Hope everyone enjoyed their Bears-less Sunday, but there is still plenty to pay attention to in the final four games of the season. And there’s no perfect opponent to provide a (hopeful) glimpse into the future than the Philadelphia Eagles, who visit Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Lead: Poles, Cunningham have the blueprint
In recent years, the Eagles have been a constant reminder of what the Bears want to be. After winning the Super Bowl in 2017, they beat the Bears in the playoffs in 2018 (with future Bears quarterback Nick Foles). In 2020, Philadelphia drafted quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round, which the Bears should have done. Then, after seeing their window abruptly close in 2020, the Eagles (again) did what the Bears should have done and started over. They fired Doug Pederson and swallowed a ton of dead cap money for a year by moving on from Carson Wentz. The Bears, meanwhile, made another run at nothing in 2021, somehow believing Andy Dalton was the answer. The fact that they briefly explored trading for Wentz (and wisely decided against it) should have been a warning sign the Eagles and Bears were headed in much different directions.
What Eagles GM Howie Roseman has pulled off the last two seasons is remarkable, even if some luck was involved. As reporter Zach Berman explained on Hoge & Jahns, the Eagles weren’t really all-in on Jalen Hurts until this season. They really liked head coach Nick Sirianni, but they thought it would take more time than this for him to develop into a really good head coach. They also looked into acquiring Russell Wilson and Allen Robinson, but ended up with Hurts throwing to A.J. Brown.
Hey, you create your own luck, right?
The Bears can certainly look at the Eagles’ 2021 season as a comp for what they’re dealing with in 2022 (especially with a young, mobile, second-year quarterback), but it’s also true that the Eagles were closer to competing last year than the Bears are now. Philadelphia’s mid-season shift to use Hurts more as a runner helped the Eagles finish 2021 on a 6-2 run. The Bears have had similar offensive results with Fields this season, but they’re only 1-6 since shifting to a QB run-centric philosophy. There’s a lot more to fix in Chicago.
No one believes the Bears will be 12-1 at this time next year, but the Eagles do provide a nice blueprint to follow, and it shouldn’t be ignored that Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham was in Philadelphia before coming to Chicago last January. He closely witnessed Roseman’s willingness to move back in the draft for more draft capital, which allowed the Eagles to trade back up for wide receiver DeVonta Smith in 2021, trade a first round pick for Brown in 2022, and still draft three linemen in the first two rounds the last two seasons while also holding a potential Top 5 pick in 2023 (via the Saints). Cunningham should be (and is) a great resource for Bears GM Ryan Poles during this rebuilding process.
It’s the emphasis on linemen that shouldn’t be ignored while Hurts, Brown and Smith light it up through the air. Even before the Eagles had to reset, they were one of the most physical teams at the line of scrimmage in the NFL. That was a big reason why they beat the Bears in the playoffs four seasons ago and the talent disparity at the line of scrimmage will likely be on full display again Sunday at Soldier Field.
But this time, losing to the Eagles won’t hurt that much. In fact, it will likely help Poles and Cunningham improve the team in April. Consider Sunday’s game a Masterclass in what the Bears should do this offseason.
And hopefully Justin Fields puts on a show at the same time.
Searching for other answers
While Fields continues to develop during these final four games, here are three other things I’ll be watching closely:
Chase Claypool — The wide receiver has now been here for longer than training camp/preseason usually lasts. He should have a good enough understanding of the offense to deliver more results, especially coming off the bye week. With Darnell Mooney out for the season, the Bears need to see more return on the (high) second-round pick they traded to Pittsburgh for Claypool.
Jaquan Brisker/Kyler Gordon — Both rookies continue to be promising, but both could be more consistent and get their hands on the football more in these final four games. Their development is crucial as Poles looks to focus more on the line of scrimmage and weapons for Fields this offseason.
Right tackle — Right guard Teven Jenkins and left tackle Braxton Jones have been positive developments this season, but the Bears still need to find one more lineman before the year is over. Perhaps former first-round pick Alex Leatherwood can be that guy. He figures to get his opportunity over the next month. Can he seize it?