Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears for WARR
Tom Petty was not playing around when he sung “the waiting is the hardest part.”
And even though NBC’s football theme songs are nothing to keep in one’s head if you want to stay sane, the lyric stating that “I’ve been waiting all day for a Sunday night,” have never been so applicable to Chicago Bears fans as it will be this Sunday.
It’s been a long time since the Bears have had a season opener where it was revealing such a promising young coach, where it was unveiling such promising new talents on both sides of the ball and where it was tasked with possibly derailing a re-building Green Bay Packers season before it could even start. The possibilities are endless regarding this game at Lambeau Field (7:20 pm, NBC, WBBM 780).
So many great story lines are attached to this game — the obvious “oldest rivalry in the NFL” tag will be used throughout the broadcast but much more relevant tales stand to be told: the newly highest-paid defender in the NFL (Khalil Mack) will be looking to put the new the highest-paid player period (Aaron Rodgers) atop his mantle piece by the end of the evening.
Along with the star power, both teams had major coaching shakeups and both teams were aggressive in trading and free agency this past off-season, the Bears doing a great job in winning out potential battles for talent with the Packers, the most recent seeing both teams lead the hunt for Mack as he was being baited by his former Oakland Raiders.
Both teams feel like they have been stuck in the same old story and both are looking to rewrite their tales this year. The Packers be the favorites coming in to this game and frankly they should be — though there’s a lot of promise for the Bears we don’t know that much about this Bears team yet, too much has changed from last year. We have an idea that Chicago could be a great defense and believe its output should land the unit, at minimum, in the top 10 of the league, but will the offense mold into Nagy’s ideal state as early as Week 1?
Some flashes of future greatness may show but it would be hard to imagine anything that takes the Bears beyond the expected struggle that should take place in trying to take down the Pack at home.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace believes he has identified and acquired his core of talent that will win Super Bowls. This game will be the first step in a story we hope will be reminiscent of glorious tales from days of old. It will be a tough task and certainly the venue has been a house of horrors in recent history. Here are the four goals for a Bears victory against the hated Packers in the most welcome season opener in recent memory.
What to do With Khalil Mack? — While this game has been long awaited, a big key to it has only been a factor since the first of September. Khalil Mack changes everything for the Bears, he just about by himself alleviates the main issue the team would have had if he was traded to, say, Cleveland: do the Bears have enough pass rush to get after Aaron Rodgers?
That would have been a very relevant question if the Bears’ best outside pass rush option coming into this game was Leonard Floyd with a club on his right hand.
It’s almost impossible to beat the Packers if you can’t get consistent pass rush, because no quarterback is as good as Rodgers and no quarterback is more deadly when he has the pocket to himself. With Mack on the Bears, any plans for Green Bay to keep Rodgers off his back Sunday night had to be amended and thoroughly reiterated to the offensive line and any other situational blockers.
Of course, the Bears can’t be stupid to the point of playing Mack too much in this game, this will be his first live action since Week 17 of last season. The ideal goal is for him to play throughout the whole game but in reality that may not lead to him being in for the majority of downs. What Mack is able to do in this game will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game.
Bears Newbies >>> Packers Newbies — A great story line to this game (and an extention of the 1st goal) is how both teams overhauled the weakest parts of their teams since 2017. The Bears offense was a joke last year so brand new players and coaches were brought in, the Packers defense has been lackluster for awhile — and in a surprise move for that “steady as she goes” franchise — new players and coaches were brought in. Matt Nagy and his offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will match wits with new Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who will bring many different looks than previous long-running Packers DC Dom Capers.
There is a long list of new players on both sides with a mix of familiar foes. The Bears and the Pack really mirrored themselves in the past year in their rebuilds, both teams want a squad that can compliment their strengths — the Bears have the talent to be successful in this series again, it just comes down to if their new talents can match or even succeed what the new cheeseheads do at executing and game planning.
Matt Nagy — The new coach of the Bears, the 16th man ever to lead this team, is a goal onto himself in his first regular season game.
In recent years, the new coaches of the Bears have routinely had success against the Packers early on. Maybe its fate for Nagy to play well in this one and get a victory. Sadly, the football gods won’t just hand over this game to the first-year coach, he will have to earn it by putting together a smart offensive game-plan that both puts points on the board and controls the clock. No matter how you slice it, it is really hard to out-do Rodgers if you don’t control the ball and score touchdowns.
Nagy will be put in situations Sunday night where his lack of experience can hurt him. Hopefully he has already learned from his mistakes as a play caller in the playoff game with the Chiefs last year. The Bears have to establish Jordan Howard and the run game in general to open up the field for Mitchell Trubisky, who himself has to make some throws down field.
With smart and aggressive play calls, Nagy could immediately show his offensive identity to be a step up from what John Fox offered with coordinator Dowell Loggains, who was painfully hesitant to let Trubisky loose as a rookie.
The new head man has been game planning the Packers for a long time now, can’t wait to see what he’s got.
R is for Resilient — The Bears do not have to go get a victory in Green Bay to have a good game or to set itself up for a good 2018. Obviously a victory would be a nice reward for the entire organization with all the work they have done since the end of last season but at the least it would be great to see a resilient group of young guys handle themselves well in a showcase moment.
It will be hostile in Green Bay, the crowd will be ready to explode at any sign of success of the Packers and any failure of the Bears. The Bears know the entire world will be watching the island game on the first Sunday of the year, plus there’s the added expectations that can be heaped on the franchise in the wake of acquiring The Mack. Things might be rough at times, there may be some potentially embarrassing moments surrounding things like a turnover or a key penalty.
When these moments have come in the past under coaches Fox and Trestman, the team would fold faster than an Origami Master. The Bears will be fine when they play in Lambeau Field this time around as long as they don’t let the moment get too big and they give an all-out, four-quarter effort.
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