Bears

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Packers

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Packers

1. Keep Aaron Jones in check. Aaron Rodgers is going to get his yards through the air, most likely. Stopping him would, of course, be great — but this is a guy who’s only thrown one interception in 495 attempts this year. The better way to key defensive success is to stop running back Aaron Jones, who’s averaging 5.6 yards per attempt in 11 games this year. Drilling deeper: Jones is averaging 6.5 yards per carry in the five four wins in which he’s played; in seven losses, he’s still averaging 5.0 yards per carry. 

Perhaps, then, the best way to look at this is holding Jones to below 4.5 yards per carry, which the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals each did during Green Bay’s three-game losing streak. Also worth noting: The Bears have lost two of three games when an opposing running back averages over 4.5 yards per carry with at least 10 attempts (losses to Miami and New York, win over Detroit). And this defense just held Todd Gurley to 26 yards on 11 attempts, so it’s certainly up for the challenge. 

2. Efficient play from Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was frustrated with his play against the Los Angeles Rams last weekend, which statistically was the worst game of his career. The Bears’ defense might be good enough to repeat its performance this weekend, but that’s a tall task with Rodgers on the opposite sideline. So the point here being: Trubisky will have to play significantly better than he did against the Rams for the Bears to be in a position to win. That means keeping his footwork sound and not overthrowing open receivers, and making smart decisions as he goes through his progressions. 

The good news: Those are two points Trubisky brought up during his media session this week, and in the four games before he injured his shoulder he had a 98.9 passer rating. More likely than not, Trubisky’s game against the Rams was an aberration, but he still has to prove it was on Sunday. 

3. Get the lead, and don’t give Rodgers a chance. The Bears have steadily improved when it comes to finishing games in the fourth quarter since blowing a 20-point lead in that Week 1 loss, to the point where the Rams were entirely ineffective in the final 15 minutes of last weekend’s 15-6 win. But Rodgers remains a bogeyman of sorts — the Bears’ defense is mentally strong, but still has something to prove if it gets a fourth quarter lead and has to keep Rodgers from leading a comeback. 

The same goes for Matt Nagy and the offense: While Rodgers led that comeback, the Bears’ offense sputtered behind conservative playcalling and poor play by Trubisky. If given the chance on Sunday, that can’t happen again.  

Prediction: Bears 24, Packers 20. The Bears are a better team than the Packers, plain and simple. But until this franchise proves it can reliably beat Rodgers, who’s won 16 of his 20 regular season meetings with the Bears, these rivalry games shouldn’t be met with overconfidence. We'll say Rodgers keeps it close, but the Bears this time make enough plays down the stretch to win, clinching the NFC North and effectively eliminating the Packers from playoff contention.

Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

The Bears have been playing without Akiem Hicks since Week 4 when Hicks was placed on injured reserve after dislocating his elbow during the Bears trip across the pond to the play the Oakland Raiders. If that Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings feels like a long time ago, it’s because it has been, and the Bears have been feeling Hicks’ absence.

Hicks spoke at an event at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago this week about his time on IR and when he thinks he’ll be back on the field.

“I try not to make too many projections,” Hicks said. “I have no projections, I just want to be healthy and contribute to this football team.”

When asked about what he missed most while being on IR, Hicks kept his answer simple.

“Just being with the boys,” he said. “It’s a different feeling Saturday night at the hotel when everybody is getting prepared and locking in for the game and you’re sitting there spectating. As much as you try to involve yourself, giving them advice and pushing them in the right direction, the true moment, the battle, the competition you’re going to miss. You just have to accept that.”

“One thing that has improved on my time away is patience, I understand that it was my moment and I have to be comfortable with this time away.”

Hicks was asked about Nick Williams, who has been filling in for him at defensive end, with Hicks having nothing but kind words to say.

“Just a stud,” Hicks said. “He’s shown that he can be a dominant defensive tackle.”

Hicks certainly isn’t wrong. Nick Williams is currently leading the Bears in sacks, with six sacks to his name this season. Hicks also touched on the long-standing friendship he and Williams have shared over their two years as Bears.

 “Myself and Nick Williams have a long relationship over these past two years,” Hicks said. “It feels like we’ve been friends forever. He was very supportive of me throughout his time here. It’s unfortunate that I’m on IR, but it’s a great opportunity to be supportive of him as well.”

“If there was anybody who was going to come up for me and play the time that I’ve missed, I’m glad it was Nick,” Hicks said. “I challenge you to pick somebody in the crowd more excited than me when he makes a play.” 

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How Kyle Long's injury started the process of switching James Daniels and Cody Whitehair

How Kyle Long's injury started the process of switching James Daniels and Cody Whitehair

How important was Kyle Long to the Bears' offense? The right guard went on IR four weeks ago, and the Bears are still dealing with the issues that his absence creates at other positions. 

Not only did Long's injury mean that the Bears were going to have to lean on Rashaad Coward before they would have liked, but it also largely drove the decision to move James Daniels and Cody Whitehair back to the positions they played last season – Whitehair at center, and Daniels at left guard. 

"You have Kyle over there, veteran, steadying guy next to James, between him and Bobby," Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. "Now you have a guy that was a defensive lineman playing that spot, and with Cody in there, it's a steadying factor." 

Without Long, Whitehair's now the most senior member on the Bears' interior line. Drafted in 2016, he's got two years on both Daniels and Rashaad Coward, the latter being moved onto the offensive line when Nagy took over in 2018. Given how the offense has looked through 10 weeks, there wasn't a lot of harm in giving the switch a shot. 

"I think you have a balance when you look at it," Nagy added. "Before, you have experience wise, you’re dealing with Leno on the left, right? Cody and James and Rashaad. That was one of the things that we looked at with that switch. And then I think you kind of balance it out a little bit."

Daniels' versatility across multiple positions is a big part of the reason why the Bears took him 39th overall in 2018. It's also a big part of the reason why they're confident that moving back to guard halfway through the year won't throw him for a loop. He did, after all, start 10 games (nine on the left, once on the right) there as a rookie. He ended his rookie season with a Top-40 grade from to Pro Football Focus, and was one of only 35 guards to not allow a sack. 

"I just like him period," Hiestand said. "I just like him as a football player and as a person. He gives us everything he has every day. He's got a lot of ability and over time as he gets stronger and becomes more confident playing in this league and grows and matures, he's gonna be fun to watch."

The Bears were as unified as they were non-committal when asked if the switch was permanent. They were proud that Daniels "handled [the news] great," and praised his team-first approach, a response that isn't automatic with 23-year-old 2nd round picks that get replaced. And for the conspiracy theorists out there, there was no input from the quarterback room. "We've got enough on our plate," QB coach Dave Ragone quipped. 

It's not going to be an overnight fix, which was pretty clear after the game against Detroit featured Whitehair struggling out of the shotgun, two penalties from Daniels, and five sacks allowed. Still, the Bears will have to go 6-1 or 7-0 to have any realistic chance at a playoff berth, and moving Whitehair back gives them a better shot at doing that. It just may mean a few more hiccups, but that's nothing new this year. 

"Going through a couple of snap issues here or there, there were a few of those yesterday," Nagy said. "We’ve been through that before and Cody’s done a great job of pulling through that. We just know that making that switch, for a lot of different reasons is more beneficial." 

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