10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears pummeled Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow before holding on for a 20-17 victory Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, evening their record at 1-1.
1. That was a good look at what complementary football can look like for the Bears from the defensive side.
The Bears got to Joe Burrow on the first series — getting off the field after a regrettable taunting penalty against strong safety Tashaun Gipson extended the possession — with Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, the highly paid bookend pass rushers, combining to overwhelm the left side of the Bengals offensive line.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai, without providing any details, has talked about needing to put players in better positions to win. In this instance, with the Bengals facing third-and-10 from the Bears 35-yard line, Quinn lined up as the right end in a four-man front with Mack just inside of him as a standup tackle.
Mack pushed upfield against left guard Quinton Spain, and Quinn looped inside of him for a clear run at Burrow and a sack. It was the perfect game at the perfect time against an offensive line that struggled to protect the prized quarterback prospect last season and is off to another rough start.
Jeremiah Attaochu had a hit on Burrow earlier in the drive, and the final numbers were impressive. The Bears had four sacks and nine quarterback hits by eight players. Akiem Hicks was credited with two hits, while his fellow linemen Bilal Nichols and Angelo Blackson, inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Alec Ogletree and outside linebackers Mack, Quinn and Attaochu had one each. My hunch is when coaches complete their review of the game film, they will come up with more than nine hits on Burrow.
The penetration from the outset set a tone the defense carried throughout as the Bears finished with four takeaways a week after being shut out in that category in a 34-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The Bears finished plus-3 in turnover margin for the first time since Week 3 of 2019, when they were plus-4 in a blowout victory at Washington. That was the third game for defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and this was the second for his replacement, Desai.
Credit Desai for remaining even-keeled after a lousy effort in Los Angeles, where Matthew Stafford torched the Bears secondary. As Desai recounted Wednesday, it was really a small handful of plays that did in the Bears in that game. That doesn’t make it acceptable or make the performance remotely OK, but it wasn’t like the Bears had to panic all of a sudden — even though some wondered.
I saw on the Fox pregame show where they showed a Bears graphic with a photo of quarterback Andy Dalton and the words “Time to panic?” Everyone loves to follow the knee-jerk storylines produced at the start of the season, but the Bears have proven and experienced players at all three levels of the defense.
“You can’t hang on to anything in this league,” Desai said Wednesday. “This is a marathon that we’re running right now and we’re (at the) start of it, so you can’t hang on (to a bad start) because that’s where things snowball. You address the issues. You’re very direct and you take accountability. That starts with myself. I let the guys know where I was accountable. And they knew where they were accountable and then we moved forward.”
A 7-3 lead midway through the third quarter turned into a comfortable 20-3 advantage after the defense produced four takeaways in a span of 10 offensive plays for the Bengals.
- Free safety Eddie Jackson punched the ball out of the hands of unsuspecting wide receiver Tee Higgins, and Gipson recovered.
- Smith intercepted Burrow and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown — the first touchdown he has scored since playing at Macon County High School in Montezuma, Ga. (More on Smith in a little bit.)
- Jaylon Johnson came up with the first interception of his career.
- And then Ogletree pounded Burrow, whose pass fluttered into the hands of Blackson for the first interception of his career.
The offense didn’t do its part — more on that also in a little bit — but Cairo Santos was able to knock through some field goals and it was enough to stave off the Bengals in the end.
“They’ve got a great front, one of the better fronts you’ll see in this game,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “They’ve done a great job there, and we thought we had good matchups elsewhere. The Rams got them on the ropes last week getting on them early, hitting those deep shots and had them on the road.”
Surely Taylor is referencing a perceived advantage with wide receivers Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd against the Bears secondary. But a flustered Burrow, who finished 19 of 30 for 207 yards with two touchdowns and the three picks, didn’t have the time to test out the secondary.
The takeaways ultimately told the story of the game, and when coaches stress the importance of this statistic, they do so for good reason. The Bears were 4-0 last season when they were on the plus side of takeaways and 3-2 when the turnover margin was equal. They were 1-6 when losing the turnover differential and finished minus-4 for the season, tied for 23rd in the NFL.
In 2019, the Bears were 5-1 when they won the turnover battle, 1-2 when it was even and 2-5 when they lost the turnover margin, finishing even for the season to tie for 15th. With an offense that will be finding its way for most if not all of the season, it’s imperative the defense provide extra possessions, short fields and the occasional score as Smith did.
“As a defensive player, you live for moments like that,” Gipson said. “Those types of game don’t come often, but, man, when they do, those are the fun types of games. Especially in front of the home crowd. It couldn’t have been a better time. Especially after last week, man, we needed that type of energy, and we came out here and we fed off the fans.
“Once that first (takeaway) came — huge play by Eddie — and I’m just sad Roquan looks like he’s got better return skills than me. That’s not true, either, by the way. It just was huge. The saying goes, they come in bunches. We’ve got to build on it.”
2. You probably would stump most Bears fans if you asked who is the last linebacker before Roquan Smith to have an interception and a sack in the same game.
The answer is Nick Kwiatkoski, who accomplished the feat in a 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10, 2019. It’s the kind of daily double more commonly associated with Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, who did it five times in his career. Since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, Otis Wilson (three times), Lance Briggs and Mike Singletary (twice each) are the only other Bears linebackers to do it more than once.
Without having a great handle on the rest of Sunday’s games, I have to imagine Smith is a strong candidate to be named NFC defensive player of the week. It was the kind of stat-stuffing performance — he led the team with eight tackles, including one for a loss — that resonates. It’s also the kind of big game that will get him noticed when the time comes for Pro Bowl balloting. It was a huge game for a player the Bears are counting on to be even better than he was a year ago, when he led the defense with 139 tackles and had four sacks and two interceptions.
For a reserved and quiet teammate, Smith has really grown into a leadership role. He doesn’t have to say a lot to get his message across in the huddle and on the sideline, and it’s easy to see a natural growth into this role. He was the only defensive player the Bears made available after the Week 1 shellacking in Los Angeles. Smith stood up and took the hits for the unit, saying the Bears hadn’t played up to their standard. He didn’t call out teammates. He talked about his own play first. That’s what you expect from a player who calls the plays in the huddle.
So for him to be at the forefront of the resurgence against the Bengals wasn’t surprising. He’s a chess piece for defensive coordinator Sean Desai because of his range and ability to make plays from sideline to sideline, and he’s getting better at directing those around him.
“Coming out knowing last week wasn’t our standard, we knew we had to get better, and obviously there were still mistakes out there this week,” Smith said. “But it’s a lot better cleaning them up after a win, and we just came out and played our style — stingy.”
Smith’s sack came on a really well-timed call by Desai. The Bears used Christian Jones as an outside linebacker to fill the role that perhaps the inactive Trevis Gipson would have performed, occupying a blocker with an under move. That allowed Smith a free run at Joe Burrow for the sack.
I like the idea of using Smith in the pass rush more. It’s not something Desai will want to do a lot because Smith is so good in coverage and can pick up checkdown targets that release from the backfield, but he also has a knack for timing his rush and defeating much larger blockers. We saw it from time to time with former coordinator Chuck Pagano, and there’s an opportunity for Desai to build off that.
The interception wasn’t fancy. Burrow threw it right to Smith. What was special was the 53-yard return to the north end zone. He ran through a tackle effort by Burrow just before the goal line and then flipped the ball into the stands with his right arm.
“It was pretty sweet, besides giving the ball on my first pick-six to a fan,” Smith said. “In the moment, I wish I would have kept it. But I’m sure I made his year.”
Will he try to get the ball back?
“Nah,” Smith said. “I’ll just keep the jersey and I’ll keep the memory. I’m sure the guy that got the ball, he’ll enjoy. So if I can make his day, I’m fine with that.”
What stuck with Smith coming out of the game was how the defense bounced back from the showing versus the Rams on national television.
“There was a lot of adversity that we faced last week,” he said. “A lot of people saying this and that. But we don’t really care about that. It’s about the guys in that locker room and the guys on that defense. We were more worried about playing to the best of our ability, and we do that, we know good things can happen.”
Strong safety Tashaun Gipson has been around only since the start of the 2020 season, but he has witnessed growth from Smith, who clearly took the mantle from Danny Trevathan a year ago as the quarterback of the defense.
