As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, checking out the Chicago Bears’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Bears’ Run Game
A different-looking group than what Chicago came into the year working with. At the start of the season, they had Andy Dalton at QB, David Montgomery at RB. Now Rookie Justin Fields will start at QB, his 7th career start, with Khalil Herbert possibly the man at RB (Montgomery, in a surprise, may end up playing). A pair of rookies going against the Steelers’ defense.
Before we get into the players, the stats. The Bears’ rushing attack has been solid this year, one of the few bright spots on this team. In some of the big-picture categories, they rank well. Fifth in rush yards per game at 136.6 while their YPC is tied 7th best at 4.6. Not bad numbers for a 3-5 time where running the ball can be tough if you’re losing. They’ve gotten explosive plays on the ground too. 51 runs of 10+ yards are third most in the league as are their seven runs of 20+ yards.
Rookie Herbert has become the Bears’ bellcow with Montgomery sidelined, playing at least 75% of the team’s snaps over his last three games. He has 78 games over his last four. Veteran Damien Williams has largely been phased out of the offense, seeing just five carries the last two weeks.
At its core, the Bears are a zone-heavy scheme and Herbert is a good fit with vision and explosion. Lot of inside zone and split zone with some outside zone. Here’s a couple examples of that.
At quarterback, while Fields isn’t a Lamar Jackson/Kyler Murray type of runner, he is a plus athlete with the ability to create. As has been well documented, the Bears haven’t done a great job of getting Fields out on designed runs. They do some read/option stuff but it’s not as frequent as you’d expect for a QB who can scoot.
The Bears do use a 6th offensive lineman. #64 Alex Bars has played 75 snaps this season, the majority if not all of them as a tackle-eligible. He played one snap last weekend against the 49ers but it was a forgettable one, giving up a sack to Nick Bosa off playaction.
Some other offensive stats. The offense has struggled, scoring no more than 24 points in a game this season. They’ve been held under 20 of them in half. It’s no surprise to see their third down offense and red zone offense struggle too. 26th on third down (34.7%) and 26th in the red zone (55%). The offense has turned the ball over 11 times this season.
Bears’ Pass Game
Now commanded by the rookie Fields, who certainly has had his ups and downs six starts in but has begun to find some level of traction. On the season, he’s completing under 60% of his passes, a significant downgrade compared to Andy Dalton, who completed 74% his first two starts. Fields’ YPA is a bit higher than Dalton’s though, 6.3 vs 5.4 so Fields is pushing the ball downfield a little more often.
Still, Fields’ overall numbers are poor. Three touchdowns, seven interceptions and most alarming of all, 24 sacks over his six starts. His 26 sacks taken this season lead the league and he hasn’t even started two games. He’s been sacked at least once in all of his starts and dropped 4+ times in four of his six, including an ugly nine-sack game weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns.
The top receiver here is speedster Darrell Mooney, a name Steelers’ fans need to get to know. He hasn’t been as explosive as he could be, averaging just 12.4 YPC, but he’s a vertical threat. Allen Robinson is a talented receiver stuck in perpetually bad QB situations while Cole Kmet has worked as a security blanket with 22 receptions this season at 9.7 yards per catch. There’s even former Steelers’ tight end Jesse James who has built some chemistry with Fields, dating back to the summer, catching six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown over the last two games.
Overall, this hasn’t been an explosive passing game. They have just 14 completions of 20+ yards, 31st in the league. They rank dead last in passing yards per game, a semi-meaningless stat, but when you’re dead last in something, it’s notable. It didn’t help against the Browns this year, the Bears threw for one net yard passing (68 passing, 67 sack yardage = one net yard).
Schematically, the Bears are a fairly heavy playaction offense. Lot of max protect and trying to hit the deep ball. Unsurprisingly, these come on early downs, 1st/2nd and 10 with most of them coming well into their own territory. I have it charted with playaction at their own, 25, 25, 35, and 43 yard line. A couple examples.
Another common thread are their use of post/wheel and double-moves they like to run. Trying to stress and flood a defense with the former, try to take advantage of an aggressive defense with the latter.
Here’s the post/wheel combo, each of these two clips the Bears running it to the bottom.
And here’s the out ‘n up, also run to the bottom.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Bears week, Steelers fans!
With that comes a primetime matchup at Heinz Field on Monday Night Football in front of a national audience in which the Steelers will wear their color rush uniforms.
Good luck to the Bears!
In all seriousness though, this is an interesting matchup for the Steelers as rookie quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense is coming off of a strong showing against the San Francisco 49ers one week ago with Fields looking much more comfortable in the NFL, using his legs to rush for his first-career 100-yard rushing game.
When you’re to create plays like this with your legs as the quarterback, you’re going to be a real handful for any defense.
Everything about this TD run from Justin Fields 😱
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) October 31, 2021
That’s just a remarkable play from a young quarterback that was really just starting to trust his legs in the Bears’ system, which just so happened to be with head coach Matt Nagy on the COVID-19/Reserve list and not coaching the game.
Sometimes that’s addition by subtraction for the Bears.
The game against the 49ers was by far Fields’ best game of his young career. He was extremely accurate, and really was the driving force behind the Bears’ success offensively.
It helps that he could make throws like this on the run.
— Jarrett Payton (@paytonsun) October 31, 2021
That’s what the kids call a “dime” nowadays.
The talent was never a question with Fields. The game against the 49ers showed fans everything they wanted to see from the guy who went 11th overall coming out of Ohio State. In fact, that game alone went a long way towards showing just what Fields put on tape at Ohio State.
Against the Steelers, he’ll have to use his legs once again if he wants to keep the Bears in the game. That’s really been his calling card as of late, and that’s not a knock on his ability to throw the football at a high level either.
He’s just so smooth with his legs right now.
What I’ve really liked from Fields so early in his career in Chicago is his ability to throw with timing and accuracy, especially off of play-action where he turns his back to the defense and is able to whip his head back around and find his target.
Check out this throw against the Green Bay Packers at home off of play-action.
It’s quick, he wastes no time flipping his head back around and throws a strike to tight end Cole Kmet, who has developed a really good rapport with the rookie quarterback to date.
With Fields running things from under center, one would think the Bears would air it out a bit more, but this is still a heavy ground and pound team, led by fellow rookie standout Khalil Herbert.
Herbert was a guy I thought would be a really good No. 2 running back in a zone-blocking scheme. So far that’s been the case, though he has held down the No. 1 role in Chicago with David Montgomery on injured reserve with a knee injury.
The Virginia Tech product has run really hard the last few weeks, making the case to be a legit starting running back in the NFL.
He’s not the biggest running back and certainly isn’t the strongest, but he runs well behind his pads and packs a punch at the point of contact, making him really hard to bring down on first contact.
The Steelers’ defense will have to be detail-oriented when it comes to tackling the rookie running back.
Herbert also changes direction with ease, which could be a real problem for a defense that has struggled in the past to cut off cutback lanes.
Just don’t let this guy get a full head of steam going, especially on outside zone. He’s a one-cut runner that sticks his foot in the ground and gets vertical in a hurry, which is perfect for Chicago’s offense.
At receiver, the Bears certainly have a lot of depth and high-end talent.
Allen Robinson is the big name overall in Chicago, but the production and chemistry just hasn’t been there with Fields. He feels more like a decoy at the moment, which has opened things up for Darrell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin.
Mooney has really emerged as a playmaker for the Bears. He works over the middle well, makes a bunch of contested catches despite his diminutive stature, and is a developing route runner that has a knack for creating separation.
Goodwin is the burner. He’ll take the top off of the defense and will take a short screen for a splash play in the blink of an eye.
Make no mistake though: Mooney is the key cog in the passing attack, fitting in nicely with the tight ends in Chicago.
Fields loves throwing to Kmet and Jesse James has emerged in recent weeks. The puzzling player at tight end that should be a massive weapon in Jimmy Graham just isn’t getting much work.
Hopefully that doesn’t change on Monday night.
Up front, the Bears have had their struggles, but there’s talent there overall.
Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Monday night.
LT — Jason Peters
LG — Cody Whitehair
C — Sam Mustipher
RG — James Daniels
RT — Larry Borom
Peters is mostly an elite-level tackle in name alone at this point. He’s definitely serviceable, but he has struggled with speed rushers in recent weeks and doesn’t move as well as he once did. He could be the fish of the week for the Steelers’ front seven, if we’re being totally honest.
Whitehair and Daniels are a solid guard combination, and it seems as though the Bears have let those two settle into their respective positions after the pair moved around a ton in recent seasons.
I do like Borom and his development so far. He’s a massive human at right tackle that has real power and moves surprisingly well. He still has his rookie struggles and will probably get some help against T.J. Watt on Monday night.
Special teams has been really solid overall this year for the Bears. Kicker Cairo Santos has solidified the position for the Bears after years of inconsistency after moving on from Robbie Gould, which was a mistake.
Punter Pat O’Donnell has a big leg and is quietly one of the best punters in the entire NFL, averaging nearly 47 yards per punt.
The headliner on special teams though is Jakeem Grant Sr., whom the Bears acquired from the Miami Dolphins earlier in the year. Grant has stepped into his role in Chicago and quickly become one of the best returners in the NFL. He’s top 5 in kick return average on the season and has come close to breaking some kicks in recent weeks. He also handles the punt return duties and is just as dangerous back there as well.