By Robert Zeglinski
The thing about confidence is that you’re allowed to feel as brash and bold as much as you want regardless of whether there’s a hint of realism or not. It’s about building yourself up and maintaining a positive mindset, because when the stakes are high, you never know what could happen.
That unwavering optimism is the ideal floating around Halas Hall and the fresh off the bye Bears this week as they look for their own magic in the stretch run of the season. While Chicago is currently mired in last place in the NFC North at 2-6, it’s not like there isn’t reason to believe this team can’t make a run, provided they have no missteps.
After all, with the formerly invincible Vikings in free fall after three straight losses, the Packers stuck in average quicksand at .500, and the flawed Lions needing five fourth quarter comebacks to vault themselves into first place, every goal is still attainable for the Bears.
There is not a juggernaut among their division rivals that they can’t vault over theoretically. They’ve already beaten the Lions and Vikings and hung with the Packers for three quarters with a third string quarterback on the road. There’s reason to believe albeit reason that possesses no margin for error. The second half of the season features seven of eight games with conference opponents and one more matchup with each North foe. All of these games are essentially winnable contests in which the opponent will feel the very same way of the Bears.
If there was ever a time for that magic to roll into the playoffs as Chicago’s roster heals at the right time, your proverbial wishbone finally came through.
Disappointing losses – such as against Jacksonville and Indianapolis – handicap the Bears immediately, as they have more ground to make up. It also means two losses and in all likelihood, probably one, eliminates you from contention.
But it doesn’t mean the Bears are giving up or dwelling on their previous disappointment. That’s just a waste of energy and willpower. Head coach John Fox had the same sentiment to a media contingent about a first half that could’ve and should’ve acted as more of a launch pad.
“If you spend too much time looking back, (in your rear view mirror), you get wrecked.” Fox said in Monday’s press conference.
Disastrous driving analogies aside, Fox has a point. Whatever mistakes the Bears made aren’t just going to be erased altogether. You don’t receive that luxury in the NFL. Chicago isn’t going to get a second chance to go back in time to make up for lost opportunities.
The only measure to take is to learn from those mistakes in attributed to whatever factors of coaching, lack of execution in general, and of course health. Chicago is going to focus on the road ahead to control their destiny instead of lamenting what could have been. In the end, lady luck may indeed smile on this team when ready.
And that newfound health might just be the straw that stirs the drink for the Bears. Every available player on the roster sans Kevin White, Kyle Fuller, and Deiondre’ Hall, are set to play against Tampa Bay this week. In the case of White and Fuller, one of them will return off of injured reserve in December, while Hall is still expected to come back soon off of an ankle injury.
All of the returns to action are justifiable reason for optimism for Chicago considering the roles they play. The list rattles on from stalwart nose tackle, Eddie Goldman, cornerback Bryce Callahan, the Bears’ two best offensive linemen in Josh Sitton and Kyle Long, and even slot receiver Eddie Royal. All nagging ailments are washed away at shore for now.
Each of these men, whether it be the man in the middle of the defense in Goldman or Sitton and Long acting as Jay Cutler’s personal bodyguards, are a great boost. The bye week of necessary rest away from the game afforded the Bears to work their way out of a crowded infirmary. And now they look all the more cohesive and talented again for it.
Hey, maybe there is a reason they’re feeling so confident.
Add in seemingly everyone’s favorite punching bag in Cutler – fresh off of his sparkling Monday night performance against Minnesota – and you have an entrenched team leader that’s necessary for guidance on this ride for the Bears.
Royal piggy backed off of his coach’s thoughts in that regard.
“We got so much faith in each other in this locker room. We feel like we can win every game.” said Royal on Monday.
Say whatever you like of realism, Royal’s attitude reflects his team. If there’s a chance with the door creaked open, there’s hope. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Maybe it’s better as a fan on the outside looking in to stay grounded and just hope for quality development of the team’s growing list of bright young stars. Any number of pieces from the lanky outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, the savvy receiver Cameron Meredith, and the powerful downhill runner in Jordan Howard among others.
These are the kinds of guys to watch consistently flash while the Bears work their way to respectability as a spoiler for other teams with a more possible and moderate 5-3 or 6-2 record. Use a strong finish as a springboard for next year. That’s totally understandable to feel that way as it’s akin more to general manager Ryan Pace’s rebuild anyway. There is positivity to look forward to at the moment, but don’t get too high or too low, too soon.
Just don’t tell that to the light minded and maturing Bears.
They have their brights on the road and see their prospects lighting up, beyond any focus on simple individual and unit growth. As much as Chicago doesn’t control it’s own destiny for what figures to be the most eventful second half since the Lovie Smith era, they do – at least in their minds.
And that’s the first step towards reaching special heights.
Said one of the offensive leaders in Long of these Bears so eager to climb: “Win the day. You’re not going to win tomorrow today.”
Adapting a mindset of one step at a time is key. There’s no need to rush on the lakefront.
Week 10 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay has been a disappointment relative to preseason expectations. Former number one pick Jameis Winston hasn’t flourished under new head coach Dirk Koetter and in what should have been a winnable NFC South, the Buccaneers have regressed. This is a perfect starting point on the hill for the Bears.
When the Bears are on defense: Considering the Bears have almost all of their horses back on their 12th ranked defense, there’s not much to fear with an average Tampa offense that’s ranked 22nd in DVOA-efficiency, is 19th in overall yardage, and just 18th in scoring. Chicago’s defense looks to vault itself firmly in the top 10 and more. Tampa’s offense is just another stepping stone.
The Bucs don’t do anything well save for lobs to second-year star receiver Mike Evans, who is fifth in receiving, as Winston is the picture of inconsistency. Winston has an abhorrent 25th highest passer rating in the NFL and is tied for fourth most interceptions with nine. He struggles to make simple reads and can quite frankly, be easily rattled under pressure.
For a man of his status in the draft, he is way too off the mark, and often even has trouble with accuracy. Winston is supposed to be the franchise, and yet here he is no man’s land in just own respective second season. His only saving grace is that he can throw up jump balls to Evans on occasion to help him in a growing storm.
But even Evans is prone to a mistake with the third most amount of drops among qualified receivers. Running back Doug Martin is possibly set to return from injury, but who knows in what capacity.
Needless to say there isn’t much the Bears should be afraid of provided their eighth ranked pass rush (in terms of sacks) gets on another roll as it did against Green Bay and Minnesota. With the return of Goldman, it’s difficult to see the Tampa Bay offensive line – in the middle of the pack with sacks allowed at 19 – holding up in any facet that allows Winston to do enough damage.
Pressure on someone as turnover prone as Winston will allow corners like Callahan and Tracy Porter to make more plays. And in turn allow the Bears to force their most turnovers in a game yet this season. This healthy defense ready to gel should have nothing to fear.
When the Bears are on offense: To this point, Chicago’s offense has produced largely like Tampa’s on the surface.
The Bears are just 20th overall in yardage and 31st in scoring. Most of that production or lack thereof can be attributed to early season struggles with an offensive line that’s given up just six sacks in the past six weeks after giving up eight in the first two. That led to Brian Hoyer stepping in for the injured Cutler which had the Bears struggled to finish drives
Chicago also didn’t have much balance in the running game, but all of that concern has gone by the wayside with the star rookie Howard. So it shouldn’t be surprising, when the underlying numbers, i.e. DVOA-efficiency, has the Chicago offense at 13th.
Their output is underperforming and speaks to a significant uptick in market correction not only against the Buccaneers, but through the rest of season. Whether that’s the Cutler effect or everyone on offense getting healthy and finding their groove, it doesn’t matter. This attack is ready to produce.
And the Buccaneers are more than ready to appease. Tampa has the 29th ranked scoring defense, and is 22nd and 23rd in DVOA and yardage respectively. This is a team fresh off of giving up 43 points and 463 yards to the buzz saw Falcons offense.
You can gash this team in both the passing and running game – they’re ranked in the bottom third of the league defending either – once you find a rhythm.
In terms of a matchup, expect the Bears to attack Tampa Bay with a heavy load of play action after getting Howard going, and specifically focus on safety Chris Conte on the back end. He’s a liability in both pass coverage and as a defender in the box. And Chicago will have him as a focal point.
The Buccaneers don’t have enough of a pass rush other than premier defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to make Cutler uncomfortable in that respect. And since McCoy’s on the interior, he should be neutralized by worthy counterparts in Sitton and Long.
Basically, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and company are set to have some fun.
Early pick: Bears 34, Bucs 19