Football

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Saints (5-1) at Bears (3-2)

TV: FOX 32, 3:25 PM (GAME OF THE WEEK™)

Radio: WBBM 780 AM/105.9 FM

Aaaaaaand we’re back. The Bears come out of the bye and welcome the Teddy Bridgewater-led Saints into Soldier Field with a lot to prove.

The Saints arrive winners of four straight, games that can best be described as “winning ugly” – but wins nonetheless. New Orleans holds a slim lead in the NFC South on the back of this steak, but they’re no juggernaut. They rank middle of the pack in DVOA on offense and defense and really don’t do anything great, but they’ve done enough in most of their six games to eek out victories. Bridgewater is getting a lot of love for his play since Drew Brees went down, but it’s not exactly warranted. 41.2 QBR, 217 yards/game but seven TDs against two picks and only 10 sacks in a little under five full games. He’s protected the ball and moved the offense juuuuuust enough to get the job done, winning all four of his starts by one score.

Bridgewater looks like he’ll be without some of his better supporting cast on Sunday as Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook have both missed practice all week. The two rank second and third in targets, but team leader Michael Thomas will still suit up for what will be a tough matchup against Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. The Saints boast one of the most under-appreciated weapons in the league’s best punter Thomas Morstead, recent special teamer of the month of September and the honor for last week after having five punts downed inside the 15-yard line. The Saints keep winning the battle of field position, and without some key offensive weapons that will be important on Sunday.

The Bears should be ready for all this, having two full weeks to prepare and get themselves in order after the semi-shock loss in London to the Raiders. And it’s really time for Matt Nagy to show everyone what he’s got. The 2018 coach of the year spent all off-season saying this offense was all set to hit a new gear, ready to score at will and produce touchdowns while running a special defense out every week – a championship contender in every sense. The results thus far leave a lot to be desired, injuries or not. Mitchell Trubisky is back, albeit with a restrictive sling on his non-throwing shoulder, and he has as much if not more to prove than his play-caller.

Will we see the inventive offense that was promised? Don’t expect fireworks out the gate, though it’s fair to think that the offensive line should be improved after the merciful IR-ing of Kyle Long. In comes Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars to save the day, or at least save the running game some space at the line of scrimmage and, hell, maybe even getting to the second level now and then. There have been a great many plays that appeared dead before the ball made it to a running back or the QB had finished his drop back. The Bears had to know as soon as the game ended in London that the switch from Long would be made and it’s fair to expect some immediate results against an up and down Saints defensive front. The key will be executing on first and third down, and Nagy spoke to the former earlier this week. Making first down plays count, run or pass, to keep themselves out of third and long will dictate success. It’s really that simple.

Chicago’s defense and Chuck Pagano will be ecstatic to see Kamara sidelined, but Latavius Murray (remember him?) has been solid in his own right playing backup, averaging 4.3 yards/carry in his limited role. There’s plenty to be concerned about after letting Josh Jacobs run wild seemingly all over England, but containing the run game and making Bridgewater try to beat them through the air is likely to lead to success. The loss of Akiem Hicks definitely hurts, but this is where Pace can show his drafting/signings are worth it with the depth he’s created.

This is the Show Me game for Chicago and Nagy. Show me you’re that Coach of the Year, and not a Juron-esque fluke. Show me you can game plan for your young, struggling QB to be successful. Show me you can clean up the lapses on defense and stop an NFC leader on your home turf.

SHOW US WHAT YOU GOT!

Prediction: Bears 19, Saints 10

Football

Daaaaaaa Bears are back at Halas Hall and practicing this week after the long week off following the loss in London. They’re not whole, though. Kyle Long was mercifully decommissioned on Monday, hitting IR without a designated to return rider. Akiem Hicks isn’t on IR, but Matt Nagy casually said he hopes to see his disruptive DT back THIS SEASON…so, uhh, maybe we’ll see him by Turkey Day?

Mitchell Trubisky, Taylor Gabriel and Bilal Nichols were all back, though, so it’s not all bad. And the Bears look out at an odd, changing NFC that still holds a path to the postseason if they can navigate it all well from here.

Where we left off

The Bears are 3-2, good for third in the division. They lost two games they probably should have won, but won at least one they shouldn’t have, so we’ll call it even. The fairy tale of a near injury-free 2018 has turned into a crowded trainer’s room in 2019: Trubs, Gabriel, Nichols, Hicks, Trey Burton, half or more of the O-Line…all missing time through five games.

The off week comes at a good time getting a good amount of that list back for Week 7, and while the loss of Long may actually end up being a positive (more on that later) the arm injury to Hicks is a major blow. Nichols will need to step in and contribute right away and more is needed from the already pleasant surprise of Roy Robertson-Harris. Hey, it’s not all bad. They still have Khalil Mack.

