On Sunday, the 0-2 Chicago Bears look to earn their first win of the year on the road against the 1-1 Kansas City Chiefs. Obviously, quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads a talented, veteran group that has years of Super Bowl experience under their belt, but after a lot of noise and adversity around the team this week, quarterback Justin Fields will be looking to have a season-breakout performance to help get the Bears in the win column for the first time since October 24th of last season.
However, if the Bears hope to avoid falling to 0-3 for the first time since 2016, they will have to accomplish the four keys to victory outlined below:
The Chicago Bears need to follow Coach Eberflus and the HITS principle
After effectively serving as the interim defensive coordinator last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Coach Matt Eberflus will assume the play-calling duties again following the mid-week resignation of Alan Williams. Luckily, Eberflus has plenty of high-level experience to fall back on, as he led his unit to a top-ten finish in points allowed three times in four seasons as the defensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts.
However, for the Bears to beat the Chiefs, the entire team will have to seriously adopt Eberflus's HITS principle, standing for hustle, intensity, turnovers, and smartness. The first two pillars, albeit difficult to quantify in any meaningful way, will be paramount against Kansas City, who has had a tough time getting going in recent years. In the first three seasons with Mahomes as a starter, the Chiefs went 10-0 in September, but since the start of the 2021 season, their record in the first month of play has fallen to 4-4. Highlighted by their loss last season to the then 0-1-1 Indianapolis Colts, the Chiefs have struggled out the gate in recent years, an unsurprising reality for a team that likely knows that they will end up in Super Bowl contention regardless of their September record.
Sunday, the Bears may be able to catch the Chiefs again slow out of the gate, especially after they won last week versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team's AFC Divisional round opponent from a year ago. If the Bears as a team can have more hustle and intensity than a potentially sleep-walking Chiefs squad, it may be enough to overcome whatever insufficiencies Chicago has and keep the game close.
The turnovers and smarts are more easily observed in the team statistics from the first two games, but they have had mixed results thus far into the season. After two weeks, the Bears are one of five teams to have a -4 turnover differential or worse. The team has yet to record any sort of turnover forced while the offense has coughed up three interceptions and a fumble. To beat the Chiefs, who also have yet to force an interception on the season, it will be essential for the Bears to win the turnover battle by both protecting the ball on offense and attacking the ball on defense. Interceptions against the league's best quarterback may be hard to come by on Sunday, but there may be opportunities to force the ball out in the running and quick passing games.
In terms of smarts, the Bears are playing "smart" football as one of the least penalized teams across the league. Averaging just six penalties per game, there remains a problem in how these penalties are coming (six of their 12 penalties have come on mental lapses at the line of scrimmage, including false starts and offsides). To beat the Chiefs, it will be important to avoid these types of penalties, especially in key situations such as third downs and in the red zone, which can gift the opposition five free yards and potentially, a fresh set of downs.