Chicago Bears Week 12 storylines: Justin Fields’ top moments, Teven Jenkins’ resurgence and the curious case of Montez Sweat’s snap count

With the sting of a late collapse against the Detroit Lions dissipating, the Chicago Bears have turned their focus to a potential rebound Monday night in Minneapolis. The Bears head into U.S. Bank Stadium for a rematch with the Minnesota Vikings, who beat them 19-13 in Week 6.

The Bears haven’t beaten an NFC North opponent since late in the 2021 season and have yet to win consecutive games with Matt Eberflus as coach. As kickoff nears, here’s the inside slant on three notable storylines.

Getting things right

Justin Fields’ first completion of a promising afternoon last week came on the move and off script, a blitz beater that required the Bears quarterback to quickly recognize pressure coming from Lions safety Brian Branch and adapt.

Running back D’Onta Foreman did a terrific job of picking up Branch and steering him behind Fields in the pocket. Then Fields did his thing, stepping up, evading pressure up the middle and scrambling to his left while keeping his eyes up.

Tempering his urge to run, Fields spotted wide receiver DJ Moore 12 yards downfield, identified his throwing lane and contorted his body and arm slot to allow him to fire a strike into a rapidly closing window between Lions linebackers Jack Campbell and Alex Anzalone and cornerback Jerry Jacobs.

“DJ was maybe the third read in that progression,” Fields said. “He’s usually good at finding open zones in a scramble drill like that. So I rolled out to the left, saw him sitting right there and got him the ball.”

Bing, bang, boom. Fourteen yards. First down in Lions territory.

For offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, that was an encouraging start to what turned out to be a productive and efficient game from Fields. For starters, Fields identified a change in coverage at the snap on that play. Then, with pressure coming, he felt the pocket change, moved decisively within it and searched for a potential downfield shot to Darnell Mooney that didn’t materialize.

“And then,” Getsy said, “he extended the play to escape while still not giving up on the potential for a throw. All that stuff was great. He was playing the play completely and going to find a completion. And he did so in kind of an unorthodox way. It wasn’t easy to get that done. There was a lot folded into that play.”

That was one of Getsy’s three favorite plays from Fields in the quarterback’s first game action in five weeks. As it so happened, the other two were also completions to Moore. Most important, all three passes exhibited Fields’ improving vision, pocket awareness and understanding of what the defense was showing.

Getsy pointed to another on-the-move completion in the third quarter as evidence that Fields continues to make strides in his reactions to all he’s seeing. In that instance, after a fake pitch to Khalil Herbert, Fields turned back to notice that the single-high safety look the Lions initially showed had changed.

“After the fake, he picks his head up and now (the defense) is not what it originally looked like,” Getsy said. “His ability to recognize that quickly and move on in his progression was great.”

Simultaneously, as the left side of the pocket got pushed inward, Fields slid right. Then, with a perfect balance of purpose and poise, he scrambled, directed Moore toward the right sideline and put a 14-yard completion on him.

“Again,” Getsy said, “he’s finding a completion — and one of those dirty completions when the coverage changes. Usually that is what happens. The timing and progression part of it all goes away and now those guys have to go find the window, go find that hole. The receiver has to settle. The quarterback has to slide or extend things a little. And in that sequence, both of those guys did a nice job.”

Then there was Fields’ most important completion, a 39-yard touchdown strike to Moore that gave the Bears a 20-14 lead. Not only did it make up for an earlier deep miss to Moore on an almost identical throw, but it came with left tackle Larry Borom getting beat early in the down by Julian Okwara. Yet Fields instinctively sensed the heat and reacted accordingly.

“It was just that awareness of: ‘Oh, OK. I feel that pressure. And now I’m hitching up,’” Getsy said. “Then on top of that, to be able to calm yourself down to be able to get that ball up and down is not an easy thing at all.”

Earlier in the game, Fields missed a similar throw into the same end zone, overcooking a deep shot to Moore on a post route for an unfortunate incompletion, given Moore had single coverage and a step on Jacobs.

“He just let that first one rip,” Moore said after the game. “I was like, ‘Uh, I’m fast but I don’t know if I’m that fast. Let’s take something off of that.’”

Fields acknowledged Wednesday that he knew upon release he had overshot Moore.

“He just missed it,” Getsy said. “That’s not a big deal. It happens.”

But Fields didn’t miss it twice.

“Just a great job by him of reacting the right away again,” Getsy said.

Added Fields: “I just told DJ, ‘If we come back to that play, I’m not going to miss you again. So be ready for it.’ It happened, we hit it and touchdown.”

In the home stretch of Fields’ third season — with so much at stake for both him and the Bears — he’s motivated to show progress in his developmental climb while propelling the offense to greater success.

Since the offseason, the Bears have emphasized the importance of Fields becoming more dangerous as an on-the-move thrower. Throughout Sunday’s game, he showed signs of impressive growth in that area.

“The more we continue to see that, the more we’ll know we’re progressing,” Getsy said. “It’s an important aspect for every person who plays the position in this league. You have to extend plays and be a weapon with your ability to do both — run or pass. You scare the defense with both. And Justin is good at both.”

The degree of difficulty likely will rise Monday night against a blitz-heavy Vikings defense that frazzled Fields six weeks ago. The quarterback was sacked four times on six possessions, and the Bears had only 40 net passing yards when Fields dislocated his right thumb in the third quarter.

Another big test awaits.

Staying strong

Teven Jenkins dug into his locker stall Wednesday at Halas Hall and pulled out a black T-shirt, part of a merch binge he went on earlier in the week, purchasing shirts and hats for his fellow offensive linemen. Across the front in bold white letters was both a statement and a brand: “Linemen lead the way.”

The founder of that company, as it so happens, resides across the locker room from Jenkins: veteran offensive tackle Aviante Collins, who is on the Bears practice squad.

Jenkins appreciates Collins’ push to illuminate the dirty work of football, in particular the unsung contributions from the linemen who often, well, lead the way.

“It’s a small part of the game a lot of people will never recognize,” Jenkins said.

Hence the purchase from

For many of today’s football analysts and consumers — living inside an All-22 lab in which every microdetail of every play can be examined — the illumination of small contributions continues to increase. And the reason Jenkins felt compelled to dig out that T-shirt to begin with is he was asked about the aid he offered left tackle Larry Borom on Justin Fields’ 39-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore in the second half of last week’s game in Detroit.

Borom was beaten on an inside move by Lions defensive end Julian Okwara, who had Fields in his sights. But Jenkins, after passing off a stunt to center Dan Feeney, reacted with an alert slide to his left and a diving block that cleared Okwara away from Fields.

While Jenkins was initially responsible for nose tackle Alim McNeill, who ran a twist in hopes of looping around the left guard, Jenkins felt the stunt was contained and kept his peripheral vision locked in.

“The timer in my head told me my eyes needed to go out,” Jenkins said. “And when my eyes went out, I saw (Okwara) coming. I decided the only way I’m going to get this dude is if I fully lay out. So I did.”

He succeeded.

With Okwara tumbling to the turf, Fields climbed the pocket and dropped a dime to Moore in the end zone. Linemen lead the way.

“Just a great play,” Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. “Teven was aware. He understands. And he laid out. And he did it with length. He just made a great play.

“He was good with his eyes and with his technique. And he’s having these plays show up now that are just really, really good football plays.”

That was another gold-star contribution from Jenkins, who continues to ascend in his third season.

“We talked earlier in the season about how Tevin was going to get better with more banked reps,” Morgan said. “And then it’s just his maturity. He comes to work now the same way every day. He’s trying to get better.”

A big key to Jenkins’ continued production has been his availability. For the first time in his career, he has started seven consecutive games. In the last six, he played 100% of the Bears offensive snaps.

“That’s one thing that has been the biggest knock on me really,” Jenkins said. “That’s why I’ve really heightened my focus on spending more time working on my body than I used to. In that regard, I’m learning how to be a pro.”

Knock on wood here — and hard — because Jenkins’ continued durability will remain a big part of his story through the rest of this season and beyond.

This summer he seemed to be on an encouraging trajectory, plowing through training camp without much of a detour. He was performing so impressively that he was asked at the end of the Bears’ crossover practices with the Indianapolis Colts in August how it felt to be healthy and productive throughout a preseason for the first time in his career.

“As long as I’m staying out here through training camp,” Jenkins said on Aug. 17, “hopefully it shows positive signs for the rest of the year.”

The next day, though, during a routine conditioning run at the Colts indoor facility a day before the teams’ preseason game, his right calf gave out. “Just popped,” Jenkins said.

Down he went. Out he went.

For a player who missed the first 12 games of his rookie season after back surgery, then was in and out of training camp in 2022 and eventually missed four games with hip and neck issues, another physical setback felt psychologically jarring.

“I was more shocked than disappointed in myself,” Jenkins said. “It was a freak thing that happened. But I was still angry. Pissed off. I was wondering what I did wrong.”

Jenkins took pride in all the offseason work he put in to take care of his body, blending Pilates into his regimen and keeping a close watch on his diet to enhance his strength and durability. A four-week stop on injured reserve to start this season was hardly what he needed.

Yet even as Jenkins worked through the earliest stages of rehabilitation, he felt motivated to showcase the best of himself through the end of the year.

“I was in my boot and attacking conditioning,” Jenkins said. “And mentally, I was acting as if I was going to play the next game. I was making sure to stay in tune in meetings. I was pushing to get healthy and then stay healthy.”

Again, knocking on wood here.

“I feel as good as I can feel at this point in the season,” Jenkins said.

With six games remaining, Jenkins is intent on finishing strong and spoke just one word when asked where he’s setting the bar for himself.

“Dominance,” he said. “It’s just that really. That’s what I want individually, to be able to say I had a Pro Bowl season. And team-wise, I want us to be able to say we made a real push at the end of this season.”

Jenkins intends to do his part to lead the way.

Sweat equity

Montez Sweat had little to say about one of the hot Bears topics of the week. Was the standout defensive end off the field too much during the 31-26 loss to the Lions, particularly down the stretch when the Bears defense blew a save, allowing two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, 15 seconds to squander a 12-point lead?

Sweat’s final workload: 39 snaps — out of 62 that the Bears defense was on the field. That’s 63%.

During the Lions’ final two possessions, Sweat played 12 of 17 snaps, sidelined in spurts, according to coach Matt Eberflus, as a means of either helping Sweat catch his breath or managing a playing-time rotation on the defensive line.

So does Sweat have a target for the volume of playing time he prefers?

“Generally,” he said, “I want to be out there every play. But the body and the heart doesn’t really work like that. As fresh as I can be out there, that’s what I want.”

Was Sweat on the field as much as he wanted to be in Detroit?

“Umm,” he said with a long pause, “yeah.”

The curious case of Sweat’s snap count will continue to draw scrutiny until it doesn’t. Next stop: Minneapolis, where the Bears will need Sweat to be a big part of their pressure plan against Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

But those efforts might require Sweat to be on the field more frequently than he was last week.

“For sure, we want him out there more,” Eberflus said. “But those guys are rotating. (Defensive line coach) Travis (Smith) rotates them in and out. Usually, they’re on for five to seven plays — somewhere in there — during a two-minute drive. You just have to platoon them and get them in there fresh. And when those lead dogs are fresh, you put them back in.”

Sweat’s snap count has been steady since his arrival from Washington in a trade earlier this month. He played 41 of 63 defensive snaps in his Bears debut, a 24-17 loss in New Orleans. Four nights later, he played 44 snaps out of 60 in a win over the Carolina Panthers.

During seven games with the Commanders this season in which he was fully healthy, Sweat’s snap percentage ranged from 67% to 82%. He played a season-high 58 snaps in a Week 4 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Sweat’s snap count last year in Washington checked in at 731 — an average of 43 per game and 70% of the Commanders’ defensive snaps — according to Pro Football Reference.

The Bears believe Sweat can be one of the league’s stars and invested accordingly. His flashes tell you why. His first sack as a Bear came in Detroit, a fourth-quarter play on which he diagnosed a play-action rollout early in the down, stayed disciplined on the edge, then stunned Lions quarterback Jared Goff with his closing speed.

Sweat pummeled Goff for an 8-yard loss. The Lions punted soon after, a three-and-out sandwiched between two Bears field-goal drives that gave them control of the game.

Those are the kind of impact plays Bears general manager Ryan Poles envisions coming frequently for years to come. That’s why Poles traded the Commanders a second-round pick four weeks ago and why he followed four days later by guaranteeing Sweat more than $62 million in a four-year, $98 million extension.

“I see him as a multiplier,” Poles said upon Sweat’s arrival. “He’s going to allow everyone to play better — our entire defensive front, our corners, our safeties.”

Again, though, for Sweat to be at his best and help everyone else be at theirs, the coaching staff must find a sweet spot for his workload, keeping him fresh for the game’s critical stages and moments while also understanding stars are stars for a reason, performing up to expectations even when the demands are heightened.

The Lions’ best pass rusher, Aidan Hutchinson, for example, was off the field against the Bears last week for only six of 75 snaps. With the Lions defense on the field for more than 40 minutes and playing from behind for much of the fourth quarter, Hutchinson saved his biggest contribution for last.

His final play was a strip-sack in the final minute, a sequence during which he torched rookie right tackle Darnell Wright around the edge, clobbered quarterback Justin Fields at the top of his drop, then chased the squirting football through the back of the end zone, where he celebrated a win-sealing safety by punting the football into the stands.

Sweat, meanwhile, wasn’t on the field for the last two snaps of the Lions’ first touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Goff completed passes on both plays — 13 yards to Jahmyr Gibbs and then a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams.

On the Lions’ next possession, a go-ahead TD drive, Sweat was in for the first five plays, then out for three, then back in for three more. The Lions picked up 27 yards on the three plays Sweat was out — a run and two passes.

Eberflus was presented with the Hutchinson-Sweat comparison and pressed to confirm whether the Bears view Hutchinson as a similar performer.

“Sweat’s one of our best players. He really is,” Eberflus said. “And that’s just how we do it. We platoon our guys and keep them fresh that way.”

Ultimately, Eberflus acknowledged Sweat’s value and vowed to increase his workload.

“It’s going to continue to rise,” he said. “With the way we practice and the way we do things, he will be in there more as we get him going. And of course we want him in there on critical downs — third downs, two-minute (drives), all those types of things. He will be.”

Next stop: Minneapolis.


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