The Bears will look to snap a two-game losing streak when they host the New York Jets Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will the Bears offense continue to thrive against an aggressive Jets defense?
The Bears offense has been on fire of late, scoring 14 touchdowns in its last three games after producing just four TDs in its first three contests of the season. The unit has been led by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who has excelled as both a passer and a runner. In the last three games, the second pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has passed for 1,003 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 181 yards and one TD.
The offense will look to stay on a roll against a Jets defense that entered Week 8 ranked 20th in the NFL in total yards and 26th versus the pass. New York, however, blitzes frequently and is tied for fourth in the league with 10 interceptions. "They're an aggressive defense," said coach Matt Nagy. "They like to bring pressure. That hasn't changed with [Jets coach] Todd [Bowles]. He picks and chooses when to do it. He knows good times to do it and then he's got good players, too, that he can use with that."
How Trubisky handles the blitz Sunday likely will be a key factor in the game. "They're a very solid defense, another defense that has taken away the football, so there's going to be an emphasis for us this week, especially myself, just continue to take care of the football," Trubisky said. "They create pressure up front with twists and they get after the quarterback."
(2) Will a slumping Bears defense revert to its early-season form against a rookie quarterback and an injury-depleted receiving corps?
Buoyed by the addition of All-Pro Khalil Mack, the Bears defense dominated during the first four weeks of the season, leading the NFL with 18 sacks and ranking second in total yards allowed. But an ankle injury Mack suffered early in a Week 6 game in Miami has coincided with a defensive slump. In losing back-to-back contests to the Dolphins and Patriots, the Bears have surrendered 69 points and mustered only one sack.
The unit will look to get back on track against quarterback Sam Darnold, a promising rookie who has thrown a league-high 10 interceptions. "I like him," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "He's got a good arm. Got a nice release. He's athletic and very mobile. He's caused people problems throwing outside the pocket when he scrambles. They've got a really good quarterback. I've been impressed by him."
The Jets are expected to play without their top two receivers. Quincy Enunwa will miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, while Robby Anderson sat out practice all week with ankle injury and is listed as doubtful on the injury report.
Regardless of who lines up for the Jets, the Bears defense must generate more pressure on the quarterback than they did against the Dolphins and Patriots and eliminate the missed tackles that plagued them in both losses.
(3) Will the Bears become more balanced on offense by getting more production from their ground game?
The Bears rank sixth in the NFL in rushing, but that's deceptive because Trubisky has produced 245 yards on the ground—the second most by a quarterback behind only the Panthers' Cam Newton (257). Running backs Jordan Howard (90 carries for 311 yards) and Tarik Cohen (38-184) have combined to average 82.5 yards per game.
"Trying to figure out the identity of who we are [in the run game] has taken a little bit longer than the pass game," Nagy said this week. "So what we're going to do is figure out who we are and what we do best. We're at a point right now where we need to figure out what that is. And you can't have earmuffs and blinders on. You've got to be real with it and understand that we've got to be better in the run game. When you're not good in the run game and you become one-dimensional, you're in trouble.
"We need to focus in on making sure we're better there. It doesn't mean that you change your pass/run ratio or anything like that. But when you do run, your yards-per-carry has to be better."
Howard is averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season after averaging 4.6 yards per attempt over his first two years with the Bears.
(4) Will the Bears' special-teams unit rebound after allowing two touchdowns in last Sunday's 38-31 loss to the Patriots?
The Bears offense and defense stood toe-to-toe with the Patriots last weekend, but two touchdowns New England scored on special teams proved to be the difference in the game. Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 95 yards for one TD, while Kyle Van Noy returned a blocked punt 29 yards for the second score.
Early in the game, the Bears generated their first takeaway on special teams when Nick Kwiatkoski forced a fumble on a Patterson kickoff return that was recovered by DeAndre Houston-Carson. The offense converted the takeaway into a Trubisky 8-yard touchdown run, giving the Bears a 10-7 lead.
"We started off well," said special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor. "I thought we were playing Chicago Bears special teams at the beginning of the game. I thought we had some good mojo going there, but we've got to do a better job and we can't have those catastrophic plays. We're looking forward to this weekend to right the ship a little bit."