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We need the lowdown on Chicago for the upcoming game against the Bears, so we spoke with Jeff Berckes of Windy City Gridiron.
1. So, Martellus Bennett is gone. What does that mean for the offense? What is the unit losing? Where will the missed production come from? How can he be replaced? What's the future look like for Bennett as a Bear?
At best, Bennett was a guy that could move the chains, break the occasional tackle, and at 6'7", demand attention in the red zone. At worst, Bennett acts like a malcontent, takes plays off, and generally allows his mouth to write checks that his play can't cash. His production will be replaced by Zach Miller, who has instantly become a fan favorite with highlight catches and his story of dogged determination to come back from multiple season ending injuries. Where Bennett will be most missed on this offense is as a blocker, where Miller is outmatched and there isn't another option on the roster. I expect Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase to employ an extra offensive lineman to make up for that deficiency.
As far as Bennett's future in Chicago, I'd be surprised to see him back next year. He has one year left on his deal and is a prime candidate for a trade to a team who wants to take on his personality. He would seem to fit well in a small market where the lights aren't so bright.
2. Evaluate John Fox as a coach. What's he good at? What looks like it needs work?
It's not often your team gets to upgrade to a widely respected coach with 2 Super Bowl appearances and a career winning percentage north of 500. Fox was able to win over this roster early and establish an identity with a group of guys that went through one of the worst seasons in Chicago Bears history. He has his team prepared each and every week with a professional game plan and seems to get production from the bottom tier of the roster.
Fox will be panned for his conservative nature - but I would counter that the Bears brass knew that when he was hired. Conservative may not always be the most fun, but if they wanted aggressive, they missed the boat when they botched the hire for Bruce Arians. Fox needs more talent on both sides of the ball and needs to clean up the Special Teams before this squad is a serious contender.
3. What position group has been the most consistently good for the Bears this season? What unit needs the most work?
To the surprise of many, the secondary has been quietly impressive this season, holding opposing quarterbacks to 211 yards per game. That number is second only to the Denver Broncos at 196 ypg. Much of the credit goes to Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio and DB Coach / Wizard Ed Donatell who have worked their magic on a unit that ranked 30th in the same stat last season. Second year corner Kyle Fuller has steadily improved and General Manager Ryan Pace found value in veterans Antrel Rolle and Tracy Porter. Don't be fooled by the end of the game debacle last week - there will be no easy yards for Kirk Cousins this weekend.
On the other side of the coin, the defensive line needs the most help. Rookie 2nd rounder Eddie Goldman has come on recently, but the lack of depth and high end talent in the switch to the 3-4 scheme has been exposed by opposing running games to the tune of 128 ypg. The Jets selection of Leonard Williams and the Rams selection of Aaron Donald one pick ahead of Chicago in each of the past two drafts makes it difficult to sleep at night. Jarvis Jenkins has played pretty well for an offseason signing that was met with zero fanfare, but he lacks top end talent.
4. Give us the game-plan for a team that wants to beat Chicago.
When the Bears have the ball, the offense runs most effectively through Matt Forte and his caddy, Jeremy Langford, to keep the Bears on schedule. With steady early down running, the Bears can pick up first downs by targeting Alshon Jeffery on back shoulder throws and work Forte in the passing game. To beat the Bears, you've got to stop the running game on early downs and make Cutler throw deep on 3rd and long and hope you catch the one or two of the bad throws he will make. With injuries to Kevin White, Eddie Royal, and Marquess Wilson, the Bears have no one that can stretch the field so those windows for Cutler will be even smaller than usual.
When the Bears are on defense, establish the run game early and stick to it. There have been games this year when opposing offenses have run the ball effectively only to abandon for an unsuccessful passing game. Matt Jones or whoever didn't look at Jay Gruden cross-eyed this week should be able to gain chunk yardage on this defense if they stick with it.
5. Why can the Bears win this game?
The Bears have approached most of their games this year like a heavy weight bout, full of early body punches and trading jabs, keeping it close until late. The recipe for a win will include the secondary of Chicago frustrating Cousins to force a couple balls to DeSean Jackson and company, converting those into turnovers. On the other side, Washington doesn't have anyone that matches up well with Alshon Jeffery and if he is on, he's electric. In a game like this, a big play or two is all it takes to turn the tide.
BONUS: Give us a prediction.
23-13 Bears. It's close for much of the game but the Bears score a late TD to seal it up.