After three straight losses to start the regular season, the Chicago Bears last week finally carved out their first win of the year. We're a quarter of the way through the 2016 season and head coach John Fox and the Bears may have finally found their identity, or at least the blueprint to one.
It was just a few days short of a calendar year since the team last won a game at Soldier Field. With that out of the way, the Bears this weekend will travel to Indianapolis to face the struggling Colts, who share the same 1-3 record.
The Colts may be favored but this game truly looks to be a toss-up, especially considering Indy's decision to forego a bye week following their trip to London last weekend.
Here are five things to watch for in Week 5, with the Bears trying to inch closer to a .500 record.
Chicago's front seven is missing two of its top edge rushers in OLBs Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston. Yet the bigger problem is that Willie Young, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd have rarely reached the quarterback this year.
That needs to change quickly and Sunday’s game against the Colts could be just what the doctor ordered.
Colts QB Andrew Luck was sacked six times, hit 13 times and pressured on what felt like every snap against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
The Bears have just 6.0 total sacks through the first four games, which is tied for sixth fewest in the leagu. There’s no better time than now for that pass rush, particularly Young and Floyd, to find their identity and build some confidence.
It’s time to give Brian Hoyer some credit. Last week was his second consecutive start and the second straight game in which he's passed for more than 300 yards, with 4 total touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions.
I’m not ready to crown Hoyer the team's savior but there’s no doubting his comfort level in offensive coordinator Dowell Loggain’s system.
While the offense only posted 17 points against the Lions, they did rack up 408 total yards -- which would rank second in the league if they could sustain that each week.
If they cut out stupid penalties and continue to run the ball consistenly, this offense will eventually start putting up 20-plus points per game -- they currently rank 31st in the NFL with 15.5 points per game.
With Cutler sidelined again this week, Hoyer will have yet another “audition” for the starting quarterbacking job. Against the Colts' 24th-ranked pass defense, Hoyer could record his third straight 300-yard performance, which would really ratchet up talk of a quarterback controversy in Chicago.
Time of Possession
Sunday was the first team all season the Bears won the time-of-possession battle. Not surprisingly, they also won the game.
The biggest key in that effort was RB Jordan Howard. The fifth-round rookie ran the ball 23 times for 111 rushing yards. The team as a whole ran the ball 29 times out of 65 total offensive snaps, roughly 45 percent. Heading into Week 4, the Bears ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing attempts, so Sunday's outing was a big step toward creating offensive balance.
The Bears only scored 17 points but they held the ball for most of the game, which in turn kept their banged-up defense off the field. As a result, the "fresh" defense only gave up six points to the 4th-ranked offense going into last Sunday’s contest.
Against a dangerous Colts offense, which is averaging 27.0 points per game, the Bears will once again need to follow a run-heavy formula in order to pick up their second win of the season, and first on the road.
In its second year under coordinator Jeff Rodgers, Chicago's special teams still leave a lot to be desired.
Connor Barth has hit just 50 percent of his field goal attempt and the coverage units continue to show flaws, which includes allowing a big punt return for a touchdown last week against the Lions. On top of that, special teams have committed far too many penalties, which continues to cost the Bears field position.
Punt returner Eddie Royal is about the only thing going right on special teams so far, unless you count Deonte Thompson finally accepting touchbacks on a regular basis as a strong point.
Chicago's special teams must improve dramatically if the Bears plan to win close games going forward.
In Week 4, Bears fans were able to finally watch a competent offensive game plan that didn’t include multiple three-and-outs and no commitment to the running game.
Additionally, Loggains did a great job of opening up the short passing game with multiple play-action roll outs and bootlegs, a few slants, and even some effective screens to help get his young receivers involved in the game early.
Ultimately, the key to this team comes down to Howard and the success of the run game. If the rushing attack just reaches league average, Loggains will have the chance to get more creative and maybe even go deep a few times.
Sunday was a step in the right direction but now the offense needs to show it can consistently carry out that game plan and start finishing drives that result in points.
A Few Thoughts
- On further review of Deiondre Hall’s interception, I came away very impressed. It appeared he was in the right place at the right time originally but going back to take a second look, his awareness in coverage is what got him that interception. Very encouraging sign for the fourth-round rookie.
- Will TE Zach Miller remain involved? That’s a big question for me, because if he can, it gives the offense an entirely new dimension, especially in the red zone.
- For the second straight week, the team’s offensive line showed progress. Granted those two games were against meager pass-rush units but this weekend is another look at a similarly weak pass-rushing threat.