About Last Night

*photo via Chicago Tribune*

If you know me well, you know that I get very emotional about sports. By halftime of last night’s Bears-Packers game, I had screamed in happiness multiple times, hugged my dad while cheering as if the Bears had just won the Super Bowl when Khalil Mack returned a Deshone Kizer pass for a touchdown (and seriously considered buying an orange #52 jersey), and maybe even cried a few tears of joy. The only ever time in my life I can remember being made so happy by the Bears was as Devin Hester ran back the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI. I was 12 years old, so it’s been a while. Those two games have something in common: the Bears lost both of them, and Hall of Fame QBs are partly responsible.

As the second half wore on, my happiness faded and flipped into full-on anger as Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for what would be the game winning touchdown. Luckily, only a pillow was thrown. I sat on the couch for a while after it was over, contemplating how even the Bears had managed to lose such a game.

There’s plenty to be furious about in the moment if you’re a Bears fan, but we shouldn’t let that take away from all the promising stuff we saw last night. I took 24 hours to think about all of it, now a day removed from my both elation and rage-filled fan experience, and here’s everything I’m taking away from the Bears in Week 1:

 

Let’s Start With the Good Stuff

Khalil Mack

Holy sh!t, Khalil Mack is good. Is two first round picks a lot to give up? Yes. Is $141 Million a ton of money, especially for a defensive player? Yes. Is Khalil Mack worth all of that? I would say that’s a resounding yes.

In the first half of last night’s game, he had a sack, interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and a touchdown. The last player to do that? Who do you think?

Mack wasn’t expected to play all that much last night, but between how well he was playing and the Bears slowly blowing the lead he ended up playing 70% of the Bears’ defensive snaps.

He created problems for Packers RT Bryan Bulaga and, accordingly, Aaron Rodgers all night and without question he will be a difference maker for this Bears defense.

I was furious with Ryan Pace when he unnecessarily traded up to draft Mitch Trubisky last year, but this trade has him back in my good books. As for those two draft picks, the Bears notoriously are terrible drafters so it really won’t be all that different. However, once and a while they do get it right…

 

Roquan Smith

Roquan Smith only played 8 snaps last night, but nobody is going to remember that because on his first play in the NFL he sacked Aaron Rodgers. He wasn’t supposed to play hardly at all, but when Danny Trevathan was shaken up in the first half Matt Nagy wasn’t given much of a choice. Smith promptly took down Rodgers (with an assist by Mack) and was again forced into action late in the game when the Bears were desperately trying to hold onto the lead. For both Smith and Mack it will take time for them to get fully up to speed both physically and with the system the Bears run, but last night should give us plenty of hope.

Floyd, Trevathan, Smith, Mack. NFC North QBs beware.

 

Offensive Creativity

There was perhaps no more perfect criticism of the John Fox era than his habit of always going run-run-pass on first, second and third downs respectively.

Matt Nagy has completely thrown that out the window.

Tackles lining up at wide receiver, motion absolutely everywhere (mostly just Anthony Miller just running back and forth), fullbacks and event a T-formation on the opening play!

While the creativity turned into more of a liability than an asset as the game went on, I love the idea that the Bears are going to open up the playbook and try to turn Trubisky lose. We’ll never know what he can do if we don’t let him try.

 

Jordan Howard

Jordan Howard has been one of the few bright lights for the Bears over the past couple of seasons. He became the first running back in Bears history to begin a career with back-to-back 1000 yard seasons and had a solid start to the season last night.

Sure, 83 yards isn’t anything flashy but he averaged 5.47 yards per carry. I can’t think of many times where I wish the Bears had run the ball more, but last night certainly was.

Even with all the improvements to the offense and Nagy’s new scheme, Howard is still the foundation on which the attack will be built.

 

Wide Receivers

I saw this tweet during the game, and it made me realize just how far the Bears have come this offseason:

Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, Kevin White has two fully intact knees right now so I’ll throw him in there too. This is a complete overhaul and upgrade of the Bears receiving corps which last year was led by *checks notes* Kendall Wright with… 614 yards for the entire season!

Robinson made a catch last night in the first quarter I’m not sure any receiver on the Bears last year could have made, and if Miller develops into the player the Bears hope he is there will be no shortage of weapons for Mitch Trubisky in the passing game.

