October 16, 2021


Hub Arkush: Key matchups, players to watch and more for Bears vs. Raiders

With all the drama of the past week and the commitment to the Justin Fields era in Chicago, this meeting with the Las Vegas Raiders is the most interesting and important game of the Bears’ season to date.

What is more important now: the Bears winning the game or the performance of Justin Fields, win or lose?

The Bears are 5½-point underdogs, and the over/under is 44.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Raiders pass rush vs. Bears offensive line

The Raiders have watched the Browns tape, and their defensive game plan this week has to be disguise their coverages as best they can, pressure Fields, and then pressure him some more while keeping him in the pocket.

Vegas is only 19th in QB sack percentage, but 5½ of its nine sacks have come from its interior tackles.

Edge rushers are the key to the Raiders’ rush, but Maxx Crosby, Yannick Ngakoue and Carl Nassib will have to be careful to keep Fields from escaping outside and force him to step up into what they hope will be that interior pressure.

COACHING DECISION TO WATCH

Can Bears coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor get weapons other than Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and the running backs involved in the offense?

Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd, Jimmy Graham and Jesse James have been M.I.A. on Sundays. Robinson is averaging only six targets a game. Is it because of the scheme, the quarterbacks or because they just haven’t played well?

Whatever it is, if Nagy, Lazor and Fields don’t get them all involved, and figure out how to use their Olympic track team to back up the secondary and provide some fireworks, the offense never will reach its full potential.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Raiders tight end Darren Waller; wide receivers Hunter Renfrow, Henry Ruggs, Brian Edwards

Josh Jacobs, who became a Raider courtesy of the Khalil Mack trade, is a true weapon, but he and the Raiders’ run game have struggled this year. It’s ranked 27th in the league and is averaging 3.3 yards per carry.

Waller is one of the most underrated players in the league at tight end and a matchup nightmare, while Ruggs is their version of Goodwin and has been explosive with a 22.1 yard average on 14 catches.

Renfrow’s comp is Mooney without quite the speed, and Edwards looks like a young Robinson clone.

THE X-FACTORS

Justin Fields

The time for talking and debating is over. The game is not all on Fields’ shoulders, but the Bears are 2 of 19 converting on third downs in his two starts with Fields at the helm.

He can’t win a shootout with Derek Carr without a significant step forward.

WILD-CARD PLAYERS WHO COULD SURPRISE

Raiders RB Peyton Barber; Bears RB Khalil Herbert, TE Jesper Horsted

While Jacobs has battled his bruises, Barber has been the Raiders’ more effective back and rattled off 111 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries two weeks ago against the Dolphins before suffering a turf toe last week against the Chargers, leaving him questionable for Sunday.

Nagy confirmed Friday that Herbert will be more than an understudy to Damien Williams. The Raiders’ defense is 23rd against the run, and for whatever reason I can’t stop remembering 2016 rookie Jordan Howard going off in Week 4 for 111 yards on 23 carries against Detroit.

With tight ends Jesse James and J.P. Holtz out, will there be a sighting of Horsted, the Bears’ practice squad darling?

THE FINAL WORD

Raiders 20, Bears 17

The Raiders’ opponents are 8-8, and the Bears’ are 10-7. The Raiders could as easily be 1-3 as 3-1 with OT squeakers over the Ravens and Dolphins. These are two evenly matched teams. A Bears upset won’t surprise me, but the Raiders have a big home-field edge in their new digs. Plus the loss of Montgomery and likely loss of Akiem Hicks, along with how far ahead Carr is of Fields right now makes an upset too tough to predict.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media