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One Month Down For The Bears. What’s Real And What’s Fake?

The Bears surprisingly went 2-1 in the first month of the Matt Eberflus era. Now that September is done, what have we learned?

After months of anticipation and acronyms, we’ve now gotten to see meaningful football games for the Chicago Bears under the leadership of Matt Eberflus. And, despite the roster going through a massive overhaul and a general youth movement all around, they’ve played competitive football, starting off the year 2-1.

The H.I.T.S. principle that raised eyebrows when Eberflus first introduced it seems to be working, or at least players are buying into it. Players are flying to the football, not quitting despite being down at halftime of all three games, being opportunistic with takeaways, and generally not committing harmful penalties.

Roquan Smith’s game against Houston this past week is the perfect metaphor for the team as a whole. After having one of his worst games as a professional in Week 2 against Green Bay and then missing all three practice days, Smith needed to have a great day Sunday. And he responded with 16 tackles, two for losses, and the game-winning interception.

But it hasn’t all been roses to start the year. Justin Fields has not progressed three games into his second NFL season. Fields hasn’t completed more than eight throws in any of the three games and has attempted only 45 on the season, easily the fewest in the league.

In the Bears win over Houston on Sunday, Fields played arguably his worst professional game. He threw two terrible interceptions, missed several other easy completions, and looked jittery in the pocket, all leading to a career-low 27.7 passer rating.

So what do we know about the 2022 Bears a month into the season? What is real about this team and what things are we seeing that might be mirages? Lets start with what is real.

The Bears can run the football

A lot has been made about new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s extended emphasis on the running game. After all, this season is supposed to be about learning as much about Justin Fields and his quarterbacking ability as possible before next April and the quarterback-heavy draft. But you can’t deny the results.

Through three games, the Bears have run for 560 yards, good for second best in the NFL. And they are averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Whether it’s David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, or Fields doing the running, it has worked.

Running the football has long stopped being the standard, trendy way of playing offense in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Running the ball is typically safer than throwing it as you’re less likely to turn it over. It also can take pressure off of a young quarterback, to not make him feel like he must be the reason the offense works.

Getsy needs to build off of the running game, allowing its success to generate opportunities to improve the passing attack. Things like play-action to confuse the defense or easy routes for receivers facing single coverage to take advantage of and present easy targets for Fields to hit should get added into the offense. Which leads to something that is probably not real.

Justin Fields cannot accurately throw the football

Through the first three games, Fields has only completed 51.1 percent of his passes. And his deep ball, which was so lauded coming out of college, has been non-existent since Week 1. On passes of at least 20 yards, Fields is just 3-for-10 with two touchdown and three interceptions.

But keep in mind that, for Fields, this is his second offense in as many season with the Bears. He is still adjusting to new terminology, reads, and progressions. That is slowing him down slightly, which makes the throws just slightly off target.

He is also getting pressured at an alarmingly high rate, which is contributing to his mechanical problems. Fields is seldom getting a clean pocket from his offensive line, which makes it harder to throw the ball with accuracy.

An easy example of this was from the first interception against Houston. Fields correctly read that Cole Kmet was open, but because there was a defensive lineman bearing down on him, he couldn’t complete his follow throw, which cause the ball to sail past Kmet and into the arms of rookie safety Jalen Pitre.

A simple fix that Getsy could employ would be to use more slant routes in the offense. These would allow the receivers to present an easy target for Fields to throw to and the play would be designed for the ball to get out quickly, before the pass rush would have a chance to get home.

The Bears defense can’t stop the run

Unfortunately this appears to be true. Through three games, the Bears have given up 471 yards on the ground, second worst in the league, and opponents are averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

Transitioning systems is always difficult. Players that were a perfect fit in one scheme don’t work so nicely in the next one, due to little or no fault of their own, and it’s hard to plug all the necessary holes in one offseason.

The Bears lack a true 3-technique defensive tackle in the interior of their defensive line. Someone that could split the gap between the center and the guard the way that Tommie Harris did so well back in the late 2000’s and that is showing up at the start of the season.

The linebackers are getting engaged with offensive lineman more than they’re used to to start and as a result aren’t consistently able to attack and bring down ball carriers early in the play.

It also doesn’t help that the Cover-2 scheme is one that is generally easier to run against than other defenses. The Cover-2 is designed to force offenses to be patient, to have to slowly and methodically march down the field, rather than get big chunk plays quickly. As a result, teams that are willing to be patient can have success running the ball.

The best answer for this season would be to play with the lead as much as possible. That way opposing offenses will have to abandon their running games to try and force the ball down the field to get quick points. In the offseason resources can be allocated to shore up some holes on the defensive line.

The Bears are about to have a huge test in the month of October. Four of their five games will be on the road, including this Sunday against Daniel Jones and the 2-1 New York Giants. We’ll learn a lot more about them after this stretch, but for now the early returns are overall better than what we originally expected.

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