Chicago Bears Playoff Dreaming in La La Land

The Chicago Bears head West with hopes of keeping their playoff dreams alive. Facing a Los Angeles Rams team with issues of its own they have a good shot at doing just that. But they cannot play as they did against the Detroit Lions and still expect to come away with a victory. It isn’t just one phase that needs to step up either. Everyone needs to do better.

 

Bears Playoff Dreaming in La La Land

Offense Scoring in Bunches

The Bears offense scored three touchdowns on consecutive drives against the Lions; one to end the first half and two on their first two drives of the third quarter. Outside of that, though, they had nine drives end in punts. Even more disheartening, only two of those drives were more than three plays.

No offense scores every time. And punting can be a weapon if it’s pinning the opponent deep in their side of the field. But the three-and-outs are a large part of why the Bears are only 28th in average time of possession. Chicago is 29th in third-down conversion percentage and 28th in red zone attempts. But they are surprisingly 10th in red zone scoring percentage.

L.A. is giving up 21.2 points per game; good for 12th in the NFL. But over the last three weeks (since trading for Jalen Ramsey) that number is 12.3 points per game; tops in the league. The caveat is two of those games came against the winless Cincinnati Bengals and the two-win Atlanta Falcons. The Bears offense has fallen right in the middle of those two.

Chicago comes in scoring 18 points per contest and 16.7 points over their last three. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will have to use last week as a springboard if they are going to put up points on the Rams. It will likely have to come through the air again; L.A. is sixth against the run on the season (second the last three weeks) but 17th versus the pass.

As usual, just because the Rams are good against the run doesn’t mean abandon it. There will likely be little to no room for David Montgomery, and to a lesser extent, Tarik Cohen) to run early on. But against the Lions, the Bears ran eight times (non-scrambles) for 24 yards in the first half and finished with 81 yards on 29 carries.

Showtime Defense

The Bears defense has come under fire of late. The turnovers haven’t been there this year and they have been gashed on the ground since losing Akiem Hicks. It is hard to argue with the critics when the defense lets Jeff Driskel orchestrate a 13-play, 72-yard march that took up 6:18 of the clock.

But how much of the defense’s woes can be attributed to the offense’s struggles? The Bears top offensive players in snaps are Cody Whitehair and James Daniels who tied with 565 snaps apiece. The top defensive player in snaps is Kyle Fuller with 637 followed by Prince Amukamara and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with 632. Being on the field that much would wear any defense out.

Khalil Mack has received a lot of heat for not putting up the sack numbers expected of players of his ilk (and salary). But Pro Football Focus has him as their highest-rated Bears player this year. Mack has also seen his snap count increase without Hicks, is first in the NFL in quarterback hurries, and fourth in pressures. All that and only three missed tackles.

Still, Mack and the rest of the defense need to assert themselves over a Rams offensive line that is both battered and underperforming. They’re 10th in scoring but have only faced three defenses ranked in the top-12 in scoring. In those games, they’ve averaged 18.6 points. Even that is skewed from the 27 points they put up on the New Orleans Saints in week 2.

Todd Gurley is a shadow of his former self and the Rams have rushed for at least 100 yards in only three games all year once since Week 2 but have reached 90-plus in three others. The Bears are still better against the run than the pass and Jared Goff could look to get back on track against Fuller and Amukamara. Both are allowing over 70 percent completion this year.

 

Grand Scheme

Matt Nagy has displayed flexibility this season, even if it has felt like pulling teeth to those on the outside looking in. For example, the Bears average 22.8 rushing attempts per game on the year; 25th in the NFL. But over the last three weeks, they are 16th, averaging 26.7 carries per contest. That’s a sizable jump and a recipe for success with a limited quarterback.

Lineup changes were made before the Lions game and may have, in part, been Nagy sending a message to his quarterback. Not wanting to destroy the last bit of his confidence the coach played on his leadership qualities and shuffled and demoted some of Trubisky’s teammates. If it works great, but it also portends a larger issue about the fragility of the passer.

There won’t be any quarterback changes this year barring injury or a meltdown of nuclear proportions (and maybe not even then). So it makes sense for Nagy to try keeping his quarterback’s morale as high as possible. But the Bears are running out of scapegoats. Trubisky will have to perform up to snuff or turn off the televisions at Halas Hall for the rest of the season.

Chuck Pagano has done his best Vic Fangio impersonation and has the defense playing at a higher level than most realize. The splash plays just haven’t been there. They allowed opponents to convert 34.2 percent of their third downs in 2018 and are at 35.5 percent in 2019. The numbers are similar in the red zone; 50 percent in 2018, 51.6 in 2019.

Those are slightly worse but the largest difference has been on fourth downs. Opponents are converting 66.7 percent this year on the 11th-most (tied) attempts; a number that was 57.1 last season against the second-most attempts. The Bears have had a hard time getting off the field and those slight dips combined with the offense’s regression are reasons why.

 

Bears Playoff Dreaming in La La Land

Chicago either began their turnaround or prolonged their misery with last week’s win. This game is a rematch of Week 14 from 2018 and one the Rams will be hell-bent on winning. They are coming off an upset at the hands of a Pittsburgh Steelers team winning on the strength of a stout defense and some smoke-and-mirrors on offense.

The Bears won the last matchup and have a good shot to pull it off again in Week 11. If they commit to being balanced offensively they can try to offset the unblockable force that is Aaron Donald. If we get some of that timely blitzing we were promised from Pagano they can rattle Goff and get off the field. It also wouldn’t hurt if, say, Leonard Floyd stepped up.

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