After a week of uncertainty surrounding quarterback Justin Fields’ shoulder injury, the Chicago Bears will face the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The Bears are trying to get out of a four-game skid and have lost seven of eight games overall.
As kick-off nears, here’s our preview of the game.
1. Player in the spotlight
Bears quarterback Trevor Siemian
With the uncertainty surrounding Fields’ left shoulder injury, the Bears may be inclined to give Siemian the emergency start on Sunday. The attack have been preparing for this possibility since the beginning of the week, with the players confident that they will be able to adapt without too many problems. On Friday, the team categorized Fields as questionable after he was restricted to practice again.
Yes, the Bears’ offensive style will be very different if Siemian starts in place of Fields.
Tight end Cole Kmet said, “I don’t know if Trevor is going to make 65-yard runs. And he agrees with me in saying that. I mean, obviously (the attack) changes a bit. They are different types of players.
With Fields starting the first 11 games and the Bears establishing a heavy running identity, they have the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense, averaging 197.9 yards per game rushing with Fields leading the team with 834 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. But the Bears are also dead last, averaging 128.1 yards per game through the air while giving up 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 the starter.
“I think it would be a pretty easy transition,” coach Matt Eberflus said earlier this week. “Trevor is obviously a very intelligent individual and a very good passer. He’s got great attacking skills. He’s been here since day one. (He has) high functional intelligence.
Kmet added: “He is ready. He’s obviously been around the league, seen a lot of different things. He’s a smart guy.
Having to switch quarterbacks — for whatever reason — is nothing new at Halas Hall. Kmet, in his third season, has had seven in-season quarterback changes in his career.
“I got used to it,” he says. “Not saying it’s a good thing. You just learn to deal with it. You focus on your work and the things you need to take care of. … It’s part of the league and the situation you’re in.
2. Urgent matter
Can the Bears offense make plays against a top-10 Jets defense?
Even if there were no 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 best defenses we’ve played this year,” 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 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. “That’s why they’re so successful this year.”
Bears wide receiver Dante Pettis played for the San Francisco 49ers when Jets coach Robert Saleh was the defensive coordinator there and praised the plan.
“Everyone knows where they’re supposed to fit into the defense puzzle piece, and they play their part well,” Pettis said. “They have a lot of good players in defense.”
Cornerback Sauce Gardner is a defensive rookie of the year candidate with two interceptions and 14 passes defended. Fifth-year cornerback DJ Reed is second with seven passes defended.
“Rookie doesn’t play like a rookie,” Pettis said. “He has very good footwork and good patience. And I played with DJ, I’ve known him for a while. He keeps getting better. He never gives up on a game, so it’s always tough. You think you’ve beaten him, and he’ll come at the last minute and kick the ball out. So they are good players and it will be fun.
3. Keep an eye on…
Jets quarterback Mike White
The Jets face their own quarterback mayhem 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 fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, will make his fourth career start on Sunday. He started three games in 2021 when Wilson was injured, throwing for 405 yards on his first start in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the Jets lost the next two games under White, including a four-steal performance in a 45-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Eberflus said the Bears need to change their preparation for a different style of quarterback play.
“(Wilson) has the ability to escape – not to say Mike doesn’t,” Eberflus said. “(Wilson) can move. He’s an athlete. He can do goalkeepers, a lot of things on the edge of defense, where Mike is more really good at passing. He’s more of a pocket guy.
Saleh told reporters the Jets intend to bring Wilson back to the field this season, but it won’t be on Sunday. Joe Flacco will be the Jets’ backup with Wilson inactive.
“There are fundamental things that have really gone haywire for (Wilson),” Saleh said. “It’s just an opportunity for him to sit down and focus on those things and find a way to reconnect with all the different things that we fell in love with during the draft process. It’s something that I I have the impression that he will be able to do.
4. Return Policy
The Bears recently got into the bad habit of giving up runs 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’ blowout 49-29 win in Week 8, a pivotal 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 offered a game-tying 20-yard interception return on an errant screen pass from Fields. 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 hell of a play. But we had a couple guys out of position,” Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “We fixed it in the meeting room. Obviously, we are not going to act as if nothing had happened. We have to be better there.
The Bears are now 1-6 this season in score-decided games. It doesn’t help that they’ve found ways to fight back with costly mistakes that turn into touchdowns the other way.
5. Injury Report
In addition to Fields’ injury, solid safety Jaquan Brisker, cornerback Kyler Gordon and reserve linebacker Sterling Weatherford — a special teams baseman — were ruled out. All three recruits are in concussion protocol.
DeAndre Houston-Carson is likely to replace Brisker, and Kindle Vildor is expected to start in Gordon’s place. Rookie Jaylon Jones served as the backup slot cornerback, so he’s a good bet to play in that role. No other Bears player has received an injury designation.
For the Jets, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (elbow) is out, tight end Kenny Yeboah (calf) is questionable and offensive tackle Duane Brown (shoulder) is questionable.
Tribune reporter Brad Biggs contributed.
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 struggled to deal with Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence on their last trip to MetLife Stadium, and Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is an even bigger problem. The Jets have one of the best passing rushes in the league and rarely blitzes. Add it up and it’s a tough game for the Bears.
Jets 20, Bears 13
Colleen Kane (6-5)
Not the easiest prediction given the quarterback upset on both sides. No one can be sure what the Jets will get from Mike White in his fourth career start, but his eight interceptions in four games last season should look good on the Bears’ defense. Meanwhile, what can we expect from the Bears offense with an injured Justin Fields or replacement Trevor Siemian? What I do know is that the Jets defense should have the advantage in this game, so the Bears could be looking at their fifth straight loss.
Jets 24, Bears 20
Dan Wiederer (6-5)
Both teams have faced different versions of quarterback turbulence this week. The Bears’ offense, however, appears to be more affected after Justin Fields suffered a left shoulder injury in last week’s loss. Alas, it looks like a winless November for Matt Eberflus’ side, who will remain competitive and spirited but still lack sufficient firepower beyond Fields to do so.
Jets 24, Bears 20