With Justin Fields making just his third NFL start and the offense still finding its way, the pressure is on the Bears’ defense to give the Bears a chance against a Raiders offense that ranks fifth in yards and ninth in points through four games.
The Bears are second in the NFL in sacks per pass play, led by outside linebackers Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack, who have combined for 8 1/2 sacks in four games. Mack was limited by foot and rib injuries but expects to play.
Having two quality pass rushers is key against a Raiders offense that is solid on one side and vulnerable on the other. Left tackle Kolton Miller is the highest-rated pass-blocking tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. But rookie Alex Leatherwood has struggled in the early going, was moved to guard in practice this week and could be replaced by former starter Brandon Parker for Sunday’s game.
However it shakes out, if Mack is healthy enough to be effective, the Bears should have an opportunity to put pressure on quarterback Derek Carr, who was sacked four times in a 28-14 loss to the Chargers on Monday Night Football.
The Bears are 32nd and last in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage (13-of-45, 28.9%) — including 4-of-28 (14.3%) with Fields at quarterback. The Raiders’ defense is eighth in third-down conversions (18-of-55, 32.7%).
The Bears have similar issues on defense, where they rank 26th in third-down conversion percentage (24-of-52, 46.2%) — despite leading the NFL with 15 sacks. The Raiders’ offense is tied for 10th in third-down conversions (24-of-56, 42.9%), so the battle lines are clearly drawn for the Bears on both sides of the ball in this one.
PLAYER TO WATCH
In reality, Fields will be the Bears’ player to watch until further notice. But excepting the obvious, running back Damien Williams will be in the spotlight as a replacement for David Montgomery, who suffered a sprained knee against the Lions.
Montgomery has been the Bears most dependable offensive weapon, including 16 carries for 108 yards against the Rams and 23 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions. The Bears like to think their offense is designed to just plug in another guy in situations like these — like the Chiefs and 49ers have done in the past — but this offense hasn’t proven it is at that level.
Williams played the fill-in/complementary role in exemplary fashion with the Chiefs in 2018 and 2019, so he’s definitely capable. It’s up to the offense to make it work.
Rookie quarterbacks often struggle, and playing on the road in a domed stadium is an added challenge. “All I heard is it’s going to be super loud in there,” center Sam Mustipher said. Fields’ cool, stoic manner is sure to be tested right away.