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ATM: Bears Need To Beat The Packers

| September 5th, 2018

The start of the regular season is usually the worst thing that can happen to the teams that win the offseason and the Bears can’t let that be the case as they open in Green Bay this Sunday.

It isn’t a stretch to say that losing to Green Bay has cost every coach the Bears have had since Mike Ditka their jobs. The likes of Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox have compiled a 13-38 record against the Packers since 1993.

Smith was the toast of the town when he won six of his first eight meetings with the Packers. He then he lost nine of his last eleven. Outside of that four-year period in which Lovie had success, the Bears have gone 7-36 against the team to the north.  Trestman and Fox both scored prime time victories in Green Bay in their first seasons but it was all downhill after that.

The Packers aren’t just another team. They’re not viewed that way by most fans and they certainly aren’t viewed that way in the big offices at Halas Hall. If Matt Nagy is going to be separated from the poop platter that the team has had since Ditka, he has to beat the Packers.

He has to do it on Sunday.

He has to do it consistently.

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Establishing New Expectations for Khalil Mack & the 2018 Chicago Bears

| September 4th, 2018

I thought I was done writing about the Bears until the bye week, but then they went and traded for Khalil Mack. That warrants an article. I had written pretty clearly about my expectations for the 2018 Bears, expecting them to be better but end up around .500 and short of the playoffs. Adding a player of Mack’s caliber warrants a re-examination of that prediction.

In fact, I think that this trade makes it pretty likely the Bears will make the playoffs in 2018. Here’s why.


Non-Trubisky Upgrades

Let’s start by comparing the 2018 roster to the 2017 version, which went 5-11. I’m going to look at everything outside of Trubisky first, and then consider Trubisky in a moment.

Defense

On defense, the Bears return pretty much everybody who contributed, with a few exceptions:

  • DL Mitch Unrein has been replaced by 5th round pick Bilal Nichols. This is probably a minor downgrade for 2018, but the hope is that it will be offset by the growth of 3rd year defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard.
  • OLB Pernell McPhee has been replaced by Khalil Mack (Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are both gone too, but neither actually played much last year). You really can’t overstate how big of an upgrade this is.
  • ILB Christian Jones has been replaced by 8th overall pick Roquan Smith (Jerrell Freeman only played 1 game, so they didn’t really lose him). This should also be a substantial upgrade, as Smith was widely viewed as the best defender in the draft.

So the defense added two guys who should be high impact players and treaded water pretty much everywhere else. Thanks to Mack and Smith, this unit should be significantly improved from last year’s version, which was already solidly around the top ten in the league.

Offense

Now let’s look at offensive improvements (again, ignoring Trubisky). There was much more changeover on this side of the ball.

  • Guard Josh Sitton was replaced by 2nd round pick James Daniels. This is a downgrade for 2018, but the Bears hope it offsets by having Kyle Long back and looking like himself for the first time since 2015.
  • Tight end Zach Miller was replaced by Trey Burton. This is probably a wash, but Burton doesn’t have Miller’s history of being constantly injured.
  • The wide receiver upgrades really can’t be overstated. The Bears replaced a cast of scrubs who were all fighting for end-of-roster spots around the league this year with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller. The Bears’ worst position group (and possibly the worst in the whole NFL) in 2017 now appears to be quite good.

Coaching

And now we move to the coaching staff, which returns virtually intact on defense but massively upgraded on offense. New head coach Matt Nagy brings with him the Andy Reid offense from Kansas City, modernizing what was possibly the worst offensive scheme in the NFL from 2017 with one that matches the Bears’ personnel quite well. Add in a quality offensive staff, highlighted by the outstanding Harry Heistand on the offensive line, and it’s fair to say the offense should be better coached than it has been in a while.

Health

Health is another key area where the Bears should be improved in 2018 (and already are from a comparable point in 2017). They were the 2nd most injured team in the league last year according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost, and the odds are they will be healthier than that this year. As I wrote in May, better health typically translates to better teams that win more games.

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Some Football Implications of the Khalil Mack Trade

| September 2nd, 2018

Khalil Mack is a Chicago Bear and much of yesterday was spent dissecting the context of the move: what the trade meant. But there are major football implications associated with this acquisition as well, especially for this defense as they are currently constructed. In other words, this is what the trade does.

  • The biggest beneficiaries of Mack’s acquisition are Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks. Throw on some Mack tape and you’ll see an endless array of double teams. (More often than not, he beats them too.) Mack will be Focal Point #1 for every opposing offensive coordinator because Mack is capable of ruining games. With all that attention on the newest Bear, expect Floyd and Hicks to see a lot of refreshing singles and subsequently expect a lot of production from both.
  • Mack had 79 QB pressures last season. The Bears team had 100. Total. For Mack, that’s five a game. That’s five times a game Aaron Rodgers or Matt Stafford don’t get to sit in a clean pocket and pick apart the Bears secondary. Expect more rushed throws and thus more opportunities for the Bears secondary to turn opposing QBs over.
  • It’s not easy to double team edge guys. It often requires keeping tight ends and backs out of the passing game. And in this modern NFL, tight ends and backs are wildcard weapons, keeping defensive coordinators on their heels, forcing guys with less speed to cover in space. When Mack gets disruptive it’ll force offenses to stay in a more conventional approach.
  • With all the focus on the edge, Vic Fangio will be able to drop Mack and Floyd into coverage and send Roquan and Trevathan at the quarterback. Vic will able to crash Mack inside and send Bryce Callahan on a slot corner blitz. Vic will be able to do whatever the hell he wants because that is what having an elite pass rusher affords you.

Mack makes every single player on the defense more dangerous. He is among the two or three best defenders in the entire league. And the Bears defense should be expected to rank in the top five across the board because of him.

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The Message of the Mack Trade

| September 1st, 2018

It’s on.

The time for patience has passed. The time for “Ryan Pace is building something interesting” has come and gone. The time for taking an emotionally balanced approach to this Chicago Bears campaign has boarded the 8:30 AM bus to, I don’t know, like three hours ago! (Forgive the shitty writing there but I’m pretty damn excited and I can’t wrap my head around all of this yet.)

It is on.

Does this move to acquire Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders mean they are a contender for the Super Bowl this season? I’d love to write a definitive NO. I’d love to echo Data’s contention that teams don’t go from crap to contender overnight. I’d love to write about the young, developing quarterback and the new coach/system and the quality opponents in the division and the blah blah blabbedy blah.

Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t want to write about any of those things. Because, as you might have noticed, it is definitively on.

In giving up multiple first-round selections for Mack, Pace is announcing that his team as presently built is ready to win far more games than they lose. In paying Mack a pile of money for his services, Pace is announcing that he’s ready to strike Super Bowl gold while his chosen quarterback is still operating on his rookie contract. Fans no longer have reason to be patient because today the Chicago Bears made the most thrillingly impatient move in the history of the franchise.

This wasn’t Jerry Angelo making the move for Jay Cutler. Sure, that was exciting but it was also bringing in a quarterback to a franchise that had never really had one. You can’t win consistently without a quarterback and Angelo understood that.

This move for Mack is about fortification. It is about fixing the only true hole in the defensive dam. It is a clear statement to the fan base that the Bears are not content with being one of the best defenses in the league. They want to be THE BEST. And with Mack added to this unit, they now have every opportunity to be just that.

Isn’t this what we always wanted? Weren’t we all tired of constantly settling for less-than-elite talent at positions across the field? This was the crux of The Great Cutler Debate (“not good enough to win championships”). This has been the crux of the Adrian Amos/PFF nonsense (“he’s a good player, stop believing he’s one of the league’s best”). Bears fans have grown accustomed to a roster of good players who struggle mightily when they square off with great ones, i.e. the fella playing quarterback up in Green Bay.

Today, Ryan Pace got a great one. That’s what Mack is. A great player at one of the most important positions in the sport. With great players come great expectations. Those expectations exist in Chicago, right now.

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