The Chicago Bears are Trying to Avoid a Skid but Tom Brady Never Forgets

Bears avoid skid

The Chicago Bears are in very real danger of experiencing their first skid of the still-young NFL season. That might come as a surprise, considering the kind of discourse that has surrounded this team. But they’ve managed to win two straight before suffering back-to-back losses. That last part could change this Sunday.

Tom Brady and the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers await them for a road battle that figures to be a harsh landing following the 24-14 dispiriting loss to the Green Bay Packers.

It’s not like Brady needs any more motivation. But the last time the future Hall of Famer saw the Bears was in Week 5 of last season for a game Chicago won 20-19 and Brady (admittedly) forgot what down it was.

Chicago Bears Fighting Off Skid, Tom Brady’s Ire in Week 7

Oh, Brady Remembers

That game a year ago is most remembered for what we’ll call ‘The Remembering’. But the story heading in was how banged up the Buccaneers were. They were without wide receiver Chris Godwin and Mike Evans was hobbled by an ankle injury.

Antonio Brown, who trails Evans for the team lead by two receiving yards, wasn’t even on the team yet.

This week, Brady latched onto the troll job done by Green Bay quarterback and Bears killer, Aaron Rodgers. The latter said, after running in the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown, that he “owned” the Bears his “whole *expletive* life”. The Bucs and former New England Patriots quarterback took time to congratulate him for it.

The Bears defense is tied with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings for the league lead in sacks. There is one major difference between the two, though. 

Minnesota leads the league with a 32.1 percent pressure rate. Chicago is 27th.

Some of that can be attributed to tired legs late in games where they’ve been on the field longer. They are still eighth in scoring defense. But their low-pressure rate has been an issue for the last two years now.

They were 22nd last season and have interestingly only once been in the top-10 in the category, in 2019 when they finished eighth. They finished 12th in 2018.

Tampa Bay is third in points per game, seventh in scoring percentage, and eight in plays per drive. Brady himself leads the league in passing yards and is second with 17 touchdowns to Patrick Mahome’s 18, but also has five fewer interceptions. He has only been sacked 10 times and the Bucs are first in offense DVOA.

Very Little Fight

The Bears are 28th in scoring percentage,  29th in plays per drive, 30th in points per game, and 32nd in total yards on offense. Despite the numerous accounts of Justin Fields’ potential and the flashes we’ve seen on the field, he isn’t ready just yet to carry this squad as currently constructed.

Fields has completed just 53.5 percent of his passes for 562 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks in his four starts. He’s also run 15 times for 68 yards. Perhaps his best trait is he hasn’t turned the ball over.

But he leads all passers to start a game with a 29.5 bad throw percentage.

His line hasn’t been as bad as in the shellacking against the Browns that accounted for nine of his 18 sacks taken. But he has been pressured at the sixth-highest rate among quarterbacks with more than two starts.

How much of that is on Fields, who has been prone to holding onto the ball in search of the big play since his days at Ohio State?

Part of the reason is his receivers are failing to gain separation consistently. Allen Robinson is currently 17th among wide receivers in average cushion. But he is 82nd at the position in average separation and just 1.7 yards per play which puts him dead last on Next Gen Stats’ list.

Darnell Mooney has fared better in that regard, averaging 7.6 yards of cushion per play, good enough for sixth and 2.8 yards of separation. But his routes often take too long to develop behind porous protection.

They face a Bucs unit ranked 16th in DVOA and scoring defense. But also one that is fifth in interceptions, ninth in total yards allowed, and tops against the run.

Plan of Attack

Head coach Matt Nagy has mentioned teams have (already) gotten wise to what they want to do with Fields at this point. He said it after the Browns game. That puts the impetus on the coaches (where it honestly always is) to scheme receivers open creating easy throws for Fields.

So far, Fields has only attempted five passes(out of 99 total attempts) for 40 yards on RPOs. The Bears have 45 yards totals on those types of plays. For comparison, Ben Roethlisberger has nine such attempts. Perhaps run a few more, cutting down the amount of information he has to process. He has looked robotic at times going through progressions, though he does go through them.

Fields has also only attempted 26 passes from play-action — far too low a figure for a team with limited explosiveness. Again, for comparison’s sake, Brady has 51.

The Bears have limited Fields’ exposure. But that strategy proved to have a short shelf-life. They will have to open things up to remain competitive. By not running the kinds of plays that create easy throws, they are only compounding the receivers’ inability to separate and their ineffectiveness at getting them open.

That’s why talk of Nagy staying and Ryan Pace being out as general manager has reversed in the latter’s favor.

There is still far too much of the season left to make those kinds of determinations.

That becomes less so the case with each week and every loss. The Packers game was like little brother versus big brother with the Bears taking on the (all-too-familiar) role of the former.

This week figures to be more akin to your bully’s bully remembering that time he tripped and fell into your fist.

Bears Trying to Avoid Skid vs Brady

Brady could be without Brown but might also get Rob Gronkowski back for this contest. The Bears best hope might be that Khalil Mack can make the Bucs quarterback forget what down it is once or twice in this one.

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