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The Bears get more than they deserve
Because they deserve nothing
Sunday morning we received this news from the occasionally well-sourced (always weasely) Ian Rapoport that not only was Matt Nagy’s job safe (which we all figured given the McCaskey family’s aversion to paying someone to not coach) but that he was taking more control of the play calling again. And somehow, Rappoport acted like it was a good thing.
Regardless, the Bears were still owed one of their two annual heaping servings of indignity from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and things went about as we expected.
Give the Bears credit, this time around they were able to rack up far more time of possession on drives that ended without a touchdown than in the past. They actually led the game 7-0 and 10-7 before giving up three second quarter touchdowns and finishing with a 19 point defeat.
They held the Packers to just four third down conversions, which would have been more impressive if the Packers had faced more than seven third downs all day. Mitch Trubisky completed 12 of his first 14 passes. Hey that’s great. For 88 yards. Oh.
Rodgers completed his first 10 passes, and three of those were for touchdowns.
The Bears had some chances on defense. Rodgers threw two passes right to Bears defensive backs but Eddie Jackson (who hasn’t made a play in two full seasons now) and Kindle Vildor both dropped them. Barkevious Mingo also got a hand on one but couldn’t pull it in.
This was not a game where the Bears could miss on opportunities like that and survive, and they didn’t.
The offense did survive an early scare when David Montgomery left in the first quarter with a knee injury. Thanks to Ryan Pace (who should get fired a week from Monday, but most surely will not) and his terrible roster construction when Montgomery is out the Bears don’t have a real running back to turn to. So instead, Artavis Pierce trotted out for a key third down play and fell down. Cordarelle Patterson took a well-deserved break from almost fielding a kickoff on the field of play at the one yard line to run a few times and Ryan Nall lined up in the backfield a couple of times, something that strikes fear…in Bears fans. The inability for Pace to find an actual second running back would have been particularly tragic had Montgomery’s knee turned out to not be made out of whatever that bright red fluid is that they used to put inside the Stretch Armstrong dolls.
The Bears scored on their first drive, holding the ball for more than seven minutes and converting a key fourth and three after Pierce’s third and two flop. It was the only touchdown they scored on the day, a sub-optimal strategy when facing a team quarterbacked by Rodgers.
Defensively, the Bears tried some odd things, like having Duke Shelley try to cover Davante Adams one-on-one, and putting Danny Trevathan in positions, repeatedly, to try to cover Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The 72 yard TD from Rodgers to Valdes-Scantling was the longest play the Bears surrendered this season and even though it “only” made the score 14-10, the Bears never led again and it effectively ended any real threat they posed.
Some guy named Dominique Dafney scored the Packers third touchdown of the second quarter. I’m not even sure he was on the team last week. They may have just met him in the hotel lobby this morning and asked if he wanted to play a few snaps.
The Bears didn’t earn a playoff spot, they were gifted one when Rams’ backup quarterback John Wolford (Donnell’s long lost brother?) helped put the finishing touches on the Cardinals’ end of season nose dive.
The game should not be looked at as a referendum on Pace or Nagy keeping their jobs (the Bears have now won three of their last ten games, they proved they aren’t the right guys for this job long ago) and any thought that Mitch was suddenly good should have been laughed off before this game but was proven spectacularly false today.
The Bears only beat one team with a winning record this year (Tampa Bay) and Mitch wasn’t playing when that happened. Mitch only started two games against teams with winning records and both of those were lopsided losses to the Packers. Most of his numbers, as pedestrian as they are, came against bad teams with bad defenses.
For Mitch it was the same old shit. The game plan called for him to make a lot of short, one read throws, and he completed a decent percentage of them but he also routinely threw the ball too high or behind receivers making yards after the catch impossible. The closer the Bears got to the end zone, the less effective any of those plays were. He threw a back breaking interception and tried to throw another one earlier in the game when he made a terrible throw behind an open Allen Robinson in the end zone. The pass was so bad that it nearly hit cornerback Kevin King right in the balls because the last thing he was expecting was for an NFL quarterback to miss his receiver by five yards.
The Bears longest play was a great Darnell Mooney catch for 53 yards on a play that would have been a touchdown if Mitch could have made a better throw. But that one isn’t on Mitch. The play called for him to roll to his left and throw back across his body to the middle of the field about 60 yards in the air. He made a decent throw given those circumstances, but when the Bears offensive “braintrust” draws that shit up do they think Patrick Mahomes is their quarterback?
The Bears and Packers offenses are bizzaro world versions of each other. When Rodgers reads blitz before a play he changes his protections to buy him an extra second or two then he looks to throw behind the space the blitzer has vacated to make the opponent pay. When (if is more like it) Mitch reads blitz before a play he nearly always attempts a short, quick pass, usually opposite the blitz where the defense still has a requisite number of players deployed. In fact, early in yesterday’s game Mitch saw Packers linebacker Donnie Kirksey blitzing and he just held the ball and stared at him as Kirksey closed in from ten yards away for a sack. Mitch had no idea what to do. That seems not good.
If Rodgers gets the other team to jump with a hard count he nearly always tries to turn the free play into a big play. When Mitch does it he stands and points to the guy who encroached and seems happy to get five free yards.
The Bears improved run game managed 108 yards yesterday…on 31 carries. Hey, it’s better than running the ball 16 times like they did in the week 12 Lambeau drubbing (though they gained more yards that game thanks to a 57 yard run by Montgomery) but it’s still not good enough. Especially when it’s paired with so many short passes—many thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The Packers spread your defense out horizontally with runs and passes and then when you react to that they go vertical, relentlessly. The Bears offense is mostly plays where the ball is given or thrown to a player behind the line and requires that player to break tackles just to start to get positive yardage.
