Editor’s note: We welcome contributor Jeff Berckes (@gridironborn) of Windy City Gridiron — our sister site covering the Chicago Bears — for Five Questions with the Enemy as we head into the Week 16 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Bears this Sunday.
1) What’s been the difference for Mitch Trubisky in the recent stretch? Why is he playing better?
Playing the Lions! No, seriously, he’s had some good games against the Lions, and they were stacked together on the schedule this season. Add in a great game against a struggling Cowboys team and his resurgence, if you want to call it that, seems to be explained in part by the schedule. Nothing wrong with beating up on bad defenses - it’s certainly better than the alternative - but it’s tough to get too excited about the bump in play. (Note: I understand that Dallas was ranked high in scoring defense, but most metrics had them as a below-average unit)
At a minimum, Trubisky is at his best when he’s willing and able to run. He dropped that part of his game early in the season, but when he started to log more carries, everything improved. I’d say his best game of the year came against Dallas and he gained 63 yards on 10 carries and a highlight reel TD to put them away. He’s much more dangerous as a ball carrier than people might think.
If we’re painting an optimistic picture, we can point to the Bears finally getting some production from the Tight End position. Trey Burton was playing through an injury and was finally shut down, ending a disappointing season. Third-year man Adam Shaheen has struggled to, how do I say this... be good at football? He was mercifully shut down for the year on an injury but I’m not sure it wasn’t more for performance issues. The replacements have done much better and demonstrate just how important the TE is to this offense. What we would give for Travis Kelce.
2) Now that the Bears are eliminated, what do you hope to see them do to better themselves this offseason to make a playoff run next season?
Yeah, offseason...I didn’t think I’d be talking about that in December.
Unfortunately, the Bears lack a first-round draft pick in the 2020 draft as it is owned by the Raiders in the Khalil Mack trade. I still make that trade 100 times out of 100, but that being said, the thinking behind that trade had to be that the Bears wouldn’t need to be in the QB market in 2020. Surprise! They definitely need to be in the QB market.
I think General Manager Ryan Pace, at a minimum, needs to find legitimate competition for Mitchell Trubisky entering 2020. Maybe that’s Teddy Bridgewater if New Orleans lets him leave town (I have my doubts) or someone like Marcus Mariota, I don’t know, but there has to be veteran competition. There’s been some talk about Cam Newton and if he’s healthy, bring it on. They’ll also need to find a guy in the rookie class as well, someone who needs a year to develop or maybe even recover from an injury. In other words, they need to throw a lot of capital at this position until it’s solved.
Outside of the QB room, the Bears need to find a Tight End that can make plays. Let’s assume Trey Burton can get healthy and serve as a piece of the puzzle, they still need to find that Travis Kelce-type player. Maybe that’s in FA, but more likely, one of the Bears second-round picks can be invested there. I think the Bears are hoping to see progression from undrafted free agent Guard Alex Bars to compete for a starting role, but it seems like a smart play to add talent along the o-line in the draft as well. They’ve been disappointing in the running game this year and really miss what Kyle Long was to this team when he was healthy.
On defense, the biggest issue is finding a complementary rush linebacker to Khalil Mack and piecing back together the secondary. Prince Amukamara may be on his way out of town, opening up an outside corner slot. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix signed a one-year deal and while he’s been serviceable, he has also displaced Eddie Jackson out of his more natural Free Safety role. A more logical approach would be to sign a traditional Strong Safety and get Jackson back to making plays as a centerfielder. As with most teams, adding to the defensive line rotation is always a smart investment.
3) In your opinion, how has former Chief offensive coordinator Matt Nagy been as a head coach for the Bears?
I’m in on Matt Nagy the Head Coach. I really like the culture he’s been able to develop in Chicago and he seems to have the team bought into what he’s selling. Even in a year where the Bears are struggling on multiple fronts, the team has stuck together and fought hard. They’ve been in almost every game this year and are, at the very least, a tough out. I think that can go a long way in getting Free Agents to sign in Chicago.
Matt Nagy the play-caller has had some issues. I have confidence that he’ll improve as I’m chalking up a lot of his struggles to learning on the job and to ineffective quarterback play. I will say that there is a “chicken or egg” question in Chicago as to where the problems come from. Is it Matt Nagy or Mitchell Trubisky? I think it’s probably both to some degree, but when you watch the All-22 tape of the Bears offense and see receivers schemed open regularly, it’s hard to assign too much blame to Nagy. Just know that there are plenty of Bears fans that feel Nagy is the problem and simply hasn’t put Trubisky in a position to succeed. To each their own.
4) Who is an under-the-radar player on offense and defense that Chiefs fans should know about headed into the game?
The Bears have suffered some injuries on both sides of the ball, allowing some younger players to step up. One guy is Kevin Pierre-Louis, but Chiefs fans should be familiar with him as he had a one-year stop in Kansas City. I’ll recommend another Kevin, Kevin Toliver II. Toliver was an undrafted free agent CB out of LSU. He’ll be in coverage against that talented stable of wideouts so no doubt Patrick Mahomes will try to pick on him early and often, and I’m curious to see how he holds up.
On offense, Chiefs fans should take a look at Anthony Miller, who has managed to put his early-season struggles behind him and make some big-time catches in recent weeks. Miller is ultra-competitive and is averaging over six grabs a game over the last five contests. The hope is that he’s a legitimate number two receiver to Allen Robinson II moving forward.
5) How does this game play out? Score prediction.
Bears defense plays well at times but will eventually let something big slip by, probably in the form of Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman. Travis Kelce has a good game moving the sticks against outmatched linebackers, forcing the Bears to put Eddie Jackson on Kelce in coverage. Eventually, the Bears defense will get worn out and allow some late points to put the game away. Bears offense can’t really run the ball all that well, so despite that being a spot to exploit in the Chiefs defense, they’ll be unable to do so. The Bears play a much lower-quality version of the Chiefs offense and therefore will likely be easy to stop by the Chiefs defense. I imagine the Honey Badger makes a splash play or two. Chiefs cover the spread.
Let’s just hope everyone gets out healthy and good luck to the Chiefs in the playoffs. Here’s to hoping Andy Reid can get his first Super Bowl ring - that guy deserves it more than any other Head Coach in the league today!