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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Chargers

Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent
Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent

The Bears (2-5) visit the Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) Sunday night at SoFi Stadium. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning:

(1) Play as efficiently and mistake-free on offense as they did in last weekend's 30-12 win over the Raiders.

Making his first NFL start, undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent quarterbacked a unit that produced three touchdowns and 323 total yards, converted a season-high 61.5% of third-down opportunities (8 of 13) and didn't commit any turnovers. The Bears also rushed for 173 yards on 38 carries behind a reshuffled offensive line that featured its sixth different combination of starters in seven games this season.

A similar effort Sunday night in Los Angeles no doubt would help the Bears win their second straight game and their third in four contests. They'll face a Chargers defense that ranks 11th in the NFL against the run but is last versus the pass, allowing an average of 310.0 yards per game through the air.

The Los Angeles defense features perennial Pro Bowlers in outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James.

"They've got a good defense," said Bagent, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and a 97.2 passer rating against the Raiders. "They've got generational players in 52 (Mack) and 3 (James), so you've got to be aware of where they're at at all times. It's a team that we're going to have to be locked in against, and we're going to need all 11."

"Big challenge ahead of us this week, playing the Chargers," said coach Matt Eberflus. "A lot of skill, a lot of talent on their roster. Defensively, the two rushers they have, obviously we're going to have to set up our offense appropriately for that. They're strong in the middle in terms of their tackles as well as their inside 'backers. Really good on the perimeter in terms of their corners. A lot of experience there. And they have one of the best safeties in ball."

Continuing to run the ball effectively will be key for the Bears, who have rushed for 171, 178, 162 and 173 yards in their last four games. Last Sunday, D'Onta Foreman produced at least 120 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns for the first time in his five-year NFL career, rushing for 89 yards and two TDs on 16 carries and catching three passes for 31 yards and one touchdown.

The Bears also hope to protect the ball; they're 2-0 this season when committing no turnovers and 0-5 when they have at least one interception or lost fumble.

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall Wednesday to continue their preparation for Sunday night's road game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

(2) Keep performing on defense like they have the last few weeks.

The Bears are in the midst of a 180-degree turnaround on defense that they hope keeps trending in the same direction Sunday night. Compared to their performance in the first four games this season, their improvement over the last three contests has been dramatic across the board:

Table inside Article
First 4 Games Last 3 Games
Touchdowns allowed 15 4
Average rushing yards allowed 115.5 38.0
Third-down effiency 33-56 (58.9%) 10-34 (29.4%)
Takeaways 2 6
Sacks 2 8

"It's exciting," said linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi. "Sometimes it takes a little bit, and you can really see the defense these last few weeks, we're playing fast, we're playing physical, and it's not about the call, it's about the execution. It's not like we're inventing new calls or anything. It's the same defense we played last year. We're just executing it better and part of that, too, I think, is that guys are more comfortable in the system."

The Bears will be challenged in Los Angeles by quarterback Justin Herbert, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 and a Pro Bowler in 2021. The 6-6, 236-pounder has completed 67.0 percent of his passes for 1,592 yards with seven TDs, four interceptions and a 97.1 passer rating that ranks ninth in the NFL.

"He's got one of the strongest arms in the league," Borgonzi said. "He can make all the throws; in-cuts, balls on the sideline, he can make every throw there is. Also, he's athletic. So he presents a lot of problems in that he can make every throw and then he can scramble and he can throw. He scrambles really effectively and he's accurate."

Herbert was more effective in the Chargers' first three games than he's been in their last three contests, but that could be due to facing top-10 defenses in the Cowboys and Chiefs the past two weeks. After passing for 939 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in his first three starts, he's thrown for 653 yards with four TDs and four interceptions in his last three outings. Herbert continues to play with a broken left middle finger he sustained Oct. 1 in a win over the Raiders.

The Chargers offense also features five-time Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, a seven-year pro who established career highs last season with 915 yards and 13 TDs on the ground and 107 receptions.

"The thing about Ekeler, he's a strong runner," Borgonzi said, "so we've got to really tackle this guy, bring your feet when you're tackling because defenders will bounce off him if you don't bring good feet. Really good player in the run game, very effective in the pass game. We've got our hands full with him."

(3) Prevent Mack from producing too many impact plays.

Judging by the six sacks he recorded in a single game earlier this season, Mack is seemingly the same dominant force he was when he made his memorable Bears debut five years ago. In the first half of the 2018 season opener in Green Bay, he returned an interception for a touchdown and created a second turnover with a strip sack.

Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was coaching at Mississippi State in 2018—between two stints as a Packers assistant from 2014-17 and 2019-21—but he's familiar with Mack's work nonetheless.

"He's an incredible player," Getsy said. "He has been. He's been terrorizing me since I was a coach at Western Michigan. I don't think we scored a point against them when he was at Buffalo, so he's an incredible player. You have to account for him at all times: run game, pass game. That's what's really unique about him is that it's not just a pass game thing for him. And then they have a couple other guys too that we have to worry about. It's a really good defense."

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