Phil Rivers was paid a fortune to take over a franchise that saw their 2019 derailed by an early retirement and injuries at the sport’s most important position.
Tom Brady was paid a fortune to take over a franchise that saw their 2019 derailed by a quarterback who stubbornly refused to stop throwing the ball to the other team.
Neither is the player they once were. They both do everything in their power to avoid contact. They both lack the zip required to fit the football into tight, intermediate windows. They both lack precision on the deep ball, not uncommon for quarterbacks in the twilights of their careers.
But how the Chicago defense performs against these two wily veterans will greatly determine what kind of season this team is going to have. To this point, the defense has been far more bend-don’t-break than recent vintages. They have forced the three opposing QBs – Stafford, Jones and Ryan – to execute long drives to threaten to the end zone. (With the glaring exception being the Atlanta opening drive Sunday.) Being that the unit is ranked 9th in points allowed, it’s hard to argue that strategy hasn’t worked, to a point.
These next two games, that must change. The run defense must be better because both of these quarterbacks are at their best when they get ahead of the chains. The pass rush must dominate because neither of these quarterbacks can operate with players around them. The coverage must be tight because neither of these quarterbacks can make the kinds of throws Stafford make in Week One. If you allow Phil and Tom to dink and dunk you to death, it’s EXACTLY what they’ll do.
The Bears needed to come out of their first three games at 2-1, minimum. They exceeded that, in somewhat miraculous fashion, managing to also close the book on The Trubisky Affair. Now they need a split of these next two. 4-1 (or long shot 5-0) means they’ll have ten days before a a game in Carolina they’ll be expected to win. That is exactly the kind of start that means you’re playing meaningful games in late December, and hopefully beyond.
But losing these next two means the game in Carolina becomes something of a season-definer. At 4-2, they’d still be in position to chase a playoff spot. At 3-3, the road gets far, far longer as the schedule gets much, much tougher.
So it’s Rivers, then Brady. Shadows of their former selves, but surrounded by formidable rosters. The quarterback situation in Chicago has been resolved. Now the defense must do the same. And set up the season.