The Chicago Bears’ defense had been good for most of this season, aside from a 30-minute stretch against the Green Bay Packers in week one. But on Sunday, one of the league’s biggest punchlines tore it to shreds, giving the Packers an opening to claw back into the division.
About a year and a half ago, the Houston Texans gave the Cleveland Browns a pair of draft picks to convince Cleveland to take quarterback Brock Osweiler and his $16 million salary cap hit off their hands. The Browns were effectively taking a strategy that has become commonplace in the NBA and applying it to the NFL by offering to take on an awful contract in exchange for draft pick compensation.
All told, the trade was Osweiler, a 2018 second-round pick, and a 2017 sixth-round pick to the Browns for a 2017 fourth-rounder. The Browns eventually cut Osweiler prior to the 2017 season, effectively paying $16 million to get the draft pick that turned out to be running back Nick Chubb. Following his release, Osweiler went back to the Denver Broncos, who originally drafted him in the second round in 2012, playing there last season before signing a veteran-minimum deal with the Miami Dolphins this offseason to back up Ryan Tannehill.
On Sunday, Osweiler and the Dolphins shredded the Chicago Bears and their #1-ranked defense (by DVOA) to the tune of 380 yards and three touchdowns, defeating Chicago 31-28 in overtime.
Once again: Osweiler, who led an offense that ranked 19th in passing and 18th overall with Ryan Tannehill under center, obliterated the top-ranked passing and overall defense, averaging 8.6 yards per pass attempt. Miami also put up 161 yards on the ground against the Bears’ third-ranked rushing defense, thanks to a 2009-like performance from an ancient Frank Gore (15 carries, 101 yards).
It’s certainly worth mentioning that Osweiler got a ton of help from his receivers in the form of yards after the catch. Albert Wilson was untackleable, particularly on his 75-yard catch-and-run that tied the game with three minutes to go. Wilson had played under new Bears head coach Matt Nagy in Kansas City, and Chicago reportedly was highly interested in signing him this offseason. Instead, he landed with the Dolphins and torched the Bears’ secondary for 155 yards and two scores on just six catches.
(The Bears did get a small, fast receiver of their own in Taylor Gabriel, and he had a very good day with five receptions for 110 yards. But he has been much more of a short-yardage option than Wilson, averaging 11.2 yards per reception to Wilson’s 15.6.)
While the guy who had to be packaged with draft picks to get rid of him last year was picking the Chicago defense apart, it was also the play of the Dolphins’ offensive line that helped dictate that result. Osweiler was not sacked all game, despite the Bears’ league-best mark in adjusted sack rate coming into the contest. Khalil Mack who?
Keep in mind as well that teams starting Osweiler at quarterback are under .500, his career completion percentage is under 60, and his career passer rating is 77.7, about 12 points below the league average over the past four seasons. Kyle Fuller did pick him off twice, but those were Osweilerian decisions: one a brutally underthrown deep ball and the other a telegraphed out route that Brock sailed, allowing Fuller to undercut the route. Those two plays were what one would expect to see from Osweiler all game against a top-ranked defense, but instead the rest of the contest was a field day for the Dolphins.
Sure, the Packers have a tough game with the Bears later this season at Soldier Field, but this game exposed the Bears’ defense as a unit that is nowhere near as good as its metrics indicate. Adam Gase and his team defined the best way to beat Chicago — keep the pass rush away from your quarterback, get the ball out of his hands quickly, and generally attack cornerbacks not named Fuller. It worked for the Green Bay Packers in the second half in week one, and though it’s easier said than done, it’s clear that the unit is just not that good in the back half.