Emma’s Tailgater: Dynamic DJ Moore could rewrite Bears history at wide receiver
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Muhsin Muhammad, an All-Pro player before signing with the Bears in 2005, once famously stated that Chicago is where wide receivers go to die. DJ Moore is intent on proving that wrong.
Through five games with the Bears, Moore appears to be the type of dynamic wide receiver that Chicago has never seen wear a wishbone ‘C’ on his helmet. He is the talented target who is ready to rewrite the franchise’s receiving record books.
The 26-year-old Moore has become the transcendent player that the Bears are prioritizing in their offense.
“Everybody on the team knows that DJ’s our No. 1 receiver,” said quarterback Justin Fields. “And wherever the chips fall, they fall.”
Facing a pivotal third-and-2 last Thursday night at FedEx Field, the Bears needed to convert and move the chains while holding a late lead. Fields dropped back and hit a strike to Moore, who hauled in the pass over a defender, turned and ran for a 56-yard dagger touchdown.
It was Moore’s 8th reception and 3rd touchdown of a stellar primetime performance that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. More so, it was an individual showcase to America that the Bears have a superstar receiver.
The Bears acquired Moore during their blockbuster March trade with the Panthers involving the No. 1 overall pick. Ryan Poles, in his most important move as general manager, refused a 2025 first-round pick from Carolina as part of this trade package. With offers on the table for the first overall selection, Poles would only go through with this deal if Moore was involved.
Poles understood that Moore would be the type of blue-chip player that rarely becomes available at the position of wide receiver. He could elevate Fields in his third NFL season and be a multiplier for the rest of this offense.
As it turns out, Moore has been an instrumental presence for this entire team. The Bears named him a captain for the first time in his career. Eddie Jackson referred to Moore as “The Silent Assassin,” but his leadership style isn’t about words.
Moore is a man of action.
“He goes out there every single day – doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, what day of the week it is, what we’ve all experienced – I mean, the guy goes out there and works every single day,” said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. “He’s consistent. He gives great positive energy.”
The Bears’ all-time leading wide receiver is Johnny Morris, whose 356 career receptions and 5,059 yards stand atop the franchise leaderboard. Morris played before the Super Bowl era from 1958-67, this in a time well before the modern passing games took shape. Moore surpassed those numbers in just five seasons with the Panthers. His abbreviated tenure in Carolina would’ve been historic in Chicago.
Moore has 5 touchdowns in his first 5 games with the Bears and could easily set a new record for touchdown receptions in a single season. That mark is 13, set by Ken Kavanaugh (1947) and Dick Gordon (1970).
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery had production during their tenures with the Bears. They were each modern talents at receiver who could change a game with their physical prowess. But each enjoyed just fleeting successes before moving on.
For his part, Muhammad caught 164 passes for 2,183 yards and 12 scores over 47 games and three seasons with the Bears. He fell well shy of expectations in Chicago and never was the superstar from his days in Carolina.
The Bears’ all-time receiving leaderboard shouldn’t so prominently feature players from decades in the past. It’s a glaring indictment of this franchise’s inability to produce a prolific modern offense. That is what Muhammad meant when he made those harsh comments.
Moore is the caliber of wide receiver who can change the Bears’ history at this position. He’s well on his way.
Fields took a shotgun snap and pivoted to his left for a quarterback counter run. By the time he made stride towards the left ‘B’ gap, right tackle Darnell Wright had already cleared the way.
Wright pulled across to his left and plowed through Washington cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr., bullying him to the turf of FedEx Field, then pressed forward alongside Fields on his 14-yard gain.
“He’s a powerful human,” said fellow tackle Larry Borom. “He can do some things with his natural, raw ability that a lot of people can’t.”
The 10th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, Wright was selected by the Bears with hopes that he could be an anchor for their offensive line. Chicago had already traded down from the No. 1 overall pick to the ninth slot, then moved back once more after passing on premier defensive lineman prospect Jalen Carter.
The Bears believed that Wright would solidify their offensive line for 2023 and well beyond. Through five games of his rookie season, he appears ready to do just that. Wright ranks 27th out of 68 eligible tackles in Pro Football Focus grades. He is 8th in run blocking performance and 1st among all rookie tackles.
