By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The Chicago Bears are facing their greatest adversity of the 2018-19 season so far, skidding out after two games lost by a total of 10 points, yet despite the closeness still brought the team back to .500 and back to 4th place in division after two weeks at first and out of the NFC playoffs for the moment.
Falling a hail Mary short of upsetting the Patriots this past Sunday could have the Bears as down as they could be, but a perfect elixir may be on its way this week in the New York Jets.
This week is an opportunity for the Bears to get back on track against the Jets, who were beaten pretty bad by the Vikings last week. In all likelihood, this is sort of a must win for the Bears if they want to maintain any playoff hopes. In one week the Bears go from facing the oldest and most honored quarterback in the league to facing the youngest, which should help a struggling defense.
Offensively the Bears need to get back on track as far as efficiency is concerned. Though quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is putting up numbers in bulk in recent games, he was wildly inaccurate for much of the Patriots game, leading to more failed opportunities early in the game than the team would have liked. The special teams’ punt and kickoff units will want to put a particularly ugly game behind them as well.
Due to playing at home and playing the Jets, the Bears return to being a favorite this week and could be back on top of the division after the playing out of Week 8. Here are the four goals for the Bears to keep their confidence up and their playoff hopes alive.
And In This Corner…. — The Jets look similar to the Bears a year ago — young rookie quarterback with no weapons around him, being coached by a benign offensive coordinator and defensive-minded head coach. The Jets are developing well on defense but are still questionable with its pass rush and overall consistent play. The Bears aren’t miles ahead of their opponent here but their direction looks clearer than the J-E-T-S-JETS!-JETS!-JETS! (had to do it once).
As we look to Pro Football Reference this week to look deeper into how the Bears match up with their opponent, we see the teams wind up looking similar but with the Bears looking like the better team especially in the turnover ratio. In itself the stats could be a key to this game, simply reinforcing the idea that the Bears have to only be themselves Sunday in order to get the victory.
If “being themselves” could be expressed on Matt Nagy’s play call sheet, the plays would back up these qualities — taking care of the ball, scoring points, stopping the run and running the ball. All will be keys for the Bears to win.
Make ’em One Dimensional — The Bears’ pass rush has really fallen off since Khalil Mack has had his injury. Certainly the falling back to Earth of Mack is not an excuse for the other 10 guys but nonetheless it has been more than a small factor.
The Bears defense won’t face the same challenges that it did with Tom Brady or even Brock Osweiler. Rookie Sam Darnold is has to no surprise had an up and down first season as a pro quarterback. Darnold’s unpredictable play could provide opportunities for the pass rush to improve once again, one way to do that would be by forcing the Jets into attacking one-dimensionally.
A quarterback’s best friend is a reliable run game, it’s more like a protective mother to a rookie QB. If the Bears can stop the run and score points themselves, that will force Darnold to throw it. Darnold doesn’t have many weapons in general and may be without his best in receiver Robby Anderson, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury.
Pinning an offense’s ears back while going after the passer gets the whole defensive unit salivating at potential sacks and turnovers. The Bears have to earn the right to rush the passer by making the Jets one dimensional.
Which Mitch is it? –– Next up into the spotlight is Mitchell Trubisky, both on and off the field.
The Bears have done an excellent job of putting up points since their victory against the Buccaneers and Mitch has been the catalyst for the scoring. The Bears were fortunate to score 31 last week with passing statistics that were less than ideal. Trubisky also should have thrown two more interceptions that were dropped by Patriots defenders.
The big reason why the offense had any success against New England was Trubisky’s ability to both extend and break plays with his legs. Trubisky is getting better at seeing the field but he has to be able to execute the throws in the deepest areas of the field. In this week’s QB matchup, Trubisky is the more seasoned vet and he needs to act like it on the field.
Hard to say right now which Mitch we will see against a scrappy Jets defense, but there is not argument he will make the offense run in whatever direction it ends up going.
Desperation Mode — From the Bears locker room we’ve gotten the message of late that this is a team ready to change the culture around it and start winning again. This is the week where desperation to follow through on that messaging has to set in and the players have to embrace a new situation for themselves.
A three-game losing streak is not something established teams do if they intend to make the playoffs. If the Bears want to change their image and keep expectations high for the latter 8 games of the season, which they should want, then you have to win this game. The Jets are not as talented as the Bears at this point in time, the Bears are also at home and favored by over a touchdown. No excuses here.
No one expects the Jets to win except their fans and players. The Bears have to learn to live up to expectations they set as well as other and if they want the division games in November and December to matter, everything starts with winning this week.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR