To win divisions in the NFL, and playoff berths by extension, a team must win its divisional matchups. The Chicago Bears took one step closer to achieving those goals with a 34-22 victory over the Detroit Lions, snapping a 10-game division losing streak.
The Bears resoundingly defeated a hapless Lions team in what served as the final tune-up before facing a potential playoff contender. The second-place Minnesota Vikings will pay a visit to Soldier Field in a game that NBC flexed to its prime time slot next Sunday night.
The 12-point margin of victory belied just how much control the Bears exerted over the Lions. The game was never in doubt from the opening whistle, but there remains work to be done for the Bears.
Bears run game struggles persist
The Bears racked up 402 yards of total offense — but only managed a woeful 54 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Jordan Howard carried the ball 11 times for just 21 yards (1.9 yards per attempt) and Tarik Cohen added 15 yards on 7 carries.
It may seem fine to some observers for the Bears to largely ignore the run. After all, what is the harm if the offense continues finding success through the air?
But as the weather gets colder and the conditions on the field worsen, the Bears are going to experience setbacks in the passing game.
And then what? The team will have to rely on the defense to pitch near-shutouts to win games.
Great teams are strong closers
The lack of the run game did not hurt the Bears in defeating an anemic Lions team. But against a better opponent, they will need to protect their lead by using an effective run game to ground out the game clock.
The Bears played a near-flawless first half of football. They scored touchdowns on their first four drives of the game en route to a 26-0 lead. It does not get more efficient than that.
However, despite their high efficiency in the first half, they labored coming out of halftime. The Bears missed two field goals and had to punt on their first three possessions in the third quarter. It wasn’t until a late touchdown pass with three minutes to play in the quarter did the Bears break the 26-point stagnation.
The Bears cradled a 34-10 lead into the fourth quarter. A three-touchdown (and three two-point conversion) fourth-quarter lead with one of the league’s best defenses seems like a recipe for a victory.
And even if the Bears defense slips up, no opponent should be able to possess the ball three times in a quarter, right?
They can if the Bears offense punts twice and the kickoff return team gives up an onside kick — as the Bears did to give the Lions some sign of life.
Kicking game woes could become an issue in closer games
As a former kicker, I can tell you that the worst sound in the world to hear is a chorus of boos raining down upon you — ahem, not that that ever happened to me.
The second worst sound?
The deafening thud of inflated leather ricocheting off a steel and aluminum upright. It sounds like a tolling bell echoing through a dark, eerie night in a deserted town square. (Does that imagery help?)
Bears kicker Cody Parkey missed two field goals and two extra points — all four of which hit the uprights. I’m too lazy to check if his flirtation with the yellow bars is an NFL record. But it’s damning, nonetheless.
Kicking in Soldier Field is no easy task. There’s quite a bit of wind that builds up off the lakefront, and it’s not always of the consistent, one-direction variety. The winds tend to swirl down on the field causing an unpredictable kicking hazard.
With that said, former Bears kicker Robbie Gould became quite good at adjusting to the conditions, so it can be done.
Much like the struggles in the run game, Parkey’s missed kicks did not ultimately cost the Bears in this one-sided contest. But there will be closer games against better opponents, and there will be times when the Bears offense fails to find the end zone. If Parkey misses kicks in those situations, games can and will be lost.
Welcome back, Mack (and Robinson)
While work remains to be done, the Bears welcomed back their two biggest offseason acquisitions. Khalil Mack returned to the Bears defense and Allen Robinson rejoined the offense, both making their presence felt.
Mack picked up two sacks and two tackles for loss. His presence on the field also opened up opportunities for his teammates, per usual, as the Lions were forced to pay extra attention to him. The Bears recorded six sacks and seven tackles for loss as a team.
Robinson had his biggest game to date as a Bear. He hauled in 6 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson’s dependable hands and ability to pick up yards after the catch make him an invaluable asset to Matt Nagy’s offense down the stretch.
The Bears will need their two big playmakers against some of the better opponents remaining on their schedule, including the Vikings (twice), the Rams and the Packers.
Mitch Trubisky has career game
No one was more elated to have Robinson back in the fold than quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Trubisky, like Robinson, likely had his best game as a Bear on Sunday against the Lions. Trubisky completed an impeccable 23 of 30 passes for 355 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished with a 148.6 passer rating.
As impressive as Trubisky’s stat line appeared, his command of the offense was the real story on Sunday.
Trubisky called plays at the line of scrimmage, read the defense well, and delivered accurate throws — the latter of which a source of concern among Bears fans for many weeks.
As we know, no player is more important to the success of the Bears than Trubisky, and Sunday’s results were encouraging, to say the least.
Are the Bears any good?
One of the criticisms constantly spouted by Bears detractors is that they haven’t played enough good teams.
The Bears’ opponents’ win percentage through nine games is .405. For the six teams they’ve beaten, it’s .321. They have not defeated a team with a record above .500.
That’s a fair argument, although somewhat limited in scope. After all, it is not the Bears’ fault that they haven’t played more winning teams. As the saying goes, a team can only play who is on its schedule — and the Bears have crushed the opposition in games they’ve won by a margin of 187-82 (or, by an average score of 31.16 to 13.67).
Bring on the Vikings
The Bears can add credibility to their claims of contendership when they take on the second-place Minnesota Vikings next Sunday night.
The Vikings are the reigning NFC North champions, who went 13-3 last year and were largely considered one of the league’s favorites this year after adding quarterback Kirk Cousins in the offseason. They’re 12th in total offense and 5th in defense — just one spot behind the Bears.
When the dust settles late Sunday night at Soldier Field, I think we’ll have a better indication of how good this Bears team is and whether or not they can make a serious run at the division crown and a playoff berth.