These rivalry games don’t get much bigger than this so let’s just jump right into this week’s Five Questions with the Enemy, featuring Bill Zimmerman of Windy City Girdiron.
The Bears have the number one overall pick. Justin Fields has been a hot topic of discussion in regards to if the Bears take a quarterback. How would you rate Fields’ development and do you think he’s in danger of being replaced by a rookie next year?
That’s funny you bring up Fields because nobody in Chicago is talking about him. And if anyone brings him up and there’s a disagreement, it’s a nice, cordial conversation. Yeah, obviously, that’s not true. The Justin Fields debate is HEATED in Chicago. Fields’ fans are adamant that he should stay but there are others that see the reason to pivot to a rookie quarterback.
As to your question specifically, Fields has improved this year without question. From just an eye test perspective, he is more comfortable in the offense, he’s trusting his protection and he looks the part. But even with the improvement, has he improved enough? The other huge piece is the number one pick. If the Bears had the 8th and 10th pick next year, this would be a totally different situation, but the Bears were gifted the number one spot by the dysfunctional Carolina Panthers. Deciding to move on from Fields for Caleb Williams or Drake Maye is a far different conversation than deciding if they should move on from him for JJ McCarthy or Bo Nix.
Bears fans like to ask if you’d rather have Justin Fields and the haul for the number one pick or just Caleb Williams. The one thing they don’t discuss is the impact of the financial decision of retaining Fields. Fields certainly won’t garner the type of money to leap Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow, but he absolutely will be paid more than Daniel Jones. So do you want the haul of the number one pick, with Justin Fields earning $45 to $50 million a year? Or do you want Caleb Williams at $8 million a year and what you can do with all that additional money.
So is Fields in danger of losing his job to a rookie quarterback? Yes, it’s 100% on the table and nobody has any idea what the franchise is going to do right now.
Matt Eberflus might have been a lame duck coach earlier in the year but the Bears have looked a lot better in recent weeks. Has he done enough to warrant another chance next year?
The fans have wanted Matt Eberflus to be fired most of the season, but with how well the team has played of late, their tune has been changing. The Bears started off 0-4 and were so bad that they were dismissed by just about everyone, Bears fans included. But they’ve gone 7-5 in their last 12 and they’ve won 4 of their last 5. The team is definitely on an uptick and it’s largely because of a solid, but unspectacular offense and a defense that’s been playing like an elite unit for the last several games.
Eberflus’ season is hard to determine because there are plenty of goods and plenty of bads. The team has blown 3 double-digit fourth quarter leads, including 2 where the win probability was over 98%. He’s had two assistant coaches fired from the staff, not due to poor coaching, but due to HR violations, the team was unprepared out of the gate and they were embarrassed by the Packers the first week of the season (and by the Chiefs in week three) and we haven’t even talked about how much of a mess the Chase Claypool situation was.
You look at all that and go, well, yeah, he should be fired, but this is a team that never quit, when it would have been really easy, the player’s continued to play hard. They all seem to really like him and support his philosophies. He’s been calling the defensive plays since Alan Williams left the team and he’s done a great job. The team is winning more than they’re losing now and it’s a results-based business and the results are pretty darn good right now.
I think most likely Eberflus will return as the coach, but you can’t underestimate one piece: lining up a rookie QB with an offensive head coach. This is something the Bears have failed at miserably. The last three first round rookie QBs they drafted were Rex Grossman (Dick Jauron in year one, fired, Lovie Smith in year two), Mitch Trubisky (John Fox in year one, fired, Matt Nagy in year two) and Justin Fields (Matt Nagy in year one, fired, Matt Eberflus in year two). They continually fail to line up the two and if they retain Eberflus and draft Caleb Williams they are potentially setting up to have Eberflus fired after 2024 and repeating the same darn cycle. If President Kevin Warren and General Manager Ryan Poles understand the problem the franchise continues to create at developing a quarterback, they may let Eberflus go to line up the QB and the head coach even if Eberflus’ results were good enough for another season.
The Bears defense has been the one of the best groups in the league over the past several weeks. What has been the catalyst for that improvement?
We’ve dubbed it the Tez Effect. Let me tell you, nobody in Chicago outside of the Bears organization, not a fan, former player, analyst, insider, nobody realized how good Montez Sweat was as an impact player. This guy is incredible. Sweat has transformed this defense and is a multiplier for the players around him. The Bears went from no pass rush to a strong pass rush where not only is Sweat getting to the quarterback, but rookie Gervon Dexter, DeMarcus Walker and Justin Jones are now playing like impact players as well. The improved defensive line has improved the traffic around the linebackers and suddenly Tremaine Edmunds is making a bigger impact on the defense, and the secondary, which didn’t have an interception the first four games of the season, is now leading the NFL in interceptions thanks to the pass rush.
Sweat is an absolute monster and he’s been just terrorizing offensive lines for two months in Chicago. Interesting fact, Sweat is leading the Bears with 6 sacks, Justin Jones is second with 4.5. In Washington, Sweat is leading there with 6.5 sacks and Jonathan Allen is second with 5.5. If Sweat holds onto the lead with both teams, he’s going to be the first player in NFL history to lead two teams in sacks in the same season. He’s a guy you’ll need to keep an eye on this Sunday.
Both teams are drastically different than the ones that took the field in Week 1. What’s one way the Bears have gotten better and what’s one area they need to still improve? And where do you think the Packers have gotten better and worse?
Well, based on week one, I don’t know if the Packers needed to improve anywhere, haha. I think they have definitely gotten worse defensively. They seemed to be a decent unit early in the season but now they seem to let everyone go up and down the field (I mean, the Panthers? Come on!). In terms of something that’s improved, I’ll just say Jordan Love. He really seems to have come into his own the last 6 weeks or so and definitely has command of the offense. I know Love hurt the Bears in week one, but his receivers were streaking open on third downs by 10 to 15 yards and he was able to play pitch and catch with them. I thought his week one success was more about how unprepared the Bears were than it was impressive throws by him.
For Chicago, the defense is the obvious answer, especially the pass defense. Alan Williams had the Bears playing a lot of soft zones that LaFleur and Love picked apart, but that’s not happening anymore. Eberflus has been mixing up coverages and bringing pressure with stunts, twists and blitzes and the defensive game plan against the pass is much improved.
For what’s improved, I’ll say the utilization of DJ Moore. Moore was a non-factor in week one. How do you not have your best offensive player as part of the game plan? That was confusing for everyone watching in Chicago. But Fields has been feeding Moore the ball frequently and he is a huge part of the offense. He’s already gained the 5th most receiving yards in a single season in Bears history, and if he has 120 yards, he’ll move into 2nd, 208 would give him the record. Moore is a great receiver. He has great hands, breaks a lot of tackles and is a YAC monster. Packers will have to focus on minimizing his impact as much as possible.
The DraftKings Sportsbook has the Packers as three-point favorites at home. How do you see this game shaking out and are there any prop bets that stand out?
Until the Bears show they can beat the Packers, especially at Lambeau Field, I think it’s foolish to pick the Bears. The Bears are playing well and I think they absolutely have a chance to keep it close and potentially win the game, but like I said, there’s too much history and these teams are too close right now to say that the Bears can win in Green Bay when they haven’t beaten the team since 2018.
As for props, I will say hammer every over for DJ Moore. Justin Fields is going to want to try and make a statement in this game that he deserves to remain the quarterback of the Bears and to do that, he’s going to need a big game throwing the ball, not just running it. He’s going to look to DJ Moore early and often. I think Moore goes over 100 yards and would be a good bet for an anytime touchdown.