The Chicago Bears haven’t been 4-0 since 2006, the year they wound up advancing to Super Bowl XLI.
So their chance to reach that milestone seems like a big deal, setting up an intriguing home game Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts that could open the door for Chicago to dream bigger. But the Colts (2-1) are better than any opponent the Bears have faced yet this season, with a stingy and opportunistic defense and an offense that sets the tone with a tenacious line.
Will the Bears be sharp enough to survive? Or will they head into a short week in Week 5 — a Thursday night matchup against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — with major corrections to make after a loss? With kickoff closing in, here’s our snapshot look at the game Sunday.
Player in the spotlight
Akiem Hicks is coming off a performance against the Atlanta Falcons that defensive line coach Jay Rodgers called “ferocious,” and Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano echoed that thought Thursday.
“He’s a game-wrecker,” Pagano said. “They couldn’t handle him. He got such great pressure. We talked all week about getting Matt (Ryan) off the spot, getting pressure on him, making him move and not letting him step up. He and his teammates did a phenomenal job, and he had some great production when it came to sacks and quarterback hits and things like that. He was good in the run and the pass. He had a couple plays like everybody does, but he’s dominant. That’s what we need.”
Hicks had 1 1/4 u00bd sacks and five quarterback hits Sunday to bring his totals to 3 1/4 u00bd and seven over three games.
But he now faces a highly regarded Colts offensive line that has allowed quarterback Philip Rivers to be sacked just twice in three games. In his 17th season, Rivers has completed 78.3% of his passes for 794 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“After all these years, he’s still productive,” Pagano said of Rivers. “There’s nothing he hasn’t seen. He hangs in there, he slides, he moves, he keeps his eyes down the field. You’d think at a certain point that they’d start feeling pressure and their eyes would start dropping and looking at the rush, (but) he just doesn’t do that. As funky as that release looks at times, he’s so accurate, and you’ve just got to do a tremendous job of trying to make him work at both ends, before the snap and after the snap. Then you’ve got to be attached to guys because he’s going to throw those guys open.”
Can the Bears find answers in the kicking game?
Forty-six yards. Indoors. Wide left.
“We’ve got to make those,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “Every time.”
No wonder Nagy’s stomach dropped a bit after the opening drive in Atlanta on Sunday. The latest missed field-goal attempt from Cairo Santos was undeniably disconcerting, an indication that the Bears' seemingly endless search for kicker stability remains a challenge.
Nagy has made it clear that settling for three points isn’t something he’ll be satisfied with in 2020.
“I don’t want field goals,” he said.
And Nagy certainly won’t tolerate missed field-goal attempts.
In Week 2 against the Giants, Santos left a 50-yard attempt outside the left upright, unable to correctly judge the wind or set an appropriate target line at Soldier Field.
“Sometimes you can get too focused on the lines,” Santos said a few days later.
The 46-yard miss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium? Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor diagnosed it as an unfortunate pull.
“(Cairo) just got a little quick on his follow through,” Tabor said. “His toe popped up a bit, and the ball went left on him.”
Santos rebounded on the next drive, nailing a 35-yard field goal to get the Bears on the scoreboard. He also made all three of his point-after-touchdown attempts against the Falcons and is 4-for-6 on field-goal attempts this season. But he has missed both of his tries from beyond 40 yards. And the Bears can’t afford to find themselves in a weekly worry spell about missed kicks. Eventually — perhaps as soon as Sunday — the Bears will find themselves in a game in which a field goal might decide the outcome. October winds off Lake Michigan might heighten the difficulty for Santos on Sunday. There’s a 15 mph breeze in the forecast.
The Bears kicking battery took its regularly scheduled field trip to Soldier Field on Friday to practice. Two days earlier, a gusty afternoon at Halas Hall reminded Santos what life as a Bears kicker requires.
“We probably had a good 20-mph breeze,” Tabor said. “The equipment guys had to hold the goalposts straight. But Cairo went 7-for-7. I’m really happy for him kicking in those conditions.”
Keep an eye on …
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor offered a warning on the Bears Coaches Show earlier this week: Don’t study the statistics of the Colts defense through three weeks.
“You might not think we can make a first down,” Lazor quipped.
Indeed, the Colts lead the NFL in total defense, allowing just 225.3 yards per game. Their six interceptions also are tops in the league. Against the pass, the Colts are allowing just 5.3 yards per play. That is also — you guessed it — best in the NFL.
Last week, in a 36-7 thrashing of the Jets, the Colts defense had two sacks and three takeaways. They scored two touchdowns and added a safety.
“Their stats aren’t fluffed up at all,” Nagy said.
Without question, this sets up as the biggest challenge to date for a Bears offense that’s trying to get settled with Nick Foles as its new starting quarterback. Both Lazor and Nagy have been impressed with the Colts' cohesion on defense. Justin Houston and DeForest Buckner bring an obvious edge to the Colts front. Former Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes had two interceptions and returned the first 44 yards for a touchdown last week.
“It looks like a defense that has everyone on the same page,” Lazor said. “They know what they’re doing, so there’s a small amount of confusion.”
Colts coach Frank Reich has been pleased with his defense’s ability to play fast and united.
“We’re playing well as a unit,” Reich said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of minimizing big plays.”
Player in the spotlight, Part 2
Of course, no player will be under more scrutiny this week than Nick Foles, who will make his first Bears start after replacing Mitch Trubisky in a wild comeback victory against the Falcons.
The Bears' transition to Foles as their starter during practice this week was helped by his understanding of how to lead a team from his eight seasons of NFL experience, according to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. He called Foles “a good communicator” and “a people person.”
“He understands how to deal with his teammates and get everyone on the same page,” Lazor said. "All of us as humans and as professionals continue to grow and evolve and get better in a lot of ways. Nick has a lot of wisdom from all this time, all the locker rooms he’s been in and all the teams he’s been on, the players he’s had to deal with both as a starting quarterback and a backup.
“What you see every day is him using that wisdom and really going out of his way to help build the team the way that the quarterback can because the quarterback’s in just a little bit different position than everyone else. It’s neat to watch. He’s had a lot of experience since the last time I was with him, but now I see him use that experience as he’s talking to players and getting them on the same page.”
Now the Bears must see if any of that can translate to the game.
After the Bears placed Tarik Cohen on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his right knee, the rest of their injury report is short this week. Special teams ace Sherrick McManis is doubtful for the game because of a hamstring injury.
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack (knee) and inside linebacker Josh Woods (ankle) are listed as questionable. Woods participated in practice in full Thursday and Friday. Mack was limited all week, as he has been for most practices this season, and was listed as questionable for the fourth straight week. He played in all three games.
For the Colts, cornerback T.J. Carrie (hamstring) and wide receiver Michael Pittman (calf) were ruled out.
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