By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The newly-minted, NFC North-winning Chicago Bears are getting ready for the playoffs with just two weeks left in the regular season. Awaiting the Bears will be two road tests, the first coming with a San Francisco team this week that has “spoiler” written all over them.
A good spoiler has had their season already spoiled, in the 49ers case they came into this season with high hopes after trading for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and seeing him lead the team admirably through their final five games in 2017.
Ruining the promise was Jimmy G tearing his ACL early in Week 3, losing him precipitated the ultimate falling apart of the 49ers season, but interestingly enough the quarterback carousel that followed Garoppolo’s exit may have been the real culprit. Eventually, San Francisco turned to third stringer Nick Mullens, who has played solidly and may have done more to salvage the season if he was called on at an earlier point.
Overall, the Niners have been ravaged by injuries up and down the roster, with 12 guys currently on injured reserve. The Bears are comfortably in the playoffs but still fighting for playoff positioning and will need to win out to have any chance for a top-two seed and a bye week. The Bears can also lock up the No. 3 seed at worst if they get just one win either this week or next at Minnesota.
Coach Matt Nagy has said that the Bears will be playing starters as long as there are things to play for that would improve Chicago’s playoff positioning. The Bears will likely have to win road games in the playoffs to get to a Super Bowl and the Bears have not been the same team on the road that they’ve been at Soldier Field.
This match with the sub-par 49ers looks like a great way for the Bears to keep their momentum going, but hanging over the team’s head is their last road game, a disappointing outing against the Giants to say the least. In order to avoid a repeat, here are the four goals for the Bears to get their fourth road victory in 2018.
Be You — As the Bears play caller, coach Nagy not only expresses himself through his play call sheet, but on it, with a bold phrase on it that reads “Be You.”
The point of this saying is to remind Nagy to be himself and have that same self confidence that got him the Bears job in the first place.
Confidence is something the Bears have a lot of right now and it allows for players or coaches to perform at their highest abilities. As a team, the Bears have had little problem performing at home but they need to start bringing similar confidence with them on the road.
With a 3-3 on the road this year versus a 7-1 home record, the Bears are exhibiting normal traits for a young team. It would seem they’d simply need more experience on the road and more experience being favored on the road to learn how to win there. The Bears should look at this game as an opportunity to improve the way they play with less to their control and gain valuable experience against an inferior team.
As long as the Bears play their type of game without a litany of mistakes then the Bears should win, as their coach does they just need to remember to “Be You.”
Trubisky Splits — Another layer to the Bears on the road versus at home is the difference between the performances of the quarterback position.
Young quarterbacks in the league usually have a similar thing in common — they play much better at home than on the road. This proves to be the case for second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky when you look at his home and away splits. One important note is that Trubisky has played double the home games this year (8) than road games (4).
At home this season Trubisky has a rating of 97.2 with 19 touchdowns to 9 interceptions and a completion percentage of 64%. On the road he has a rating of 87.6, 4 touchdowns to 3 interceptions and is completing 66.9% of his passes.
Good news with looking at these stats is that Trubisky isn’t a drastically different player on the road, his ratings are similar as are his completion percentages. It does seem that the big plays come more often at home when looking at the difference in the touchdown to interception ratio.
Trubisky still hasn’t played many road games in his football career and like with the team as a whole his success should come with experience. Mitch just has to manage this game like he did last week against the Packers to leave San Francisco with a win. The goal this week for him is to be more like the quarterback he knows he can be at home.
Takeaway Differential — The Bears are the best team in the league in regards to turnover differential at +13. Chicago has taken the ball away from opponents 35 times with 26 interceptions, another league-leading figure. Not so flattering is the team’s 22 turnovers, which ties for sixth most in the league.
If the Bears were more protective of the ball then their turnover differential would be massive and could represent an all-time type of season. This is the area the 49ers will try to exploit the Bears most, they know their best chance to win is by taking the ball away. The problem is, they aren’t very good at taking the ball away.
The Niners are dead last in takeaways with the lowest interception total and tied for fewest fumble recoveries, they are also tied for third in give ups, which has resulted in the worst turnover differential in the league at -22. San Francisco just does not have the talent and the depth to compete with the Bears in this manner
An obvious goal for the Bears this week is to keep the turnover ratio even or in their favor to avoid a potential upset.
Be Smart — Another priority in this game will be to be smart with managing injuries.. Nagy is being smart in actively trying to get a higher playoff seed and should play the starters to some extent because the team wants to continue gaining motivation so they can possibly peak during the playoffs.
But in addition to peaking in the playoffs, teams want to be as healthy as possible, the Bears have bigger and better things to play for regardless of what seed they get, they shouldn’t sacrifice any talent to turn a 3 seed into a 2. The coaches would be wise to rest starters if the game gets out of hand, and players should alert coaches if they feel anything risky before it could potentially get worse.
The goal in this game is to respect the rest versus rust philosophy by playing the starters without fear of injury, but once the game kicks off be extremely cautious — that goes for both coaches and players.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR