(Photo via Brownsville Herald)
Gut punch. And a big one.
The Bears blew a 20-0 lead in Lambeau Sunday night to the hands of Aaron Rodgers. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback left the game in the second quarter due to a knee injury. He would later leave on a cart, only to jog out of the tunnel after halftime. It was another magical night for Rodgers and the Packers and the Bears could not overcome it.
This one stings. The Bears marched 86 yards on their opening drive and scored on a read option play from Mitch Trubisky. Their second drive? 9 plays, 60 yards leading to a field goal to go up 10-0. Khalil Mack would top off a dominant first half with a pick-six to go into the locke-room up 17-0. But questionable play-calling and poor execution in the second half gave the Packers their chances to punch it in.
A lot to talk about so let’s dive in.
Was there any doubt that Khalil Mack was not going to impact the game from the start? On Mack’s first play as a Bear, he walked Bryan Bulaga into the face of Rodgers. His raw power is going to be a problem for teams all year and will keep offensive coordinators up at night.
Mack’s stat line was impressive: 3 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and an interception for a score. Twitter exploded with the phrase “worth every penny.” And there is no doubt Mack is. His ability to be a playmaker and take over games deserves a big game check.
It was evident Mack was on a snap count tonight but that should change next week and beyond. You cannot keep a caliber player like him on the sideline. The Bears front seven is going to be nasty once all the pieces are in place and everyone is at full strength.
The opening drive of the game was a breath of fresh air and something the fans, players, and coaches really needed. We saw Nagy’s playbook at work on the first drive. Fake Jet motion, getting athletes in space, RPO’s, and read option. It was just the beginning of Nagy’s bag of tricks.
Over the past several years, fans have seen their share of horrible opening drives and just bad offense in general out of the Bears. But tonight was different. The Bears went 10 plays, 86 yards and the offense looked great. It was everything fans hoped for and more.
The Bears got it started with a Tarik Cohen run out of the T-Formation. Yes, the T-Formation. Then we saw some RPO’s, taking advantage of one on ones, and an eventual touchdown run from Trubsiky. You could not have drawn up a better start for the Bears and Nagy.
This has to be a constant theme going forward. Starting fast and striking first should be the emphasis. The Bears have plenty of talent on offense to get it done.
Akeim Hicks and Roy Robertson–Harris were tough to handle all night. The Bears controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, a big reason for their success.
On the Packers second drive, Hicks walked right guard Justin McCray three yards into the Packers backfield before disengaging and sacking Rodgers. Hicks’ power and hand usage are what makes him such a dominant force up front.
On the other hand, Roberston-Harris picked up a sack and was credited with three QB hits. An undrafted free agent in 2016, the Bears have been working with the former UTEP defensive end to become a core part of their defense. And he sure did show that tonight. At 6′ 7″, his length is a dominant part of his game and causes separation. RRH got to Kizer and caused the throw right to Mack. It was an impressive showing from the second year player.
The Bears need this kind of production from this unit every week. Games are won or lost in the trenches. Where was Jonathan Bullard tonight? The former third-round pick has yet to show up in big games. It is so important that Vic Fangio can have guys he can rely on so he can rotate guys in and out.
Tarik Cohen was made for this offense. Nagy had Tyreek Hill in KC. Well, he’s got Cohen in Chicago.
Cohen lined up in the backfield and even out wide as a wide receiver Sunday night. He even took a snap in the wildcat. His versatility not only in the passing game but what he can do in the run game opens up the offense. Inside/outside zone, jet, and stretch are all play calls we will see for Cohen the rest of the way. In the passing game, bubble screens, swings, angle routes are possibilities of what we will see week to week. Nagy is going to get the human joystick in space and make defenders miss.
The 5′ 6″ speedster finished with 5 carries for 25 yards and 3 catches for 16 yards. He also had a 42-yard punt return. Expect to see higher volume in the coming weeks.
Mitch Trubisky played like a young quarterback Sunday night and we have to remember this is still a work in progress. A second year QB with a first-time head coach and a new offense. There are going to be worse days than this.
The second overall pick was rolling to start the game. He put the Bears on the board and played well in the first half. He made some great throws, particularly one to Allen Robinson down the sideline. Trubisky lofted it up there for Robinson to have a chance to go up and get it. Give your playmaker a chance to come down with the ball.
But the second half was a different story. The former North Carolina standout looked rattled. Being under the lights in Green Bay will do that to you. Some blame can be placed on the play-calling but Trubisky admitted to leaving some throws out there tonight.
Do not overlook the positives though. This is going to be an exciting team and the optimism that the Bears can be a better football team than year’s past is alive and well.
Roquan Smith saw little field time in his pro debut. After Danny Trevathan suffered what looked like a serious injury, Smith got his number called in the final minutes of the first half. His first play? A sack. Smith was sent on a blitz and after initially being blocked, he did not give up on the play. Bears fans have been waiting so long to see their future linebacker on the field and he kicked off his career with a statement.
We did not see much of Smith after that. The Bears relied on Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski to get it done. Trevathan played fine, but Kwiatkowski did not look good at first glance. We will know more after watching some tape, but he was not that impressive Sunday night.
Just like Mack, I expect Smith to be starting next week. Kwiatkowski is a fine player, but it’s time for the Bears to put it all together. You cannot leave the best linebacker in college football last season off the field. The Bears missed him Sunday night late in that game. The coaches obviously did not deem him ready, but it goes to show you the possible effect he could have had on that 4th quarter.
Jordan Howard picked up right where he left off in the run game, rushing for 82 yards on 15 carries. His vision and patience, especially on inside zone, is what makes him a reliable and talented player. But maybe the biggest takeaway from Howard’s performance Sunday night was the former Hoosier caught every ball thrown to him.
Shortly after the hire of Matt Nagy, many pointed to Howard and how he was going to fit in the new offense. He runs zone really well, a component of Nagy’s offense, but you need to be a versatile back to run what Nagy ran in Kansas City. Remember at one point Howard’s name was rumored to be in a possible trade to Miami for Jarvis Laundry? Aren’t you glad that didn’t happen?
Howard’s five catches totaled 25 yards, but no drops were a major improvement. He showed he can be another option in the passing game and Nagy will give him more chances to succeed. It is definitely something to watch for heading into Week 2.
The Bears are now 6-25 versus the NFC North since 2013. If they ever want to be relevant again, you have to control your division. The NFC North may be the toughest division in football. This has to change or the Bears are not going to be winning any division title or more so playoff berths.