Trubs back under center remains an uncertainty, but anyone that wants to argue they’re better with Chase Daniel is lying to you and themselves. Mitch is the guy, for better or worse. Nagy getting the best out of him and the offense is still the key to the way this team is built. The revamped offensive line helping to open up the run game is probably what helps Mitch and Nagy more than just getting the QB1 back.

Dan Durkin at the Athletic penned a massive article you can go read if you want, but it basically boils down to the big bodies up front getting to the second level and giving the backs something to work with. There’s more to it than that, but it boils down to better play in the trenches going a long way to offensive success.

State of the NFC…and path to the playoffs? 

The NFC North is incredibly tight. The Packers are in control at 5-1 after a very, um, oddly officiated MNF win over the Lions last night. Detroit drops to 2-2-1, but they look better than expected thus far. Minnesota is going to look great and then awful week to week, but currently sit at 4-2 after a big win over Philadelphia. So the Pack sit in the driver’s seat, but they’re banged up on offense and might be carried by the defense for the first time in…ever? The division is still very much in play, but for a team that needs to create their own identity, the Bears should focus on winning each week one at a time.

That mentality starts now, with a home date and the 5-1 Saints ahead. Beyond that, games against the Eagles, Lions x2, and Rams will all hold bigger weight than a single win as they could come into play as tie-breakers in the NFC playoff picture. If the Bears aren’t at eight wins by December, that big SNF matchup with Dallas won’t be big at all. Can Nagy get it all going well enough to go 5-2 from now until December? A final month of games with the Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings sets up for some real excitement if this team can get things sorted out.

That’s a very big “if” at the moment.

Football

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RECORDS: CHI 0-1 NYG 1-0, not that it matters

KICKOFF: 6:30 pm

TV: Fox 32

RADIO: WBBM 780 AM/105.9 FM

NEWARK ISN’T NEW YORK: Big Blue View

This week the fake slate takes the Bears out to somewhere in New Jersey to play the New York FOOTBALL Giants. Let’s check in on how everything is going for the NFC East’s fail sons this week:

Yeah…sounds about right for the team that traded away Olivier Vernon and Odell Beckham on purpose for a bunch of picks and Jabrill Peppers, which they’ll use to replace All-Pro Safety Landon Collins. Oh, and he ended up with division rival Washington in an effort to destroy his old organization.

The aforementioned Daniel Jones was the big “prize” of the Giants many first round picks, and his debut last week was literally perfect for one single series, and it sounds like his head coach is ready to give him a lot more to chew on. The Bears will probably still get a decent amount of somehow still relevant Eli Manning to start, and for no real good reason Saquon Barkley. Given the amount of injuries at skill positions/pass catchers, I’d think Pat Shurmur would rather not risk what he’s got left, but if that tweet is to be believed John Mara might be making these kinds of decisions. Praying for Evan Engram‘s safety, folks.

The Giants defense is very thin basically everywhere, and the secondary made Sam Darnold look very, very good last week in an especially disastrous display. Cornerback Deandre Baker is likely out, along with Linebacker Alec Ogletree, so the results could very well be the same this week. Sean Chandler is a name that the Giants beat seems to think pretty highly of, so maybe watch for him to try and make a play or two on the back end.

The Bears spent most of the week fighting each other, puking, and trying to control the narrative around Mitchell Trubisky and his development (or lack thereof).  There was also a lot of love, and rightfully so, for rookie RB David Montgomery. Honestly, this was a pretty slow week with the team moving back up to Halas Hall from Bourbonnais, but Matt Nagy may be outsmarting himself this pre-season. His “mock game” where he held a 60-minute controlled, padded practice between his top units led to an injury to Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long beating Jalen Dalton with his own helmet. Long boasts this as his second fight of the week, and this one ended as he went to the sideline and immediately vomited before leaving practice. Nothing to see here.

The main things to watch tonight, unfortunately, are still the kickers. One of the better options from the outside (Vedvik) was snapped up by the Vikings of all teams, so Ryan Pace will likely have to spend some draft capital of his own on a new PK if Fry and Pineiro keep failing to impress. Nagy went out of his way to praise Trubs’ development in reading the defense thus far, so his performance is actually pretty important as well. Pick apart a shaky secondary and I’ll be a believer, but if he struggles with his footwork and accuracy while missing reads in his limited role he and his coach will have some splainin’ to do; especially after the multiple melees and Long’s attitude issues this week.

I guess that’s at least partially predicated on either Mitch or Long even playing, as Nagy is still acting coy on whether or not Mitch throws one pass in the entirety of the preseason. I don’t think a whole lot will be learned once this one ends (especially if we get another three hand-offs and out for Mitch), but they’re gonna play it regardless and I’m gonna watch it because that’s what we do, friends. Enjoy the show. Maybe Long gets a few snaps to scrap with someone not on his team.