The Bears would love to manage the reps for their veteran stars in order to avoid late-season burnout, but the way the first three games have gone, they don’t have that luxury.
In their 30-26 win over the Falcons on Sunday, for example, they played Khalil Mack 90% of the defensive snaps, Akiem Hicks 82% and Robert Quinn 47%. They had little choice but to do that, and having those three on the field together makes any third-and-medium nearly impossible.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed just 3 of 9 passes on third downs and was sacked twice.
It’s a nightmare. At some point, some opponent is going to kick or punt on a third down this season.
Quinn is a game-changer if healthy. He is one of the best pass rushers of his era and even at this stage of his career with all the scars that come with 127 NFL games, he had 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys last season and got a strip-sack in his first play of the season for the Bears. They couldn’t resist upping his playing time from 39% of the snaps in Week 2.
Mack, meanwhile, has played 86% of the snaps so far despite a knee injury that has limited him in practice all season. That’s right where he was last season in terms of participation and in the range of the 87%-91% he played from 2014 through ’17 with the Raiders.
Hicks, who has nearly as much mileage as Quinn but plays at 350 pounds, has been out there for 77% of the defensive snaps so far. In 2018, the last time he played all 16 games, he played 74%.
At running back, the most likely move in the wake of Tarik Cohen’s season-ending injury is that the Bears will add undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce from their practice squad and increase the load on David Montgomery.
Montgomery played a season-high 46 snaps (56%) Sunday and got 14 of the Bears’ 20 running back carries. Cordarrelle Patterson, meanwhile, dipped slightly from 22% (14 plays) in Week 2 to 13% (11 plays) against the Falcons.
Ryan Nall got seven snaps on offense and 20 on special teams.
Mooney moves up (again)
Rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney has coach Matt Nagy’s trust, and he played more (62%) than any receiver but Allen Robinson (78%) on Sunday. His snap count has gone from 21 to 39 to 51.
As much as the Bears like the high end of what Anthony Miller can do — he caught a terrific 28-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to win the game — it does not seem like he is fully past some of the issues that have held him back.
Nagy hardly had any options when he struggled last season, but now he’s got Mooney. Miller played 57% of the snaps against the Falcons and is at a career-low 47% for the season after playing 64% in 2019.
Miller and Mooney each got five targets Sunday. Miller caught two for 41 yards and a touchdown; Mooney caught two for 19. Miller also had a 9-yard run.
In case anyone was wondering about this minutia, Foles played 43 snaps to Mitch Trubisky’s 39.
Trubisky completed 13 of 22 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a 71.8 passer rating. Foles went 16 for 29 for 188 yards, three touchdowns and an interception to post a 95.2. That number would’ve skyrocketed to 120.6 had his initial 21-yard touchdown pass to Robinson been upheld rather than overturned and ruled an interception.
Trevathan plays more
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan’s season continues to swerve. He played 79% of the snaps in Atlanta after getting just 48% against the Giants and playing 90% in the opener.
That’s still way down from the 94% he played in 2018 and the 86-100% he regularly played before getting hurt last season.
Fellow inside linebacker Roquan Smith, meanwhile, played every defensive snap Sunday and is at 99% for the season.