By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
There’s no hiding from the dismal Week 1 performance that the Chicago Bears had, it was an ugly game on the lakeside that brought fans questions and fears about the team’s potential.
One thing to remember is that the NFL’s Week 1 is easily the wildest and most unpredictable week of the season. Which is saying something because all NFL fans know that the landscape of the sport can change on a weekly basis. Certainly things were not right with the Bears last Thursday and questioning the offense is fair.
This is a huge week for head coach Matt Nagy and his quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, they have a lot to prove. The challenge will be extremely tough playing the Broncos on Sunday at 3:25 pm in Denver (FOX, WBBM Radio). Awaiting them in the Rockies is head coach Vic Fangio, a familiar face as he was last year’s defensive coordinator for the Bears.
Fangio knows all the insider information on both Nagy and Trubisky. This makes for not only premium storyline drama but adversity for a young team. Layering on the challenges is Denver being an incredibly tough place to play in September.
In quite a few ways this could arguably the stiffest challenge so far in Nagy’s tenure with the Bears. Here are the four goals for the Bears to right the ship and get back to their winning ways.
A Consistent Threat — Last week’s offensive output tied the Bears for the lowest points scored in the league with the Steelers with just 3, aka a field goal. Fans were hoping to see something special like an offense that could truly compliment a Super Bowl caliber defense.
Sadly, Chicago’s offense was a far cry from anything representing a contender and looked more like an offense that didn’t know what it was doing. In seemingly every phase of offense down from coaching to player execution on the field, nothing worked and opportunities were available to them. In particular, the quarterback play, Nagy’s play call, and the offensive line stood out as the worst parts of the offense.
This week the challenge will be tough for the offensive line with the Broncos’ devastating pair of pass rushers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Fangio will do everything he can to put Trubisky in situations where he struggles to execute well. It will be up to Nagy and his ability to game plan, adjust, and call plays that can get the offense to be effective no matter what Fangio throws at them. This Broncos defense has talent but isn’t a world beater, the Bears will have chances to put up points as long as they execute.
Sunday’s game sets up to be a low scoring defensive affair, but the Bears offense has to put together a four quarter effort on offense and at least score enough points for the defense to win the game.
Keep Your Head on Straight — One area the Bears seemed to excel at last year was not making a lot of mental mistakes. Week 1 was easily the sloppiest game the Bears have played under Nagy, the sheer volume of penalties and missed assignments was shocking to see.
When the Bears stalled on a drive with three straight penalties, putting the offense in a first and 40 situation, you know its a special type of bad. Mental breakdowns are essentially turnovers — you can’t win if you commit too many. The long layoff from last Thursday’s game gives the Bears some extra time to fix those mistakes, which should be needed. Certainly going on the road is tougher than being at home and Denver can be an extremely raucous place to play.
Yet, no excuses are afforded the Bears now after such an egg was laid against the Packers. This team believes it can do something special, they have said it themselves and fans believe it too. Therefore, the goal is to be able to handle the challenge and execute like a contending team would in a bounce back game.
Defense Can’t Lay An Egg — Execution and composure have been buzz words to this point, but lets be clear, an emphasis on those qualities only pertains to the offense and special teams. Outside of a couple plays where Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers exposed safety Deon Bush, the Bears defense looked tremendous.
Pressure and good coverage were staples last year for the Bears, they showed both in excess again in the opener, sending a strong message to all the predictors expecting the defense to regress. Talent on the defensive side of the ball is unquestioned, they have an amazing collection of players. So even though Fangio is familiar with the group, what can you really do schematically to exploit great players? The answer is not much — talent generally supersedes coaching and scheme.
Also, this Broncos offense is new with question marks at every position outside of running back. If the Bears show up defensively as we expect, then opportunities for takeaways and game changing plays should be there.
While Rodgers is a quarterback that just does not throw interceptions, Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco will throw the ball to the opposing team. In Flacco’s career he has just under a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. A 2:1 ratio isn’t stellar and being below that mark means he could go “Jay Cutler” on his team at any moment.
The Bears offense looks set up to struggle scoring a lot of points in this game, which means the defense has to keep the game close then shut the door if they get a lead late in the game. Low key, a defensive score in the game should net the Bears a win.
Learn From the Past — A game that stands out from last season was the loss to the Dolphins in Miami. Had the Bears won that game, which they certainly should of, it would have changed the narrative of the whole season. All because they committed a bunch of mental blunders seemingly due to the extreme South Florida heat.
Denver should pose a similar challenge for the Bears this week. Due to the elevation and the warm weather, it will be sizzling at Mile High. Forecasts show a potential of 90 degrees with that suffocating hot air, which will already be thinner than usual in the high altitude. Surely the oxygen masks will be out and used often. Hopefully Nagy and his staff will be better prepared to handle the extreme heat conditions this time.
Overall, the Bears are more talented and further along in their development than the Broncos. In what is such a critical game, the Bears don’t want to give away another victory to an inferior team because of mental mistakes due to the weather conditions.
Look at how important that Miami loss wound up being last year. Had the team won they would have had a first round bye. Nagy and the Bears must show that they learned their lesson from last year’s missed opportunity.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR