Keeping It Simple Serves Bears Best on Thanksgiving
A short work week for the Bears brought to mind last year's three games in 12 days and how coach Matt Nagy put his team at the right emotional pitch and mental frame of mind to deal with it.
It was typical of how Nagy handled most extraneous challenges last year, if not every challenge. It's part of why he was coach of the year.
In a season of adversity like this one, the Bears' ability to be ready to play a road game on short notice, on a holiday, in order to maintain their remote, flickering playoff hopes is as much a true test of Nagy's abilities as it is the players'.
"It's a short week, it's a short turnaround and any time you come off a game to a Thursday game and it happens to be that early, this is going to be more mental than physical, obviously," Nagy said. "We can’t take them out there and beat them up and put the pads on and do that kind of stuff. This is about studying and knowing your opponent—thank God we played them not too long ago.
"They know us. We know them. This is kinda a who-wants-it-more type of deal. Our guys will be ready to go and they'll go out and play. You have to execute and you can't beat yourself. I think the team that makes the fewest mistakes in this one will probably come out victorious."
In other words, the Bears can't afford a repeat of last week's disfunctional 2-point conversion try that devolved into a penalty flag-filled mess, followed by a missed 48-yard extra-point kick. They can't afford the presnap penalties from the fourth, fifth and sixth tight ends on their roster, who will all be playing. They can't have illegal hands to the face by the offensive line or cornerbacks, as they've often had this season.
This has to be clean and nothing fancy, just execution of basic football.
So a faster start goes without saying for the Bears in this one on offense because playing from behind lends itself to mistakes like those they can't afford.
"So I will encourage them to get up, get a bunch of coffee in them, get rolling, things like that," Nagy said, noting the earlier (11:30 a.m.) kickoff.
"Our guys are used to those kinds of things, that kind of stage. They get that."
The Bears might be used to different challenges, but they haven't handled much of anything consistently well this season.
To beat the Lions will take more than a pot of coffee. Here are the three keys to beating Detroit and avoiding a bad taste in their mouths on Thanksgiving Day.
1. Fearless Football
Mitchell Trubisky has to play this game the way he did last year and his rookie season. He has to have scrambling as a top priority instead of gawking at the Lions secondary and searching for third and fourth receivers on a given play. The decision has to come fast. The Lions are going to play man-to-man coverage because it's Matt Patricia's preference. With Taylor Gabriel and all the top three Bears tight ends out of the game, it only makes sense for the Lions to challenge the Bears receiver corps by matching up one on one. This let's them keep Darius Slay on Allen Robinson, which they believe takes away the Bears' greatest weapon. Trubisky has to be willing to step up immediately on the scramble because the Lions' linebackers are definitely not their defensive strength and the man-to-man coverage will allow extra yardage on scrambles, letting the Bears extend drives. Forget the hip-pointer, if one even existed. The shoulder injury happened long ago. Trubisky has to play this one all game like he did the 2-yard keeper when he lowered his shoulder and scored a touchdown last week.
The defense has to reroute Lions receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. even in zone coverage by playing up near the line of scrimmage and being physical. There has to be disruption of timing. The Lions went right down the field and took the lead on a field goal to start the last game because of beautifully timed pass routes to beat Khalil Mack and the pass rush. Disruption of timing can add to the pressure on whoever quarterbacks the Lions, and set up interceptions.
3. Leave Gambling to Online Bettors
The Bears can't be gambling on defense in this game. The Lions are home, indoors, on artificial turf and it's a high comfort level. Gambling with man-to-man coverage and blitzes could result in big plays, momentum and allow a losing team hope. On a short work week it's better to keep it as basic as possible to minimize mistakes. This goes beyond the coaches' decisions. Players have to maintain gap integrity and avoid freelancing in their pass rush. With Jeff Driskel much more mobile than anyone anticipated before the last Bears-Lions game, getting out of a rush lane invites a big-yardage scramble.
The Line: Bears by 3 1/2
The Call: Bears 19, Lions 17
Bills +5 1/2 at Cowboys
Cowboys 20, Bills 13
Saints -4 1/2 at Falcons
Saints 41, Falcons 14
49ers +5 1/2 at Ravens
Ravens 28, 49ers 19
Titans +1 1/2 at Colts
Titans 20, Colts 16
Bucs +2 1/2 at Jaguars
Bucs 27, Jaguars 24
Eagles -8 1/2 at Dolphins
Eagles 31, Dolphins 20
Packers -5 1/2 at Giants
Packers 34, Giants 17
Browns -2 1/2 at Steelers
Browns 20, Steelers 16
Jets -4 1/2 at Bengals
Jets 33, Bengals 10
Redskins +8 1/2 at Panthers
Panthers 19, Redskins 10
Rams -1 1/2 at Cardinals
Rams 27, Cardinals 24
Raiders +8 1/2 at Chiefs
Chiefs 31, Raiders 24
Chargers -1 1/2 at Broncos
Broncos 23, Chargers 20
Patriots -4 1/2 at Texans
Texans 20, Patriots 19