Bears

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

1. Don’t let Aaron Rodgers beat you. Really! 
You’d think this goes without saying, and yet here we are, going and saying it. There’s some truth to the counter-argument, I guess: Rodgers hasn’t thrown for more than 243 yards since mid-October, and over the last 2-3 years, his QBR has leveled out well below where it was when he was tearing the souls from every other NFL team’s body. It helps when you have Aaron Jones and the 4th-ranked (DVOA) rushing attack, but I just find it hard to believe any Bears fan can look at this game and think they have a better chance to win if they let Rodgers throw the ball 40+ times. Over his career, he’s averaged more yards per game, and has more touchdown passes, against the Bears than any other NFC North opponent. Getting Akiem Hicks back, even in a limited fashion, obviously helps on both fronts. If the Bears are going to be comfortable putting the ball in someone’s hands and hoping they don’t beat them, maybe don’t make it the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who has a history of humiliating your franchise? 

2. Give the ball to David Montgomery and let him cook. 
Montgomery’s finding a groove, evident by the fact that he’s been given more rushes and gained more yards in each of the Bears’ last three wins. I’ve probably hammered this point a half dozen times already this season, but the Bears are 7-2 when they run the ball 20+ times. 7-2! And they’d be 8-1 if Eddy Pineiro hit the game-winning field goal against the Chargers. And while you could probably find one or two moments in most NFL games that swing the outcome, the bigger point remains: the Bears’ run game isn’t pretty, but they win when they commit. It’s also going to be like, four degrees out and the Packers’ have the 26th-ranked run defense (DVOA) in football. Run the ball! 

3. It’s just a football field – treat it like that. 
The Bears talked at length this week about how the spectacle of Week 1’s Bears-Packers game kind of got to them, and that they were disappointed with how players and coaches seemed shell-shocked for much of it. Now think back to Week 1 of 2018, when the Bears let a big halftime lead slip away. Since then, Nagy’s admitted that the moment may have been a little big for him that night, too. And frankly, there’s so much noise and so many narrative retreads during Packers Week, so it’s not exactly hard to blame them. It’s a lot easier said behind a keyboard than done on a (cold, so damn cold) field, but if the Bears want to find themselves in bigger moments down the road, they’ll need to minimize the one coming on Sunday. 

Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24 (OT)
I don’t think the Bears are going to make the playoffs, and I think if you got them in a moment of honesty, they’d agree and admit they’re playing these last three games for pride. That’s not a slight against them at all – they’ve looked legitimately better across the board over the last month. The Packers don’t seem like a 10-3 team to me; they’re a 7-5 team according to their Expected W-L, football’s version of baseball’s Pythagorean formula. Their best win of the season came against a Chiefs team that didn’t have Patrick Mahomes. And while this game means everything to Chicago, there is actually not a whole lot on the line for Green Bay: per FiveThirtyEight, the Packers’ odds of winning the division currently sit at 93%. A loss would drop that to 86%. There are fair gripes out there about what Nagy’s shown as a play caller though two seasons, but these types of motivational situations are where he does his best work. The Bears get their biggest win of the season, and are rewarded with a week of Pat Mahomes prep. 

Matt Nagy listed among coaches on the hot seat in 2020

Matt Nagy listed among coaches on the hot seat in 2020

It's been quite a first two years in Chicago for Bears coach Matt Nagy.

After winning an NFC North title in a 12-win, first season on the job in 2018, Nagy's Bears regressed to a .500 club last season that couldn't get out of its own way on offense, his supposed specialty. With 32 games on his resume and a 20-12 overall record as head coach, the Bears could do a lot worse.

Remember John Fox? Remember Marc Trestman? Never forget.

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But the NFL is a win-now, win-always, just-win league. Nagy didn't do that in 2019, and when combined with the Super Bowl expectations the Bears began the year with, his shortcomings were magnified.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky got worse, the offensive line was a turnstile and the running game didn't exist for most of the year.

All this from Nagy's offense that was hyped as Level 202 during training camp.

The hype is over, and the pressure is on. With pressure comes the proverbial hot seat, and Nagy was recently pegged as one of five coaches who will begin next season with a warm buttock by Bleacher Report. 

Nagy's offense and the play of a costly investment by the name of Mitchell Trubisky dramatically regressed in 2019. The Bears managed just 17.5 points per game while Trubisky produced a mere 17 touchdowns against 10 picks. Little in the way of offensive identity existed while the running game averaged 3.7 yards per carry and one ball-carrier (David Montgomery) surpassed the 300-yard mark.

It doesn't help that the defense went from allowing a league-best 17.7 points per game with 50 sacks in 2018 to 18.6 and 32, respectively, fueling the idea of a regression without defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and putting a further damper on things. 

The Bears, given the investment in Trubisky and pieces like All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, have higher expectations than most teams. Going into 2020, another 8-8 season probably isn't going to cut it. 

Nagy's job security will come down to his handling of Trubisky. If the former No. 2 overall pick delivers more of the same in 2020, Nagy has to prove he has the courage to make the change under center. Otherwise, he'll come across as nothing more than GM Ryan Pace's pawn in the quarterback game.

It's true the fates of Pace and Nagy fate are likely tied together. As the 2020 season goes, so goes their future with the team. They have to be in lockstep about Trubisky, and self-preservation is a very powerful thing. Don't expect Trubisky's leash to be all that long.   

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Bears meet with FIU quarterback at East-West Shrine Bowl

Bears meet with FIU quarterback at East-West Shrine Bowl

The Bears' quest to flip their quarterback room from a group of underwhelming veterans with little upside behind Mitch Trubisky is already off and running.

According to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, the Bears met with FIU quarterback James Morgan at the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl, the second-largest All-Star game of the NFL draft circuit.

Morgan (6-foot-4, 223) completed 58 percent of his passes last season for 2,560 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. He isn't considered a draftable player at this point in the process, but a strong showing in front of scouts at the Shrine Bowl could change that. 

Morgan had a more productive 2018 campaign when he threw 26 touchdowns to just seven interceptions while completing more than 65 percent of his passes. 

RELATED: Chicago Bears 7-round Mock Draft

Bears fans are expecting a bigger move at quarterback than Morgan, but if Chicago adds a veteran in free agency, they're more likely to wait until Day 3 to draft a developmental prospect, if any at all. It's possible Trubisky will be backed up (at least initially) by a player like Andy Dalton to begin the year, while a youngster like Morgan sharpens his skill set on the practice squad.

Next week's Senior Bowl will help put some of the pieces of this puzzle together. Quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) and Jordan Love (Utah State) are both considered late first-round prospects who could easily slide into Round 2. If the Bears spend time with them in Mobile, it could be a strong clue about their second-round plans.

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