If the Bears’ flight home from London seems extra long following their 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders, one can only imagine the insufferable purgatory that awaits them during the next two weeks.
Losing always stings. But getting physically beat as you head into the bye week is all the more difficult to stomach. The Bears’ loss to the Raiders surely was a bitter pill to swallow, and they washed it down with some distasteful London tea.
Bears came out of the gates slowly
There’s going to be a lot of second-guessing (imagine that) about whether the Bears should have flown to London earlier last week to get acclimated to the time change.
The Bears chose to fly to London on Thursday night rather than spend a week there as the Raiders had done. Amateur physiologists out there will attempt to explain how the Bears’ bodies weren’t physically ready to play. I’m not a physiologist, so I can’t give a definitive answer on the effects of the late arrival to London on the players’ bodies.
But I will say I think the whole argument is hogwash.
It’s not as if the Bears arrived Sunday morning, had tea and crumpets in the afternoon, and then suited up for the game at night. They had two full days to acclimate to the time change and rest before the game.
The fact is, they just got their butts kicked at the point of attack.
Did the Bears lack effort? Or are the Raiders a more physical team? Either reason is a damning revelation. But neither one had anything to do with travel.
Bears have a “big” and “ugly” problem — the “big uglies”
It’s no secret: football begins and ends in the trenches. Skill players may get all the glory, but games are won by linemen — affectionately known as the “big uglies.”
The Bears have a big, ugly problem right now, and it’s that their offensive line play has been bad this season. The defensive line has been solid all year, but they joined the ranks of their offensive cohorts Sunday against the Raiders.
Bears fans want to create a controversy out of the quarterback situation. And yes, quarterback play clearly matters. But as of now, it doesn’t matter which quarterback shoves his hands under James Daniels’ backside. They’re not getting enough time to throw. Likewise, you can stick any running back in the backfield and hand him the ball. But the Bears are in the bottom quarter of the league in rushing yards.
Hell, you could have inserted into the backfield Raiders running back Josh Jacobs — whom the Raiders chose with the 24th pick in April’s draft, a pick the Bears traded to them for Khalil Mack — and the star rookie probably would have been smothered on Sunday by the Raiders’ defense.
Add to the Bears’ blocking woes the fact that Charles Leno can’t seem to stop garnering yellow laundry for committing costly and crucial penalties each week. And what you’ve concocted is a messy situation.
Bears need Hicks more than ever
My, how the narrative has changed in just one week.
The Bears were drawing rave reviews league-wide for their manhandling of the Minnesota Vikings a week ago. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks sat out with a knee injury, but it didn’t seem to matter. Backup Nick Williams dominated in his stead, recording two sacks, two tackles for loss, and finishing third in total tackles.
One week later, Bears fans are crying out for the return of Hicks.
Hicks did return for the Raiders game, but he immediately exited with an unrelated elbow injury. The Bears sorely missed his presence on the field as the Raiders’ phenomenal rookie, Jacobs, tore through the front line with regularity.
The way Hicks disrupts the flow of a play by penetrating into the backfield is one of the leading reasons the defense has been so good the past two seasons. Without that kind of disruption, offensive linemen can get to the second level and get hands on the Bears’ linebackers, preventing them from flowing to the ball and making plays as they’ve done so well. And without the linebackers making plays on the ball, it’s putting a lot of pressure on the secondary to come up in run support.
Head coach Matt Nagy said he doesn’t believe Hicks’ elbow injury is serious, and let’s hope he’s right. If the Bears lose Hicks for a prolonged period of time, it could be devastating to the defense’s success.
Gruden successfully game plans to neutralize Mack
It appears Raiders coach Jon Gruden — who received a lot of flak for trading one of the best defensive players in the league in his prime — got the last laugh on Sunday.
Gruden’s staff schemed to take Mack out of the game and they successfully executed that game plan. Mack had a very quiet game with just three tackles and only one quarterback hit.
Normally, when Mack receives extra attention, somebody else on the defense is freed up to make a play. That didn’t happen, unfortunately. The Bears finished with zero sacks and zero tackles for loss on the day.
A lot of credit is due Oakland for getting rid of the football quickly. The best way to neutralize a pass rush is to speed up the execution of the play. Get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as quickly as possible.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr executed that to a T.
Allen Robinson is every bit the playmaker the Bears hoped for
The Bears needed a playmaker at receiver — badly — following three years of inadequacy from John Fox’s offense.
When the Bears fired Fox and hired Nagy, they managed to lure former Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson to Chicago that same offseason. Robinson was coming off an ACL tear and elected to sign with the Bears because he liked what Nagy’s offense could do for its playmakers.
Last year, both Nagy and Robinson’s first seasons in Chicago, Bears fans got a glimpse of what Robinson could do. But Robinson was still working his way back from his devastating knee injury.
Now, a full year removed from it, Robinson is showing the traits that earned him Pro Bowl honors in 2015 as a member of the Jaguars.
Robinson added to his already successful 2019 campaign by hauling in 7 passes for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a few critical passes to help move the chains.
The Bears likely will continue to go to the well until some other receiver steps up and gets open. Defenses will attempt to take Robinson out of the game, essentially forcing the Bears’ hand.
All of this is moot, of course, if the offensive line doesn’t start protecting the quarterback better and giving the plays time to develop.
