The Chicago Bears' Week 3 come-from-behind win in Arizona provided the fans a sole first place team for the first time since Week 16 of the 2013 campaign and analysts the most interesting snap-count data to analyze on the young season.
We've talked about the first place element and next Sunday vs. the Bucs setting up as the biggest game for the franchise in years, so let's take a closer look at the playing time Sunday and what it means moving forward.
OFFENSE (74 total snaps)
• The biggest surprise here is in the WR corps, where an apparent shoulder injury early on to second-rounder Anthony Miller limited his effectiveness in 36 snaps (a career-low 49 percent). It was telling that the next man up in Miller's absence was Josh Bellamy (18 snaps) and not former No. 7 overall pick Kevin White (12 snaps, up 10 from Week 2 but the same as in the opener).
Neither player did much to pick up the slack — Bellamy secured his lone target, turning it into a 2-yard catch, while White wasn't targeted. But if an early injury to Miller during a game in which the Bears trailed for the duration didn't earn White a larger role, it's fair to wonder whether he might be closer to being a healthy scratch than meaningful contributor in his likely last season with the club.
• No. 3 RB Benny Cunningham made his 2018 debut on offense, parlaying his six snaps into one 9-yard catch as well as a key block on Tarik Cohen's 17-yard third-quarter scamper down to the Arizona 1-yard line, where Jordan Howard powered in on the next play to make it a one-score game. Cunningham, who was aligned in the T-formation — flanked to the right of QB Mitch Trubisky — on Cohen's run, also gained nine yards on third-and-8 on his only catch, moving the chains, and the Bears, into plus territory.
• For a third consecutive game, the starting offensive line has played every snap — 210 total this season. That's already longer than the unit went in either of the previous two seasons together, and it the group played pretty well against an aggressive and talented Arizona front. with one exception. Sure, Charles Leno was beat by Chandler Jones for a sack on a play in which Trubisky probably should have gotten rid of the ball. But OG Eric Kush was flagged twice and again didn't appear to be an asset, unlike Cody Whitehair and especially Kyle Long, the pair Chicago looked to run behind whenever it needed to.
DEFENSE (50 snaps)
• Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller played every defensive snap for the third consecutive game, but the fourth starting defensive back, Prince Amukamara, was limited by a hamstring injury. He was on the field only half the defensive snaps, and not at all after intermission. The Bears moved Bryce Callahan (more on his excellent performance coming in our exclusive Bears newsletter on Tuesday) to the perimeter in base and filled in outside in nickel mostly with undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver, who logged 22 snaps in his NFL debut on 'D.'
• Toliver, likely only playing on 'D' because Marcus Cooper was down after popping up on Friday's injury report with a hamstring, had issues with Cardinals second-round WR Christian Kirk. The undrafted LSU product took the cheese on Kirk's double move down the left sideline, resulting in a 32-yard catch, and was targeted regularly on short stuff by Cardinals rookie QB Josh Rosen on Arizona's final drive.
• Amukamara's status this week will be big. Callahan performed admirably outside against Arizona's limited outside-WR corps, but there's nothing limited about the Bucs' Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin — the NFL's most productive WR trio in the first two weeks (Tampa hosts the Steelers Monday night).
• Roquan Smith's playing time actually went down a tick — from 89 percent in Week 2 to 82 percent in Week 3 — in his first road start, which included four tackles (one TFL). But Nick Kwiatkoski didn't see the field on 'D' after nine snaps a week ago — the Bears simply used extra defensive backs more frequently. One of them, McManis, was sensational in only five snaps, which included an interception and a sack.
• And joining Amos, Jackson and Fuller on the field full time defensively were Danny Trevathan and Khalil Mack, whose conditioning appears to be just fine after another dominant performance.
• Up front, where Akiem Hicks (45 snaps) led the way per usual, the Bears gave rookie Bilal Nichols six snaps — and he flashed again with an overpowering late tackle for loss on one of them.
• McManis and Kwiatkoski paced the third phase with 16 snaps (73 percent). Save for an early missed kick by Cody Parkey, Chris Tabor's units played well, with Pat O'Donnell averaging 43.7 net yards on his three punts; Parkey booting all five of his kickoffs for touchbacks; and Tarik Cohen's decision to field a punt at his own 6-yard line paying off with a 21-yard return that led to the Bears' first points.