The Bears are staring down a heck of a demanding schedule over the next month. It begins with the first trip to Las Vegas in franchise history to take on the 3-1 Raiders on Sunday. And believe it or not — and hear me out — there is a realistic path to victory for the Bears (who are 5-point underdogs) this week.
We’ve already gotten the news today that Justin Fields will be the starting quarterback. And not just against Las Vegas on Sunday, but he will be QB1 on the depth chart moving forward. Regardless of Andy Dalton’s health, Fields will sit atop the depth chart.
I dug into some differences between Nagy’s version of his offense and Lazor’s version of Nagy’s offense on Tuesday. While they’re noticeable, it’s important to remember that this is still Matt Nagy’s offense. Nagy created the playbook, but Bill Lazor appears to have a different vision of how he should use its plays. Thankfully, Nagy has deferred to Lazor’s vision for his offense for the immediate future. And since Matt Nagy didn’t say anything contrary, we can assume that Bill Lazor will continue to call plays for Fields and the offense. We saw that work for the Bears after Lazor took over the play-calling duties in Week 10 last season. Then, we got another taste of it last week against Detroit.
So, what’s that mean for Sunday’s contest with the Raiders? Let’s discuss.
Building On Last Week’s Successes in Beating Detroit
Firstly, it means we’ll continue seeing some of the keys to success that we saw work against the Lions last week. Plan to see heavier fronts, including protection assignments from tight ends. Prepare for receivers’ routes getting downfield, with check-downs built into these vertical designs. This will be helpful for Fields if protection doesn’t hold up as well as it did against Detroit. The most significant difference that we saw, and should see more of, is Justin Fields operating under center instead of shotgun.
In Week 4, we began seeing that change. And it shows up in usage of personnel grouping change to provide Fields with more protection. Back in Week 3, Nagy ran 11 personnel with three receivers (1 RB-1 TE-3WR) on 86% of the snaps. But here’s how the personnel grouping shook out in Week 4:
As you can see, Lazor didn’t wholly abandon Nagy’s favorite personnel grouping. Instead, there was just much more balance when it came to how the Bears ran out their personnel groupings.
Look for the Bears to run much of the offense from under center as opposed to the shotgun to get the David Montgomery-less running game an advantage. And as a bonus, help create better play-action passing opportunities for Fields.
How can the Bears exploit Las Vegas’ Weaknesses on Sunday?
We’ve seen the Raiders on Monday Night Football twice now this season, and I’m far less impressed than others seem to be.
Sure, they’re 3-1, but I don’t think the Raiders are as good as their record suggests. The Raiders barely squeaked out an overtime victory against Baltimore in Week 1, then were beat convincingly by the Chargers this past Monday. Between those MNF games, the Raiders beat a reeling Steelers team in Week 2, then were pushed to overtime against a struggling Dolphins team in Week 3.
Still, they’re probably better than the Bears on paper. But if the Bears can exploit the following areas of concern, there is a viable path to victory at Allegiant Stadium.
Win in the Trenches
The Raiders offensive line is struggling, big time.
Las Vegas managed just 48 rushing yards (2.7 yards per carry) on MNF. And quarterback David Carr was sacked four times in the primetime loss to the Chargers. The Raiders’ offensive line was ranked in the bottom third of the NFL by Sharp Football Analysis to start the season due to the losses of Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. And it’s been as bad as forecasted thus far.
The Raiders rank 27th in team rushing yards per game (80.5). Meanwhile, the Bears rushing defense is tied for 12th in rushing yards per carry allowed (4.1). In terms of pass-blocking, the Raiders have allowed 12 sacks this season. No matter how you slice it, it’s bad. By total sacks and on a sacks-per-game basis, this number is tied for fourth-worst in the NFL. On the other side, the Bears pass rush leads the NFL in sacks with 15. That’s nearly four per game.. Robert Quinn (4.5) and Khalil Mack (4) have an excellent shot at getting to Carr multiple times on Sunday.
Score Early, Then Jump on a Bad First-Quarter Offense
Bill Lazor’s ability to script a strong opening drive and quarter could give the Bears an early edge over Las Vegas in this game.
The Bears have scored an opening-drive touchdown in each of their first two wins. In its most recent win against Detroit, Chicago scored a touchdown on the opening first drive against and eventually led 21-0 before the Lions finally got on the board. Scoring early will be crucial for the Bears on Sunday against a Raiders team that has only scored five points in the first quarter this season (two of which came on a safety created by the defense).
Meanwhile the Raiders rank 29th in first-quarter points per game (0.75 — NOT EVEN A FULL POINT!). They have also trailed by double-digits at the half in three of their first four games this season. Additionally, Vegas’ offense ranks 30th in first-quarter yards per play (3.8), 27th in first-quarter third-down conversion rate (40%), and 31st in first down rate (16.9%). There are 32 teams in the league, in case you were wondering.
It’s time to make a slow-starting offense pay.
Make Their Offense Go Three-And-Out
The Raiders are struggling to convert on third downs this season. This offense haas gone three-and-out 16 times in four games, which is the sixth most. And their three-and-out rate (32.7%) is the 12th highest in football. Plenty of empty rolls of the dice for that Vegas offense. Most recently, the Raiders went three-and-out in four of 12 possessions against the Chargers on MNF. Unlike the Raiders’ last two areas of concern, this one doesn’t necessarily play right into the Bears’ strengths. Chicago ranks 26th in opponent third-down conversion rate (46.15%). So Chicago has to do much better in that department to take advantage of the Raiders’ weaknesses.
Beat a Banged-Up Secondary
Vegas’ secondary ranks 14th in passing yards per game allowed (229.5). That is comfortably in the middle third of football. But if their secondary is ailing on Sunday, it could bode well for downfield shots we saw become signature plays in the Bears’ win against the Lions.
The Raiders’ top four corners — Casey Hayward, Nate Hobbs, Trayvon Mullen, and Nate Hobbs — are dealing with injures.
Raiders reporter Vincent Bonsignore tweets Hobbs was practicing, but Mullen and Arnette weren’t. Updates regarding Hayward haven’t been shared as of this posting. But, maybe Bears fans should want Arnette to play:
holy shit damon arnette pic.twitter.com/2824rEeKM5
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) October 5, 2021
As a refresher, Arnette was one of the players who the Raiders chose with the first-round picks given by the Bears in the Khalil Mack trade. Just saying.
But There’s a But…
The biggest thing that the Bears have working against them this week is David Montgomery’s knee injury. But Damien Williams was brought here to be a competent replacement in this scenario. Should Williams be fully healthy — remember, he has a thigh bruise — he could thrive in this role. And as Chargers’ Head Coach Brandon Staley said recently, the running game doesn’t have to be good for it to help create space and opportunities for the passing game:
This has gone all over football Twitter. It's an interesting Rorschach test, but I think the coach combines both analytics with physical football here.
1) You don't need to be a good running team to effectively use play action
2) Physically grinding down your opponent has value
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 6, 2021
It’s aways helpful to get tips from old friends like Staley, who coached on Nagy’s defense in 2018.
So, You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance?
The Raiders are 5-point favorites entering this game. And I’m sure most pundits will ride with them when making their weekend picks. But I feel like this game will be a lot closer than some may believe. I think the Bears have a shot at stealing one in Las Vegas if they can exploit a few of these Raiders’ weaknesses and build on their progress on the offensive side of the ball from last Sunday.