We might have just witnessed the Chicago Bears most frustrating loss to the Green Bay Packers in quite some time. Yes, even more so than when Aaron Rodgers came back from being down 17 a few years ago; on one leg at that. That’s because the Bears left at least 12 points on the field when it mattered. Sunday was a clear display that what does and will continue to separate the Bears from best is the quarterback. It will haunt them through this postseason and into yet another off-season.
Bears Lose in Frustrating Fashion, Still Make Postseason
Upgrade in Class
The final score, 35-16, doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story. On the surface, it would seem this was your run of the mill comfortable win for Green Bay. But Chicago left so many points on the field that it should have ended so much closer. “Settling” is the word that best describes what the offense would have to do far too often; especially against such a quality opponent.
Chicago entered Week 17 as the highest-scoring offense in the first half over the past month. Green Bay, though, is the highest-scoring offense in the league. And far too often the Bears took three points instead of seven. They continued to cement Cairo Santos as their kicker but did not put pressure on the Packers offense.
Green Bay turned five of their eight drives into touchdowns. Had Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a pass in the endzone where he beat Duke Shelley, it would have been six. The Bears could muster just the one touchdown. This despite being in the red zone three other times, twice inside the 10-yard line. All while the game was still in reach. It came on the game’s opening drive as Chicago failed to score at least 30 points for the first time in a month.
A Different Cloth
Mitchell Trubisky (33/42, 252 yards, one interception) has played well during the Bears recent run but decision making, particularly in the red zone, is the issue that will see him in another uniform next season. On the drive right before halftime, Trubisky scrambled for six yards but could have easily picked up the first down, perhaps positively altering the play-calling.
But the killer was his decision to throw into what amounted to triple coverage while trying to force a pass (that was off target) to Allen Robinson. It almost resulted in Kevin King, who certainly made an impact otherwise, picking him off in the end zone. Trubisky has thrown 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions in the red zone this season and is 48 to eight in his career. But it’s the near misses that weigh heavily because they highlight just how bad Trubisky is at making decisions, and how that has too often led to the Bears settling for field goals or worse.
No stat illustrates this more than his time-in-the-pocket splits. Trubisky completed over 70 percent of his passes for 1069 yards with 12 touchdowns and just one pick this season when his pocket time was below 2.5 seconds. He saw bumps in his passer rating, air yards per attempt, and was only sacked twice. When it rose above 2.5 seconds, it was 54 percent completion for 734 yards, four scores, six picks, and he was sacked 15 times. The more time Trubisky has to read a play, the worse he gets. That’s counterintuitive; especially in comparison to Rodgers.
We have to remember, the defense may have been getting cut up at will (more on that in a moment). This game was still very much in the balance until deep into the fourth quarter. This with two starters in the secondary out and another in the front-seven leaving early. It could have and probably should have looked much worse. But the Bears inability to hang with the big boys in a shootout showed up again. Trubisky’s poor decision making when it matters most showed up. Again.
The Old Gray Mare
Now for the elephant in the room. Almost simultaneously, as the Bears offense had come around, the defense began to show cracks that had only appeared against top competition regularly. Poor coverage and tackling has been a theme and continued on Sunday even before Roquan Smith went out with an elbow injury. Hopefully, recovers sooner than Akiem Hicks did because the Bears will need him. Danny Trevathan and Josh Woods were directly responsible for two Green Bay touchdowns on Sunday.
We can also talk about the takeaways, or lack thereof, from this defense. Eddie Jackson had a chance to come away with an interception but failed to do so, one of at least two missed opportunities for the Bears on the day. Jackson failed to record an interception for the first time in his career and recovered just one fumble this season. If he isn’t making splash plays, his impact is minimized. That’s because tackling isn’t among his strengths despite his missing them at the lowest rate of his career in 2020.
Kyle Fuller finishes the season allowing the lowest completion percentage and fewest yards against him of at least the last three years. But he only had one interception and his one forced fumble belies the quality of tackler and hitter he is. His style of off-coverage allows too many balls to be completed underneath if he isn’t taking the ball away. Jaylon Johnson had a promising rookie campaign but his injury history is concerning. Kindle Vildor should play over Buster Skrine and Shelley (who did his best Skrine impression Sunday) come next season.
A good pass-rush can make a secondary. The Bears are among the league leaders in spending for their front seven, particularly at linebacker where they rank third. That’s thanks to Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn who accounted for about 15 percent of the Bears cap space. Most of that was Mack, who made another Pro Bowl but also only had 2.5 sacks the last eight weeks all coming over the last four. Quinn’s cap share rises significantly next season and he had all of two sacks. Defense is harder to predict from year to year than offense and the Bears are a prime example of that.
Back Door Little Joe
Despite their inability to take care of their own business, the Bears find themselves among the few. Thanks to the Arizona Cardinals collapsing the last two weeks and the NFL expanding the field, the Bears win the prize of facing the New Orleans Saints who are averaging 42.5 points per game the last two weeks. They also beat the Bears back in Week 8, though that game did go to overtime and the Bears offense wasn’t as “good” as it had been recently up until Sunday.
If the Bears find a way to steal a win (in New Orleans, mind you), they will need to clean some stuff up immediately. Be it on the pass rush or the secondary, they cannot allow Drew Brees to be perfect as a passer deep into the game. Rodgers didn’t throw an incomplete pass until deep in the second quarter. Brees’ specialty is getting the ball out quickly to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. What Aaron Jones, Davante Adams (and Valdes-Scantling) were able to do is telling.
Chicago also failed to get Robinson involved early and often. Rookies Darnell Moone (11/93) Cole Kmet (7/41) having solid outings is encouraging and needed. But your best receiver not having a catch until the third quarter seems like an issue. Or, perhaps, a sign. Robinson is headed for free agency, though reportedly wants to stay in Chicago.
David Montgomery (31 touches, 132 total yards, and a touchdown) ended up being the biggest beneficiary of all the changes this year, going back to the off-season. Who knows what happens for him (and the team) f the Bears don’t bring in Bill Lazor to help out Nick Foles. Lazor calling plays combined with turning back to Trubisky as the starter led to Montgomery crossing the 1000-yard mark for the season despite having only 472 yards through nine weeks and missing another.
From Frustrating Bears Loss to Playoffs, Boss
Look, the bottom line is Chicago’s back in the playoffs for just the second time since 2010 and the sixth time this millennium. Yes, the Bears are backing into the playoffs and will face a team they haven’t beaten since 2008 (yikes). No, they haven’t solved their quarterback situation by any means. Another frustrating Bears loss to the Packers aside, fans should still enjoy this. After all, it’s the playoffs and anything can happen.
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