By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
A beautiful aspect to the game of football is how it promotes the idea of hard work and dedication and how it can earn opportunities. Football can be a brutal game, and like life itself it isn’t for the faint at heart, but the strong survive.
Going into every football season, fan bases across the NFL try to prepare themselves for the expected hurdles that will come as its understood adversity shows up for each team sooner or later. From a season-opening 10-3 loss to the Packers all the way through a rude opening to November, Bears nation saw many more struggles than they wanted to prepare for entering this season.
With the togetherness of a small town hall meeting, a majority of Bears fans felt the root problems to their dismal record and play on the field was because of the triumvirate of general manager Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy, and most of all, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Yet somehow in the span of a month and a half the Bears have earned themselves an opportunity to count themselves among the still relevant competitors of a playoff spot.
The Bears are on fire, winning four of their last five games. Trubisky has posted a quarterback rating over a hundred in back to back games. Almost miraculously, one of the NFL’s most maligned QBs has stumbled into a position to impress just about all of Bears Nation and the rest of the NFL community if he finds a way to deliver a big win in Green Bay and maybe even out-do the cheddar demigod named Aaron Rodgers.
Another win for the Bears and the playoff hopes of a once defeated squad become as relevant as ever, while a loss to their hated rival unsurprisingly brings an end to all the good vibes in Chicago for 2019. Here are the four “must” achieve goals in this must-win game.
Building the Offensive Identity — It really has been interesting to see the remapping that’s taken place within the Bears offense as the season has progressed. All the changes from last off-season seemingly didn’t pan out and when rock bottom hit during mid-season it was clear the team didn’t have an identity. Having an offensive identity is of the upmost importance if a football team wants a style of play an it can lean on during tough times.
Be it a “running team” or a “passing team,” once developed, a team with an identity has a set of plays they execute well and can always go to when they need a positive play. Maybe a team’s identity is based in its quarterback or play caller –whatever the identity a team that knows thy self can make plays happen but a team without identity struggles to do just about everything. A team lacking an identity looks like a clunker on its last legs, which was the perfect way to describe the Bears offense several weeks ago.
Ultimately, the Bears’ turnaround has centered around three things: Nagy’s better play calling and doing more to feature the team’s run game, including getting Trubisky on the move more; the offensive line blocking better and more consistently; and Trubisky using his legs to make him a threat to defenses. Now with defenses off-balanced and not killing Chicago’s plays immediately, the running backs and receivers have made more impact across each play, leading to more explosive drives and more points on the board.
While as of late, Trubisky has delivered using his legs and arm, its clear he has grown as a player even if he has a long way to go. In Week 1, the Packers had the Bears figured out and confused throughout. In Week 15, this is a different offense and the goal for them is to execute what’s been working in this turnaround on Sunday.
Make No Mistake — Winning on the road is a difficult task in the NFL. The No. 1 error any team can make is a turnover, which we know is a reliable stat for predicting winners and losers.
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Some weeks during the season a defense can walk into the Monday meeting already envisioning all the interceptions to come on Sunday. This is not one of those games because takeaways will likely be scarce.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers does an unbelievably good job of not throwing interceptions and not taking sacks. That is a couple areas where the Bears are good at taking the ball away with interceptions and strip sacks.
Usually if the Packers lose the turnover battle it is because of fumbles or that not many turnovers were committed in the game itself. Every opportunity is a big one for the Bears so simply put they have to take care of the football. Easily the goal is for the team to not commit a single turnover.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears have that little margin for error. Both of these teams seem pretty equal heading into the game so a turnover shouldn’t sink the Bears but they can’t expect on the defense or special teams to force multiple turnovers from the Packers.
Return of the Hicks — Perhaps the best thing going for the Bears heading into this game is the return of arguably their second-best player as well as one of the clear team leaders, Akiem Hicks. Hicks return is particularly timely given how last week the Bears lost inside linebacker Roquan Smith for the rest of the season to a torn pectoral.
Given that inside linebacker Danny Trevathan is unable to go, which is the assumption, that makes the Bears inside linebacking core susceptible to Rodgers and the Packers run game. If Hicks can have his usual impact on this game then that will make defending the middle a whole lot easier both in the run and the pass.
Few interior lineman have the pass rush capability Hicks possesses up the middle, which forces quarterbacks to step back into the arms of pass rushers like Khalil Mack. Speaking of Mack, with Hicks in the lineup, it makes the triple and double teams less frequent on Mack because Hicks routinely is double teamed himself.
And do not forget about Hicks’ impact in stopping the run because right now the running game of Green Bay is their best weapon. Having Hicks makes so many potential impacts to all sorts of aspects and situations that the Packers have to prepare for.
Every single defender benefits with Hicks in the lineup when he is playing his best. Therefore the goal is for Hicks, in whatever amount of snaps he can give, to make his share of significant plays.
Stop Back — Running back Aaron Jones has become a revelation for the Packers. The young back is a dynamic player that has the potential break away speed that scares defensive coordinators.
In this unlikely NFL season it fits that Jones currently is more valuable to the Packers than the nearly-Sainted Rodgers. New head coach Matt LaFleur has brought that Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan running system but the Packers passing game has been inconsistent the last four or five weeks. It is almost as if the return of wide receiver Davante Adams from injury started the issues with the passing game.
One player has stayed consistent though the Pack’s best and worst and that is Jones. Sure the Bears will have to play smart and well to defeat Rodgers, he hasn’t turned into a chump by any means, but an early goal in this game is to shut down Jones. Assuming the Bears can keep the run game quiet early, that forces the Packers to throw it more often which has been an issue for them.
If Rodgers has a great day then victory may not even be possible but if Rodgers and Jones are both going off it absolutely won’t be possible to win. This game should be a terrific sixty minute fight going down to the wire if both Jones and Rodgers aren’t firing at full strength.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR