Football

AKA #Chuckstrong

The Bears dropped from the 1st overall defense in DVOA in 2018 down to 8th in 2019, the first year under Chuck Pagano’s watch. Why is that? Was it the offense constantly trying to get off the field as quickly as possible? Was it the key injuries to certain starters, or the loss of half the secondary in free agency? Was it due to the Bears playing Football Outsiders’ #1 toughest schedule of 2019, or simply just statistical variance?

I don’t know, if I did I’d be coaching the Bears defense (spoiler alert: I run a lot of 0 coverage so I’m sorry in advance). However, I did smoke a bunch of LEGAL weed and read PFF and Football Outsiders to get to the bottom of this hypothetical question.

The Good:

Roquan Smith is gonna be the fuckin dude in the middle, y’all. The Bears numbers against the run aren’t very impressive on paper, but metrics put the Bears as the 3rd and 6th overall defense from the Second-Level and Open Field metrics (runs beyond the defensive line). Pagano is letting his second level swarm to the ball, and the groundwork is there for the Bears to once again have the best LB corps in the league, provided they resign Danny Trevathan.

The defense looked good against the teams they should have. I know, that seems like a backhanded compliment, right? It’s not. 2018’s loss to the Giants (even with Chase Daniel at QB) was caused by a defense that could not stop Saquon Barkley and an awful Giants offense. This year’s Bears defense put shitty teams down and held them there, but of course the offense still managed to blow it against both LA teams, Oakland (debatable), and the first Packers game. As Bears fans, we gotta take pride in beating the teams they should beat because this franchise plays down to their opponents so much you’d think it was commonplace.

This is where I officially state my case for Leonard Floyd: he is absolutely a starting-caliber outside linebacker. His numbers as a pass rusher are not great, but Pagano utilized him in the best possible way: setting the edge in the run game. He was most certainly not worth the price the Bears paid for him in the draft, but if he walks the Bears will most likely downgrade with his replacement.

The Bad:

If we can expect variance to be part of the year to year process, we see it in turnovers. The Bears simply did not take the ball away like they did last year. The Bears averaged 1.2 takeaways per game in 2019, compared to 2.2 per game in 2018. The other defenses with a 1.2 takeaway per game average in 2019? Jacksonville, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia. The Eagles were the only team that made the playoffs that finished outside the top 13 in that stat. If the Bears defense wants to come back to elite status, here is where the change needs to come.

Pagano was touted as a man-blitz schemer, but these Bears only blitzed on 23.5% of snaps, the 8th lowest percentage in the league. Going back to the Leonard Floyd bit, Pagano needs to scheme this guy free with blitzes or some other wizardry, because he still has elite closing speed (though sometimes struggles to finish). The Bears have elite blitzers in the back 7 at all levels, and Pagano needs to bring that heat from weird places more often.

According to Football Outsiders, the Bears ranked 22nd in the league in pass rush efficiency, and I’d say that’s about right. The loss of Hicks and the preponderance of man-coverage fronts instead of the Fangio Man/Zone hybrids created less pressure from the Bears 4 man rush. As a result, this defense didn’t play up to the lofty expectations we all had.

The Weird:

Pagano let the DBs play their preferred style all year long, which is maybe a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure so I’m putting it here.

The Future:

Here are the names of the starting players on the defense with expiring contracts:
Trevathan
Clinton-Dix
McManis (special teams counts and you know it)
Kwiatkoski

You gotta assume at least two of these players leave, right? There’s no way the team splits their core special teams up entirely by getting rid of Kwit and McManis, so one of them stays. I think the Bears re-sign Danny and McManis, and they will look to get another one year prove it deal with a former first round safety. My money is on Karl Joseph.

Football

The Chicago Bears Secondary was not a problem in 2019. There were concerns heading into the season; how would the team do replacing Adrian Amos with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Bryce Callahan with Buster Skrine? How would Eddie Jackson do moving over to accommodate his new safety partner? Would Chuck Pagano taking over the unit upset the chemistry with a new scheme?

For the most part, the players answered these questions with a “no worries, we got it”…but unfortunately “it” was not enough to overcome deficiencies elsewhere. At least it didn’t keep Eddie Jackson from getting PAID.

The Good

I mean, everyone? The team ranked top-10 in the league for passing yards allowed/game and again kept opponent passing TDs to a minimum en route to a top five ranking in points allowed. Eddie Jackson wasn’t the same factor in the passing game as his breakout 2018, but then again it’s tough to repeat that kind of performance for anyone…especially when the league collectively decides to never throw it at you. Jackson still found ways to contribute, setting a career high 5.5 tackles for loss as he played more up at the line to help stuff opposing rushers.

Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were again a dominant pair on the outside, accounting for 12 and 10 passes defensed (respectively). Skrine stepped into the nickel corner position vacated by Callahan perfectly, defending five passes of his own. Clinton-Dix probably didn’t have the kind of season he was hoping to on a one-year prove it deal, but he also didn’t put much in the way of bad tape out there either. He was steady in all aspects throughout the season and did register the lone TD scored by Bears secondary players in 2019.

Amukamara did deal will some injuries late in the season, which gave Kevin Toliver a chance to impress a team that could soon look to replace the aging Prince.

The Bad

The biggest obstacles facing the 2019 secondary were the ghosts of 2018. 27 interceptions and six defensive TDs (three by Jackson alone) is an incredibly tough performance to follow. The 2019 unit didn’t come close to replicating it, though, contributing to the overall let down.

The drop from 36 turnovers to 19 is felt exclusively in the drop from 27 INT to 10. Fuller went from seven to two. Jackson six to two. Prince three to 0. I’m no math wizard, but that right there is a 12 fewer turnovers. The Bears went from leading the league in turnovers created to middle of the pack, and the drop also brought them to even in differential after being +12 (3rd in the NFL) in 2018.

The lack of turnovers kept the defense on the field more often and contributed to worse field position for their floundering offensive counterparts. I discussed on Monday why the loss of Akiem Hicks impacted the rest of the defense in a negative way and the effect on the secondary could most easily be seen in the severe dip in turnovers. Without a massive force wrecking the opponents backfield and pressuring the quarterback there were not nearly as many opportunities for takeaways.

Any Hope?

The hope for better returns in the turnover department should be realized with some positive regression…and a return to a third place schedule.

The Bears have nearly every cornerback under contract for 2020 but only see Jackson locked in at safety. Did Clinton-Dix do enough to price himself out of town? Was he the right compliment to the rest of the unit/defense? I’m going to guess he’s looking for more than Pace is willing to give. Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson are also free agents, and though neither saw many reps in games they were both big contributors on special teams and should return on cheap deals. Add safety to the list of things needed, which is growing like a sink hole as we work through these recaps.

Amukamara will be an interesting case for Pace as well, contracted for $8M in 2020 though he can be cut for a mere $1M in cap casualties. A reworked deal for a cheaper cap hit in 2020 and the chance at a second year/bonus should do it if everyone is amenable, and you’d think they are. Prince bounced from NYG to JAC and then to Chicago where he finally found his rhythm and most of his success. If they cut him and he walks…we’re looking at a bigger sink hole.

Final Grade: B

 

 

Football

2019 is gone and we’re happy to send a lot of the Bears season with it. That isn’t entire the case when you get to the defensive line. The group started strong and battled through an in-season IR stint from team leader Akeim Hicks to produce one career year and plenty of positives to build on.

The Bears playing out of a 3-4 base and guys like Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd being considered outside linebackers can make this group a little under-appreciated and overlooked on Sundays, but of all the units we’ve been through/still have to go through the DTs might have the best marks on the season.

I would confidently call this unit the best on the team if not for that eight week Hicks absence, the one that kinda sorta kicked off the mid-season spiral to hell…

The Good

Nick Williams had himself a career year at the old (NFL) age of 29. The fifth year veteran hadn’t even dressed for more than five games in a season since his rookie campaign (and even most of the 14 games from that year came via special teams work), but his 2019 saw him arrive in a big way. Williams entered the season with zero career sacks, zero turnovers or turnovers created, zero passes defended and all of 18 tackles over four seasons. His 2019:

So he nearly quadrupled his total tackles, added his first six sacks and his first two fumble recoveries for his entire career in his fifth season. Williams did his best to keep things churning along as the team dealt with long absences from Hicks and Bilal Nichols, but unfortunately his efforts weren’t enough on their own to save the team from the losing streak that sunk the season. Still, Williams at least did enough to get himself paid after taking the minimum and bouncing around the league for a few years (probably outside of Chicago), and we can all be happy about that.

While the team as a whole struggled to put pressure on opposing QBs all season, the D-Linemen accounted for 10.5 sacks among themselves and that’s with Hicks playing a mere third of the season or so. Toss in another dozen or so tackles for loss and you’ve got yourself a pretty steady, rounded rotation. The problem was not enough of the other groups on defense could match the consistency or

The Bad…and Ugly

Williams having a career year was not simply because he announced himself in training camp and stormed out to rule the season from day one. The Bears saw injuries to Hicks and Nichols very early in the season, forcing Williams into a lot of action starting in Week 2 when Nichols broke his hand. Roy Robertson-Harris (2.5 Sacks, 30 tackles) took advantage of the additional playing time as well, not to the tune of Williams but enough to be noticed early as another possible gem found by Pace along the defensive front.

This all quickly went out the window when Hicks left the Week 5 London game and didn’t return until December. For all the positives this group accounted for and next-man-up abilities, missing Hicks shone brightly. Many of the accolades discussed for Williams and Robertson-Harris came early in the season, as neither standout recorded a sack after Week 10. Eddie Goldman is a fine young nose tackle, the type of guy you hardly notice in a good way, and he was impacted by the Hicks injury with his arguably his worst overall season after signing a nice extension last year. Goldman posted his lowest tackle and tackle for loss total in three years and his lowest sack total (1) in his entire five year career.

The long and short of this is that Akiem Hicks is a massive force for this defense, and without him the whole system damn near collapses around itself.

Any Hope?

The team will return a hopefully healthy Hicks and Nichols, Goldman, and holds RFA status on Robertson-Harris. Ryan Pace hasn’t ever gone over an original round tender on an RFA (See Cam Meredith and Bryce Callahan), but with Williams surely gone and a few warm bodies left behind him it probably stands to be worth the additional $1.13M to slap a 2nd round tender on Robertson-Harris and ensure a strong severance should someone want to sign him away.

The real key is making sure Hicks and Nichols are healthy and ready to start 2020 and that they stay that way. If we learned anything in 2019, it’s that Hicks stirs this drink on defense. The EDGE rushers are better with him causing chaos in the middle of the line, which  makes life on the ILBs and secondary easier and leads to many more turnover opportunities and so on. Even with strong replacements on the roster, no one is Akiem Hicks, and it turns out that’s something this Bears team really, really needs.

Final Grade: B-

Football

Well, no one can say Ryan Pace has no idea what he’s doing. He locked in All-Pro Safety Eddie Jackson on a Four year, $58M contract extension on Friday afternoon and managed to deflect at least a little bit of the unsilent majority that’s been killing him for his NYE press conference the last few days.

Jackson takes home $22M in guarantees at signing and $33M overall, so you can assume he’s been given a healthy bonus, small cap number in 2021 (unless this tears up his 2020 $735K of his final rookie year, either way the team will really need it) and the first two years at least fully guaranteed. Jackson, deservedly so, becomes the highest paid Safety in football at just under $15M/season.

Jackson earned that top-salary-in-the-league title with his play, starting way back in 2017 when he picked off Cam Newton and scooped up a fumble, taking both to the house with each TD return going over 75 yards. That’s a single game NFL record and Jackson did nothing but build his resume as a playmaker and takeaway specialist from there. He had monster pick-six returns in huge moments to seal wins down the stretch for the 2018 Division Champion team, though he didn’t record a TD in 2019  as opposing teams avoided throwing his way almost exclusively. Not matter, Jackson just set a career high with five tackles for loss as Chuck Pagano used him more in the box and mixed him in with blitz coverages closer to the line. And the whole “don’t throw at Eddie” game plan helped the Bears hold opponents to a top three finish in plays of 20+ yards at 40 total.

Eddie Jackson is the real fucking deal and he earned this contract. The team is better with him in it, period.

So what does this mean for the rest of the offseason? Well, it’s definitely good that Pace got this order of business out of the way early in the offseason and didn’t let anything linger into OTAs or training camp and the specter of a hold out. Jackson would have gotten all this and possibly more if he’d hit UFA status, so the deal is timely and warranted. This could, however, impact what they do at the opposite Safety position. Jackson is now the lone (true)Safety on the books for 2020 and beyond, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson all UFAs come March.

Bush and Houston-Carson should be cheap enough to bring back, assuming they’d both like to be here. Dix is the more curious case, as he didn’t exactly shine in his new home. He was very steady, though, and didn’t really show the issues of poor tackling that have plagued him in the past. Pace would do well to lock him and one of the lesser depth Safeties up next to save himself from scrambling later this offseason, though he doesn’t have a ton of cap room to work with. If Dix wants a big, 3+ year deal he’s likely going to have to find it elsewhere, so it might come down to how much he wants to continue with his Alabama alum partner and the rest of this defensive core.

You can probably bet that this move will seal Danny Trevathan‘s fate unless he takes a huge pay cut, but Nick Kwiatkowski is also due new money and he showed he’s ready to step into that role after Trevathan and Smith’s injuries this season. The offense is noticeably absent from the any discussion of core players locked up. Pace would be wise to prioritize a new deal for WR Allen Robinson, who was arguably the only good thing the Bears can point to from 2019 on his side of the ball.That, though, can be left for later as everyone celebrates Steady Eddie and his new paper. This gives the Bears a very sound, solid defensive core locked in through at least 2022 including Jackson, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman and to a lesser extent Buster Skrine and Bilal Nichols.

Enough of the future what-ifs, enjoy some of Eddie’s best work. Congrats to #39. Roll Damn Tide.

 

 

Football

There wasn’t too much to be gleaned from the Bears finale, given was a dead rubber it was. So I guess this is the Three Things from the entire season. God help us.

The Bears Offseason Is Going To Be A Mess – I mean, they all are, but this one especially could turn into a real circus. Without knowing exactly who will be available and what the Bears are going to do or want to do, any offseason where this many questions that are this big about the quarterback position is a real swamp to get through. And there aren’t really any good answers.

Look, you can pop up and get to a Super Bowl with just about any goofus as your quarterback. You can even win one. Nick Foles won one. Matt Ryan should have. Somehow, Eli Manning has two and yet the Giants were barely ever a playoff team other than those two seasons and I’m fairly confident he always sucked. A completely decrepit Peyton Manning managed on with the Broncos, and they’ve yet to be heard from since. So the idea that the Bears could tailor an offense to Mitch Trubisky’s strengths with an improved offensive line and a world class defense and maybe have everything go right for a year isn’t completely outlandish. Fuck, they came within inches last year.

But if you want to be consistently around the picture, look at the NFC playoff picture. Rodgers, Wilson, Brees. Cousins is going to embarrass his entire lineage next week, and we can’t be totally sure what Garoppolo is yet (though he looks more like the first group than Cousins), but you get the idea. And Wentz probably deserves more credit for putting together nine wins with rodeo clowns and janitors as his receivers and running backs this season.

The thing is, you don’t get the QB who keeps you around the picture for multiple seasons off the scrapheap. Andy Dalton will not do that. Cam Newton will not do that (although there’s a big part of me that wants to see Bears fan/media reaction to his first sulky press conference after a loss here. Great theater that will be). Fucking Marmalard will not do that. Teddy Bridgewater will not do that, and all will be insanely expensive for a team that will not have that much cap space no matter what kind of binds and inversions it performs this offseason.

Which means you have to draft one, or find one masked as a backup somewhere else like Garoppolo. Can you do that in the second round? Maybe, it’s not unheard of. Or maybe you think Bridgewater is that guy and make the commitment (highly skeptical).

But if the guy isn’t there in the second round, and Bridgewater goes elsewhere, what’s really going to piss Bears fans off is that Trbuisky with a revamped offense is just about as good of an option as any. Sorry, it’s the truth.

No, that doesn’t mean I think Trubisky will be more than ok ever. Even with the perfectly tailored offense he’ll probably never be more than just a shade north of acceptable. And that’s almost certainly not going to be a plan for sustained success, unless the defense can remain dominant for a longer stretch than most manage (even the Seahawks one was only together for about four seasons). What I’m saying is that for next year, it very well may be as presentable of an option as any.

And that won’t make you feel good.

The Offensive Line Has To Be A Priority, But It Has So Much Ugly Money – They couldn’t handle a Vikings defensive line shorn of starters and desire. This is a problem.

We already know that Kyle Long’s spot will be open for next year. I feel like I want to say that Cody Whitehair and James Daniels can be ok if surrounded by other good linemen. I’m fairly sure Bobbie Massie and Charles Leno Jr. need a swift boot in the ass out the door. Except Massie comes with at least $8M in dead cap space for next year. Leno’s penalties are worse in 2021, and maybe the Bears will think they can kick the can down the road a bit here.

But part of the offense’s problems, and the ghosts Mitch was seeing, is that he rarely had time and the o-line rarely opened holes for Montgomery either. Sure, the running game looked better when it was moved to a simpler I-formation and not the RPO’s and zone blocking. But let’s be real, the Bears are never going to move to that full-time, and they’re still going to need to pass block a good portion of the time. The line needs at least one big addition, probably two. Maybe Massie improves with more quality around him, but the Bears had better find out.

The Bears Need To Find Akiem Hicks A Sidekick And Heir Apparent – We can at least try to argue that turnovers are cyclical, but the Bears didn’t get enough of them because they didn’t sit on the quarterback’s head nearly enough. 32 sacks this year, after 50 last year. In a vacuum, slightly more than one per game doesn’t sound like much, but if you think about where those sacks and pressures could have come and you realize how much the Bears lost out on. And almost all of it is not having Hicks pushing linemen into the QBs face and giving him nowhere to go. You saw it in the first two games of the season.

Sure, Nichols or Robertson-Harris or Goldman flashed plays here and there, but not nearly enough. It affected Mack’s season and probably Floyd’s too (though his own limitations are equally to blame if not more). The Bears cannot depend on one player so much next year for so much. They can’t buy another one, but finding someone under the radar, or through the draft, or the development of someone has to be the biggest order of the day for the defense. Hicks isn’t going to play 16 games next year, that you can bet on. He’s also 30, so just how much more time do you have?

I’ll worry about young linebackers in the middle and a secondary that will lose some veterans a hell of a lot less if they only have to do anything for about a second and a half every play.

 

Football

vs.

RECORDS: Bears 7-8   Vikings 10-5

KICKOFF: 12pm

TV: Fox

READY TO BE KICKED IN THE NUTS AGAIN: Daily Norseman

It was only a year ago that the season ended in the same exact spot with just about the opposite feeling. The Bears marched up to Minneapolis, with nothing to play for essentially as the Rams were up big by the 2nd quarter to eliminate any chance of grabbing a playoff bye. The Vikings however, had everything to play for, needing to win to get into the playoffs. And the Bears used their face to mop the floor simply because they felt like it, because they wanted to. It really felt like they were on to something then, that it was just the beginning. After all, a team that does that simply for the sheer joy of it must’ve been capable of so much more.

One scared playoff game, one missed kick, and a broken coach and QB later and now it feels like that game might as well have taken place in another dimension. Of course, the funny thing to think about is if the Bears had rested everyone, let the Vikings in, would they have simply kicked their ass again a week later on the Lakefront? How would that have changed things? Rather pointless to think about in the end, but you can’t let it go completely, can you?

Either way, the Bears will slink off the stage tomorrow after a dead rubber against the Vikings. Minnesota is locked in as the 6th seed, preparing to watch Kirk Cousins embarrass himself in Green Bay, or Seattle, or New Orleans. Take your pick. So they’ll be resting everyone who matters, making it unclear what the Bears can get out of this other than a win that makes the record look a little better. And hopefully no major injuries to carry over into training camp or something.

The Bears are intent on playing the full team, or at least the one they have. The long-term casualties are still out. You get the impression if the Bears had even been representative last week, not even won necessarily but played well, they might treat this as a time-filler as well. But last week so helpless and sad, they probably can’t end the season with two of those. The offseason will be long and unpleasant enough without that kind of stench hanging over it. Or at least they can fool themselves into thinking there’s less stench.

Maybe 8-8 looks way better to them than 7-9. The difference in draft position won’t matter all that much, they’ll be entrenched in the middle of the second round either way. There won’t be any answers tomorrow, and those won’t come for a few months. The post-mortems have already started.

It’s funny, there have been far worse Bears teams in recent memory. But rarely has a season been this unenjoyable. Even the wins were whiskey-dick experiences. Only the one in Denver due to its excitement and the still very much present hope that was around in just Week 2, the first Vikings game, and the Cowboys win were ones you could get excited about. Feel good about. Washington was what was supposed to happen. The two over the Lions were far harder than they needed to be. The Giants suck. When were you excited to watch the Bears past September?

So we’ll dispose of this season tomorrow, slamming its head into the wall before throwing it out the door, cursing its presence in our lives at all and hoping to never see the likes of it again. We probably will. It’s the Bears after all. But at least there will be time to cleanse.

Football

In The What I Learned Category, It’s Probably The Coach: This has been the big debate about the Bears all season, and will be this offseason and even into next season. It won’t be helped by Patrick Mahomes swaggering on in here next week either, but that ship has sailed. The fact is the Bears can win with Mitch Trubisky at the helm, whether or not it’s as fun to watch as Mahomes would have been.

To me, the ship on Mitch being great has sailed too, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be good. And good, with what this defense can be in the next year or two, is enough. Maybe more than enough. But as we’ve gone week to week here I’ve started to lean from “Mitch doesn’t have it” to “It’s Nagy.” And maybe a little of the offensive line mixed in.

There have been a few things that could have caused Matt Nagy to go off the deep end. The throwing up all over himself as KC offensive coordinator in the playoffs is only two years ago. Repeating that feat with the Bears last year, and then trying to blame the kicker for all of it is still fresh in the mind as well. And maybe Nagy is trying to overcompensate for losing his marbles (mental and the ones down there) in the playoffs this year by being fully creative all the time.

Again, we know what Mitch does well. Rollouts, actually running the ball, play-action. Pick and stick. This should have been the whole game plan from Week 2 on when Week 1 didn’t go so well. It hasn’t been until lately, and then it basically went away again in Green Bay to the point that even Mitch was bitching about it in the post game presser.

The Green Bay defense is certainly better than what had come before, and going to show you a lot of looks. But at some point you’ve got to do what you do well and figure out the rest. Nagy has outthought himself pretty much the entire season, and a better-than-it-feels season from the defense is now going completely to waste.

That doesn’t mean this is unsalvageable, because it’s far from it. All it takes is Nagy seeing what is in front of him, and maybe a tight end and one or two changes on the line. And then presto, it could be 12 wins again. But sometimes admitting things about yourself is the hardest thing to do. Is anyone going to tell him?

I Love Akiem Hicks But Don’t Want To Watch Him Play Again This Season: As fun as Khalil Mack was to watch last year, Akiem Hicks might have been just as much. Regularly putting two linemen on their ass and destroying entire offensive gameplans by himself, and looking like he was having a blast doing it, the joy seeped through your TV. So like most Bears fans I was delighted when it was announced he’d be back, because he’s the difference between this defense being really good and something from a distant moon in a another galaxy.

And then we had to watch him clearly in a world of pain, gut through it, and for what? I can’t imagine what state that elbow is actually in, but two or three times you saw him drag that thing to the sideline and try and comprehend the pain he was in. And football players don’t like to show much. In the 4th quarter when he was just lying on the Lambeau turf for a minute, it was just a metaphor for life. You can suck it up and gut it out and think you’ve got it measured by the world always has another jolt for you to leave you in even more pain that you thought possible.

Nagy is saying he still might play in the last two games. I don’t know what the point would be other than risking literally tearing his arm off below the elbow. That’s enough.

Packers-Bears Games With Something On The Line Are The Best And Worst: They rarely happen, which is maybe why they’re both. The past two seasons they’ve met in the opening week, which hasn’t gone well, but it’s hard to know what the stakes are. Most of this decade, one team has sucked and the other has been good (and you know what that alignment has been most of the time). Last year, by the time the second meeting came around the Packers season was over. These kinds of things rarely mean something to both teams in the long run. Of course, they all did in 2010…and look how that ended. Maybe it’s better if they don’t.

But there was something about the fading winter sunlight, the cold, and both teams having urgency and desperation that carried over into the fans and the whole experience. I don’t think I’d live through another playoff game between the two, but at the same time wouldn’t it be nice to get one over on those assholes when it really meant something? Just once?

One day.

Football

vs.

RECORDS: Bears 7-6   Packers 10-3

KICKOFF: 12 noon

TV: Fox 32

YA HEY DERE: Acme Packing Company

For the last three games of the season, hopefully, the Bears will find themselves in the odd situation of not having much to gain but everything to lose. At least until the end, that is, and if everything goes right. A win Sunday would only give them the chance to have everything to lose the following week against the Chiefs, and so on to Minnesota to end the season. Wins mean their minuscule playoff hopes are still alive. One loss and they’re gone and more serious questions follow. Good time to be heading up to the house of horrors then, huh?

It was thought earlier in the year that when these two teams met at Lambeau Sunday, one team would be skating on top of the division while the other would be at best floundering around the wildcard picture. We just got the teams reversed. Because of course we did.

I would love to tell you the Packers are frauds, and most teams in the NFL are. But they have beaten the Vikings, whatever that means, and the Cowboys on the road, whatever that means, and the Chiefs on the road, whatever that means, and their only loss against what you’d call a “real” team is getting utterly clocked by the Niners in Santa Clara. We know what Kirk Cousins does against any team that retains oxygen intake, the Cowboys just showed you what they are, and Mahomes didn’t play against them. But still, that feels like I’m straining a bit to discredit the Pack. Which is an effort I’m happy to make, but at some point even I know it rings hollow.

And as long as Aaron Rodgers is around, you’re never safe. Especially the Bears, who blew a 20-point lead to him in the second half when he had one leg the last time they perused the grounds up there. As Brian pointed out yesterday, Rodgers is having an average season for him which is other-worldly for just about anyone else. He also has just two INTs on the season, so at the very worst for him he doesn’t give you anything. Most of the time he’s taking everything, too. Just wonderful. And as that piece showed, he loves to pick on the middle of the field where the Bears will be dressing two backup interior linebackers. Guess where he might focus?

The Packers will tell you there’s been a new focus on the running game, and Aaron Jones’s 12 TDs would suggest same. However, their yards per game total is only middle of the pack (ha ha), and a good portion of their impressive run totals/performances have been a case of bum-slaying. No one’s impressed when you run it up Washington’s giggy, really. They’ve been stuffed by more than a few opponents, and the Bears will be hoping to do it for a second time.

They’ll tell you they have a restored defense, but again, at least in yardage, there isn’t anything the defense does that well. And again, when faced with good teams, they’ve surrendered points. 37 to the Niners, 26 to the Chargers who definitely suck, 24 to a Mahomes-less Chiefs. Now the Bears are going to have to do more than have a couple hot weeks against basketcase teams to claim to be a good offense now, but there are points to be had.

Even though their two OLBs have combined for 21 sacks, they don’t get to the QB much more than at an average rate, though still probably a test for the still working-out-the-new-kinks Bears o-line.

However, what the Packers do in fact do well, and what’s kept their points allowed totals from matching the yardage they give up completely, is they take the ball away. Lead in fumbles, in the top five in INTs. They may bend and give up plays but they make enough plays to wash that away. This is probably where the game is won or lost for the Bears, and why it might be a good idea to stick to the ground as much as possible. If only to give Mitch easier reads in play-action, and get him moving which we know he likes. Which keeps him from having to make more tough reads and throws than he’s capable of pulling off successfully.

Of course, there’s always Rodgers. There are days he just decides you lose, and there’s not much you can do about it. The return of Akiem Hicks will have everyone buoyed, but who knows exactly what and how much he can provide after 10 weeks on the shelf. Certainly not the amount of snaps you’d be used to and almost certainly not the dominant force you came to love. But it’s hard to imagine he’ll suck either, and if he gives more of a rotation on the line and keeps everyone fresher, so much the better, Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis will need all the help they can get.

The Bears have been able to overcome one or two Mitch mistakes the past couple weeks, but that’s one thing against the Lions or Cowboys. It’s kind of a different thing here. That doesn’t mean Mitch has to be perfect, but he likely has to be as good or better than he was against the Cowboys, which is not really a level he’s been able to stick at or exceed. Maybe now’s the time?

Hopefully the dynamic running attack we saw last Thursday sticks around, through both Trubisky and David Montgomery, instead of the RPO’s into Cody Whitehair’s retreating ass we’ve seen most of the season. Again, the widens Trubes’s margin for error.

If there’s one thing about these fucking games, as miserable as they are they are really boring. This one has a lot riding on it, and there’s probably nothing more the slobs in the hunting gear would enjoy more than ending the Bears season after starting it on the rocks in September. If the Bears get it, well, it could very well work out the Packers will have wished they put them down when they had the chance.

Bear Down.

Football

Tony: Wes, I’ve been spending a lot of sleepless nights since last Thursday wondering about how the ground game for the Packers lines up against the run defense of our Bears. I wake up, clutching the pillow in my buddy’s guest room wondering if the Bears could patch up the defense enough to take away the combo of Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams. The last time these two teams met in week 1, the Bears held Green Bay in check, but now they are missing several key pieces that will have an impact.

Both starting inside linebackers in Chicago’s 3-4 front are out for the season, and the hope is that Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis fill in without a significant drop in production. Kwit has looked good, and Pierre-Louis graded out as the 6th highest individual player last week from PFF, going against a stout Cowboys rushing attack. There is still hope. Akiem Hicks returns this week too, which should not only open up run stuffing lanes for the backup linebackers, but hopefully will also free Eddie Goldman to show up on a stat sheet and possibly be on the field for more than 50% of snaps again. This defense stops the run best when Hicks clogs the middle and lets Leonard Floyd do what he does best: setting the edge in the run game. In spite of Floyd’s lack of consistent pass pressure, he has done fairly well in the run game based on the eye test alone.

Hicks is the secret to stopping Green Bay’s rushing offense, since the defense didn’t allow 100 team rushing yards in the beginning of this season with him anchoring the line. His presence opens up everything for everyone else, and the hope is they can build off of holding Dallas to 82 ground yards and shut down the Pack.

Green Bay averages 107 yards on the ground per game this season, but it’s been uneven. For every 47-yard game, they can go off for 120 or more depending on the match up. However, the Bears aren’t Carolina, or Washington, or Detroit. This is a tough match up for the Packers on the ground, and they might be looking to target the Bears secondary that should be missing at least one starter. However, if the Bears shut down the run game, it allows the pass rushers to pin their ears back (a phrase I’ve never understood) and with Hicks in the lineup even Leonard Floyd might find himself in the backfield again.

The two teams meeting on Sunday are far different than the ones that met in the first game of the season. This game is the second time this year we will have seen a Chuck Pagano coached Bears defense go against a divisional opponent for their second match up, so it will be interesting to see if the game plan changes or if the Bears can finally score against Green Bay’s defense and put their own D in a position to win.

Wes: Man, I am excited to see Akiem Hicks back in the center of that line come Sunday. I’m also excited to see what the new old look Bears offense can do on the ground against a suspect Green Bay rushing defense.

The Packers come in allowing 122 and change on the ground for the season, including a few 150+ yard efforts. That 150 number is fitting, as the Bears are coming off a 151-yard rushing effort in Week 14 – easily their best of the season. Can they keep it up against the Packers that clearly have problems with the run? TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP.

As you noted early with the Green Bay running game on offense, the defense is equally as up and down. They’ve held a few teams under 90 yards, but they’ve also given of some huge days on the ground with team totals over 150 in nearly half their games. The last time these two met, in Week 1, the Packers held the Bears to a scant 46 yards on the ground. Take out that effort as we all know Matt Nagy abandoned the run completely, and the Packers are probably a few notches lower from their already poor ranking.

The Bears have finally been moving the pocket and using more motion and play action, to positive results from Mitchell Trubisky, David Montgomery and the rest of the Bears rushing attack. Mitch was vocal about not doing enough of what he likes a month or so ago, and it’s coincided with an uptick in his own rushing and paying dividends for a three game win streak. Mitch turned in his best overall effort of the season, possibly of his short career, including 63 yards and a TD on the ground. All that movement helped to shuffle the Cowboy linebackers pre-snap, allowing Trubs and Monty to stay away from Jaylon Smith as often as possible.

The Bears would be wise to continue this effort, though the players they’re likely to try and avoid are OLBs Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Smiths were the Packers big off-season signings, costing a ton of money but showing out as well worth it in their first seasons in Green Bay. The two have been great at getting into opposing backfields, combining for 93 tackles, 21.5 sacks and 23.5 TFL through 13 games. Chicago could use the movement and also pull guards to run right by either edge as they look to fly around the Tackles and into the backfield.

The Bears coaching staff has praised recent O-Line plug in Rashaad Coward over the last few week, and he can solidify his place on this team and into 2020 with another big performance Sunday afternoon. Getting Tarik Cohen involved a little more in these types of plays, running delays or misdirection right by one of the EDGE rushers, could also pay big dividends for the Chicago offense.

