It’s hard to believe, but the Chicago Bears are already halfway through the 2021 season. From a record standpoint, it hasn’t been the most successful year as they’re currently 3-6 and in third place in the NFC North.
But this season was all about developing Justin Fields to see if he can truly be the franchise quarterback this team has been searching for since the 1980s. Fields has had his ups and downs, but is looking better and better each week, even in losses.
In addition to Fields, this team has had its share of standout players over their first nine games, while also having a few disappointments as well. Here are the studs and duds over the first half of the season for the Bears.
STUD: OLB Robert Quinn
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Raise your hand if you had Robert Quinn leading the Bears in sacks halfway through the season. Quinn has bounced back in a big way after his disastrous first season with the Bears in 2020. The veteran pass rusher has 6.5 sacks on the year and is looking as healthy as ever after dealing with issues last season. Alongside Khalil Mack, Quinn is embarrassing offensive tackles and never quits on a play. He’s been the biggest surprise on the defense and shows no signs of slowing down with eight games to go on the season.
DUD: WR Allen Robinson
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For the last two seasons, wide receiver Allen Robinson has been arguably the best and most consistent player on offense, posting back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. He’s looking to become the first player in Bears history to have three 1,000-yard seasons in a row, but that streak is in serious jeopardy. Robinson has struggled to connect with Fields for much of the season and is averaging just 37 yards per game, the lowest in his career outside of his injury-shortened season in 2017. Robinson did show signs of finally building chemistry with Fields in their last game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he’ll need a strong second half of the season to come close to his career averages.
STUD: OT Jason Peters
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When the Bears signed Jason Peters out of semi-retirement, it was seen as a stopgap move as the team’s young offensive tackles worked back from injury. Little did anyone know that the former All-Pro tackle still had plenty of game left in him. Peters has been the most consistent offensive lineman for the Bears and has been a huge asset in the run game. His 76.7 Pro Football Focus grade leads all Bears linemen. Though he’s allowed four sacks on the season, Peters has gone against some of the best pass rushers in the league early on. His play has been a pleasant surprise and his mentorship for players like Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom.
DUD: TE Jimmy Graham
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It took nine games for Jimmy Graham to finally play a significant role on offense for the Bears and while he had a better output against the Steelers this past week, it doesn’t make up for his lack of production over the first eight weeks. Coming into Week 9, Graham had just one catch for 11 yards. He was rarely targeted and was a complete afterthought on offense. To add insult to injury, Graham missed two games after landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list. For the season, the 34-year old has just two catches for 39 yards. Not the best return on investment after he signed a two-year, $16 million deal last season.
STUD: ILB Roquan Smith
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Roquan Smith has picked up where he left off after the 2020 season, swarming ball carriers and flying all over the field in pretty much every single game this year. He’s tied for the league lead in total tackles with 93 with six tackles for loss. He also already has three sacks and one interception on the year in his quest for his first Pro Bowl selection. Smith has embraced the leadership role on defense and is the first true field general the Bears have had since the days of Brian Urlacher. It’s an important season for Smith as he’ll be in the market for a new contract soon but he’s continuing to deliver in nearly every single area on defense.
DUD: CB Kindle Vildor
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The backend of the defense has been ripe for criticism for much of the season, but no one deserves more than second-year cornerback Kindle Vildor. Taking over the starting outside cornerback position opposite Jaylon Johnson, Vildor has been abused in nearly every game he’s played. Vildor has allowed 29 completions on 40 targets for 463 yards and five touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 150.3 passer rating when targeting him, making him the weak link in the secondary for the Bears. Vildor has had trouble playing the ball on multiple occasions when he’s been targeted, unable to make a play to prevent a completion. He’s only in his second season coming from a smaller school, but Vildor has to show significant improvement if he wants to retain his starting job next season.
STUD: K Cairo Santos
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It’s not hyperbole to say the MVP for the Bears through nine games has been Cairo Santos. He’s been as consistent as ever, hitting on every single kick until the Bears attempted a desperation 65-yard field goal at the end of their last game. Until then, Santos had converted 40 field goal attempts in a row, dating back to the 2020 season. For a team that has struggled to get the kicker position correct since they said goodbye to Robbie Gould in 2016, Santos has finally provided the stability they’ve sorely lacked since then. Of course the rest of the team has failed to play at his same level, but at least the kicking worries have been made a thing of the past.
DUD: Return Specialists
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It’s pretty clear the Bears were spoiled the last few seasons with Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen handling the kick and punt return duties, respectively. With Patterson now with the Atlanta Falcons and Cohen still rehabbing from a torn ACL, the Bears have had a tough time replacing their production. Early in the season, players such as Khalil Herbert and Nsimba Webster handled those duties, but struggled to make an impact. Ryan Pace traded for Jakeem Grant to provide a spark, but he’s exhibited poor judgment on when to return the ball and when to take a knee when handling kick returns. He’s also lost a fumble, as well. It’s been a rough season for all of the returners involved with the Bears this season.