 

Cody Parkey

Letting Robbie Gould walk was one of the worst personnel decisions by the Bears in recent memory. However, the Bears may have finally dug themselves out of that hole with Cody Parkey, who made three (relatively short) kicks last night. He made 21 of 23 field goals in Miami last season, so hopefully the dramatic change in climate won’t have too significant an impact on his kicking. We don’t need any more of this.

 

Now For the Bad Stuff (*sigh….*)

Second-Half Playcalling

As much as I loved some of of the fun stuff the Bears did on offense in the first half, it really bit them in the ass in the second. Why is Mitch Trubisky throwing on both first and second down when you have a 20 point lead? Why aren’t you just giving the ball to Howard and Cohen and letting them kill the game? WHY DID YOU THROW ON THIRD AND ONE WHEN THE PACKERS HAD NO TIME OUTS??????????

I’m really excited about the Bears offense, and I love that Nagy doesn’t do what’s expected, but when it comes to football I’m of the Jose Mourinho school of thought: winning ugly is better than losing pretty (yes, I got a soccer reference into this blog, are you really surprised?). I’m all for turning Trubisky loose, but be responsible with this. The first thing Trubisky reportedly said after getting on the bus last night was asking Nagy “What do I need to do to get better?” Trubisky struggled, but his coach didn’t put him in a position to succeed. Hopefully this is a learning experience for everyone.

 

The Secondary

I have nothing but good things to say about the Bears’ linebackers, and in general the entire front seven with the likes of Hicks and Goldman on the D-line. But holy cow the Bears secondary was embarrassed last night.

Yes, I know they were facing one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but there was still no excuse how consistently open the Packers receivers were last night. Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison all had five or more receptions and averaged at least 13 yards per catch. Cobb was somehow left wide open in the middle of the field in what turned out to be the game-winning play.

With how much progress this unit made last season, it’s really concerning to see them come out of the gates so slow. If nothing else, facing other QBs besides Rodgers should help.

Speaking of the Bears secondary…..

 

Kyle Fuller

Is Aaron Rodgers great? Yes. Did he throw a pick six that was dropped on the play before the game winner to Cobb? Also yes. Kyle Fuller has to catch this ball, plain and simple.

I can imagine he’ll be spending some quality time with the ball machine at some point this week.

 

Aaron Rodgers is a God

There is no other way to put it. The moment Michelle Tafoya said that Rogers was coming back into the game I had a feeling in my gut that it was already over. Of Rodgers’ 12 career 4th quarter comebacks, half have been against the Bears. While the Bears certainly did him a few favors, some of the throws Rodgers made (with basically one leg) were unbelievable as he put up this ridiculous stat line in the second half:

rodgers second half

For my money, he’s the best QB I’ve ever seen play. Brady and Manning are all-time greats, no question, but if I’ve gotta pick a guy to win one game for me it’s Aaron Rodgers. Whatever my feelings toward the Packers as a team, I can’t bring myself to dislike Aaron Rodgers; he’s just too good.

The good news is the Bears will only see him one more time this season, and by then the defense should be better, Roquan and Mack will be playing almost every snap, and hopefully Kyle Fuller will remember how to catch a football.

 

So Where Does This Leave the Bears?

Coming into this season, my feeling was that the Bears are a team with the talent to go 8-8 or maybe even 9-7 but that their schedule isn’t going to allow that. In addition to the Vikings twice and the Packers again, they’ll see the Seahawks, Rams, 49ers and Patriots all this season as well. Particularly in light of last night’s result, I don’t know how much focus should be put on the Bears’ record this season.

I feel confident in predicting the Bears will finish third in the NFC North. As much as I’d like to think they could make the jump to being a playoff team this year, I think we’ve got another year (at least) to wait for that.

The offense has without question gotten better on paper. Trubisky now has to learn his second offense in two years; it’s going to take some time.

The defense has without question gotten better with the additions of Smith and Mack, and they were already pretty good last season.

Without question I still believe Matt Nagy was a great hire as head coach. This is his first time being in charge, he’ll figure it out.

Did last night suck? Absolutely.

Is there any less to look forward to? Absolutely not.

 

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