Grading the Bears: Success Is the Statement

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The Bears have won two straight, three out of four and this time did it against a good team but the real statement they made was progress and not accomplishment.

So much of the time teams look for statement victories.

They’re now the powers in the division, or they’re now the powers in the conference, or they’re now the Super bowl favorites.

Reporters in the locker room Sunday kept asking the Bears if this had been a statement and some players ran with that to a small degree, while others wanted nothing to do with low-hanging fruit for journalists.

The Bears did, indeed, make their statement win on Sunday, 28-13 over the Detroit Lions and didn’t really need to brag about it.

The statement they made came on a much more subdued level than grandiose cries of superiority.

They said they know how to lose a lead, then strike back and hold on to win against a good team. They can counterpunch and play against a good team. It was very simple.

“Our guys did a good job of coming through in the fourth quarter and finishing off the second half,” coach Matt Eberflus said.

It was nothing more than this, although this was quite a big step in and of itself.

They did do it against the Minnesota Vikings, who no longer seem to have an offense — they win games 3-0 and lose 12-10 in the modern NFL. Hint: Bet the under.

While the Lions look stuck in between gears at the moment, there’s no doubt they have a strong team and are heading for the playoffs. The Bears have not been a team capable of beating anyone in successive weeks, and until very recently someone in their own division. To do it in successive weeks while playing improved defense every week since Montez Sweat arrived is their statement.

After a 2021 disaster under Matt Nagy, the start of the rebuild under Eberflus and gutting the roster, it’s quite a loud enough statement for this point in this season.

“It’s not all rose-colored glasses because you won the game,” Eberflus said, keeping things in better perspective than conclusion jumpers in the media. “You’ve got to learn from this game and get better.”

Here are the grades for a better Bears team with plenty still to improve heading into a game at Cleveland when their offense will be badly overmatched.

Their lack of yardage from running backs remains a concern. They had only 64, but Justin Fields’ scrambling supplies the mortar between the bricks. They need better conventional rushing, and especially more than 8 yards from Khalil Herbert. Attempts to get Fields yards on designed running plays met with huge resistance and the Bears QB even pointed this out afterward. They did manage to trick the Lions for 16 yards and a TD run by DJ Moore, but there was no fooling anyone on the fourth-and-1 stunt they pulled with Moore. This was a bad play call and a bad design because it was moving sideways and even backward when only a yard was necessary. We’ve seen that type of play fail in short yardage before several times when Mitchell Trubisky was quarterback and they didn’t need to borrow a page from that era.

Targeting DJ Moore in the first half zero times should normally earn an automatic “F” but Justin Fields did find three other receivers at over 20 yards a completion then, before they found ways to get the ball to others including Moore in the second half. Even Velus Jones Jr. caught one then. A couple missed opportunities to Darnell Mooney were both the fault of Mooney and of Fields and probably the only real bad marks against in this game. Fields threw for 62 more yards than Jared Goff and did it with two less interceptions. This is another sign of progress. The sacks they gave up, with one exception, could be blamed on Fields holding the ball a long time but remember, too, his rushing yards on scrambles was invaluable and actually were more the result of the passing game than a rushing attempt.

The 140 rushing yards allowed will be an open invitation to Cleveland and is the most they’ve given up on the ground since their loss to Kansas City in Week 3, but it also served to expose the Lions didn’t have the patience to stick with the run when the Bears were focusing on staying back and playing strong pass defense. The Bears defense also shut down that run to start the third quarter and this is to their credit. They allowed 34 second-half rushing yards. Jaquan Brisker was playing like a linebacker in the running game and his 17 tackles on the day said as much about his run support as ability to play effective zone coverage.

Pass rush complemented coverage and the Bears couldn’t ask for more against a strong passing team. Montez Sweat, Justin Jones and the rush had nine quarterback hits to go with four sacks. Tremaine Edmunds and Jaylon Johnson had interceptions and the secondary allowed only two completions longer than 13 yards. The 1-of-5 performance on fourth downs by the Lions said a lot about their frustration at trying to beat the Bears secondary. This was a pass coverage performance like Eberflus talked about making since he arrived in Chicago.

A huge 31-yard punt return by Trent Taylor and four returns for 56 yards said his blockers did their jobs, as well. Velus Jones Jr. made an aggressive 28-yard return to start the game and Cairo Santos not only made his two field goal tries but also had six touchbacks on a cold day more suited to returning the ball. The only flaws on this day were the blocked extra point but they benefited from a missed PAT themselves, and a low punt by Trenton Gill in the third quarter but Josh Blackwell cleaned it up with a spectacular open-field hit on the return for the tackle.

Luke Getsy’s creativity on a few plays complemented an overall smart game plan which started well with a 69-yard opening TD drive. Offensive line coach Chris Morgan predicted the trick play for Moore’s 16-yard TD run would result in a score and was right. Better yet, they came out of the locker room moving the ball in the second half with good adjustments to open up the passing game. The only poor decision was the fourth-and-1 pitch play to DJ Moore. The play was designed as a fake tush-push and toss. Whenever the Bears get tricky on fourth down and short it only says they lack confidence in their own ability to block it. They need to be forward, go forward, attack on fourth-and-1 and don’t give defenders chances to do the attacking. Or at least a slanting play. Going backwards with so many defenders in close is not going to work. Eberflus’ idea of rush and cover sure looks much better when there is rush from Sweat and Co. Even Yannick Ngakoue shows signs in recent games of getting home consistently and Justin Jones had his first game with more than one .

sThe only thing that looked better at Soldier Field Sunday than the Bears was the grass, and no matter how bad the last 1 1/2 seasons were the Bears never looked as bad as that grass had always been in past Decembers.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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