Chicago should easily blow past the 46 yards gained in Week 1, and have a legit shot to steal a game in Green Bay and keep the slim playoff hopes alive. Nagy just has to not be too proud and stick with what’s gotten him here by committing to the ground game no regardless of a slow or sluggish start. Here’s to hoping he’s learned from his early season mistakes.

Football

The Cowboys Are The Maple Leafs Are The Mexican National Team – No matter what happens in the rest of your life, you can be sure the Cowboys will suck up the most amount of press coverage, perhaps just behind the Patriots but possibly even more. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re the center of a deluded state that’s also bigger than most countries and only thinks about football and guns and cheerleader tits. But unlike the Patriots, the Cowboys have earned exactly none of it.

You may think the Bears have been a pretty futile organization this lifetime, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But the Cowboys have been completely useless, completely irrelevant, and completely backwards and yet they’re always front and center. They have the unearned arrogance of their shithead, made-of-plastic owner who has always had too much money for anyone to tell him he doesn’t know shit and should shut the fuck up. And he always will. And it’s why he gets to be the GM and coach of this team for the past 25 years, drive it into the ground, and no one’s going to stop him. He also happens to be commissioner of the entire league in reality, and I’m sure has made Roger Gooddell piss himself in front of all 31 owners at least twice.

The Cowboys haven’t seen an NFC championship game in 25 years. The Bears have managed at least two in that time. So have the Falcons. The fucking Cardinals have even done better, and you once again forgot they existed until you just read their name.  The only other team that’s been this pathetic for this long is owned by Jerrah’s even more balloon handed mini-me in Daniel Snyder. Or the Lions. That’s what we’re talking about here.

All they’ve got is their middle-finger-to-god stadium and a bunch of nitwits to tell me that Shiner Bock isn’t actually piss before whooping “How about them Cowboys?!” without bothering to notice the score. I saw some ‘Boys fans roll up to the bar I was in last night not too far from Soldier Field well before the end of the game, bundled up like they were in the middle of the Iditarod even though it was like 37. And in that moment, you could get just a glimpse in their eyes that they know they’re worthless, the team they follow will never be anything and what they’d really prefer is to just slink off back into the shadows. But there are no shadows in Texas, thanks to the heat death all their oil tycoons are soon to bring us. They’ll never admit it, but you could see it. It was there.

They are the Maple Leafs. They are Mexico at a World Cup. We never stop hearing about them and they swagger into every new opportunity like they own the place and “this time it will be different!” banners and then they never do shit. It was ever thus.

Maybe Growth Isn’t Linear? – Three games is hardly a definitive statement. And neither will be the next three games, or likely won’t be. And I’m as guilty as anyone of this. We all want to believe that a young player, and team, takes sequential steps. They come in, they flash but struggle, then they flash more and struggle less, then they become consistent, then they become special, and everyone wins. We’re conditioned to that here in town. Kane and Toews arrived in 2007. And they as players and the Hawks as a team took those sequential steps: from promise, to exciting, to contender, to champ. The Cubs did the same from ’14 to ’16 essentially. Fun and exciting, playoff run that portended to more, champ.

But it’s not always that way. I don’t know if Mitch Trubisky can save his career in these last six games. I would be hesitant to base an entire franchise’s fortunes on not even half of a season. But he’s had a weird career, and maybe his growth isn’t linear. He was drafted onto a team that was going to fire its coach for whom he was never really supposed to play for. He essentially had to start over in his second year, and on the other side of the ball a championship-caliber defense had to be kept up with. His coach tried to rush the cycle to keep up with that defense and not miss the opportunities presented, even if it wasn’t to Mitch’s strengths.

The Bears as a whole ended up in championship discussion far quicker than they could have imagined. The defense cycled up way quicker than the offense. But unlike last year it’s dealing with major injury problems. It’s carrying an offense that wasn’t ready to run with it. Everyone was trying to learn and expand at the same time, both at a lightning pace that just about no one can keep up. Which is why you get the massive confusion and blank looks we’ve seen most of the season.

Maybe it’ll always be mismatched. Maybe this is just a tease. Or perhaps these things just don’t always work on a steady arc up. Maybe the first half of the season was their stumble or downturn. There may be another yet. We won’t know until next season for sure. But it’s rarely as simple as we’d like it, and we’re spoiled by seeing it be that simple a couple times locally.

Ryan Pace Can Construct A Bottom Of A Roster – At least defensively. Injuries to Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, and now Roquan Smith should probably cripple a team, especially with Prince Amukamara on the sidelines as well. But we’ve seen Robertson-Harris or Nick Williams or last night Kevin Pierre-Louis or Kevin Toliver make just enough plays to keep the Bears defense humming. On offense, Javon Wims has filled in admirably for Taylor Gabriel, while the offensive line seems to have evened out after losing Kyle Long and dealing without Bobby Massie.

You can’t live like this forever. Getting Hicks back should help, but what he’s capable of no one can tell you right now. But hey, the games still mean something after all the Bears have been through. For right now, we’ll take it.