Week 8 has come and gone with even more quarterback injuries around the league. More than usual, it seems that each week has been more unpredictable than the last. There were plenty of upsets in Week 8, but unfortunately for the Chicago Bears, they were not one of those. Despite coming in winning two of their last three games, the Bears laid yet another egg on Sunday Night Football, losing by a score of 30-13. Quarterback Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers offense had their way with an under-manned Chicago defense.
Chicago’s offense could not get going early, and by the time they could catch their breath, they found themselves down 17-0. Trying to successfully implement a similar game plan to Week 7 only works if a team can keep the score under control. Unfortunately for the Bears, that was not the case, and fighting from behind was not something they could overcome. With a prime chance to get back in the Wild Card race behind them, their final nine games will remain a learning opportunity for a roster that will surely see plenty more changes next off-season. We’ll dive into all that and more in Week 8’s 10 Bears Takes.
1. The NFL trade deadline is on Tuesday, and despite “rumors” from Mike Florio on Saturday night, general manager Ryan Poles says to expect a “fairly quiet” Tuesday.
Before Sunday night’s game, Poles did his weekly radio hit on ESPN 1000. Among the topics brought up, he was asked about Tuesday’s deadline. He said he would like to get a deal done with cornerback Jaylon Johnson but noted that the contract terms would have to make sense for both sides. Considering Johnson’s comments earlier this week, it sounds like they’ve exchanged numbers, but no deal is close. Johnson’s play, when healthy, has been impressive. Coming into Week 8, Johnson was Pro Football Focus’ top graded cornerback. The biggest issue? His ability to stay on the field. Over his first three and a half years in the league, Johnson has missed a total of 12 games. The 24-year-old is clearly still ascending, but his inability to play an entire season has clouded his value.
On Saturday night, Mike Florio of NBC’s Pro Football Talk reported that there had been multiple rumors around the league that the Bears were close to a deal to acquire defensive end Chase Young from the Washington Commanders. Those “rumors” have since been refuted, but they made for an interesting 15 hours or so. Poles did say they would remain fluid through Tuesday’s deadline, but it did not sound like anything was close to getting done.
In all reality, the Bears should be sellers, if anything. Last week, I touched on possible trade candidates for the Bears. Of the three top names, all three could make sense as extension candidates, too. Considering this regime will likely be on the hot seat come “Black Monday,” trading away viable starters might not make a lot of sense. I’d still rather see Johnson, Darnell Mooney, and Andrew Billings extended, but I can also see how their futures would be clouded until we know who is running the team in late January.
For now, Bears fans can probably rest easy. At (2-6), it might make the most sense to stand pat and re-evaluate once the season ends.
2. Quarterback Tyson Bagent made his second career start on Sunday night. While the win didn’t come this time, he’s proving that he should be a quality NFL backup for years to come.
As I talked about last week, Bagent’s story has been a fun one, but it might be time to pump the breaks on any talks of him being the future at the quarterback position. He’s done some nice things. He has processed quickly, made relatively smart decisions, and has made throws when needed. Despite making just his third NFL appearance, he looks wise beyond his years. A lot of that comes from the fact that he attempted over 1,000 throws in college. Despite being a rookie, Bagent came into the league as a 24-year-old with plenty of experience throwing the ball. The maturity has been clear, and that’s a plus for the Bears.
He hasn’t looked overwhelmed, even for a rookie. The timing with which he plays is something that I’m sure Luke Getsy hopes can rub off on Fields. Yet, his inconsistencies still showed in that department with multiple late throws later in the game. There are a lot of positive signs coming from Bagent in just his third game, which should bring the Bears plenty of value over the next three-plus years. That said, there shouldn’t be a quarterback controversy when Justin Fields is healthy. Despite the narrative Sunday night’s broadcast tried to portray. Bagent has made plenty of turnover-worthy decisions that have not resulted in such. For as many Brock Purdy comparisons that will be made to Bagent, the story on Fields has still not been fully written. These final stretch of games will provide a “clear as mud” evaluation of their third-year quarterback. Regardless of how you feel about Fields and the Bears’ upcoming decision, he deserves the final half of the season to state his case for 2024 and beyond.
3. A troubling trend continues in the Matt Eberflus era: The Bears’ lack of preparedness following a win.
Simply put, this coaching staff still appears way in over their skis. When things stop working, all bets are off for this team, and that’s a trend that has followed them through this first year and a half of this group.
We’re now 25 games into the Eberflus experience, and his team has yet to string together any semblance of a winning streak. Not only are they 5-20 during that stretch, but they’ve been outscored by a 68 point-margin coming off wins. The number of concerning trends continues to mount, and try as they might, this team has not been able to get over the hump with this coaching staff leading the charge.