“Man, best linebacker in the game,” Gipson said. “And I tell him that. I’ve been saying that since last year. Having a guy like that makes it easy. Obviously you’re not going to get many tackles when you’re playing with a middle linebacker like that. He’s just a phenomenal player. He can run like a DB, hit like a linebacker. He can cover like a DB.
“I don’t have enough good things to say about Roquan, and you know, he’s turned into a leader. Young guy (24). A lot of people don’t realize how young he is.”
3. The million-dollar question this week for Matt Nagy is who will start at quarterback Sunday in Cleveland.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Nagy said in his postgame remarks.
Andy Dalton exited in the second quarter after a 14-yard scramble on first-and-20 when he came up awkwardly on the Bears sideline. Dalton spent time in the blue medical tent and then did some running on the sideline, stretching out his left leg. The team announced he had a knee injury. Dalton came back for four snaps on the next series, getting sacked for an 8-yard loss on second-and-11 before a short completion, when Nagy opted to make the change.
Nagy said the team expects to have more information soon, and you better believe the Bears will have a good handle on the situation by the end of Monday. That doesn’t mean Nagy is likely to share any clues before the end of the week.
With the exception of a game-opening 75-yard, nine-play drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Allen Robinson, the offense did very little. Justin Fields kneeled three times at the end of the game for a loss of 4 yards. Subtract that and the Bears gained 210 yards on 58 plays (3.62 yards per play). The Dalton touchdown drive was fueled by a 32-yard pass interference call against Eli Apple. Moving the ball was a real challenge for the offense.
Since 2000, the Bears are 7-25 when averaging 3.62 yards or less per offensive play, with the last previous win coming on Dec. 3, 2006, against the Minnesota Vikings when Lovie Smith’s defense was at its peak. It’s not a sustainable pattern for the Bears, who struggled in Week 1 when they averaged 4.7 yards per play.
Maybe the game provided an indication of why the coaching staff opened the season with Dalton as the starting quarterback. Fields completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards, and the interception he threw to linebacker Logan Wilson on third-and-7 with 3:43 remaining allowed the Bengals to make it a three-point game. Fields fumbled on a strip-sack that would have been a turnover if the Bengals had fallen on the ball instead of trying for a scoop and score.
Fields ran 10 times for 31 yards, with the critical play being a 10-yard scramble out of the left side on third-and-9 with 2:55 remaining. That first down propelled the Bears to victory, and it’s unlikely Dalton would have escaped the pocket for a first down in the same situation.
That raised a good question in Nagy’s postgame chat. Leading 20-10 with less than four minutes to play and the Bengals down to two timeouts, why ask Fields to drop back and pass on third-and-7 from his 23-yard line? Why not punt and lean on the defense that had played so well to that point, with the exception of Joe Burrow’s 42-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase minutes earlier?
“Staying aggressive, that’s kind of our mindset,” Nagy said. “If (you) run the ball and don’t get it, then you make them use a timeout, but you’re not giving yourself a chance to get the first down. So we’re going to stay aggressive in our mentality with how we do that. We want to be smart with the play calls, and every play call we talk through (during) the week and we know what we are going to and what we are not, but we’re going to try and stay more on the aggressive side in that situation.”
The Bears probably don’t want to bring Dalton back if they don’t believe he’s close to 100%. Of course, Fields’ learning curve should be expedited the more he plays, the more he experiences, the more he sees. To be fair, there were some bigger plays — an end-zone shot to Robinson included — that were close but didn’t quite come together.
“Like I’ve said with Justin, he’s probably further along than we thought at this point,” Nagy said. “If that’s the case, we feel good about it. He’s worked really, really hard to get to this point. Even today, in that moment as a rookie, coming on in that situation — super calm, super cool. Even after the interception, when (Wilson) dropped in the zero look and made the play, (Fields) was very cool coming out there and trying to make a play.
“He’s done that his whole career. That doesn’t fluster him. That’s a strength that he has. We’ll see where everything goes and where it’s at. For sure, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and we feel good with him.”
I don’t believe this is the situation — preparing for a Week 3 trip to Cleveland with Dalton suffering what hopefully is a minor injury — that the Bears envisioned as the turning point at the position. But you never know how things will play out, and if Fields’ turn does come with a start against the Browns, there’s no telling where things head from here. He could take the job and run with it. The offense could show some spark and finally start hitting some chunk plays. The Bears’ biggest gain Sunday was a 21-yard Fields completion to Darnell Mooney. Dalton had a 17-yard pass to Mooney, and after that the biggest gain was Dalton’s 14-yard run.
“When you’re in the moment making those mistakes, it’s more when you come back (that you evaluate them),” Fields said. “But I feel like when you’re evaluating film after the game, you just have to keep that in the back of your head. You know those situations might pop up in-game again, and you just know where to go with the ball and what to do with protection.
“This week I was kind of calm, more calm for sure. I was trying to do my job to the best of my abilities, so being the second-string quarterback, you never know when it might be time to go in.”
4. Justin Fields will be measured against the other four quarterbacks selected in Round 1 of this year’s draft each week, all season and for years to come.
The sample size remains ridiculously small and it’s way too early to make broad statements, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
- Trevor Lawrence, 1st pick, Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)
Lawrence struggled in a 23-13 home loss to the Denver Broncos. He completed 14 of 33 passes for 118 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions for a 37.2 rating. He was sacked once, and after a 25-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones staked the Jaguars to a 7-0 lead, it was all downhill from there.
- Zach Wilson, 2nd pick, New York Jets (0-2)
Wilson had a miserable game as he was picked off four times without a touchdown pass in a 25-6 home loss to the New England Patriots. He completed 19 of 33 passes for 210 yards and a 37.0 rating and was sacked four times.
- Trey Lance, 3rd pick, San Francisco 49ers (2-0)
Lance did not play in a 17-11 victory in Philadelphia as Jimmy Garoppolo got all of the snaps. Lance got four plays in the 49ers opener last week.
- Mac Jones, 15th pick, New England Patriots (1-1)
Jones completed 22 of 30 passes for 186 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers in the 25-6 demolition of the Jets. He posted an 89.0 rating.
5. The biggest takeaway from this game is the Bears finally played the kind of defense with their front seven that they envisioned after signing Robert Quinn in the 2020 offseason.
The whole premise of the construction of the roster and allocation of resources a year ago was to hunt the quarterback and reap the rewards on the back end with the ball coming out quicker, passes being deflected and quarterbacks becoming jumpy and uncomfortable. It never really panned out, and the blame can’t be heaped solely on Quinn, who admittedly had a lousy season.
Using this game as a snapshot, it’s clear the Bears got what they were seeking a year ago with Sean Desai now at the helm. The defense surpassed nine quarterback hits only twice last season, getting 11 in Week 14 against the Houston Texans and again in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings. Both of those teams entered those games with awful offensive lines.
The Bears didn’t get nine quarterback hits once in 2019, and they did so four times during the electric 2018 season, when Vic Fangio was directing the defense. This is a path for sustained success if the Bears can build off this performance and continue to hunt quarterbacks.
Khalil Mack, of course, is the player it’s all built around. He had one sack Sunday and, as previously detailed, created the open lane for Quinn’s big play. Quinn was credited with a second sack when he ran Joe Burrow out of bounds for no gain. That play was undone by the 15-yard penalty Quinn earned on the sideline for unnecessarily bumping Burrow.
When the Bears have struggled since the start of last season, their stars have not played to that level. That puts the onus on the rest of the roster to raise its level of play. Mack hasn’t consistently played at that level since the midpoint of last season. Now he has had a productive game, and Quinn has 2½ sacks after sharing one in Week 1 with Akiem Hicks.
Mack had only 2½ sacks in the final eight games of 2020, and while sacks are far from the
only or best measure of an edge rusher’s effectiveness, it’s a good place to start. Elite pass rushers are disruptive on a regular basis, overcoming extra attention from offenses. Mack simply wasn’t as he played through a variety of injuries neither he nor the team chose to elaborate much about.
Mack prides himself in always being available for his teammates, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. But at the same time he’s paid to be a game wrecker, and it’s hard to think of many instances over the last couple of seasons when he just dominated an opponent from start to finish.
The Bears engineered the trade for Mack before the 2018 season with the belief he was the missing piece needed to elevate a good defense to greatness. It worked in that first season. Since then, the Bears have struggled to maintain a consistent edge on that side of the ball.
