Bears

Rivalry game? Or just a must-win? Either way, it's the biggest game of the year for the Bears

Rivalry game? Or just a must-win? Either way, it's the biggest game of the year for the Bears

Akiem Hicks couldn’t help but laugh when he heard the question. 

When holding his media session on Monday afternoon, the star defensive tackle – who’s returned to practice and will be eligible to play on Sunday – was pressed on whether he’d circled December 15th on the calendar. 

“It's a pretty specific date, so, yeah,” he admitted. “I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly. One of the things I really focused on was just making sure my elbow was in the strongest place possible. We still have some finishing up to do and there's all these dates to make gains and get a little bit better. Just working on that.” 

He’s certainly not the only one in Chicagoland, or even Lake Forest, who’s had this Sunday circled for a while now. It’s Packers Week, and an important one at that; while a loss in Green Bay (10-3) alone isn’t technically season-ending (a combination of other results would also have to happen), it would sink the Bears’ playoff odds below 1%. The best-case scenario (Bears win, Rams/Vikings loss) would raise that to 17% with two games left. 

“The help stuff, yeah, we've created that,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “We're in a position now where we've gotta have help. But none of that matters if we don't win. It means nothing. Let's just control what we can control. Let's win, do everything we can to win this week, see what happens, let it play out. Every week is so different.” 

They’re not short on motivation, but there’s never a lack of energy during Packers Week. It helps that the Matt Nagy chapter has almost always featured important and/or exciting editions: Week 1 of 2018 was his first game as a head coach and featured Rodgers’ one-legged comeback; Eddie Jackson clinched the NFC North for the Bears with an interception off Rodgers in Soldier Field’s south end zone 14 weeks later. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last year and the league offices still chose this rivalry to open its 100th season, and while the game wasn’t what you’d call *good*, it was what’d you’d call *close*. 

“I think we had some adversity, but I also think we stayed in it,” said Allen Robinson of the Bears’ 10-3 loss. “We got close to making some plays that we needed to – we just didn’t finish. Looking back it, with it being Week 1, I didn’t think we played perfectly, but I don’t think we played that bad.”

The Bears haven’t won in Green Bay since 2015, one of the two times they’ve won at Lambeau Field in the last decade. Aaron Rodgers seems to have taken a particular delight in putting up gaudy numbers against the Bears over that stretch: he has more touchdown passes (46) against Chicago than he does against any other team. Recent history isn’t on their side, but for whatever it’s worth, the Bears will go into Sunday’s game with about as much confidence as they’ve had all year – mostly because, as Nagy said with a smile equal parts amusement and relief, “winning helps. Winning helps for sure.” 

When asked about the significance of another chapter in Bears-Packers history playing out during this last three week run, some players were more animated about the rivalry than others. They realistically need to beat everyone to even have a chance at the Wild Card, and given how much the players have talked about a greater attention to detail and execution over this win streak, their focus has felt exceedingly internal. With that said, it’s still Bears-Packers, and Akiem Hicks is coming back. 

“No, nothing’s like Green Bay-Chicago, man. It’s just different,” he said. 

“One of the first things that I was told when I signed here was, ‘If you don't win any game this year, beat the Packers.” 

Bears show interest in Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson

Bears show interest in Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson

It's early (extremely early) in the 2020 NFL Draft process, and the Bears' team needs between now and when their first pick (No. 43 overall) is on the clock are certain to change. The general consensus right now is that offensive line, tight end and quarterback will be early draft targets, but edge rusher can't be overlooked.

Leonard Floyd's failure to emerge as the pass rusher the Bears need to complement Khalil Mack is a bigger problem than GM Ryan Pace or coach Matt Nagy want to admit. In fact, Floyd's ineffective style of play could cost Chicago a chance at becoming a truly elite defense and potentially limit the astronomical upside Mack has as a generational talent.

If the Bears decide to pull the fifth-year option from Floyd, they'll have no choice but to attack the position early in the 2020 draft. It appears like they're doing their homework for that scenario, too.

Bears scouts met with Tulsa edge rusher Trevis Gipson at length following Wednesday's Senior Bowl practice, an indication that the position is at least high enough on their wish list that extensive homework on pass rushers is being done.

Gipson helped his draft stock at the Senior Bowl and was an early winner among edge rushers at the game. His practice reps confirmed his tape; the dude knows how to get to the quarterback. He had eight sacks in 2019 and plays with a high-energy style that's certain to entice Chicago's coaching staff. He isn't an elite athlete, but he has an appealing frame (34-inch arms) and powerful hands.

Gipson began the week as a late-Day-3 prospect. He helped his stock and may have jumped a round or two along the way.

Bears' rookie class ranked 8th-best in NFL

Bears' rookie class ranked 8th-best in NFL

The Bears didn't have much of a rookie class in 2019. Last April's draft produced just five picks, two of which didn't appear in a regular-season game for the Bears.

But the production of running back David Montgomery was enough to carry the rookie class to a top-10 ranking, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Bears checked-in at eighth.

The Bears have a strange class. They had only five picks, none before Round 3, with three of those five selections coming after Round 6. As a result, their expected return was low. Running back David Montgomery was really the only Bears' rookie to play significant snaps, and he managed to provide enough return from his third-round selection to land them at No. 8.

It's pretty remarkable that Chicago's 2019 rookie class — essentially, Montgomery — garnered this much respect from PFF. Wide receiver Riley Ridley showed signs of life late in the season and cornerback Duke Shelley will be given an opportunity to carve out a role on defense next season, but with running back Kerrith Whyte, Jr. and cornerback Stephen Denmark making no impact whatsoever (Whyte is no longer with the team), the 2019 class won't be remembered as one that laid a championship foundation in Chicago.

Sure, Montgomery has a chance to become one of the NFL's more talented starting running backs (he ended his rookie season with 889 yards and six touchdowns), but if Ridley and Shelley don't turn into legitimate contributors in 2020 or 2021, the class will go down as an epic failure for GM Ryan Pace.

Remember: The Bears didn't have a first-round pick because of the trade for outside linebacker Khalil Mack. That's a win for Pace, but it doesn't change the fact that he had five selections at his disposal and ended up with what appears to be just one impact player after their rookie seasons.