Following a week of uncertainty surrounding quarterback Justin Fields’ shoulder injury, the Chicago Bears will play the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The Bears are trying to steer out of a four-game skid and have lost seven of eight overall.
As kickoff approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.
1. Player in the spotlight
Bears quarterback Trevor Siemian
With uncertainty surrounding Fields’ left shoulder injury, the Bears may be leaning toward giving Siemian the emergency start Sunday. The offense has been readying for that possibility since the week began with players feeling confident they will be able to adapt without much issue.
Yes, the Bears’ offensive style will look much different if Siemian starts instead of Fields.
Said tight end Cole Kmet: “I don’t know if Trevor is going to be popping off any 65-yard runs. And he’s OK with me saying that. I mean, obviously (the offense) changes a little bit. They’re different types of players.”
With Fields starting the first 11 games and the Bears establishing a run-heavy identity, they have the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack, averaging 197.9 yards per game on the ground with Fields leading the team with 834 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. But the Bears are also dead last in passing, averaging 128.1 yards per game through the air while allowing a league-high 40 sacks. (The Atlanta Falcons are the only other team with more rushing yards than net passing yards.)
At the very least, it would be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Luke Getsy would adapt the game plan with Siemian as his starter.
“I think that would be a pretty easy transition,” coach Matt Eberflus said earlier this week. “Trevor is obviously a very smart individual and a very good passer. He has a great grasp of the offense. He’s been here since Day 1. (He has) high functional intelligence.”
Added Kmet: “He’s poised. He has obviously been around the league, seen a lot of different things. He’s a smart guy.”
Having to make a quarterback change — for whatever reason — is nothing new at Halas Hall. Kmet, in his third season, has been through seven in-season quarterback changes during his career.
“I’ve become accustomed to it,” he said. “Not saying that’s a good thing. You just learn to deal with it. You focus on your job and the things you need to take care of. … It’s part of the league and part of the situation you’re in.”
2. Pressing question
Can the Bears offense make plays against a top 10 Jets defense?
Even if there wasn’t a question of Fields’ ability to play with a shoulder injury, the Jets defense would be a tough test for a still developing Bears offense.
“Probably one of the of best defenses we’ve played this year,” wide receiver Darnell Mooney said.
The Jets allow just 310.5 yards and 18.6 points per game, both in the top 10 in the league. They have totaled 32 sacks, led by Quinnen Williams’ eight and Carl Lawson’s five. They have 14 takeaways, including 11 interceptions, led by Lamarcus Joyner’s three.
“This front seven is the real deal,” Getsy said. “It’s why they’re having so much success this year.”
Bears wide receiver Dante Pettis played for the San Francisco 49ers when Jets coach Robert Saleh was the defensive coordinator there and said praised the scheme.
“Everybody knows where they’re supposed to fit into the defense’s puzzle piece, and they just play their roles well,” Pettis said. “They’ve got a lot of good players on defense.”
Cornerback Sauce Gardner is a defensive rookie of the year candidate with two interceptions and 14 passes defended. Fifth-year cornerback D.J. Reed is second with seven passes defended.
“The rookie doesn’t play like a rookie,” Pettis said. “He has some really good footwork and good patience. And I’ve played with D.J., I’ve known him for a little bit. He just keeps getting better. He never quits on a play, so that’s always tough. You think you have him beat, and he’ll come in at the last minute and poke the ball out. So they’re good players, and it’s going to be fun.”
3. Keep an eye on…
Jets quarterback Mike White
The Jets are dealing with their own quarterback chaos this week after benching 2021 No. 2 pick Zach Wilson, who completed just nine passes for 77 yards in a 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots last weekend.
White, a Dallas Cowboys fifth-round pick in 2018, will make his fourth career start Sunday. He started three games in 2021 when Wilson was injured, throwing for 405 yards in his first start in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the Jets lost the next two games under White, including a four-interception performance in a 45-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Eberflus said the Bears must change their preparation for a different style of quarterback play.
“(Wilson) has the ability to escape — not to say that Mike doesn’t,” Eberflus said. “(Wilson) can move. He’s an athlete. He can do the keepers, a lot of things on the edge of the defense, where Mike is more really good at passing. He’s more of a pocket guy.”
Saleh told reporters the Jets intend to get Wilson back on the field this season — but it won’t be Sunday. Joe Flacco will be the Jets backup with Wilson inactive.
“There are some basic fundamental things that have gotten really out of whack for (Wilson),” Saleh said. “This is just an opportunity for him to sit back, focus on those things and find a way to reconnect with all the different things we fell in love with during the draft process. It’s something I feel like he’ll be able to do.”
4. Return policy
The Bears have gotten into a bad habit of gifting points recently with opponents scoring a return touchdown in each of the last four games.
It started with Micah Parsons’ 36-yard fumble return score in the Dallas Cowboys’ 49-29 blowout win in Week 8, a pivot point that effectively halted the Bears’ comeback attempt. The following week, Andrew Van Ginkel blocked a Trent Gill punt and rumbled 25 yards for a score that put the Miami Dolphins ahead 21-10 in their eventual three-point victory.
In Week 10, Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah came up with a game-tying 20-yard interception return TD on an errant Fields screen pass. Last week, former Bear Cordarrelle Patterson rumbled 103 yards for a kickoff return score, setting a new NFL record for career kickoff return touchdowns with his ninth.
“Obviously the guy made a heck of a play. But we had a couple guys get out of position,” Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “We corrected it in the meeting room. Obviously, we’re not going to act like it didn’t happen. We’ve got to be better there.”
The Bears are now 1-6 this season in games decided by one score. It isn’t helping that they’ve found ways to beat themselves with costly mistakes that turn into touchdowns going the other way.
5. Injury report
In addition to Fields’ injury, the Bears were again without rookie defensive backs Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon for Thursday’s practice. Both players remain in the concussion protocol after suffering head injuries against the Falcons.
Brad Biggs (5-6)
Of the four units on the field — Bears offense and defense and Jets offense and defense — New York’s defense is by far the best. The Jets have allowed 14.2 points on average over the last six games. The Bears had a difficult time handling Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence in their last trip to MetLife Stadium, and Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is an even bigger problem. The Jets have one of the best pass rushes in the league and rarely blitz. Add it up and this is a challenging matchup for the Bears.
Jets 20, Bears 13
Colleen Kane (6-5)
This is not the easiest prediction this week given the quarterback upheaval on both sides. Nobody can be sure what the Jets are going to get from Mike White in his fourth career start, but his eight interceptions in four games last season has to look good to the Bears defense. Meanwhile, what can we expect from the Bears offense either with an injured Justin Fields or with backup Trevor Siemian? What I do know is the Jets defense should have the edge in that matchup, so the Bears could be looking at their fifth straight loss.
Jets 24, Bears 20
Dan Wiederer (6-5)
Both teams have dealt with different versions of quarterback turbulence this week. The Bears offense, though, figures to be more affected after Justin Fields injured his left shoulder in last week’s loss. Alas, it looks like a winless November for Matt Eberflus’ squad, which will remain competitive and feisty but still lacks enough playmaking firepower beyond Fields to get it done.