4.) The Bears are fourth in the league in sacks
The Bears came into Sunday’s game tied for sixth in the NFL with 33 sacks and added four more on Sunday to move into fourth in the league. They could have easily had double that number, which has been the case the last two weeks as well, but the Bears young front seven haven’t finished as many players as they should have.
Aaron Rodgers is one of the hardest QBs in the league to wrap up in the pocket, but the Bears let him escape too often on Sunday despite his gimpy calf. The fact that the Bears are getting to opposing QBs is what’s important though. After a non-existent pass rush last season, the Bears are putting pressure on QBs consistently.
The Bears run defense struggled on Sunday, but that looked to me like more of an issue with the linebackers and safeties than the defensive line. The defensive line wasn’t being blown off the line of scrimmage and almost had Packers running back Ty Montgomery in the backfield on his two longest runs, only to watch him weave through the Bears linebackers and secondary.
Pernell McPhee played his best game of the season with two sacks and a strong presence on the edge verse the run. CJ Wilson, filling in for Eddie Goldman, had a sack and a tackle for loss against the run. Journeymen Mitch Unrein wasn’t credited with any tackles but was in the backfield often, pressuring Rodgers and disrupting run lanes.
Different players are stepping up every week to give the Bears a d-line (I’m including OLBs, since they are basically DEs in Fangio’s scheme) that is on pace for their most sacks in over two decades. The combination of Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young., Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Goldman should be even better next year and the Bears have solid depth in Mitch Unrein, Cornelius Washington and rookie Jonathan Bullard, which gives the Bears a reason to be optimistic about the future.
After many years of mediocracy on both the offensive and defensive lines, the Bears appear to have above-average units in place on both sides of the ball. There are plenty of questions elsewhere on the team in 2017, but having their lines in place is a significant step towards being a competitive team in the near future.
5.) The Bears might not have a good safety on the roster.
Adrian Amos, Harold Jones-Quartey, Deon Bush, Chris Prosinski, or Demonte Hurst… It doesn’t matter who the Bears put at the back of their defense, they keep making critical mistakes that are costing the Bears wins.
There were plenty more mistakes on Sunday. The Bears safeties consistently picked the wrong gaps in run support which allowed Ty Montgomery to have a career day. Even when they managed to be in the right place, they missed the tackle.
The Bears d-line did a solid job maintaining their gaps and getting in the backfield, but once Montgomery got through the line, the safeties (and John TImu) were no help. They didn’t do much in coverage either, though Demontre Hurst had a sack and Deon Bush broke up a key third-down pass in the end zone (though he should have caught it).
The safeties have caught some flack for not being deep on the Packers 60-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson that set up the Packers game-winning field goal, but it sounds like they were doing what the defensive scheme called for. So the pass to Nelson was on Fangio, but that doesn’t absolve the safeties from how they played the rest of the game (and season).
The Bears keep spending mid round picks on the safety position and that strategy just isn’t working. The Bears need to either spend some of their ample cap room on a legitimate starter or use a day two pick to draft one with actual starting potential. The black hole at safety has gone on way too long for the Bears and the rest of the defense deserves better.
6.) Josh Bellamy continues to be an enigma
After Matt Barkley somehow escaped an all-out blitz on third down, he lofted a bomb about fifty yards downfield. It wasn’t a pretty pass, it wobbled a bit and was underthrown, but Bellamy got both hands on it and then dropped it. Again. He also dropped a short pass that hit him squarely in the hands.
If Bellamy had started all season, he would surely break the NFL record for drops in a season, but he also made some really nice plays on Sunday. He took a screen pass and turned it into a 10-yard touchdown on sheer will. Bellamy just overpowered the corner matched up on him and drove him into the end zone with a stiff-arm for his first NFL touchdown.
Bellamy also made two exceptional plays on special teams. He pinned a punt at the 1-yard line and made an impressive tackle on the kickoff after his TD, stopping the Packers return man at the 15 yard-line.
On the day Bellamy had just one catch for a 10-yard TD, but like usual it could have been so much more.
7.) Deonte Thompson and Cameron Meredith impressed
The return of Alshon Jeffery was supposed to give Matt Barkley a legitimate receiving threat, but it was Deonte Thompson and Cameron Meredith who were Barkley’s most reliable targets for most of the game.
Thompson came into the game with just 11 catches on the season but had eight catches for 110 yards on Sunday. Meredith has flashed some starting-caliber ability throughout the year and did so again on Sunday with nine catches for 104 yards.
When was the last time two Bear receivers had 100+ yards in the same game? Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway maybe? What are the odds that it would happen with Thompson and Meredith? Two players who were probably the last two receivers on the depth chart to start the season?
Thompson, the Bears primary kick returner, has explosive speed but hasn’t been able to translate that to the receiver position. He had only two catches last season, but both went for over 30 yards. He was open deep twice on Sunday, but Barkley didn’t have the arm to get him the ball. He’s an intriguing talent though and gives the Bears a speedy deep threat that they don’t have anywhere else on the roster unless Kevin White can actually stay healthy.
Meredith, a former college QB, continues to impress with his ability to run after the catch. He caught two screen passes that he turned into double-digit gains with slick moves in the open field and enough strength to run through arm tackles. Meredith could be a dangerous weapon in the slot next year, where he can take advantage of his size advantage (6’3) against slot corners and ability to make people miss in the open field.
No one knows what the Bears are going to do with Alshon Jeffery, if Kevin White can stay healthy, if Eddie Royal will be on the roster, or if the Bears will use a high draft pick on a receiver, but the option of Jeffery and White on the outside with Meredith in the slot and Thompson as a deep threat has some legitimate potential (assuming the Bears have a QB that can get them the ball).