Mosher: Well-balanced Chicago Bears are going to be a tough out in January
On a short week, the Bears were tasked with playing a bitter rival in the Detroit Lions on the road. They were also forced to do so without their star quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. For most teams, that would be enough to do them in. The home team has a record of 11-2 this season, not counting the outcome of this game.
Add to that the transition to a backup quarterback after just playing on “Sunday Night Football,” and it wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone under these circumstances if the Bears were blown out on Thanksgiving.
But as we’ve said over and over again here at Pro Football Weekly, this Bears’ team is starting to become a juggernaut. Each week, they prove they have multiple paths to victory, and their style of winning games is repeatable and sustainable. The way they are winning games translates from September to the playoffs.
On Thanksgiving, Chase Daniel earned the victory in his first start behind center since 2014. How did that happen? Because Chicago’s playmakers made enough plays to steal a game they probably shouldn’t have won and the coaching staff put them into positions to succeed. Together, that’s quite a dangerous combination, even for a team that was playing without its franchise passer. So let’s examine how the Bears were able to win a massive divisional game without their quarterback.
Seemingly every week, I’m amazed by Allen Robinson and his skill set. Though his overall numbers aren’t spectacular this season, he has been everything the Bears have wanted and needed from their No.1 receiver. Once again this week, Robinson made arguably the biggest play of the game.
Down by seven before the half, Robinson made his best play of the game. On a third-and-13, Robinson used his arm to keep the defender at bay but didn’t push off. That allowed him to create some distance from the cornerback without drawing the penalty. A veteran move by a crafty receiver.
Robinson waited until the last possible moment to turn his body around to catch the ball, which made it nearly impossible for the defender to make a play on the pass. That reception led the Bears to their first score of the game, a 40-yard Cody Parkey field goal. It was made possible by the team’s best weapon in Robinson, who quickly turned the momentum around before halftime.
But the Bears didn’t settle for one score before intermission. After the Robinson catch, and then the field goal conversion, the Bears got the ball back with 2:10 left on the clock. After a few modest gains to Taylor Gabriel (who once again was effective for Chicago), Daniel hit rookie receiver Anthony Miller for a 26-yard gain on a corner route from the slot.
That reception put the ball inside of the red zone for Chicago, which scored a touchdown just two plays later, when Daniel found Taquan Mizzell from 10 yards out. Miller won on his route right off the snap. He was able to quickly gain a step on the defender and put him in a trail position. Once Daniel saw that Miller had the defender behind him, this turned into an easy pitch-and-catch for the two players.
When the Bears drafted Miller, they knew they were getting a competitive slot receiver who can get open at will. What they may not have realized was how quickly his game would transition to the NFL. Despite battling through injuries during the draft process and at the beginning of the regular season, Miller is starting to become a real weapon for Chicago. He may not get the same volume of targets as some of the other rookie receivers, but it’s hard to argue anyone has been as efficient.
Miller’s development and overall play is going to be a crucial factor for the Bears over the remainder of the season. If he can continue to improve at this rapid pace, even the best defenses in the league are going to struggle to match up with the Bears’ offensive weapons.
The final offensive play I want to highlight is the throw-and-catch that gave the Bears their first lead of the fourth quarter. Chicago lined up with both running backs in the backfield along with Daniel. Chicago simply ran a wheel route to Tarik Cohen and he roasted the linebacker for an easy score.
Earlier in the game, Chicago ran a similar play, in which Daniel just missed the outstretched arms of Cohen. Matt Nagy went back to the well in the red zone when the Bears needed the score the most. It’s this simple play that helps demonstrate why Chicago has such a special offense.
The Bears have talented and unique players at running back, wide receiver and tight end, and can deploy them in different ways each week, depending on the matchup. Every week, Chicago finds a receiver or two that has a mismatch, and Nagy uses them to do the heavy lifting. But in a game without their quarterback, the Bears needed all hands on deck.
Last but not least, I have to mention the defense. For the second week in a row, safety Eddie Jackson made the game-winning play for the Bears. This week, when the game was tied 16-16 with six minutes left, Jackson picked off Matthew Stafford and returned it for a touchdown.
Not only can Chicago light up the scoreboard with its offense, but the defense can put up points, too. That makes the Bears extremely dangerous to all of the other contenders in the NFC.
Last week, we showed how the Bears have now proven they can win multiple styles of games. They proved Thursday they can win on the road without their franchise quarterback. It’s becoming increasingly apparent with every game that this is one of the best teams in all of football.
In two weeks, the Bears will host the Los Angeles Rams on “Sunday Night Football.” That game should be a great measuring stick to see where the Bears are at as a franchise. If the Bears can win that game, then we need to seriously consider them as a viable Super Bowl threat. With their talent on both sides of the ball, this may be the most well-balanced roster in the entire NFL. Chicago is going to be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs.