In case you haven’t heard yet, which I doubt, the 3-5 Chicago Bears are favored by 5½ points over the 4-4 Green Bay Packers this Sunday at Soldier Field.
That’s right: for the first time since 2008, the wise guys think the Bears are better than the Packers. While that is in huge part due to the fact that all-world quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be in street clothes on the sideline Sunday, the dramatic improvement in the Bears defense and their NFL sixth-best ground game starring Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are at least partly due credit as well.
And therein lies the greatest challenge facing the Bears between now and New Year’s Day. Semi-regular competitive performances with the occasional upset win tossed in just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Head coach John Fox, who many assumed would be leaving town at the end of the season, appears to have his club turned around, and may just be on his way to buying himself another season or three in town.
But a 3-5 second half, doubling the Bears’ win total after last season, isn’t going to get the job done. The expectations now are that the Bears at least win the five second-half games they are almost certain to be favored in, and if they do, they will be expected to contend for a playoff spot next year.
That bridge isn’t crossed without significant strides from wunderkind quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the arrival of an aerial attack, and that development is in the hands of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
Whether or not Loggains is the man for the job has now become the focal point of the next 8 weeks.
While Fox may be able to save himself, can he do it without dramatic improvement from Trubisky and the offense? And if that doesn’t happen, but the Bears play well enough for Fox to get a 1-year extension, would a condition be a willingness to jettison Loggains?
Somehow I got way ahead of myself. Is Loggains the guy to make a Pro Bowler out of Trubisky and match the work Vic Fangio is doing with the defense?
Right now, Trubisky is struggling with one of the lowest completion percentages in the league, and on Wednesday Loggains explained his tjoughts on the subject.
“I think it’s something to do with throwing the ball away, being smart,” he said. “I think he hasn’t forced many balls, we probably have to do a better job in pass protection and separating versus man coverage to help him out a little bit.”
That is fair enough, as clearly the offense is going nowhere without upgrades at receiver, but what is Loggains going to do to put Trubisky in a better position to succeed?
The kid QB had a shot at a breakout moment on the second-to-last possession in New Orleans when Loggains left him in the shotgun with limited options and both 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1, and his explanation of those play calls Wednesday was interesting.
“We had two new guys in,” Loggains said. “One of them obviously, Compton, was banged up at the time. Sitton was playing center. We had a couple snap issues a little bit before.
“We felt good about the calls. We knew what they were gonna be in. It was obviously in a 2-minute situation, so there were some of the exotic sub fronts, so just felt better in pass pro from the matchups and how we were set up front at that time.”
While those are exactly the kind of tough calls Loggains has to make, the answer doesn’t necessarily wash. I’ve never met an O-lineman who wasn’t more comfortable run blocking than in pass protection.
For most fans, winning any way the Bears can over the next 8 weeks will be good enough. But for Loggains, some better answers need to be coming soon.