It’s another hate week here at The Daily Norseman, as our beloved purple and gold head to the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears, a bitter division rival. I know a lot of readers of this blog hate the Bears more than the Packers, but I never really have. Maybe it’s because my oldest brother and stepdad are Bears fans, and that has been nothing but good-natured joking and ribbing over the years. Maybe it’s because that the Vikings have been demonstrably better than the Bears for most of my life, or maybe it’s because they never really had any players I truly despised. Between you and me, I loved Jim McMahon and those Bears teams of the 1980’s. Don’t tell anyone, okay?
Anyway, the Bears have come out of hibernation under Matt Nagy, (tell me you saw what I just did there) are the defending NFC North champions, and like the Vikings are 2-1. Both teams have an early season loss to Green Bay, so this is a critically important game as the loser will fall to .500 on the year and 0-2 in the division, in what has quickly become the toughest division in the NFL.
With that backdrop, I was asked to do a five questions exchange with our sister site, Windy City Gridiron. I really enjoy the folks over there and the content they put out, and Jeff Berckes is one of the guys I have a lot of fun going back and forth with on Twitter. He was good enough to give us some really thought provoking answers to some pretty lame questions, so thanks for making me look good, Jeff.
1. Last year, you were kind enough to ask me to do a 5Q exchange, and in one of my replies I said Mitchell Trubisky was essentially Christian Ponder and hee hoo was that fun to read back over a couple weeks ago. Fast forward a year, and Trubisky isn’t developing at the rate expected for a third year guy in year two of Nagy’s offense. Quite frankly, he actually seems to be regressing at times, and is struggling with accuracy on throws more than five yards down the field. Can the Bears win in spite of Trubisky, and not because of him, or will he develop and will the Bears regularly win because of him?
~Insert dejected sigh~
Look, Ted, I don’t know, man. I made the assumption that he’d come out close to where he finished 2018 and build from that. He looked solid in camp, playing with more confidence and hitting those intermediate throws with authority. Yeah, the deep throws weren’t really there but hey, it was early in camp when I saw him and a lot of those passes are based on timing and rapport. Well, I was wrong. He came out and played a terrible game against the Packers and wasn’t asked to do much against the Broncos. He looked demonstrably better against Washington so there’s some hope that he can pick it back up, but despite the 2-1 mark, I think the scale still feels weighted toward the negative side right now.
Okay, back to your question. The Bears can win some games despite sub-par QB play. That’s basically my existence as a Bears fan and unless you were a fan in the ‘40s and cheering on Sid Luckman and the T-Formation, it’s your experience too. Can they win it all despite him? Absolutely not. He needs to at least be competitive against good teams and he’s had enough moments on film for either side to make an argument. The last SB winning QBs that were carried by their surroundings were named Manning - Eli for his two and the ghost of Peyton with the Broncos in SB 50. It can be done, but there are easier ways. I will say though that this Bears defense is coming out of the gates hot and has a chance to take this team far. If Trubisky and this offense can at least be a league-average unit, they’ve got a shot.
Will he make the leap? I sure hope so - if only so I can stop answering a Trubisky question every week. He needs to just start stacking good games together, stay healthy, and win some big games to change the narrative. Not too much to ask, right?
2. What happens when it comes time to exercise Trubisky’s fifth year option and/or sign him to a new deal?
WCG: Bah! Another Trubisky question!
Okay, here’s what I would do. If he falls on his face the rest of the season, I’m going out and trying to find someone that can shepherd this team and take advantage of this defense, similar to what the Vikings did with Kirk Cousins (with hopefully better results). I have some ideas but I’m not going public with them yet because I still believe he can turn the corner. If he plays well enough to think he can be the guy in 2020, I pick up the fifth-year option (it’s only guaranteed for injury anyway) and play year four of his rookie deal without an extension. Yeah, it would probably start to be a storyline, but signing Eddie Jackson to an extension next offseason is my top priority. If Trubisky takes off and turns the corner, I think you try to sign him early like the Rams did with Jared Goff or the Eagles with Carson Wentz so you can navigate around his cap hits and try to keep this defense together. We’re only three games into this season and I always want all the information I can have before making a decision. The early season performances will be forgotten if he plays well and takes this team on a deep playoff run.
3. When Vic Fangio left to take the head coaching job at Denver, the expectation was that although the Bears defense would still be really good, they would probably take a step back, as Fangio was considered the architect of that defense. So far, it seems they haven’t. What is DC Chuck Pagano doing to keep this unit performing at such an elite level?
WCG: Fangio is great, don’t get me wrong, but the love affair with Vic Fangio and the media became just a little nauseating in the offseason. He is an excellent game planner and when he has the athletes, he can call a great game. He reminds me a lot of Wade Philips in that regard. I think because Fangio is a little cantankerous, he struggled to get to the highest position in the past. I’m happy for him that he’s finally getting his chance in Denver. If only those guys named Von Miller and Bradley Chubb could generate pressure like his old team...
Enter Chuck Pagano, who already had his chance as an HC because of his previous success as a defensive coordinator. How could he replace Vic Fangio? Pagano’s solution has been to bring pressure and a lot of it, something he learned from his days in Baltimore. The Bears front is good enough to get consistent pressure rushing four but Pagano is bringing creative, exotic blitzes from everywhere. They’ve already had seven different players record a sack and they’re on pace to beat last year’s team total of 50 (I know, it’s early). He can do that because the back end is anchored by the dynamic Eddie Jackson and good corner play from Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and newly acquired Buster Skrine. So far, so good. This defense looks as good as I can remember a Bears defense looking since the turn of the century.
4. Everyone knows about Khalil Mack and his level of absurdly good to the point of him probably being a created Madden player and not an actual human, but who’s kind of an under the radar guy the Vikings need to account for as well, and if you’re game planning against this defense, how do you attack them?
WCG: I stood next to Mack and he’s an impressive physical specimen. Dude looks like he’s carved out of granite. He’s one of, if not the, best defensive player in the league and he’s as humble as they come. He’s such an easy guy to cheer for and I’m so happy that Jon Gruden gifted him to us for the low cost of a 1st rounder and pick swap. I can’t think of a better franchise for a future Hall of Fame linebacker to land.
Under the radar guys...Roquan Smith has arrived as a blue-chip inside linebacker. He’s fast, he’s talented, he makes plays everywhere. I’m excited to see what he will do this year. He’s able to make a lot of plays because of Eddie Goldman in front of him, one of the best nose guards in the business. The Bears are incredibly good against the run and Goldman is a big reason why. Don’t sleep on Roy Robertson-Harris at Defensive End either. He’s able to generate a lot of pressure from his defensive end position, giving a nice compliment to the All-Universe talent of Akiem Hicks.
I’ll be interested to see what a truly good run game can do against this front, which is obviously what the Vikings have built. I’d try to run to the outside and use some misdirection and counters. Quick passes to negate the rush are a good idea, particularly in front of Kyle Fuller who likes to play off-coverage. Try to take a play-action shot or two if you can move Eddie Jackson out of the back end. Otherwise, you’ve got to grind methodically down the field. Points should be at a premium for both squads.
5. Okay, here’s the situation. Tomorrow the NFL changes their overtime rules to a field goal shootout, with a similar format the NHL has, except kickers have 5 kicks to make--35, 40, and 45 yards with a coin flip deciding the hash mark, and then two from 50 yards with each 50 yarder coming from the left and then the right hash. We’ll call this new format a doink-off. It’s not a free kick, but a regular field goal special teams situation. Who comes out with a win, the Bears, the Vikings, or the goal posts?
WCG: I never thought the kicker would be such a huge storyline (you’d think they were the highest-paid players on the field), but I will say that I really liked Eddy Pineiro when I saw him in camp. He had a big leg and he’s emerged from this weird kicker survivor competition that Nagy orchestrated. He’s already nailed a long game-winner and toughed it out to kick with a pinched nerve last week. Too early to say if he’s a longterm answer, but I’ve had a lot of confidence in him from day one.
Your overtime idea is somewhat similar to one that I came up with that was a 1-on-1 open field tackling competition. You can’t repeat your defenders or ball carriers and the ballcarrier has to stay within the hash marks. If you’re tied after five, you just keep going. Ideally, we get an offensive lineman barrelling over a backup tight end in the 43rd attempt for a win.
As for your competition, I’d say last year the goalposts would have been shattered. This year, I think we’ve got a slight edge.
[ED Note—okay, okay SIX questions]
6. Serious question to wrap it up. The loser of this game is 0-2 in the division and 2-2 on the year. Is this a must win game for both teams already, and does the loser make the playoffs?
WCG: Yeah, you hate to say that any September game is a must-win but I think you’re on to something, particularly for the Bears. If the Bears drop their second home game to a division opponent, they will have dug a sizable hole to try to climb out of to compete for this division. Yes, a lot can change over the course of 16 games, but this is a really important game for Chicago. I think we’re too early to eliminate anyone from the playoffs if they lose, but I will say it’s much more important for the Bears to win this one than it is for the Vikings. Just let us have this one and we’ll talk again in Week 17. Sound good?
No, no it does not sound good, Jeff. Still, thanks to you for answering our questions, and the rest of your temporarily awful contemporaries over at WCG. If you’re on the Perpetual Outrage Machine that is Twitter, Jeff’s handle is @gridironborn, and WCG is @WCGridiron. Go check them out, as after this week they’ll go back to being a solid bunch of folks.