There will be storylines aplenty when the Chicago Bears face their stiffest test to date in the Indianapolis Colts. Can the Bears, now with a new quarterback under center, come away with another surprise win? It would be a win that would go a long way in helping to solidify themselves as contenders.
Indianapolis will be by far the best team the Bears have faced this season. Not only are the Colts 2-1, but they also boast a great offensive line, talented backfield, and a Hall of Famer at quarterback. What’s more, their defense (ranked first in scoring) is the true secret to their success. Of course, when you look a little closer, the matchup isn’t as daunting as it seems.
Stiff Test Amid Reunions for Bears
Getting Philip Rivers to sign with the Colts was lauded as one of the best moves this past off-season and of general manager Chris Ballard’s career. But it was Ballard’s (a candidate for the Bears general manager job Ryan Pace took) earlier moves that deserve all the credit: building up the offensive line (and defensive) line.
Indy’s starting front five is one of only four teams to rank top-10 in both of ESPN’s Pass Blocking Win Rate (ninth) and Run Blocking Win Rate (fifth). The group features four players drafted by the Colts in the second round or better, three of which are first-rounders. The lone starter not drafted by Indianapolis, Mark Glowinski, was drafted in the fourth round by the Seattle Seahawks but graded equally to stud Quenton Nelson on the Colts line.
Rivers hasn’t really lit the world on fire, throwing for his fewest yards per game (264.7) since 2012. But he is completing passes at a career-high rate of 78.3 percent. He leads the NFL in that category, ranks fifth in yards per attempt, eighth in pass plays of 20-plus yards, and has only been sacked twice (tying him with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers). He is only 23rd in pass attempts so perhaps more volume will help the Bears add to his three interceptions.
It will be up to a Bears defense ranked 17th against the pass and the run to slow down Rivers and impressive rookie Jonathan Taylor, though backfield mate Nyheim Hines catching passes out of the backfield might be the bigger concern. Despite the big gains on the ground the past few weeks, Chicago is fifth in Run Stop Win Rate. The pass rush is a bigger concern. Chicago is near the bottom in pressure rate and ranks 18th in Pass Rush Win Rate.
For as steady as the Colts offense has been the defense has been even better, checking in as the top-ranked pass defense and the fourth-best unit versus the run. It doesn’t have the pedigree of the offense, but it doesn’t lack for playmakers either. Led by 2018 second-round pick and tackling monster Darius Leonard, the Colts shored up their run defense this season by trading a first-rounder for DeForest Buckner but he and former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (who’s having a bounceback year) are the only players on this defense drafted in the first round.
Indy’s run defense held the NFL’s third-leading rusher, Dalvin Cook, to 63 yards on 14 carries. Perhaps much of that can be attributed to the Vikings trailing by multiple scores for much of the game, but they also had fewer than 100 yards passing. They embarrassed the Jets and recorded three more takeaways, matching their total from the week before and giving them their second-ranking (tie) sixth takeaway.
What is so impressive about what the Colts do is they generate most of their pressure with just the front four. Indianapolis ranks second in pressure rate, third in hurry rate, and is seventh in sacks despite being 31st in blitz percentage. They’re also just 15th in Pass Rush Win Rate; highlighting just how well they cover.
Chicago’s newfound advantage is their offensive line. Seemingly revitalized by the arrivals of offensive line coach Juan Castillo and guard Germain Ifedi, the Bears boast one of the four lines ranked in the top-10 in both Pass Block Win Rate (fourth) and Run Block Win Rate (sixth). No team the Colts have faced comes close which highlights a bigger issue for them we’ll address in a bit. Foles and David Montgomery could be in for big days if the blocking holds true.
Mo Alie-Cox has emerged as a weapon for Indianapolis and right in the nick of time. The Colts have lost numerous pass-catchers and starting running back Marlon Mack for varying amounts of time. Tight ends have been a sore spot for the Bears defense so far this season so look for Rivers to continue targeting him (and Jack Doyle) as the Bears corners have been solid but the linebackers (namely Danny Trevathan) have struggled in coverage.
Foles is the biggest x-factor in this contest. For the past two years the narrative on the Bears has been they are “competent quarterback play away from being a contender”. The former Eagle and Jaguar is no world-beater on his own but he can certainly unlock this offense’s true potential. As his former offensive coordinator Frank Reich said, “He’s a big-time passer; this guy, he just has this knack for making big plays like few I’ve ever seen, and then he has this knack for coming up big in big moments. In the biggest moments, that’s usually when he’s at his best. Hopefully, Foles, who credits Reich with figuring him out as a player, proves his former coach to be right.
All the handwringing about the Bears record is being overblown. Sure, their opponents have only one win compared to eight losses among them. For the record, the Colts opponents have the exact same record but no one says “boo”. Chicago has also had to come back or hold off a rally in each contest. Detroit was supposed to be a playoff team this season and everyone thought Atlanta would use last week as a “get right” game. Are their victories over the Jets and Vikings impressive? What about the loss to the Jaguars in the opener?
Bears Can Ace Stiffest Test
Sunday will feature all sorts of reunions. From Reich and Foles to Trey Burton’s return to Soldier Field, though the latter won’t be playing. More than that, it presents an opportunity for both teams to further solidify themselves in the NFL hierarchy. Consider all the predictions on how these teams (and the opponents they’ve faced) would perform. Indy might be doing what most expected despite the injuries, but Chicago quite possibly completed their formula for success.
This is a game the Bears can and probably should win. Doing so in a convincing fashion would validate Matt Nagy’s decision to bench Mitchell Trubisky for Foles, a decision that likely saved his and Pace’s jobs long-term. But more importantly, it would be a statement game before they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday. Again, this is a game the Bears can and should win.
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