By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
This week in the NFL features an international flavor for two of their most storied franchises, as the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders travel across the pond to play in London against the Raiders at noon Sunday afternoon our time.
In other words, Grab your favorite bloke and find a spot to watch this game go down on the pitch.
Alright, enough British slang, because this is an important game for the Bears. Not only is this game a chance to get another big win and move to 4-1 but its also a revenge game for edge rusher Khalil Mack. Certainly his brothers on the defensive side of the ball as well as the rest of the team are ready to give Mack a nice going away gift from London.
A little over a year ago this same Raiders team decided to pass on paying Mack instead opting to trade him to the Bears. So far the trade seems like a total success for the Bears and Mack wants the Raiders team to feel that this weekend. If you need another layer to this match-up, the Bears come in with some big injuries and a win before the bye week would be a great healing factor.
London games can have an air of randomness to them where anything can happen, so lets take a look at four goals for the Bears to get a big international win.
Strength v. Strength — This may be a bit of an exaggeration since the two strengths in this matchup are the Bears defense taking on the Raiders offense. Keep in mind that the Raiders are not a terrible team but their offensive unit is no where near the talent and depth of the Bears defense.
This Raider offense has found some success this year with the quick and short passing game while running the ball with their rookie running back Josh Jacobs. But as solid as the Raiders have been, that hasn’t translated to points as they have only scored 13 more points than the Bears have scored.
Another strength of the Bears defense is its ability to rush the passer as they sit tied for second in the league with 50 team sacks. The Raiders offense has been one of the worst at giving up sacks surrendering 52 so far.
It should be tough sledding for this Raiders offense and likely it will be up to them to put up a healthy amount of points in order to upset the Bears in London.
Get Started Quick — Once again the Bears will be without quarterback Mitchell Trubisky due to his injured shoulder from the Vikings game. Chase Daniel will lead the Bears offense and a big part of the Bears success last week was getting going early with quick points and of course dominating defense.
As a team it would great if the Bears could repeat what they did a week ago. Mack was a big part of getting the game going in the right direction last week by recording a couple strip sacks. No doubt that Mack wants his Raider teammates and coach Jon Gruden to feel his presence every snap. A goal in this game is for the Bears to get started early with their defensive pressure and maybe force some takeaways or short fields for the offense. If the offense does benefit from their ferocious defense then Daniel and his offense have to put touchdowns on the board instead of field goals.
Sometimes these London games can be unpredictable like how Thursday Night Football has been, therefore get started early to make the Raiders more one dimensional as the game moves along which should play right into the Bears hands.
Running Game — Head coach Matt Nagy has not had the type of start on offense he was hoping to have. Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects has been the inability to run the ball effectively. Part of the issue has been committing to the run with Nagy as play caller, but we have even seen in a couple games this year that Nagy has fed the run.
Even when the Bears have committed to the run its been sort of an average attack. The run blocking hasn’t been great and some questions remain with the running backs as well. First off, the Bears have to get their run game blocked up better. There are some really talented offensive lineman and playing together is the best way to gain continuity. Hopefully the choreographed blocking can improve and be a real weapon this week for the team.
Part of the other issue is the main back David Montgomery is still learning the NFL and the position. Montgomery is still trying to do too much and break off a big run on every carry. He needs to learn and understand the NFL blocking scheme to be better at taking whats given then improvising at the right times.
Sometimes the run game can take time to really find its groove and this week would be a great time to start. The goal is for the team to find a reliable run game for this Sunday and beyond.
Walking Wounded — The Bears as a team are certainly ready for their bye next week. It has been sort of a rough go with injuries of late and inside linebacker Roquan Smith’s unavailability due to a personal issue.
We do not have the clarity people are looking for with Smith but the important development was announcing this week he was back at practice looking to put the issue behind him. It is not yet determined if he will play Sunday but it looks like there’s a good chance he will.
Getting Smith back should be a huge boost especially defending the athletically gifted Jacobs as a receiver out of the back field. It remains to be seen if some other key guys will be able to go like defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols as well as guard Kyle Long. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel has already been ruled out and backup guard Ted Larsen.
This Bears team should be slightly healthier than they were against the Vikings but the goal is the same to get another big depth win at the minimum. What a great travel back to the states it will be if the Bears win this game. The players can relax and rest up knowing they get a chance to get healthy with a bye and a big stretch of games after.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR