Short Thoughts on the Vikings – Bears Game

Colleen Kane at the Chicago Tribune once again provides the quote to start this series of short post-game Bears comments.

“[Bears quarterback Justin] Fields completed 6 of 10 passes for 58 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a 36.7 passer rating. He was sacked four times. The Bears had minus-3 passing yards following their first three drives before Fields connected with Darnell Mooney for a 39-yard pass. The Bears had a chance to take the lead late in the second quarter, but [Danielle] Hunter got in Fields’ face on a pass, and Jordan Hicks intercepted him.

“Wide receiver DJ Moore, who had 230 receiving yards against the Commanders, was targeted twice in the first half, with one 7-yard catch. Moore said at one point the Vikings had three players on him.

“‘All the different looks, all the pressures and everything that was coming at us,’ Moore said. ‘It’s hard when you go out there and think they’re going to do one thing and they do a whole multitude of things that they either put in or just had something to beat our play call with.'”

These three paragraphs summarize in part why this was such a terrible match up for the Bears and especially for Fields. Take a quarterback who struggles to see the field and combine that with a defense that specializes in pressure and mixing coverages and you’ve got a very bad combination.

Moore talks about sometimes having three men on him. And there’s a reason for that. Minnesota defensive coordinator Brian Flores is from the Bill Belichick school of defense. You take away what the other guys does best and you make him beat you with something else. Moore is what the Bears offense does best. Combine the double and triple coverage with the fact that Fields hasn’t shown that he can consistently complete a pass to anyone not maned Moore or Kmet, and you’ve got a problem.

Kane highlights Mooney’s 39 yard completion. But as far as I could tell, it was the only time that Fields found Mooney all day.

But it gets worse than that. Though Moore was covered by multiple players much of the time there were also plays where he was left in single coverage and was wide open. Fields never saw his. As far as I can tell, he never even looked his way.

Contrast that with what Tyson Bagent said about the interception that effectively ended the game. Via Dan Wiederer.

“That shot play seemed to be setting up so nicely, too. First down from the Vikings 35-yard line.

“‘DJ Moore. One of the best receivers in the world. One-on-one,’ Bagent said.

“So the rookie shot his shot. He just couldn’t get enough on it. Because of course.

“‘That’s on me,’ Bagent said. ‘I’ve got to fix it going forward.'”

He does. But at this point, the thing to notice is that he found Moore in single coverage and tried to feed him the ball. Would Fields have done the same? I really have my doubts given what he had shown up to the point where he hurt his hand.

That’s probably why Bagent intrigues the Bears. Whatever they think his ceiling is – and its really hard to tell right now what they think – he sees the Field in a way that, with all of his talent in other areas, Fields doesn’t.

  • It will be interesting to see who the Bears start next week if Fields can’t go. Its true that the Bears have kept Bagent on the roster while shuttling Nathan Peterman back and forth onto and off of the roster. But that’s probably got more to do with the fact that the Bears think that they can get Peterman through waivers whereas they don’t know if they can get a younger quarterback with potential through in the same way.

In a start, the Bears may consider veteran Peterman to be the better bet over the developing Bagent who might not be ready yet. We’ll see.

  • Though we didn’t see it as much as I thought that we would, Fields did have a decent day running the ball against man coverage (8 rushes for 48 yards). What was interesting is that Flores pulled from the Chiefs game to decide to crowd the line of scrimmage to limit Fields. Its worked and it forced Bears wide receivers not named Moore to get open.

  • Again, I have to say how much I love D’Onta Foreman. The guy’s a slasher who runs straight at good angles and hits the hole hard. The Bears must think he’s limited in how they can use him and I thought it was interesting that Darrynton Evans got the first carry of the game. But Foreman is a force when he’s on the field and the Bears are going nowhere without a decent running game.

On a related note, I continue to be impressed by the variety of runs that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy calls. He attacks from all sorts of angles to all sorts of spots along the line and to the outside.

  • Similarly, I thought that this was Matt Eberflus‘s best game. The Bears surprised the Vikings by bring an extra guy from different angles and got pressure for much of the game. It was a good defensive effort.

Special mention to TJ Edwards. I’ve been pretty critical of Edwards in coverage but this was a good game for him. He was all over the field around the ball and notably he supplied the pressure that resulted in the Tremaine Edmunds interception.

  • Note that I don’t intend to do these short comments the next morning after most games and will usually do the quick comments immediately after the game instead. But I’m doing it here because I spent a great deal of this game with one eye on the France-South Africa quarterfinal in the Rugby World Cup. Quick, off the cuff observations tend to be farther off than usual when that happens.

The Vikings Are a Bad Matchup for Justin Fields. And Other Points of View.

  • Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic [answers your questions]{}:

“Let’s say at the end of the season Fields has stats similar to 2022 Daniel Jones. Good enough where you could see growth/potential but not good enough for a Daniel Jones-sized contract extension. Is there a situation where the Bears decide to keep Fields on the fifth-year option and draft the top QB available in the draft? Or do you think if the Bears go top QB route, Fields’ time in Chicago is done? — Peter B.

“If the Bears take a quarterback in the first round of the 2024 draft, that would likely be it for Fields’ time in Chicago. General manager Ryan Poles will have the opportunity, through Chicago’s pick and/or the Carolina Panthers’, to start over at quarterback. This wouldn’t be an Andy Dalton or Mike Glennon situation of a veteran keeping the seat warm. This would be one presumed franchise quarterback and the next presumed franchise quarterback being on the same team.

I’ll take this a step further and definitely state that, assuming that the Bears have a top pick via their own and/or the Pathners pick, in this situation the Bears would draft a quarterback.

Dan Pompei, also at The Athletic, wrote [a nice long piece]{} about the special quarterbacks coming out of college in 2024 and the opportunity that they might present to the Bears.

“NFL teams don’t have a complete picture of the quarterbacks yet — they won’t until they play the rest of the season and undergo medicals, interviews and combine/pro day testing. But they like almost everything about [Caleb] Williams and [Drake] Maye so far.

“Williams has been considered the more desirable of the two by many, but not all. Based on what is known now, his final pre-draft grades could be in line with what Joe Burrow’s were in 2020, or Trevor Lawrence’s in 2021. His grades could end up as high as Andrew Luck’s, Eli Manning’s, Carson Palmer’s or Peyton Manning’s.

‘”The tape is elite,’ a high-ranking NFC front-office person says. ‘The game seems really slow for him. He can make every throw you’d ever want from the pocket and he can run if he needs to. What he does is rare, and he’s head and shoulders above everyone else.'”

“Maye has played in a more traditional NFL-style system and could have more appeal to evaluators who think of quarterbacks in the traditional sense. At 6-4, 230 (according to North Carolina), Maye is the prototype.

“‘His arm talent is exceptional,’ a college scout says. ‘He has a feel for pressure and a feel for coverage. He was a really good high school basketball player, and he moves like it. He can take off when he needs to.'”

Those who were paying attention to Poles’ comments before the 2023 draft will know that he was very careful with his words when asked about drafting a quarterback with the first overall pick. He said that he wasn’t doing it because he didn’t think any of those available were better than Fields. It sounds like he will almost certainly think differently if Fields puts up mediocre numbers and he has a pick where he could land Williams or Maye.

  • What kind of performance Fields can produce this year may well depend upon [how he does the next five weeks]{}. From Fishbain and Adam Jahns:

“Fishbain: OK, I’m going to be that guy. Fields’ best two games in his career as a passer came against teams in the bottom five in opponent passer rating. Against the Broncos, he lost a fumble, was called for intentional grounding and threw an interception to end the game. Against the Commanders, he completed only 51.7 percent of his passes (granted, there were three throwaways when Fields was under pressure). There are two ways to look at that. On one hand, there’s room to grow. If those are his best games, and he still had a few errors, maybe we have yet to see the best of Fields. Or, do those mistakes still show his limitation, or a ceiling, on what he’s capable of? We could learn more against better defenses, which won’t come for a few weeks. I know this might be nitpicking, but the bar has to be high when you’re talking about a potential franchise quarterback.

“Jahns: The best defense Fields will face over the next five weeks belongs to the New Orleans Saints, who rank first in opposing QB passer rating at 66.1 but 26th in sack percentage at 5.6. Minnesota ranks 30th in opposing quarterback passer rating (110.8), 31st in completion percentage (76.4), 22nd in passing yards per game (240.0), 25th in third-down percentage (43.7) and 27th in yards after catch allowed (517). The Vikings do rank second when it comes to limiting explosive plays, trailing only the San Francisco 49ers. That’s a lot of numbers, but they make Sunday an opportunity for Fields to build more confidence in what he’s doing and becoming in his third NFL season.

“Fishbain: The other thing going for Fields, in addition to the added confidence and comfort he has in the offense, is an improving offensive line. Teven Jenkins is back. Braxton Jones could possibly be back soon. Nate Davis should be rounding into form and Darnell Wright has already put together some impressive highlights. The whole idea around Fields this season was: Let’s see what he can do with a solid offensive line and better weapons. Consistency has eluded Fields throughout his career. He’s got an opportunity to put together a string of impressive performances to give Poles a lot to think about. The question is, can he do enough to make Poles — and others — forget about everything else?”

Fair enough.

The Bears schedule really does look miserable this year. After the next five weeks the toughest teams that the Bears play are the Lions (twice) and the Packers. They also play the surprisingly competent Arizona Cardinals but no one would characterize even them as anything but beatable.

If Fields and the Bears can’t produce a competitive record against this line up, Fields is going to have a difficult time convincing anyone that he’s the guy.

One more thing and I don’t think that it can be emphasized enough. Fields biggest failings have come late in game when the Bears need a score with less than two minutes left. He has to pass in these situations and the results have been miserable over the last two years. A lot will depend upon how he performs in these situations no matter who the opponent is.

One Final Thought

Pompei was one of the few local writers who was [picking against the Bears this week]{}:

“Dan Pompei: Vikings 27, Bears 23

“(3-2, 3-2)

“If Justin Fields plays the way he did against Washington, this should be a win for the Bears. But more frequently, he has played the way he did against the Chiefs. Or Bucs. Or Packers. Or Broncos at the end of the game. The challenge for the Vikings will be to reimagine their offense without their centerpiece [Justin Jefferson], but they still have viable pass catchers in T.J. Hockenson, Jordan Addison and K.J. Osborn. They also will benefit from opposing the defense that is allowing the second most passing yards per game in the NFL.

Most of the writers in town have indicated that they are worried about Hockenson and rightfully so. the Bears haven’t done a good job of covering tight ends lately, though playing Travis Kelsy will do that.

But if you ask me, Addison, who was drafted by Vikings in the first round, 23rd overall, of the 2023 Draft, is the guy to watch. He’s had the look of a guy who is ready to break out and in the absence of Jefferson, he may just get the targets he needs to do it.

FWIW, this is a bad, bad matchup for the Bears in my opinion. The Vikings blitz as much as any team in the league and Fields hasn’t shown me that he can consistently identify a rusher blitzing from his blind side. Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores specializes in running exotic schemes to try to confuse quarterbacks.

Its true that Flores tends to favor man coverage and Fields should be able to run a ton against the Vikings. But as the Bears showed most of last year, that often doesn’t produce wins.

Flores also carries the Belichickian philosophy of concentrating on taking away your best player. That would be would DJ Moore for the Bears and Fields has yet to show that he can connect with anyone who isn’t Moore or tight end Cole Kmet.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune addressed the situation with Darnell Mooney as he [answered your questions]{} last week:

“Darnell Mooney is playing obviously but he doesn’t look like he is back to pre-injury form. Is he just rusty? — @rradulski

“To the best of my knowledge, Mooney is fully healthy. I think what you’re seeing is he’s in a new role. He’s no longer the No. 1 receiver, and if we’re being honest, he was miscast in that position. He was the Bears’ best receiver before DJ Moore arrived.

“There were two opportunities for explosive plays last week at Washington, and Justin Fields missed him on both. On a deep shot off a play fake on the first play of the game, Mooney had a step and they didn’t connect. On the second possession, Mooney was open on a deep over and Fields was off the mark. If they hit those two plays, you’re looking at 60 yards, maybe more.

“Mooney had seven targets in the season opener and has only nine over the last four games. The passing volume was down in some of those games. I’m pretty certain we will see Mooney making some big plays, especially with defenses intent on not making the mistakes the Commanders did in attempting to cover Moore.

Fields’ timing with Mooney has looked pretty far off and the same was true of Equinimious St. Brown against the Commanders. This week allot will depend upon his ability to time up his connection to Mooney.

It could happen. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Short Thoughts on the Bears-Commanders Game

Colleen Kane at the Chicago Tribune quotes Cole Kmet to kick me off on some thoughts that I have about the Bears 40-20 win over the Commanders Thursday night.

“’Huge,” Kmet said. ‘[Justin Fields] doesn’t have to put it all on his back either. We’ve got guys. We’ve got DJ [Moore], myself, [Darnell Mooney], Khalil [Herbert]. We’ve got dudes that can seal the deal. I think he’s just gaining confidence in everybody and then obviously the scheme in place as well.'”

Yes, that’s my first take away from the first half of both this game and the last game against the Broncos. Between Fields’ mobility, Moore, Kmet and a decent running game, the Bears have some threats that opposing defenses are going to have to deal with.

  • And let’s’ not forget what a nice job Luke Getsy has done.

Take the Broncos game and put on the tape and you start to see plays with multiple running backs. But against the Commanders you rarely saw that look. That’s just one obvious example of the many varied ways that Getsy is finding to attack defenses.

The running game has been varied and there’s been some success. Take for example, what Getsy had them doing to get Fields more room to run on the edges. Naked boots? They’re still there. But every once is a while Getsy had them pulling linemen, wiping out the end setting the edge and powering around the end with Fields behind them. That was something that we hadn’t seen before last night and it worked well.

The Bears are very difficult to prepare for right now.

  • I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to note that the Bears were frequently facing third down and long and went to the ground game to get the third down. Herbert had a lot of success picking these up before he left the game. It was an interesting wrinkle.

  • What’s going to be interesting is to see what opposing defenses are going to do about it in the upcoming contests for the Bears.

I think that the first priority for now is disrupting the Fields-Moore connection. Fields is also connecting with his tight ends and that needs to be considered. But Moore is the crutch that Fields is leaning on right now. Moore is the guy that you have to stop.

After that, your priority is stopping Fields from running. Because of that, I think most teams will still continue to try to run primarily zone defenses. And that still might be possible.

Fields has looked extremely comfortable at times back there and if I’m an opposing defensive coordinator, I’m going to want to prevent that as much as possible. Fields tore up the Broncos and Commanders defensive back field. But it looked to me like both teams gave him bland, straight forward looks. So I think we can anticipate defenses putting more effort into disguising and mixing up coverages. We’ll probably start to see more late movement from defensive backs. And whatever opponents do, they’re going to have to start rotating coverages more toward Moore.

If Fields can keep up with the coverages, I’d anticipate that he’ll see more opportunities to throw to his other receivers, particularly Mooney.

But that’s a big if. And so far he’s struggled to get his timing right with Mooney. I’m not sure he trusts the other receivers on the team and its affecting both his timing and his accuracy. Fields is eventually going to have to start connecting with wide receivers not named DJ Moore.

  • This also bring up another little piece of speculation. If the above doesn’t work, teams will undoubtedly start challenging the Bears receivers by mixing in more man coverage. This is dangerous because it turns Fields loose. But you could argue that is preferable to the big plays that Moore is making.

Fields ran plenty last year. The Bears didn’t win many games. You could argue that you just let him have his yardage and cover all the rest of the bases.

Man coverage could be a real challenge for the receivers. Moore will be flat out double teamed. Can the others step up to make plays? We might eventually see if that is the case.

Its all fascinating to me.

  • Kudos to the linemen on both sides of the ball. The above is nice to think about but the game is still played at the line of scrimmage. Both sides did a good job, especially the Bears offensive line against a fearsome Commanders defensive front.

One guy who isn’t getting mentioned much is swing tackle Larry Borom, who has stepped in to replace the injured Braxton Jones and to my eye done a pretty nice job. I never thought Borom was a bad tackle and I was genuinely surprised to see the Bears seeking an upgrade over him at right tackle. The only think I can figure is that he just didn’t fit with what they are trying to do in an ideal way.

In any case, Borom is nice replacement to have on your bench.

  • One other thing that has to be said. I’ve personally pounded the Bears for not having their players ready to play. I thought tonight they definitely were against a team that definitely wasn’t. The Commanders were flat as a pancake and that was made even more evident when they were contrasted with a Bears team that looked on point, enthusiastic and ready to go on a short week.

Getsy put in a lot plays I haven’t seen this year and the Bears offense executed them very well.

I killed the Bears defensive backs for broken coverages, stating that even though they are back ups, they are still professionals who should be getting the most out of their ability. Well, kudos to them and the coaching staff this week. They looked prepared and ready to go when this game started.

  • In contrast, this short post from Michael David Smith at caught my eye.

“‘It starts at the top. We’ve got to do better and that’s on me,’ [Commanders head coach Ron] Rivera said.

“Rivera said he won’t know specifically what needs to be improved until he watches the tape.

“‘We’ll see,’ Rivera said. ‘I’m not going to sit up here and talk about those things until we get an opportunity to break the tape down, go through the tape, sit down and talk about the tape as a staff, and go from there.’

“The Commanders are now 2-3 on the season, and if Rivera doesn’t figure out what’s going wrong and fix it soon, his seat is going to be very hot.”

Yep. Rivera is dealing with an owner who didn’t hire him. That’s not a good situation. He had to start winning this year.

Rivera’s team did not look ready to play this game. That’s on him and his staff.

His biggest issue is that he’s got a young quarterback who is learning. I like Sam Howell and I respect Rivera’s decision to roll with him this year. Howell was not afraid to keep slinging the ball after some bad mistakes Thursday night. But he needs to grow up fast to save Rivera’s job, I think. We’ll see how they are playing at the end of the year. They’ve already played some good ball. They’re just inconsistent.

  • One more thing. I’ve stated many times that the rubber meets the road with Fields when the clock is winding down with less than 2 minutes left and he has to pass to win. We haven’t seen him do that yet. So if you are getting on board the Fields train, I’d wait if I were you.

This is something that Fields has to show that he can do before this season ends.

Points of View 10/5/23

“Is there a way Justin Fields solidifies himself as the starter for next year if the Bears get out of the first overall pick but the Panthers deliver the No. 1 pick to the Bears? — @tylernipper2792

“Personally, I don’t believe so. I think the window has closed on Fields as the team’s starting quarterback in 2024. For something to change, it would require a dramatic series of events. Fields would have to get red hot after what everyone acknowledges was his best game as a passer in the NFL last Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Something very unfortunate would have to happen to USC quarterback Caleb Williams, and the other quarterbacks who are currently highly touted for April draft would have to falter. Yes, there is a lot of football remaining for the Bears with 13 games beginning with Thursday night’s game at FedEx Field against the Washington Commanders, but this offense is in a very deep hole with Fields and I find it difficult to believe that is going to change. He’s had too many struggles for too long for me to believe it’s all going to turn in the second month of Year 3. If it does, that will be one hell of a story to watch unfold.”

As I have stated many times in the past, Biggs has been around a long time and I think he’s someone worth listening to. If he’s coming out now after week 4 and digging a grave for Fields on the record and in print, that’s bad news for those who hope he can still turn this around to be a long-term starter.

Its notable that quotes from GM Ryan Poles before and after the draft indicated that the decision not to draft a quarterback was made strictly in terms of whether he liked any of the guys available better than they guy they had. The quarterback class of 2023 wasn’t thought to be that strong, though one or two like CJ Stroud might be on their way to proving that to be wrong. As Biggs points out, the class of 2024 is a different story altogether.

  • Biggs continues:

“Has the play of Cody Whitehair really dropped off? I’ve noticed that he’s been pushed back on several big plays this year. I understand he focused on center all offseason but left guard is his natural position and the angles/technique should not be that foreign to him. — Olaf S., Memphis, Tenn.

“It’s fair to say Whitehair has passed his prime and he’s been a dependable player for the Bears for a long time. He’s in his eighth season and has made 111 starts and has rarely missed time. In five of his previous seven seasons, he started every game. He’s also had the ability to move around and start at all three interior positions. I’m not sure that was always the best thing for Whitehair, but the team obviously felt it was best for the line. I’d agree he is struggling with power this season. Whitehair has one more season remaining on his contract at $10.25 million, so there is a chance this is his final season with the Bears. I will be curious if the coaches find a way to get Ja’Tyre Carter on the field moving forward. He looked decent in two starts but more playing time will be required to get a good evaluation of him when considering future plans in the trenches.

Another surprise from Biggs. I’m not a journalist but I’d imagine calling Whitehair “past his prime” wouldn’t make him popular in the locker room, however true it might be.

I’m not as down on Whitehair as Biggs is. He has struggled with power at guard but that might not be true if he’s at center where linemen tend to be just a little smaller and where he’s more likely to get help.

I think when the season started the Bears envisioned a powerful interior with Nate Davis and Teven Jenkins at guard and Whitehair at center, where the problems he’s having now might now be so apparent. We may get to see whether that is the correct assessment soon with Jenkins on his way to being off IR and into playing shape.

  • Another one from Biggs:

“When does the goal of the season switch from winning to guaranteeing first overall pick? — @jedikhan10

“You’re not going to find a single member of the coaching staff who will acknowledge that as something that benefits them in any way. They are desperate to end this losing streak with a victory and then try to build a little momentum. Similarly, you will not find a single player in the locker room who is interested in talking about the team’s draft pick status. They don’t grind it out in practice and meetings all week to go out and tank. That’s a stumbling block when you talk about teams trying to line up for the top overall pick. You think Lovie Smith cared about losing in the season finale for the Houston Texans last season at Indianapolis? He’d lose credibility with the players in his locker room if he wasn’t committed to winning that game. I understand the fascination with the idea but coaches and players are not wired that way.”

No question. But I think, or at least I hope, that what the fan wanted to know was when would the front office switch from acting in terms of the present season to acting for the future. In other words, will we see another sell of of what talent the Bears have to draft more.

Personally, I doubt that this will happen at all. With the notable exception of Yannick Ngakoue, the veterans that the Bears signed are part of their future. The same is true of the younger players, of course.

Perhaps the Bears will consider a trade for Jaylon Johnson at some point. But as noted here by Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic, Johnson’s injury history could put some teams off and he doesn’t’ have great ball production.

Johnson is in the last year of his contract and he’s another talented player who might not the kind of make up that the Bears typically like. Not showing up for voluntary work in the offseason didn’t help. The excuse that he wanted to spend more time with his daughter isn’t going to fly anywhere in the NFL. Other guys on the team have children. They showed. He didn’t. That’s going to have been noted and not just by the Bears. How much it matters probably depends on the team but it did nothing to help his value.

  • Fishbain was also answering questions today:

“How are Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, the two big LB signings, looking? Does the lack of any competence along the DL muddy that assessment? — Matthew M.

This was something I explored last week asking the question: Where are the impact plays? Coaches and players said they’re close.”

“Going against a young quarterback in Sam Howell, maybe Edmunds can have some opportunities in the passing lane Thursday night. That’s where the Bears expected to see returns — he averaged seven passes defensed in his five seasons in Buffalo — and in helping take the ball away. They have created only two turnovers this season, tied for 28th in the NFL.

Edwards is someone to keep an eye on. It looked to me like both he and Jack Sanborn were being targeted by the Broncos in a variety of ways. Fishbain’s statistics aside, I didn’t think that Edwards looked too good in pass coverage. I think that the only reason he wasn ‘t exposed more was because attacking Sanborn was the better option.

Injury report

“The Bears again will be without [Jaylon]Johnson (hamstring) and safety Eddie Jackson (foot). Second-year safety Jaquan Brisker was listed as questionable after he was limited in practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury.”

I think its fair to wonder if the Bears won’t err on the side of safety with these players coming off of a short week. In addition, if they don’t play, they essentially get two weeks of rest. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

One Final Thought

You will be hard pressed to find any beat writer in town picking the Bears this week. For the most part I expect its the same nationally. Certainly I haven’t found many.

But that’s good news. When all of the journalists agree you can depend upon it. They will all be wrong.

On the other hand the Bears rarely perform in prime time where they torture not just their own fan base by subjecting them to embarrassingly poor play, but the rest of the country as well. Usually I end up texting friends in other cities to apologize before taking a long shower. This time I might just get it over with and do it in advance.

Despite my reservations I’m with the writers. Let’s hope we’re all wrong.

Sometimes You Don’t Need to Be an Expert to See that “Something Isn’t Right”

A long time ago I was in a situation where I was working in a departmental office where my boss’s boss’s boss happened to have his door right down the hall from where we worked. Occasionally, because his door was right there, he could hear the chatting out in the hall. And every once in a while he’d wander through with this thoughtful look on his face.

He was so far removed from the specific day to day running of the office that he really couldn’t judge exactly what was going on but eventually he was heard to say that he could just tell that something wasn’t right about the way that the office was being run. Changes were eventually made.

This came to mind as I ready this comment from Adam Jahns at The Athletic on Monday.

“At 3:32 p.m. Sunday, Chicago Bears team president Kevin Warren cut through his team’s locker room inside Soldier Field.

“There were more media members than players in it.

“But quarterback Justin Fields was still there.

“His uniform and pads were still on.

“Wide receiver Chase Claypool had a locker with his nameplate on it, too.

“Warren walked past that empty stall as well.

” With the game book of the Bears’ devastating 31-28 loss in his right hand, Warren exited the locker room, jumped on a cart with team security and was gone.

“You have to wonder what he’s thinking about the team he’s in charge of right now.”

You do, indeed. But, honestly, you don’t have to be a football executive or even anyone particularly close to the day-to-day operations of the team to know that “something isn’t right”.

The thoughts of Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune parallel my own.

“[Former Bears head coach Marc] Trestman’s last team finished 5-11. This Bears team is 0-4 and has lost 14 consecutive games dating to the last win on Oct. 24, 2022, at New England. To reach five victories this season, the Bears would have to become a lot more competitive and do so quickly. Does anyone see a path to five wins in the remaining 13 games? The 2014 Bears are the franchise leaders for dysfunction in the last three decades, but this group is on a path to the most futility and the Claypool incident sure makes the mind wander back to nine years ago.

As Biggs acknowledges, the Trestman situation was much worse. He was trying to handle some truly difficult personalities like Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett. But still when Biggs elaborates on the comments from head coach Matt Eberflus on the status of what wide receiver Chase Claypool after the game Sunday, it isn’t hard to figure out why thoughts are starting to wander that way.

“Eberflus said the decision to sit Claypool and play Equanimeous St. Brown (41 snaps by my unofficial count) had nothing to do with his media comments Friday. OK, then what?

“‘When you look at actives or inactives every single week, what we do is we obviously evaluate meetings,’ Eberflus said. ‘We evaluate walk-throughs. We evaluate practice, and we do that every single week and then we declare actives or inactives based on that. And this week, Claypool was inactive.'”

“The situation got messier after the game when Eberflus indicated Claypool had the option to attend the game — which all inactive players do — or remain home, an unusual step.

“‘We told him that it was a choice,’ Eberflus said. ‘And he’s at home right now.'”

“Later, a club official said the team ordered Claypool not to attend the game. Confused yet? What’s really puzzling is Eberflus seemed surprised by some of the questioning when this involves a guy who should be a main cog in the offense.”

Add this to the way that Eberflus and the Bears handled the chaotic events of two weeks ago when quarterback Justin Fields said that coaching played a role in his robotic play and when defensive coordinator Alan Williams abruptly resigned, and a picture starts to emerge. And its not good.

Let’s concentrate on the Claypool incident.

You have to wonder how a head coach can so badly fumble the answer to a simple question that he has to know that he’s going to be asked. I know there’s a lot to think about on game day but surely you have to have thought about the fact that you were going to be asked about Claypool and have planned your answer. Surely you have gotten together with other members of the organization to get your story straight.

At bare minimum somebody associated with the team should have been in Eberflus’ ear before he stepped to the podium to make sure that everything was on point.

Instead we got what you see above. A fumbled answer, followed by a communication from the team that basically indicated that what the head coach plainly said was wrong.

You can try to tell me that these events have nothing to do with the performance of the team. But I will claim, and have always claimed, that this is wrong. Events on and off the field form a whole, connected picture and they are indelibly linked by the common denominator that the same people are involved in both.

This is the situation that Bears fans find themselves in. Most of them are not qualified to judge “scheme” or “play calling” despite the fact that they think they are. But there are many indications that you can look at that draw you to the same conclusion that higher up so long ago did in my own situation.

Something isn’t right about how things are being run. And that, more than anything else, is the Bears problem.

Quick Game Comments: Broncos at Bears

1. Chase Claypool was a healthy scratch today. Feels like the end of the line for him. The guess here is that the Bears weren’t happy when he honestly answered a direct question about whether he was being utilized optionally with a “No.” Its also possible that Claypool requested a trade.
2. I also thought it was interesting that Nathan Peterman was a scratch with Tyson Bagent acting as the back up on the game day roster. I thought it would be the other way around for a while yet. Hopefully Matt Eberflus will be asked after the game what the Bears thinking is.
3. Bears came out and showed a weird Veer-like configuration on the first play. The play was a pass for 9 yards but it set down a marker for the rest of the day. They continued to line up multiple backs in the backfield, especially in the I formation, and using it in the running game. The play action off of it came natural. I loved it.
4. I’m about done with putting Cole Kmet under center for a sneak. I know that teams kind of know what’s coming anyway but there has to be at least some little doubt. This is too much of a give away.
5. I was happy to see Darnell Mooney get two or three targets today. Mooney was the first one there to pick up a teammate or congratulate someone. Contrast with Claypool.
6. Spectacular catch by DJ Moore for the Bears touchdown right at the beginning of the second quarter (even though I agreed with the announcers that he didn’t get two feet down). I don’t think I gave Moore enough credit after the Bears traded for him. Fields looked to him in tough spots all day. He is a wonderful player.
7. Just Fields was like night and day today. He looked much better and much more comfortable with an offense similar to what the Bears ran towards the end of last year with some twists. Lots of outside zone runs and a putrid Denver unit let him easily have the edges of the defense (they did adjust some in the second half). Fields was throwing to some wide open receivers and he also had all day to throw at times. He was throwing with more confidence and he looked different. Let’s hope it lasts.
8. Big day for the tight ends. Kmet had 7 catches for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns. Robert Tonyan did some good work and had 2 catches for 18 yards.
9. The Bears were 6 of 12 o third down which isn’t great. But it was the 1 for 3 on fourth down that killed them.

1. Denver came out prepared to take advantage of mismatches with Matt Eberflus’s defense. They got a tight end on TJ Edwards the way that other teams have so far this year. They went right after Jack Sanborn in multiple ways. The linebackers were supposed to be a strength but there were times when they certainly didn’t look like it.
2. Play action looks to be a huge part of the Broncos offense. It was also working.
3. Sean Payton ran some screens today, including one for the touchdown. I’m guessing that he was anticipating that the Bears would be blitzing to bring pressure. If they were doing a lot more than usual, I didn’t see it.
4. The Bears defense was swarming to the ball today and looked good doing it. They were feeling it.
5. Having said that, my antennae went up when it looked to me like the Bears went into prevent mode in the second half of the third quarter. It felt a little early to be doing that. It gave room to an offense that was struggling and took aggressiveness away from the defense. Sure enough, the Broncos came back.

1. the Bears had 10 penalties for 91 yards including a critical grounding penalty during the 2 minute drive by Fields. That’s too many.
2. That was a gutsy call by Eberflus to go for it on 3rd and a long one with three minutes left. I’d have never done it and I was shaking my head – before they didn’t get it. But I respect it. Good teams should be able to get a yard when they need it. But the Bears aren’t a good team.
3. The Justin Fields fumble was a back breaker. Fields was also having a good day against a bad defense. But it was neither of those upon which he should be judged today. It was with less than two minutes left in a situation where he had to pass. That was when the rubber met the road for him. Last year he failed in this situation time after time. It happened again. And that is perhaps his biggest problem.
4. If the Bears were going to have a get right game on their schedule, this was surely it. This was a bad loss by a bad team to a bad team with a bad defense. That’s a lot of bad.

Should the Bears Have Drafted Jalen Carter?

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic answers your questions:

“Is it fair to call the draft decision to take Darnell Wright over Jalen Carter a bad one? — J S.

“A popular question this week, and one that will linger throughout the season, and possibly the next few for the No. 9 and 10 picks of the 2023 draft.”

“As each Bears game ends in misery, fans are seeing highlights of Carter dominating opposing O-linemen. The same can’t be said about Wright’s pass blocking.

“There are two challenges with answering this question. One, it’s way too early in their careers. Two, I’m still of the belief the Bears were never going to draft Carter. Their trade solidified that. That makes it a difficult hypothetical for me to consider.

