GREEN BAY — 10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears ran the ball hard — and ran it effectively — while essentially abandoning the passing game in a 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
The Bears called quarterback power with right guard Lucas Patrick pulling on the play, and Fields was stopped short of the goalline with 8:07 remaining in the game and the Bears down two touchdowns. It’s a bad call because it didn’t work. And it’s a bad call because the ball was less than two feet from the goalline.
Getsy doesn’t speak until Thursday, and we’ll get into that decision by him and what the Packers were expecting on the play in a little bit. On a wild Sunday in the NFL with some roller coaster comebacks, I don’t think the Bears were rallying for victory here even if referee Craig Wrolstad ruled it a touchdown, making it a one-score game with half a quarter remaining.
The most important takeaway from Lambeau is a recurring theme. The Bears have a badly flawed offense, especially when it comes to the passing game. While any criticism former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has of Fields and the offense in general may offend many, guess what? Martz is right. Anyone else bagging on the Bears offense is probably right too. The Bears trailed by 17 points at halftime, and came out and attempted five passes in the second half. Yes, some rugged running by David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert was effective — they played particularly well — but you don’t climb back in an NFL game borrowing the Army playbook.
Fields finished 7 of 11 for 70 yards with one interception on his final throw. He was sacked three times. And this time, no one can blame it on the rain and terrible weather conditions. There were two explosive plays in the passing game — a 30-yard shot to Equanimeous St. Brown off a flea flicker on the fourth snap for the offense — and an 18-yard pass across the middle to tight end Ryan Griffin. That’s it. That completes the list of pass plays for the Bears that gained more than 7 yards.
“Luke said before the game that we were going to run it down their throat,” Fields said. “D-Mo, he was running the ball crazy. The O-line did a great job blocking and he did a great job running. My job isn’t to call the plays; my job is to execute the play that is given to me the best I can.”
Fields has completed 15 of 28 passes (53.6%) for 191 yards this season with two touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s known as a pretty bad single game in other cities. Sure, the monsoon contributed to passing game issues in Week 1. But 191 represents the fewest passing yards through the Bears’ first two games since starting QB Kordell Stewart totaled only 240 yards in the first two games of the 2003 season. The next lowest total was in 1993 when the offense mustered 261 passing yards through the first two weeks with Jim Harbaugh.
“I’m not sure what’s missing in the passing game,” Fields said. “I don’t know.”
It’s a super small sample size, but the franchise known for having quarterback issues predating the Super Bowl era is off to a hideous start — even by its own low standards.
Fields lacks poise in the pocket. The ball rarely comes out in rhythm and on time. He’s a young quarterback without a lot of experience and the passing game — two games in — is a mess. It’s also reflective of what we saw in training camp. Fields didn’t complete passes from the pocket with regularity. If routine completions are not happening in practice, they are probably going to be hard to come by in games.
What’s more indictable: Fields’ poor statistics or the fact that the offensive coordinator called only 11 pass attempts?
“On offense, you have to have balance,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “We will look at that as we assess and evaluate the game, but man, the way we were running it … I mean shoot, we were running it really well and we were still in the game at that point. We were going with what was working for us.”
Former coach Matt Nagy is the convenient villain in this whole situation. Popular thinking was a new system that played to the Fields’ strengths — how many times have you heard that term or a derivative of it? — would fix everything. What are Fields’ strengths as a passer? I don’t know anyone can say at this point and you certainly can’t after this game because the Bears chose not to throw it down three scores. The Bears haven’t had a game where the quarterback completed only seven passes since a bizarre Oct. 22, 2017, victory over the Carolina Panthers when Mitch Trubisky was 4 of 7 for 107 yards.
“For sure, we were expecting them to throw it,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “When you’re running the ball, you’re chewing up clock. Yeah, you do expect them to throw a little bit more when they are down by that much.
“I guess they stuck with what they felt was working. They had a couple big runs. We kept them to 10 points.”
I asked Amos, who played for the Bears from 2015-2018, if he could compare Trubisky, his former teammate to Fields.
“I can,” Amos said. “I don’t want to.”
Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark told me the Bears didn’t try to throw the ball because they couldn’t keep Fields upright.
“He was getting hit,” Clark said. “Every time they tried to pass it, he was getting hit unless it was a screen. He was flustered out there. We got after him. We knew we had matchup problems for them upfront. Whenever they did try to drop back and pass and tried to block us, that didn’t work.”
The Bears will have to evaluate their offensive line. But Fields is going to have to be better — substantially better — to give players around him a chance. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney has been targeted five times for two receptions and 4 yards. Tight end Cole Kmet has two targets and nothing else. Wide receiver Byron Pringle, signed to a $4 million, one-year deal, has two targets, one catch and 22 yards.
I understand why Eberflus wants to highlight a positive: running for 180 yards and averaging 6.7 per attempt. That’s a huge day on the ground and a credit to the backs and the linemen. The Bears still lost by 17 points, so what does it mean? The passing game is broken. The Bears have completed 15 passes through two games, the lowest total in the NFL with four teams still to play Monday night.
“I don’t care what the rushing stats are,” one personnel man said. “That’s window dressing. You have to throw the ball to win in this league and do it consistently. They don’t have a competitive offense at this point.”
They were expecting a run even as the Bears had 13 personnel on the field — running back David Montgomery, wide receivers Darnell Mooney, Dante Pettis and Equanimeous St. Brown, and tight end Cole Kmet. They were not expecting Fields, in the shotgun, to run quarterback power behind pulling right guard Lucas Patrick.
The Bears started the possession on their own 10-yard line and drove 89 yards without completing a single pass. There was a play fake and rollout where Fields tried a deep shot to Mooney, who had single coverage from cornerback Eric Stokes, but that ball was overthrown by a good five yards. Montgomery was humming on the possession, too, hitting holes with more conviction than he did a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers and bouncing off tacklers left and right. The offense got out of a second-and-20 hole when Montgomery busted off a 28-yard gain. On the next snap, Khalil Herbert ran for 27 yards. The Bears were pounding the ball effectively against a Packers defense that was torched a week ago in Minnesota by wide receiver Justin Jefferson. It was first-and-goal from the 10 after a Fields’ scramble.
Montgomery ran twice for two yards, moving the ball to the 6-yard-line. Fields took off scrambling on third down and dove for the pylon, reaching for it with the football in the right corner of the end zone, but not before his knee was down. That set up the pivotal play. Fourth-and-goal from the 1, you’re looking for the best short yardage call on your play sheet. The play you have greatest confidence in.
“I like it and the coaches like it, and we practiced it and repped it because you outnumber the box,” said coach Matt Eberflus, taking an early at-bat for defending the shotgun run. “You are using your quarterback as a runner and you have an additional blocker, and so you like your numbers in the box there. That is why we called it. It was the best play we had there at the time.”
You also move your ball carrier — Fields in this instance — farther away from the goalline with him in the shotgun. The Bears didn’t even need a full yard here.
Having three wide receivers on the field wasn’t even window dressing for the Packers.
“We knew that they were going to run the ball,” said Packers defensive tackle Jarran Reid, who was credited with an assisted tackle on the fourth-down play. “They had success running the ball on that drive and we knew that they were going to try to punch it in because they had gained a little confidence. QB power? That was definitely a surprise. In my mind, I was expecting them to give it to 32 (Montgomery). But when Fields kept it, we just had to make a play.”
“In the second half, they ran a lot of power and they were motioning to strong and running a lot of stretch,” Packers defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. “So, I kind of expected that in a short yardage situation. Didn’t expect QB power, but we knew they were not going to throw the ball in that situation.”
I understand what Eberflus is saying about the extra blocker, but this play got stacked up and replay reviews on calls like these — when the ball carrier is in a sea of humanity — are difficult to get overturned.
“I saw a touchdown,” Montgomery said. “I was right next to the ball. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We’re not in Soldier Field. Next time we just have to be sure that we put it in.”
One problem with calling power at the goalline is if there is any penetration by the defensive line, the puller — right guard Patrick in this case — can’t get there. The Bears can argue they had their best call, but it didn’t work on a night where pretty much everything else they tried with the running game did work.
Herbert hit the hole with more urgency in the opener. Errors come from snap judgments based on one week, but it looked like you could wonder which back was the best fit for the new scheme.
David Montgomery was electric against the Packers, carrying the ball 15 times for 122 yards (8.1 average). He was quick to the hole. He was difficult to bring down. He bounced off tacklers as well or better than he’s ever done before. He ran violently. He carried the offense on his back.
Montgomery keyed the touchdown drive in the first quarter, accounting for 38 yards before Justin Fields kept the ball around the right side on a three-yard scoring run. Montgomery was hot but the Bears got away from him, and he received only one carry in the second quarter. The Packers outscored the Bears 21-0 in the second quarter and that was really about it.
“The O-line was creating a lot of space throughout the whole game,” Montgomery said. “It was just the flow of the game.”
“David Montgomery is a premier back in this league,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “His ability to break tackles and just how hard he runs is pretty impressive to watch. You have to give him credit because he and I thought the entire team battled for four quarters.”
The Bears used fullback Khari Blasingame more in Week 2. He had 13 snaps by my unofficial count, including eight on the drive that ended inside the 1-yard line. Of course, he was on the sideline for the fourth down try when the Packers were expecting Montgomery.
“It felt good to get these boys loose,” Blasingame said of Montgomery and Herbert. “We had an inside zone that popped. We were hitting the outside zones and getting on their outside linebackers. We were just finishing runs. They ran hard. Credit to Khalil, D-Mo. They ran hard as hell.”
It’s a positive sign and something to keep in mind as the Bears prepare to face the Houston Texans in Week 3. Houston has allowed 326 yards rushing through two games.
They were going to run right at the Bears with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon — and that’s precisely what they did, rolling up 203 yards on 38 carries, the second-most rushing attempts in the Matt LaFleur era. The most is 39, which the Packers had in the Week 13 meeting with the Bears at Lambeau Field last season. Jones carried 15 times for 132 yards and Dillon added 61 yards on 18 carries. Like David Montgomery, they were frequently bouncing off would-be tacklers and gaining extra yardage as a result.
“They’ve got a good stable of backs and for us, in practice we are going to have to work on our angles,” Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “They were getting a lot of yards after contact and that was kind of what was hurting us. If we hit them, they have to stop right there. We have to stop the ball carrier on the first hit. As for their run game, it was pretty simple but they are really good at what they do.”
Jones made some impact plays and finished with eight tackles, with five of them as solos. He also made two stops in the backfield and had some stops where the running back was close to 10 yards downfield. That’s a nice hustle play, but when a defensive tackle is making a stop more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, it’s usually not a good sign overall for the defense.
It’s notable Matt Eberflus said he thought free safety Eddie Jackson played well in run support. He thought Jackson, who had nine tackles, was sound. But there is a whole lot to clean up as the Bears had difficulty stopping Elijah Mitchell in Week 1 before the 49ers running back went out with a knee injury.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Tampa Two scheme is known for limiting explosive plays in the passing game. One weakness of the scheme — and the Bears are not in a two-high shell every snap — is the run defense with defensive linemen is asked to penetrate and get upfield. I don’t believe Eberflus has the personnel he ultimately wants upfront on defense, and the Bears may have been gassed to a degree because they couldn’t stay on the field when they had the ball.
“I would say the tackling. We have to do a better job,” Eberflus said. “Look at the individual and the technique and break down those ones they did tackle well and those they didn’t do well, leverage, angles, tackling. We call it cupping the ball. We have to do a better job at that. It limits the big plays. You look at Eddie Jackson. He tackled very well. I don’t think he missed one. But if you look at some of the younger guys, they maybe did. They missed a couple. Maybe it was more angles, technique and fundamentals. We have to do a better job.”
General manager Ryan Poles said Mooney was “balling” at the end of preseason and after the 53-man roster was established. But there’s been no concerted effort to get the player they’ve pumped up as their best wide receiver going.
Mooney has five targets, two catches and four yards. If he is one of their best offensive players, they’re doing a poor job of putting him in position to help.
“I think whenever you have adversity, you look at all aspects: touches for players, and how we are distributing the ball,” Matt Eberflus said. “I think that is something we have to look at across the board.”
Quarterback Justin Fields said opponents have taken Mooney away on some plays. The 49ers and Packers weren’t doing anything particularly over-the-top to slow Mooney. Fields isn’t worried about Mooney being upset and Mooney has never struck me as a diva-type player, but I’d be stunned if Mooney isn’t simmering a little bit for not getting opportunities.
“He’s not a selfish guy,” Fields said. “He’s a team guy. If we win every game and he comes out with zero catches, he could care less. He’s not that kind of guy.”
I don’t disagree, but something needs to be done about this.
It’s a winding path for players who don’t hear their names called during the draft. There are long odds against making a roster, and even ascending that mountain doesn’t ensure anything. When a team has only time invested in a player — not a draft pick and substantial guaranteed money — it’s a lot easier to move on.
Sanborn and Tonges met in January when they traveled to Los Gatos, Calif., for pre-combine training. That’s where agent Steve Caric, who represents both players, sends his clients for training at Cal Strength. The players had hotel rooms across the hall from each other and wound up basically spending all day, every day together.
They had a $20 bet on who would run a faster 40-yard dash at the combine. Sanborn ran a 4.73 to win by 0.04. They pushed one another through the process. Both held out hope they would be Day 3 selections, but as the rounds went by, each realized that might not happen.
“Some teams started calling at the end of Round 6, beginning of Round 7, and the Bears were one of those teams,” said Tonges, a tight end from Cal. “They were pretty high on my list of teams I wanted to go to if I went undrafted. So then I called Steve and he said: ‘I think Jack is going to go to the Bears too. You guys are going to have a good time.’”
Sanborn, a linebacker from Wisconsin, had multiple opportunities as well, but the Bears with a new scheme looked like a good place to battle for a roster spot.
“It was really great to have someone to come in with that you knew really well, and it’s been a great experience,” Tonges said. “We’re both lucky enough to still be around.”
It was an anxious time for both when cuts to the initial 53-man roster were due Aug. 31.
“I was sitting with Jack in my hotel room and we were waiting to get a call to see what the deal was,” Tonges said. “Basically you’re sitting there hoping your phone doesn’t ring. It got to the point where it was probably 11 a.m., and we said, ‘We’ve got to go get a lift.’ So we came over to the facility to lift.”
Said Sanborn: “We were in the middle of our lift and we’re like, ‘Maybe we made it.’”
Sanborn, who is from Lake Zurich, has offered a few pointers on the area to Tonges, whom he has taken to his hometown twice. They’ve been to a comedy show together but that’s about it.
“Since we’ve been here, it’s been all about football,” Sanborn said. “Not much time for anything else.”
That’s probably a wise approach at this point in their careers. Sanborn can play Chicago-area tour guide in the offseason.
No, the Bears are not headed back to Olivet Nazarene University for training camp, which was their summer home from 2002-19. Scouts have put the school on the map this season to see Tigers wide receiver Brian Jenkins, who is a junior on the field but is on track to graduate in the spring with a degree in sports management.
ONU coach Eric Hehman said 15 teams, including the Bears, had been to the school before Saturday’s game, a 34-26 loss to Indiana Wesleyan. Jenkins had five receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Jenkins had six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns a week earlier in a loss to Siena Heights. Olivet Nazarene competes in the Mid-States Football Association, an NAIA league. Jenkins had 31 receptions for 625 yards and nine touchdowns last season and ran a hand-timed 4.52-second 40-yard dash when an NFC/combine scout visited the school in March.
How does a potential NFL prospect wind up playing at ONU?
“Brian was a real good high school player at Lafayette Jefferson in Indiana, and it was between us some scholarship schools,” Hehman said. “He liked us. I think it was a culture thing. We got him and he’s been developed. He’s still developing. Last game, we would throw it to him when he wasn’t open and he would catch it. He’s really, really progressed.
“With the transfer portal, colleges are recruiting colleges now. I had six guys play FCS last year that would have had another year or two of eligibility here. We’ve had guys develop and transfer up. None of those guys would have gone (to an FCS school) right out of high school, but they all played.
“We develop guys. We have a good strength program and kids mature. Maybe they’re a little slow or small. We had a lineman come in here at 250 pounds and left at 310 (for a larger program). Brian is a guy that matured. He just works super hard. He’s a captain. High-character guy. He’s not flamboyant. He’s really quiet. Quiet and a captain speaks volumes, I think.”
While some teammates have moved on, Jenkins didn’t believe changing programs would necessarily boost his stock as a prospect.
“Honestly, I didn’t even think about (the portal),” he said. “I felt like if I would have transferred, it would have been hard for me to get into a new program and learn a new system. I just had my faith in staying here and just keep producing and that would carry me through to see my end goal.”
He realized at the end of last season he could draw attention from the NFL and found out a week before he was timed in the 40 that a scout was coming. Without the time to do any real speed training, he worked on his starts. Since then he has trained and says he has been timed in the 4.4s.
“Being a small-school kid and having these scouts come through has been a blessing to me,” Jenkins said. “I have a year of eligibility after this year. It all depends on how well I do this season. If I feel like I did pretty well and the scouts like what they see on film, after this season I feel confident in my skill and my ability that I can pursue my dreams into the NFL.”
The likely best-case scenario for Jenkins is to be considered as an undrafted free agent. With a good season, he easily could have the opportunity to participate in the Northwestern pro day, which usually draws scouts from almost every NFL team.
“Some schools have maintained COVID rules,” one national scout said. “Michigan and Ohio State don’t let you in to watch film anymore. You get there an hour before practice, you talk to who you talk to, you go watch practice and then you leave. I am sure there are more schools like that. Those are the two I am familiar with.
“A lot of other schools will let you watch film, but they don’t necessarily want you there to do that. It’s changed in that way. That is partially because of COVID. I think schools like Michigan and Ohio State, it was a really good excuse to change to a policy they prefer.
“Other than that, not really. I would say most teams have realized that they can have Zoom meetings with their scouts more often, so scouts are not flying to their teams’ headquarters as often to do meetings. That’s fantastic because those meetings over Zoom are equally effective and significantly more efficient from a monetary standpoint for the team and a time standpoint for the scouts who are on the road all the time as it is. Now they can meet productively and see their family 10 more nights a year or whatever it is. That’s significant.”
Said another national scout: “With everything opened up, it’s made the job easier. You can get access to the whole building and you can get background information. The biggest mistakes I have ever made were on character for a kid, just getting lied to. You’re told a kid is a great worker and he’s smart, and you get him and he’s lazy.
“The biggest thing is just getting back in the facilities at the campuses so you can get to who you need to talk to instead of having to do it over the phone or on Zoom when a ton of scouts are on it. Guys are more apt to be willing to talk to you and shoot you straight when you are one on one and it’s someone you have a relationship with and they trust you.”
The second national scout concurred that some teams are choosing to hold some meetings virtually.
“But some teams still like to have the scouts around because then if you have them around, you can put more work on them,” he said. “They bring you in for a meeting and then they say, ‘Well, while you’re here, let’s do this silly-ass project.’
“Some have been doing the October and December meetings with scouts virtually for a while now, pre-COVID. There’s no reason to come in and read your report and talk about a player. Why go sit around for five days when you are only going to be talking for, what, less than half a day? You can be just as productive sitting at home during that meeting. Use the technology. Some teams have relished it. Some are still shying away from it.”
Where was the jersey headed? Over to the Packers locker room for Aaron Rodgers.
“I consider him a rare breed, so it would definitely be nice (to get a jersey from Rodgers),” Quinn said.
Did they agree to a jersey swap?
“I think so,” Quinn said. “I’ve got a good little collection going: Aaron Donald, Larry Fitzgerald, some of the greats. Seems like just about every quarterback I ask for, they say no. This was the first yes — kind of.”
The “kind of” yes indeed turned into a yes.
“Just sent one over right now,” Rodgers said when I told him about the deal.
Martin is a Park Forest native and graduated from since-closed Rich East High School in 1986. He has been coaching for nearly three decades. He worked at Grand Valley State from 2000-09, Notre Dame from 2010-13 and has been the head coach of the RedHawks since 2014.
Never in that span had Martin had a player he coached land with the Bears — until this season with Robinson and rookie safety Sterling Weatherford, whom the Bears claimed off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 31. Also, RedHawks wide receiver Jalen Walker is the son of Bears running backs coach David Walker.
“Lifelong Bears fan and I’d never had anybody put on a Bears uniform until this year,” Martin told me. “Finally, I have three guys that I love that are with the Bears. I would be rooting for Dom wherever he went. I have actually been to Soldier Field rooting for the opposition because I had two or three players on the other team, which was really weird for me, but I’ve never not rooted for my guys. Now it’s wonderful.”
10a. Matt LaFleur became the first coach in NFL history to win his first seven games against the Bears.
10b. The Bears were 1 for 7 on third down against the Packers. They didn’t face a ton of third downs because they were either off the field right away or were running the ball so well they moved the chains on first or second down. The last time the offense converted only one third down in a game? A 26-6 loss at Cleveland in Week 3 last season, the first start of Justin Fields’ career.
10c. The CBS Sports crew of Andrew Catalon, James Lofton and Michael Grady will call Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans at Soldier Field.
10d. Former Bears coach Lovie Smith, in his first season as Texans coach, is 0-2 against his former team. Smith was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach for two seasons, and the Bears won a Nov. 23, 2014, game at Soldier Field 21-13 behind Matt Forte’s two rushing touchdowns. The Bears beat Smith and the Bucs 26-21 on Dec. 27, 2015, in Tampa, Fla., on a two-touchdown day for running back Ka’Deem Carey. Those were the only two touchdowns of Carey’s career. He has been successful in the CFL and still is playing for the Calgary Stampeders.
10e. The Bears opened as three-point favorites over the Texans at Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.