Here’s a look at Mack’s numbers with the Bears:
Year: QB hurries, Sacks, Pressures
- 2018: 26, 12½, 47
- 2019: 30, 8½, 45
- 2020: 16, 9, 31
- 2021: 2, 1, 2
Working primarily on the left side of the defense in Week 1, Mack was just about shut out. Depending on how you grade it, he had one pressure. He didn’t lay a hand on Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, and on most passing downs he was going one-on-one against right tackle Rob Havenstein.
The Bears slid Mack inside in the third quarter with Hicks playing left end on third-and-10, and right guard Austin Corbett passed him off to Havenstein. Mack forced Stafford to climb the pocket, and because the Bears had no other interior push, Stafford was able to hit Robert Woods with a dart for a 19-yard gain.
There were plenty of occasions when Stafford threw quickly to the opposite side of the field — away from Mack — but I counted 15 one-on-one situations with Havenstein, and Mack didn’t win any of them.
“Pass rush is a function of rush and coverage,” Desai said Wednesday. “And it’s all about timing. From my end, we’ve got to do a better job of trying to get him going. And from a coverage perspective and a schematic perspective, we’ve got to be tighter. Sacks become a function of rush and coverage. There is not many people that are free-winning on the first move in this league, and if they are, you’re talking to the O-line coach on that side of the ball and they’re saying the same thing — that it was a mistake.”
When Desai talks about doing a better job of getting Mack going, he’s probably referring to running some games up front, twists and stunts and maybe moving Mack around a little more to look for favorable matchups. That’s precisely what he accomplished on the early sack by lining up Mack and Quinn next to each other and not on opposite sides.
“They start looking at 5-2 (Mack), and I just happen to be the guy beside him,” Quinn said “When you’ve got a guy like 52 there, their eyes get kind of big. And then when I go beside him, now they have to really figure out a game plan.
“Coach had the call and me and him had our call and we just went to work. So we’ll give credit to (Desai), thank him for calling it.”
Dominant defensive players find ways to win no matter who they’re rushing against. That’s what the Bears are paying Mack to do. Maybe this is the beginning of a resurgence for a player whom offenses scheme for weekly.
“It’s one game,” Quinn said. “It’s done and over with. Now you have to be consistent next week. It’s fun that we did it, but on to next week.”
6. A lot of folks wondered in the offseason if the Bears would keep tight end Jimmy Graham at $7 million for this season, and the team never flinched.
Graham was in the plans for the offense from the start of the offseason, and the reason is pretty clear. He led the team with eight touchdown receptions and added another in the playoff loss in New Orleans. For a team that struggled to reach the end zone, the Bears didn’t want to shed their most productive player in the red zone, even if cutting Graham could have gone a long way toward retaining cornerback Kyle Fuller.
The Bears struggled in the red zone Sunday, scoring one touchdown in three trips, and Graham wasn’t targeted during the game. According to my unofficial tally from the press box, removing plays eliminated by penalties and the kneel-downs at the end of the game, Graham was on the field for 18 snaps after getting only 16 last week, when he was targeted twice and caught one pass for 11 yards.
“I’m always ready and always willing, so we’ll see,” Graham said Thursday when asked about his playing time. “Cole (Kmet) is getting a lot of snaps and so I’m always ever-present to make sure that I’m ready when needed, especially if he gets tired. And I’m always there encouraging him and telling him what I see. All my guys, you know, Jesse (James) and J.P. (Holtz). We’re all just one unit, so we’re all leaning on each other.”
I would expect the Bears to make a concerted effort to use Graham more, especially in the red zone or in third-and-short or third-and-medium situations. James played 13 snaps, unofficially, against the Bengals, and he’s a much bigger part of the offense than third tight end Demetrius Harris was last season. But the Bears need to get more out of Graham for the cap space he’s taking up and contract he’s earning.
7. It’s an interesting time for college scouts, who have been out on the road for more than a month.
The access is certainly improved over last fall, when COVID-19 restrictions kept them off campus. Instead of doing their work strictly off film and video conferences, they’re able to lay eyes on players in practice, attend games and meet with coaches and support staff.
What has complicated things is the higher number of draft-eligible players in 2022 because all college athletes last year were given an extra year of eligibility. Some have suggested that will make the 2022 draft deeper in talent. That’s not necessarily the case. Players who were NFL-ready entered the draft this year. Players who returned to school, in the overwhelming majority of cases, were not pro material or were coming off of an injury.