Going into the final nine games of the season, Eberflus would need to double his current win total to avoid staying as the franchise’s worst head coach winning percentage. Considering how long Abe Gibron has held that mark, that’s a big concern by itself. At this point, it feels like team President Kevin Warren is simply playing out the string. As I’ve touched on in past installments, the logistics of firing Eberflus mid-season became even more complicated the minute he took over as the defensive play caller. The Bears are stuck for the remainder of 2023, and right now, I’m not sure firing Eberflus sends any different of a message than it would in 10 weeks.
My advice? Start building a Rolodex of your favorite head coaching candidates so we can all be over-opinionated in mid-January. It’s always more fun that way, isn’t it? Sometimes, focusing on the possibilities ahead can relieve the frustrations of the current situation we continue to watch each week.
4. Back to reality for the defense after a trio of great performances.
Whatever the Chargers offense wanted to do on Sunday night, they could execute with relative ease. Third down defense was once again an issue, as was the Bears’ ability to get any pressure on quarterback Justin Herbert. Los Angeles opened up the game, scoring on their first five drives. Herbert started a perfect 15-of-15, too.
Tackling was a big issue, as Eberflus pointed out in his interview heading into halftime. Simply put, there wasn’t a whole lot going right for this Bears’ defense. Injuries have continued to mount. Despite Eddie Jackson being active, he did not play in the game. $18 million a year linebacker Tremaine Edmunds left in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Jaquan Brisker did not play due to an illness, and rookie cornerback Terell Smith missed his third game due to mono.
The list of quarterbacks the Bears have faced in their five wins through their last 25 games have been... Not great. Trey Lance, Davis Mills, Mac Jones, Sam Howell, and Brian Hoyer. Playing defense in the NFL is never easy, but it’s considerably more manageable against some of the league’s worst quarterbacks.
More than anything, Eberflus is trying to run a defense with virtually no pass rush and a soft zone in coverage. Against bad offenses, it works. Against the league’s top quarterbacks, they are able to pick through simple concepts and have plenty of success. Despite the amount of resources that have been poured into this unit over the past two off-seasons, it’s clear they are still a long way off from being a consistently good unit. Part of that is on Poles to properly evaluate talent, especially with some of their top resources. Until then, we’ll continue to see a well-below-average unit that struggles against quality competition.
5. I’m not sure what else we need to see from the Velus Jones Jr. experiment to confirm that it’s simply not working... Especially on offense.
By all accounts, the former third-round pick is a great person who simply has not panned out. It’s not for a lack of effort, and while the opportunities have been scarce, the results have been less than ideal. Sunday night was yet another example of why rostering him going into next season might not make sense.
The Bears offense had struggled out of the gate. They found themselves down 17-0 but were looking to get back into the game before halftime. Despite the many criticisms of Bagent’s arm strength (myself included), the undrafted rookie uncorked a ball around 45 air yards to the end zone. Running to that spot was a wide-open Jones Jr. There wasn’t a defensive back within a mile of him, and all he had to do was simply settle under the ball and make the catch. Instead, he slipped in the end zone, still had the ball hit him in the hands, and failed to make the catch. In some ways, the play provided comic relief. In others, it was a perfect depiction of what the Bears have become in recent years. Close to a breakthrough, but somehow the result is far more embarrassing and frustrating than it should be.
Yes, I’m aware that he was the team’s third-round pick just one year ago. It can be hard for a young general manager to give up on that type of high-value pick. With that being said, we’ve seen very little to suggest that the 25-year-old is going to figure things out. Even as a kick returner, his effectiveness only goes as far as his willingness to take the ball out of the end zone. At this point, it’s safe to assume that Jones Jr. can be added to the list of players this organization will be looking to upgrade from next off-season.
6. DJ Moore and Cole Kmet might be the only two pass impact catchers kept heading into the next off-season. We could see yet another overhaul at these two positions starting in March.
If I may, let’s fast-forward through the next 10 weeks of regular season football and look to the off-season. The Bears are set to have the most cap flexibility out of any team in the league again, especially when you combine their current projected cap figure with the likelihood of a few veteran cuts like Cody Whitehair and Eddie Jackson. The team will have four picks in the first three rounds of the draft, including a pair of first-round picks. Considering where this season is trending, it seems safe to assume that each of their own picks will be high in the respective rounds.
Now it’s time to look at the team’s impending free agents. Johnson and Mooney top the list. I could still see a realistic scenario where Johnson is extended before March, but the path to an extension for Mooney feels less likely. Through eight games, the former fifth-round pick has just 15 receptions for 225 yards and a single touchdown. We all knew Moore would be the primary receiver, but Mooney’s involvement has not been what many had hoped for. When combining his start to this season with a disappointing 2022 campaign, his value becomes even more clouded. Sure, Poles could choose to extend Mooney, but at this point, I’m not sure that makes sense for either side. The Bears need size at receiver. They also need some youth. Mooney will likely be looking for a clean break, especially if the team moves on from Fields.
