The Chicago Bears travel to Jacksonville this Sunday to take on the Jaguars. One team is still fighting for a playoff spot, while the other is in the middle of a horrid 13-game losing streak.
While Jaguars fans are certainly hoping to end the season with two more loses and secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (aka Trevor Lawrence), the players and coaches on Jacksonville’s roster are still hoping for a win.
1. The Bears are one-game behind the Arizona Cardinals for the final wild card spot. Do you think Chicago makes it to the playoffs, and if so, could the team pull off any upsets and make a run?
Jeff: The Jags certainly look like a beatable team and with the offense taking a smarter approach given the personnel in recent weeks, I think the Bears can win in Jacksonville. I don’t think the Bears have a great chance of beating the Packers (in Week 17) at full strength right now. Rodgers is playing in a smart system and has reverted to fire-breathing dragon form. If the Packers win this weekend and lock up the number one seed, they may choose to sit some of their key pieces, opening the door wider for Chicago to secure a win.
The Cardinals will likely beat the 49ers this weekend, taking it to Week 17 against the Rams. I think the Rams are a good team, but that won’t be an easy game either way. The Cardinals could very well win out and shut out the Bears regardless of what they do.
I’d put the odds that the Bears make the playoffs somewhere around 25 percent at this point. If they’re able to get into the dance, they’d travel to New Orleans, Seattle, L.A., or maybe Tampa Bay. The Bears beat the Bucs, played the Saints tough, and got their lunch handed to them against the Rams in a four-week span in the middle of the year. Add in the Seahawks and all those teams have some flaws that the Bears could take advantage of, but truthfully, they’d be a road dog in any of those scenarios. An unlikely wildcard win would win them a date in Green Bay and ah, I think the “run” would stop there. Stranger things have happened but I feel like I’ve seen that movie play too many times.
2. Former Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles took over the starting role for Chicago before getting hurt, and now Mitch Trubisky is playing fairly well. Is Foles healthy enough to play this week, and if so, should Chicago start him or keep rolling with Trubisky? Which quarterback gives the team the best chance to win?
Jeff: I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that question…
Okay, let’s start with acquiring Nick Foles. It was a dumb decision and I said so at the time. There’s no way that I thought Jacksonville deserved compensation for that contract nor did Foles deserve a new contract with Chicago, especially with other options in free agency. We know the Bears struck out on Teddy Bridgewater and they may have swung and missed on Tom Brady, but they panicked and gave up a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for the journeyman. It was a dumb mistake.
Clearly, head coach Matt Nagy wanted Foles to take the job from the start, but from reading the tea leaves, Foles didn’t fully commit to the season until late while Trubisky came in looking to prove himself. Nagy benched Trubisky in Week 3 after a bad interception but that benching was for his play in 2019 in my opinion. Foles came in and led the comeback against Atlanta, earning the starting job. He struggled against a good Colts defense, played decent football in a win against the Bucs, and led a solid win against the Panthers.
Unfortunately, starting left guard James Daniels tore a pectoral muscle against the Bucs and the offensive line started to disintegrate in front of Foles, who played poorly against mostly good defenses. There was the quote that Foles said Nagy was calling plays Foles knew wouldn’t work because the line wouldn’t give him the time and it appeared that relationship was maybe on the rocks. In a fourth-straight loss, Foles got hurt at the end of the game in his worst performance of the year against the Vikings.
During the bye week a few of things happened. Matt Nagy relinquished play-calling duties, the offensive line got healthy and shuffled in a new starting combination, and Mitchell Trubisky grabbed the starter’s role back. The offense the Bears have run in the last few weeks is significantly different from what was run under Nagy in 2018 and 2019 and during the Nick Foles games this year. This new offense features a lot more snaps from under center, outside zone runs that have allowed David Montgomery to shine, and plenty of bootlegs and play action for Trubisky to make simply reads and use his legs when he’s in trouble. That has been a successful recipe the last three weeks including two wins.
That is almost certainly way too much virtual ink to say – it doesn’t matter if Foles is healthy or not, the Bears are going to finish this season with Trubisky at the helm. Foles may have a good argument to make that his level of competition was much better and the line in front of him disintegrated, but it simply doesn’t matter. Trubisky with this offensive line with this offensive play caller and system gives the Bears offense the best chance right now.
3. What can the Jaguars try to do to limit Khalil Mack from wrecking the game for Jacksonville’s offense?
Jeff: At this point in Mack’s career, he’s the guy that consistently gets the most focus. Most teams will run their offense to the opposite side of Mack, give help with tight ends and backs and make sure they get the ball out quick. He’s been playing through some injuries this year but he’s still impacting most games despite sack numbers below the hopes of Bears fans. The hope was that adding Robert Quinn would prevent teams from focusing on Mack, which makes Quinn’s year all the more disappointing. Quinn played his best game of the year last week and Bears fans simply have to hope that the rumors of an undisclosed injury for Quinn are true and that an off-season can help the pass rusher regain form.
4. Is there a player on either side of the ball for the Bears who Jaguars fans may not know who could make an impact on Sunday?
Jeff: Rookie Darnell Mooney, fifth-rounder out of Tulane, has been a pleasant surprise this year, earning the wide receiver-two job early on the other side of Allen Robinson. He’s accumulated 46 catches for 499 yards and four scores in his rookie campaign, recording at least two grabs in every contest. He’s shown a level of polish to his game that you expect from an eight-year veteran. I’m not sure if he’s a future star, but he certainly looks like he can be a long term starter in this league.
5. What does Chicago want to do offensively, and what can a young Jacksonville defense that has been shredded week after week do to slow it down?
Jeff: Right now, the Bears offense is built out of outside zone runs with Montgomery and simple, half field reads for Trubisky including play action and boots. Trubisky has struggled in his career with identifying coverages so bluffing your coverage before the snap and changing it last second is a good idea. Now that Trubisky is back to running the ball, play more zone to prevent the chunk yardage runs that can come from playing man defense where your defenders have their backs to the QB. I would probably cheat up and dare the Bears to throw it over the top. Mooney can stretch the field, but the Bears have not been good throwing deep. I’d take my chances with a safety down in the box to help stop Montgomery and put pressure on Trubisky on the boots.
6. Score prediction?
Jeff: No thanks! I do think the Bears will take care of business and you can keep dreaming about Trevor Lawrence in Teal & Gold.