Admittedly, it wasn’t fairly. The Chicago Bears’ 16-13 escape act in opposition to the stumbling Carolina Panthers gained’t quickly be submitted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was an unsightly sport, low on big-play splashes. But for a last-place staff seeking to discover its profitable formulation in shut video games, the Bears left Soldier Field on Thursday evening with comprehensible satisfaction.
“For us in this locker room and with everything we’ve been going through all year, we really needed this,” working again D’Onta Foreman mentioned. “It means a lot. We’ve been in a lot of close games where one play, two plays didn’t go our way. The way we finished tonight was great.”
With seven video games remaining, the 3-7 Bears are intent on creating some type of significant momentum. They should compile much more convincing proof over the following two months to ascertain themselves as a staff on the rise.
The Bears should proceed profitable video games they’re speculated to whereas additionally turning into extra aggressive and profitable in opposition to higher-quality groups and within the division. And their subsequent sport will come in opposition to a top quality Detroit Lions staff that leads the NFC North.
So what actually issues for these Bears down the stretch? With a big-picture focus, how can this group proceed to enhance in ways in which matter past 2023?
At the shut of Week 10, listed here are 5 urgent questions.
1. What’s subsequent for Justin Fields?
Step 1: Get again on the sector.
Fields took his final snap on Oct. 15, when he dislocated his proper thumb in opposition to the Minnesota Vikings. He has missed the final 4 video games.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus has continued to say that Fields can be again because the beginning quarterback each time he’s wholesome. Yet there was a scarcity of readability on what ultimate hurdle(s) Fields must clear to achieve that state.
On Wednesday, Eberflus steered round questions on what the staff’s medical workers has communicated as to why Fields has but to be cleared.
On Friday, Eberflus was requested immediately if, pardon the pun, Fields had given his thumbs-up approval with regard to his private readiness to return to sport motion.
“All the guys are feeling in a good spot right now who are injured,” Eberflus mentioned. “Again, I have no other update for you beyond that.”
If Fields returns in Week 11 at Ford Field in opposition to the Detroit Lions, he can be 35 days faraway from his final sport motion, presumably the longest in-season stretch of his life wherein he has been unable to play. Will there be some inevitable rust and timing points for him to work by means of? Of course. But the clock is also ticking for Fields to place his defining touches on a 2023 season that has been tough to attract strong conclusions from.
In flashes, Fields has been good, teasing the lots with glimpses of high-level potential. But his season up to now additionally has been largely outlined by inconsistency and harm interruption.
Last week, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was requested the place particularly he’ll need to see enchancment from Fields when the quarterback returns. “To say there’s a target, that makes it very specific,” Getsy mentioned. “I don’t think it’s that. It’s continued growth. (He needs to) continue to improve on his overall game — on every aspect of it. The run game, the protection game and the pass game.”
Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko was slightly extra particular. “We had a couple games there we started to find ourselves on offense,” Janocko mentioned. “(Now let’s) just get back to that momentum — back to playing smart, accurate, intelligent football. And then let’s go get some wins. That’s really the big thing.”
2. OK, however what’s actually subsequent for Justin Fields?
The man who issues most within the big-picture analysis — basic supervisor Ryan Poles — has weighty winter choices forward on whether or not to maintain his present QB1 as a part of the plans for 2024 and past or pivot with a probable top-three draft choose. (In what is taken into account a long-shot state of affairs, the Bears might decide to do each.)
By early May, Poles should resolve whether or not to train the fifth-year possibility on Fields’ rookie contract, which might be a completely assured monetary dedication north of $24 million for the 2025 season. That, after all, would lock the quarterback in because the presumed Week 1 starter for 2024.
To this level, Fields hasn’t proven almost sufficient to earn that degree of belief from Poles and the Bears. But if he is ready to begin the ultimate seven video games, he would have important management in reshaping and redefining how he’s assessed.
Through his first six begins this season, Fields was nonetheless taking manner too many sacks with a regarding 12.9% sack price. He has proven continued deficiencies together with his area imaginative and prescient and talent to course of and browse defenses rapidly.
Fields hasn’t exhibited a fourth-quarter clutch gene but both.
Internally, the Bears are also ready and hoping for the breakthrough when Fields can develop into a way more harmful off-script passer.
This newest stretch of harm inactivity has elevated Fields’ whole of missed begins to 11. By comparability, within the 44 video games the Bears have performed since drafting him, he has been the beginning quarterback for simply six victories.
These are all issues the higher-ups at Halas Hall should think about.
By the identical token, additionally they should course of Fields’ brightest moments with correct perspective. In Week 4, Fields threw for a career-high 335 yards and 4 touchdowns in opposition to the Denver Broncos. Four nights later, he had 282 passing yards and 4 extra TD tosses on the Thursday evening stage in a blowout win in opposition to the Washington Commanders.
Performances like these have to develop into extra common occurrences by means of November, December and January if Fields is to sink his claws into the Bears’ franchise quarterback position. As Eberflus so typically likes to say, “We’ll see where it goes.”
3. Speaking of Eberflus, what ought to be on the middle of his efficiency evaluation at season’s finish?
Only Poles and staff President Kevin Warren can shed significant mild on how they’ll conduct their evaluation of the coach. And, with a whole lot of soccer nonetheless left, it is going to be attention-grabbing to see whether or not the Bears can expertise a second-half surge that modifications the dialog.
Right now, although, the very fact Eberflus’ job safety has been a significant subject since mid-September is regarding. In the Super Bowl period, just one Bears coach hasn’t made it to a 3rd season — Marc Trestman.
Leaguewide, nonetheless, the fast reboot has been way more frequent. Over the final 30 years, 57 coaches haven’t made it to a 3rd season, together with 15 who’ve made fast exits from both the Browns or Raiders.
Working in opposition to Eberflus? The Bears’ 0-4 begin this fall adopted an 0-10 end to his first season. His .222 profitable share by means of 27 video games is the worst of any Bears coach ever.
The abrupt and odd Week 3 resignation of Eberflus’ hand-picked defensive coordinator, Alan Williams, stands as a stain on the coach’s resume. So, too, was the firing of working backs coach David Walker this month for conduct that didn’t meet the group’s requirements.
On the sector, Eberflus’ HITS precept hasn’t borne fruit as marketed both. Most notably, with Eberflus preaching from his first day on the job that his protection can be fanatical in its efforts to supply takeaways, the Bears have gone 11 video games below his watch with out one and 5 others with just one.
After being shut out in that division Thursday evening, the Bears’ 27-game takeaway whole below Eberflus stands at 32. By comparability, Lovie Smith’s groups averaged 34 takeaways over his 9 seasons with the franchise.
The Bears even have faltered persistently in shut video games, with Thursday’s victory enhancing them to simply 2-10 below Eberflus in one-score affairs.
At some level, Warren and Poles may need to compile their checklist of younger, building-block gamers who’ve proven important progress below the developmental steerage of Eberflus and his workers. That ought to issue into the discussions as effectively.
Two weeks in the past, within the midst of one other chaotic week at Halas Hall, Poles provided an enthusiastic public endorsement of Eberflus, lauding him as an energizing chief who has been protecting a struggling staff united and centered by means of important turbulence.
“What I see every day, when I see him address the team and when I see his approach through adversity, it is stable, man,” Poles mentioned. “I know in the outside world it doesn’t look like that. And I know it looks like we’re far away. But this dude comes in every day and just keeps chipping away.”
Poles can be requested for one more — and extra significant — evaluation eight weeks from now.
4. Has the Bears protection made a big breakthrough?
Since the staff’s 0-4 begin, the protection has been on a notable climb, permitting a median of 284.8 yards and 17.5 factors per sport. (Touchdowns allowed by the offense and particular groups aren’t included in these calculations.)
Compared in opposition to those self same classes (400.9 ypg, 29.9 ppg) from the staff’s two-season, 14-game skid, simple progress has been made.
Now, with go rusher Montez Sweat on board and center linebacker Tremaine Edmunds doubtlessly getting back from a knee harm in Week 11, the protection can be as loaded and near full energy health-wise because it has been since coaching camp opened, simply in time for the stretch run of the season.
All of these issues left veteran security Eddie Jackson excited after Thursday’s win.
“Let’s see what our true potential is,” Jackson mentioned. “We’re different when everybody is out there together. There’s a different level of energy, a different level of playmaking. When we get everybody back, we’re going to see.”
In the “stats that really matter” division, although, the Bears protection continues to be lagging. As the one staff within the league to play 10 video games up to now — 14 groups have solely performed eight — the Bears nonetheless rank final in sacks with 13, even after a three-sack evening in opposition to Bryce Young on Thursday.
The Bears are also tied for seventeenth in interceptions (six) and twenty seventh in fumble recoveries (three).
Still, they rank fourth in speeding protection and have held opponents to a 32.8% third-down conversion price during the last 5 video games.
There are particular indicators the protection is transferring in the appropriate route. And, among the many gamers, there’s a honest feeling their greatest is but to return. “Everybody knows how it feels when you win,” Jackson mentioned. “Right now, we got us a little momentum. Now it’s time to go on a run.”
5. Other than Fields and Eberflus, who has essentially the most to show down the stretch?
The most evident reply is cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who has seven video games left on his rookie contract and has vocalized a) his objective to be acknowledged as an All-Pro this season; and b) his need to get a brand new deal from the Bears or some other NFL staff that rewards him as among the best defensive gamers within the sport.
Johnson by no means runs from the stakes and has his eyes on ending his fourth season sturdy.
Receiver Darnell Mooney, a fellow member of the Bears’ 2020 draft class, is in the same state of affairs and wish to stack far more manufacturing on what has up to now been modest output this season: 22 catches, 321 yards, one touchdowns.
Sweat already has his long-term safety through the four-year, $98 million extension he signed with the Bears 4 days after becoming a member of the staff. But Sweat, who was credited with three quarterback hits Thursday, has to proceed establishing himself because the engine of the Bears go rush, exhibiting the flexibility to be an every-week influence playmaker for the staff that has proven its perception in him.
Offensive lineman Teven Jenkins has continued to return on since coming off injured reserve in October and might put himself into the extension queue if he is ready to keep wholesome by means of the tip of the season whereas nonetheless enjoying at a excessive degree.
In the teaching ranks, Getsy’s capacity to information the offense and create a noticeable manufacturing uptick can be watched intently as effectively.
Across all fronts, the idea at Halas Hall is that the bottom of the staff’s lows from the previous 14 months are within the rearview mirror. And even with a playoff push extremely unlikely, there’s so much left for this group to play for.