By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Coming quickly down the stretch of 2019, the Chicago Bears’ regular season is almost over and their playoff hopes concluded after last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers.
There will not be any playoff football for Chicago in 2020 — a fitting end to what has been a frustrating and simply unexplainable season. Fans now will look ahead and not to these final two games of the season, instead the focus will be on improving for next season. The game this week sets up potentially as one more sizable kick to the gut for fans.
Visiting Soldier Field this week are the Chiefs, led by head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Both of these individuals will forever be intertwined with Chicago’s head coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky of the Bears. Reid was Nagy’s mentor and helped prepare him for head coaching duties in the NFL. Famously the Bears drafted Trubisky in the 2017 draft and passed on Mahomes.
Aside from being an expected tough game against a tough competitor, the Sunday Night Football broadcast itself could be a tough listen with many reiterations of horror stories from the infamous draft of 2017. This Chiefs team is fighting for playoff positioning and will be fully motivated to win this game. While the Bears have to play for themselves and their pride to play spoiler to their remaining opponents.
Here are the four goals for the Bears to give fans an early Christmas present by defeating the Chiefs.
E is for Effort — A worry heading into this matchup for the Bears is the team’s psyche now that there is nothing to play for in the regular season. Sometimes teams will mentally check out once they are eliminated from the playoffs.
After a somewhat disappointing first half of the season, the Chiefs team have sneakily crept back in the conversation of best teams in the NFL. They are hungry and motivated to improve their playoff standing in the AFC, so the Bears can expect the best from the Chiefs.
Coach Nagy has spoken about the difficulties it can be to motivate a team with nothing to play for and he expects the team to respond well. Simply put, the Bears cannot win this game if the don’t bring their A game and play a complete game.
All three phases have to contribute and make an impact. The usual formula of relying solely on the defense to win is not going to work in this match-up. Therefore, the first goal this week is for the team to mentally prepare and play like the playoffs are still a possibility or else an embarrassment could be at hand.
Take Care of the Rock — Kansas City is built around its offense but they have a defense that is steadily improving. This Chiefs offense is compared a lot to the Golden State Warriors of basketball in that a barrage of nuclear offensive power can strike at a moments notice.
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As for the Bears offense, they need help from opposing defenses to really get going. The Chiefs’ defense has shown improvement, and they’ll have another weapon at their disposal this week in Terrell Suggs, but they are not world beaters and the Bears offense has a chance to move the ball and score some points. This Bears offense has to score over 20 points in this game in order to beat the Chiefs, and currently they average only 18.3. The struggle to score is very real for the Bears and they can’t compound this difficulty by turning the ball over.
On the season the Chiefs are +7 in the turnover differential while the Bears sit at -2. The goal here is for the Bears to win the turnover battle in this game or at least not commit any turnovers of their own.
Return of the Mack? — When things go rough for any sports team its usually the superstar that has to turn things around. Right now the Bears superstar is edge rusher Khalil Mack and he has gone silent of late. Many thought the problem was the absence of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
Without Hicks, teams could solely target Mack to block and take him out of the game. When Hicks returned last week it seemed almost a certainty that Mack would make a huge impact on the game.
Alas, it did not happen as Mack was able to only make one tackle against Green Bay.
All season long it has seemed like Mack hasn’t played up to his superstar capabilities. Even Mack’s Pro Bowl selection has come with some criticism because his numbers do not look Pro Bowl worthy.
When any team faces a top quarterback like Mahomes the dilemma is getting enough pressure without blitzing. Mack has to play a big role in the pass rush because the Bears have to get constant pressure on Mahomes to win. Next goal is for Mack to return to his superstar level of play or else the Bears will struggle in this game and won’t stand much of a chance of containing Mahomes.
Familiar Faces — Given the relationship between coaches Reid and Nagy the Bears and Chiefs should be quite familiar with one another and have a good idea of what each team will be trying to run offensively.
If the Bears should ever become a top offense in the league, schematically it will look very similar to the Chiefs. That also means that both defensive coordinators will likely be prepared for the other since they both practice against the same offensive scheme.
The difference in this matchup, assuming each team is executing well on the field, could be the situational coaching or in-game adjustments that either side makes. There is nothing that Nagy would like more than to out coach his mentor on Sunday.
Nagy still has a lot to learn on the job but if he is able to deliver a victory on Sunday then that would be a definite accomplishment and any bright spots would be welcomed right now for him and his team. It’s been a rough year for the second year Bears coach and lots of fans are questioning his abilities.
This week represents an opportunity for Nagy to show off his coaching prowess, something he should treasure given that he’ll have to wait at least another season to coach in the playoffs again. Final goal is for Nagy and the coaching staff is to actively put the Bears in a position to succeed because that is exactly what everyone expects from the Chiefs’ leadership.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR