Somebody is going to pick up their first win, and somebody is going to be 0-4. Unless these two winless football teams find a way to tie, somebody’s 2023 season is going to sink further into the quicksand.
The Bears (0-3) and the Broncos (0-3) are two desperate teams. The Bears were pounded to a pulp by the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs last week, while the Broncos gave up 70 points in a historic beatdown against the Miami Dolphins.
If the Bears want any chance of pulling themselves back to respectability this season, this is a game that they need to win. The Bears and Broncos will kick off at noon Sunday and the game will be broadcast on CBS.
Here are five storylines to watch.
1. Can the Bears finally score points?
The Bears’ passing attack has dealt with notable struggles during the first three weeks of the season. Quarterback Justin Fields ranked 29th in passing yards and 29th in passer rating entering Week 4. The offense ranks 29th in the league in yardage and 31st in passing yardage.
The one saving grace is that this is a Broncos team that gave up 726 yards of total offense and 376 passing yards a week ago. If there’s ever a bounce-back game coming for this Bears passing attack, this might be the best chance.
Fields needs to have a good game this week. Whether the Bears win or lose, it’s time for the offense to show signs of life.
“Our expectations have always been the same,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “It’s about (Fields) getting better every single week and making sure that he’s mastering what we’re doing from our perspective, and being the leader of that unit. And I think he’s doing a really nice job in the midst of a lot of (expletive) right now.”
2. Is a banged-up secondary in trouble?
The Bears are down to just two of their five regular starters in the secondary. Nickel cornerback Kyler Gordon has been on injured reserve and must miss two more games. Safety Eddie Jackson injured his foot in Week 2 and has not practiced since. Additionally, cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Josh Blackwell are both dealing with hamstring injuries. Jackson, Johnson and Blackwell will not play Sunday. Blackwell went on IR on Friday.
Safety Jaquan Brisker and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson will find themselves playing with a secondary that includes backups Elijah Hicks at safety, Jaylon Jones or Terell Smith at outside corner and Greg Stroman Jr. at the nickel corner.
This could be an opportunity for Russell Wilson and the Broncos passing attack to cause some damage. The Bears will have to contend with two quality receivers in Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Hopefully for the Bears, a week of preparation means things will go better than they did last week when Johnson and Stevenson unexpectedly left the Chiefs games due to injury.
Wilson is averaging 8.8 average intended air yards per pass attempt, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranks eighth among NFL quarterbacks. He’s going to push the ball down field.
3. Can Sean Payton, Russell Wilson figure it out?
Here’s a pertinent question: Who do you trust more to right their respective ships? Matt Eberflus and Fields or Sean Payton and Wilson.
Wilson had a terrible start to his tenure in Denver last year, but he also dealt with a coaching staff that was in over its head. Enter Payton. The Broncos are still a mess, but they have a coach with a proven track record and a Super Bowl ring. Wilson is already playing better than he did a year ago. He has six touchdown passes and two interceptions, while throwing for 791 yards over three games.
The Broncos lost their first two games by a combined three points before last week’s beatdown against Miami. Against the Bears — don’t forget about that banged up secondary — the Broncos should find ways to score points.
The question in this game will be if the Bears can figure out a way to score enough points to keep up with them.
“They’re definitely moving the ball down the field,” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “We’re going to have to keep up offensively.”
4. Run, run, run
Thanks to an awful performance against Miami, the Broncos now rank as the last-place NFL defense against the run. They’ve allowed 177.7 rushing yards per game, but that is heavily skewed by the 350 rushing yards that Miami totaled last week.
The Bears offense, however, has not looked like the rushing juggernaut it did last year when it led the NFL in rushing. Instead, it’s averaging only 101.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 17th. A big part of that has been because Fields isn’t running the ball (or more aptly, because defenses aren’t giving him a chance to). But that isn’t the sole symptom.
The offensive line is banged up and the running backs haven’t had much of a chance to get going. Through the first three games, the Bears running backs are averaging only 15 rushing attempts per game.
The Bears have to make an effort to establish the run early in this game, especially after seeing what Miami did a week ago. Part of the rushing futility is the fact that the Bears have been trailing in all three games so far. Neither Khalil Herbert nor Roschon Johnson has yet to surpass 100 rushing yards on the season.
5. What happens if things go south?
The question on everybody’s mind in Chicago is what happens if the Bears don’t figure this thing out? What if they lose to the Broncos at home on what is expected to be a beautifully sunny day by the lake side? And what if they lose badly?
The Bears have never fired a head coach during a season. An 0-4 start, including a loss to a team that previously gave up 70 points, seems like as good a reason as any. Just a week ago, general manager Ryan Poles threw his full support behind Eberflus and Fields. The wild card, here, is that first-year team president and CEO Kevin Warren might have his own opinion on how things should be done.
But four weeks is still awfully early to fire a head coach. There’s a lot of football left to be played. Certainly the fan base will be feeling restless come Monday morning if this team is 0-4.
Eberflus’ team is going to show what it’s made of this week. Is there any pride remaining?
“It’s about the fight — to get this thing turned around and the determination and the fight you need to have as an individual person, as an individual, position group and a unit,” Eberflus said.