“You’re spending more time right now trying to figure out who is in what class rather than who can play football at the next level,” one national scout said. “The majority of the time spent at a school is trying to figure out who is eligible and who is actually considering coming out this year rather than using their COVID year to come back (in 2022).
“If you try to get the information on every player that will be eligible and if you try to watch tape on everyone that is eligible this year, you’re not going to be able to do your due diligence on the guys that really matter most. As scouts, we’re always using as much time as there is available to learn all of the character, watch all of the tape, spend all the time you need to at the schools and produce the work we need to produce. If you double the amount of prospects, there’s not double the amount of time to do all of that work. And there’s still only 256 draft slots available. At some point, lines need to be drawn. It’s a very interesting year from that aspect.
“I had that argument with a lot of people last year that thought this year’s draft class was going to be so great because there is so much more higher-level talent. But that’s how I look at it. If they were eligible last year and a good prospect, they were going to enter the draft. There are certain situations where players can get better and I think there will be a few that make that jump, but that is not going to be the norm. We’re not going to see 80% of guys that came back to school improve their draft slot by two rounds. That’s not how it works.”
A second national scout concurred that the unusual circumstances have created a lot of busywork. He said he was at three Big 12 schools last week, none of the conference’s elite programs, and he looked at about 40 players total. He estimated trips to these schools normally would have warranted his looking at three prospects at the first school, four or five at the second and a maximum of five at the third.
“I was just talking about this with our area scout,” he said. “These schools begged these players to come back with a COVID year because they are good college football players: ‘You can help us win and we can be successful next year and you can spend more time working toward graduation or get started on grad school.’ All it’s doing is backlogging us because the schools are pushing even the juniors now to think about the NFL because they have to be down to 85 scholarships by next August.
“These schools need to get some of these players out the door, and so they’re saying, ‘If you’re draftable in the late rounds or a priority free agent, maybe you ought to leave.’ Or they’re suggesting some of these players consider transferring, so they’re using the NFL to sort of weed some of these players out. Few of these players are going to wind up going to the league, but they all think they are.
“It’s a royal pain. I walked away after seeing those schools maybe liking four players total out of 40 guys. But I ended up writing about 35 reports, which don’t help us. These are Power Five schools. Normally that isn’t the number I have to look at to get to the players I need to dig in on.”
Some NFL teams require their scouts to produce reports on all senior starters at FBS programs. That’s a huge workload, and there’s an incredible difference between senior starters at blue-chip programs such as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State and senior starters at MAC and Mountain West schools. Scouts for those teams are likely feeling an even greater burden.
“That’s busywork and being scared of missing on something rather than making sure you are right about something,” the first scout said.
8. The defense should get a reinforcement this week — and maybe more than one.
The Bears can count on Mario Edwards Jr. returning this week from a two-game suspension, and that’s big news. The roster is currently at 52 players after the Bears placed rookie offensive tackle Larry Borom on injured reserve Saturday, so Edwards could fill that spot. If the team adds another player to fill that 53rd spot, it would have to make another move to clear a spot to activate Edwards. It’s possible the Bears will get a roster exemption for a couple of days this week for Edwards to practice before they need to clear a spot for him.
Edwards was arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman during the preseason, when he had seven tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits. He will fit nicely into a rotation that on Sunday was forced to use Margus Hunt, who was flexed up from the practice squad this week and played three snaps by my count. Edwards will play a much larger role and will give defensive line coach Chris Rumph more opportunity to shuttle players in and out to keep them fresh.
Of course, Goldman would be a big addition this week against the Browns, who have a talented two-headed backfield with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Just don’t get caught thinking Goldman is the only potential addition to the line this week.
9. The NFL released the annual breakdown of 53-man rosters from opening weekend in a variety of metrics.
The Bears roster was the second-oldest in the league with an average age of 27.13. Only the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were older at 27.20. The Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals were the only other rosters over 27.
If the Bears did not have to sign 39-year-old left tackle Jason Peters and instead had 23-year-old rookie Teven Jenkins on the 53-man roster (he’s currently on injured reserve), their average age would be 26.83. That would rank sixth-oldest. The Bears, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers each have 13 players 30 or older. Only the Buccaneers and Cardinals have more with 16 each.
The Bears’ average height was 6.16 feet, tied for 24th. The average weight was 246.55 pounds, making them the ninth-lightest team.
While the Bears have an older roster, they could be much younger next season depending on how they handle the offseason. Twenty-two players are set to be unrestricted free agents after the season, and depending on how active the front office is in free agency, it’s easy to envision the Bears ranking near the middle of the pack in age at the start of the 2022 season.
There were 51 players from the state of Illinois on opening-weekend rosters. That ranked 11th. Florida (192), Texas (189), California (168) and Georgia (124) were the top four.
10. I’m not into many statistical tracks that carry over from one season to the next, but this one is unquestionably notable.
Bears kicker Cairo Santos has extended his club record for consecutive field goals made to 29 after connecting from 28 and 22 yards against the Bengals. Santos has made his last 29 attempts dating to a 46-yard try during Week 3 last season in Atlanta. The streak is 30 if you count the field goal he made in the playoffs in New Orleans.
“There was a moment there after my last miss against the Falcons where there was a little flashback that popped in my head of the previous teams I was on, trying to come back from that (2017 groin) injury,” Santos said during training camp. “I always felt that pressure. I put that pressure on myself that this has to be the opportunity that I bounce back. How many more opportunities am I going to keep getting? I have to make this one. I thought about this with the Bucs, with the Titans. So there we go again. I missed a kick in Atlanta.
“(But) I just kind of accepted it, as if it’s meant to be: ‘I’m going to keep grinding, so if I get another chance here in this game, I’m going to attack that kick to make it. If I’m done, I’ve got to move on.’ I felt like I started playing looser and put everything in God’s hands and went one kick at a time, and here we are.”
10a. Don’t put too much stock in a Week 2 victory, but the statistics for teams that start 0-2 can be discouraging. Since 1990, only 11.6% of teams starting 0-2 advanced to the playoffs. Teams that start 1-1 are much better off at 41.6%, while teams starting 2-0 are at 62.7%. The Bears lead the NFC North right now at 1-1 with the Detroit Lions (0-1) visiting the Green Bay Packers (0-1) on Monday night. The best path to the postseason for the Bears will be winning the division.
10b. I should not omit the comments Bengals coach Zac Taylor made about cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who made a really nice read and break on the ball for his first interception.
“The corner, (No.) 33, is a great player,” Taylor said. “We knew that going into this game. Jaylon Johnson is a really good player and he made a great play.”
The Bears feel similarly.
10c. As terrible as the offense was on third down last season, it should be noted the Bears are 11 for 26 (42.3%) through two games. They can be better, but that is substantial improvement.
10d. Enough with some of these taunting penalties. I understand what the NFL is trying to accomplish, but some of these calls are silly.
10e. One small but puzzling decision by the Bears was the move to flex offensive tackle Alex Taylor from the practice squad Saturday before designating him as inactive Sunday. The Bears signed Taylor to the practice squad Wednesday. He was part of cuts by the Cleveland Browns when they trimmed the roster to 53 late last month. By flexing Taylor, the Bears gave him a game check for the week but not a uniform. Odd, right?
The Bears can return Taylor to the practice squad without subjecting him to waivers, but they can do that only once more if they flex him again. Basically, they moved a step closer to having to make a decision on whether they want him on the 53-man roster, and they gave him a nice bonus. The minimum pay for practice-squad players is $9,200 per week, and the minimum for rookies or first-year players is $36,666 per week.
The only thing I can think of is perhaps the Bears wanted some cover with left tackle Jason Peters working through a quadriceps injury since Week 1. But they had Elijah Wilkinson, Lachavious Simmons and Alex Bars on the game-day roster — three players who could have provided help. And that reasoning doesn’t add up once Taylor became inactive Sunday morning, as he no longer could help the team.
Maybe the Bears wanted to wait and see how Peters was 90 minutes before game time, when the roster had to be finalized. It’s definitely odd. It’s a very small amount of cap space that is eaten up with this move, but it’s not like the Bears have cap room to burn.
10f. The Fox crew of Kevin Burkhardt, former Bears tight end Greg Olsen and Pam Oliver will call the Bears-Browns game Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
10g. The Browns opened as 7½-point favorites over the Bears at Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.
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