Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.
Final Thoughts on Week 10
J.J. Stankevitz: The final margin of 12 points in Sunday’s 34-22 win was not indicative of how close this game was. The Bears left too many points on the board thanks to Cody Parkey’s brutal game, and would’ve been up 41-10 midway through the third quarter had he made all his PATs and connected on field goal tries of 34 and 41 yards (the Bears, in this scenario, wouldn’t have gone for two after their final touchdown, too). It’s pretty well established in the NFL that beating bad teams by wide margins is as good, if not a better, predictor of future success than beating teams by narrow margins. So while some may deride the Bears for going 6-3 against an “easy” schedule, they’ve won four games by 12 or more points, and that would’ve been five had the Seattle Seahawks not scored a meaningless touchdown with time running out in Week 2. So while beating the Lions may not “mean” much to someone who discounts “easy” wins, it actually meant plenty for where the Bears can go in 2018.
Paul Aspan: Mitchell Trubisky heard the haters and responded with his best game - yes, even better than the 6 TD Tampa performance. Similar to the Bucs, the Lions no doubt blew some coverages, but Trubisky was on point from the get-go. I know “Pretty Boy Assassin” is a distant memory but that’s how he played on Sunday, and the guy yelling into the camera after running in that TD to make it 26-0 is the guy I want on my side in a fight.
I was shocked to hear Matt Nagy say there was zero chance to bring in another kicker this week after Cody Parkey’s ‘Chuck Knoblauch-esque’ day, but I also didn’t really remember / realize his contract, because…kickers. Parkey’s $9 million guarantee is the third highest of any kicker in the NFL, trailing just Justin Tucker (who missed a game-tying extra point this year) and Stephen Gostkowski. Money aside, I just really want someone who is a million times smarter than me to figure out the odds on hitting an upright four times.
Cam Ellis: When you're a kicker in the NFL and you doink four consecutive kicks, the critisicm that follows is more often than not deserved. With that said, I think the note about Parkey not practicing at Soldier was overblown -- it's not like Khalil Mack is running sleds at midfield during the week there, either -- but the optics are admittedly pretty bad. Everyone's had their worst day at work, however, and if you haven't - it's coming! The difference is you didn't get booed by 61,000 people when you didn't follow up on that email. Odds are you weren't made fun of by Jimmy Fallon on national TV, either. I'm all for holding any NFL players accountable - you're paid handsomely to play a game once a week and missing four kicks isn't something you can get away with twice. Let's keep some of this in perspective, though.
First Thought on Week 11
Stankevitz: Sunday night’s date with the Minnesota Vikings looks like a massive swing game for the Bears’ outlook in 2018. Win it, and you’re 7-3 with a legitimate hope of winning the NFC North. It’s easy to envision the Bears beating the Vikings and being at least 8-4, if not 9-3, when the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers come to town on consecutive December Sundays. Lose it, and the Vikings probably have the upper hand in the division while Thanksgiving’s date with the Lions takes on added pressure. This will be a major test of the Bears’ mettle, as while they’ve beat up on teams worse than them (which, again, is important), their three losses have come by a total of 11 points, raising the question if this team can close out a narrow win over a good team. It’ll take a thorough effort by everyone involved – offense, defense, special teams and coaching – for the Bears to emerge from one of the franchise’s biggest games in recent memory with a win. But there’s also not many, if any, reasons to think they can’t do it.
Aspan: I’ve said from the time that the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins that it’s a lateral move from Case Keenum – and Pro Football Focus pretty much backs that up. Keenum was their #9 QB last year and “You like that!” checks in at #8 halfway thru the season.
So, Cousins doesn’t worry me. Adam Thielen is dangerous sure, but it’s the Vikings pass rush and the mad scientist behind that defense, Mike Zimmer, coming off a bye, against Trubisky that gives me pause. This isn’t purely based on the fact that the Vikings had 10 sacks against the Lions - the Bears had six – that’s clearly one of many issues in Detroit. But Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are going to be a handful. Mix in the way Zimmer disguises some of his blitzes and let’s see how a confident Trubisky, coming off his best game, fares in his biggest test to date.
Ellis: This isn't exactly about the Vikings, but for being in the first year of a 3-year, $42 million contract, it kinda feels like Allen Robinson's been underappreciated this season? Being out for two games certainly doesn't help, but a healthy Robinson's brought exactly what the Bears were expecting to their revamped offense. He probably still needs to put together a bit more consistency, but when he's fully involved with their offense, the Bears look tough to stop. There's no excuse for him not to get 8-9 targets against the Vikings this Sunday night. On a roster full of undersized recievers, having a 6'3 guy like Robinson who can go up and get jump balls provides an entirely different wrinkle to an offense that's already one of the league's most prolific. A pass-catching core of Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton ain't half bad, but this offense isn't running on all cylinders unless Robinson's name is continually called.