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

Tony Martin: Today’s matchup post is going to look a little different than usual- since this year has been anything but normal, we are having to seriously discuss how to spend our Sunday afternoons. I just started a new job, I’m still in grad school, and I still play in multiple bands- that time of the weekend would be perfect to spend it on anything other than shitty football that I’m emotionally invested in.

Yet I know for a fact that I’ll be parked on the couch this Sunday, watching the lifeless Bears play against the Giants. I’m not sure if I’m watching to see if they have something to prove or if I do it out of sheer tradition. I feel like if there was a Dawn of the Dead style zombie apocalypse, instead of lurking to the mall you’d find my dead ass sitting on the couch with a half cashed bowl and a LaCroix within arms reach of my rotting arms, waiting for the Bears to come on.

What do the Bears have to prove over these last few games? Is this just a talent evaluation process by now? It could be. I’m thinking they need to assess what options they have at so many different positions- both sides of the line, tight end, linebacker, kicker, and the defensive backfield. At this point, let’s see what this team has going forward. A lot of what Pace and Nagy should be focusing on where the holes in this leaky sink are coming from, because even though Mitch is the most glaring problem, the reason we are where we are is deeper than bad QB play. If Kyle Orton can win games as a starting QB, so can Mitch, but the franchise needs to build and play to his strengths. A great game plan can help mitigate a lot of deficiencies if done right.

This team absolutely has a playoff core, but Pace/Nagy need to spend the offseason figuring out what the identity of the franchise actually is and then building towards it. The end of last season covered up a lot of the problems with this roster from an identity standpoint on offense. They had a bruising running back and then a scatback, an all-star caliber wide receiver and a bunch of undersized speedsters, and a tight end that was not worth the money. All they did was replace the running back with a much better prospect that fits the offense, but they get away from running as soon as they fall behind, even if it’s by something as small as a first half field goal. Now might be the time to find those things to build upon, but it’s going to be boring as shit from a fan perspective to see it.

To wrap this part up, I’ll tell you what I’m looking for as the Bears play us off (insert Bill O’Reilly impression here):

-Is there an NFL-caliber tight end on the roster?
-Is Anthony Miller consistent enough to warrant a spot as the starting slot WR?
-Which defensive linemen could create pressure on their own in the absence of Khalil Mack?
-Does Leonard Floyd still play for this team?
-Eddie Goldman somehow has a grade of 74.3 so far from PFF- how much of 2018’s 88 rating from PFF was aided by the presence of Akiem Hicks?
-Do the Bears look to extend any of the following players: Danny Trevathan, Haha Clinton-Dix, Aaron Lynch, Nick Williams, Nick Kwiatkoski, or Roy Robertson-Harris?
-Are the Bears interested in taking a harder look at Javon Wims or Ryan Nall?

 

Wes French:Tony, I have to admit – If there is a Dawn of the Dead style scenario, I’d like to come find that couch and help you finish off your party favors. Barring a Hollywood situation on Sunday, though, I think I’m checking out on the Bears for a week.

It’s the Sunday before what’s basically a holiday week – yeah, I’ve got to work a few days at the beginning, but am I REALLY working? Fuck no. And the fact the Bears don’t really seem to be working the last month+ makes me unsure about investing another 3-4 hour block of my weekend, especially against a putrid trash heap like the New York Giants. I guess this might be the BEST time to check in, since the Bears should be able to get a W against the rookie-QB led G-Men, but the last time we had that narrative was all of two weeks ago against Detroit and that game was about as entertaining as a wet fart. Plus we’ll get that same wet fart four days later, bright and early before we’re all stuffed.
Am I interested in another slog between trash teams trying to sort out how exactly to best use the players they employ? No, no I’m not. Tony outlined plenty to look for in terms of WHY you may want to check in to this game on Sunday, and beyond the Bears sorting themselves out for a hopefully more spirited run in 2020 I could see you being mildly interested in who this Daniel Jones character is playing QB for NYG and wanting to see the sometimes electric Barkley do what he does. Outside of those two, the Giants have nothing to hold the interest of anyone but the diehards in the Big Apple and even those dummies are probably on to other things by week 12 of a 2-8 season. The Giants are pretty terrible and deserve no one’s attention, and in the immortal words of Local H – And Fuck New York, Too.

So what else should you be doing on Sunday? I’m going to play hockey and casually catch a nice dose of Red Zone with NINE noon games. Why the NFL can’t sort themselves out enough to have a better division of games through the day (there are only TWO late afternoon contests, but one is DAL @ NE) remains a mystery, but I digress. There are some strong teams on bye this week (KC/MIN), but while the schedule at first glance looks like a mirror of Bears/Giants, I’d say we’re in for a noon slate of some wild football with goofy fun matchups galore: 
– SEA @ PHI: The best game on paper at noon, Seattle looks to keep the Eagles down as they chase the 49ers for the NFC West/#1 seed. The Eagles are maddening, but always capable of a breakout performance and still have a shot at their own shitty Division
– TB @ ATL: Human Turnover Machine/Piece of Shit Jameis Winston goes into Hotlanta, quietly one of the best defensive units in the league since Week 5; I’ll guarantee at least 3 INTs and a DEF TD
– DEN @ BUF/ OAK @ NYJ: On the surface, the Bills and Raiders should cruise, but the Broncos have proved a difficult out and the Jets are scoring in bunches of late. The Bills and Raiders also remain the Bills and Raiders, so place those bets cautiously
– PIT @ CIN: A once fierce rivalry reduced to Mason Rudolph against Ryan Finley. I’ll be honest, this one excites even less than the Bears, but it does produce a decent opportunity for the Bungals to get their first win…it could totally be worse, Bears fans
– CAR @ NO: This sees two teams heading in wildly opposite directions, with the Panthers looking like they might be onto their third QB of the season and just about dead in the NFC at 5-5. Saints are aiming for NFC’s top spot. Divisional games can be weird, though
– MIA @ CLE/DET @ WSH: These two matchups pit four of the leagues worst franchises (of late, at least) against each other, and while on the surface the matchups look shit you should NEVER discount a game between the worst of the worst. How will Cleveland respond after the brawl to end last week’s game? Can Miami make it 3 wins in 4 after starting 0-7? Will the Lions continue to be the tonic that aids young/under-performing QBs for Dwayne Haskins and the Racial Slurs???
TUNE IN TO FIND OUT
Football

So, is there anything to be gleaned from an actual win? Or just too much effort to get past a Lions team with no Matthew Stafford?

Brian Schmitz: What I really liked was the success we saw when Nagy went no huddle and got Mitch outside of the pocket. I’ve been screaming for it all year. It’s the only way this team has a chance to be successful. Another positive was the “touchdown to checkdown” mentality we saw from the QB.

Do they lose to a Lions team with a healthy Matt Stafford? Probably? But a win is a win.

Tony Martin: Yesterday was ugly. Yesterday was the type of date you go on where you would qualify it as a success, but it didn’t feel good in any way whatsoever. Bears fans and their 2019 team went to Olive Garden and had the most authentic Italian food that Chicago had to offer, went to the finest Bar Louie location in the city for that big city corner bar experience, and then we all went back to their place and had consensual sex, but every step involved lacked passion. This Bears team is not a team you bring home to meet your folks, this is the team you call when those highlight videos of the 2006 team just don’t do it for you like they used to. I apologize for the overly erotic metaphor, but this team has been fucking me since September and I haven’t even sniffed the unlimited salad and breadsticks.

Wes French: I think the Bears (and maybe Capitalism/social constructs?) have finally broken Tony, and after a win no less.

To me it was a lot more of the same, papered over with the fact that Matt Patricia is a bad head coach and was without his QB1. Sure, we got a decently competent looking Trubs for a stretch, and hopefully there was enough there to build off of. The offense still only produced 226 yards, while the defense gave up 357. The first four possessions for the Bears saw three three-and-outs and another that gained all of 12 yards before a punt. seven of 12 drives ending three-and-out is not exactly a recipe for success.
The bookend TDs before and after the half were great to see, but Nagy still couldn’t get the right game plan or execution to put the game away fully and we had to watch as the Lions nearly came all the way back to tie the game late. The defense gave up a four-play, 81 yard TD drive with a few minutes to play, then were aided by an offensive PI call to help close out the game as the Lions drove deep into Chicago’s end on the final drive.
A win’s a win, but it wasn’t real encouraging.
Tony: I’m frequently jostled from sleep trembling, shaking, in a cold sweat. I’ve been out of work for 21 days, my money is running out- I feel like Tarik Cohen taking an RPO up the middle on 1st and 10. Scrambling, nervous thoughts fill my days as I email and call potential employers. Mitch Trubisky haunts my indecision about taking a job offer in Freeport; am I just checking down when the Allen Robinson of jobs is just breaking free downfield? Did I make the right choice? Or am I Matt Nagy: unable to take criticism and adapt to a rapidly changing landscape?

The 2019 Chicago Bears have been playing this season like a depressed 33-year-old, and it took me until Week 10 to realize it.