If that ends up being the case, the Bears will go into the off-season with four pass catchers under contract: Moore, Kmet, Jones Jr., and current rookie Tyler Scott. I would expect Scott to play a bigger role next year, but the need for another top-flight receiver will be there with or without Mooney. At this point, it might make more sense for the Bears to redirect financial resources to other areas of the roster and simply take a receiver early in next year’s draft. Regardless of how it’s been cut, the likelihood of Mooney sticking around next year seems to be shrinking by the game. At this point, I tend to believe that a fresh start would be best for all involved.
7. Don’t look now, but the entire NFC playoff picture has flipped in recent weeks. A look at how the San Francisco 49ers’ recent struggles and the Kirk Cousins Achilles injury has changed things heading into Week 9.
Believe it or not, Chicago had a chance to come out of Sunday night just one game back of the final NFC Wild Card spot. Sadly, those playoff hopes will have to stay holstered for another year. Cousins’ Achilles injury likely dashes any playoff hopes that Minnesota has, despite currently holding the lead for the final NFC playoff spot. There are currently five teams within a game of that seventh seed.
At this point, my money would be on an NFC South team. Despite the division-leading Atlanta Falcons currently sitting at (4-4), the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could both push for a playoff spot down the stretch.
In many ways, it’s unfortunate for the Bears. Many, including myself, expected them to finish the year with seven or eight wins. If that were the case, they’d be firmly in the mix to “sneak” into the playoffs. Instead, they sit a full two games back with a (1-3) conference record. As the season progresses, the reasons for keeping this coaching staff in place continue to shrink. What could have been a prime opportunity for a real building block type of year, has turned into another disappointing season.
If the season were to end today, the Bears would hold picks No. 2 and 3 overall in the upcoming 2024 NFL draft. The reason for the change in Week 8? The Panthers squeaked out their first win of the 2023 season, beating the Houston Texans on a last second field goal by a 15-13 final score. Because the Cardinals have one more loss due to a later bye week, they currently hold the No. 1 overall pick.
The list of two-win teams shrunk again on Sunday, as the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, and Chargers all won this weekend. Arizona and Carolina stand as the only one-win teams, while the Bears headline a group of two-win teams that include the New York Giants, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers.
With a full 10 weeks left to go, there’s still plenty to be determined, but it does appear that some of those struggling teams, like the Broncos, are starting to figure things out. It appears that quarterback Kyler Murray will have to wait until at least Week 10 to see his first start, which could easily lead to a (1-8) start in Arizona. The Panthers will take on the (3-5) Indianapolis Colts in Week 9, while the Green Bay Packers will be taking on a Los Angeles Rams team that could be without quarterback Matthew Stafford. The trade deadline could impact some of these teams, which means we’ll have an even better picture of how the top 5-7 picks will play out after Tuesday.
9. NFC North Lookaround: The Minnesota Vikings’ win was a costly one, while the bottom seems to have fallen out in Green Bay.
Miraculously, the Vikings find themselves at (4-4) after a (1-4) start. That’s the good news (for them). The bad news? Cousins is done for the season after tearing his Achilles in the second half of Sunday’s game. Barring an unforeseen trade on Tuesday, it appears that the Vikings will struggle to find wins down the stretch, with fifth-round rookie Jaren Hall likely to see the remainder of the starts this season.
The Green Bay Packers are a mess. The drop-off from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love has been more drastic than some expected. They currently sit at (2-5) but have lost four in a row. It’s safe to say that the bottom has fallen out for this young roster, and it’s hard to see them winning many games down the stretch. Their first-half struggles continue to make little sense, but Love’s inability to keep the ball safe has become a big issue. At this point, it might make sense for them to commit to an all-out rebuild, but only time will tell if that happens. Their cap space will improve next off-season, but the damage of multiple seasons of kicking the can down the road will still impact them next off-season.
The Detroit Lions will play tonight against a lukewarm Las Vegas Raiders team. My guess is that Detroit gets back on track after getting blown out against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7. I’m not sure they’ll need to win many more games down the road to secure the NFC North title, though.
10. Week 9 look ahead: The (4-4) New Orleans Saints
Much like most of the NFC South, the Saints have been up-and-down to start the 2023 season. Despite starting off the year with a (2-0) record, they’ve lost four out of their last six games. Their defense has not had the same bite as we’ve seen in the past, and veteran quarterback Derek Carr has been inconsistent each week. They opened up as 6 1/2-point favorites next Sunday, but I would not be surprised to see that line move even further away from the Bears.
Regardless of how much any team has struggled coming into a game against the Bears, the results usually favor the opponent. Until we see different, we’re probably best off assuming it’ll be another long day at the office for Chicago.