Regardless of where you stand, the Chicago Bears have a pretty substantial opportunity ahead of them when they take on the Minnesota Vikings this week. It’s actually multi-tiered. They can continue their push to make the playoffs, hurt a divisional opponent’s chances of doing the same, and get revenge for the loss they took at home to these same Vikings in Week 10.
Big Opportunity for Chicago Bears in Week 15
Addition By Subtraction
Just before their bye, the Bears saw their losing streak reached four games. They fell at home to the Vikings 19-13 for the first time since 2017. Nick Foles got injured in that game that was tied entering the fourth quarter. It was also Bill Lazor’s first game calling plays which obviously didn’t go so well. Full disclosure: it was the best thing that could happen to Chicago.
In Foles’ seven starts, the Bears averaged less than 17 points per game. In five of Mitchell Trubisky’s six starts, they’ve averaged 27 points per. The other Trubisky start was the Atlanta game where he got benched and Foles rallied them back. Chicago, which is ranked 25th in scoring on the season, is sixth over the last three weeks. We don’t have to go into their individual numbers, Trubisky has outplayed Foles by far this season. So much so that many on the outside questioned the decision. This even as Trubisky was injured and subsequently unavailable for several weeks.
We have to acknowledge the competition level each has played. Trubisky has had the decidedly easier path, facing, on average, the 20th-ranked team in total DVOA, per Football Outsiders. The best team he faced was the Green Bay Packers in Week 12. The best defense was that of the Giants which is 17th in defense DVOA. Foles faced the eighth-best team on average, faced three of the top five teams in DVOA including the top two, and four of the top six defenses in DVOA. Again, the Atlanta game was left out.
A Short Memory
Justin Jefferson had himself a game the last time these teams faced off. The outstanding rookie caught eight passes (on 10 targets) for 135 yards as Kirk Cousins and the Vikings took advantage of Jaylon Johnson repeatedly to the tune of six catches on nine targets for 102 yards. But it was Buster Skrine who allowed a perfect all four passes thrown at him to be completed including two for touchdowns.
Skrine has already allowed more touchdowns (five) this season than he did all of last year. Johnson is a rookie and has had at least one rookie-level mistake in every game; some being more costly than others. Both are in danger of missing this game. Skrine with a concussion that already cost him last week; Johnson with a shoulder injury sustained in that game. The latter’s injury is of more concern, not because of the type of injury but because shoulder injuries plagued him in college and the pre-draft process.
Missing both would be a blow, but given how Skrine has played especially of late, losing Johnson is by far the bigger blow. The Bears did a pretty good job, as usual holding Dalvin Cook to 96 yards but just 3.2 yards per tote. Adam Thielen was also largely nullified but he did have a touchdown overturned on review in the last meeting.
The Glow Up
Two of the best sights to see over this “explosion” from the Bears offense have been second-year running back David Montgomery and rookie tight end Cole Kmet. Both are expected to be staples of this offense for years to come but have been dogged by inconsistency. Mostly it has been the coaching staff being non-committal to the run and bringing Kmet along slowly at a position notoriously tough for rookies. Opportunity is the greatest motivator.
Montgomery, who missed the Week 10 matchup, has returned from injury as a more decisive runner and it is showing in the stat sheet. He is fifth in rushing yards over game over the last four weeks with 96 yards per game. In the last three games, Montgomery has 288 yards and three touchdowns on the ground with a 7.38 yard-per-carry average. He’s also added 121 yards and another score through the air on 12 catches. But the best rushing defense he’s faced in that time is the Packers 20th-ranked unit.
Kmet has been the source of many Bears fans’ ire since draft day. Taken ahead of safety Antoine Winfield Jr and Jalen Hurts, two prospects heavily linked to Chicago pre-draft, Kmet went 12 weeks without seeing more than three targets in a game. But over the last two games, he’s gotten 14 looks and has turned them into nine catches, 78 yards, and a touchdown. As with Montgomery, however, we have to take note of the competition. Detroit was missing most of their secondary and Houston is among the worst at covering tight ends.
Huge Opportunity Ahead of Bears
Matt Nagy has openly talked about trying to make the playoffs, a departure from past years. And the Bears, one game behind the Arizona Cardinals for the last playoff spot, can definitely keep hope alive with a win. Chicago’s playoff chances are on life support right now. Their 5-1 start is but a distant memory, almost as if from another season altogether. But their destiny is more in their control than we might realize.
It’s easy for those of us on the outside to be ready to pack it up during a tough season and prep for the next one. But coaches and players cannot operate like that. So when Nagy acknowledges speaking about making the playoffs, it isn’t worthy of a visceral reaction. It’s more on-brand coach speak. But the reality is he is right, they have a huge opportunity in front of them.
If they can keep Montgomery rolling and continue to establish Kmet in the offense, as most of us have been begging for them to do most of the season, they can indeed extend their season.
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