(Off the record: I’m good, y’all. Just leaning in a little bit)
How big of a problem will Danny Trevathan’s absence be going forward? This was already a team hurting down the middle of defense without Akiem Hicks…
Wes: Not as big of an issue as all the other problems? The Nicks (Kwiatkoski and Williams) stepped up on Sunday, but Roquan is still MIA for the most part.  Trevathan and his intangibles will be noticeably missed, but the Bears could do worse than giving the load to Kwiatkoski. Maybe Roquan can use this opportunity to turn his season around, and that would be a welcome positive storyline in a season full of shitty ones.
Tony: I feel for Danny on more of an existential sense than for what his loss means for the team, because let’s be real, without Hicks both Danny and Roquan have struggle to consistently fill the gaps like they’re used to.  I’m afraid this is the last time we’ll see Danny Trevathan in a Bears uniform, because as we know his contract expires at the end of this season. I think how the organization handles Danny’s contract situation will tell us a lot about where they think they are in the championship window. Hoping they bring him back and he retires a Bear.
Brian: The defense will probably be worse off, but it’s not like the unit is a world beater right now. They are having trouble getting to the QB, and although Trevathan is a beast, he, like most of the defense, isn’t having as good of a year as last. God forbid anyone on the team from UGA decides to step up and be as good as they were supposed to be.

 

Football

The “Black and Blue” division, a title that Bears fans have worn with pride for decades. My dad used to love to talk about how tough and gritty a team needed to be to win in the former NFC Central division, and that shit’s goofy. Sure, toughness is important in a physically demanding and violent sport, but the “three yards and a cloud of dust” adage is kind of tired in 2019.

Needless to say, our dads are gonna LOVE the Bears/Vikings game this Sunday, because the trenches will be a war. Minnesota comes to Soldier Field planning on running the ball. They’ve rushed the ball 103 times in three games thus far, and average 193.7 yards a game. Holy shit. That sort of commitment to the run is something the suburban dads who listen to The Score salivate over, so I hope they enjoy it. Minnesota has opened some almost unbelievably wide lanes for Dalvin Cook, and as the NFL’s leading rusher this season, he’s got the juice to take the ball all the way damn near every time he touches it. Needless to say, the matchups between Minnesota’s rushing attack and Chicago’s run defense look like the most likely factor in the outcome of Sunday’s tilt, so let’s get into it. For the dads.

Minnesota Run Offense: A kickass running attack needs two things: a killer line and a running back who can make people miss at the second level. Minnesota has both. Their line has the 4th best Adjusted Line Yards on the season thus far (a Football Outsiders metric attempting to quantify how much of a runner’s success is due to good blocking), and Dalvin Cook has the highest yards per carry average for any runs broken at least 11 yards from the line of scrimmage. These dudes can ball. Right Guard Josh Kline is in concussion protocol, and though it would make the Bears’ task easier on Sunday, it would be a bummer if the Hoffman Estates kid missed his chance to play in Chicago. Also, I’m sure he told everyone he grew up in the city when he made it to the NFL. Look for Minnesota to run left frequently, since they rank second in the NFL in success rate for runs to the left (also a Football Outsiders metric).

Chicago Run Defense: So much of what the Bears are trying to do up front is reliant on Akiem Hicks being an actual bear and wrecking plays in the backfield, so it’s with great anxiety that Bears fans wait to see if he’ll suit up on Sunday (as of this writing, he’s expected to be a game-time decision). The run defense with Hicks in so far has been dominant through three games: the defense has literally allowed a 0% success rate on runs that take place on 3rd/4th down with two yards to go or less, and they allow a measly 0.11 yards in the open field, a testament to the fast, swarming linebackers the Bears employ. If Hicks is indeed out, and since the thought is that the Bears will also potentially be missing Bilal Nichols, the defensive line will need to demonstrate their depth. Nick Williams, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Eddie Goldman will have a mammoth task ahead of them.

I fear the Bears defensive line might be too banged up to keep this Minnesota rushing attack to around the 69 yards a game they’re currently allowing (nice), but expect Chuck Pagano to load up the box to contain Dalvin Cook. Start Roquan Smith in fantasy if you play an IDP league, since I expect him to be around the ball early and often. Look for the Bears to drop HaHa into the box to hopefully stifle those big play opportunities before they get started, because if Cook gets a lane, it’s really just a matter of what angle Eddie Jackson takes to see if he goes to the house or not.

I’ll close this piece by speaking directly to the suburban dads in the audience. Dads, this game was made for you. It’s got everything that will remind you of the football of your childhood:
-Inept QB play
-Playcalling that YOU would do if given the chance (Payton left, Payton right, Payton middle, Punt)
-Hard nosed, smash-mouth football
-Most likely a lot of punts
-Grit
-A “glory boy” wide receiver on the other team for you to root against
-A white, small-school wide receiver on the other team for you to wish the Bears signed
-An early fall game where you can toggle the thermostat once or twice without any wise talk from the wife or kids

Final Prediction:

Dalvin Cook puts up a good fantasy football day, going for 121 and a touchdown, but Kirk Cousins is sacked five times and turns the ball over twice en route to a Bears win.

Bears win, 17-13.