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Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Big week for Nagy, others in organization

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The Bears were out-classed by the Arizona Cardinals Sunday and now have back-to-back games in primetime with jobs seemingly on the line. With that in mind, here are this week's 10 Bears Things:

1. This feels like a do-or-die game for Matt Nagy

In a season full of bad moments, none were more embarrassing than when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers trotted into the south end zone at Soldier Field back in October and made it very clear to the fans in that corner of the stadium that he owns the Chicago Bears.

It was true then and is still true today as the Bears begin preparation for their Sunday night game in Green Bay. Rodgers is now 22-5 against the Bears in his career, including an NFC Championship Game victory at Soldier Field, and a 57-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

“I've owned you all my f***ing life! I own you, I still own you.”

Those words establish an interesting backdrop for this week’s Bears-Packers game as fans continue to wonder if head coach Matt Nagy will make it to the end of the season. He’s 1-6 against the Packers, a record that matters much more than his 12-2 record against the Lions and Vikings.

Like Thanos, Aaron Rodgers is inevitable. We all know how this goes. So you can’t help but wonder: Will it actually get worse this time around?

In 2014, the writing was on the wall for Marc Trestman following a 55-14 loss in Green Bay coming out a bye week. The Packers led 42-0 at halftime after scoring touchdowns of 73 yards, 40 yards, 56 yards and 18 yards in the second quarter. That led Trestman to tell his players at halftime, “We’re not a very good football team right now.”

 

Three years later, in 2017, John Fox’s fate was virtually sealed after a 23-16 loss to the Packers at home. Brett Hundley started that game for Green Bay instead of Aaron Rodgers, and Fox infamously turned the ball over to the Packers on a coaches’ challenge. After running back Benny Cunningham was originally ruled down short of the goal line,  Fox argued that he actually touched the pylon with the ball for a touchdown. Instead, the replay showed Cunningham lost the ball before it hit the pylon, resulting in a touchback and possession for the Packers. You can’t make it up.

The point is this: Sunday’s game at Lambeau isn’t just the most important game for Matt Nagy because it’s the next game on the schedule. It might as well be the only game left on the schedule. And it might be.

Maybe the Bears come to play and pull off a dramatic upset on national television. But if it goes the other way — the way it usually goes against the Packers — you have to wonder if a change could be made as soon as next week.

2. Since we’re mentioning records against the Packers…

The Bears are 3-18 against the Packers since George McCaskey took over as chairman in 2011.

The Bears are 13-33 against the Packers since Ted Phillips took over as team president in 1999.

The Bears are 2-11 against the Packers since Ryan Pace took over as general manager in 2015.

If poor results against the Packers are going to lead to another Bears coach losing his job, at what point do those same poor results — over a much longer period of time — affect the job security of those highest in the organization? The two franchises are on completely different levels, and not just because of the quarterback situation over the last three decades. The sooner ownership admits that, the sooner the Bears will be able to close the gap against the rival that “owns” them in every sense.

3. Headset saga continues

I learned three things about Sunday’s headset issues that resulted in the Bears using hand signals, a wristband, and eventually a walkie-talkie for virtually the entire second half of their 33-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday:

  1. The Bears’ defense did not have any headset issues.
  2. Matt Nagy did not know if the Cardinals had any issues. Arizona did not publicly complain about any issues.
  3. Andy Dalton’s backup helmet did not work either.

Essentially, it sounds like the issue was isolated to the coach-to-quarterback communication and it’s certainly odd that it affected Dalton’s backup helmet as well.

Nagy isn’t making a big deal out of it publicly, but it sure sounds like he’s going to do some investigating and talk to league to make sure it’s not an issue again when the Bears host the Vikings in two weeks. The Bears have had headset issues in each of their last two home games.

“I'd have to find out more,” he said Monday. “I’m going to find out more and ask them more questions. I just haven't gotten to that point today.”

 

4. Jaylon Johnson continues to look like a big piece of the future

Not even four minutes into the game, DeAndre Hopkins caught a 20-yard touchdown pass against second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson on 4th-and-2. But when the game was over, Hopkins — perhaps the best receiver in football — finished with just two catches for 32 yards.

And Johnson’s coverage against Hopkins on the touchdown was not bad. They were both hand fighting and Hopkins was savvy enough to create enough separation without getting called for a push off. Even then, he barely got both feet in-bounds for the score.

Frankly, it was a fun matchup to watch. And Johnson more than held his own.

5. A block worth mentioning

Many really good run blocks go unnoticed until you dive into the film. This was one of those blocks:

The awareness from veteran tight end Jesse James (lined up to the left) to help left tackle Jason Peters, but then spin around and secure the backside edge player, is really impressive.

“Looking at the (defensive) shell, they had a safety rolling down to their side, so (the tight end and the left tackle) actually need to pick up two of those three defenders,” Bears tight ends coach Clancy Barone said. “And in that case, the safety did not crash down as fast as they thought he was going to, so in seeing that, he’s able to then bounce back off and pick up the player coming off the edge.”

The Bears’ rules in the run game call for the blockers to secure the line of scrimmage first, which is why James didn’t bounce down to the defensive back instead of spinning back to the edge defender.

“If the edge player is playing up the field -- playing for a quarterback keeper or a bootleg, things like that -- if he plays vertical, then you can sift up and take that second-level player,” Barone said. “But if he's trying to play flat down the line, then he actually becomes the more dangerous of those two, so you then have to bounce back out and help secure the line of scrimmage so you can actually get the run started.”

By doing that, the second-level player then became Montgomery’s responsibility after the run got started, and the running back was able to hit him with a full head of steam, resulting in a nine-yard gain.

But how James knew Chandler Jones played flat instead of vertical when the defender was completely behind him, I have no idea. Film study, tendencies, instincts… whatever, it was a great block.

And it really shouldn’t surprise anyone. James has been a very steady, reliable player since the Bears picked him at the start of training camp.

“You can go the whole game and not notice him, but then turn on the tape and he's having a fantastic game,” Barone said. "So that's one of his best credits.”

6. Wait, Breshad Perriman is Tom Brady’s WR3?

I couldn’t help but notice that former Bears wide receiver Breshad Perriman played 59 snaps (84 percent) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. That made him the obvious No. 3 wide receiver behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin with Antonio Brown suspended. The next closest Bucs receiver was Tyler Johnson, who received nine snaps.

 

To be fair, it should also be pointed out that Perriman only caught one of three targets from Brady for a total of five yards, but it still makes you wonder if Perriman would have had some value for the Bears the last few weeks with Allen Robinson out with a hamstring injury.

“That doesn't surprise me that he played that much yesterday. It doesn't surprise me at all,” Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said Monday.

When the Bears claimed Perriman off of waivers at final cutdowns, it appeared to be a depth move — primarily if Robinson were to miss any time. As things have gone for the Bears this season, they released Perriman (after he was inactive for eight games) when they needed to make room for running back David Montgomery’s return off of injured reserve. Naturally, Robinson hurt his hamstring against the Steelers the very next day and has missed three straight games.

“When he was here, you could see his ability. You could see his traits and all that stuff,” Furrey said. “Really, the biggest thing here was just kind of getting him up to speed with our playbook, not just being that one position guy and being able to help out, especially if A-Rob was out there.”

Apparently learning the playbook is not as big of an issue in Tampa. Perriman was cut by the Bears Nov. 7, but was in a uniform and active for the Bucs by Nov. 14. Again, it’s not like the former first round pick is suddenly taking the NFL by storm, but he has caught three passes on seven targets for 24 yards in the last two games on a team that also has Evans and Godwin. And if Perriman is playing 59 snaps in a game for the defending Super Bowl champions already, he must be doing something right.

The Perriman situation is peanuts compared to Cordarrelle Patterson going to Atlanta with two former Bears coaches and putting up over 1,000 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns in just 11 games this season, but both situations make you scratch your head. Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone was the Bears’ passing game coordinator last year and Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London was the Bears’ running backs coach. They obviously went to Atlanta with some ideas on how to better utilize Patterson as an offensive weapon once he signed there.

