LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Mitch Trubisky was all of us Saturday morning.
Whether you’re a player, coach, reporter or fan, you likely woke up Saturday morning with the same confusion.
Wait, what is this about the Bears and Khalil Mack?
“I was at my house and I was actually still sleeping, enjoying an off day,” Trubisky said. “But (my mom) came into my room and was like, ‘You guys just got Khalil Mack,’ and I said, ‘Get out of here. Like, leave me alone, I’m going back to sleep.’ You can’t wake me up with that kind of news because you just don’t believe it.”
Many of you probably have a similar story, except maybe the mom part (Mitch said his parents were in town for the weekend), but even the mom part rang true for me. I was at my in-laws’ place and my wife and I were still sleeping. That’s when my mother-in-law poked her head in and said, “Adam, you should probably wake up. I think the Bears are doing something.”
They certainly did something. The buzz around the Bears this week, including in their own locker room, is as significant as I’ve seen since Week 17 of the 2013 season, when they had a chance to win the NFC North with a win over the Packers.
With that in mind, let’s jump into this week’s 10 Bears Things:
1. This Game Is Big
It can certainly be dangerous to overrate the first game of the season, but the Bears have an enormous opportunity Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Unless you’ve been living in Jon Gruden’s bizzaro-world for the last couple of decades, you know all about the Packers’ dominance over the Bears with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but there’s still reason to believe the gap between Chicago and Green Bay is closing.
Listen — Hoge & Jahns Podcast: Week 1 Bears-Packers, NFL Preview
Thursday, I tracked down the longest-tenured Bear, Sherrick McManis, a nine-year veteran who has played for Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman, John Fox and now Matt Nagy. As I started to ask him about the impact of Sunday’s game, he immediately nodded and agreed: “It’s going to be a tone-setter. It’s going to set the tone for the season.”
You see, the Bears and Packers are two organizations in two very different places. The Bears have a young, promising roster with a second-year quarterback and a new, innovative head coach to pair with a great defense. Perhaps there are some comparisons that can be drawn to the 2009 Packers, as McCarthy and Rodgers settled in together for the long-haul in Rodgers’ second season as the starter. But that was 10 seasons ago. The 2018 Packers feel more like the 2012 Bears, a good, but not great team trying to patch holes through free agency as the competitive window closes, all while the momentum builds to make their long-time head coach the fall guy.
Nobody has more respect for Aaron Rodgers than I do — he can cover up roster weaknesses better than anyone and has been doing it for years already — but I firmly believe the Packers are in a fragile place this season. A slow start could mean an unexpected tailspin that even Rodgers can’t stop, ending with a new head coach come January.
Which is where the Bears come in. Not only do they have the opportunity to “set the tone” for their own season and ensure that the arrow remains pointed up (frankly, this is a team that needs to learn how to win), but they can also deliver the Packers an important, early blow.
“This game is just different just because it is Green Bay and it is in our division,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “So it counts as, like, two.”
Given the context of this “rivalry” over the last two decades, it kind of feels like it counts as more than two.
2. The Overlooked Piece Of The Mack Trade
When the details of the Khalil Mack trade trickled out, my mouth hit the floor when I heard that general manager Ryan Pace managed to steal a 2020 second-round pick in return.
Let’s play this out. Are the Raiders going to be good in the next couple of years? The early returns on this second Gruden era aren’t exactly encouraging. The organization is in an awkward spot with its relocation and just seems to be stalling for a full unveiling in Las Vegas in 2020. The point: It’s very possible that the 2020 second round pick will be in the No. 33-40 range. Meanwhile, the Bears believe they are getting better, and it’s possible their 2020 first round pick that is going to the Raiders will be in the No. 20-32 range.
Of course, none of this is guaranteed, but it’s the same type of projection teams do when they trade draft picks. It’s undoubtedly a big reason why Pace was willing to pull the trigger on this trade. From the Bears’ perspective, they believe they traded their 2019 first pick and are only moving back 10-20 spots in the 2020 draft to secure one of the best defensive players in the league.
Not only am I struggling to understand why the Raiders made this trade, but I also can’t believe this was the best offer for a player as good as Mack. I mean, the Packers have two 2019 first round picks they could have offered, which brings us to the next thing…
3. Beating The Packers Off The Field
If the Bears were to win Sunday, it wouldn’t be the first victory they’ve had over the Packers this season.
In the last eight months, the Packers have attempted to acquire Vic Fangio, Kyle Fuller, Allen Robinson and Khalil Mack. Well, all four of those guys will be at Lambeau Field Sunday night… wearing orange and blue.
4. Mack, Roquan Impact In Week 1
Among the biggest questions this week is how much Mack and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith will be able to play. Between the two of them, they’ve gone through five full practices since training camp started, and the last two days account for four of those. Neither played in a preseason game.
The Bears are being quiet about how much either can/will play, likely for strategic reasons, which is understandable. Still, it’s not hard to determine who should have a bigger impact. Mack is a fifth-year veteran who has never missed a game in his career, while Smith is a rookie who has never played in the NFL, period.
It would not surprise me if Smith ends up playing a lot Sunday — or even starts — but Mack’s mere presence on the field will make a difference. You must account for Mack, which means better rushing opportunities for Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris. Perhaps even Aaron Lynch can take advantage, although he has practiced just about as much as Mack and Smith.
The guess here is that both Mack and Smith play a good amount, but there will be a rotation. Let’s be clear though: assuming they stay healthy, we aren’t far away from both of those players playing pretty much every snap. Both of them should have a big impact in 2018.
