Bill Zimmerman from Windy City Gridiron answered five questions I asked regarding the upcoming game, and gave some great insight to how some situations might unfold Sunday night. He and I both think this 8.5-point spread is a tad aggressive and the game should be much closer; hopefully we are in for an exciting primetime game! Many thanks to Bill for this awesome discussion!
1) From the outside looking in, Ryan Poles has done an amazing job of creating cap flexibility and building draft capital for Chicago the past two seasons, seeming to have his eye on 2024 to truly reload this roster and compete. Do fans appreciate the approach Poles is taking, or is there frustration over the lack of wins in his tenure?
I think most fans understood that this was going to be a full rebuild. There’s always a collection of fans that have an overly positive outlook and thought the 2022 Bears were going to compete for the playoffs but most understood that 2022 was going to be a long season.
The entire fanbase was behind Ryan Poles from the date of his hire until about Labor Day of 2023. The 0-4 start, the terrible loss to the Packers, the Chase Claypool debacle has had some fans sour on Poles but overall the vibe is still mostly positive. I think fans appreciate that the process with Poles has been sound, he’s created plenty of cap flexibility and he’s also acquired plenty of draft capital and with the Carolina Panthers struggling, their first round pick that he acquired along with DJ Moore (and a 2025 2nd) for the 2023 first overall pick certainly looks like gold. I think where fans have some hesitation is the evaluation process for Poles. It’s been up and down as it is for most general managers, he’s definitely had some hits but the misses are there as well.
So yes, the slow start to the 2023 season has some fans questioning Poles, but the Bears have won 2 out of 3 and if they finish the season decently, I think the fan base will still be largely behind him going into 2024.
2) Justin Fields has been an exciting quarterback to watch and certainly has talent, but he was drafted by the previous regime. In a quarterback-heavy class, do you think Poles will prioritize finding “his guy,” or is there still belief that the Bears are best off with Fields behind center?
The Justin Fields dilemma is going to potentially be discussed on the national media level at nauseam from the day after the Super Bowl until the NFL Draft. With that Carolina Panthers’ pick in tow, it’s getting pretty close to a certainty (current odds on ESPN are 68%) that the Bears will have either the first and/or second pick in the draft. I think if that happens, Poles will trade Justin Fields and draft either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.
The question really gets interesting if the Bears are sitting with the 3rd or 4th pick and then something further down closer to 10th overall. Do they take someone dynamic like Marvin Harrison and roll another season with Justin Fields and hope it all comes together or do they look at the 3rd or 4th quarterback in this class and move on from Fields? The fan base is split and we certainly haven’t had any indication from the team where they stand on Fields or the draft at this point.
There is a certain way that Luke Getsy likes to run his offense, and that doesn’t really fit with Justin Fields’ style. Getsy tried to force Fields into his style early in the season and it was a disaster. Once he let Fields do more of his thing, he looked much better against Denver and Washington, but Getsy largely kept him in the pocket and went back to the early season gameplans against Minnesota and the offense wildly regressed. There is a lot stacking up against Fields in terms of remaining the Bears QB in 2024, but it certainly isn’t off the table.
3) Roschon Johnson was a huge draft-crush for many of us at Bolts From the Blue (me included). It was a huge bummer to see Khalil Herbert go down, but equally disappointing that Johnson wasn’t healthy to take advantage of the opportunity. It would be bittersweet to see Johnson have a big game on Sunday night; with D’Onta Foreman excelling last week, is Johnson on the back-burner, or will he get plenty of opportunities Sunday night?
Johnson was definitely slow to return from this concussion. He was concussed on a Thursday night game against Washington and still missed two games. He has cleared protocols and he will be playing on Sunday night. Johnson will definitely get some run because he is the far superior pass blocker to Foreman but with Johnson out the last couple of games and Foreman coming off a stellar game against the Raiders, I think it’s a safe assumption that Foreman will get the load but Johnson should be out there for 30% or 40% of the offensive snaps.
When Johnson and Herbert were both healthy, Foreman was actually a healthy scratch for multiple games, the Bears definitely see Johnson as part of their future plans while Foreman is just in Chicago on a one-year deal. If Johnson wasn’t coming off the concussion, I would absolutely expect him to be the starter and carry the load, but I would expect that they’ll bring Johnson around a little bit more slowly and let Foreman handle the bulk of the duties on Sunday night.
4) Chicago traded away their defensive nucleus last season with Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Roquan Smith all departing in the same year. Who has stepped up as the new leaders of this defense, and are they ready to carry the torch of the Chicago Bears’ identity as an exceptional defensively-led team? Is there a young Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, or Charles Tillman on this roster that we should know about?
This defense has a collection of many solid players but not standouts like a Khalil Mack was for this team. Up front, they have Gervon Dexter, a second round pick out of Florida who they like along the defensive line. He’s been steadily improving and while he hasn’t had too much show up on the stat sheet, he is starting to disrupt more and more along the interior.
They signed two linebackers, Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards to multiyear deals. Edmunds has started coming on the last couple of games after a slow start and TJ Edwards has been piling up tackles and has played well in Matt Eberflus’ system. But most of the talent on this roster sits in the secondary.
Jaylon Johnson is in the final year of his contract and is earning a big payday. He had two interceptions last week including a Pick Six and he’s among the tops in the league in passer rating against. Rookie Tyrique Stevenson is aggressive and has had his ups and downs but continues to improve each week. And second year nickel back Kyler Gordon is also coming into his own. At safety, second year starter Jaquan Brisker has his moments but has been inconsistent and Eddie Jackson, if he’s healthy, still can make a play, but age is catching up to him and he certainly hasn’t been the same player that he was for the dominant defense that the 2018 Bears were with Mack and Jackson leading the way.
To answer your question, no, they don’t have much in terms of blue chippers on this defense, but they have a very solid back seven that can cause problems for offenses. The problem this defense has is a pass rush. They don’t have one. Justin Herbert will have plenty of time to throw the football.
5) DraftKings Sportsbook has the Chargers winning the game by 8.5 points, but the Bolts have been in a state of disarray since losing Mike Williams and Corey Linsley on offense. They’re also gaining a reputation for struggling against real physical teams like the Bears. How confident are you in the Bears keeping it within the spread...or do you dare go for the +320 Moneyline?!
I don’t understand this point spread. I’m usually overly critical of this Chicago Bears team, so if I think it’s too big, it has to be too big. To me, it feels like the Chargers should be favored by about 4.5. I think that’s fair. I certainly think that if you want to bet the spread, that you should absolutely take the Bears +8.5, or maybe try the alternate spread (Bears +4 is +176). Taking the Bears on the moneyline would be betting on two things: one, that despite Tyson Bagent playing quick and near the line of scrimmage, Brandon Staley doesn’t adjust and gives Bagent the quick game rather than cutting that off and forcing Bagent to throw the ball down the field. Two, that Justin Herbert does NOT pick apart the Chicago Bears due to the lack of pass rush.
If you think Herbert, despite his recent struggles, is going to play well with a clean pocket, it’s going to be really tough to bet the Bears on the moneyline, but if you think Herbert and Staley continue to struggle in their own roles, then the moneyline is absolutely a play.