Bears vs. Steelers: What to Watch 4
Justin Fields’ third-down success last week could be the start of something big for the Bears. He also needs to get Allen Robinson going if he wants the passing attack to thrive. Plus, other key points heading into the Bears-Steelers game.
Here’s one of the problems with going into a season with just one proven cornerback: A lot of teams have more than one good wide receiver.
The Steelers present a major concern for the Bears with leading receivers Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson on the outside. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson can only cover one of them at a time, leaving the other to Kindle Vildor.
While it was reasonable for the Bears to think Jaylon Johnson, who went one pick after Claypool in the 2020 draft at No. 50 overall, could step into Kyle Fuller’s role as the No. 1 corner, they were optimistically projecting that Vildor could be a quality starter after playing 13% of the snaps as a rookie. Pro Football Reference has charted 35 passes against Vildor, with quarterbacks completing 25 (71%) for 401 yards, four touchdowns and a 147.4 rating.
Johnson can hold his own against either receiver, but Vildor has something to prove against whoever he draws.
It’s not a trend yet, but the Bears would like to make it one: The offense had its best third-down performance of the season by going 9 for 16 against the 49ers. Plus, quarterback Justin Fields cleaned up one of those failed attempts by running for a 22-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one.
In his first seven games, Fields completed just 46% of his passes and had a 21.9 rating on third downs. Last week, he completed 8 of 10 passes (96.3 rating) and ran three times for 27 yards.
If that’s a turning point, it’s a game-changer for the Bears after ranking last in third-down success through seven games, 31st last season and 25th in 2019.
Player to watch
With Khalil Mack sitting out again, the Steelers will prioritize eliminating outside linebacker Robert Quinn from the pass rush. That should open opportunities for Trevis Gipson.
Gipson showed potential in a part-time role early in the season with a sack against the Lions and Raiders. His playing time spiked to 74% of the snaps against the Buccaneers and 80% against the 49ers, but didn’t produce much. Not surprisingly, the Bears didn’t have a sack or quarterback hit in either game. It’s time for Gipson to prove himself.
It’s crazy to think of wide receiver Allen Robinson as an x-factor after he was often the only good thing about the Bears’ offense the last two seasons. But as their passing game sits near the bottom of the NFL, their best receiver is tracking toward one of his worst statistical seasons.
A breakthrough by Robinson wouldn’t come at anyone’s expense; it would be a desperately needed addition. He has been an incredibly underutilized asset so far.