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Bears Talk: Dan Pompei, The Athletic

Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (32) rushes with the ball against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (32) rushes with the ball against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Longtime NFL and Chicago Bears reporter Dan Pompei of The Athletic on the Bears as they prepare to play the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.

Question: The Bears, after a 5-1 start followed by six consecutive losses, have won their last two games to get back into playoff contention. Considering that, how do the Bears feel about themselves entering Sunday's game against the Jaguars? They have a chance to get into the postseason.

Answer: They do. I think it's probably a long shot, but they still have a shot. They're going to have to beat the Jaguars, obviously, then hope probably that the final game against the Green Bay Packers doesn't mean anything to Green Bay – and that Green Bay kind of rolls over and doesn't play their starters, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Co. Then they still need other help, too. They need other teams in front of them in the wild-card race to lose games. They've dug themselves a pretty big hole with a big losing streak earlier in the year. They've come on again late in the season.

Q: They've been perhaps the most up-and-down team in the league this season.

A: They have kind of been three different teams playing three different seasons. They started out as a pretty good team, kind of a lucky team. They caught some big breaks, but they were playing good defense and doing some things that led them to at least get in position to win. Then, they had good fortune at the end of those games. Then they went through a period where their offense was just so atrocious that nothing else really mattered; they just kept losing game after game. Now, in this last stretch they kind have become a team that has been winning with offense. Strangely enough, offense has been carrying the day. Their defense has been inconsistent – kind of doing what they have had to do at key times of games but giving up a lot of yards and not always making the kinds of plays they should be making.

Q: When the Bears are good, what are they?

A: They have been a really difficult team to get a handle on and to understand what they are good at. One thing that has happened is the coaching staff has figured out what it has offensively – and more importantly, what it does not have offensively. That goes to how they have used quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He was benched three games into the season for Nick Foles. He reclaimed the starting job when Foles got hurt but has really played well since. For a long time, they were trying to make him a drop-back passer and he really doesn't do that well. He's a guy who plays his best when he's rolling out, on the move – doing different things to keep defenses off of him with his feet. They have been doing that lately. The other thing they have been doing – finally – is running the football. People have been calling for [Head Coach] Matt Nagy to do that for the three years he has been in Chicago and this last game he ran it more than he ever as run it with running back David Montgomery. Montgomery really has been on a tear for the last three games. He is coming into his own and had arguably the best game of his career in a 33—27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday. If they continue with that formula – and you never know if they will because it seems Nagy is kind of programmed to throw like his mentor, [Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach] Andy Reid – I think they have a winning formula to at least be able to beat teams they should beat.

Q: Is this recent improvement from Trubisky something he can sustain? Can he be "a Guy" at the quarterback position?

A: I don't think he's ever going to be an All-Pro quarterback, a great quarterback. But he's the type of player that if everything else is good around him – if you have a good defense, a good running game that you depend on and a coaching staff that understands what he can and cannot do and plays to his strength – then you can win with him. There are a lot of quarterbacks you can win with in the NFL. There aren't many you can win because of. I don't think he's a "win-because-of" guy.

Q: You mentioned the Bears' defense. People think of it as a strength. Is it indeed still a strength?

A: It's not playing as well as it did earlier in the season, that's for sure. They have got some really good football players. But they have kind of been up and down this year. They have struggled to turn over the football and they should be able to do that very easily. Eddie Jackson, who is supposed to be the best ball-hawking free safety in the league, doesn't have an interception this season. This last game (a victory over Minnesota), they were without rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson – who has played pretty well; they're hoping to get him back for the Jaguars game because he has been an important piece of their defense. Their important offseason acquisition was [outside linebacker] Robert Quinn. He was the second highest-paid free agent pickup in the [NFL in the] offseason. He just had his second sack last week and his first came on the first snap of the season. He went close to 500 snaps without a sack, so that has been a disappointment. But everything is there for them to play good defense. Whenever they don't play good defense, it surprises me.

Q: Have the Bears found something in the last two weeks? Is this what they're going to be moving forward? Are they finding themselves?

A: They could be. There's probably a cap to how well this team can play. But they certainly are doing more things better at this point in the season than they have at any other point. Part of that is they have played some teams that aren't that good. But one key that has enabled a lot of this is finally stumbling on an offensive line combination that works. They have had all kinds of different offensive line groupings this season because of injuries. The group they have playing has worked really well. It has surprised a lot of people and left a lot of people saying, "Why didn't you play these guys sooner?" The best offensive-line performances of the season have come with these guys in there.

Q: Final question: Is this a playoffs-or-bust season? What's success look like for the Bears at this point?

A: Part of the playoff scenario is out of their hands, so I don't know that I would put it solely on that. If they finish up with two victories and beat a Packers team that has something to play for in that last game, to me that would mean something. But chances are they're not going to have that opportunity because the Packers will probably clinch everything they want and not play as many starters as they would in a normal circumstance. You're overall going to have a little bit of a bad taste from this season if you're a Bears fan; the expectations were that the team would be a playoff team and bounce back after a poor 2019 season. If they end up 9-7 and out of the playoffs … it's OK, but it's not really what you hoped for or what you really needed.

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