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Game Preview: Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons

If you thought Chicago Bears fans were all in on the team’s 2-0 start, think again. While many are not complaining that the Bears are undefeated after their first two games, it seems nobody is planning the championship parade route just yet.

Bears @ Falcons Preview – September 27, 2020 – Noon CT

Records: Chicago Bears (2-0); Atlanta Falcons (0-2)

Last Meeting: September 10, 2017, at Chicago – Falcons 23 – Bears 17

Week 2 Results: Giants 13 @ Bears 17; Falcons 39 @ Cowboys 40

Several factors are leading to the skepticism in Bears nation:

  • The quality of the Bears last two opponents: the Lions and the Giants are a combined 0-4
  • The continued inconsistency of Mitchell Trubisky: one good fourth quarter in the opener against the Lions, and one good first half against the Giants
  • Doubts about whether the Bears’ defense will ever return to top ten form

That the Bears will be taking on another winless team in the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday will probably not do much to change the perceptions by the fans if they happen to win and move to 3-0.

For Atlanta, they are coming off one of their most humiliating defeats in team history; save for their 25-point come from ahead defeat to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. The video of the Falcons special team players in last Sunday’s game against Dallas inexplicably letting the Cowboys on-side kick attempt roll past 10 yards without falling on the ball has been played on repeat this past week.

Will the Falcons be ill-tempered at kickoff on Sunday, with a chip on their shoulders? Or is this an opportunity where the Bears can kick a team while they are down (and injured)?

When the Bears Have the Ball

As mentioned, the inconsistency of Trubisky remains a problem. Three good quarters of football out of eight remain problematic for the Bears, despite the 2-0 start. His 59 percent completion percentage ranks 26th, and his passer rating of 92.7 percent puts him in the middle of the pack at 18th.

Yes, there are some drops and near misses in those numbers, but that is true for all quarterbacks across the league. Trubisky will have a chance to improve on those numbers against a Falcons defense that has surrendered nearly 40 points per game in the early going. Both Atlanta starting defensive ends Takkarist McKinley and Dante Fowler Jr. are listed as questionable for the game.

So far Chicago has committed to be more balanced on offense in 2020, and this bears out in the number of passing attempts (64) versus rushing attempts (60) through two games. Look for the Bears to continue the trend in running the football, utilizing the trio of David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Cordarrelle Patterson to pace the league’s 12th ranked rushing offense in total yards.

If ever there was a game for Allen Robinson to get untracked for the season, this would be the ideal scenario. Teams are completing an astounding 77 percent of their passes against the Falcons for a total of 744 yards through two games. The Falcons also do not have an interception to date. The Falcons secondary is also decimated, with rookie starting cornerback A.J. Terrell placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list, and starting safety Ricardo Allen out with an elbow injury.

When the Falcons Have the Ball

Where the Falcons defense giveth, the Falcons offense taketh. Atlanta comes into the game with the second-ranked passing offense with 351 yards per game, including six touchdowns in the air against only one interception. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan continues to play at a high level, currently ranked ninth in quarterback rating at 110.

The Bears secondary will be thoroughly tested Sunday afternoon, provided Atlanta All-Pro wideout Julio Jones can play. He is currently questionable with a hamstring injury. Even if he doesn’t play, the Falcons boast the league’s top receiver in Calvin Ridley, who has 239 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Look for the Falcons to test Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who has impressed in the early going, albeit against lesser caliber receivers than the Falcons present.

The Falcons rushing offense has been less than dynamic, ranked 28th in the league. Todd Gurley II is averaging only 3.34 yards-per-carry and roughly 60 yards rushing per game. The Bears rushing defense improved to 10th in the league with 213 total yards allowed. Part of that improvement was a result of the season-ending knee injury to Giants running back Saquon Barkley early in the first half. Still, this is a game where Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, and Roy Robertson-Harris need to prove they can contain the Falcons running game nonetheless.

Prediction

Atlanta is hungry for a win and will play fast and will play with an edge. Jones will play despite the hamstring injury, and Ryan and the Atlanta offense will prove too much for the Bears defense to contain. Trubisky and the Bears offense will not be able to keep pace.

Falcons 35 – Bears 24

Game Preview: New York Giants at Chicago Bears

The Bears scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in Detroit in their come-from-behind victory over the Lions. After struggling for the first three quarters, Mitchell Trubisky fired three touchdown passes in the final quarter to secure the comeback.

They’ll be facing a Giants team that battled but didn’t have enough to overcome the Steelers in their season opener this past Monday night. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw two touchdowns but also had two interceptions, including a costly red-zone pick on a Giants 19-play drive. Saquon Barkley was held to six yards on 15 carries.

PREVIEW: GIANTS @ BEARS – SEPTEMBER 20, 2020 – 12:00 PM CT

Records: New York Giants (0-1); Chicago Bears (1-0)

Last Meeting: November 24, 2019 at Chicago – Bears 19 – Giants 14

Week 1 Results: Pittsburgh 26 @ NY Giants 16; Chicago 27 @ Detroit 23

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

Everything for the Giants offense starts and ends with Barkley. As he goes, so go the Giants. Barkley has had mixed results in his two prior meetings with the Bears, gaining 125 yards on 24 carries in a 2018 Giants victory in New York, while getting held to just 59 yards on 17 carries in last year’s loss in Chicago.

A strong game by Barkley will take the pressure off of Jones to have to win the game in the air. Jones is prone to turnovers the more he puts the ball in the air.  The Giants revamped offensive line struggled against the Steelers, surrendering three sacks and producing only 29 rushing yards.

The Bears rush defense was embarrassed last week in Detroit, as 35-year-old Adrian Peterson piled up 93 yards on just 14 carries for a 6.6 yards-per-carry average. If the Bears are missing nose tackle Eddie Goldman that significantly, they will be in for a long afternoon on the lakefront if Barkley can consistently get to the second level. Bears inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan will be critical in containing Barkley.

Look for the Giants to test Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson, to see if he can contain wideout Darius Slayton, who had six catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night. Johnson acquitted himself well in his first game as a professional, including a pass breakup in the end zone to seal the victory in Detroit.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

Will the real Mitch Trubisky please stand up, please stand up. It might be fair to say last week’s game in Detroit was quintessential Trubisky: mostly ineffective for the bulk of the game, then flashing for the final quarter to throw three perfect passes for touchdowns to lead the comeback.

That performance was a microcosm of his career; some good, mostly bad. As with the Jones and the Giants, Trubisky and the Bears offense will be aided by a strong running attack. The Bears rushed for 149 yards last week against the Lions, and they will look to continue that against a suspect Giants’ front line.

The Giants will counter with standout safety Jabrill Peppers, who plays in multiple spots on the Giants defense. He will look to disrupt things for Bears tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet in an attempt to deny Trubisky of those weapons.

Former Packer linebacker and Bears tormentor Blake Martinez signed with the Giants in the off-season, and had a strong opener, leading the Giants defense with eight tackles. Giants end Leonard Williams had one of the two sacks for the team Monday night, and he will look to put pressure on the Bears offensive line and Trubisky.

PREDICTION

The Bears defense, uncharacteristically muted in the opener against the Lions, will rebound with an all-around performance, and stymie the Giants rushing and passing attack. The Bears offense will continue to lean on their improved run game, and Trubisky will have a solid but safe outing.

Bears 24 – Giants 10

Game Preview: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

In the early months of the pandemic, when many people were mocking the National Football League for its presumptuousness for holding off-season free agency and the draft, the actual start of the NFL season seemed like wishful thinking. Despite other sports rolling out their bubbles and hub cities, the NFL – the most contact sport of any of the four major North American sports – decided to forge ahead, choosing instead to focus on daily testing and enhanced training complex safety protocols and social-distancing to keep their players and team personnel safe.

Fast-forward to today, and the NFL has had very low positive Covid-19 infections among its ranks, to the surprise of many. The season formally kicked off on Thursday night between Houston and Kansas City, and aside from only about 16,000 fans in attendance due to pandemic capacity restrictions, the game itself looked the same as always.

This doesn’t mean the league is out of the woods by any means when it comes to a spike in Covid-19 infections. The league can look no further than their baseball counterparts to know that the virus has its own plans, and can wreak havoc on game schedules. But for today, and hopefully, for the season in total, football is back, and it’s under this backdrop that we present our week one Chicago Bears preview: Chicago at Detroit.

PREVIEW: BEARS @ LIONS – SEPTEMBER 13, 2020 – 12:00 pm CT

BEARS vs Lions: 2019 RECAP

11/10/19 at Chicago: Bears 20 – Lions 13

11/28/19 at Detroit: Bears 24 – Lions 20

That Chicago won both games against the Lions in 2019 is more of a testament to the team’s good fortune than it was to their overall ability and talent compared to the Lions. The Bears were able to dodge facing Matthew Stafford in either game, as his back injury the week before the November 11th match-up took him out of action for the remainder of the season. Instead, Chicago got to face such quarterback wizardry from the likes of Jeff Driskel and David Blough. Advantage: Bears.

The Detroit defense also was very forgiving, as Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continued to string together his best performances within the division against the Lions and Matt Patricia’s man coverage schemes. Something about facing the team from the Motor City seems to bring the best out of Trubisky, or the worst out of the Lions.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

After “winning” the pre-season quarterback competition over free-agent signee Nick Foles, all eyes will be on Trubisky to prove he has finally turned the corner in his star-crossed career. Trubisky’s struggles have been well-documented: inability to read defenses, leading to poor decision-making; telegraphing his targets; inaccurate throws. There have also been concerns with the quarterback’s psyche, and whether he is too fragile to handle one of the most demanding positions in all of pro sports. His comment last season about turning off the televisions at Hallas Hall didn’t help him in that regard.

Glass half-full theory says Trubisky usually does well against Detroit and will be able to continue this trend. Glass half-empty theory says Detroit has a new defensive coordinator (Cory Undlin) and revamped defensive personnel that might deploy more zone schemes to confuse the Bears quarterback. If the off-season work that Trubisky says he put in to improve his game-day performance has worked, this game will serve as exhibit A.

Improvement on offense is not in Trubisky’s hands alone, however. Bears head coach Matt Nagy will be scrutinized as much as his quarterback this season to determine if the supposed offensive guru has figured out a way to get his offensively-challenged team progressing and moving in the right direction. The starting personnel on offense, except for new tight ends and a new guard, remain the same. That means Nagy will be tasked to develop a game plan that fits with the players he has on offense, something he has not done successfully in his first two years on the job.

Receiver Allen Robinson is the Bears best weapon on offense, but he won’t be able to do it alone against the Lions. The Bears are facing a completely revamped Lions secondary that includes Desmond Trufant, third overall draft pick cornerback Jeff Okudah, and Duron Harmon. However, that might not help the Bears if they can’t get receiver production from an inconsistent Anthony Miller and an aging Ted Ginn Jr. At tight end, the Bears are hoping free agent acquisition Jimmy Graham and second-round draftee Cole Kmet can provide Trubisky with the short/medium range outlets that they have lacked during his time as a Bear. The Lions will look to linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. and safety Tracy Walker, among others, to slow down Graham and Kmet.

At running back for the Bears, David Montgomery will be available. His effectiveness will go a long way in providing the Bears with some versatility on offense. To help Trubisky, the Bears need to establish an effective running game to provide offensive balance, something that Nagy has seemed unwilling to commit to since his arrival. The Bears were 28th in run offense in 2019, while the Lions were middle of the pack in run defense at 16. Defensive tackles Danny Shelton and former Bear Nick Williams will be the men in the middle of the Lions defensive line trying to clog things up for the Bears running game.

With the exception of newcomer Germain Ifedi at RG, the Bears offensive line returns all starters from 2019. The Bears offense ranked at or near the bottom in most offensive categories last year. The offensive line owns a significant portion of that performance. The focus on this game will be Bears left tackle Charles Leno Jr. versus Lions defensive end Trey Flowers.

WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL

Stafford returns at quarterback for the Lions. He was having a very successful first half of the season before he exited 2019 with a back injury. The Lions and their fans are holding their breath that he can remain healthy for the entire 2020 campaign, because as Matthew Stafford goes, so goes the chance for any success for the Lions. That said, the last season Stafford faced the Bears and their defense was in 2018, and he only threw for two touchdowns to go along with 4 interceptions, for a passer rating of 71.4 percent. Clearly, Stafford can’t do it alone either.

The Lions will be without a grade A talent at wide receiver in Kenny Golladay, who finished 2019 with 11 touchdown catches to go along with 1,190 receiving yards. This despite only having the services of Stafford for half a season. Still, look for the Lions to test Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson early and often. At tight end, the Lions are hoping to get more from second-year starter T.J. Hockenson. Bears linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan will be tasked with containing him.

Running back has consistently been the Lions Achilles heel since Stafford came into the league, and has typically been seen as the reason the Lions have not been successful overall as a team. The Lions are hoping a combination of Kerryon Johnson, second-round pick D’Andre Swift, and former All-Pro Adrian Peterson will breathe life into a Lions non-existent running game. Look for the Lions to test Bears nose tackle Bilal Nichols, who has some big shoes to fill in the middle of the Bears defensive line, replacing Eddie Goldman, who opted out for the season.

The right side of the Lions offensive line is completely new from the unit that finished 2019 as the 11th ranked unit according to Pro Football Focus. Halapoulivaati Vaitai will start at RT, and rookie third-rounder Jonah Jackson at right guard. The Bears had two sacks against the Lions in each game in 2019, including two by Smith in the Thanksgiving day match-up. Look for the Bears and Khalil Mack to dial up the pressure on the right side of the Lions offensive line.

SPECIAL TEAMS

For the Bears, Cairo Santos replaces the injured Eddy Pineiro at placekicker to start the season. The Lions employ the normally reliable Matt Prater. At punter, the Bears Pat O’Donnell should have an initial edge over Lions rookie Jack Fox. Kicking edge to the Lions. In the return game, the Bears combination of Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen provides them with a considerable edge.

THE COACHES

Matt Nagy: 20 – 12 – 0 (.625)

Matt Patricia: 9 – 22 – 1(.297)

Bears fans have not exactly been enthralled with what they have seen from Nagy, despite his overall record in his first two years. Lions fans would take 20-12 over the last two seasons compared to the record Patricia has provided over that same period. Advantage: Bears

PREDICTION

The Bears win a typical NFC North slog against the Lions: 23 – 20

Around the Clock: So Chicago

For the first-ever Clocker Sports roundtable, the guys keep it local and talk the state of the four major sports in Chicago. From the Cubs and Sox hot start, the Bulls and Bears at crossroads, and the Blackhawks making one last push. Be sure to join us every Thursday @ 9p CST to be a part of the show!

2020 Chicago Bears NFL Draft Recap

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, the most viewed televised draft in history. 55 million over the three days. I think it’s safe to attribute that to the nation’s quarantine policies and draft being completely virtual. Though it was an interesting outcome seeing commissioner Roger Goodell call out draft picks in his man cave from in front of his big-screen to his lounging chair by the third round. Another fun aspect was seeing the draftees and their families’ reactions when their names were called of new members of club NFL.

We even had comic relief, some of the best moments was seeing 17th pick wide receiver CeeDee Lamb showing off his hand-eye coordination by snatching his cellphone back from his girlfriend. How about defensive tackle, and 14th pick, Javon Kinlaw‘s father falling off the couch when his son was selected.

Lastly, and maybe the best one, was the 29th selection, offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson‘s mom yanking his girlfriend out the camera shot, (after she appeared to resist the first request).  This was one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, teams could find solid value through all seven rounds.  Only time will tell, let us not forget 20 years ago one of the greatest players in NFL history was found in the sixth round, Tom Brady.

2020 Bears Draft Recap

Mixed Emotions on Chicago Picks

Chicago’s draft was met with an array of feelings as the team decided for their first pick to opt for drafting the best of the worst, as far as depth, in this year’s crop.  That was at the tight end position, the 43rd-overall pick Cole Kmet from Notre Dame, the 6’5″ 250-pounder is expected to come in and contribute immediately.  Kmet did have an impressive junior year campaign amassing over 500 yards receiving and six touchdowns helping Notre Dame to an 11-2 record.  Fun fact: those six touchdowns were all he had for his college career.

The team’s second selection, 50th overall, was more of a relief, picking Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson, another junior who finished with 7 career interceptions.  The one big question surrounding Johnson is not his play but his health, he played the entire season with a torn labrum.  Chicago then maneuvered to move up to the third round to grab EDGE Trevis Gipson out of Tulsa.  A solid addition to provide more edge rush depth.  Here are the rest of the new Chicago Bears as follows:

The Bears also signed undrafted free agent Ledarius Mack, younger brother of star Khalil Mack.

What to Grade Chicago’s Draft: C+

Grading the Bears 2020 draft can be debated but that’s my mark on it.  Hey at least it’s a passing grade even though it started out shaky, they brought it up though.  The immediate response was, “What are you doing??” Needs for the team are offensive line, wide receiver, and secondary; specifically safety.  The team circumvented what direction they should’ve gone (see my previous article) but recovered some.  As you’ll see, predictions were dead on as two of them went 44th & 46th.

Initially, it started out as a D, drafting a tight end to an already overcrowded position which brought the number to 10 (since down to nine) on the roster.  Not to mention signing free agents Demetrius Harris and Jimmy Graham.  With Kmet added unless the plan is to convert some of the many tight ends to offensive linemen, maybe Adam Shaheen, expect to see no more than four on the roster.

Speaking of offensive line it appears the staff is content with the unit as is and the free agents from the clearance rack they invested in.  Seeing that the offensive line wasn’t addressed until the end of the draft.  Possibly the addition of the new offensive line coach, 24-year vet Juan Castillo, will add improvement.

General manager Ryan Pace made strong moves thereafter adding substantial depth on the defensive side of the ball snatching up corner Jaylon Johnson and moving into the third round to bolster pass rush getting Trevis Gipson.  He was even able to get considerable value in the fifth at wide receiver with Darnell Mooney, fast, he will need time to develop though.

What to Expect in 2020

With the current state of the sports world, it’s hard to gauge what to expect.  Any team-related activities are virtual, there’s no timetable of when facilities will be open for players and coaches to meet.  It’s an unprecedented time in the league right now, so we all have to play it by ear.  At least the other teams in the division drafts were lackluster except for the Minnesota Vikings.

If there is a silver lining it’s the signing of Ledarius Mack, we can have the “Mack Attack” here on the defense.  This could end up being Pace’s best move of this draft.  Mack’s journey to the NFL can be compared to Vikings Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, who was drafted 30 years ago.  Talk about history repeating itself, Randle also had an older brother in the NFL, Ervin Randle.

It doesn’t stop there, the similarities of both Mack and Randle are uncanny!  Both were considered undersized at their positions at 6’1, Mack weighing 240 lbs and Randle 244 lbs.  Think of the possibilities of playing with and learning from your brother who’s a defensive player of the year and considered one of the best if not the best at his position.  We could soon be witnessing history here in the Windy City but time will tell.