Payton Presser: The Bears thrived over the last three weeks
A few weeks ago, we talked about finding out how “real” this Bears team was after their three divisional game grind? Well, Matt Nagy’s squad not only showed they could hold their own, they dominated. With three games in 12 days, the ability to slip up was a possibility. But they dug deep to come away with some nice breathing room atop of the NFC North. Full disclosure: My projection for total wins on the season was 7 games. The Bears have surpassed that, and I have a feeling they are not done stacking W’s in the win column. So, after beating the Lions on Thanksgiving, the Bears are now rolling on a 5 game winning streak and have given us even more to be thankful for 12 weeks into the season. Let’s take a look at some of the team’s successes and the things they need to fix as they head for their first division title since the 2010 season.
The play of Mitchell Trubiksy is one of the biggest puzzle pieces that has to fit just right for the Bears to truly make a run in the post season. Thursday, the Bears were without Trubisky as he missed his 1st start as a pro due to a shoulder injury. That meant the Bears would have to lean on backup QB Chase Daniel to keep the team’s momentum going. Daniel made his 1st start since 2012 and he made the best of his opportunity in Detroit. What is more impressive is he was making the start in a short week with no full speed practice. Daniel finished the day connecting on 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards through the air, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions with a QB rating of 106.8. He wasn’t perfect by any means. But Daniel showed if you have to break the glass in an emergency, he could manage a game while making enough plays to lead the Bears to a victory. Daniel was worth the money Ryan Pace spent on the journeyman QB and gave confidence to the organization with his performance in Motown.
Throughout the 3-0 stretch, one thing that has been evident is the offense’s inability to establish a running game. Jordan Howard has found his way into the end zone 5 times this season. But he hasn’t been able to get the touches that he’s accustomed to seeing over his first 2 years in Chicago. Through 12 games this season, Howard has 162 carries for 536 yards and 3.3 average. The Bears had 38 yards rushing in their win over the Lions and have had 148 total yards on the ground in the past three games. Their 38 yards on the ground at Ford Field tied their lowest total in a win since the second game of the 1970 season.
Nagy said during the team’s break before the Giants game, he is going to take a step back and see how he can increase those rushing attempts and yards. Most of the conversation heading into the year was if Howard’s skill set would fit in this offense. I had no doubt he could. But seeing how Nagy calls plays, Howard is playing second fiddle to Nagy’s love for the passing game. With more weapons this season, Howard and the running game has become an afterthought. It’s hard to complain though because the Bears are 8-3 on the season. But at some point, the Bears will have to rely on the run game. What worries me is when it comes down to crunch time and the Bears need to run the ball, they won’t be able to produce because of the lack of experience this season. Normally the run sets up the pass. But in Nagy’s offense, the pass sets up bubble screens and jet sweeps. The question isn’t will they find a run game but can they and how productive can they be on the ground.
The Bears defense has shown they are the real deal over the last 3 weeks. The best thing is, I don’t think they’ve hit their full stride yet. Watching this defense is one thing, but looking at their stats so far this season shows the true tale on how good they really are. After Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions, the Bears are third in the NFL in yards allowed per game (316.1) and third in the NFL in points allowed per game (19.2). Vic Fangio’s unit has six defensive touchdowns, 34 sacks, 20 interceptions, and 9 fumble recoveries. Three of those touchdowns came from second year safety Eddie Jackson. It looks like Pace has stopped the revolving door at the safety position, finding this organization’s next ball hawk. Jackson’s pick-six versus Matthew Stafford and the Lions on Thursday was his fifth defensive touchdown since last season. To put it in perspective, Jackson has the same number of touchdowns, three, as Falcons wideout Julio Jones. Not only am I seeing a positive surge with his play on the field, but his leadership role on this team keeps growing every single day.
I can’t tell you guys how obsessed I am with this Bears ballclub. What is there not to like? This team truly plays with a passion and they love coming together on gameday. There is a true family atmosphere with the squad. You can see it by how they play on gamedays and also through the creative touchdown celebrations they’ve been blessing us with throughout the season. I have to give Pace a lot of credit for how he has constructed this team through the draft, free agency and trades. His vision is starting to take shape right in front of our eyes. The Bears have established a culture that will only get stronger. Being inside the locker room for the last few years, I’ve seen a change in the mindset with this team. The mentality of this organization started changing last year. But this year it has evolved into something special. This team believes that every time they step out on the field, they expect to win. I keep saying that there is something special about this team and it’s true. Now with some key games left on the schedule, the Bears have to control what they can control and that’s keeping the momentum they’ve created. Five straight wins. Next up is the Giants in New York. What has been a dream season so far looks to keep getting better week by week. Hope everyone enjoyed the Thanksgiving holidays. We all have so much to be thankful for. Same time next week Bears fans. #Beardown