5 Takeaways: Bears’ need for ‘blue chip’ talent clear after loss to Giants
The Bears came up short in a 20-12 loss to the Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, dropping a game between two teams in the first year of organizational reboots.
Seeking a 3-1 start to the season, the Bears scuffled on both sides of the football Sunday — then punctuated their performance with a special-teams gaffe.
Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ loss in the Meadowlands.
1. ‘Blue chips’
Last December, Bears chairman George McCaskey turned to Hall of Fame former executive Bill Polian for an audit of his football team.
The architect of championship rosters, Polian was tasked with evaluating every aspect of the Bears’ football operations and determining the course McCaskey should take moving forward. As it turned out, Polian found a lack of what he has called “blue-chip” talent in Chicago. He believed the best decision moving forward was for McCaskey to hire a general manager and head coach to lead a rebuild.
The Bears’ need for greater talent was clear during Sunday’s loss to the Giants, a game that became a stalemate waiting for somebody to take over.
The Giants had the best player on the field Sunday in star running back Saquon Barkley, who carried 30 times for 146 yards against the Bears’ poor run defense. Barkley couldn’t be contained by Chicago’s defense, but that unit also continuously over-committed on the play-action fakes that created chances for quarterback Daniel Jones.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields finished this game 11-of-22 for 176 yards, an effective outing but one that revealed the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. Fields constantly was looking downfield for open targets and found tight coverage. The Bears don’t have receivers who can create separation from their defenders and Fields has struggled to throw his teammates open.
The Bears don’t have the home run threat in their offense like Barkley, whose mere presence dictates what an opposing defense can do. So, Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale drew up continued pressure on Fields and left him uncomfortable.
Fields needs that true threat in the passing game to unlock this passing game. Can the Bears strike a deal with the Giants in the coming months for disgruntled wide receiver Kenny Golladay? Perhaps that would offer Fields a better chance at success.
On defense, the Bears are missing a game-wrecker like Khalil Mack who can simply take over. Chicago is struggling to generate pressure on quarterbacks, compiling just 1 sack on Sunday and marking only 7 in 4 games. That sack came from rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, who blitzed on a bootleg and took down Jones.
The Bears forced a pair of turnovers on defense but couldn’t convert those opportunities into points. There were many opportunities to win this game and the Bears just don’t have enough talent to do it.
Polian believes that championship-caliber teams have a dozen blue-chip players. The Bears have only a few at this point, which is what led them on this course to rebuild.
Patience will be required as the Bears build towards being a talented team.
2. Too conservative
Late in the first quarter, the Bears faced a third down with three yards to go from the Giants’ 5-yard line. It seemed to be a golden opportunity to get into the end zone.
Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called for a handoff to running back Khalil Herbert, who gained just one yard on the play. Chicago then sent out kicker Michael Badgley for a 22-yard field goal. It was a decision that perhaps Eberflus wants back.
It’s worth wondering whether Getsy was calling for that run play believing it was four-down territory. But regardless, this was a situation that called for greater aggression — especially given the Bears’ lack of opportunities in the red zone and recognizing this would be a low-scoring affair.
Any coach and play-caller should have faith in their offense in this situation. Instead, the Bears elected for a kicker signed on Saturday to come out and attempt a field goal in difficult kicking conditions. Badgley connected anyway, but the Bears’ conservative call here proved to be costly in the long run.
Eberflus went conservative once again with 3:15 remaining in the game. The Bears had a fourth-and-2 from their own 45-yard line trailing 20-12 and Eberflus sent out the punt team, hoping to flip the field and get the football back for one last opportunity.
Eberflus’ decision nearly went as he desired, with the Bears forcing a three-and-out and getting the football back before the two-minute warning. But rookie returner Velus Jones Jr. muffed the punt and the Giants recovered.
Despite the outcome, this was a place for Eberflus and the Bears to get aggressive and trust their offense.
The Bears settled for four field goals by Badgley, their only scoring in a game that needed some more ambition guiding the offense.
3. Rejuvenated BoJack
After studying every play of his NFL career this offseason, Bears safety Eddie Jackson became frustrated with what he had become.
Jackson did some serious soul searching and reshaped his mindset entering this season.
“That player is still here,” Jackson said prior to the regular season. “That player still exists. A lot of people are writing me off personally. It’s cool. I work the best when I’m an underdog.
“I got a lot to prove. There’s a lot on the line.”
Jackson recorded his 3rd interception on Sunday, marking his most in a season since 2018. He accomplished this all through just four games. It’s the result of Jackson’s commitment to getting in excellent physical condition, buying into Eberflus’ plan and finding his “underdog” once again.
Jackson has also emerged as a strong tackler, a part of his game that became a glaring weakness. He was second for the Bears on Sunday with nine tackles, including multiple key solo tackles in the open field to prevent big plays for the Giants.
Interceptions often require good fortunes but strong tackling needs commitment and desire. That’s where Jackson’s rejuvenated form has been so clear.
Indeed, Jackson is proving himself.
4. Change of the guard
For the fourth straight game to start this season, the Bears operated a rotation at right guard between Lucas Patrick and Teven Jenkins. They had resisted choosing a starter between the two to this point.
Unfortunately, there was always a realistic possibility that this decision could be forced by injury. That’s what happened on Sunday as Cody Whitehair suffered a potentially serious knee injury. He was quickly ruled out of action by the team, which is typically an indication of a significant injury.
Without Whitehair, the Bears moved Patrick over to left guard and allowed Jenkins to settle in at right guard. That will likely be the alignment for the offensive line moving forward if Whitehair faces an extended absence.
5. Mooney stands out
The Bears’ highlight on offense Sunday came as Fields dropped back on a play-action fake and hit Mooney for a 56-yard strike.
It was a play that reminded of the work Fields and Mooney have put in together, those reps in practice and their long hours put in away from Halas Hall. Fields put the football right on the spot for Mooney, who sprawled out to haul in the catch.
Mooney finished with 4 receptions for 94 yards and part of their success came because Fields didn’t stare down his top target. It was a key alteration he sought to make this past week, looking to rely on the rest of his progressions on each play and letting his plays to Mooney come naturally.
The Bears saw some positive strides for their offense on Sunday and the connection between Fields and Mooney proved to be an important development.