The Chicago Bears and coach Matt Nagy look to break two losing streaks Sunday when they host the Baltimore Ravens at Soldier Field. Not only have the Bears lost four straight this season, but the team never has won a game coming off a bye week under Nagy. They lost to the Miami Dolphins in overtime in 2018, the New Orleans Saints in 2019 and the Green Bay Packers in 2020 in Nagy’s first three seasons. The Bears haven’t won coming out of their bye week since 2013.
The Bears had last week off to reflect on the 29-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and regroup for the second half of the season. As kickoff against the Ravens approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.
Chicago Bears (3-6) vs. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)
- Kickoff: Noon Sunday at Soldier Field.
- TV and radio: CBS-2, WBBM-AM 780, WCFS-FM 105.9, WRTO-AM 1200 (Spanish).
- The line: Ravens by 6. Over/under: 44½.
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Player in the spotlight
As Nagy said this week, “it obviously starts and ends” with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The 2019 NFL MVP is having another big season, and as he rallies back from a non-COVID-19 illness that kept him out of two practices this week, the Bears will have their hands full. Jackson has completed 199 of 309 passes (64.4%) for 2,447 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions and has rushed for 639 yards and two touchdowns. He also has completed four game-winning drives this season.
Safety Tashaun Gipson said Jackson’s deep ball “is looking better than ever” but that the quarterback also has the ability to “bust a 90-yard run on you, make your whole defense look silly.” Gipson was asked if defensive players worry about getting embarrassed by Jackson, and he offered an honest answer.
“If a guy like that makes you miss, it’s Lamar Jackson, right? So it’s not like the end of the world,” Gipson said. “It’s not like if Peyton Manning juked you or Tom Brady. That’s different.
“He probably could be one of the best running backs in the NFL … Obviously you don’t want to get embarrassed, period, whether you’re playing a Derrick Henry or you’re playing a Lamar Jackson. So it’s just that component when he is on the field, he’s dangerous. You don’t treat him like a quarterback. You treat him like an athlete. He can make you miss.”
Gipson said the best way to defend Jackson when he takes off is to swarm him. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai emphasized when players get Jackson in a one-on-one situation they have to “close the distance with speed and then grab a body part and hold on.”
“Just hold on and you’ve got to trust the pursuit is coming,” Desai said. “Because like Tashaun said, it’s rare you get a one-on-one shot on this guy. Just watch the tape. There are not many guys in one-on-one situations because the space is wide and limited. But you have to get the second and third guys around. They’ve got to come with pursuit and they’ve got to come with a purpose and an intentionality to help get the guy down.”
<mark class=”hl_blue”>Can the Bears offense build on the explosive plays they had against the Steelers?</mark>
The Ravens defense has allowed 6.18 yards per play, ranked 30th in the NFL, including 7.7 passing yards per play, ranked 29th. The Miami Dolphins had three pass plays of 35 yards or yards in their 22-10 upset against the Ravens last week.
That could be good news for a Bears offense that executed more explosive plays in the passing game against the Steelers. Bears quarterback Justin Fields had eight passes of 16 yards or more, including four of 25 yards or more.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said that part of the Bears offense finally is improving.
“Some games we came out and we had a certain set of plays that we thought would get them for us,” Lazor said. “We kick ourselves for only getting two of the five plays called, and then you look at them and then you say, ‘Gosh, we didn’t get the coverage we thought at the time or maybe they actually played deeper than we thought.’ So sometimes you try and you were wrong.
“I think the guys feel it. They feel that they need it in order to get us more production. So they’re encouraged to do it. (Fields) is encouraged to do it. As coaches we’re trying to do it. We’re just trying to get it to add up.”
If the Bears do get those big plays, they’ll have to convert when it counts, and the Ravens do not make that easy. They have the best red-zone defense in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert on just 44.4% of opportunities.
Keep an eye on…
While special teams coordinator Chris Tabor wanted to talk about all the Bears have to prepare for to face the Ravens’ strong special teams units, he had plenty to reflect on from the Steelers game first. Chief, of course, was Nagy’s decision to have kicker Cairo Santos attempt a 65-yard field goal at the end of the game instead of trying a Hail Mary pass.
“We’re always talking and always talking about those things,” Tabor said. “But at the end of the day, you realize that both of those are low percentage plays, as Coach mentioned. We visit it, Coach makes the decision and we go.”
Santos came up short on his game-deciding kick, ending a streak of 40 straight made field goals, four away from tying the NFL record. Tabor was asked how Santos handled his streak ending on such a difficult kick.
“That’s why I love him,” Tabor said. “Obviously he’s a really good player. He’s a really good person and he’s a really good teammate. What he’s gone through throughout his career with regards to coming back from injuries, getting an opportunity last year and taking advantage of his opportunity and continuing that, it speaks to who he is. And so that’s why I say we’ll start a new (streak).”
Santos turns to starting a new streak against a Ravens unit that will have Calais Campbell attempting to block his field-goal attempts. Meanwhile, a Bears punt coverage team that had DeAndre Houston-Carson scoop and score on a fumbled punt return against the Steelers also has a new challenge. Ravens returner Devin Duvernay has 18 punt returns for 293 yards — an NFL-leading 16.3 yards per return — and 11 kickoff returns for 271 yards this season.
“I mean, this guy is really dynamic,” Tabor said. “He’s fast, he’s explosive, he’s tough. He pretty much checks off all of the adjectives you want to talk about in a returner.”
Odds and ends
The Bears finally unlocked a little something for their tight ends against the Steelers in Week 9 with Cole Kmet recording a season-high six catches for 87 yards and Jimmy Graham adding a key 28-yard catch to open the fourth quarter. Graham also had a 1-yard touchdown grab wiped away on a questionable low-block call against guard James Daniels.
That added dimension is a boost to the Bears offense, which put up 287 yards and 17 points in the second half in Pittsburgh. Kmet felt encouraged by the passing game’s emergence in that game.
“I think we just settled down a little bit,” he said. “All the guys came together on the sideline, settled down and Justin (Fields) made some good throws and it started clicking from there on. We just need to get to that sooner.”
For an offense that has been searching for something for so long, the Bears’ fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown drive on the road also was encouraging.
Fields should have additional chances to get Kmet involved in the passing attack Sunday. And the second-year tight end hopes that whatever clicked during the Steelers game carries over.
“As we’ve gotten more reps with Justin at the helm, things have just been naturally getting better,” Kmet said. “We’re kind of having a feel for each other. Not only me but the other receivers as well. I think that’s going to keep progressing as the year goes on.”
The Bears placed edge rusher Khalil Mack and linebacker Danny Trevathan on injured reserve Friday and also declared defensive lineman Akiem Hicks out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens. That will leave the defense short-handed and in reshuffle mode in its attempt to slow Jackson and a Ravens offense that averages 414.1 yards per game, ranked second in the NFL.
Losing Mack for the rest of the season will force the Bears to find new answers for their pass rush. And it’s still possible the team could promote recently signed veteran Bruce Irvin to the active roster this weekend. Irvin worked out for the Bears on Thursday and joined their practice squad for practice Friday but hasn’t played since Week 2 of last season and is working back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee that required two surgeries to address.
Said Matt Nagy: “Where is he at, not just mentally in understanding our defense but also physically? He’s been out for a little while. As with any of these guys, the mental and physical side are a little bit different per guy.”
On the bright side, safety Eddie Jackson completed two practices this week as a limited participant and, while officially questionable for Sunday, appears to be headed in the right direction to try to play.
Receiver Allen Robinson, meanwhile, is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice all week. Without Robinson, the Bears are pretty thin at the receiver position with only Darnell Mooney, Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and Jakeem Grant on the active roster. Nagy indicated Friday that either Rodney Adams or Isaiah Coulter could be options to be promoted to the game-day roster.
Offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson (questionable, back) is the only other player with an injury designation for Sunday.
Brad Biggs (8-1)
The Ravens defense has been far more prone to busts than in years past, which is a primary reason the Ravens rank 32nd in the NFL defending the pass and 29th in yards per pass attempt. They have a tendency to be hit by the big play, especially in losses. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is a top-five player at the position, but with safety DeShon Elliott on injured reserve and cornerback Marcus Peters lost for the season, it has created issues. The Bears’ dormant passing game came to life in the second half against the Steelers, and there are many reasons for optimism regarding rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who could be poised for another big game. For all the Ravens’ struggles, they are No. 3 in the league on third down and No. 1 in the red zone. What’s problematic for the Bears is wide receiver Allen Robinson (ankle) is doubtful, and they have gotten very little production from third and fourth options Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd, who will have to step up. Provided quarterback Lamar Jackson returns from an illness — and he practiced Friday — the Ravens offense is going to be a load to handle, and the Bears won’t be able to commit numbers to the box to slow the running game as they did against the Steelers without exposing the secondary.
<mark class=”hl_purple”>Ravens 34, Bears 27</mark>
Colleen Kane (8-1)
The Miami Dolphins may have slowed Lamar Jackson last week, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing for the Bears. If Jackson is feeling OK after missing time this week with an illness, I imagine he will be motivated to have a bounce-back game. Given the Ravens defense’s stats against opponents’ passing plays, including explosive plays, I think there’s opportunity for Justin Fields to have a big game — and pull off an upset. Maybe fans will be lucky enough to see Fields and Jackson try to pull off late-game heroics in a close one. Both show poise in crunch time, but Jackson and the Ravens have the wins too.
<mark class=”hl_purple”>Ravens 27, Bears 24</mark>
Dan Wiederer (8-1)
You’d think the Bears might have some kind of advantage coming off their bye week. But they played their Week 9 game on a Monday night, and the Ravens’ Week 10 game came three nights later. So rest and a chance to regroup have been afforded to both teams. It also probably didn’t do the Bears many favors that the Ravens experienced a rare dud game their last time out, losing 22-10 to the Dolphins. Lamar Jackson and Co. promise to be refocused and motivated for their visit to Soldier Field. The Ravens also have a more lethal offense and a more well-rounded team through all three phases. Alas, the Bears’ skid will reach five games.
<mark class=”hl_purple”>Ravens 27, Bears 23</mark>
Source: Berkshire mont