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1st-and-10: Darnell Mooney vs. Anthony Miller battle heating up

The Bears still like the talented but enigmatic Miller, a 2018 second-round pick. But Mooney, a rookie drafted in the fifth round, is threatening to eclipse Miller as the Bears’ best young receiver.

Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (17)) caught game-winning touchdown passes against the Lions in Week 1 and the Falcons in Week 3 this season. He has 13 receptions for 161 yards (12.4 avg.) this season.
Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (17) and teammate Darnell Mooney (11) celebrate Miller’s game-winning 28-yard touchdown reception from Nick Foles in a 30-26 victory over the Falcons on Sept. 27 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

When Bears coach Matt Nagy chastised his team to “get the freakin’ details right” in a rare public admonishment after a 20-19 victory over the Buccaneers, wide receiver Anthony Miller was presumed to be one of the culprits.

The talented Miller, who has struggled with focus and detail issues — and injuries — since he was drafted in the second round out of Memphis in 2018, played only 26 snaps against the Bucs and had four receptions for 28 yards.

“I really like where he’s at,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “As his coach — and I know he would tell you this, too — I’d like for him to be more involved. But you can’t control the game. Some of these games have been very weird from a game standpoint — how long you’re on the field, how many reps you’ve been in throughout the series. I think he’s handled that very well.”

Still, it seems as though rookie Darnell Mooney is threatening to eclipse Miller as the Bears’ best young receiver prospect. Mooney played 41 snaps against the Bucs after playing 46 against the Colts — two games in which the Bears were struggling to score. Mooney seems to have a dependability edge.

“Even times when he’s out there, you don’t realize he’s a rookie — that’s the biggest compliment I can give him as a guy who has been around a little bit,” Bears passing-game coordinator Dave Ragone said. “You just see him as a player who can help us. His detail to route-running and how he runs his routes — the sky’s the limit in terms of his ability to win one-on-one matchups.”

Mooney had two catches for 15 yards against the Bucs, though he nearly had a 52-yard touchdown when he was open at the 15-yard line but Foles missed him.

“I thought Mooney ran a darn good route,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said.

2. Nagy’s aggressiveness on the winning field-goal drive against the Bucs with Tom Brady on the other sideline was a far cry from his caution against the Chargers last year, when he had Mitch Trubisky take a knee — rather than risk a fumble — and settled for a 41-yard field-goal attempt that missed on the final play of a 17-16 loss.

Nagy still ended up giving Brady more than enough time to beat him — 1:13 — when an incomplete pass on second-and-nine from the Bucs’ 24-yard line to Allen Robinson on the right sideline stopped the clock. But his aggressiveness was still rewarded — however oddly — when Brady pretty clearly lost track of the downs and threw downfield on fourth-and-six at the Bucs’ 41 instead of a safer play to get the first down. Nagy has offense/play-calling issues, but his luck is running hot.

3. Maybe it’s the Nick Foles Effect, but the Bears had two plays go in their favor on the winning field-goal drive against Tampa Bay that don’t often go their way.

On third-and-nine from the Bears’ 49, Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting retreated behind the first-down line, leaving Miller wide open for a catch-and-run for a 10-yard gain and the first down. That usually happens against the Bears, not for them.

Two plays later, Robinson deftly executed a “rub” play on linebacker Shaq Barrett that helped spring David Montgomery for a 17-yard gain to the 25. Even Fox analyst Troy Aikman expected a flag for a pick on that play.

4. Third-quarter scoring is often seen as a sign of halftime adjustments, but maybe not. Last year, the Bears led the NFL in third-quarter scoring (64 points) and finished 8-8. This year, they are last with zero points — the only team in the NFL that has yet to score in the third quarter — and are 4-1. The Bears are 31st in third-quarter differential at minus-29 points.

That’s an oddity for a winning team. In the previous 20 seasons, eight teams have been scoreless in the third quarter through five games. Six of them were 0-5/1-4. The two that were not — the 2010 Bears (4-1) and 2004 Falcons (4-1) reached the NFC title game.

5. Nagy said he was not offended that Bruce Arians gambled on a fourth-and-one play at his 19-yard line in the first half. Brady gained a yard on a sneak to keep the drive alive.

It’s only the second time in the last 27 seasons that a team has gone for the first down in 204 fourth-and-one situations inside its 20 in the first half (excluding the final play of the half) — according to pro-football-reference.com. The only other time was last year, when the Cowboys’ Jason Garrett — already on the hot seat — had been criticized for being too conservative the previous week and took a shot against the Bills.

So this was just Arians having no fear of giving the Bears’ offense the ball in field-goal range.

“Coach Arians is a guy that’s always been aggressive. For me, that’s part of the game,” Nagy said. “I didn’t take any bit of insult from it. You’re allowed to do whatever you want to do. Our job is to stop it.”

6. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Bears’ offense drew its first two defensive pass-interference penalties of the season with Foles at quarterback — for 32 yards with David Montgomery against the Colts and 19 yards with Robinson against the Bucs.

That was one of the hallmarks of Nagy’s offense in his first season in 2018. The Bears drew 12 defensive pass-interference calls for 218 yards (second-most in the NFL) after getting only 30 yards on DPI calls pre-Nagy in 2017 (second-fewest in the NFL).

But that diminished in 2019 — eight DPI calls for 74 yards — as the offense hit the skids with Trubisky.

7. The Bears can fill some of the void left by nose tackle Eddie Goldman’s absence, but they can’t fill all of it. Without Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, the Bears are ninth in total defense but 16th in rushing yards per game and 15th in yards per carry.

In 15 games with a healthy Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack over the last three seasons, the Bears have allowed 70.8 rushing yards per game, 3.6 per carry and four touchdowns.

In 22 games with one of them banged up or out, the Bears have allowed 109.8 rushing yards, 4.1 per carry and 21 touchdowns.

8. With the firing of the Texans’ Bill O’Brien and the Falcons’ Dan Quinn in the last week, Nagy is 15th (out of 32) in seniority among NFL coaches — only five games into his third season.

And with the firing of Rick Renteria by the White Sox on Monday, Nagy is the dean of Chicago coaches/managers in the four major sports.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week: Panthers running back Mike Davis had three times as many yards against the Falcons on Sunday — 146 on 21 touches — as he had in seven games with the Bears last season (47).

Davis rushed for 89 yards on 16 carries (5.6 average) and had nine receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown in a 23-16 victory.

He rushed for 25 yards on 11 carries (2.3 average) and had seven receptions for 22 yards (3.1 average) for the Bears in 2019.

10. Bear-ometer: 10-6 — at Panthers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (W); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).