By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Unexpected surprises come in many varieties, but don’t tell that to Chicago Bears fans, who are used to the most meaningful surprises being as bitter as the results Thursday night.
This celebratory opener against hated rival Green Bay was supposed to be the beginning of something special for a franchise trying to help define the next century of football for the Bears and for the NFL. Hardly anything lived up to those expectations, what played out was more of a massive flop or something from a horror movie as a completely inept offense wasted mostly stellar defense in a limp 10-3 loss to the Packers.
No realistic Bears supporter could feel good about the team’s future after such a tough loss but they must remember that its only game one. A long season is ahead and there is still time to develop…time is ticking though. Overall, the defense was the bright spot on the team and showed it has a chance to be one of the best in the league again.
The starkest negatives in no particular order were the coaching, offense, commitment to the run, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and player discipline. Maybe the toughest part of the game was fans being taken aback by all the potential problems the team may have to deal with long term. So many unproven players and coaches struggling in a game they had months to prepare for is the epitome of a bad situation.
Take this as a silver lining if you must: if the Bears can turn a 180 in Denver in just over a week’s time, then mentally this team might have what it takes to withstand the likely numerous challenges that will continue to pop up this season. Here are some key takeaways from Thursday’s shocker.
The main bright spot, as mentioned earlier, was the way the defense played.
Clearly, both offenses looked rusty after not playing much or at all in the preseason. But the front of the Bears played well against an offensive line that was both talented and played together a lot aside from the new right guard. It didn’t seem like defensive tackle Akiem Hicks or edge rusher Khalil Mack made a ton of big plays but they were both effective and set other guys up.
One of those players taking advantage of their opportunity was outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, recording two sacks and two tackles for losses. Another nice night for a good young player was defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, his pressure was noticeable throughout the game. Plenty of good stuff all around by the defense other than one drive in the game that lead to the only touchdown.
On the Packers touchdown drive, safety Deon Bush was exploited a couple times by Rodgers but that drive was mainly the extent of all the bad plays for the defense. If you asked fans before the game, would you be happy if Green Bay was held to 10 points for the whole game, the overwhelming answer would have been yes.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will have to improve some things and iron out a few miscues but all in all a good debut. This defense showed it was capable of playing really well but now the hard work begins if the rest of the team doesn’t improve.
Discipline and preparation usually fall at the feet of the coaches when things go poorly for a team on game day. Then when the game starts its the coaches responsibility to manage the game, make in game adjustments and handle the play calling. All of the aforementioned aspects were pretty non existent for the Bears in Thursday’s game.
Head coach Matt Nagy has been pretty successful in his short career but this opener may have been his worst loss. The team really failed at being more disciplined than the Pack with ten penalties for 107 yards. Sure the Packers had ten themselves but for 36 less yards and one stretch of the game saw the Bears have a first and 40, listen to that again, a first and 40.
Three straight ten yard penalties resulted in a Madden-like meltdown on that drive. Penalties routinely ruined a lot of plays throughout the game for the Bears. Play calling was questionable with the team throwing 45 times and only rushing the ball 15. Rookie running back David Montgomery, the player that had Nagy giddy, received only six carries all game.
Shockingly, the team looked completely unprepared on offense and none of the coaches could find an answer that got them into the end zone. It was a poor performance by the coaches on offense especially since the head coach is an offensive guy. Obviously things didn’t work out in week one but Nagy has to show his worth and get real improvement right away in Week 2.
A lot of options could be placed in this section of the post mortem. One part of the game seems to stand out the most, and that is Trubisky. Everyone around the city of Chicago and in the organization is praying for Trubisky to take the next developmental step.
He did some things well and even made some good throws but giving him any meaningful credit is hard to do. Trubisky showed a rust along with the rest of the offense and some of that is excusable. What isn’t excusable are forcing bad throws after bad decisions, failing to understand game situations and being unable to make simple reads. Labeling him as a bust or a bad player is premature even if time will show that to be correct.
It will take a lot of improvement for Trubisky to be the quarterback fans hoped for and he has a limited amount of time to do it. One way or the other, the Bears have to decide at the end of this season if he is a Super Bowl caliber quarterback. Having as many good throws and decisions as the bad ones is not going to get it done. Seemingly for every good play by Trubisky, a negative play is sure to follow or precede. Making things tougher was seeing the kind of quarterback a team needs across the field.
Really good quarterbacks make little to no mistakes a game and create enough big plays to win them when all things are equal. Trubisky must follow Nagy to the drawing board and get things righted quickly or his Bears future could be in doubt. These two teams won’t play again until December 15th, that game sets up to be a referendum on how good Trubisky is at quarterback.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR