By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
What a rough three weeks it has been for the Chicago Bears, and things aren’t getting any easier despite the team playing host to a losing Los Angeles Chargers team this week.
Make no mistake, this is do-or-die time. The Bears have spen the last three weeks not winning, either losing outright or in a bye, while rivals like the Vikings have run off winning streaks and established themselves firmly as competitors.
Both the Vikes (6-2), after a win Thursday night over Washington, and the Packers (6-1) look bound for 10-win seasons at worst. Meanwhile the Bears sit disappointingly at 3 wins, barely treading .500.
After this week we’ll be officially at the half way point on the year so saying “its still early” no longer applies, there’s no more time to formulate chemistry or wait on something to “kick in” — the team the Bears show us this week is likely the team left for us to dissect the rest of this season.
A win against the Chargers gives the Bears a chance to still compete for a playoff spot in the NFC, while a loss essentially eliminates them. Of course any ideas of the playoffs can only be justified if the team improves their play drastically and do so immediately. The big question is what these players and coaches have up their sleeve when it comes to formulating a new and improved approach to wins.
Do not expect any type of relief from the opponent because even a 2-5 Charger team comes in with plenty of talent to surprise the Bears. Desperation has been a buzz word for both sides here, which should make for an entertaining game.
It’s Broke, So Fix It — Every week it seems like we have to address elementary parts to the game of football as important goals for the Bears to accomplish. What a fall from grace it has been, but here we are.
Chicago’s offensive identity has devolved into a total enigma. Many believed some clarity would show up on the field after the bye week last Sunday but, alas, more of the same head scratching play calling and execution showed itself in the team’s most embarrassing loss to date.
Once again, a team cannot move forward without some kind of competency from their offense. Will this be the week where the Bears can make a breakthrough? They certainly better because they have a head coach in Matt Nagy that we were told is an offensive genius.
That said, don’t expect the offense to all of a sudden look like one of the best in the NFL on Sunday. The goal here is simply to make the offense competent and to put itself in a position to aid the defense in winning rather than detracting from them. Running the ball has to be a commitment even if the results are lackluster initially.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is way too overwhelmed to be throwing 54 times in a game. All of these problems and questions fall to the play caller who is Nagy. He must find a way to get the offense back on the rails and moving forward instead of an offense that looks completely derail.
Earn What You Give — Boy, are the Bears hurting without stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Without the powerful Hicks the run defense has suffered mightily and in the two weeks without him the Bears’ effort to defend the run has been ugly and lacking a typical energy that Hicks brought in large part. Forget rushing the passer and creating turnovers if you can’t stop the run on early downs.
Defensively, the first thing every coordinator should stop is the run. Its hard to create takeaways in run defense, you need quarterbacks to throw the ball or hold onto the ball and susceptible to strip sacks. When was the last time we saw a strip sack from star pass rusher Khalil Mack? It has been almost a month, because if you’re a Bears opponent, why throw it and put the ball in harms way when you can just run over the Bears defense.
Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is responsible for scheming something or benching the guys that can’t execute. Sure losing Hicks was a big time blow but this is also a defense that shut down the Vikings without him. There has to be a middle ground where the Bears can be solid against the run so it doesn’t kill the defense and the entire team.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is a former NFL running back and surely he must be licking his chops in excitement for his run game. Sadly the blueprint is out to beat the Bears defense by running the rock. Adjustments must be made as well as effort.
All 11 guys on the field have to help this turn around because coaching can only take them so far. Like in every sport, defense is all about effort and energy.
Desperation Factor — No doubt about it, these two teams are in very similar positions. Both came into the season with lofty goals and delusion of grandeur. Still a lot of talent remains on either squad but not the same edge and emotion.
The Chargers have had a lot of close loses and very easily could be on course for a solid year if a couple of breaks went their way. Such is life in the NFL but with great leadership from star quarterback Philip Rivers along with a few other steady veterans should mean a strong performance from the Chargers. Can the Bears match the intense desperation that will likely come from their opponent? Much too often in recent Bears history the team has wilted or played down to competition.
For example, last Sunday was pretty important and the Bears were no where to be found. They looked like shells or avatars of themselves. Remember the Vikings game where the Bears shocked everyone with a masterful defensive performance even without Hicks? Part of what made that so special was the fact that the whole team rose up together to get that victory. Hopefully the Bears will resemble the type of big step up effort they gave against the Vikings.
On the other hand, if the team performs lackluster like the effort against the Saints then very serious questions need to be answered. Because this team has no excuse not to leave it all out on the field in desperation.
Taking Advantage — Two of the best players in this match-up specialize in getting after the quarterback — Joey Bosa for the Chargers and Mack with the Bears. Both are having very similar seasons, so far — Bosa has 21 tackles, six tackles for loss, five sacks, and one forced fumble.
Mack also has 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, four and half sacks, and four forced fumbles but his play hasn’t been great for his standards lately and teams have really focused on stopping him with Hicks out. Neither of these teams are doing a good job protecting their quarterbacks, both offensive lines are something each side wants to exploit.
Particularly important for this goal is for the Bears pass rusher to make a more significant impact than the Chargers pass rusher. Of course both of these stars will need help from the supporting cast. That being said, these two can take over a game. Plus, it would be huge to have Mack playing well and making plays.
Here is hoping that Mack is able to play a bigger part in a victory than Bosa does in a loss.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR