Breaking down the Bears’ biggest questions

Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon celebrates against the Panthers.

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The Chicago Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley, Jason Lieser and Mark Potash break down the 3-7 Bears’ most pressing questions as they embark on another “mini-bye:”

What can Justin Fields accomplish the rest of the year?

FINLEY: He can prove himself against his NFC North peers. Fields is 1-10 in his career against the Lions, Vikings and Packers, with the lone win coming in his first-ever division game —Week 4 against the 2021 Lions.

LIESER: At this point, because the Bears are in line for such a high draft pick, Fields probably is auditioning for his next team. He would have to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the second half to sway the Bears to stick with him. But if he plays well enough that the Bears can get a decent return for him in a trade, that’s good for both sides.

POTASH: 1. Hit the open receiver early. 2. Find the open receiver late. 3. Zig when the defense zags. 4. Regain his explosive running game. 5. Beat a playoff team. 6. Be as efficient in the fourth quarter as in the first three. 7. Win a game with a late touchdown drive. 8. Make Luke Getsy’s offense better than it looks. 9. Start seven consecutive games. 10. Prove he can “play quarterback.”

The biggest question facing coach Matt Eberflus is …

FINLEY: How well his defense plays the rest of the year. Since Week 6, the Bears have given up 4.42 yards per play, the third-best mark in the NFL. That’s a good first step, even if it came against some brutal offenses. Defense is supposed to be Eberflus’ expertise, and he needs to show it before the season ends.

LIESER: Can he elevate a flawed, but viable roster? Eberflus can’t just be a passenger like last season, when the Bears would’ve gone 3-14 no matter who coached them. The best coaches find creative ways to make their existing personnel better. 

POTASH: Is he the guy general manager Ryan Poles thinks he is? As even Poles seemed to acknowledge in his over-the-top vote-of-confidence last week, he sees an Eberflus that the outside world does not. If Eberflus is that guy, the results will show in the final seven games.

Was the Montez Sweat trade a smart one?

FINLEY: They desperately need talent, so I’m fine with them overpaying both in terms of salary — Sweat’s $24.5 million per year deal is the richest in Bears history — and by trading the Commanders their second-round pick for the defensive end. Chicago isn’t a prime free agent destination, so the Bears can’t sit back and hope stars sign with them every March.

LIESER: Yes, and necessary. The Bears simply weren’t getting anywhere without a pass rush. They weren’t going to find a top pass rusher in free agency or in the second round of the draft. But they need a second one, and that should be what they target in the first round next year.

POTASH: It was a necessary one. Sweat might not be the “multiplier” Poles thinks he is — he wasn’t in Washington. But he’s a quality upgrade whose impact will increase as the team around him gets better. There were worse ways to spend the salary cap room Poles had. 

This is on Ryan Poles’ to-do list by the end of the season …

FINLEY: Extend kicker Cairo Santos, whose contract expires at the end of the year. Since the start of last season, he’s made all but three of his 39 field goals.

LIESER: Sign cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a contract extension. Poles should not let this continue to drag on, and the Bears have plenty of salary-cap space. Johnson is one of the surest talents on the roster and, at 24, there’s minimal risk in signing him to a long-term deal.

POTASH: Objectively evaluate the head coach he hand-picked and the quarterback he endorsed last year. He can’t just look for reasons to keep them, but — like Jed Hoyer —  he needs to keep an open mind for better options. 

Who has been the Bears’ most disappointing player?

FINLEY: Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has been fine in the eight games he’s played, but the Bears aren’t paying him $72 million over four years for so Jack Sanborn can look just as good in his absence.

LIESER: Chase Claypool clinched that distinction in Week 1. But of players currently on the roster, the Bears expected better than three sacks in 10 games in return for the $10.5 million they’re paying Yannick Ngakoue.

POTASH: Claypool cost the Bears the 32nd overall pick in last year’s draft and not only didn’t produce, but became a distraction. The Bears actually were better equipped to handle Jalen Carter than they were Claypool, who needs to be in a mature offense with a lot of really good players to be an asset to any NFL team. Though guard Nate Davis has not been a disappointment — he has missed time for bereavement and injury — but he has only started and finished only three games. The Bears need Davis to return to give them the best offensive line combination of the Eberflus era — Braxton Jones-Teven Jenkins-Lucas Patrick-Davis-Darnell Wright. 

Who has been the Bears’ most pleasant surprise?

FINLEY: D’Onta Foreman was a healthy scratch in Weeks 2-5. Since then, he’s been one of the best running backs in football. Bears coaches have some explaining to do for sitting him in the first place — their argument was that he didn’t play special teams.

LIESER: Tyson Bagent. A backup quarterback should either be able to keep the team viable during a short period of time or be a promising young player the organization is trying to develop. Bagent is both. If he ends up being a quality long-term backup, that’s a success for the Bears.

POTASH: The Bears have won two games with Bagent, an undrafted free agent from Division II Shepherd University. That’s one fewer than Cade McNown, a No. 12 overall draft pick. 

How many games will the Bears win out of the final seven?

FINLEY: Three, and all in a row — the Cardinals, Falcons and Packers. Here’s the list of quarterbacks left on their schedule: Jared Goff, Josh Dobbs, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Taylor Heinecke and Jordan Love. Woof.

LIESER: Three, and that would mean they go 4-4 over the last eight to arrive at 6-11. That’s double their win total from last season, but not good enough. They will almost certainly go all season without beating a good team and already have been noncompetitive in those matchups. The upside is their draft pick probably will come in around No. 7 overall to go along with the pick they get from the Panthers.

POTASH: Two, maybe three. They should beat the Cardinals and Falcons at home, and with Fields back and Sweat getting acclimated to Eberflus’ defense, they have at least one road upset in them. 

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