By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Its so funny what a difference a year can make. In the case of the Chicago Bears, its down right hilarious what 12 months have done to this franchise.
At this time last year, the unanswerable question in Chicago was what to do with the complete disaster which was the Bears. Head coach John Fox was very likely to be relieved of his duties by season’s end and many wanted general manager Ryan Pace to be let go as well.
Pace is in charge of the roster makeup and the Bears’ roster was easily the worst in the NFC North division. We know how things turned out after Foxy was fired and Pace was kept. Fast forward to today and football fate has anointed the Bears a showdown with the hated Green Bay Packers for a chance to win the division. What an opportunity this is for the Bears and their fans.
Since 2011, the Packers have dominated the Bears and the NFC North, leaving Bears fans with a regular feeling of disappointment. The Bears have an opportunity to exact some specific revenge in front of the home fans — with a win the Bears will be crowned division winners while quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers watch, be officially eliminated from this year’s postseason and likely take in their deemed tormentors for the next several years.
In the case of a loss, the Bears can still win the division with another Minnesota Vikings loss as well as clinch a playoff spot as long as the Jacksonville Jaguars win over the Washington Redskins, but the Bears should not settle for any backdoor clinches this week. The only satisfying situation this week includes embarrassment on the part of the Pack and their devoted fans/stake holders.
Here are the four goals for the Bears to provide themselves with both satisfaction and the NFC North on Sunday.
Take Advantage of the Matchup — For a multitude of reasons the Packers have been a very underachieving team this year. Early on in the season Rodgers was dealing with the knee injury he suffered in his first clash with the Bears defense and he didn’t quite have the string of momentum-gaining good games like he has had to start many seasons.
With a bye week Rodgers got healthier and Green Bay played its most competitive games of the season yet started a new trend of giving games away, like against the L.A. Rams with the infamous fumbled kickoff by ex-running back Ty Montgomery with the game on the line.
Throw in a home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the loss which sealed former coach Mike McCarthy’s fate, and losing to basically every tough team on their schedule and you have an official mess of a season on your hands. You can’t really say the miscues of the Packers this season were to be expected nor where they representative of any overall trends from the Rodgers/McCarthy era, but by the Cardinals game it was clear to everyone that someone had to go and it wasn’t going to be A-Rod.
This is the year for the Bears to take advantage of the unrest in Cheesehead nation for no better reason than the fact that the Packers stink on the road (0-6 away from Lambeau in 2018) and the Bears are great at home (6-1, best home start since 2010). It all sets up for the Bears this weekend and if they stay true to themselves then they should be in prime position for winning another NFC North crown.
Where’s the O? — The Bears obvious strengths are their defense and their offensive efficiency. Chicago does not a great offense at this point in time because there are just too many question marks around the quarterback and the running game.
Still, to the Bears credit, they have been an efficient offense that consistently ranks top five in scoring. In the past four weeks, though, the Bears’ offense has sputtered and have only scored more than 20 points once which came in the loss to the Giants. The last great game the offense had was in a win against the Lions on November 11th where they scored 34 points and Trubisky looked like a Pro Bowler — the Bears need to start getting the offense back on track.
In these recent weeks the Bears have dropped down to seventh in scoring, averaging 27.6 points per game and trending down. Lacking the polish on offense like the other elite teams in the league, the Bears will want to be more consistent on that side of the ball, come as close as they can to eliminating offensive turnovers and hope the defense maintains its all-world output.
A great way to get back on track offensively would be playing well this week because this is the last home game of the year, they’re playing a team with little fight in them and the offense has been much better at home than on the road. This game may just come down to how efficient the offense plays.
Next Man Up Mentality — The Bears have been a relatively healthy team this season with only a handful of players (and none of particular import) put on injured reserve but every team deals with injuries in the NFL no matter what.
The Bears lost a key starter on defense for the rest of the season in slot corner Bryce Callahan, who came out early in the Rams game Sunday night.
Callahan will certainly be missed because he is a do everything play-maker. As a cover corner he is excellent and you have to remember slot corners don’t have a boundary like corners on the outside, slot corners have to really cover the entire field. Callahan also played the run well, he is physical player that comes down hill quickly, which is why Callahan was used as a consistent blitzer because he used his quickness to get to the quarterback.
Cornerback Sherrick McManis will be the next man up to try and fill in for Callahan. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has expressed confidence in McManis and the special teams standout has made some plays on defense when called upon. Fangio may also adjust the way he calls defense, he may decide to play more base defense rather than nickel.
No matter what, Rodgers is the best at identifying players to attack and its likely he will attack McManis when he is on the field and how the Bears defense adjusts to that attacking should be another key to the game. The Bears lost a good player in Callahan and he will be missed but its next man up because the defense has to play well and keep Rodgers from being his usual accurate self for the Bears to win.
Walk It Like I Talk It — Another juicy layer added to the rivalry this week is the emotion that has spilled out from it. Now with the Bears being such a young team, being too emotional could be a real issue and they must stay locked in to win.
One reason why the Bears lost the first match-up in Week 1 was lapses by far too many players in the second half after an immaculate first two quarters.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller missed an interception that would have won the game, Fuller has made a lot of interceptions and Rodgers hasn’t thrown many picks which makes that play stand out as odd, almost as if it was destined the Bears weren’t to win that game against the Packers yet they were able in part to use that disappointment to power themselves through an amazing season to come while setting themselves up for an all-too sweet win in December.
Different Bears players have been saying things to the media, things like they hate the Packers or that they remember comments made by Rodgers in which he said the Packers have had a lot of success at Soldier Field. It is obvious in the wake of their eye-opening wins this season, like this past Sunday’s, that the Bears want to be the top team in the division and the league. They are in the process of learning how to walk the walk and this game is an opportunity to live it to the fullest extent.
So many different storylines can be tied to this game, but most important of all will be the Bears proving once again that they are winners, stripped away from any disappointing recent past Chicago has had to live down.
This game doesn’t have the showdown cachet of the recent Minnesota or Rams games but by far this is the most important goal to date in the 2018-19 season. The goal is to walk the walk by slaying the franchise’s Goliath and punching a ticket into the big dance.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears for WARR