Week 1 of the NFL season. It’s here. Ever since the Patriots miraculous comeback in Super Bowl 51, fans have been waiting for this day to come. Sure there was free agency and the draft to fill the offseason with excitement, but there is nothing like football on your TV screen every Sunday for six months.
The Chicago Bears, a revamped team coming off a 3-13 season, have a big test right out of the gate,the defending NFC champions Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead one of the leagues top offense into Soldier Field against a Bears defense with an entirely new secondary from a year ago. For the Bears, they have a new man in charge, Mike Glennon. For the first time since 2009, Jay Cutler will not lead the Bears offense onto the field for the start of the season, a change that was necessary for the future of the Bears.
The Bears return a core of players from last season, mainly their entire offensive line. Jordan Howard finished only behind Ezekiel Elliott for the league lead in rushing yards. Even when Josh Sitton and Kyle Long were out due to injury, the Bears were still able to run the ball efficiently. And that is going to be the same mantra this season in Chicago. Bears coach John Fox preaches a run first offense, always have always will. The Bears have to establish the run early Sunday afternoon or it could be a bad day for the offense.
What does the Bears defense have to do to be successful? Simple, get to Matt Ryan. The Falcons passing game is dangerous, with Julio Jones leading the way. No one knows how the Bears secondary will be. Rookie Eddie Jackson gets the start at free safety and he will have his hands full. The Bears pass rush has to help the secondary and rush Matt Ryan into throws. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is expected to play and the rest of the pass rushers are healthy. If the Bears are able to contain Matt Ryan and help force turnovers, they can slow down an offense that was the leagues best last season in putting points on the scoreboard.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Falcons Devonta Freeman vs. Bears front seven
Devonta Freeman rushed for 1,709 yards last season, good for 9th among running backs. His breakout speed and vision is tough to stop. But the Bears front seven is healthy and may be the best group they have had in awhile. It’s up to the Bears to gang tackle Freeman and take the running game out of the Falcons offensive attack.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
WR Kevin White– It’s time for Kevin White to show why the Bears took him at seventh overall two years ago. Bears fans and coaches have waited too long for White to become a vital part of the offense. White is healthy and deems “it’s go time.” How can White be a playmaker on Sunday? Get him involved early. Bubble screens, reverses, slant routes are ways to put the explosive receiver in space and move the chains.
S Eddie Jackson- The Bears snagged the former Alabama star in the fourth round on the 2017 draft. Why did he slip that far? Many feared he would not be the same player he was before he suffered a fractured leg. Well, Jackson sure looked good in the preseason and in camp, enough to earn himself a starting spot over veteran Adrian Amos. Jackson has unbelievable range and great ball skills. For a defense that has lacked turnovers in recent years, Jackson is your guy to change that. The former captain at Alabama is going to be a household name quicker then many think.
DE Jonathan Bullard– The second year defensive end out of Florida improved greatly this offseason. His rookie season was filled with injury and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio simply saying he is not ready for meaningful playing time yet. But after a strong camp and preseason, I think the coaching staff has a whole new outlook on Bullard. A glute injury held him out for about a week, but Bullard is fully recovered and ready to make an impact on the defensive front, especially versus a talented backfield in Atlanta.
Keys to the Game
1. Win first down
The Bears have to win first down. What do I mean by that? You have to get three-four yards. Glennon cannot find himself at 2nd and 15 or 3rd and 9 most of the game. You cannot do that for a guy who is getting his first start in almost two years. . If the Bears win first down, it sets them up for success.
2. Contain Julio Jones
Ever since Jones burst onto the NFL stage in 2011, he has been a matchup problem for opposing secondaries. How can the Bears limit his production? Play a lot of quarters coverage. The best way to cover a threat like Jones, especially his deep ball abilities, is to give the cornerback help over the top. Another way I would gameplan vs. Jones would to play Cover 3 cloud. In the cloud concept, the CB has his deep third of the field with safety help over the top.
3. Field position
The Bears special teams has to make an impact. We tend to overlook special teams in today’s NFL, but it can be a huge momentum change. Not only that, but it can change field position drastically at big times in the game. The Bears on Sunday need to pin the Falcons deep on punts and break big returns on kickoff and punt return. For an offense that lacks playmakers at the moment, they have to start with reasonable field position to give them a boost.