LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It’s Packers Week and there’s a very different feeling around Halas Hall, even though the Bears are still only 3-5. Head coach John Fox was even asked Wednesday if he needs to be worried about his team being overconfident.
And it was a valid question.
With that in mind, let’s dive into this week’s 10 Bears Things:
1. It’s been a long time since the Bears entered a game against the Packers with the expectation that a loss is unacceptable. There was once a belief that losing to Green Bay was never acceptable, but with Aaron Rodgers’ 16-4 career record against the Bears, times have changed.
Until now. Rodgers will be on the sideline at Soldier Field and his replacement — Brett Hundley — has shown nothing to indicate he will be able to move the ball effectively against a very good Bears defense.
Las Vegas agrees. The Bears opened up as a 3-point favorite before the Packers even played the Lions on Monday night and that number has since moved to 5.5.
This is the same Bears team that has been an underdog in every game it has played this season. In fact, the Bears have been at least 7-point underdogs in five of the eight games they’ve played. And now they’re expected to win comfortably against a team it has only beat twice in its last 15 tries.
You can debate whether or not that’s a fair expectation, but this certainly feels like a big game, especially for head coach John Fox.
The importance of beating the Packers hasn’t changed for the McCaskey ownership, even if the wins have been rare. Lovie Smith once had a 5-1 stretch against Green Bay from 2005-07, but the magic ran out from 2009-12 when he went 1-8. A 21-13 loss to the Packers at Soldier Field in 2012 appeared to seal his fate and he was fired by then-GM Phil Emery.
Of course more goes into a Chicago Bears head coach’s job security than beating the Packers, but there’s no doubt it’s a factor. And while Fox is clearly making strides with this team, he’s still at risk of falling to 3-6 with a loss Sunday (and just 1-5 against the Packers over the last three seasons). With Rodgers not playing, the Bears are actually the better team.
Fox needs this game.
2. The Bears’ MVP in the first half of the season was defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. This is based on my own film review and grading system I’ve used for the past five years, but it’s hardly a controversial conclusion. Hicks has seven sacks, 10.5 quarterback knockdowns and 11.5 quarterback hurries, all outstanding numbers for a guy whose first job is to stop the run. And oh by the way, he’s been outstanding against the run too. If he keeps this up, Hicks should be in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
3. The Bears’ offensive MVP in the first half of the season was running back Jordan Howard. Howard currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing with 662 yards and has done so in a one-dimensional offense that consistently sees eight-man boxes. After a slow start to the season, Howard has been very good the last six weeks and if offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains can find a way make things easier by opening up the passing game, the running back could be headed to his second straight Pro Bowl. The one glaring weakness though: Howard is still having trouble catching the ball, dropping potential fourth quarter touchdowns against both the Falcons and the Saints.
4. The Bears’ most improved player so far this season is cornerback Kyle Fuller. After struggling in 2015 and missing all of 2016 with a knee injury, Fuller has resurrected his career and taken back the starting job he lost to newcomer Marcus Cooper in the offseason. Still, Fuller needs to prove he can keep this play up for a full season before he earns a big extension. He also doesn’t have an interception this season.
5. The Bears are at least talking like a team that plans to open up the offense more against the Packers.
“I’m pretty anxious and excited about this week. I kind of feel like it’s a new season in a way,” Trubisky said Wednesday. “I feel very confident and am very excited to really just start to open things up, play within myself and the offense and do my job so the offense can succeed and we can win more games.”
Loggains hinted at little more aggression too, saying: “I think throwing the ball down the field is going to help a lot of different things. I think that it’s going to help negative runs.”
Trubisky was able to hit a couple deep throws to Tre McBride against the Saints, but the Bears hope there are more opportunities for those types of plays as newcomer Dontrelle Inman gets involved and Markus Wheaton returns from a groin injury (which could happen as soon as Sunday).
Expectations should still be tempered, but wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni told me last week that Inman has a lot of similarities to Cam Meredith. The Bears have missed Meredith badly this season and if Inman can become that type of reliable target for Trubisky, it would really help the rookie’s development.
“(I need to) be in the right spots. Catch everything. Even if it’s bad ball, still catch it. That gives (Trubisky) a ton of confidence,” Inman said. “It’s the little things like that. Just being in the right spots. Him being able to trust me and the other receivers to get the job done.”
6. The Bears and Packers played each other just 42 days ago, but it’s amazing how different this matchup looks now. Instead of Aaron Rodgers vs Mike Glennon, it’s Mitchell Trubisky vs Brett Hundley.
“It’s clearly a better offense today than the one we saw going into the first game,” Packers head coach Mike Carthy said on a conference call Wednesday. “They’re taking care of the football and they’re playing old school, hard John Fox football. I think they’re playing excellent on defense and they’re doing a really good job running it and taking care of that ball, and time of possession is something that hasn’t been where it needs to be for us the last two weeks. It’s a focal point for us.”
The Packers have struggled to sustain drives since Rodgers got hurt and that’s something the Bears have done better with Trubisky, even if it hasn’t been pretty. Game control is key, and the Bears were able to control the game in wins over the Ravens and Panthers. While that wasn’t the case against the Saints, the Packers are a mess offensively right now and also just lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a torn ACL.
I actually thought the Bears had a chance in Green Bay had they turned to Trubisky during the weather delay when it was only 14-0. Instead, Fox stuck with Glennon and it turned out to be the final straw as he turned the ball over four times.
This is a much different matchup and one the Bears should win.
7. The one major concern for the Bears going into Sunday’s game is inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. The Bears have held four practices since losing to the Saints 10 days ago and he hasn’t participated in any of them. He was officially listed with a calf injury on Wednesday’s injury report.
“He has a calf strain,” Fox said Wednesday. “(He suffered it) in the game. He finished the game. I think he left for a play, came back, played and so I think it got more sore 48 hours after the game.”
Trevathan is having a great season and is extra important because the other linebackers (especially Christian Jones) play better when he is in the game.
8. In a very surprising move Wednesday, the Packers released former Bears tight end Martellus Bennett. Even more bizarre, they did so with a “Failure to Disclose Physical Condition” designation, which could mean they might try to recoup some money from him. Bennett has been dealing with a shoulder injury and recently indicated on Instagram that the 2017 season might be his last.
I don’t know what’s going on with Bennett, but when I spoke with him in the summer, he was very excited about signing with the Packers and playing with Aaron Rodgers. He still lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and was looking forward to being closer to home, knowing that re-signing with the Bears was not an option.
Bennett has played through a lot of injuries in recent years and has never hid the fact that he has strong interests outside of football. He’ll be exposed to waivers and a reunion with the Patriots could be possible, but I would not be surprised if he’s happy walking away at this point.
9. Bears left guard Josh Sitton did a conference call with Green Bay reporters Wednesday and this was a very interesting nugget from Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press Gazette:
10. Referee Tony Corrente is assigned to Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman and Peter Schrager have the call for FOX.