On Sunday, the 1-5 Chicago Bears are looking to win their second game in three weeks for the first time since last September, but standing in their way at Soldier Field will be a talented 3-3 Las Vegas Raiders team who finds themselves on a two-game win streak. Almost exactly two years ago, the Bears beat the Raiders in Vegas, but a whole lot has changed for both teams since then, including both head coaches and starting quarterbacks.
To be fair, it would have been hard for anyone to predict Sunday's quarterback matchup two weeks ago, let alone two years ago. Last week, the Bears lost starting quarterback Justin Fields to a thumb injury, and undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent entered the game in relief. Now, Bagent is slated to make his first start against the Raiders, but the silver and black will also be without their number one quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who is still nursing a back injury. In his place, veteran Brian Hoyer is slated to start for the second consecutive week after helping the team beat the Patriots in week six.
Even without either starting quarterback, both teams possess enough elite talent to make Sunday's matchup an interesting one, but if the Bears look to earn a win in order to get the season back on track, the team will have to complete these three keys to success:
The Chicago Bears need to execute around Tyson Bagent
Offensively, it will be essential for the unit to play well around Bagent and help the Shepherd University product in his first NFL start. Through today, the only times we have seen the quarterback were in the preseason and at the end of last week's game. In the preseason, Bagent played efficiently, finishing with 20 completions over 29 attempts in three games, and eventually supplanted P.J. Walker as the team's backup quarterback. Last week, Bagent led five drives in relief of Fields but had mixed results with the starting unit.
Bagent's best came on a meticulous 77-yard drive which was punctuated by a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line for a touchdown. On this drive alone, Bagent gained 55 yards through the air, including two passes for 42 yards to D.J. Moore. However, Bagent also committed two turnovers and showed some of his limitations in a backup capacity.
Now, the rookie has the opportunity to enter a game after a full week of planning and first-team reps, but he will still need to lean on the offense as a whole to have success against the Raiders. It will be essential to complement Bagent's passing attack with a strong rushing game despite missing the top two runners Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson. D'Onta Foreman, a 900-yard rusher from a season ago, is left as the team's bell-cow back, and he had a strong game last week under similar conditions to the tune of 65 yards on 15 attempts.
For the passing attack itself, it will be important to get the most out of both the pass-catchers and the playcalling. It is no secret that the offensive gameplan has been suspect more than once through the team's first six games, but for Bagent to succeed, it will be important to provide him with quick reads and outlets to check the ball down to his playmakers. The Raiders have one of the stingier defensive back units in the NFL and rank eighth best in terms of passing yards allowed per game, but the Bears themselves have talented pass catchers who should be able to get open quickly for the young quarterback.