If there’s anyone who can help Jared Goff bounce back from an uneven performance in Week 6 to succeed against the Chicago Bears defense, Brandon Staley is at least a candidate. Staley coached Bears outside linebackers from 2017-2018 and worked with Khalil Mack, while getting a close look everyday at Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller and others who remain on defense under head coach Matt Nagy.
Staley is preparing his LA Rams defense to attempt to shutdown Chicago’s offense next Monday and similarly he had a weekly glimpse into what works and doesn’t work for Nagy. The coordinators on both sides of the ball are now different for the Bears than when Staley was coaching there, but he’s got to be Sean McVay’s secret weapon this week to get insight to the other side.
I also have a secret weapon giving me insight. I sent Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron five Qs and in kind he sent me five corresponding As.
You can follow Jeff on Twitter @gridironborn
Q - From 1989 to 2019, the Bears had eight playoff appearances and won three playoff games after the wild card round. In that time, the Packers have 20 playoff appearances and won 13 such games, flipping the balance of power back in their favor after Chicago’s dominant stretch in the 80s. Today, the Bears are 5-1 and the Packers are 4-1, coming off a blowout loss to the Bucs. Chicago is 14th in DVOA, Green Bay is 12th. If it had to be a “Yes” or “No” answer, are the Bears better than the Packers right now?
A - And here I thought we could be friends…
The answer is no, they’re not. They’ll have their chance against the Packers twice in the last six weeks but right now, the Packers have the better QB and own a 15-3 record against the Bears since their win in Soldier Field in the NFC Championship Game in 2011. This is, simply, not a fun topic to talk about and I’m sure Rams fans can understand watching back-to-back Hall of Fame QBs on your rival is ridiculously frustrating. It appeared that Rodgers was trending down toward league-average kind of guy at the end of the Mike McCarthy era (how’s that going, Dallas?) but he’s back to fire-breathing dragon mode.
I’m going to try and shake off this question and answer the rest with a clear mind.
Q Matt Nagy came from the Chiefs as an offensive coordinator who had gotten some of the best work out of Alex Smith in his career, touched the hand of Patrick Mahomes the year before he won MVP, and prior to that, revitalized Michael Vick and tutored Nick Foles in Philadelphia. Now in his third season with the Bears, we know that Nagy doesn’t have a great reputation for offense and can’t necessarily turn any quarterback into an efficiency beast. So rather than talk about “he’s an offensive guru” or “he’s a defensive mastermind” and buzz words, what does Matt Nagy actually bring to the Chicago organization? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a head coach?
A - He built a culture. I truly believe guys like playing for him and the results thus far? He’s off to the best start as a Chicago Bears Head Coach (25-13) since, *checks notes*, George Halas. I think the leadership element of HCs is a “gotta have it” aspect of the top job and I believe he checks the box.
Nagy was not a finished product as an offensive playcaller so, in my opinion, he is still figuring it out. A lot (and I mean a ridiculous proportion) of Bears fans are convinced he is a bad playcaller. We’re 2.5 games into the Nick Foles era, a guy on his 6th NFL stop, and the early returns look pretty good. If you’re someone who is convinced that Mitchell Trubisky simply wasn’t ready to be an NFL QB, it’s hard to judge Matt Nagy’s playcalling with Trubisky under center. If I had a dollar for every time the scheme looked good but the execution failed him since his arrival, I could probably buy that bottle of Macallan 18.
So, is Nagy a finished product? Absolutely not. But, with the leadership element down and his apprenticeship under the great Andy Reid, I’m willing to continue to roll with Nagy until he gives me irrefutable proof that he’s not the guy.
Q - Robert Quinn was a two-time Pro Bowl edge with the Rams, saw his career slow down, then picked it back up with 11.5 sacks and 22 QB hits in 14 games with the Cowboys in 2019. There was a lot of hype surrounding his pass rush win rate and how dominant he looked for one season with Dallas and he signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Bears to team with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. Mack and Hicks have been productive, Quinn not so much. What’s the Robert Quinn experience been like so far and given the amount of money and draft capital dumped into the front-seven, is it living up to expectations? What would live up to expectations for this defensive line?
A - Quinn is slowly rounding back into shape after a preseason ankle issue, so I’d love to take a raincheck on his review until the end of the year. The contract is kind of crazy given where he’s at in his career and came as a bit of a shock to me. I think you can understand what Ryan Pace was trying to do. When Akiem Hicks was lost for the year in 2019, the defense took a step back because offenses were scheming Khalil Mack out of the game. Add strength to strength and lean into the defensive build. I might’ve built out the offensive line instead, but I can at least understand what he was trying to do here.
Is it living up to expectations? It’s starting to look like it. They got to Teddy Bridgewater four times last week and made Brady uncomfortable the previous Thursday night. Again, I’m trying to take the long view here and want to wait until the end of the season to really make a judgment.
I think a top 5 finish in Defensive DVOA probably justifies the approach.
Q - Rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson could be a PFF all-pro if he continues like this. I would say just a regular all-pro, but I think voters will need to see some interceptions first. Regardless of turnovers, Johnson’s been called one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL through six games, a rare achievement for a player who hadn’t been in an NFL game prior to being considered for that elite ranking. I’ve also read about areas he’s struggled with, like turning and going over the middle and some penalties. Last week’s assignment against Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore is a difficult one. Similarly the Rams bring Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to test Chuck Pagano’s zone. Talk to me about the excitement around Jaylon Johnson, especially in a year when the Bears didn’t have a first round pick, and do you see any areas of the secondary that Sean McVay could exploit next Monday?
A - This is a love story that started during the lead up to the draft. As you said, the Bears didn’t have a first round pick, but they did own two second rounders bunched closely together (43 and 50). My podcast co-host EJ Snyder and I explored players that could be available in that range at positions of need. One guy that kept emerging in our minds as a perfect fit for the defense was Johnson.
The number one thing I can say about him is that he seems to always be in the right place. He’s hyper-competitive with the confidence to believe he’s great before he even steps on the field. He does seem to get a little antsy as the ball arrives, which has led to a couple of penalties (some legit, some questionable). I’m no expert at CB, but that seems like a part of the craft that can be learned over time with more experience. The fact that he’s already exhibiting high intelligence in understanding coverage this early in his career, and has had a lot of success in terms of “completion percentage against,” speaks well to his future.
An argument can be made that the secondary is actually the strength of this team. Kyle Fuller is playing his way into another Pro Bowl season and maybe even discussion to earn his second 1st Team All Pro selection. Eddie Jackson is as good as they come and Buster Skrine has been solid in the slot. The weak link is Tashaun Gipson, a solid veteran at the opposite safety.
It’s the modern NFL, they can of course be bested by your excellent route runners and they’ve been called for a few DPIs, mainly for their aggressiveness, but a couple for getting beat on double moves. There aren’t a lot of easy chunk gains in the passing game to be had here but I would try my luck against Gipson and/or throw a couple shot plays and hope that you can pick up DPI.
Q - In a previous Q and A, you mentioned that people need to drop offseason narratives and keep evolving as the season goes on. What is something about the Bears in last week’s win over the Panthers that you didn’t know before that would make you more optimistic about Chicago’s season? What is something you learned that makes you more skeptical?
A - Cairo Santos might have solidified the Bears kicker position… at least for now. Eddie Pineiro has been on the IR recovering from an injury that he picked up last year. Santos has been dealing with injuries of his own but appears to be clear of them. He’s 10-12 in FG attempts thus far with a long of 55 against Carolina that helped him win Special Teams Player of the Week. If he gives this Bears team a legitimate kicker, well, that is certainly not something I thought would happen in the offseason.
I think Bears fans need to officially be worried about the running game. Losing LG James Daniels for the year revealed the shallow depth of this offensive line and against a Panthers defense susceptible to the run, the Bears simply couldn’t do anything. That could be somewhat ignored against the Colts and Bucs, two good defensive squads, but that was a pretty glaring weakness against the Panthers. They may need to shift the offense back under center more with Nick Foles and adopt a power run game if they want that balance in their offense.