. The Bears have had 31 offensive line combinations in 24 games. I'm not sure what the record is in this time period, but I would have to assume the Bears are pushing a record. Injuries have made some of it a necessity, but some of this has been on the coaching staff. The continual need for them to play guys out of position to avoid using younger players should not be an issue on a team that is struggling to win games with a young roster.
Cody Whitehair was named the starting center early on in the off-season, yet he's started more games at left guard than his originally named position. Again, some of that was due to Teven Jenkins' injury that landed him on Injured Reserve. Even so, he's healthy now, and yet, he was slid over to right guard. The consistent jumbling of the interior line has not led to continuity and does not put young players like Jenkins or Ja'Tyre Carter in a position to succeed. Jenkins has been moved five times in three years, including four different positions. Carter has played well in limited action but has not been trusted as a full-time starter when a long-term injury has happened.
Again, if this was a contending team, the veteran comfort level would make more sense. The issue is that they are far from contending for much of anything, and both veterans that have forced changes, have struggled for the majority of the last two seasons. This could be as simple as a desperate coaching staff trying to save their jobs, but those decisions can be dangerous to long-term development. With starting right guard Nate Davis expected to miss the next few games with a high ankle sprain, it'll be interesting to see if more shuffling on the interior is coming. Despite one game of good results, the Bears should re-consider moving Jenkins and leaving Carter out of the starting five.
6. The latest word on quarterback Justin Fields' thumb has all been positive. Why Week 9 against the New Orleans Saints feels like a realistic possibility.
When Fields originally went down with his thumb injury last weekend and was quickly ruled out, it felt like bad news was incoming. As the week progressed and no new news came out, things started to feel a little more optimistic. On Sunday morning, the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Fields would not need surgery and his thumb injury was progressing well. It still seems unlikely that the third-year quarterback will return for Sunday night's Week 8 matchup, but a return the following week would make more sense. If so, Fields will be facing a tough defense that mixes coverages well. The Saints' defensive front will also be a challenge.
While the season might be on life support when it comes to playoff hopes, getting Fields back still holds plenty of importance when it comes to the upcoming off-season. With a decision still looming on the quarterback for 2024 and beyond, he'll either be building a case to stay in Chicago or building more trade value if the Bears choose to move in a new direction. Regardless, his playing the final half of the season is an important piece to the evaluation and should not be overlooked. Again, there should be no "quarterback controversy," and Fields returning should benefit the team in multiple ways. Until then, feel free to enjoy Bagent mania.
7. I continue to be amazed with Cairo Santos' new found leg strength.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you have likely noticed that I've pointed out Santos' vastly improved leg strength this season. It has shown up primarily on kickoffs, but we got a chance to see it in action on a long field goal this Sunday. When Santos lined up for a 54-yard field goal, my first reaction was, "This might be too long for him." Somehow, I had forgotten how much work he had put into improving his leg strength this off-season. Once he let the kick go, I quickly remembered how impressive his off-season work had become.
Santos has been one of the league's more accurate kickers in his second stint with the Bears. His biggest knock had been his max range being right at the outer edges of the low 50s. So far this season, we have seen a kicker that is much more in line with many of the elite modern-day kickers. The veteran is yet another player who is set to be a free agent at year's end and should be rewarded with another multi-year extension before the start of free agency. Chicago found a diamond in the rough with Santos, especially on his third and likely final chance in the NFL. He has rewarded the Bears with multiple impressive years and only seems to be getting better at just 31 years old.
8. A weekly check-in on the current draft order. Hint... the Bears still hold the No. 1 overall pick.
After all but one game of Week 7 in the books, it's time to take our weekly peak at the far too early 2024 NFL draft order. Coming in at an impressive (0-6) is the Carolina Panthers, who had their bye in Week 7. They remain the league's lone winless team, and that's a big benefit to the Bears, who own the right to their pick. The Arizona Cardinals moved up to the No. 2 overall slot after another loss. The rest of the Top 10 consists of two-win teams. The Bears currently hold the No. 3 overall pick, mainly thanks to their weak strength of schedule to this point.
At this point, if the Bears want a realistic shot at the top pick in next year's draft, it'll come from the Panthers. With the trade deadline just over a week away, don't be surprised to see Carolina sell off some pieces in the coming days. If you're a Bears fan, you should be rooting for a selloff in Carolina and Kyler Murray to return in Week 8 for the Cardinals.
9. NFC North lookaround: The Bears are the lone team in the division with a win going into Minnesota's Monday night matchup.
Overall, the NFC North has been pretty bad outside of the Detroit Lions, who went into Week 7 with a (5-1) record. They had their first reality check of the season with a 38-6 blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Lamar Jackson had 393 total yards and four touchdowns. The Lions' defense was outmatched early, and their offense struggled to move the ball when the game was still within reach. I'd fully expect Detroit to bounce back, but let's be honest here... Even if they won three games for the rest of the season, there's a good chance they'd still come away with the NFC North crown. Good teams lose to bad games occasionally, and until proven otherwise, this is what I'm going to write this off as.
In Green Bay, things are not going well. Despite starting off (2-1) and playing well, things have fallen off a cliff in recent weeks in large part due to the play of quarterback Jordan Love. Their offense line has seen plenty of shuffling, and they have an extremely young core of skill position players. Even so, Love has struggled to get the ball downfield consistently and has turned the ball over at a much higher rate. Green Bay was always thought of as a team in transition for 2024, and through six games, that still appears to be the case.
The Minnesota Vikings play later tonight but face a tough test against a (5-1) San Francisco 49ers team that is sure to be looking to rebound after a tough Week 6 loss. According to reports, the team will not trade quarterback Kirk Cousins but could sell off other parts for the right price. The Vikings are yet another team in transition, which leaves the NFC North firmly in the hands of Detroit. The Vikings and Packers will face off in Week 8 for second place, while the loser might go into sell mode just two days before the trade deadline.
10. Week 8 look ahead: The reeling (2-4) Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football.
Last week, NBC had a chance to flex the primetime matchup between the Bears and Chargers but decided against it. From a marketing standpoint, I get it. Chicago is a huge market, and regardless of how bad the Bears are, the ratings are always something a network can rely on. From a pure matchup standpoint, this is going to be a tough one to watch. The Chargers have lost two straight games and their offense does not appear to be heading in the right direction with a pair of 17-point performances. Head coach Brandon Staley appears to be firmly on the hot seat as they sit in third place in a pretty average division. Quarterback Justin Herbert recently signed a massive contract extension, but the team is just not performing to their level of talent.
For the Bears, they'll be looking — yet again — to start their first winning streak of the Eberflus era. Chicago has won two of their last three games, and more importantly, their defense appears to be headed in the right direction with Eberflus now in full control.
The reality for each team is quite simple. The Chargers have a much better shot at a wild card spot. Even so, a loss on Sunday night could all but end their season, especially in a deep AFC. For the Bears, this will be their last opportunity to evaluate their roster before the trade deadline. While it does not appear that they'll be overly active, a (2-6) record would all but seal their fate for the 2023 season. On paper, this appears to be a much bigger game for Los Angeles, but in terms of storylines in primetime, there's not a whole lot to write home about.