“Carter gets to start alongside Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat. That veteran locker room was the perfect one for Carter, and he doesn’t have to be “the guy” up front for the Eagles. I don’t think he would’ve been having similar success in Chicago with this team.

“It may go down as a bad decision three, five, seven years from now, but it was likely never going to happen anyway.:”

I think we all strongly suspected that Carter was going to be a hit for the Eagles. Like Fishbain, I have my doubts about whether he would have been the same for the Bears. But my reason is different from the one that he is willing to state in print.

Carter was street racing in Georgia when the teammate that he was racing crashed. That’s bad but what followed is probably what made Bears GM Ryan Poles‘ hair stand on end. Carter went to the NFL combine but left after an arrest warrant was issued. He showed up to Georgia’s pro day in mid-March nine pounds heavier than he was at the combine and did not finish position drills due to apparent cramping and breathing issues.

It’s one thing to make a bad mistake off the field. Its another thing altogether to allow it to affect your performance on the field with your future on the line.

As Fishbain points out, Carter is now surrounded by veteran talent. But I think that this was a good move for the Eagle more because of the pressure those veterans can bring and the example that they set than the talent that they surround him with. With those kinds of surroundings, Carter could be set on the path of long-term success. Its unlikely that we could say the same thing about the current Bears team.

How well Coached Are the Bears? Watch the Defensive Backs

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic talks about the deficiencies in the Bears defense along the defensive front.

“Part of the ‘it’s only three games, but it’s been really bad’ dissection of the Bears has to include the defensive line and linebackers, one of the few groups on the team that is actually healthy but doesn’t have the game-changing plays to show for it.

“Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards and defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Yannick Ngakoue are some of the highest-paid players on the team. Add Day 2 draft picks Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens, and there was no question what the point of emphasis was on defense.”

There’s a lot of truth in this. But we knew all off-season that the pass rush was going to be a major problem for the Bears this year. The Bears didn’t do a lot to improve it beyond the late signing of Ngakoue and he wasn’t going to make them competent alone.

The key was and still is the development of second round pick Dexter and third round pick Pickens. Right now they are the foundation upon which the Bears defensive hopes are being laid. As fans, when you are watching a bad team week after week the only thing that can keep you sane is to look for improvement over the course of the season.

But how can you tell if these players are getting the right coaching? Indeed, how can you tell if players are getting the right coaching in general? Progress tends to be incremental. The stats aren’t likely to show up game-to-game and trends won’t really be noticeable until later in the season.

One easy thing that I look at to evaluate the general state of the team is to watch the break downs in coverage on the back end. This doesn’t tell us a lot about the other units directly but it is obvious to the average observer and it is an indication of what kind of coaching the players are getting.

Don’t get me wrong. Its still on the players when break downs like this happen. But mental errors when they are wide spread and not isolated to one individual are usually an indication of whether coaches have the players ready to perform.

In this respect the Bears have been miserable. The breakdowns in coverage were countless in week one, making Jordan Love look like Joe Montana. But much, much worse is the fact that these breakdowns have continued and were almost as bad in week 3, resulting in at least one easy, wide open touchdown. Even Fishbain was easily able to identify a a breakdown that Patrick Mahomes didn’t even have to take advantage of to make a big play.

The excuse for such poor play has been injuries to the defensive backfield, as pointed out here by Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune. But that’s hog wash. Injuries aren’t an excuse for this. The back ups are professional players, too, and while they might lack talent, they should still be prepared to maximize what they have by playing good, fundamental football.

The poor play of the defensive backs is a disturbing trend on this team. That’s not because of their play as a unit so much as it is because its an indication of poor team play as a whole in ways that are less noticeable to the average observer.

That’s bad news for those of us who are going to watch 14 more games of this slop.

Even Given the Organizational Situation the Bears Should Be Better Than This

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune has 10 thoughts after the Bears loss to the Chiefs Sunday.

“The gap between the Bears and the upper echelon of the NFL remains as great as ever. The offense was dysfunctional Sunday and the defense was noncompetitive.

“The Arizona Cardinals opened the season as the favorite to “win” the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft. Guess what? They blew leads in narrow losses to the Washington Commanders and New York Giants and then stunned the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

“The Houston Texans were projected to be terrible. They blew out the Jaguars 37-17 on Sunday in Jacksonville. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has passed for 906 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions through three games.

“The Bears are 0-3 for the first time since 2016 — a 3-13 season — and there’s little to suggest they’re going to come out of this funk anytime soon. How are they viewed nationally? The Denver Broncos were demolished 70-20 by the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, dropping Sean Payton’s new team to 0-3. The Broncos opened as 2 1/2-point favorites for the Week 4 game against the Bears at Soldier Field.”

Biggs has done a nice job of encapsulating something I’ve been thinking about for almost a year. The Bears last won a game on October 24 last year. Think about how hard that is to do in the NFL.

My expectations for the Bears going into this season were lower than anyone I know. And yet even I think that the performance of the team is very disappointing.

Even given that the Bears are going through a rebuild, they should be better than this.

The Cardinals front office is literally trying to tank that team. They aren’t even trying to hide it. And yet some how they are playing competitively despite that.

From the outside its hard to pin point the problem. But my guess, along with most of the rest of Chicago, is that there’s something that isn’t right with the coaching staff.

Head coach Matt Eberflus sort of has the right idea of what is needed in this situation. But I’m not buying his explanation for the slow start.

“‘This is a new football team. We’ve got 30-some new guys who are coming together that are playing the game together for the first time for these three games. So there’s a process to that.