The Falcons aren’t a great team, but the Bucs obviously are. So does this end with Perriman catching a big touchdown from Tom Brady in the Super Bowl? Probably not, but it would be very Bears for that to happen.

7. New IR rules not easy to navigate

Speaking of Robinson’s hamstring injury, it’s interesting that he has now missed three games in a row, but was not placed on injured reserve. That tells you the Bears were hoping he would be back by now.

 

The NFL’s new IR rules allow an unlimited number of players to return after three games, but that doesn’t always make it easy to just shelve a guy on IR for a few weeks. Earlier this season, Khalil Mack was kept off IR with the hope that he would only miss two games and return after the team’s bye week. But after three weeks of rest, Mack eventually had season-ending surgery and went on injured reserve for good.

Right now, the Bears have two players — Robinson and running back Damien Williams — who have missed at least three games in a row, but have not been placed on IR during that time. Williams has actually missed four in a row.

“There’s some juggling and I’m involved in that, but that’s more so Ryan (Pace) and his guys talking with Andre (Tucker), our trainer, of making sure that things make sense,” Nagy said Monday. “Then my side of it is more of, OK, if that player can’t play, we need to know gameplan-wise, who’s the next person up. That’s more of what I do.”

8. Early season benching helped Trevis Gipson

Before the season began, I highlighted second-year pass rusher Trevis Gipson as one of the more important players on the roster because the Bears badly needed another edge rusher to complement Khalil Mack. Admittedly, that was because I didn’t have much faith in Robert Quinn bouncing back like he has, but with Mack now out for the season, Gipson has still become a very important developmental player and has come on very strong in the last three games since Mack went on injured reserve.

"I think he's made significant strides from a confidence standpoint and from a comfortabilty standpoint,” Bears outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey said Monday.

When the Bears drafted Gipson in the fifth round in 2020, they moved him from the five-technique position to outside linebacker, which resulted in a de facto redshirt season last year. And, frankly, things didn’t look promising for Year 2 when Gipson was a healthy scratch in Week 2 against the Bengals.

“It was a motivator,” Shuey said. “I did sit and talk with him about that. I said, ‘This is an opportunity. As rough as it may seem right now, this is an opportunity for you to understand the situation and take a half-step back. Because sometimes if you can just take a half-step back, you can take two steps forward.’”

Gipson had his best game of the season against the Lions just two weeks later and now has put himself in position to be an effective No. 2 pass rusher with Quinn. And with some recent success, Shuey’s message to Gipson is now this:

"The better you get, the harder it is to get better ... It's going to take a more focused effort from this point on to get better and it's only going to get more difficult as you continue to progress in your career to find improvement.”

 

9. QB uncertainty for both teams

While Justin Fields continues to recover from broken ribs, Andy Dalton is also dealing with an injury to his non-throwing hand. As of Monday morning, the Bears did not have any more details on the severity of that injury. If for some reason neither Fields nor Dalton can play Sunday, Nick Foles would be the next man up.

Meanwhile, in Green Bay, there’s little doubt Aaron Rodgers will play Sunday, but practice could be interesting this week if he’s limited because of his fractured toe. That’s because backup quarterback Jordan Love was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Practice squad quarterback Kurt Benkert could be stuck with a bulk of the practice reps, but the Packers could also bring back Blake Bortles, who has had two stints with the team this season.

10. Final word

NBC must be crossing its fingers that Fields, Robinson and Akiem Hicks come back this week. Games between the Bears and Packers always rate well, which is why this game wasn’t flexed out of its time slot, but without those three players returning, this one is setting up for another tough one for the Bears in primetime.

Of course, the last time Fields finished a game, he delivered what should have been an impressive, game-winning touchdown drive on Monday Night Football in Pittsburgh. Maybe he can give the Bears some hope in what should be the first of many trips to Lambeau Field in his career.