Football

By now you probably know the Chicago Bears hired veteran NFL coach Bill Lazor as Offensive Coordinator. Wooohooo.

We knew this hire wasn’t going to be real interesting, at least not in a style/scheme sense, when Head Coach Matt Nagy announced he would not be giving up play calling duties in 2020. This job also doesn’t scream “stability”. 2020 poses a make or break year for every relevant figurehead in the organization, meaning if things don’t at least culminate in a playoff berth and probably a solid effort once there, that many more positions will be open at Halas Hall.

There’s still a trail of bread crumbs we can follow leading back from Lazor, though, that could give some insight to what the Bears plan to do at QB this offseason and how they might work with Mitchell Trubisky to help him to suck less. I mean, you’re not here to read a summary of Bill Lazor’s Wiki page, so let’s get goofy. Fuck it.

Come along on a journey with me, dear reader, as we connect some dots. TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP!

Lazor comes in to replace Mark Helfrich, and while both are supposed to be QB whisperers that’s where the similarities end. Helfrich was a first time NFL hire, coming from the college ranks with a specific job to manage the run game. Seen as how that went the last few seasons, along with non-development of the QB position, Helfrich is out and Lazor is in. It’s not yet known if Lazor will assume the Run Game Czar title, or even if he’ll do much in the QB room since Dave Ragone managed to dodge the ax himself, yet again. No, Lazor seems to be here to help Nagy clean up the mess that is the RPO offense under Nagy…and maybe because of his connections to a few potential QB options for Chicago.

Lazor brings an NFL pedigree, holding jobs in the League for the better part of the last 16 years. His most recent stop was as OC to Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, where he brought in the run-pass option to help out a struggling offensive line/rushing attack and helped the Bengals make one more flailing effort to the playoffs before Lewis was finally put to pasture. So this makes him both highly qualified for 2020 Bears OC AND an ominous omen as the Angel of Death for Nagy and Ryan Pace, which is fun! Whatever he did was beneficial to QB Andy Dalton, who threw 64 TDs against 31 INTs from 2016-18. A.J. McCarron was also in Cincy during his tenure. More on that in a minute.

Lazor also found himself as OC in Miami in 2014…a year in which a young Ryan Tannehill threw for 27 TDs/2 INTs/4,095 yards and another 311 yards on 56 carries, arguably his best season (albeit on a pretty rough 5-11 Dolphins team) before his current run toward the AFC title this season. Lazor was hired in Miami because of his time in Philadelphia, where he had a hand (as QB Coach) in Nick Foles stand-in monster season.

A pattern is forming here, and it lines up in a few ways:

-While not always ending in overall success, Lazor tends to be around for strong years from his QBs

-Lazor isn’t going to revamp the run game, but a lot of those prior successes with QBs comes in spite of run game, not because of it

-Lazor has links to a number of QBs that should be readily available this offseason (to varying degrees)

So maybe this “underwhelming” hire has some meat to it. Maybe there’s more here than finding a competent NFL coach that’ll stay out of Nagy’s way. I’ll admit that Lazor’s resume of QBs doesn’t really elicit much excitement, but the team could do a lot worse than sending a conditional late round pick for the safety net and recent continuity of Dalton or even a cheap, one year deal for McCarron. Foles and Tannehill are much less likely based on circumstances, but in the event that Pace has some batshit plan in place, they have some familiarity of past successes with Lazor. The fact he’s worked most recently to coax the most out of struggling offensive lines and using RPO schemes to do so helps make even more sense of why he’s here.

Ultimately, it didn’t lead to sustained success in Cincinnati. Pace and Nagy and wagering their futures on things turning out different in his second shot at the same problem.

Football

Jordan Howard was sent packing. Tarik Cohen, gem of the 2018 draft, planted his flag as the next Darren Sproles-esque gadget back. Ryan Pace maneuvered ahead of his counterparts in the middle rounds to select David Montgomery, the quiet, no-nonsense, blue collar worker back that was going to excel immediately in the system. Pace also signed veteran Mike Davis on the cheap, seemingly because of fit and personnel package and depth. Then came Cordarrelle Patterson, the do everything secret weapon.

2019 was supposed to be the season the Bears rushing attacked returned to great heights, the season the team got back to its Chicago football reputation of pounding the ball on the ground and using that rushing attack to unleash Matt Nagy’s offense.

2019 did not go to plan.

The Good

Umm…right. Well, there was that one game that Mitch did his best LEEEEEROOOOOY JEEENNNNKKIIIIINSSSS and thrashed the Cowboys for 64 yards. That is to be considered good, I think. But, uh, he’s not a running back.

Montgomery did have his moments, rushing for 889 yards on 242 carries for the season which was highlighted by a 135-yard, 1-TD effort (and 5.0 yard per carry average!) in the heart breaking loss to the Chargers at home. Monty also hit the century mark in the season finale, totaling 113 yards and a TD (albeit against a lot of backups).

Cohen chipped in much more via the passing game, helping the offense where he could with 79 catches on 104 targets for 456 yards, good for 2nd, 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively…which will be an indictment when we get to pass catchers tomorrow but we’ll count it as “good” today.

The Bad..and Ugly

Strap in, dear reader.

To call the rushing game “bad” is a bit of an understatement. The coaching staff/Nagy told us they had their pieces, they were going to fix the underwhelming rush attack from 2018 (buoyed by QB  Mitchell Trubisky‘s 421 yards). We’ve already been over the additions to overhaul the group, which saw only Cohen return from 2018. The results were an unmitigated disaster, as the team rushed for under 1,500 yards as a group, averaging 91.1 yards/game. Chicago had a 3.7 per carry average. The Bears scored all of eight rushing touchdowns on the year. EIGHT! Per AP Style standards I can’t even use numerals for that low of a total.

These totals put them in the bottom of the league for rushing all around, 26th or worse in every category I just listed. You watched it. You probably assumed as much, but hot damn that’s fucking terrible. This team regressed by over 500 yards overall, 30 yards a game, and scored HALF as many rushing touchdowns.

So what happened?

Well, the offensive line was not what was expected and not even really close. The play calling was all over the map as well, seeing the Bears call all of FIVE run plays in the gut punch Week 1 loss to Green Bay..at home…by one score. FIVE RUN PLAYS. This would be a tough theme, as Nagy would get far too pass-happy or lean on the pass in games like the stinker against New Orleans where he abandoned it all together. The Bears ran the ball 395 times in 2019, sticking them in the lower third yet again, while it’s also worth pointing out that no other team rushed as much as they did for fewer yards. The Pittsburg Steelers were very similar, but the totals of the other teams near them in attempts are all 300-500 yards (NOT feral hogs, unfortunately) MORE than Chicago.

Montgomery was fed a decent amount with his 242 carries for a rookie season, but beyond that the division of work is alarming. Cohen only had 64 rushing attempts all season, with the damn QB coming in 3rd as Mitch saw 48 (and most of those were in the latter half of the season as things spiraled to hell). Free Agent additions Patterson and Davis saw a COMBINED 28 carries. Patterson seemed to be the choice short yardage back early on, which was curious at best but really it was fucking batshit insane. Nagy lost his damn mind. Poor Mike Davis never got a shot, and the team mercilessly cut in early November so that Pace could at least recoup a compensatory draft pick.

Not great!

 Any Hope?

I don’t know, man. The Bears have a lot to fix on offense, and the goal should be to get more out of the run game first and foremost. I know everyone wants Trubisky to be a star, but he needs help to even get to an even baseline. The offensive line and play calling must be better, and this team needs a third actual running back that can pick up short yards and block. They have their lead man and pass catcher and their gadget man, as Montgomery, Cohen and Patterson should all be back. They just need to figure out how to use them all properly, which I’m not so sure this regime is capable of. I’d expect them to skip RB completely in the draft and find their fourth back on the market this March. Or maybe they can just use a defensive tackle for the dirty work. Just do better.

Final Grade: D+

Football

 @

RECORDS: Chiefs 10-4 @ Bears 7-7

KICKOFF: 7:15 pm

TV: NBC 

I’m sure you all read that headline and thought, “please, no, not a post about why this team would be Super Bowl bound with Patrick Mahomes“. Guess what? I WOULD NEVER.

No, this is about what could have been for a team that looked on the cusp of becoming NFC contenders a scant 11 months ago crashing and burning into the mess you and I have been subjected to for the better part of the last four months. And while there were some pretty tall expectations, it’s reasonable to expect minimal changes within the organization and coaching staff. Some might clamor for major changes, but Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy, Chuck Pagano and most of the other coaches will remain for the job of cleaning up this mess of a campaign, which arguably starts this week.

The first test is how to get your team up and motivated for a meaningless game in late December, one that’s played a mere week after your slim playoff hopes ended at the two-yard line as time expired against the most hated of rivals. The Bears will need to find that energy as they host the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, a game that Mahomes and Andy Reid desperately need to win if they’re to secure a bye for what looks to be a loaded AFC playoff field.

The Chiefs enter playing possibly their best defensive football of Reid’s tenure. The uptick on that side of the ball coincides with a 5-1 stretch, seeing KC secure their fourth consecutive AFC West title. The Chiefs have held opponents to 212 passing yards or less in five of six games during this streak, helping them to get into the top team passing defenses in the league overall for the year. They will have a true test this week, though, as Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky has averaged over 295 yards passing the last four weeks and gone over 330 yards twice. Mitch has been using his legs to greater effect as well, something KC hasn’t really had to deal with in games against the likes of Drew Lock, Derek Carr, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.

The non-existent Bears rushing game failed to show up much against a near-league worst Packers side in Green Bay, so while the Chiefs rank near the bottom of the league in rushing yards against at 130+/game they are more likely to see that number improve than be gashed for worse. Unless, of course, Mitch runs wild like he did against Dallas on TNF a few weeks ago. Mitch is still working on his decision making, and what he does with the RPO all night will go a long way to determining if KC has any issues trying to get closer to that bye week. it’d certainly be nice to see Nagy and staff try some new things, maybe moving the line in different ways or using more misdirection/creativity to get David Montgomery some confidence in a lost rookie campaign.

Mahomes comes in seeing his otherworldly number from 2018 deflated a bit (he’s missed two+ games to injury), but the third-year QB is still making defenses pay when they give him any kind of window. Mahomes is top five in yards/game (300.5), has 23 TD against four INT in 12 games and comes in at 2nd and 6th in QBR and Passing Rating, respectively. He can and will beat you deep to Tyreek Hill (who will also simply just beat you, but only if you’re under 10 years old or female) or Mecole Hardman, or he’ll slowly kill you by feeding monster TE Travis Kelce or any one of the RBBC that seemingly 1) can all catch out of the backfield and catch well and 2) go for allll the YAC. LeSean McCoy, Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Spencer Ware…it really doesn’t matter. Reid plugs and plays at will and somehow employs backs that can do it all…it’s called a SCHEME,,, folks.

The Bears young stand ins at ILB (Nick Kwiatkoski, Kevin Pierre-Louis) and the defensive backfield (Kevin Toliver, Deon Bush) will all be tested over and over by these weapons and almost assuredly beaten unless the defensive front can create pressure – something that’s been missing since Week 1 for the Bears. Can they find some way to get pressure on Mahomes to help out their youthful next men up? Maybe Pagano has some new ideas for Khalil Mack and Co. after failing all year to get any sustained pressure.

The Bears constant is that they are inconsistent, including during this late 3-1 run to respectability. A loss here is expected, but more than wins or losses these last two weeks should be dedicated to continued learning experiences and trying any and everything to see what they’ve got moving forward. Everything should be on the table, anyone with questions should be thrown into the fire. Who knows, maybe the apprentice will catch the master and score an upset while having a little fun along the way (did you know Nagy is a Reid disciple????)

Prediction: Chiefs 38, Bears 29

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.

Everything Else

Matt Nagy finally did it. They finally let Mitchell Trubisky run around and do what he loves, and guess what? It was all a  Borat voice GREAT SUCCESS as the Bears win their third straight to go over .500 for the first time in 10 weeks with a 31-24 victory.

Mitch ran for 64 yards (season high) and a touchdown to go along with a 23/31 line and 244 yards through the air with 3 more TDs in what feels like his best performance in a long, long time. David Montgomery added 86 yards on the ground, Allen Robinson accounted for 48 yards and two scores and the Tight End combo of Jesper Horsted and J.P. Holtz combined for a line of 7/92 to round everything out. Horsted and Holtz represent big time positives from a position that’s been a massive disappointment this season, if not the last few years. That impact was felt in the successful run game as well, with the tandem’s ability to seal off the edges and get to the second level.

The Cowboys started things off with a the longest TD drive of the NFL season in terms of time and plays, a 17 play, 8:57 minute drive that resulted in an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run and a 7-0 Dallas lead. A Trubisky INT at the goalline would give Dallas the ball back before the end of the first quarter, but from there the Bears would reel off 2 straight points and Dallas would not convert a third down until late in the fourth quarter.

Dallas would make things appear interesting with a few late TDs of their own, but the game was pretty well decided after a Trubisky TD pass to Allen Robinson to open the second half, capping an 11 play, 84 yard drive to put Chicago up 24-7 with Dallas reeling. A David Montgomery fumble (a play that arguably could/should’ve been stopped for progress, but whatever) late in the third quarter would help Dallas keep hope alive, but it would prove too little too late as Trubs led a three play, 60 yards TD capped by his rushing TD to ice the game.

The defense was frustrated on the opening drive, giving up swaths of yardage on the ground and unable to get off the field on third down, something they’re normally used to dealing with late in games. Pagano would tighten things up and make adjustments in the looks from his front seven, though, to stifle the Dallas offense of Dak Prescott and Elliott, and doing so mostly without Roquan Smith who left the game early during the second Dallas drive with a Pec injury.

If there was a negative for the Bears, it was injuries. Already without Prince Amukamara, Danny Trevathan and Akiem Hicks, the loss of Smith to what is likely a serious injury (you don’t get ruled out within minutes for a ‘minor’ pec injury) will make running the table in the final three games that much harder. Montgomery also went into the blue medical tent after a short carry with two and change left, again less than ideal. there was no immediate report on Montgomery, so we’ll all hold our breath until more news on Friday.

The Bears now have 10 days to heal up and game plan for Green Bay on the road. Things got closer than they needed to, but all in all a positive night that keeps the dream alive. Mitch was buzzing, Khalil Mack was alive (3 QB hits, 1 Sack, 1 TFL) and everyone went home happy…except for Jason Garrett, who might find himself without a job before he gets to the team plane.

BEAR DOWN

 

Football

 vs

Bears (5-6) at Lions (3-7-1)

Kickoff: 11:30 am

TV: Fox 32

Radio: WBBM 780

 

If this all feels oddly familiar, it is. The Bears and Lions will meet for the second time in three weeks, playing the early Thanksgiving game in Detroit, all for the second straight year of this exact same format.

In 2018, the Bears won a pair of sort of ugly games over Detroit, first with one of Mitchell Trubisky‘s best games of his career with a 23/30, 355, 4 TD (1 rushing) performance in blowout at home. Trubs would pick up a shoulder injury the following week, though, and Chase Daniel would manage the Bears to a slim win on Thanksgiving 2018 with a massive performance (on the field and with celebrations) after some very timely turnovers.

The 2019 version of this possibly never changing schedule quirk is sort of sticking to the script: the Bears win a few weeks ago in Chicago featured A 3 TD performance from Trubisky, albeit without the big yardage and convincing offensive performance. The Lions are in a bit of a different space, though, as they again won’t have Matthew Stafford (and possibly Jeff Driskel) and his broken back. Driskel kept things interesting in Chicago as Stafford missed his first game of what had become a career season prior, and Detroit could be without both on Thanksgiving as Driskel is trying to overcome a hamstring injury.

Enter, uh….David Blough? David Blough. So yea, the Lions head into this one in a pretty bad spot. The thing you have to watch most with Driskel is his ability to extend plays or beat you on the ground by moving around, and even if he starts he mostly likely won’t be able to get out of the pocket. The Bears defense will look to build some confidence against the Lions unsure/struggling offense, hopefully capped off by some new endzone celebrations.

On the offensive side, Mitch and Nagy will hopefully be on the same page for this one and keep adding plays that Mitch is more comfortable with – play-action and bootlegs should be used early and often. Maybe it’ll even open up some holes for David Montgomery and the rushing attack, as they’ll be able to try and sharpen their own shortcomings in run blocking against a Detroit unit ranked 23rd against the run. This will be the second week in a row against a 23rd ranked rush defense, and the Bears helped the Giants to improve two places in a week…so don’t hold your breath on some rampant rushing attack four days later.

This game will be a strong opportunity for the Bears offense to take advantage through the air, something they did pretty well two weeks ago and got a little better last week. If they can take another step and put together a solid plan around the run fake and moving Mitch around, maybe they can start to make you believe. Believe they can get in a rhythm and at least make things hard on Minnesota and Seattle down the stretch – two teams that play each other on Monday Night Football to wrap up the week.

They’ll do so without Taylor Gabriel and Ben Braunecker, but against the 30th ranked pass defense Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller could be in line for huge days. We might even see some Tarik Cohen in the slot or some creative uses of the runnings backs in the passing game.

The opportunity is there for the Bears to give everyone a reason to be thankful, helping to ease us all into the post-meal drunken stupor as we take in the chaos that’s potentially there for Bills-Cowboys. Watching that with a smile instead of a scowl is good enough at this point.

Happy Thanksgiving (drinking), everyone.

Football

Welcome back to another edition of THE VAULT, a weekly segment where I leave our global consciousness behind and ascend to an alternate reality where Curtis Conway is a first ballot Hall of Famer and all of our dads quit drinking in the early 90s.

Two weeks ago I did a Bears/Lions preview and to be honest I’m fucking sick of the Lions, and this space is where I get to talk all my shit, so let’s talk shit. Instead of bringing back some historical Bears game, I’d rather use this space to help prime you for watching a Bears game with your in-laws who range from “casuals” to someone who hasn’t watched a football game since the AFL/NFL merger but says they stopped watching when players started taking a knee during the anthem. This guide is for you, so that when they add you on Facebook and post their hot political takes/Minion memes/Ben Shapiro quotes, you’ll be able to safely unfriend or block knowing you did all you could to help them understand football.

Yes, you read that right: the only thing I have to offer as it pertains to how I can improve the lives of strangers is trying to teach them the finer points of the RPO.

Your in-laws and your extended family suck at watching football. Mostly, they’ll be on their phones or loudly talking over the broadcast if you live in one of those homes where people say “let’s turn off our phones this holiday” or you actually like your family. Luckily, the Bears play the early game of the day’s slate, so hopefully the game is damn near over before your uncle gets hammered and says something racist about some player being “one of the good ones”.

You’ll have to talk Trubisky with people who have no idea exactly what’s going on with his pisspoor mechanics or fragile mental state. Just tell them they’re right in their analysis and you read on Twitter the Bears are considering bringing in Colin Kaepernick for the rest of the year.

“What’s the deal with that Nagy guy? He only runs short passes or runs up the middle!” Yeah, you’re actually spot on with that analysis there, Uncle Kev. That said, you could try to explain the intricacies of the total oblivion that is the Bears offense, but he’s just gonna forget and then compliment your new romantic partner on their body. Tread lightly.

Your family is gonna be spewing takes straight out of Skip Bayless’ wet dreams, and it’s up to you to pick your battles. I wouldn’t try to defend the offensive side of the ball, save explaining anything about this team when the defense gives up a field goal after a turnover and your cousin talks about how shitty they look this year even though as far as being athletic is concerned, the only running that cousin has done in the last year is from child support.

My advice for you is to either get to the place hosting your Thanksgiving dinner after the Bears game, or get there early and hope nobody shows up until the Dallas/Buffalo game. That one’s the easy one, since everyone’s non-football fan family members remember Dallas and will probably root for them, and you can play bingo trying to keep track of how many of them compliment Cole Beasley for being “gritty” or “sneaky fast”.

The Saints/Falcons will be a great nightcap, and for once you can use your fantasy football team to get out of those post-dinner conversations. I’ve spent the end of multiple Thanksgivings in my car, blasting one-hitters while listening to the Westwood One broadcast of the late game; those late nights are some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. I guess that makes it sound like I hate my family, but that’s not true. I just have a lot of reverence for this stupid game we all love and if I can use it to get away from the hot takes that my in-laws spew over the holidays, I’ll take it.

Football is a great way to ignore the politics of Thanksgiving, and this year we are lucky enough to watch our beloved Bears shit the bed on national tv again!

Football

 

vs.

 

Giants (2-8) at BEARS (4-6)

Kickoff: Noon 

TV: Fox 32

Radio: 780 WBBM

For your future’s sake
I’ve got advice I’d advise you to take
Don’t keep betting on it
“Well, it’s gotta light me up sometime”
You lost your turn

Matt Nagy is getting some emo treatment this week, at least from FFUD. The lyrics of Anthony Green spell out where I think a lot of the media, NFL sources and Chicago fans are at with Nagy: If you can’t stop trying to force whatever it is you’ve convinced yourself is the plan on offense, you’re not long for this job. You could also argue this fits for Ryan Pace as well; you’ve lost this season but you can still assess what’s worth keeping for the run in 2020 and beyond – if you’re smart enough. Even Chicago fans can take the quoted advice – Let go of the sky high expectations and accept that this ain’t it. Wait for your next turn.

Will that turn be in 2020? Nagy, Pace and co. will certainly say all the right things and plan for that, but it’s whatever that plan entails that holds the fortune for this current Bears GM/HC contingent. That starts this week at home against the New York Giants, a team still trying to find it’s own way throw a plethora of odd management decisions and draft picks. Pace can learn a lot by looking across the sideline/press box, mostly the pitfalls he should avoid as he moves forward to try and fix his own debacle of a team.

The Giants limp in losers of six straight, though they do tend to keep it close with other cellar dwellers having lost one score games to the Jets, Lions and Cardinals in that stretch. Rookie Daniel Jones has taken over under center and been mostly bad with a few highlight reel tosses mixed in…sound familiar? The Giants bypassed Quenton Nelson, among others like Roquan Smith, Sam Darnold and Bradley Chubb) for the opportunity to take Saquon Barkley second overall in 2018 and make him the true focal point of the offense. Barkley has been one of the best weapons in the league since, but it hasn’t translated to success for the Giants, especially in year two where the offensive line and pass catchers have let them down in a big way. The defense is even worse, ranking 27th or lower in all relevant defensive metrics. The Giants are a -12 in turnover differential with only the Miami Dolphins below them. Barkley can go for 150-200 yards easily, but if the team around him is this terrible, what was the point of spending the second overall pick on a Ferrari you can’t get outside your own neighborhood?

Dave Gettleman and the G-men did themselves no favors, dealing WR Odell Beckham Jr. and DT Olivier Vernon for next to nothing and letting All-Pro safety Landon Collins walk away for nothing. Collins situation was especially absurd, as the team could have tagged him, didn’t, refused to make any sort of passable contract offer to him and ended up pissing him off to the point that he sought out a deal in Washington so he would have the chance to play his old team twice a year. Yikes. They also dealt OBJ mere months after handing him a fat extension, costing themselves millions in dead cap space in the process. I haven’t even gotten to the odd coaching hire decisions and the bungling of Eli Manning‘s contract. The Giants are trash, on the field and off it.

The Bears, at 4-6, are not going to make the playoffs. They’re not going to have a first round pick in April, either. Pace can’t do much about either of those things right now, but what he can do is work with his Head Coach and make sure that they’re giving reps to the players they need to make decisions on in the near future. Mitchell Trubisky remains the great mystery box, at least to Pace/Nagy. Many in the league and the fan base have given up on Trubs (including yours truly), but the fact is they still have six games with which to assess the young signal caller. Nagy has argued, with some pretty favorable, timely quotes from Chase Daniel, that Mitch has absolutely been better the last two weeks. Some have stated the choice to pull Mitch at the end of the Rams game was more about sending a message veiled as being all injury related. The stats are a little uneven, but a strong outing against a bad Giants team to follow up the disgusting offensive display at the Rams last week would do Mitch and Nagy a lot of good.

There are players all over the roster that need assessing as well, and the scrutiny is going to start coming in the form of analysis like “You’re going to need to see more from (insert player on a rookie deal) on a play like that to keep him in the fold” from pundits and the media alike. “I’m not sure if you keep (veteran on a deal that can save the Bears more than the dead cap hurts) if these are the types of efforts you keep seeing from here” should also be pretty prevalent. The good news is that the Giants present an opportunity for a lot of these guys to start making compelling cases as to why they deserve another deal or to keep the one they have/get new money. The list of players with something to prove is a bit larger than a year ago when off season business was kept to a minimum – Eddie Jackson, Leonard Floyd, Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nick Williams are all playing for new money; Prince Amukamara, Taylor Gabriel, and Eddy Pineiro are just trying to keep their jobs; ANY offensive linemen and tight ends are playing to earn a shot at all.

I guess I haven’t really gotten into any X’s and O’s of what these two teams might try to do this weekend, but I also don’t really know that they know what the hell they’re going to do. Neither has managed sustained success in any facet in 2019, but both have plenty they’d like to point to and prop up as “the Future” of their franchise. For Chicago, that needs to start with a passable display from Trubisky and the offense and some steady play and added pressure on the young QB Jones (looking at you, Khalil Mack) from Pagano’s defense. A loss, or even another terrible day of paltry offensive execution, could spell real doom for Nagy and Pace and a bunch of players up and down the roster. It could also be the spring board to some encouraging results in tough matchups to close out the season. Here’s to hoping Nagy takes the advice.

Prediction: Bears 22, Giants 17

Football

vs

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.