“‘It’s certainly not where we want it to be. But to get there, we’re going to have to have focus. We’re going to have to have fight. We’re going to have to be resilient. We’re going to have to block out outside noise. We’re going to have to do all those things and then keep a positive, optimistic attitude about this as we’re working.

“‘If we do that, guess what? We keep doing that, it will crack. It will crack. So that’s the biggest thing. That was my message to them in there. And like I said, the opportunity may come right around the corner.’

A couple thoughts.

  1. I’m not buying the “It’s a new football team” explanation. In the NFL there are a thousand reasons for failure but not a single excuse.

The Green Bay Packers are the youngest team in the NFL. They certainly look ready to play to me.

The fact of the matter is that this team was unprepared to start the season and now they are desperately playing catch up. Its completely justified to ask the reason why.

  1. I’ll give Eberflus credit. If you go back and listen to his entire press conference, his enthusiasm came across loud and clear. Its evident that this is the type of attitude that he is trying to communicate to he team.

And its also evident that he’s telling the players to do the right things. When things are going wrong with a team, as they are now, the players have to revert to thinking about their fundamentals. They have to concentrate upon bettering their play as individuals because that’s what they can control. And no matter who you are and what your task is, if you concentrate on what you can control you’ll always feel better about yourself and your environment. If everyone does it, the things that you can’t control will come along with you.

All that is good. But you have to ask yourself two things:

  1. Are the players are getting the right kind of help when it comes to improving their fundamentals? Are they being told what needs to be done in a way that optimizes their ability to take it in and translate it onto the field. You can talk about concentrating on fundamentals. But you still need people to teach them correctly. I see very little evidence that there has been anything more than incremental progress. Certainly I’ve seen very little evidence that the team was properly prepared during training camp.

  2. Are the players being placed into the right mental state to optimize performance and win a football game?

Eberflus is very enthusiastic. But there has to be more than that.

As Biggs points out, the Broncos defense had 70 points hung on them last week but they are still favored to beat the Bears on the road. Why is that? Its because they have Payton.

You think Payton is out there clapping his hands, patting players on the butt and telling them to work harder and it will all be OK? We don’t know for a fact but given what I’ve seen of him in the past, I’d say there’s almost no chance of it. Some of his assistants might be doing that. But as the head coach, I’m positive that he’s sending a different message.

I guarantee you that there are a lot Broncos players that are in fear for their jobs. For some of the less established players, that will be in the short term. For the better players, it will be for the long term. But all of them are worried right now.

How many Bears players can say the same thing?

The Broncos are coming off of a terrible, debilitating loss. Does anyone doubt that Payton will have them out for blood in an effort to bounce back and show what they can do in what is probably the most promising get right game on their schedule? Do you think the Bears will approach the game with the same attitude? When was the last time that you saw a Bears team respond like that?

That’s why they’re 2.5 points dogs at home this Sunday.

Don’t get me wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t think that the Bears problem is effort. But it is preparation and concentration and there’s a certain frame of mind that all players, that all people, need to be in if optimal performance must be achieved. Your head coach doesn’t need to be a dragon. But it can’t all be being a player’s coach and talking “the sun will come out tomorrow”-type rainbows and sunshine.

The Bears franchise is in the middle of a dark stretch. It might turn out to be the darkest in their history by the time this is done. Because even at the beginning of a young season, this team, specifically this coaching staff, has given Bears fans very little reason to believe that they can pull out of this.

Quick Comments: Bears at Chiefs 9/24/23

I’m not going to spend a lot of time documenting this one. There just isn’t a lot to learn. I’m sure you understand.

1. The Bears played a lot of zone early in the game and Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs tore it to shreds. The Bears eventually started playing more man coverage but the performance wasn’t much better. With Eddie Jackson already out and Jaylon Johnson, Tyreek Stevenson and Jaquan Brisker all out at some point during the game, the Bears woes were compounded. Eddie Jackson is already out with a foot injury.
2. The pass rush wasn’t good. That didn’t help the pass defense.
3. Its fair to say that the Bears lost the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t just Mahomes passing. The run defense was not up to the standard of the first two games.
4. The first target I saw for Darnell Mooney was with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Something isn’t right there.

1. The offensive line struggled so badly that it was hard to pick out individual performances. With a totally revamped interior of the offensive line they Bears had their moments running the ball inside which surprised me a bit. But the pass protection was pretty bad across the board. I remember seeing Ja’Tyre Carter literally getting run over on the inside. Justin Fields was under constant pressure.
2. Greg Olson spent a lot of time slamming the Bears for not allowing Fields to run but to my eye they did allow him to do it more. There were roll outs, there were read option plays, there were some designed runs. He was more apt to pull the ball down and break the pocket. The problem is that you have to have more than that out of your quarterback. Fields has to be able to play from the pocket.
3. Fields got the opportunity to throw some bombs when the Bears got behind. Some of them were good throws but the Bears were having a hard time putting it all together and the connections weren’t being made.

1. Keep an eye on the coaching staff. It almost certainly won’t happen during the year but they’re getting nothing out of what talent exists on this team and hey got nothing out of them last year. I know that they’re talent deficient but they should be better than this. The staff is already in deep trouble with 14 more games of this on the horizon.
2. Honestly I spent some the second half just praying that the Chiefs would pull Mahomes out of the game. It would have been terrible to see him get hurt in a crap game like this. They pulled him just before the end of the third quarter.
3. It’s very early in the season but with the Bears looking this bad, today was already a potential disaster for the Arizona Cardinals. Apparently the players didn’t get the message that they were tanking as they beat the Dallas Cowboys. The Carolina Panthers lost and are now 0-3. The Bears own Carolina’s first round draft pick, which already looks to be a contender to be in the top 5.