The Bears might be setting offensive football back decades, but hey, they’re 2-2.
Let’s jump into this week’s Bears Things:
Note: Adam Hoge’s Bears Things Newsletter is usually for CHGO family members only. To get this in your inbox every Wednesday morning, join CHGO today!
The Lead: Offensive line is in some trouble
For a coach who won’t tell you who sneezes inside Halas Hall until the injury report comes out, I found it interesting that Bears head coach Matt Eberflus indicated on a Monday who would be playing offensive line against the Vikings.
After announcing that Cody Whitehair has a knee injury that will cause him “to miss some time,” Eberflus added: “Going forward we’ll view it with that same lineup we had going forward. So we’ll see where that goes.”
In other words, expect to see the same five players who finished Sunday’s game against the Giants to start against the Vikings.
Unless they don’t.
The tape says changes might need to be made. Losing Whitehair is a significant blow because he was easily playing the best of any of the Bears’ linemen. The good news is that the injury forces the coaching staff to play Teven Jenkins at right guard. Jenkins was outplaying Lucas Patrick in the Bears’ (odd) rotation and needs to be on the field.
The question is really about what to do at center. Sam Mustipher is struggling. Patrick has been underwhelming at guard and might just be better off at center. Remember, before hurting his snapping hand early in training camp, he had worked with Justin Fields as the center throughout the offseason program. Moving him back there might not only make Patrick more effective, but it could have a positive impact on Fields. Multiple protection calls were missed in Sunday’s loss to the Giants.
That said, if Patrick moves to center, the options at left guard are limited. Assuming Alex Leatherwood is still out with mononucleosis, the Bears would either have to use Michael Schofield or rookie Ja’Tyre Carter.
No one is surprised the Bears are in this position. The lack of pass protection is not helping Fields. He needs to do better himself — he ran into edge pressure at least twice Sunday — but it’s hard to blame him when he was facing interior pressure for most of the game.
“I think it’s just pocket presence as he gets more experience,” Eberflus said. “He did a nice job of riding the pocket a couple of times, staying in there and delivering the ball, for sure. We talked about those plays. That’s just more experience. More experience on the job and he’s going to get better at it.”
The coaching staff can do its part to help though. Eberflus indicated there won’t be changes on the line. We’ll see if that’s true or if he was just trying to throw off the Vikings.
Let Fields Cook?
These are important times for Justin Fields.
And for the coaches who are developing the young quarterback.
One of Fields’ strengths should be his ability to improvise and make plays out of nothing. We’ve seen that on the run, but not so much in the passing game. And one quote from Eberflus Monday might explain why.
While detailing why Fields didn’t hit Mooney wide open down the seam before scrambling for 12 yards on 3rd and 10, Eberflus said:
“He certainly had time and could’ve rode the pocket a little bit more, but he decided to take it because what we were telling him is to take the check down or run on that when they’re in that defense.”
It’s hard to blame Fields for not keeping his eyes downfield when the coaches were telling him not to against a certain coverage.
Look, the amount of perfect plays in a game — when all 11 players do their job perfectly — can probably be counted on a few fingers. Things are going to break down. Routes aren’t always going to be run perfectly. On the play in question, Darnell Mooney was supposed to bend his route across to the other hash instead of going straight vertical. But as Eberflus pointed out, Fields had time to see it and adjust. Then again, he’s being coached to hit the check down or run in that situation.
As I’ve pointed out in past newsletters, this thing is a process. And the development is occurring in less than ideal conditions with poor pass protection and a questionable group of pass catchers. Still, it’s fair to question if this ultra-conservative approach designed to keep the scoreboard close is holding the quarterback back. At some point the Bears need to allow Fields to be the exciting, explosive downfield passer he was at Ohio State. Will it lead to more mistakes into double coverage like we saw against the Texans? Maybe. But it might also lead to more completions downfield and heck, maybe even a 200-yard passing game. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
A few nuggets from rewatching both the TV copy of the game and the coaches’ film:
• One week after a monstrous performance against the Texans, Roquan Smith was largely held in check against the Giants. Through four games, he has graded out as a low-end “longterm starter,” which doesn’t exactly clear things up regarding a contract extension. He’s still getting used to a new position and not getting much help from the defensive line in front of him, but the linebacker can certainly be more consistent.
• Speaking of the defensive line, I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen from Justin Jones, but the rest of the group has been struggling. There just isn’t enough penetration, which is the first thing you need to stop the run.
• Rookie Josh Blackwell was a special teams star on Sunday. He forced a fumble, recovered it, and was consistently downfield making plays and forcing fair catches.
Week 4 Tiers
Here’s how key Bears players graded out this week after watching the coaches’ film. A few players actually played very well, but too many ended up on the bottom tier.
Blue Chip Tier: S Eddie Jackson, RB Khalil Herbert, WR Darnell Mooney, DB Josh Blackwell
Long-term starter tier: K Michael Badgley (now a Lion), P Trent Gill, DT Justin Jones
Bottom tier: WR Velus Jones Jr., LB Joe Thomas, LB Nicholas Morrow, DT Armon Watts, CB Kyler Gordon, WR Dante Pettis, C Sam Mustipher
Next up: Minnesota Vikings
For the second straight week, the Bears face a team that had interest in hiring Ryan Poles in the offseason. Poles was supposed to fly to Minneapolis for a second interview with the Vikings, but Bears chairman George McCaskey wouldn’t let him get on the flight, offering him the Bears’ GM job instead.
Much like the Giants last week, the Vikings went in an offensive direction, hiring research and analytics guru Kwesi Adofo-Mensah from the Browns. Adofo-Mensah then went and hired the next Sean McVay disciple, landing Kevin O’Connell as head coach. O’Connell is in the process of unlocking an offense full of talent and the Bears will have their hands full trying to stop Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook.
On defense, there’s a strong Bears tie. Ed Donatell, a longtime Vic Fangio assistant and former Bears defensive backs coach, is now the Vikings’ defensive coordinator. Essentially, the Bears and Vikings swapped defensive schemes — and even some players. After claiming Watts off of waivers from Minnesota, the Bears cut Khyiris Tonga. The Vikings signed Tonga Tuesday, completing the swap that puts each player in their preferred defensive scheme.
There’s no question this will be a tough game for the Bears. They have the rest advantage as the Vikings played in London on Sunday, but Minnesota clearly has a talent advantage. Unless Eberflus and Luke Getsy unleash Justin Fields, it will be hard for the Bears to keep up on the scoreboard.
Regardless, we have you covered with shows on CHGO all week long. Be sure to tune into the pregame show at 11am CT Sunday and the postgame show immediately following the game.
And please make sure to consider becoming a CHGO member if you haven’t already. Not only will you get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday, you’ll get access to all of our premium Chicago sports content AND your choice of a free CHGO t-shirt.