The Chicago Bears are 3-5 after a 20-12 loss to the Saints on Sunday. But even if they had somehow managed a late-game comeback, the bye would’ve provided an opportunity for some needed self-evaluation.
So, it’s time to press the reset button, take a step back, and survey the landscape of the 2017 NFL season from the perspective of our beloved Bears.
Much like the first two seasons under John Fox, injuries have played a big role in the Bears’ season. The team entered Sunday with nine players on injured reserve and three others nursing multi-week injuries. Tight end Zach Miller will join the group of nine. Week 8 was a brutal one from an injury standpoint. Right guard Kyle Long (hand) and center Cody Whitehair (elbow) were forced to exit early with injuries, which forced left guard Josh Sitton to play center where he was flanked by left guard Bradley Sowell and right guard Tom Compton. Cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bryce Callahan also missed time on Sunday.
All things considered, the time off should play an important role in injury recovery. Hopefully, the Bears will be in better shape after the bye than they were going into it.
The Bears have 13 days until their next game, which is ample time to figure out how to build an offense around rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. As expected, the Trubisky experience has come with moments of exhilaration and frustration. For every moment of growth, there’s another that serves as a reminder that there’s still plenty more to learn.
Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains is responsible for getting the most out of Trubisky despite having lackluster weapons on the outside, and possibly a banged-up offensive line. There are times where the play calling seems predictable, though, and that happened to be a problem when Mike Glennon was under center to start the season too. Hopefully, Loggains can look at his play calling, assess what’s working, what isn’t, and what needs to be added (or subtracted) from the playbook.
Striking the perfect balance won’t be easy.
Bears Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio and his defense has been superb through eight weeks, recently fetching praise from Pro Football Focus for being one of the NFL’s top three groups. Indeed, the Saints were averaging 33 points per game during their four-game winning streak, but were held to just 20 in their win against the Bears.
Moreover, the defense is receiving significant contributions from recent draft picks in Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos (2015), Leonard Floyd (2016), and Eddie Jackson (2017), which is always a good sign. Additionally, free agent additions such as Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, and Prince Amukamara have solidified what would otherwise be leaky positions on the field. Now, the challenge for Fangio is to keep the group playing at this level without falling into the kind of early season lulls that were driven by penalties and fatigue.
The issues that plague Jeff Rodgers’ unit aren’t as pronounced as the offense’s, but they’re still serious. Connor Barth has made just 6 of 10 field goal attempts, going 5 of 7 between 40-49 yards, and 2 of 5 on attempts of 50 yards or longer since joining the Bears. Kicking isn’t a high priority for a rebuilding team, but teams with razor thin margins of error can’t afford a kicker who misfires as often as Barth.
Save for Tarik Cohen’s return late in Week 8, the kick and punt return game hasn’t been special. After eight games, the Bears rank 13th in average kick off return and tied for 17th in average punt return. When defending returns, the Bears rank among the 10 teams who have given up the most kick return yards and inside the top five in punt return yards allowed.
The bye week will mean a lot of things to plenty of different people. But no matter the phase, the Bears should be able to use the time to recover and return with a heightened level of preparedness leading into their next game.
But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.