This is such a weird week. Traffic is down because nobody is around. The game will have little-to-no juice unless the Niners make a game of it in Los Angeles. And we’re on the precipice of getting to big boy football. January football. Playoff football. So this is a Friday thought dump.
Not the most compelling game ever played but the kind of result good teams get. The Bears played three division games in twelve days and went 3-0, outscoring the Lions (twice) and Vikings 82-58.
This three-game stretch solidified them as one of the better teams in the NFC and it would now be a terrible disappointment if there was not a football game at Soldier Field in January.
Strange game. From the moment Eddie Jackson returned a Roquan Smith-forced fumble for a touchdown with 7:07 remaining in the first half, the entire building knew the game was over. Here are six specific, in-building thoughts from Bears 41, Bills 9.
(1) That was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever heard to start the game. The crowd noise was absolutely deafening when the Bears had the ball for the first quarter plus. The false starts upfront were completely understandable. Offensive line miscommunication should have been expected. (I could barely hear a friend two seats away from me.) There is no chance a Soldier Field crowd, with the team at 2-6 and starting a dead weight quarterback, would be anywhere near that enthused at kickoff. Impressive showing from Bills fans, in and around the ballpark.
(2) Good to see Jordan Howard running with some anger. Again, don’t look at the overall numbers. They’re mostly meaningless in a game like this. But Matt Nagy is finally starting to understand how to use Howard, especially down in the red zone. The Andy Reid offense like to throw to score. The Bears are built to ride Howard into the end zone.
(3) Two defenders stood out to me: Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson. Smith is going to be a star in the league for a long, long time but that is expected from a top draft pick. Jackson is an incredible player. He closes on the football as good as any Bears safety since Mike Brown. He’s the rare back end guy comfortable with the football in the air and tackling in the open field. He’s got great, natural instincts.
(4) The Bears were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of running Mitch Trubisky did against the Jets last week because there were times Sunday Trubisky had acres of space in front of him. If this WAS a coaching decision, I applaud it. Trubisky knows he can run. That’ll be there as long as his legs are. But this season has to be more about processing information, stepping into the pocket and delivering the football. And in a game like Sunday’s there’s no reason for the young quarterback to take any unnecessary punishment.
It’s dangerous to make any grand proclamations three weeks into a season. But the Bears win over the Cardinals was a great indicator that, at the very least, they don’t suck.
Whether they’re actually good or not is still to be decided. While it was widely regarded as a game the Bears should win, winning in the NFL is difficult, especially for a young team flying nearly across the country on a short week. Travel difficulties are very real in the NFL. We see even the best teams struggle with them. This was a schedule test, one the Bears passed.
The offense is horrendous.
There’s no arguing that.
But the defense is incredible.
Khalil Mack isn’t just great, he’s a generational talent. The other big addition, Roquan Smith, flies around and finishes with a boom. They’re fast, they’re physical and, for the first time since Lovie left town, they attack the ball.
Obviously, for the Bears to graduate from a team that merely doesn’t suck to one that is actually good, the offense needs to be better. They do deserve credit for three scoring drives in the second half. And, really, they should’ve had two in the first half, but Cody Parkey missed what should’ve been an easy field goal.
Still, good teams score touchdowns and that’s the next goal for the Bears.
The Bears will need Roquan Smith against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Finally the camp-long nightmare has come to an end. The eighth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft has signed his contract with the Bears after a nearly 30-day holdout. Missing nearly all of training camp would typically be enough to rule out a rookie from making an impact in Week One, but don’t be surprised if that’s not the case on the evening of September 9th. While the situation has been far from ideal, a player of Smith’s caliber and skill set should still figure into the Bears’ immediate plans.
Rodgers’ ability to move and make pinpoint throws in the middle of the field make having an athletic inside linebacker a must. It’s why Rodgers calls Brian Urlacher the best defender he ever faced, it’s why Smith was the pick and it’s why they double-dipped taking Joel Iyiegubuniwe in the fourth round.
The plan was for Smith to start Week One. That should still be in play but it’s hard to see the team giving the rookie the nod over Nick Kwiatkoski after the third-year linebacker has, by most accounts, played well in camp. It was to the point that the Bears didn’t even play Kwiatkoski in the first preseason game and he saw very limited action in the second. A bigger issue is that they can’t sell the first few weeks of camp as actually being important if a guy who has never played in the NFL doesn’t need them to be ready to face Rodgers.
Regardless of how well he has played in practice, Kwiatkoski has significant flaws. While many have pointed to his training camp interceptions, anyone who has spent too much time watching camp clips on Twitter has also seen several times in which the Bears got the better of Kwiatkoski. They’ve attacked him in practice, just as opposing teams did in games last year. The Bears actually took him off the field on passing downs in favor of Christian Jones late in the season. Maybe Kwiatkoski has improved in coverage, but it’s unlikely he’s going to cease being a liability there and Roquan figures to be among the elite coverage backers in the entire league.
Returning most of their defensive roster, the common thought is the Bears are going to take a big step up next year. That’s only true if their key players stay on the field and improve.
As badly as the Bears were hurt by injury last season, they managed to keep most of their key defensive players on the field. They had injuries to players like Quintin Demps and Jerrell Freeman, but those are two positions at which they proved to have great depth.
Three of their four starters in the secondary played at least 80% of snaps, the fourth was Adrian Amos, who played every snap in eight games. Their best defensive lineman played 85% of snaps. Their best linebacker came in at 67.4%.
The biggest injury loss last year came when Leonard Floyd went down, but they were fortunate it happened toward the end of their schedule when they played several horrendous teams.
A repeat of last year’s success is far from a guarantee, but it’s also possible they take a huge step up. In any event, these five players just might be the most crucial:
In the modern NFL, the slot corner is basically a starter. Callahan played just under 50% of the team’s snaps and they missed him when he wasn’t out there.
I’m traveling in Dingle, Ireland years ago and I’m exhausted. This was my first day ever in Europe and I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 4:30 in the afternoon. My uncle turns to me and says, “Have a quick three. You’ll be fine.” I drank three Guinness in the span of a half hour. Seven hours later I’m dancing to a shitty Irish house DJ with Jenny Pye, a local lass who dreamed of being an EMT in New York City.
I’m very tired of this 2018 off-season. And incredibly eager for the season to begin. So I’m taking the quick three approach to each position group as we head into the summer. Not grading the groups or anything. Just making some points.
Roquan Smith working as a first teamer today. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio says he’s “fast” and “smart”.
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) May 30, 2018
Three quick thoughts on this inevitable development: