Week 11 of the 2021 NFL season features a matchup of two teams coming off disappointing losses when the Chicago Bears welcome the Baltimore Ravens to Soldier Field.
Initially, this game was slated to feature two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league, but 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson was ruled out Sunday with a non-COVID-related illness. Now Tyler Huntley will face off against rookie Justin Fields.
The Bears (3-6) come into this game rested, refreshed, and recharged after their bye week last week. They'll need it to break a four-game losing streak. The Ravens (6-3), on the other hand, are looking to get back in the swing of things after an uncharacteristic loss last week in Miami. A win would help the Ravens hold on to first place in the AFC North, while the Bears need one to turn their season around.
Baltimore (6-3) at Chicago (3-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -6
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterback battle
Don't be surprised if Fields steal the show on Sunday. The 11th overall draft pick has endured the rigors of a rookie NFL season, and Bears fans hope the rookie quarterback can be like Jackson someday. One interesting stat is that both Fields (29), and Jackson (28) rank first and second, respectively, in most sacks taken this season. They're also tied for third in interceptions (8), and they're both in the top four of rushing leaders among quarterbacks (639 for Jackson, 288 for Fields).
But that's where the similarities end. Fields has been rattled by an unreliable, at times, offensive line, and he's also had to adjust to different lineups because of injuries on this side of the ball. He's only completing 59.4 percent of his pass attempts (ranks 31st in this category) for 1,282 yards (30th), four touchdowns (tied with fellow rookie Zach Wilson), and an average of 6.9 yards per attempt (15th).
But his late fourth-quarter drive in Pittsburgh two weeks ago presented a prime example of why the Bears traded up to draft him with the 11th overall pick. He showed poise, confidence, and intangibles during that possession by leading the Bears 75 yards downfield in just seven plays. It was capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney, which gave the Bears a brief one-point lead. Fields made the difficult throws, displayed excellent decision-making, and used his athleticism to extend plays on that drive. The Bears hope to see more of that from Fields on Sunday.
With Huntley starting for Baltimore, the Ravens will lose a serious running element to their offense. Huntley isn't a statue — he racked up 1,131 rushing yards over three seasons as a starter at Utah — but it's hard to measure up to Jackson. This will also be his first major action in the NFL. Over four games in garbage time, he's completed 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards with no touchdowns nor interceptions. Making matters more complicated, he won't have Marquise Brown to throw to though, as the Ravens' leading receiver was ruled out Saturday afternoon because of a thigh injury.
2. Defense vs. defense
Both defensive units will have the tall task of at least slowing down the opposing quarterbacks, if not stopping them completely. However, both teams will be shorthanded on this side of the ball. On Friday, it was revealed that Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack will miss the remainder of the season due to the foot injury that's sidelined him over the last few weeks. He's set to have surgery next week. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan was also placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury.
As a result, the Bears signed Bruce Irvin in free agency and elevated Cassius Marsh from the practice squad. Irvin is best known for his days with the Seattle Seahawks (2012-15, 2020) but has also played for the Raiders, Falcons, and Panthers (2016-19). Irvin's pass-rushing abilities will come in handy for the Bears 3-4 alignment. During his nine-year career, Irvin has totaled 308 total tackles, 64 tackles for a loss, 118 quarterback hits, and 52.0 sacks.
Marsh appeared in one game earlier this season in which he recorded five tackles. The Bears will also be without defensive end Akiem Hicks, who's dealing with an ankle injury after a groin injury sidelined him earlier this season. Safety Eddie Jackson is questionable as he continues to deal with a hamstring ailment, while inside linebacker Alec Ogletree has been practicing through an ankle injury of his own.
Injuries aside, this Bears defense has had its fair share of issues during their four-game losing streak. They've given up 124 points during a stretch in which they once again had no answer for Aaron Rodgers (214 total yards, 3 combined TDs), allowed Tom Brady to put on a passing clinic (became the first QB to throw 600 career TD passes), and got gutted by the 49ers offense (467 yards). They did show some improvement against the Steelers two weeks ago (4 sacks, 5 TFLs, 5 QB hits), but some questionable calls by the officiating crew overshadowed their effort and, in some cases, erased plays that they made.
They hope to make more improvements this week. The Bears had higher hopes than ranking 12th in the league in total defense (348.9 ypg), 10th in pass defense (226.1 ypg), 22nd in run defense (122.8 ypg), and 21st in scoring defense (24.9 ppg).
The Ravens also have some walking wounded on this side of the ball. Nose tackle Brandon Williams (shoulder), and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), have both been ruled out. Meanwhile cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (hip/shoulder), Tavon Young (foot), and Anthony Averett (thigh), along with linebacker Kristian Welch (foot), are all questionable.
Surprisingly, the Bears rank higher than the Ravens in some major defensive categories. Baltimore ranks 23rd in total defense (371.6 ypg), and they have the league's worst pass defense (283.3 ypg), but they own the fourth-best run defense (88.2 ypg), and they're tied for 20th in scoring defense (24.1 ppg). They hope to rebound from last week's performance in Miami in which they gave up 16 points in the fourth quarter that ultimately sealed the win for the Dolphins.
3. NFC North meets AFC North again
As these divisions have been paired against one another this season, the Bears and Ravens have had different results against their divisional counterparts. The Bears are 1-2 against the AFC North this year. They defeated Cincinnati in Week 2, lost to Cleveland the following week, then lost at Pittsburgh two weeks ago in that game which was filled with those questionable officiating calls. This will be the last AFC North game for the Bears this season, and they'd like to close things out with a victory.
The Ravens, however, are unbeaten against the NFC North in 2021 so far (2-0). They won in Detroit in Week 3 thanks to Justin Tucker's NFL record 66-yard field goal, then defeated Minnesota at home in overtime three weeks ago. The Ravens will wrap up this part of their schedule when they host Green Bay in Week 15.
The Bears lead this all-time series 4-2 and won the last two meetings against the Ravens, which were a pair of overtime thrillers in 2013, and '17. The Bears are 36-26-1 all-time against the AFC North, while the Ravens are 13-12 all-time against the "Black and Blue" division. The shorthanded Bears defense will have a reprieve against Huntley, but unless their offense can move the ball against this defense which is still a formidable unit, the Baltimore leaves Chicago with the "W."
Prediction: Ravens 20, Bears 14
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.