By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)
Just know, reader, what follows was written from a leery-yet-still reasonably sunny disposition.
Such is part and parcel of cheering for a Chicago Bears team that, even in surviving five of its first six contests to forge ahead of its NFC North rivals, owns the record of a legitimate Super Bowl contender but not many other requisite championship characteristics.
As the Bears emerge again as a league talking point, its defense seems to be its only redeeming quality. Sound familiar?
Too often already this season that side of the football has had to save a team holed by both mediocrity and puzzling late-game play-calling on the other.
Matt Nagy twice decided against running the ball on third-and-short plays late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 23-16 victory against the Carolina Panthers. The latter choice had as much to do with DeAndre Houston-Carson’s game-clinching first-career interception as Teddy Bridgewater’s doomed pass two plays later.
A game earlier, it was Nagy’s similarly peculiar play-calling that afforded Tom Brady an unsettling amount of time to quarterback his Tampa Bay Buccaneers down the field. Thanks (again) to Houston-Carson, Brady exited Soldier Field with no more of his league-leading game-winning drives as he entered.
Houston-Carson has made the most of his uptick in playing time for a defensive unit that inspires as much of my anticipation as its offensive counterparts do my angst. I dare not take a frivolous trip to the fridge or bathroom and risk missing Khalil Mack upend the next opposing lineman with a single arm or Kyle Fuller disintegrate a would-be ball carrier.
Everyone Thinks the Bears Are Frauds—but What If They Aren’t? (The Ringer)
In that vein, Mack, Fuller and Co. are entertainers as much as they are guardians of an offense in frequent need of rescue. Still, the defense can double as a safety net but for only so long before its thread — and the team’s current style of winning — wears thin.
Only five teams score fewer points per game than the Bears — on the other hand, only five teams allow fewer points per game. Therein lies perhaps the most damning evidence of this cosmically-imbalanced relationship.
While it was fair to presume Mitch Trubisky’s penchant for toxic quarterbacking would be the hindrance prior to this season, the actual barrier to offensive prosperity has been the half-middling, half-atrocious performances of the group up front. On one hand the offensive line has kept Nick Foles reasonably clean — and Trubisky, too, in the three games he spent under center. Conversely, they’re responsible for a well-below-league-average 90 rushing yards per game.
That group’s uneven play, coupled with James Daniels’ season-ending injury and a finite well from which to withdraw reinforcement, means the fix will likely be an inside job.
“Maybe we run the ball more,” said former Bears linebacker and 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee Lance Briggs during episode of NBC Sports Chicago’s ‘Football Aftershow.’
“Maybe we commit to running the ball more, you get more help, you get more chippers, you get more mass protection. Those are things you can do moving forward. I think at this point, going out and getting a trade is a reach, so you have to work with what is in your system of your organization.”
The overall record of the Bears’ first six opponents was 15-20. Their next six games are against opponents with a combined record of 19-13, a slate that includes the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football and the currently unbeaten Tennessee Titans as well as the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
“The Bears are playing good defense, aren’t beating themselves and keep finding ways to gut out close wins,” said Bleacher Report NFL analyst Gary Davenport. Along with fellow analysts Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, Davenport slotted Chicago as the 10th best team in their latest NFL power rankings.
“Even if the Bears split that quartet and hit the bye at 7-3, you have to feel good about their playoff chances heading into the first of two against the Pack in Week 12.” he said.
I’ve followed the Bears long enough to have grown accustomed to the perpetual imbalance between their offense and defense.
I’ve also followed long enough to know that when the Bears secure their first 5-1 start since “Gangnam Style” hijacked airwaves, you ride that horse like nobody’s business for the moment.
Even if possible obscurity lurks in the next.
Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago