In a matchup of two 0-3 teams, the Chicago Bears return home after back-to-back rough road games to host the Denver Broncos.
Both teams are coming off blowout losses.
The Bears lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 41-10 on the road. The Broncos lost to the Miami Dolphins, who set a new record for most points scored in a single game in 60 years beating Denver 70-20.
No matter which team wins this contest, they will not escape the pressure built up over their respective slow starts. It will take more than one win against a similarly struggling team to accomplish that much. But keep an eye on these four keys; they could point to who will come out on top on Sunday.
Watch These 4 Things in Bears vs. Broncos in Week 4
Russell Wilson Outplaying Narrative
There was a time when Russell Wilson was the rumored apple of the Bears’ eye. He was a ready-made, Super Bowl-winning quarterback who was seeking a new home.
Chicago made their offer, but to no avail and Wilson ended up getting a trade to Denver. But things have not gone smoothly with the Broncos firing head coach Nathaniel Hackett after one season. A season in which Wilson’s play contributed heavily to the team’s myriad issues.
This season, under former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, has also started poorly.
But Wilson’s play has not been nearly as detrimental as it was last season. That could spell trouble for a banged-up Bears secondary that will be without Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson in addition to Kyler Gordon who remains on injured reserve. An inexperienced secondary and non-existent pass rush loom large.
That was the best game I have graded on Russell Wilson since he became a Bronco.
Dude is balling despite the 0-3 start…
— Tim Jenkins (@TJenkinsElite) September 26, 2023
Chicago ranks 30th against the pass and 28th in pressure rate, per Pro Football Reference.
Wilson is completing 70.6% of his passes when kept clean and a still-efficient 66.2% when he’s not blitzed, something the Bears will be hard-pressed to do down three starters in the secondary.
The Broncos’ passer has been kept clean on more than 59% of his dropbacks this season, per Pro Football Focus.
Justin Fields Bounceback Spot
There are only four teams that have a lower pressure rate than the Bears this season, and the Broncos are one of them. Not just that, but their 10.8% rate (compared to 16.7% for the Bears) is the worst mark in the NFL through three-plus weeks. And it’s not particularly close, with the second-worst mark being 14.2% by the Las Vegas Raiders.
Wide receiver Chase Claypool said he expected a big game out of Fields this week and a clean pocket would go a long way towards that.
Fields has been kept clean on better than 52% of his dropbacks, and he has completed 65.5% of his passes in those situations. The biggest dropoff from Wilson’s play to Fields’ is how the two are handling pressure.
Wilson is completing 55.6% of his passes still to just 43.3% for Fields.
It will still be on the Bears quarterback to get the ball out in a timely fashion. But that could look a lot different this week than it has in Weeks 1-through-3.
The Bears continue to talk like a confident group. And they are beginning to get whole on offense with right guard Nate Davis set to step back into the starting lineup. He missed Week 2 and served as a backup in Week 3. It won’t help them this week, but starting left guard Teven Jenkins also looks to be on track to make his return sooner rather than later once eligible.
Backfield Carries Split
Through three weeks, starting running back Khalil Herbert has rushed for 93 yards on 23 carries. That is a 4.0 yards per carry average and the third-fewest yards of any back with at least that many totes this season.
His 52.2% success rate ranks 14th among that same group of 38 players. It could also point to a need to lean on the backfield a bit more when possible.
But there appears to be a shift in the backfield.
Rookie Roschon Johnson has rushed for 90 yards on 17 carries – a 5.3-yards-per-carry average and a 55.9% success rate. And, while it was Herbert who drew the start in Week 3, it was Johnson who received the first touch out of the two: a carry up the middle that he took for five yards.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) September 25, 2023
Herbert went on to outsnap Johnson for the second consecutive week after the latter received the lion’s share in the season opener after it got out of hand. But the disparity from Week 2 to Week 3 went from 10 to five.
If Johnson continues to prove himself, that disparity could continue to shrink and even trend back in Johnson’s favor.
Offensive and Defensive Play-Calling
It would be easy to point to one side of the ball and say they need to pick it up. But that would be as foolhardy as pointing to just one player. The real issue is that everyone needs to be better and that starts with the coaches.
This is not an opinion.
Two players – Claypool and fellow wideout DJ Moore – have either come out and said or agreed with sentiments that they are not being utilized properly. That is a charge that, again, falls on the quarterback to get the ball to his playmakers, all of whom have expressed their confidence in him.
But it also falls on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. He has to call plays that help Fields get into the type of rhythm early that will have him playing freely late.
#Bears OC Luke Getsy knows the criticism won't stop until they start showing improvement, i.e. scoring points
— Clocker Sports (@ClockerSports) September 28, 2023
History shows the Bears can keep this game close at least into halftime.
The Bears were tied or trailed by one score at halftime 11 times since the start of last season. And they have found themselves tied or trailing by one score through three scores six times. They are 2-9 and 2-4 in those games, respectively.
Even at its best, the Bears’ offense struggled to keep the pressure on opposing offenses to keep up. And the defense’s failures to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks has similarly been a recurring issue. How will interim defensive coordinator – head coach Matt Eberflus – adjust to produce the desired and needed results?