With the playoffs on the horizon, two questions for Bears fans:
Who scares you?
What scares you?
Your typical die-hard supporter of all things navy blue and orange, a face-painted person still recovering from Sunday’s NFC North title celebration, will either say “nobody and nothing” or “Dick Butkus and a recurring nightmare that Prohibition has returned.’’
But let’s take a closer look at this, because we can. The Bears have a playoff spot secured with two regular-season games left. We have time to kill.
No team in the NFC should scare the Bears. They made the Rams look like a quivering Jell-O mold in Chicago on Dec. 9, but Jared Goff’s struggles in the game were chalked up to chilly conditions. Then the Rams lost to the Carson Wentz-less Eagles on Sunday night in Los Angeles, and a tectonic plate seemed to shift. The Bears are supposed to be frightened about the prospect of a road game against the Rams in January? I don’t think so.
The Saints are a different story. Heading into Monday night’s game against the Panthers, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees led the NFL with a completion percentage of 75.7 and a passer rating of 120.8. He is not to be trifled with. But Brees hasn’t encountered many defenses as ferocious as the Bears’ defense. On Sunday, Vic Fangio’s group made Aaron Rodgers look human, a strange sight indeed. It was business as usual that Khalil Mack had 2 1/2 sacks. It was breaking news that fellow linebacker Leonard Floyd, who hasn’t played up to his draft slot (ninth overall in 2016), had two sacks. And with Akiem Hicks inside and Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan behind him in the middle? With that defense, the Bears fear no potential opponent later in the playoffs.
That’s not to dismiss anyone they’ll have to face at home in a first-round game, whether it’s the Vikings, the Seahawks or somebody else. Because anything can happen. This is where the question of what scares you comes in.
Three concerns come immediately to mind:
Health: Safety Eddie Jackson, who is having a Pro Bowl season, sprained his right ankle after intercepting a Rodgers pass Sunday. The Bears can’t afford his absence in the playoffs. He’s the soul of the defense, a playmaker who has a knack for doing what needs to be done exactly when it needs doing.
The Bears have been extremely fortunate this season in terms of health. Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson each missed two games because of injury but came back strong. If he needs it, Jackson has the last two regular-season games to rest and get healthy. The Bears will keep their fingers crossed over his ankle.
Mitch Trubisky: The Bears quarterback rebounded from a poor game against the Rams (three interceptions) with a two-touchdown, no-interception game against the Packers. The issue going forward is that neither game was a fluke. He has had seven games with a passer rating of 83.0 or lower this season and five games with a rating of 102.7 or higher. This is who he is, or, at least, this is who he has been. So the question will be which Mitch shows up in the postseason. And if he has one of his not-so-good games, can the Bears survive it? Maybe once, but not twice.
Trick plays: The entertainment quotient at Bears games used to be limited to seeing if the guy next to you really could chug two beers at once. This season, rookie coach Matt Nagy has called trick plays involving a defensive lineman as a running back, an offensive lineman as a receiver and a running back as a quarterback.
Should he do it in the postseason, when every possession is precious? Yes, though not for the purpose of entertaining us. This is who the Bears are and part of the reason why they’re where they are. Trick plays can put the team in peril, and they carry the risk of making Nagy look very, very stupid, especially in the playoffs. But if this is what the Bears know, why turn them into something they don’t recognize in the postseason? That seems almost riskier.
I have a theory that the trick plays are there, in part, to take pressure off Trubisky, who might not be ready to regularly carry the responsibility of getting his team in the end zone. The gadget plays take opposing defenses out of their comfort zones and make them question everything they thought they knew. Is this the play where tight end Trey Burton runs the ball? Or will Trubisky fake a handoff and throw the ball to Robinson? Who knows? Not the opposing defense.
A conservative approach makes sense, too: Put away the sequins on offense and let the Bears’ defense win games. But that’s not who this team is. Trick plays have had a significant role in all the success. There’s no reason to change now and every reason to think the team can win because of those plays in the postseason.
So who scares me? No team in particular.
What scares me? Mack walking down a flight of stairs.