Mooney had a nice game before he was lit up and broken into several very skinny pieces by former Bear Adrian Amos, but his 11 catches were for just 93 yards. We just mentioned his 53 yard reception, so that means he caught 10 other passes for just 40 yards. That’s a waste of time. Especially when Montgomery is catching nine passes for just 63 yards and Cole Kmet seven for 41. That’s 25 receptions for 144 yards. I’m sure NFL defenses are quaking at the thought of having to defend five yard passes all night.
The entire offensive game plan was clearly designed to try to keep the ball as long as possible (that’s fine), keep Mitch from fucking everything up (kind of goes against the ‘Mitch is figuring it all out’ narrative) and to keep the Bears from getting blown out, again. So much for that.
The Rapoport “scoop” that Nagy’s job is safe was clearly planted by Nagy’s agent, former Bear Trace Armstrong. Yesterday’s game plan (and I’m sure next Sunday’s against New Orleans) smacked of “my job is safe as long as we don’t get destroyed.” You can almost imagine George McCaskey eating a grapefruit while watching NFL Network yesterday morning and thinking, “Oh, I guess Matt’s safe! Did you hear that, mother?”
The reality is that Nagy has proven nothing in three seasons. After a 12-4 start to his head coaching career he’s now 16-17 in his last 33 games. In those games the Bears are 4-13 against teams that finished with a winning record.
The fall guy for all of this, this year, is going to be defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and while this is certainly not all this fault, his defense has regressed pretty strikingly. I don’t know how you draw up an effective defense where Duke Shelley and Vildor have to cover NFL receivers, but I also don’t know how you draw one up that requires Trevathan to cover wideouts, especially after asking him to fake an a-gap blitz before he starts chasing the wide receiver. And, if any game ever begged for a defensive coordinator to have his one really good healthy cornerback, Kyle Fuller, travel with the league’s best receiver on every snap (Adams) it was yesterday, but the Bears “don’t do that.” Yeah, well, they don’t have the luxury to not do that.
Making the playoffs should be an accomplishment, and while this isn’t much of one the Bears don’t do it very often so we shouldn’t complain about it. In fact, if you thought the Bears were run by competent people it would be a really great break. You get your players some playoff experience even though you know just how much improvement still needs to occur in coaching, scouting and playing. The Bears playoff appearance will likely last about three hours, and it could be something to grow from.
The problem, of course, is that the Bears are not run competently, and the thing that scares you is that they might just delude themselves into thinking they are on the right track, and need only incremental improvement. They are not on the right track and they need massive improvement.
Fans should not be put in a position where they need to do anything but root for their favorite team to win. Fans should be able to trust that the people in charge know what’s up and will work to constantly improve regardless of the outcome. But we’re Chicago sports fans, and such is our lot in life.
The last time the Bears were a wild card team was 1994 (well, when you only make the playoffs four times in 20 years you get weird stats like this), when the fighting Wannstedts went into a dome, were six point underdogs and Bears’ immortals Steve Walsh, the Ultraback, Lewis Tillman, the aforementioned Trace Armstrong (not the aforementioned Stretch Armstrong) and Barry Minter took down the Vikings. The Bears have not won a road playoff game since. Hell, as we talked about on the Remember This Crap podcast, only three coaches in Bears history have ever won a road playoff game, George Halas, Mike Ditka and Wanny.
Those Bears were just as mediocre as the current batch. They finished 9-7 and made the playoffs despite losing three of their last four, which included a 40-3 pantsing by Green Bay in week 15.
So anything is possible. The Bears shocked the 10-6 Vikings 35-18, and it was the only time all season they scored more than 27 points. They celebrated by going to San Francisco and losing 44-15 to the Niners, but hey, for one day they were something.
These Bears are already 8.5 point underdogs to the Saints, but, these Saints aren’t a juggernaut. Drew Brees will likely carve the Bears up, but he’s physically limited in a way he hasn’t been since he got his shoulder ripped off right before his free agency started when he was a Charger 16 years ago. Michael Thomas only played in seven games this year due to injury and none since December 13. Alvin Kamara will not be allowed to practice this week due to his positive Covid-19 test and in fact, if the game was Saturday instead of Sunday he’d already be officially ruled out.
The problem is that unlike the Bears’ the Saints defense is no joke. The Bears took the Saints to overtime back in week seven, but it took the most lucid Nick Foles appearance of the season and 10 Bears points in the final three minutes just to get to OT.
The Bears apparently had big plans for that game to break out a Taysom Hill package with Mitch and shove it right in Sean Payton’s surgically smoothed face, only to have Mitch carry once for three yards, fall down and be out for a month. Oh, well.
This game is in the primo 3:25 p.m. Sunday timeslot, so somebody at the NFL is expecting it to actually be competitive. It’s also being simulcast on Nickelodeon which has two advantages. One, they can gear it to kids, and two, kids don’t have to listen to Troy Aikman drone on about nothing for three hours. I’ll be watching Troy because he can never hide his disgust for Mitch, and I enjoy that.
Mitch is the perfect QB for the Nickelodeon game though. Kids can be inspired by the story of a simple minded ignoramus from Ohio who went to play quarterback at a basketball school in North Carolina, made third team All-ACC, showed out in a Sun Bowl loss to Stanford and got drafted ahead of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. See kids, if this dope can make money being below average at his chosen occupation think what a great life you can have!
And think how many of us passes will be followed by lame You Can’t Do That On Television jokes.
My biggest disappointment in yesterday’s outcome was the Bears missing a chance to start a new tradition. Dan Hampton is happy to tell you that a year before the Giants’ Harry Carson made it famous that he and his teammates invented the post-game celebratory coach Gatorade bath. The Bears could have laid claim to what you do to celebrate backing into the playoffs: