Ryan Bukowiecki is a student at the Illinois Media School and a contributor to The D & Davis Show
Bear down, Bears fans as another season is about to get underway! Consider this new weekly post as your table of contents for each chapter of the 2017 season.
The Chicago Bears will be hosting the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons to kick off the ’17 slate. Not the easiest of challenges for the Bears, but a great measuring stick to see how much progress has been made since last year. That measuring stick is the initial focus this week for 4th & Goal.
Every NFL season is its own animal and it is very difficult to gauge a team on last year’s success or failures as well as the preseason. The Falcons look poised to have another good offensive year as 10 of the Dirty Birds’ 11 starters are back. Defensively the Falcons are growing but they have some good players that will be trying to ruin Mike Glennon’s Bears’ debut, the whole team needs to be ready and play a complete game in order to pull off this upset.
Front seven has to be the strength – The Bears will be a flawed team this year but there are some exciting things happening on defense. The Bears have potentially a great front seven when healthy. The secondary has plenty of concern and going up against arguably the best receiver in football (Julio Jones) as well as a number of offensive weapons, will not help ease those worries. The front seven will have to be great by first stopping the run.
Atlanta averaged 120.5 rushing yards per game on the ground in 2016, the Bears averaged giving up 121.9 rushing yards a game. The front seven will have to stop the run and force Matt Ryan in 3rd and longs to take pressure off of the secondary. It will also be key for the front seven to get pressure on Matt Ryan; last year the Bears were 12th in sacks and with a healthy d-line and an improved Leonard Floyd, this is a great opportunity to strut their defensive stuff.
Overall, the defensive goal for the Bears is to have a great performance by their front seven; they need to be as good as they looked in the preseason in order to compete against the Falcons.
Run baby run – When Cam Meredith was lost for the season, there was less hope that the receiver core would be able to generate plays for the Bears offense. There are some intriguing TE options but nothing is proven.
The only thing that looks proven and capable on the Bears offense is the running game. Both the Falcons run defense and the Bears run offense ranked 17th last year, this could be an even match-up but the Bears may be without Kyle Long. Long was limited in practice Thursday which is a step in the right direction since he has been MIA in practice the last few weeks, but his status is questionable for Sunday’s game. Another factor to consider is offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
At times last year Loggains seemed to refuse to run the ball despite Jordan Howard’s success. The Bears will need to compliment their defense and their QB by being able to run the ball. The goal for this week is to get ahead in the chains via the run and allow Glennon to use play action and short quick hitting routes to sustain drives, and to keep that Falcons offense off the field via time of possession.
Win the third phase (Special Teams) – The Bears have a tough early schedule and for them to win games they need to use the old Love Smith philosophy, win 2 of the 3 phases. Both the offensive and defensive units are unproven and have holes.
When good teams like the Falcons come into town, special teams are essential for victories. The Bears haven’t been good in this category since Dave Toub left for Kansas City. The current special teams have a lot of unproven pieces. Pat O’Donnell has a booming leg for a punter but consistency has been an issue for him, one great punt followed by a shank. Field position will be key in this game, making punting important but also the return units. It seems like forever since the Bears had a Devin Hester type returner that can scare opposing teams.
The Bears still do not have that player on the roster but Deonte Thompson has flashed on kickoff returns and Bryce Callahan will be the punt returner. The Bears don’t need touchdowns from these guys but smart safe fielding and a big play would help a lot. The kicker Connor Barth has been reliable in medium to short field goals but is 50/50 when it comes to long distance. This can have an impact on John Fox’s decision-making if he is put in a position to either punt or go for it on fourth down if they are out of range for Barth.
In writing this it seems that the Bears can be a flip of the coin when it comes to special teams. The goal for this week is to be a positive and win the third phase so that the defense and offense have more room for error.
Coaches putting players in positions to succeed – One of the biggest keys to coaching is game planning and scheming for players to succeed. The Bears have one of the best defensive coordinators in Vic Fangio but people are split when it comes to Loggains.
Rookies like Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson and perhaps Adam Shaheen are seemingly going to be big contributors this season; on top of a team filled with second and third year players. Young players need coaching and for the Bears, their staff has to be good this year and this week if they are going to find success.
The Falcons lost both their defensive and offensive coordinators in the offseason so the Bears coaches may be an advantage this week. The goal this week is to have a good game plan and be able to adjust within the game because talent alone will not be enough for the Bears to take down the reigning NFC champs.
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