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Why Were the Bears Successful Against the Jets?

The Chicago Bears beat the New York Jets on Sunday. How did they do it?

Other than Anthony Miller‘s dance moves, there was nothing flashy about the Chicago Bears 24 – 10 win over the New York Jets. The Bears were expected to beat a team that has been bitten (or, more like, half-eaten) by the injury bug but they still needed to take care of business. Mitchell Trubisky overcame some first-half issues and looked accomplished at the helm of the Offense completing passes to six receivers for 220 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a QB rating of 102.7. The Defense, without its spiritual leader, came out fired up and didn’t allow the Jets to establish any kind of platform to build on.

In his post-game interview Akiem Hicks was keen to stress that the Defense plays as a unit and is about more than their individual star-players:

“I don’t want to go back and forth on what any particular guy does on this defense. I want to talk about our entire defense as a whole and how dominant we have been and (how) dominant we will continue to be for the rest of the year.”

That is proper Bear talk.

Mitch’s second-half improvement

There was a spell in the first half where Trubisky threw five consecutive incompletions and it looked as if the game might just turn into a punt-off between Pat O’Donnell and Lach Edwards. Some adjustments from the Offense and (no doubt) a few words from Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich at halftime woke number 10 up and he put on a masterful second-half display against a solid, if unspectacular, Jets Defense. Trubisky showed notable signs of growth, stepping up in the pocket, getting through his progressions and making the easy throws to keep the chains moving.

Jordan Howard

Jordan Howard carried the ball 22 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. He closed out the game for the Bears by carrying the ball on ten of the final thirteen plays. Compared to previous seasons Howard has been sparsely used to this point in the season. The result? Howard looks fresh, strong and full of yards that are just waiting to burst out. If the Bears are to push for a playoff spot, a low-mileage Howard might be a big piece in their armory come December against battle worn NFC defenses. Matt Nagy made a point of singling him out in the post-game celebrations showing that, despite the new playbook, number 24 is still very much a part of this Offense. It is great to have so many weapons and so many ways to win a football game.

The Defense without Mack

On Sunday morning, Matt Nagy and his staff took the decision to rest Khalil Mack. Mack has been noticeably limping through the Bears last two games as he continues to battle an ankle injury. If Mack is to return to his devastating early season form, he needs to heal up. Most fans would rather see him at full speed for the upcoming slate of divisional games than watch him struggle through the rest of the season on one leg.

The pregame talk was all about how the Defense would cope in Mack’s absence. After, uncharacteristically, giving up yards between the tackles to both Miami and New England, the Bears made a return to being stout against the run in this game. Isaiah Crowell and Trenton Cannon consistently ran into a wall of defenders lead by Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman leaving Sam Darnold in a succession of third and long situations.

The Jets decimated receiving corps was blanketed by the Bears secondary who, but for a huge unnecessary roughness call on Eddie Jackson, would have recorded their first no-touchdown game of the season. Incidentally, the Bears still have not allowed a rushing TD this term.

The Offensive Line

The Offensive line was much improved and noticeably allowed less pressure up the middle giving Trubisky a clean pocket to throw from. They also bulldozed huge openings for Howard and Tarik Cohen – the 179 rushing yards that the bears racked up are the most conceded by the Jets this season. The Bears’ second-round draft pick James Daniels looked good in his first full game showing off his mobility and taking care of his assignments in the run and pass game (though he did allow some pressure on the QB).

Through three and a half quarters it looked as if Daniels might relegate (currently injured starter) Eric Kush to warming the bench for the rest of the season. However, Kush’s future job prospects were improved as Dion Simms rolled up on Right Guard Kyle Long‘s right leg in the fourth quarter. It appears Long’s injury is very serious and could keep him out the remainder of the season.

Use of personnel

– Of all active players, only Chase Daniel did not see the field against the Jets. The Bears usage of 45 players was a season high.

– A committee of Bears receivers shared out the injured Allen Robinson‘s targets. Joshua Bellamy lead all Bears receivers in snaps and made some good catches in the process. Kevin White again recorded a catch and would’ve had two but for a twenty-yarder being negated on Kyle Long‘s unnecessary roughness penalty. Pass catchers also made a number of key downfield blocks.

Trey Burton handled a couple of Jets on a first-half Trubisky run and Taylor Gabriel stuck it to Morris Claiborne to help spring Tarik Cohen‘s 70-yard catch and run.

Leonard Floyd was used on the strong and weak sides of the Defense. He also lined up as a defensive tackle (albeit in a two-point stance) to run stunts around Aaron Lynch on the end and took his regular duty of dropping into coverage (though only on one occasion in this game). Fans will question Floyd’s lack of production as a pass rusher, but Vic Fangio values his versatility and his usage is a testament to this.

Bryce Callahan

Callahan had another outstanding game breaking up three, third down passes, recording five tackles (including yet another tackle for a loss) and sacking Jets QB Sam Darnold. He had another near-sack in the first half as he came racing off the left edge of the defense and Darnold just managed to step up and avoid contact.

Callahan clearly learned from this and, when his next opportunity came, number 37 could be seen to slow down as he approached Darnold to cut off any potential escape lane and finish the job. I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryce’s high school coach last week – he has an intriguing backstory and it’s great to see him having such a successful season with the Bears. You can read the interview here.

Playoffs?

The Bears have gone from first to last to first in the NFC North in the span of seven days. A win against a struggling Bills team next Sunday would set them up well for a run of three divisional games that will go a long way to deciding their season.

If it counts for anything (and it really doesn’t) Tony Romo is of the firm belief that the Bears will be playing football in January – he mentioned it on at least three occasions in the CBS coverage of Sunday’s game. The Bears have led in the second half of every game this season and, if they can continue to be as ruthlessly efficient as they were in this game, they are in with a good shot of seeing their first post-season action since 2010.

You can follow Matt on Twitter

Image: SunTimes 

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