Montgomery vs. Jacobs a missed opportunity
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was the first running back taken in April’s draft. The Bears’ David Montgomery was the third. We could have seen a great duel between these running backs, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Montgomery only attempted 11 runs and managed just 25 yards (2.3 yards per carry). Meanwhile, Jacobs averaged 4.7 yards per carry, amassing 123 yards on 26 attempts. He also scored two touchdowns.
Did the Bears give up on the run too early?
In part, they were forced to because they were down 17-0 at halftime. The sense of urgency to move the ball increased dramatically.
But had the score been about even, would the Bears have stayed committed to the run? And would Montgomery had eventually found success? It’s hard to say because the run blocking has been so bad.
Jacobs had runs of 12, 15, and 21 yards. Meaning, his other 23 carries averaged about 3.2 yards per carry. That’s still almost a full yard per carry better than what Montgomery averaged. But the point of this exercise is this: would Montgomery have eventually broken one or two plays had he received another 15 carries to match Jacobs’ attempts?
It’s hard to say because the game score dictated a change in philosophy. But due to the offensive line’s struggles, we certainly missed out on a battle of two young running backs.
Can we drop the quarterback controversy already?
If one thing became clear about backup quarterback Chase Daniel against the Raiders, it’s that he can be just as careless with the football as Mitch Trubisky can be.
Daniel threw two interceptions against the Raiders — and a third, which got overturned thanks to a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty. The two interceptions came at pivotal moments in the game.
The Raiders took an early 7-0 lead following a 10-play, 90-yard drive. As if pushing around the Bears’ supposedly dominant defense wasn’t demoralizing enough, Daniel contributed to the misery by throwing an interception on the Bears’ ensuing drive. Daniel clearly couldn’t see Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow sitting in the passing lane as he threw the ball right to him. Six plays later, the Raiders scored a second touchdown to drop the Bears into a 14-0 hole.
Later in the game, Daniel’s second costly interception came as the worst time. The Bears were down by a field goal with under two minutes to play, attempting to make a game-winning or game-tying drive. Daniel had a miscommunication with receiver Anthony Miller and tossed the ball to the wrong jersey yet again, ending the drive and effectively the game.
Yes, I will concede that Daniel’s accuracy is a little bit better than Trubisky’s. Being a veteran in the NFL and knowing Nagy’s offense also has allowed Daniel to run this offense a bit better.
But he doesn’t protect the football any better than Trubisky does. And he certainly can’t evade a pass rush or make plays with his legs.
If Daniel is not definitively better than Trubisky, there is no sense to engage in a quarterback controversy. Trubisky is their guy and he needs to return to the lineup as soon as humanly possible.
Fourth quarter woes continue to haunt the team
I feel like Randy Quaid from Independence Day when I talk about the Bears’ fourth-quarter woes.
The Bears have played five fourth quarters this season. They’ve been outscored 33-6 in those periods.
In short, that cannot happen if they intend to have a successful run coming out of next week’s bye.
The Bears defense has been dominant this season. Yes, as little as a week ago, we’ve talked about this unit being a generational one. Perhaps the best individual unit of this century.
But even the best have a bad day from time to time. And when that happens, the rest of the team has to pick them up. And the fact that the Bears offense cannot do that is alarming.
The reason the Bears have been outscored in fourth quarters this year is actually pretty simple. Between fatigue and opponents’ adjustments, the defense is bending a little too much at the end of games.
The offense can help that in two ways.
First, they have to keep the defense fresh on the sideline through the first three quarters of the game. The Bears had a 32:22 time of possession last season — third-best in the entire league. That allowed the defense to rest on the sideline and be more effective toward the end of games.
Second, the offense has to make plays and score more points in the fourth quarter. This will give the defense a buffer should they happen to break down and give up scores. Right now, the offense can’t move the ball. Meaning, the offense is forcing the defense to have to defend two or three opponents’ possessions late in the game. If the offense can sustain one or two long, fourth-quarter drives that at best end in points or at worst chew up five- or six-minutes off the clock and lets the defense rest, this will go a long way of evening the fourth-quarter scores.
Bears outlook after the bye week
Boy, does that loss really sting for the Bears.
Instead of 4-1 and tied with the Packers for first in the NFC North, the Bears are one game back, licking their wounds, and wondering what kind of football team they really are.
Don’t be a Chicken Little. The sky is not falling. The loss is not “detrimental” to the Bears’ playoff hopes. But if anything, it serves as a wake-up call.
The bye week actually comes at a good time for the Bears. Assuming Hicks’ elbow injury is not that serious, it gives him a good two weeks to rest and rehab it. The bye week also gives Trubisky another 14 days to get himself ready for game action. Additionally, a number of other players can recuperate for the second-half run.
Right out of the bye, the Bears have a treacherous stretch. The Bears will face the Saints, the Chargers, and the Eagles in a difficult three-game run. There’s a four-game stretch that follows, which includes the Lions twice and the Giants, but I’m not even worried about that right now. The Bears have to take each game one week at a time.
The Bears have to play better, period. Specifically on the offensive and defensive lines. Frankly, if they come out as flat, unaggressive, and ineffective against the Saints, Chargers and Eagles as they did against the Raiders, it won’t matter what their record is at that point because they won’t be playoff-bound anyway.