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4 things to watch in Bears-Dolphins game

Bears receiver Chase Claypool
Bears receiver Chase Claypool

The Bears (3-5) will look to rebound from last weekend's loss to the Cowboys when they host the Dolphins (5-3) Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) What type of impact will receiver Chase Claypool make?

Acquired by the Bears in a trade with the Steelers Tuesday, Claypool is expected to play Sunday, though it's unclear how expansive his role will be. 

"We've had guys before in the past at different positions plug and play," said coach Matt Eberflus. "So you have to give him a certain role, a limited number of plays that he can learn and let him go. That could be anywhere between 10 plays and 35, whatever that is. But he certainly is a smart guy and he works at it. He's a worker and he's very intelligent, so we'll give him what he can handle."

In obtaining Claypool, the Bears landed a big, physical, 6-4 238-pounder who possesses speed, strength and athleticism. The third-year pro can both stretch a defense and win 50/50 balls. His arrival should provide a huge boost for an offense that ranks last in the NFL in passing yards, averaging 126.9 per game.

In two-and-a-half seasons with the Steelers, Claypool caught 153 passes for 2,044 yards and 12 touchdowns while playing in 39 games with 27 starts. This year the 2020 second-round pick from Notre Dame had 32 receptions for 311 yards and one TD in Pittsburgh's first eight games.

"I am excited about this player," said general manager Ryan Poles. "I've really liked the way that our offense is starting to come together and move. I thought it was important to add another impact player for our offense to go along with the guys that we currently have in the receivers room right now."

(2) How will the defense respond following Roquan Smith's departure?

The Bears dealt the veteran linebacker to the Ravens Tuesday in exchange for 2023 second- and fifth-round picks in addition to veteran linebacker A.J. Klein. The move came less than a week after defensive end Robert Quinn was sent to the Eagles in return for a 2023 fourth-round selection.

The two trades left sizeable holes on and off the field for the Bears defense.

"There's really no clearcut way to just process the loss of our two captains, our two veterans and really two of our best playmakers on the team," said cornerback Jaylon Johnson. "It's just one of those things you've got to find a way. We've just got to really rally together as a defense, stay together, help each other out mentally, physically. We've still got a lot more ball left. Even more than those losses, we've still got to find a way to get better and to get victories at the end of the day."

Understanding how the locker room was affected by the moves, Poles and Eberflus met with players to provide their perspective and explain why the trades were made.

"That was something pretty cool for them to come and talk to us as men," said safety Eddie Jackson. "We get the business part of this. We respect that. But we like to be respected as men and football players as well."

Following the trades, defensive coordinator Alan Williams' message to his players was a simple one: "Don't try to do too much."

"When you try to do too much you lose a gap; you're somewhere where you shouldn't be," Williams said. "The focus is execution; be where you're supposed to be. Alignment, assignment, key and technique. There are several plays that we've made, big plays where guys were just where they were supposed to be and the opportunity presented itself and guys were in the spot to make the play. If we do that at a high rate, we'll be just fine."

(3) Will quarterback Justin Fields continue to shine?

The second-year pro hopes to stay on a roll against the Dolphins. In the last two games, Fields has completed 30 of 43 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a 105.8 passer rating while also rushing for 142 yards and two TDs on 22 carries. He has accounted for five of the offense's seven TDs in those two games after the unit mustered only nine TDs in the first six contests.

Fields displayed his dual-threat ability last Sunday in Dallas, establishing career highs with a 73.9 completion percentage (17 of 23) and a 120.0 passer rating while also rushing for 60 yards on eight carries. He produced three TDs for the first time in his NFL career with a 3-yard run and passes of 17 and 10 yards, and has thrown TD passes in four straight games for the first time in his two seasons.

Fields is a major reason the Bears lead the NFL in rushing, averaging 188.4 yards per game. His 424 yards on the ground rank second in the league among quarterbacks behind only Ravens star Lamar Jackson (553). Fields has helped the Bears top 200 yards rushing in three straight games for the first time since 1968. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has called more designed quarterback runs and read-option plays of late, and Fields has taken advantage of those opportunities.

On Sunday he'll face a Dolphins defense that ranks 23rd in the NFL in total yards, sixth against the run and 26th versus the pass. The unit has allowed 38, 27, 40 and 27 points in four road games this season but added premier pass rusher Bradley Chubb Tuesday in a trade with the Broncos.

(4) Will the Bears be able to contain arguably the NFL's best receiver tandem in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle?

The defense will look to rebound from its worst performance of the season in Dallas, but it won't be an easy task given the dynamic duo they'll face Sunday. 

Hill leads NFL receivers in receptions (69) and yards (961) as well as catches of at least 20 yards (15), an indication of his game-breaking ability. Waddle, meanwhile, is fourth in the league with 727 yards on 42 catches. Their 1,688 combined yards are the most by a receiving duo through the first eight games of a season in the Super Bowl era.

Williams told reporters that the Bears must identify where Hill and Waddle line up on every play and make sure they're not allowed to run through the defense unabated. 

"You have to get your hands on them," Williams said. "You have to make sure they're not just running through. When you let them do that, they're dangerous."

Complicating matters for the defense is that Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL with a 112.7 passer rating, an average of 9.02 yards per attempt and a 142.7 passer rating on third down. The key to containing Miami's explosive pass offense is to generate consistent pressure on Tagovailoa. 

"The best coverage is a great rush," Williams said. "We have to make sure the quarterback is not back there just patting the ball and has all day to throw the ball. You can't let it be 7-on-7. That's what you don't want. You have to make him feel uncomfortable. You have to make him move around. You have to make him not know what the coverage is before the snap. There are different phases of that to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable."

The Bears hit the Halas Hall practice fields Wednesday afternoon as they get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.

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