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Keys to the Game

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

Bears tight end Cole Kmet
Bears tight end Cole Kmet

The Bears (1-5) host the Las Vegas Raiders (3-3) Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning:

(1) Perform on defense like they did last weekend against the Vikings.

The Bears defense delivered its best outing of the season versus Minnesota, allowing its fewest touchdowns (1), first downs (12), total yards (220) and passing yards (174) of the year while permitting just 2-of-13 third-down conversions. A similar effort Sunday would provide a huge boost, especially with Bears undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent making his first NFL start behind an offensive line missing multiple starters due to injury.

The one area the defense can improve in is producing more takeaways. The unit generated only one against the Vikings, who entered last Sunday's contest with an NFL-high 12 turnovers. The Raiders have committed 11 turnovers—tied for second most behind Minnesota—with at least one in each of their six games.

Like the Bears, Las Vegas will start a backup quarterback in either Brian Hoyer or Aiden O'Connell. The Raiders have ruled out Jimmy Garoppolo due to a back injury but have not announced who will replace the Arlington Heights native.

Hoyer, a 15-year NFL veteran, has lost 12 straight starts, last winning Oct. 2, 2016, when he led the Bears to a 17-14 victory over the Lions at Soldier Field. O'Connell is a rookie fourth-round pick from Purdue who grew up in the Chicago area, attending Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. O'Connell started in place of an injured Garoppolo in Week 4, completing 24 of 39 passes for 238 yards. He threw one interception, was sacked seven times and lost two of three fumbles.

The Raiders have won two straight games after a 1-3 start. Last Sunday they produced a season high in points during a 21-17 win over the Patriots.

Las Vegas' passing game features six-time Pro Bowler Davante Adams, who is one of four receivers in NFL history to compile at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdown receptions in his career against the Bears. The others are Hall of Famers Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and Don Hutson.

After being targeted 33 times in back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Chargers, Adams was targeted only nine times in the Raiders' last two games, catching just six passes for 74 yards in victories over the Packers and Patriots.

"Anytime Davante's on the field, we would expect a heavy dose of him," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He's one of those top receivers in the NFL, and he's been that. He's a great athlete, great competitor, he's a great technician. He's got really good ability to make guys miss off the line to get open down the field and he's got really good start and stop for his size. Great hand strength. The ability to stay open. He's a guy that you've got to work on during the week and deal with during the game."

(2) Be efficient in the passing game.

After replacing an injured Justin Fields last Sunday against the Vikings, Bagent showed flashes of the poise and ability that helped him first earn a roster spot and later ascend to second on the depth chart. Getting the ball out of his hands quickly, he completed 10 of 14 passes for 83 yards.

The Bears are hoping for more of the same from Bagent, while also eliminating the types of mistakes that he made against the Vikings that resulted in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and a game-sealing interception.

"If we just operate the offense and put the ball where it needs to go on time, it's going to be a good day," Eberflus said. "That's what he needs to do, and he's done a good job with that all week. He's got confidence. He's got poise, and he had a good week of practice. So just do that on Sunday."

Bagent displayed a strong work ethic while preparing for his first NFL start this week. But that's the same approach he's taken since he first arrived at Halas Hall.

"He's been that way," Eberflus said. "I'm always back behind the offense and when the play comes in—when Justin is the starter—I would always ask [Bagent] afterwards, 'OK, tell me about the play.' He would tell me if it was a combo play, or if it's a run-pass kill, or a run-run kill. Whatever that is, he was always on it.

"That's what I was talking about being able to conceptualize a lot of information and be able to put it in a simple form so that he can operate out there. He's done that since Day 1. I'd ask him two or three times during each period, and he was always on it."

Bagent is set to become just the third undrafted rookie quarterback to start an NFL game within the first seven weeks of a season since 1992. The others were the Cardinals' Max Hall in 2010 and the Steelers' Devlin Hodges in 2019.

Interestingly, the Raiders have lost their last three games against rookie starting quarterbacks, falling to Fields in 2021 and the 49ers' Brock Purdy and the Steelers' Kenny Pickett in 2022.

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Sunday's Week 7 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

3) Contain Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby.

The fifth-year pro is one of the NFL's most underrated players, but the Bears are certainly familiar with his game-wrecking ability. Defensive line coach Travis Smith served as Raiders assistant defensive line coach during Crosby's first three seasons with the team from 2019-21—a span during which he registered 25.0 sacks.

"I guarantee that when everybody plays him, he gets attention because of his effort," Eberflus said. "That's the thing that jumps off [his tape]. Of course, he's a great athlete and he's got great flexibility, can stay alive in the play. But just the effort. Travis had him. Coach Rod [Marinelli] had him. He's a great teammate. He's one of the hardest workers from what I hear in practice. Those are the kinds of guys you want; your best players have got to be your hardest workers."

Crosby has played 100 percent of the Raiders' snaps in each of the last three games and in seven contests since the start of the 2022 season. All other NFL defensive linemen have a total of two such games during that span – Rams teammates Aaron Donald and Greg Gaines with one apiece.

One way to counter Crosby's pass rush is to establish a running game. With Khalil Herbert (ankle) on injured reserve and Roschon Johnson (concussion) also sidelined, D'Onta Foreman is expected to see expanded playing time for the second straight game. Foreman rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries against the Vikings.

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