5. Red Flags Flying?
When Marc Trestman took over as head coach in 2013, there were two small, but notable quirks that caught my attention and ended up being significant red flags. One was the way he organized the locker room, mixing up position groups and essentially taking players out of their comfort zones. The other was his decision to ditch season-long captains and name weekly captains throughout the season.
So it would be hypocritical for me not to point out that Matt Nagy has repeated both strategies in his first season as Bears head coach. Thursday, he announced that no players will wear a “C” patch on game days and the captains will be named weekly. For Week 1, Trubisky is the offensive captain, Hicks is the defensive captain and Benny Cunningham is a the special teams captain.
That said, there are some key differences here. For one, the locker room that Trestman inherited was well established and many of the veterans were resisting any kind of change in the wake of Lovie Smith getting fired. This year’s group is not as established and appears to be fully invested in what Nagy is preaching. Nagy also pointed out that they used the exact same captain-strategy in Kansas City and history says it hasn’t been an issue for Andy Reid.
Trestman’s problem wasn’t that he mixed up the locker room or didn’t establish permanent captains, it’s that the players questioned his decisions. He never really had the full respect of the locker room.
Time will tell with Nagy, but the vibe and early feedback from the players is much different this time around.
6. Depth Chart Observations
The weren’t any surprises on the Bears’ first depth chart of the regular season, but I do have a few thoughts:
- With DeAndre Houston-Carson still in an arm sling, the Bears only have one backup safety with Deon Bush. Fangio’s safeties are pretty interchangeable so that shouldn’t be too big of an issue, but I’d imagine that McManis would be the emergency fourth safety if needed.
- I completely ignored the return game in the preseason, because Cunningham and Tarik Cohen were the obvious return-candidates and neither were getting any reps in the games. Sure enough, Cunningham is listed as the No. 1 kick returner and Cohen is the No. 1 punt returner. Bryce Callahan is the backup option in the return game.
- The Bears clearly like the potential Rashaad Coward has at tackle, but will he or Bradley Sowell be active on game day? Sowell has more experience playing both sides so I would think he’d get the nod.
7. Quote Of The Week
Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich on Khalil Mack:
“When he gets off the bus, he disrupts life.”
8. Tweet Of The Week
Zach Zaidman may be with the Cubs radio network now, but my old cubicle-buddy at Halas Hall can still deliver those good Bears nuggets:
9. The Record
I understand why some are hesitant to believe the jump can be made this year. The Bears haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt around here lately. But if you take the team name out of it, this team fits the recent NFL formula for making a big improvement: Good defense, talented Year 2 quarterback, new-school offensive head coach, and coming off a year in which they were competitive in almost every game they played. The schedule also isn’t nearly as hard as many are making it out to be, especially if you don’t believe the Packers are going to be as good as most think they will be. I had the Bears as a 9-7 or 8-8 team before the Khalil Mack trade. He’s a rare player who could be worth 1.5 wins. 10 wins is doable for this team.
10. The Pick
Bears 27, Packers 17
Come on. I can’t spend the whole offseason talking about how the Packers are going to struggle this year and then pick them to beat a team that just traded for Khalil Mack. All right, it’s not that simple, but I was leaning this way even before the trade. While I think there will be growing pains with the Bears’ offense this year, Week 1 works in their favor because of the element of surprise. Opponents will adjust going forward, but right now Nagy has shown almost nothing on tape and the Packers really don’t know what is coming. I expect the Bears to jump out to an early lead and the defense to protect that lead throughout the game.
Bonus Thing: 10 Random Predictions
Let’s end this week’s column by having some meaningless fun with 10 random predictions:
1. The Rams will win the Super Bowl. They have the deepest roster and I believe Sean McVay is going to be a really good head coach in this league for a very long time. Who will the Rams beat in Atlanta? I’m going with the Patriots as the boring pick. The AFC just isn’t strong enough for Brady/Belichick to come up short.
2. Bill O’Brien will emerge as 2018’s Coach of the Year after the Texans win the AFC South. Sean McVay will probably be the guy who deserves it the most, but there hasn’t been a back-to-back winner since Joe Gibbs won in 1982-83. The votes just don’t go that way. Also, if the Bears really go 10-6, Nagy is going to be in the conversation.
3 . Either the Ravens or Bengals will return to the playoffs as a wild card team. I can’t decide which team it will be, but either Marvin Lewis or John Harbaugh will work some magic to earn another three years. I’m leaning towards the Ravens.
4. Drew Brees will be a legitimate MVP candidate and maybe even win it. The Saints are going to be good and he’s just so consistent. With a deep receiving group and Alvin Kamara running the football, Brees will put up huge numbers.
5. Mike McCarthy will not be the head coach of the Packers come January. If they miss the playoffs, there will be a change.
6. As for a positive Packers prediction: Don’t be surprised if cornerback Josh Jackson wins Defensive Rookie of the Year. I still can’t believe he slipped to the second round. His ball skills are elite and he already showed in the preseason that his pick-6s are going to carry over to the NFL.
7. Joey Bosa is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Khalil Mack will be in contention, but I think the production will be limited in the first few weeks as he gets up to speed. Bosa will put up huge numbers this year.
8. NFC Playoff Teams — East: Eagles, North: Vikings, South: Saints, West: Rams, Wild Cards: Falcons, Bears
9. AFC Playoff Teams– East: Patriots, North: Steelers, South: Texans, West: Chargers, Wild Cards: Jaguars, Ravens
10. The Seahawks will finish last in the NFC West. And they visit Soldier Field in Week 2. Could the Bears start 2-0? Let’s save that for next week.
Enjoy the opener, everyone.