Chicago Bears: What did the first half of 2021 teach us?

david montgomery, bears

With the Chicago Bears officially on a bye week, the first half of the season has wrapped up and with just eight games remaining, the Bears face an uphill climb to make the playoffs in 2021.

Much has been made of the first half of the Bears season. There have been ups but also downs and while 2021 is all about the development of rookie quarterback Justin Fields, the Bears 2022 offseason is taking shape.

The Bears’ first half has shown us that looking ahead to 2022, much of the roster remains unresolved with impending free agents that include WR Allen Robinson, guard James Daniels, and DE Bilal Nichols. Chicago’s best hope is that Daniels and Nichols market is cheaper than originally expected with Robinson likely on the way out.

While Fields continues to be a bright spot on offense, much like the Bears running game. Chicago’s offensive line has struggled with Center Sam Mustipher being a weak link. When head coach Matt Nagy mentions self-reflection, this should include looking at the offensive line and reshuffling the interior. That means moving veteran Cody Whitehair back to center and inserting Alex Bars into the starting lineup.

As a vertical passing game, Fields improved chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney was on display in week nine. This is a connection that needs more growth with the hope that Mooney and Fields are on the same page by seasons’ end.

Then there’s the defense. Without Khalil Mack for two straight games, Chicago struggled to generate any consistent pass rush while holes in the secondary were visible. Second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson has taken a leap and safety Eddie Jackson remains an asset in coverage but a liability as an open field tackler. Veteran Robert Quinn continues to have a resurgent season but still needs to be consistent during the second half of the season.

The Bears 2021 season has showed that work remains to be done. Fields makes Chicago’s future bright and the Bears have a quarterback. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Bears can build around Fields, using the rest of 2021 as a roster evaluation to build a plan around Fields as soon as 2022 arrives.

Chicago Bears: Limiting Joe Burrow a goal for Bilal Nichols

joe burrow, bengals

When the Chicago Bears welcome the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, the Bears front seven will be tasked with stopping Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Less than a year after tearing his ACL, Burrow has rebounded, including a solid showing against the Minnesota Vikings in week 1, where the 24-year old quarterback tossed two touchdowns, 261 passing yards while posting a completion percentage of 74.1 percent.

“Yeah I feel like he’s a lot more athletic than he may look,” Nichols said via the Bears official YouTube Channel. “You know he has the ability to you know make great throws, smart guy, and he also has the ability to get out the pocket if you let him so you know we just gotta contain him and keep him in there and do everything we can to affect him.”

Cincinnati’s offense starts and ends with Burrow. Containing an ascending quarterback who’s playing with confidence will be key for Sean Desai and the rest of the defense, which struggled to get after the quarterback in week 1, a game that included multiple miscommunications within the Bears secondary, which led to big plays.

Burrow was also the driving force behind the Bengals explosive plays in week 1, hitting wider receiver Ja’Marr Chase in stride for a 50-yard touchdown pass. Showing some single-high safety looks that eventually translate into two-deep safety looks can also benefit the Bears defense, as Desai will look to continue sending exotic blitzes in Burrow’s direction, hoping to cause some confusion.

“That’s why you have 17 opportunities, just to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Nichols said. “And you just keep getting better and better as a group.”

For a Bears defense that’s hoping for a major bounceback, limiting Burrow starts with guys like Nichols but continues with players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman, and many more.

 

31 questions to Bears camp: Is lack of DL depth a concern?

When the Chicago Bears report to training camp later this month, defensive line is a position that will look vastly different. A positional group that’s been led by names like Akiem Hicks over the last few years lost DL coach Jay Rodgers this offseason. Veterans Mario Edwards Jr. and Bilal Nichols will also return, despite the future of Eddie Goldman being uncertain.

Rodgers departure alone is a cause for concern, as he oversaw the development of names like Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban, two names that overperformed throughout their tenure with the Bears. Both Robertson-Harris and Urban departed via free agency this offseason.

Depth for the Bears on the defensive line currently includes Angelo Blackson, Sam Kamara, LaCale London, Mike Pennel, and Khiyris Tonga. Only Blackson and Pennel have appeared in NFL games before, with Kamara, London, and Tonga being rookies or undrafted free agents.

In addition to depth being a concern, age is also another factor not being discussed enough. Nichols may be just 24 years old, however, Hicks, the undisputed leader of the position will be 32 years old in November and is set to be a free agent in 2022.

The importance of a good defensive line is simple: Defensive lineman eat up double teams, freeing up linebackers and edge rushers to make plays, while also giving the secondary more time in coverage. In the Bears context, that means names like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, and Eddie Jackson will have additional opportunities to make plays.

It’s possible that Blackson or Tonga emerge rather quickly but Chicago knows that on paper, this group looks a tad bit weaker compared to last year, which could impact the performance of the defense. The lack of depth is still a cause for concern, especially for a group that many viewed as being a major strength on the Bears defense, something that could change very quickly in the early parts of the 2021 season.