Back in 2019 after their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs, Kyle Long asked his brother Chris if the Chicago Bears could’ve won the Super Bowl had Cody Parkey made that field goal? Chris immediately said no. Why not? In his mind, the Bears weren’t physical enough on offense. They played way too soft. This is something that stuck with them since then but has suddenly changed in 2021. Ironically, it’s Chris’ former teammate Jason Peters who got credit for helping change the mentality.
Juan Castillo was hired by the Bears as offensive line coach in 2020 to begin this process. He’s always been known as a guy who favors physicality. There were glimpses of change that year but it still too often felt like the blockers weren’t asserting themselves. So when the opportunity arose, Castillo brought in the 39-year old Peters. Somebody who has played on a championship team. Now when the coach needs to instill the mentality of being physical, he’s been able to turn to him. Peters’ message was clear and concise according to Adam Jahns of The Athletic.
During Peters’ first week with the team, Castillo turned to him with a question.
“Jason, how do you become physical? How do you get a physical mind? You’ve been through a lot of good lines and so-so lines,” Castillo recalled. “And Jason said, ‘You finish. You finish plays. That’s how you become a physical line.’”
It seems the message has gotten through.
There are several examples this season of Bears blockers working hard to set the tone during a game. They’re finishing blocks. Serving up pancakes or simply driving guys off the ball. As a result, Chicago has the 7th-best rushing attack in the NFL. What makes it more impressive is they’ve done it without David Montgomery for a period of time due to a knee injury. Guys like Peters, Cody Whitehair, and James Daniels have really stepped up.
It’s a good thing too because pass protection hasn’t been a strength of this group. Something that no doubt annoys head coach Matt Nagy to no end. The Bears have to stick close to what they’re good at. With Peters’ help, they’ve discovered that running the football is their strength and the newfound physical mentality is feeding into that.
Elijah Wilkinson (70) was actually out there for one play before Germain Ifedi got hurt and I guess he was ready to set the tone… pic.twitter.com/JMQhkkJGDV
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) October 14, 2021
Second game after being signed a few weeks before the season + 39-years old..Jason Peters pic.twitter.com/Ypvs7sWQhL
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 22, 2021
When I say Mustipher, Whitehair, and Daniels played well in the rungame… This is what I'm talking about. Look at James Daniels. 😤
— Daniel Goodwin III (@DanGoodwinIII) October 11, 2021
Jason Peters signing was laughed at. Not anymore
Sure the story itself is indicative of how desperate the Bears were. They’d just lost Teven Jenkins to back surgery. Elijah Wilkinson couldn’t play left tackle and Larry Borom wasn’t ready yet. So Castillo placed a phone call to his old friend who was fishing near his home in Texas when he got the call. Just like that, Peters became only the fourth tackle in modern NFL history to become a starter at age 39.
Everybody predicted it was going to be a disaster. The guy is too old. He can’t move like he used to and probably won’t last the season due to injuries. While it’s true Jason Peters has not looked like the dominant force he was 10 years ago, there is no denying the fact he has played well above expectations. His impact in the run game is significant and it’s clear his presence as a mentor is rubbing off on the younger guys.
Considering the money they got him for?
That move has been an unquestionable steal. Jenkins and Borom have reportedly been peppering him with questions whenever possible. His leadership has helped maintain calm during some difficult stretches of this season. It is amazing to think the Bears have gotten this much out of an emergency signing that probably won’t last beyond one season.