The Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears are set to square off at historic Soldier Field in Illinois’ grand Windy City. The Bills haven’t faced off against the Bears since Josh Allen’s rookie season in 2018, and Allen was hurt for that matchup, so this will mark the first time Allen faces the Bears and plays in Chicago. It’s also the first opportunity the league and its fan base will be able to watch the chess match between Bears quarterback Justin Fields and Allen.
There’s much to be excited about with Fields if you’re a Bears fan. He’s growing as a signal caller by the week, and he’s even more explosive than advertised. Quite simply, the Bears, at 3-11, remain competitive because of Fields — and when they do win, it’s because of him. When they lose, it’s largely because there are major holes throughout the roster. With new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus in Chicago, re-building was inevitable. It’s going to take time, but it appears things are on the right track at quarterback.
Despite the lack of talent at many positions, the Bears are perhaps playing above their ceiling in some respects — with very close losses to top-shelf competition. While the ideal situation might be to continue seeing Fields ascend as a quarterback and leader this season, losing games might be more prudent to roster building. But there’s zero reason to expect any player willing to give up wins today when tomorrow’s no guarantee.
It’s easy to see a lot of Allen in Fields, down to the arc of their careers and the supporting cast around them early in their careers. Even in losses, Bills Mafia saw the potential in Allen, same as it is with Fields. The future may finally be bright for the Bears at quarterback.
But will Fields be able to navigate the treacherous weather on Saturday? What is his greatest attribute and biggest weakness? Has Chicago finally figured out the right structure for its front office and coaching staff? While much of the Bears’ roster is void of household names, who should Bills fans pay attention to this weekend? What’s the future look like for roster building in Chicago? To find out the answers to all this and more, I was joined by Patti Curl of SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron this week. Read on below to gain a better perspective of the 2022 Bears!
1. Justin Fields is a phenomenal player and an ascending NFL quarterback. In his third pro season, what do you see as his greatest attribute and what is his biggest weakness?
It’s fun to see the way these questions have changed as the year has gone on and opinion of Fields has skyrocketed. I’m at the point where I’m scared the national view of him is too positive and he’ll have one bad game and it will crater. Right now, I’ll say his greatest attribute is his athleticism, but that includes both his running and his arm talent. I don’t think even he realized how incredible an athlete he is as a runner until proving it repeatedly this season. He didn’t do it nearly as much in college and few people prove to be better at something when they try it first at the NFL level.
Moving forward he wants to use his evasiveness more frequently to extend passing plays, which has certainly worked beautiful a handful of times this season. Scramble around long enough and even replacement level receivers will get wide open.
His greatest weakness right now may sound funny but it’s the immediate passing game. He’s been off target on screens and quick passes way too often this season and I think he’s not comfortable throwing without the laces. This is something I’m hoping he can improve during the off-season.
2. The Bears drew a tough schedule facing the Eagles and Bills in consecutive weeks — and played their hearts out against those Eagles even in defeat. Despite their record, it appears the Bears haven’t abandoned ship yet. Has Chicago found the right match in head coach Matt Eberflus, and has there been a visible culture change within the team?
I do think there’s been a change in culture—and effort level—from the team. I can’t say yet how much of that is the switch from a coaching team on its way out to new hope with a new regime, but I’m optimistic some of it comes down to Eberflus. He preaches a high-effort play style and he has a tough-but-fair persona that players seem to respond to. My biggest encouragement from the coaching staff this year comes with how well they’ve adjusted, from second-half adjustments, to significant improvements in the offense after their mini-bye and defense after the actual bye. Coming from a coach who stubbornly insisted on making his system work until it got him fired, this is refreshing and feels like it just might work out.
3. For the uninitiated, can you give us a little background about one player each on offense and defense — both of whom might play pivotal roles on Saturday, but might not be household names?
For offense, I’ll say Byron Pringle who is set to be the Bears top receiver. He was a role player on the Chiefs and then injured much of this year, so he hasn’t had an opportunity to do much for the Bears. But with Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, and Equanimius St. Brown out, he’s the most likely to make a difference in the receiving game if anyone does.
For defense, I’m going to hope rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon has a second good game in a row. He has been playing both nickel and outside cornerback all season and struggled adjusting to the NFL game early on. But he’s shown improvement at multiple moments and had a great game against the Eagles. I’d love to see that continue.
4. What do you believe are the Bears’ biggest needs going into next April’s draft, and how do you think the front office will prioritize increasing the talent level throughout the roster?
The Bears biggest needs are both sides of the line and receiver. There’s some decent talent in free agency, and the Bears have the most cap space, so I anticipate they will invest in at least one starter on each side of the line there. They’ll still have room to invest early in the draft though, and I can’t imagine they will look beyond Will Anderson and Jalen Carter if they stay where they are currently projected to draft. They have enough needs for a trade back to make sense, so anything is on the table, including trading draft capital for a proven receiver if one becomes available.
5. Per Draftkings Sportsbook, the Bears are currently 8.5-point under...bears. The weather’s going to be reminiscent of hibernation season. What keeps Chicago from falling victim to that line, especially facing a team looking to win its division through victory in Week 16 (and which is no stranger to snow and lake weather)?
It may look like hibernation season, but Bears don’t sleep until they eat. And after losing 7 games straight, these Bears are still hungry. If the weather limits the passing game, that won’t be a problem for the Bears offense, whose middle name is literally “limited passing game.” I won’t be surprised if the Bears find a way to play this close, but they’ll need a few lucky bounces that give them the edge in the turnover battle.
My thanks to Patti for taking the time to chat with me about this week’s Bills-Bears matchup. The weather’s going to be frightful, but fans will be treated to a fantastic holiday matchup featuring two of the NFL’s most dynamic quarterbacks.
Be sure to head over to Windy City Gridiron to read my comments to Patti’s Bills questions!