But Wright believes he hasn’t played well enough thus far. He has set the bar high for himself, even as a rookie breaking into the NFL.
“I would like to be one of the best tackles,” Wright said. “If that’s my goal, then I haven’t really played up to my standards right now.
“I know I’m putting the work in for it. But it’s not the best I want to be.”
Part of what led the Bears to identifying Wright as their prized tackle on the draft board was the demeanor they could sense of him. Offensive line coach Chris Morgan could see from his tape at Tennessee that this was a young player with a special internal drive. Wright is constantly asking questions to Morgan and his veteran teammates, seeking advice and growth.
Morgan has been struck by his will to improve.
“He’s everything that we thought he would be when we were going through that (pre-draft) process,” Morgan said. “He loves football. He’s smart. He’s big. He’s strong. Like, it’s really cool to see how he wants to be really good. That’s like such an important part. Like, he really wants to be a really good football player.”
When the Bears broke the huddle with their starting offense during OTAs in early May, Wright was lined up at right tackle. There was no need for him to win some unnecessary competition. Poles and his brass coveted Wright in a deep tackle class, confident in his fit for the Bears.
The 22-year-old Wright is aware of the pancake blocks that are shared on social media, showcasing his dominance on the field. Wright pointed out that he’s responsible for 4 sacks allowed this season.
Wright’s critical self-reflections make it clear to his Bears teammates that this is a young player with lofty expectations to be great. He won’t be satisfied short of that.
“He sets it high,” Borom said. “He always wants to be better. I love that he has that mindset. That’s the mindset to have in this league. Never get kind of complacent.”
Full complement in the secondary
Entering this season, the Bears believed their secondary would be a top strength. They haven’t had that unit healthy for most of this season.
When nickel cornerback Kyler Gordon suffered a hand injury during the Sept. 10 season opener at Soldier Field, the Bears were forced to mix and match in their defensive backfield. Safety Eddie Jackson suffered a left foot injury one week later, then Jaylon Johnson went down with an injury. On Sunday, the Bears could have their full complement of starters back in the secondary.
Gordon, Johnson and Jackson each returned to practice this week in a limited fashion, though they are in line to play Sunday.
“Just getting everybody back, we have to come back and we have to start that click,” Johnson said. “We don’t have time for any more mess-ups or anything like that. We’ve got that all out the way. We have to come back and execute at a high level.”
The return of Gordon, a second-round pick to the Bears in last year’s NFL Draft, means a key position in this defensive identity is filled once again. Gordon was the first ever draft pick by Ryan Poles’ regime and prioritized because of his ability to fill the nickelback position for Eberflus’ scheme.
Gordon had 3 interceptions over 14 games last season. The Bears are hoping to find continued growth from him and are confident in his fit at the nickel role.
“It’s a hard position to play in pro football,” Bears cornerbacks coach Jon Hoke said. “Just because you have to be a corner, you have to be a linebacker, you have to be a safety, you got to be able to blitz, you got to be able to play man coverage, you got to be able to play zone coverage. So, there’s a lot of things that are asked of you.
“Having him back is a huge plus because he has really good experience in there, he has very good instincts as a player, he’s a physical guy, he’s a good blitzer. He has a lot of attributes that you’re looking for in that position, and he does it at a high level.”
The Bears must activate Gordon by Saturday at 3 p.m. CT in order for him to be eligible for Sunday’s game. By designating him for a return from injured reserve on Monday, the Bears opened a 21-day window in which he can practice and be activated.
The statuses of Johnson and Jackson will likely be determined when inactives are set 90 minutes prior to kickoff on Sunday.
Vikings’ superstar sidelined
In recovering from a hamstring injury and readying for a return, Johnson began preparing himself for that first matchup back: Sunday at Soldier Field against Justin Jefferson. He won’t get his wish with this premium test.
Jefferson suffered a hamstring injury during the Vikings’ game last Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium and he was placed on injured reserve. Minnesota will be without its dynamic star Jefferson for at least the next four games, including Sunday’s game against the Bears.
“I hope he gets better,” Johnson said. “That was definitely a matchup I was looking forward to. I was watching that film last week.
“But I’ll see him in the future.”
Johnson was sidelined from both of the Bears’ two meetings with the Vikings last season, losing out the chance to square off with Jefferson.
Jefferson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has seemingly modest production against the Bears. Through six career games, he has 41 receptions for 585 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Without Jefferson, the Vikings must lean on rookie receiver Jordan Addison and two-time Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson as their top targets for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“I mean, you certainly adjust your scheme to a great player like that,” Eberflus said of Jefferson. “It’s always a handful of guys that you would do that for. So, it allows you to play more basic, more solid on both sides as opposed to tilting your coverage one way or the other.
“I do believe it certainly allows you to play your base way that you normally play against a normal guy, normal people, rather than playing against a guy that’s elite in the top two or three in the league, which he is.”
Bringing the blitz
Seeking a change in their defensive identity, the Vikings turned to former Miami head coach Brian Flores as their new defensive coordinator. They got that significant change right from the start this season.
Flores has been an aggressive play caller with the Vikings’ defense, drawing up blitzes on 56.2% of defensive plays. That is by far the most of any team through five games this season.
By comparison, Eberflus’ defense has blitzed just 20.1% of snaps this season.
“It’s unique that way,” Eberflus said of the Vikings’ pressure. “We have a plan for that. Again, this is a big day for us to be able to work that plan of how we’re going to handle that and work against that pressure. But it’s certainly brings many challenges for our offense.”
For Fields, this is a great challenge he must overcome with the hopes to stack strong performances together. Fields has thrown for 617 yards, 8 touchdowns and just 1 interception in his last 2 games, revealing great promise the Bears hope he can sustain.
But Fields has struggled against the blitz during his young career. He threw for just 211 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions – including a game-sealing pick-six – in a 27-17 loss to the Buccaneers last month in which he was constantly pressured. Fields was sacked 6 times in that loss.
Fields is ready for the pressure on Sunday in this next test against the Vikings.
“They have a talented defense,” Fields said. “They do (blitz) a lot. A lot of vets on that team. Good front, good secondary. Just got to be looking out for everywhere. They can bring anybody from anywhere – corners, from nickels to linebackers to Cover 0 to whatever. You just got to have a plan ready to go. Everybody’s got to be locked in for this week and just be able to perform on Sunday.”
CB Jaylon Johnson (hamstring) — After missing the last two games, Johnson intends to play on Sunday.
S Eddie Jackson (left foot) — The Bears appear to be ramping up Jackson to return, giving a big boost to the secondary.
CB Kyler Gordon (hand) — The Bears designated Gordon for a return from injured reserve, opening a 21-day window in which he can be activated. The hope is that he’s back on the field Sunday.
TE Cole Kmet (hamstring) — This is a new injury for Kmet, but he should be ready to play.
RB Khalil Herbert (ankle) — The expectation is that Herbert will miss multiple games with this sprain, which could potentially land him on injured reserve.
RB Roschon Johnson (concussion) — Johnson has an extended layoff since suffering the concussion last Thursday night at Washington.
OL Lucas Patrick (concussion) — Patrick could revert back to a reserve role once he’s healthy, this with Teven Jenkins back in the lineup.
CB Terell Smith (ankle) — Smith landed on the injury report just as he was making a strong impression on the Bears’ coaching staff.
C Doug Kramer (thumb) — Kramer has also been designated for a return from injured reserve. At some point, the Bears would like to see him get a chance with the starters.
WR Equanimeous St. Brown (hamstring) — The Bears could be without a key presence in their blocking game if St. Brown is sidelined.
RB Travis Homer (hamstring) — A key special-teams player, Homer may miss Sunday’s game.
Quote to note
“That adversity makes us stronger.”
—Bears head coach Matt Eberflus
Emma’s Prediction (3-2): Bears 25, Vikings 18
This feels like it’s going to be a dogfight kind of game, so I’m picking a Scorigami victory for the Bears.