Top 10 Routes to the Super Bowl in 2021
I don’t know about you, but my heart still races randomly at times when I think back to that night in April when we all got to hear the most beautiful (and dare I say sexy?) words ever to have been spoken to Bears fans on a draft night: “In the first round of the 2021 draft, MY Chicago Bears select Justin Fields!” Whoa, chills (still!). And then on top of that, we hit the rest of the draft out of the park. This has been my favorite draft and off-season ever, and it doesn’t even come close. The excitement is palpable and can be felt among fans, players, and staff alike. And with training camp officially underway, the anticipation and enthusiasm are rising to a fever pitch. We are so close to those sweet, sweet Sundays, Bears fans. But before we get too carried away with visions of Fields throwing 40 yard dimes to ARob, let’s remember that we’ve got some serious work ahead of us if we want to have a legitimate chance of making a playoff run. Let’s dive in.
10. Eliminate Penalties
This one is a no-brainer, but it still makes the list. Last year we averaged 5.7 penalties per game for a loss of 48.6 yards. That’s an average loss of almost half the field PER GAME. For a team that has struggled to string drives together, penalties only add gasoline to the fire. There were penalties across all positions last year (and some much more costly than others… looking at you, Wims), but the main focus needs to be on the line on both sides of the ball. False starts and off-sides are completely preventable and though they only account for a loss of five yards, those add up quickly and are the kinds of penalties that can completely uproot the momentum of the game on both sides of the ball. And yeah, also, if we could stop punching guys in the helmet, that would be great too.
9. Maximize Yards After Catch
If there’s one criticism of Allen Robinson that holds up, it’s his inability to gain significant yardage after his catches. Last year he ranked 64th in average yards per catch at 12.1. Now, one could make the argument that the balls he caught last year were rarely on target, and his catches were sometimes down-right miraculous, and I would completely agree with that assessment. But that doesn’t change the fact that those yards add up significantly and are paramount to moving the chains quickly down the field. Whether it’s Dalton or Fields in the pocket, it’s an upgrade compared to last year. With conceivably more accurate ball positioning, I’ll be looking for Mooney and Robinson especially to be scorching those secondaries and pounding down that field.
8. Excel In Special Teams
“Devin Hester you are RIDICULOUS!” (and Jeff Joniak, you are a treasure!). I don’t think there’s a fanbase in the NFL that better understands just how crucial special teams are to the success of a team than Bears fans. Whether it’s setting the offense up with a great field position, or holding the opposition to as few yards as possible down the field, special teams perform the oft-overlooked plays that significantly contribute to the win or loss of a game. With Cordarrelle Patterson released, all eyes will be watching to see who wins that return specialist position. Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd, Khalil Herbert, Damien Williams – let’s see what you’ve got, gentleman. We’re ready to be thrilled once again!
7. Improve The Offensive Scheme
And what offensive scheme is that? Well, that’s a very good question. Because at this point, I’m not even sure Nagy knows anymore. We were all lured into fantasies of a West Coast Offense raging river when Nagy was hired, and so far all we’ve gotten is a leaky faucet (womp womp). When it’s run correctly, a West Coast Offense is damn near impossible to stop. But with so many new players at key positions on the offense (most notably quarterback and left tackle), is such a complicated scheme the best way to win and to win NOW? I think that’s debatable. With Nagy taking over play-calling (again!), we’ll at least finally get our answer to the great “Is It Trubisky Or Nagy?” debate. I think I speak for all fans when I say: Get your [bleep] together, Nagy!
6. Defend Against The Run
The absence of Eddie Goldman was FELT last season and it felt like a swift kick in the you-know-where. Teams were literally running all over us, especially in the first half of last season. But when both Goldman and Hicks were on the field together in 2018, Bears ranked #1 against the run. Our front seven has the potential to be utterly terrifying and the epitome of the “Monsters of the Midway”, and if the training camp interviews are any indication, they’re all HUNGRY and ready to prove that they can be a top defense. I’ll be looking specifically at Robert Quinn to play significantly better than he did last year, but suffice it to say, I’m absolutely pumped to watch this reunion transpire.
5. Capitalize In The Red Zone
Last year we ranked 22nd in red zone scoring percentage (TD only) and squeaked into the playoffs by the skin of our teeth. In 2018 when we made that legitimate playoff run? We ranked 11th. It’s no secret that capitalizing in the red zone is one of the most important factors in winning games, but clearly it’s easier said than done. So why exactly have we had such a hard time getting that ball over the goal line? Is it the play calling? The disastrous QB play? Our musical chairs charade with the O-line last year? Probably all of those things, plus some. I’m personally hoping we utilize our tight ends and run game much more in the offense overall, but especially when we make it to the red zone.
4. Utilize Montgomery To Full Potential
Montgomery is coming off a very solid year, tying for fifth in the NFL in rushing with a career-high 1,070 yards and 8 touchdowns on 247 carries while also catching 54 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns. But that’s still well below the standard to which he holds himself: “I proved that I can catch the ball, but I have so much more that I can improve on. But it’s like beating a dead horse telling you what I can do. I’m just going to go out there and show it.” Nagy has continuously said during recent interviews that he thinks it’s conceivable for Monty to get 20 touches per game, but that kind of production relies heavily on a multitude of factors outside of the motivation that Montgomery has clearly demonstrated this off-season. With hopefully more effective play-calling and an upgraded offensive line, we can see more Forte-like production out of him. The potential is absolutely there, now it’s time to execute on all fronts.
3. Focus on Takeaways
Last year we had 10 total interceptions and 8 forced fumbles. In 2018 we had 27 interceptions and 9 forced fumbles. And in 2006 when we made that spectacular Super Bowl run (shhhh let’s not talk about how it ended, K?) we had a whopping 24 interceptions and 20 forced fumbles. Defense has run this city for decades, so it’s blindingly obvious when we’re lacking on that side of the ball, and last year we were about as dominant as a wet noodle. While nobody knows what to expect out of Sean Desai’s defense, I think we all can agree that Trevathan and Jackson especially need to make a solid effort to return to their former takeaway glory. And with Fuller released, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that our secondary is an area of potential concern. Can we bring Peanut in on a one-day “Peanut Punch” camp intensive? Asking for Johnson and Trufant… I mean, ahem, a friend.
2. Maintain An Impenetrable Offensive Line
When James Daniels got injured in the 5th game of the season last year, the Bears started shuffling the offensive line around like a blackjack dealer in Vegas. Spoiler alert: it did not bode well for anybody. The offensive line is the backbone of the offense, and when it’s anemic, it can be disastrous. We have likely upgraded with the addition of Teven Jenkins, but he’ll have a steep learning curve at left tackle considering he spent his collegiate career at right tackle. With the return of Daniels, and hopefully a clearer picture of where everybody excels, I’m cautiously optimistic about this group. Our passing game and running game both have the potential to explode this year, but it all starts with a stalwart offensive line.
1. Make The Right Call At QB1
Whew, the “Dalton vs. Fields” debate is getting HEATED, and I don’t think there’s any end in sight. But let’s all put our torches and pitchforks aside for just a second to take a breath and think about this clearly. There’s absolutely no question who the more talented quarterback is, and Dalton and anybody else who has ever watched a game of football in their life knows this. Nagy has repeated time and time again that there’s a long checklist of items that they’re looking to see out of Fields in order to determine if he’s ready to start, and I don’t doubt that. But outside of Fields’ abilities, there’s one excruciatingly important piece to this puzzle: Teven Jenkins. Jenkins needs to be thrown into the proverbial fire of dominant defenses from the very beginning so that he can learn from his mistakes as early as possible. Because when he misses his block (and he WILL miss his blocks and make mistakes, as all rookies do) I personally would prefer to have Dalton flattened like a pancake by the likes of Aaron Donald over our franchise QB. That’s not to say that both Fields and Jenkins couldn’t be ready from the get-go, they absolutely could be. But I just hope Nagy & Co. are able to balance that delicate line of patience vs. gutsiness. Whatever their decision may be week one and beyond, it will leave an indelible mark on our offense for years to come.