7 Keys to Victory in Chicago Bears' Week 3 Matchup
There isn't a magic elixir to fix the Chicago Bears.
Chicago already sits in an 0-2 hole and has once again found itself barraged with injuries. An upbeat, though cautious offseason of rebuilding and roster overhaul provided optimism for the season, but those vibes have turned sour already.
It's hard to blame anyone souring on the situation, as most wouldn't have predicted it would get so bad so fast. The Bears turned a few heads by sticking with the Atlanta Falcons in a 23-17 Week 1 loss, then turned around and outright combusted in embarrassing fashion, losing 29-7 on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team playing in its first game of the season.
Chicago's defense has done what it can. But running the ball, a strength carried over from last year's miserable showing, hasn't happened despite what looked like an upgrade under center.
Call it a concoction skewing the outlook ahead of Chicago's Week 3 contest, which features a visit from the powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers. Without trying to think too far ahead to a Week 4 trip to visit the Green Bay Packers, let's take a look at seven key points for the Bears to follow if they want to avoid 0-3.
Get Kyle Long Back
It sounds so simple, right?
Maybe, but the ripple effect of not having Kyle Long on the field has been eye-poppingly apparent over the course of the last two games.
With Long on the shelf and after losing quality backup Eric Kush to a season-ending injury this preseason, not to mention Tom Compton dealing with an injury, the Bears have had to shift Cody Whitehair to guard and give Hroniss Grasu a run at center.
Whitehair, as fans will remember, was the breakout rookie center from a year ago after Grasu went down. Now he's technically playing out of position, and the results speak for themselves—Chicago rushed for 20 yards on 16 carries in Week 2, good for a 1.3 per-carry average.
If Long can't go against the Steelers, an upstart visiting defense has the ability to once again limit the Bears to similar numbers.
Force Pittsburgh to the Air
Encouraging Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball often against a new-look secondary is like playing with fire.
Still, if the Bears excel in one area right now, it is limiting opposing rushers. An underrated front seven held the Falcons to 2.8 yards per carry in Week 1 and followed up in Week 2 with the Buccaneers averaging 3.4.
This is one of the silver linings for the Bears heading into Sunday considering the Steelers have received a somewhat uncanny performance from MVP contender Le'Veon Bell so far. Through two games, he has only mustered 119 yards on 37 carries, good for a 3.2 per-carry average. He's also only caught seven passes for 19 yards.
Should the Bears front seven manage to keep Bell in check at a time when it feels like he is due for a breakout game, Leonard Floyd and the edge rushers will get the green light to pin their ears back and get after Big Ben.
On the road under pressure, Floyd's defense might be able to force Big Ben into a mistake or two that either produces points outright or puts a struggling Bears offense right into scoring position. Letting Bell grind out the clock on chunk plays will put this game out of reach in a hurry.
Feature the Tight Ends
Where are the tight ends?
With Cameron Meredith out for the year, veteran tight end Zach Miller is the best pass-catching option on the team. He's received 15 targets, second on the team, which he has only been able to turn into 10 catches for 81 yards.
But the problems here extend beyond Miller. The Bears spent cash on free-agent add Dion Sims both because he is one of the league's better blockers at the position and because he has improved as a receiver over the years.
Don't forget the team spending a second-round pick on Adam Shaheen this offseason, either. According to Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic, Shaheen only played five snaps.
When the Bears are as devastated as they are at wideout, the coaches need to get the best targets on the field, such as big-bodied guys like Miller and Shaheen to help space the offense and get a struggling quarterback in a rhythm.
Against Pittsburgh, there is zero excuse for running backs yet again having more targets than tight ends considering it is one of the roster's deepest spots.
Get Creative with the Running Backs
Which isn't to say the Bears should ignore those running backs.
Howard, behind a struggling offensive line, hasn't looked anything close to his rookie form. To make matters worse, he left the game against Tampa Bay with his arm in a sling, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
Reserved usage for a back nursing a shoulder issue makes some semblance of sense, though the same doesn't apply for rookie back Tarik Cohen.
After Cohen erupted in Week 1 on five carries for 66 yards and eight catches for 47 yards and a score, the 22-year-old rushed for 13 yards and took eight catches for 55 yards in Week 2.
While Cohen saw his usage rise in Week 2, the looks weren't always creative or inspiring. Bears coaches have a shifty back nicknamed The Human Joystick—it's time to draw up special looks and keep Pittsburgh's defense off balance with screens, quick hits, misdirections, lining him up at wideout, whatever it takes.
Chicago also can't afford to fall into the trap of becoming predictable, where a defense knows it's a rush with Howard on the field—mix it up, try to work around a struggling line and help along a depleted offense.
Establish a Balance
Along those same lines, the Bears need to strike a balance. Anything else plays into the hands of the opponent given the struggles of the line and the limited options available to quarterback Mike Glennon.
The Bears didn't back up a dump truck with $45 million in it to Glennon's house so he'd throw as many times per game as Aaron Rodgers. They brought him in to manage games and take the heat of a fanbase predictably wanting to see second-overall pick Mitchell Trubisky.
Bears coaches haven't helped Glennon at all in this pursuit. In Week 1, Glennon attempted 40 passes while the team rushed 19 times. The following week, on the road, Glennon slung it 45 times compared to 16 rushes.
Game flow will play a part here, of course. But this was a problem last year as well while the Bears started Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. There is little reason it should happen now given the rash of injuries suffered by wideouts, the poor state of the line and the two talented backs behind the quarterback.
The Minnesota Vikings tried this in Week 2 against Pittsburgh with 38 passes and 20 rushes and were rewarded with a 26-9 whipping. The Cleveland Browns in Week 1, though, went for 30 passes and 25 rushes and lost 21-18.
Chicago's strength rests on the ground, so it's time to feature it more.
Bend, Don't Break
An 88-yard play to a little-known tight end in Week 1 broke the back of the Bears against the Falcons.
Given the fact the Bears didn't score until 1:43 left in the final frame of the 29-7 loss to Tampa Bay, defensive lapses there didn't matter.
Still, Chicago can't afford to give up the big play. Big Ben hit Martavis Bryant for a 27-yard score to put the game at 7-0 and never looked back against the Vikings in Week 2. Gains of 51 and 26 yards made up a big chunk of his 243 passing yards. It was the same story against the Browns in Week 1, where 50, 19, 10 and 14 of his 263 yards came on single big plays.
Safety was one of Chicago's biggest focal points of the rebuild this offseason for a reason. The big plays the Bears have surrendered so far seemed like gainers allowed by the bygones of a year ago, not the new faces this season.
At home, big plays will spoil any chance the Bears have. The defense's back end needs to close the wound before 0-2 turns into an outright disaster of a season.
Pull the Plug on Glennon If Necessary
Is it really this time already?
One has to think it is if the Bears want to win games this season. Glennon has played uninspired ball so far, even if head coach John Fox said it is "really hard to evaluate somebody" after two games, according to the Daily Herald's Bob LeGere.
Granted, Fox also had this to say about when Trubisky might be ready to start, according to CBS 2's Zach Zaidman: "I don't know that anybody has a crystal ball as to when that is."
There is quite the interesting dynamic going on here:
- Throwing Trubisky to the wolves given the current state of the team might not do him any favors.
- Given the current state of the team, there isn't going to be a good time to get him in a game.
The Bears reside in a terrible spot. Against the Steelers, if Glennon looks miserable at home in a close game, why not yank him and let Trubisky get some run? At the least, it sends a message to the locker room that jobs aren't assured, if not provides a jolt and an uptick in performance.
Trubisky, rookie status aside, will keep the fanbase engaged and he'll get to learn on the fly. His mobility and bigger arm mean new dynamics for the offense, even if they come with the predictable rookie mistakes.
If Glennon struggles as he has over the first two weeks, Trubisky might provide a spark. As the entire theme of this one suggests, though, the biggest key of all is the coaching staff embracing new approaches and ideas.