Chicago Bears: Week 11 takeaways, quick tidbits, and more

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Currently, in the middle of a five-game losing streak, the Chicago Bears now look ahead to week 12 for a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions. But first, let’s recap week 11.

1) There are two players of the game in this one, both on defense. Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith kept the Bears in this one, especially with the defense missing Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Jackson. Props to Quinn for turning in such a monstrous performance with 3.5 sacks, five tackles, three TFL, and four QB hits. Smith had 17 tackles on the afternoon, the most by a Bears linebacker since 2009.

2) Regarding Justin Fields, who has bruised ribs, the Bears have a decision to make. If it were in Fields hands, he’d be dressing up on Thursday afternoon against the Lions. Ultimately, with seven games remaining, the Bears should play it safe with Fields and sit him in a meaningless game. Give the future of the franchise a little over 10 days to get right before the Arizona Cardinals come to town on December 5th. It’s better for the Bears to have Fields healthy for the final six games of the season, a stretch that includes playing the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Minnesota Vikings (twice).

3) The Bears got away from the running game early in this one and it showed. Khalil Herbert had just one carry for zero yards while David Montgomery had 14 carries for 58 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Keeping the ball out of the Ravens’ hand should’ve been a goal of the Bears but Chicago failed to do so consistently throughout the afternoon. The Bears coaching staff needs to realize that neither Fields nor Andy Dalton can fully the offense, which means knowing your limitations of what skill position players can and can’t do is vital when it comes to offensive philosophy.

4) At times, it may not have looked like it but wide receiver Darnell Mooney had a game. Mooney’s quickly establishing a reputation as a big-play threat in the Bears offense. With five receptions for 121 receiving yards, averaging 24.2 yards per reception, the second-year wide receiver made his presence felt all afternoon, especially on a 60-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton.

5) This was what you could consider the Marquise Goodwin breakout game. Goodwin added to the Bears’ explosiveness on offense, with four receptions for 104 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown pass to give the Bears the lead late in the fourth quarter. This game needs to serve as an example of how the Bears can continue to utilize Goodwin moving forward.

6) The Bears struggled to execute consistently but another issue is playing good situational football. Matt Nagy needs to understand the Bears aren’t getting the job done right now and much of it is due to coaches being able to react in situations. An example of this is when the Bears burned a timeout with 1:41 left to go in the fourth quarter after failing to convert a two-point conversion.

7) The Bears also struggled to get off the field on third down in this game. Baltimore was 7-for-16 on Sunday afternoon, with the game’s biggest play coming on a 3rd-and-12 where Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley hit wide receiver Sammy Watkins for a 29-yard gain with just 0:33 left in the fourth quarter. The Bears defense has struggled to consistently get off the field on third down this season and it’s only going to get harder over the final seven weeks of the season with Mack being out.

8) Speaking of giving up a big gain on 3rd-and-12, guess what? The Bears’ secondary isn’t very good without Eddie Jackson but Jaylon Johnson had a nice showing. Second-year CB Kindle Vildor got rocked all afternoon while Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson were beaten as a result of miscommunication. The entire unit needs an overhaul in 2021 with just Jackson and Johnson guaranteed to start.

9) What does this loss mean for the Bears? Well, Chicago’s final seven games are against NFC North opponents. But understand the Bears were on the outside looking playoff-wise heading into week 11. This latest loss digs the Bears even deeper into a hole that’s getting harder to get out of.

10) For the rest of the season, nothing matters for the Bears except seeing what sticks on the wall for 2022 and beyond. Essentially, for the Bears, 2022 has already started despite 2021 not being over yet. The Bears’ future is already on the roster in Fields but the front office needs to figure out who’s staying in 2022 in an effort to build around Fields. That means taking a hard look at players and more importantly coaches.

Chicago Bears: Aaron Rodgers praises the Bears defense

Ahead of the Chicago Bears Week 6 matchup against the division-rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears will welcome Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to town for potentially the last time. Rodgers, who’s become a defining factor in the NFL’s most storied rivalry over the last few years has seen plenty of Bears defenses throughout his tenure.

Through five games in 2021, Chicago is allowing just 20 points per game, good for 7th overall in the NFL. Pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn have combined for 9.5 sacks, while Roquan Smith has 50 tackles. Chicago currently has 18 sacks, leading the NFL while allowing eight yards per pass attempt.

“Yeah I mean they’re a great defense, they’ve always been, been a solid defense over the years,” Rodgers told Packers reporters on Wednesday. “It’s some familiar names who are studs and, and you know Robert Quinn’s having a nice season, getting after the quarterback. Obviously, Khalil (Mack) is still one of the top players in the league. Akiem Hicks, when healthy, is as disruptive as he possibly can be. Roquan (Smith) has emerged as a top-tier linebacker, I mean he’s kind of been in that position since he got in the league but he’s steadily improved every single year. He’s a complete linebacker. Backend is very solid, they’ve got some younger players but they’ve definitely improved and been playing well.”

For Rodgers to praise the Bears defense isn’t anything new but we must also keep in mind that the Bears have beat Green Bay just once since 2018. For many, the Bears drafting Justin Fields, combined with 2021 potentially being Rodgers’ final season with the Packers means a changing of the guard could soon be happening in the NFC North.

Chicago’s defense will look to be competitive on Sunday afternoon and employ a bend-don’t-break type mentality. The Bears may not be able to stop Rodgers entirely, instead the focus will shift to neutralizing Rodgers as much as possible, hoping the Bears offense can complement the defense by moving the football and scoring enough points to win the game.

 

Chicago Bears Mailbag: Justin Fields, Trenches talk, and more

With the Chicago Bears‘ first preseason game set to take place on Saturday afternoon, Usayd Koshul answers various questions regarding the Bears in his latest mailbag.

1. Thoughts on the retooling process now that Justin Fields is QB1?

Really good actually. With Fields now in the fold, the Bears focus should shift to building around him on offense. As generic as that sounds, Chicago does have some players on offense in line for contract extensions next offseason. We all know star wide receiver Allen Robinson is due for a payday but don’t forget about OL James Daniels who’s heading into a contract year, along with running back David Montgomery who’ll be eligible for an extension next offseason.

Speaking of extensions, the Bears just picked up the fifth-year option for LB Roquan Smith. Here’s what I’ll say: Chicago needs to extend Robinson and Smith first, then focus on Daniels to keep the interior of the OL intact. To create additional cap space, designate OLB  Robert Quinn as a post-June first cut in 2022, a move that should create about $12M in cap space.

Fields adds flexibility to the Bears’ future plans. For a quarterback who’s got the potential to develop into a franchise-caliber player, all Fields must do is progress enough to the point where the Bears can lock up key players until it’s time to pay Fields, which will be a conversation for the 2023 or 2024 offseason.

 

2. Why can’t the organization commit to figuring out the OL?

Trust me, it’s a question that drives all of us crazy, myself included. If you’ve been listening to our weekly podcast, I’ve said that Ryan Pace neglecting the offensive line from 2017-2019 finally caught up to the Bears in 2020. Between that same span, the Bears drafted just two offensive lineman: Jordan Morgan (fifth-round in 2017) and James Daniels (second-round, 2018).

Pace has consistently shown that he’s always willing to go ahead and trust his own players, which is fine but at some point, you need to cut bait, rather than hold onto players too long, something that Pace has been notorious for doing. And guess what, Pace drafted two offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft (Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom) making it the second time in seven seasons that Pace has taken two or more offensive lineman in the same NFL Draft.

The blame starts with Pace but ends with the coaching staff. Why hasn’t the coaching staff been able to get the most out of guys like Arlington Hambright or Lachavious Simmons? Matt Nagy’s staff has developed undrafted free agents such as Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher but Nagy being an offensive-minded coach needs to make investing in the OL a priority.

To close out this question, I went back and looked at draft classes of the Kansas City Chiefs since Andy Reid arrived in 2013, the same year that Nagy was appointed as the Chiefs QB coach. Reid has drafted 10 offensive lineman since 2013, including taking two or more offensive line three times (2013, 2014, and 2021), while also continuing to develop at a high rate.

3. Offensive Explosion and an NFC North title?

This would be sweet. After spending a few days attending training camp at Halas Hall, I can tell you that the Bears are ready to surprise some people heading into 2021. The defense appears to be due for a bounceback season but the offense needs to get going if the Bears are contending for the NFC North title in 2021.

Nothing is possible in the NFL, let’s be honest but if Andy Dalton is starting against the Los Angeles Rams in week one, Dalton will need to play nearly perfect every week if the Bears want to have a shot at winning the division. Justin Fields’ playmaking ability does give the Bears a slightly more explosive offense and that’s because Fields mobility and 4.4 40-yard dash makes the Bears offense lethal on RPO’s, especially when David Montgomery is in the backfield.

The Bears offense should be more explosive in 2021, regardless of who’s at quarterback, so buckle up because it’s about to be a fun season.

4. Young, emerging talent on the roster

First off, I really appreciate the two-part question here but I’m going to answer just the second question about young talent on the roster. There’s a lot so let’s start by looking at the Bears 2020 draft class. The Bears had seven draft picks and I do believe three players (Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson, and Darnell Mooney) will be part of the Bears’ core moving forward. Keep an eye on OLB Trevis Gipson and CB Kindle Vildor as two solid options who could develop into serviceable starters down the road.

I also like OL James Daniels, the 39th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. If Daniels can stay healthy and put together a consistent season at left guard, he could earn a nice payday next offseason, cementing his status as a cornerstone of the offensive line. By the way, don’t forget Sam Mustipher, who’s looked faster and stronger throughout training camp. Mustipher has an opportunity to be a mainstay on the Bears’ offensive line, giving the Bears their first long-term starter at the Center position since Olin Kreutz.

Perhaps the most intriguing player on this list is 2021 undrafted free agent Charles Snowden, who has drawn comparisons to former Bears’ first-round pick Leonard Floyd. Snowden has been praised at training camp by coaches, which means that he could wind up as a hidden gem that develops into a contributor as early as 2022.

5. Let’s talk about CB2?

It’s hard to pick a winner right now when discussing CB2 for the Bears. It’ll come down to either Kindle Vildor or Desmond Trufant but I’d lean more towards Vildor, who’s drawn praise from coaches this offseason for his work ethic. Prior to training camp, Trufant being the surefire CB2 was something many expected, however, Trufant is only signed to a one-year deal worth $1M, with no guaranteed money, making him an easy cap casualty.

“Kindle showed that he belongs in this league, last year and the reps that he took last year,” Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai said via the Bears official YouTube channel. “So I think he’s going to have a chance to compete at various positions. We’re going to have a lot of competition at the nickel as well. We’ve had guys that have played there in games.”

It’s still early but Vildor appears to be pulling ahead each day and with a strong showing in preseason and over the final two weeks of training camp, Vildor will have an opportunity to win the race outright.

 

The Chicago Bears defense is feeling rejuvenated going into 2021

After attending my first official Chicago Bears training camp practice this offseason, one major takeaway regarding the Bears defense is the whole unit feeling rejuvenated heading into 2021. Watching from the sidelines at Halas Hall, energy was apparent for a unit that has regressed over the last two seasons.

Chicago knows that heading into 2021, the defense will once again need to perform at a high level as the Bears offense develops an identity. When general manager Ryan Pace called the Bears defense “the strength of our roster”, he was referring to marquee players such as Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Roquan Smith, and Akiem Hicks.

As the Bears prepare for the 2021 regular season, first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai has earned praise from players like Mack and Smith, generating excitement about how good the Bears can be in 2021.

“He has some of those same qualities like Vic (Fangio),” Mack said via the Bears official YouTube page. “Like just understanding the players’ strengths and understanding how the simpler, the better.”

As the Bears continue to prepare for the 2021 regular season, the goal isn’t just to play at a high level each week but to best the unit in the NFL, especially considering much of the same core was on the roster in 2018, when Chicago led the NFL in nearly every defensive category.

“What you can control is what you can control,” Mack said. “But what you bring to the table, we gotta bring it all to the table and be what we know we can be. And that’s a great defense. Of course we’re not satisfied with the result last year, so it’s work to be done.”

Through three days of training camp, it’s become clear that the Bears defense is set to have a big turnaround in 2021, one that will start due to Desai’s ability to connect with players while putting players in a position to succeed.

Chicago Bears: Biggest questions at the MLB position

With Chicago Bears training camp around the corner, middle linebacker is a position that has remained relatively stable since 2018. The middle of Chicago’s defense will feature linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan once again, while Christian Jones, Josh Woods, Austin Calitro, and Joel Iyiegbuniwe will provide depth.

Smith, despite being snubbed from the Pro Bowl last season will enter training camp as the unquestioned leader of the group. A year after totaling 139 tackles, four sacks, and 18 tackles for loss, Smith will enter year four with a chip on his shoulder. Trevathan is entering year two of a three-year deal signed last offseason, giving Chicago continuity at the position.

As the Bears get ready to report to training camp, what are some questions at the MLB position? Let’s find out.

1) Will a full offseason benefit Trevathan?

Watching 2020 film, it was clear that Trevathan looked noticeably slower over the first six games of the season. Much of this was attributed to the virtual offseason in 2020, limiting on-field work. Entering 2021, with the NFL offseason more normal compared to last year, the hope is that Trevathan shows up to training camp in playing shape and ready to go, especially since the 10-year veteran has played just two full seasons since joining the Bears in 2016.

 

2) Which depth piece will step up?

Gone are the days of Nick Kwiatkoski holding the fort as MLB3 for the Bears. Chicago will need to rely on Jones, Woods, Calitro, and Iyiegbuniwe for depth, creating a four-way competition. Expect the Bears to carry two of the four players mentioned above. Iyiegbuniwe and Woods were on the team last season while Jones spent four seasons with Chicago from 2014-2017. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai will look to emphasize speed and coverage ability at the MLB position, two necessities for an inside linebacker to be successful in the modern NFL.

3) How good will Smith be under Sean Desai?

“A lot of great things,” Smith said on June 15th via the Bears official YouTube Channel. “I like Desai a lot. I think it’s going to be very good and he’s going to put us in a lot of good positions, so I’m looking forward to that.”

As we mentioned above, Smith was snubbed from multiple accolades last year, making 2021 an even more intriguing season for the former first-round pick. Desai’s defense will allow players like Smith to play faster, setting the stage for what could be a career year for Smith, continuing his ascension, becoming one of the NFL’s elite off-ball linebackers.

31 questions to Bears camp: Will Desai maximize defensive talent?

The Chicago Bears opted to promote from within this offseason at the defensive coordinator position, giving Sean Desai the reigns. Desai, who’s been with the Bears organization since 2013 will now be tasked with getting Chicago’s defense back to the top, after two years of statistical regression.

In many ways, one could argue that Chicago’s defense is at a crossroads heading into 2021. Core players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Danny Trevathan are getting older, while younger players like Jaylon Johnson and Roquan Smith continue to emerge, giving Chicago hope for the future.

Desai has been praised by players this offseason, being labeled as a bright, young mind, who’s going to allow playmakers to flourish.

“I think Sean is one of the brighter young minds in the game so to have him as my defensive coordinator, I definitely understand what he can bring to the table,” Safety Tashaun Gipson said via the Bears official YouTube channel. “And with the talent he got on defense, it’s going to be a beautiful thing to see.”

Desai has made it clear he’s got a major vision for Chicago’s defense, one that will emphasize physicality, toughness, strength, and playing fast, elements that are essential for top NFL defenses to possess. Talents like Mack, Hicks, and Smith should be given additional opportunities to make plays, putting the Bears offense in a position to succeed.

“The good thing about our teaching philosophies is that we try and make sure guys know multiple spots,” Desai said via the Bears official Youtube page. “That helps us on gameday with the depth and that’s been a philosophy of mine and our defensive staff since the beginning.”

As Chicago continues to prepare for the 2021 season, a major defensive revival seems to be in the cards for Chicago’s defense, especially because a young, innovative mind like Desai has taken the reigns of a defense that many believe can still play at a high level, despite multiple starters above the age of 30.

31 questions to Bears camp: What to expect from the MLB position?

The Chicago Bears will report to training camp in about two weeks and one positional group that’s considered to be a strength on the roster is middle linebacker. For the fourth straight year, the duo of Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith will anchor the middle of the Bears’ defense, giving the Bears two smart, instinctive, and physical players.

Expectations should see Trevathan and Smith have another strong year in 2021, with Joel Iyeigbuniwe, Christian Jones, Josh Woods, and Austin Calitro providing additional depth. The entire positional group features players who can drop back in coverage or defend against the run, giving defensive coordinator Sean Desai multiple options with sub packages.

Production-wise, Trevathan and Smith combined for 252 tackles in 2020 with both linebackers combining for 32 starts and five sacks. With both players expected to be healthy heading into 2021, combined with a full offseason, expect both players to play at a much faster pace, especially Trevathan who looked noticeably slower to start the 2020 season.

