The Week 16 game between the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) and the Chicago Bears (7-7) is not the exciting matchup it was supposed to be when the schedule was announced. It is the first matchup for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid against his former assistant, Bears head coach Matt Nagy. A breakout 2018 season for the Bears suggested that this game would have significance — but a disappointing 2019 was culminated in a Week 15 loss to the Green Bay Packers that officially eliminated them from the playoffs.
With little to play for, Nagy could be pulling out all the stops against his former team and coach.
I have five things to watch on Sunday night:
1. The Bears’ struggling offensive line
It’s no secret that Chicago’s offense is hampered by a struggling offensive line. It is evidenced by being 29th in both rushing yards and yards per carry as a team in the NFL. Third-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky is 26th in total points and 28th in total yards this season.
Their best offensive lineman — starting right guard Kyle Long — went to the injured reserve during their bye week in Week 6. Since then, Trubisky has the sixth-most pressured dropbacks in the NFL and has a passer rating of 65 in those situations. It doesn’t help that left tackle Charles Leno Jr. has committed the fourth-most penalties out of all offensive tackles in the league. Plus, right tackle Bobby Massie has dealt with an ankle injury for weeks that has kept him out of practice this week.
It should be a great first opportunity for recently-acquired edge defender Terrell Suggs — and defensive tackle Chris Jones should dominate. Look for them and the rest of the defensive front to play well and control the line of scrimmage.
2. Taking advantage of Bears backup linebackers
The Bears defense has great talent at all levels — but the linebacker position is the only group with current major injuries.
Starting linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan are both on injured reserve with different upper-body injuries. This leaves fourth-year linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and former Chief Kevin Pierre-Louis as the starters — and there actually hasn’t been a drop-off in production.
In coverage, the backups have actually been statistically better. The former starters combined to give up 9.51 yards per reception in coverage and only had one pass breakup between them. The replacements — with significantly less snaps — are only allowing 6.03 yards per reception and have totaled four pass breakups between them. The injured starters both had higher passer ratings when targeted than their understudies. In fact, Pierre-Louis has the highest PFF coverage grade in the entire league with a smaller sample size than most.
Kwiatkoski has also been more productive as a pass rusher than either of the original starters. He leads the linebacker unit with 12 pressures, three sacks and nine hurries this year in less opportunities than Smith or Trevathan.
All that being said, it is still an advantage for the Chiefs to go against backups rather than the Week 1 starters. Look for the Chiefs to test these linebackers with passes to tight end Travis Kelce. The Bears have allowed the fourth-most targets and third-most receptions to tight ends in the NFL this season.
3. Containing Trubisky in scrambling situations
While the young quarterback has had his struggles consistently throwing with timing and accuracy, he is still dangerous when he pulls the ball down and takes off on a scramble.
Trubisky did not scramble as much at the start of the season — but he has began to utilize it more in recent games. Since Week 11, Trubisky has the second-most quarterback scrambles in the NFL — and he averages 5.71 yards per scramble with seven of those resulting in first-downs. He has scored twice on scrambles in this timespan as well. In that period, he also has the fourth-most yards off of designed run plays out of any starting quarterback in the NFL.
This should be a point of emphasis for the defensive game plan. If the defensive unit is able to shut down Trubisky’s running ability and force him to stay in the pocket and throw, it is more likely that they’ll be able to create turnovers — whether it’s by interceptions or strip-sacks.
Watch to see how Trubisky fares on the ground. If he’s able to find success, the Bears may be able to keep this competitive.
4. Maintaining the offensive momentum
In a cold snowy day at Arrowhead Stadium last week, the passing offense was sizzling hot. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had one of his best games of the season. It was his highest completion percentage in a game that he finished, he accumulated 10 yards per attempt and had a career day according to PFF grading.
#Chiefs 2019 Week 15 Highest-Graded Offensive Player: QB Patrick Mahomes - 94.0— PFF KC Chiefs (@PFF_Chiefs) December 16, 2019
• 2nd highest of NFL career (2018 Week 2)
• 90.6 Grade when Blitzed, 92.5 Grade when Not Blitzed
: Denny Medley, USA Today#ChiefsKingdom https://t.co/eQoKvEmIss pic.twitter.com/q7dnq97GBX
This performance comes after a stretch of games where the offense wasn’t as potent as Chiefs fans have grown accustomed to. After starting the season with four-straight performances of 400 or more total yards, the Chiefs had only surpassed that mark once until the Week 15 beatdown of the Broncos. It was also only the second performance of over 300 passing yards the team has had since Week 4.
Look to see if the offense can harness its momentum from last game and continue to get hot down the stretch. The old adage is that teams want to be playing their best football in December — and the Chiefs certainly look like they are doing so.
5. Mathieu continuing his all-pro level of play
The Pro Bowl players were announced this week — and the Chiefs had the third-most invitees in the NFL with six players. One snub that Andy Reid recognized was starting safety Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu’s performance in the second half of this season has him garnering well-deserved attention from his head coach.
“I think Tyrann (Mathieu) is playing as good as any safety in the NFL right now,” - Chiefs HC Andy Reid, who also noted you could make the case for defense period— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) December 18, 2019
There’s no coincidence that Mathieu’s uptick in performance has come with better play from the overall defense. His leadership has transitioned from being vocal to leading by example. He’s been all over the field making plays — whether it’s getting pressure on the quarterback or breaking up a pass in one-on-one man coverage.
Since the bye week, Mathieu has yielded a 27.4 passer rating when thrown at in coverage — which is the lowest mark for any safety in the league that has seen more than four targets in that span. He has two pass breakups and an interception — which results in him having the second-highest PFF coverage grade among NFL safeties in this period.
Look for the Honey Badger — also known as the Landlord — to continue his play and affect this game with big plays in important situations.