“Every year, you want to be a better defense 2018 was a totally different year,” Trevathan said via the Bears official YouTube Channel. “Those aspects and those standards were set so we know where we need to get to and we know we have the guys that are capable of doing that. We just want to be the best defense that we can be and in the league, we know we’re going to handle whatever teams throw at us.”

Middle linebacker is considered to be the quarterback of the defense and while Trevathan and Smith have proven to be solid options thus far, the only red flag that exists is depth at the position. How will Jones, Woods, Calitro, and Iyeigbuniwe hold down the fort. 2020 showcased that Chicago had a lack of depth at the position, which the Bears tried to address by signing Jones.

As Chicago gets ready for training camp, a major how the MLB position performs will determine whether or not the Bears need to address the position during the 2022 offseason, especially with Trevathan aging but with Smith emerging.

31 questions to Bears camp: Where does Smith rank on Bears roster?

Entering his fourth NFL season, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has a chip on his shoulder that is seemingly bigger than ever. After being snubbed from the Pro Bowl in 2020 despite putting up 139 tackles, four sacks, 18 tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits.

Last season showcased what the Bears envisioned when the franchise spent the eighth overall pick on Smith in the 2018 NFL Draft. A speedy, off-ball linebacker who excels in coverage, Smith has quickly developed into one of the many faces of the Bears defense.

Those that have followed Smith over the last few years have seen his ascension. A highly touted draft pick, many believe that Smith is ready to become the next great Bears linebacker, joining names like Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, and Brian Urlacher.

Chicago’s roster has star players on both offense and defense, featuring names like wide receiver Allen Robinson, safety Eddie Jackson, and edge rusher Khalil Mack. As an individual player, based on performances throughout his first three seasons, Smith is someone that has made a case for being Chicago’s third-best player, behind Mack and Robinson.

“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse in my opinion, so I feel like there was a lot of things I learned out there, bonding with some of the new guys that are here, with some of the rookies as well, and also just learning little new things into the defense,” Smith said via the Bears official YouTube Channel.

Being one of the sole defensive starters present at voluntary OTA’s showcases Smith’s commitment to being great and being a face of the Bears defense heading into 2021. The fourth-year linebacker is focused on playing football more than anything when the Bears return to Halas Hall later this month for training camp.

“I would say I’m even more motivated than last year,” Smith said. “I’m not too focused about last year and my thing is, I don’t care about all the postseason accolades and different things like that. My job is to go out there and show them that I’m the best at what I’m doing.”

Smith has proved to be one of the best players on the Bears roster so far but 2020 was merely an indicator of how good he can be, especially entering 2021.

How Roquan Smith is developing into the face of the Bears defense

Roquan Smith spoke in a tempered tone on Tuesday morning but still sounded like a player who’s ready to outperform anyone in 2021. The Chicago Bears linebacker heads into year four after having been snubbed from the Pro Bowl last offseason. Smith will enter year four with the goal of taking on more of a leadership role for the Bears.

Smith’s third season with the Bears with another opportunity to fulfill the expectations that saw him get drafted eighth overall. After a career-high 139 tackles, Smith continues to develop into the face of the Bears defense while also identifying that Chicago’s defense can be better heading into 2021.

“Last year, at the first half, we was playing some really good ball and then we fell off,” Smith said via the Bears official YouTube page. “And I can’t pinpoint a thing or two exactly, I just know we wasn’t getting the job done so I just know at the end of the day, we have to get the job done and at the tail-end, that wasn’t the way we played defense in Chicago so all we have to do is build from that and continue to get. better.”

Smith has seen how quickly Chicago’s defense burst onto the scene back in 2018 but also how the same defense, with a majority of the same starters, has taken a slight step back, leading many outside the Bears fanbase to question how good Chicago’s defense will really be in 2021. For Smith, the goal for Chicago’s entire unit shouldn’t be just padding the stat sheet, rather just playing at a high level, creating big plays throughout the process.

“I think it’s going to start with effort, being relentless and just not taking no for an answer,” Smith said. “And everyone just busting their tails in all facets of the game. I feel like if we all do that, the takeaways, turnovers, sacks, and everything like that, that’ll all come.”

Simply put, Smith isn’t just developing into a leader due to his experience. Listening to him speak on Tuesday afternoon, he’s now identifying what the Bears defense needs to do in order to get back on top but also continuing to lead by example by being one of the only defensive starters present for both phases of OTA’s throughout the first two weeks in June.