Mitch-a-Palooza is here folks! The NFL debut of the Bears number two overall pick got the nod to start Monday night. The excitement around town for the Bears is palpable. In a week that saw the Blackhawks open their season and the Cubs begin their playoff series, the Bears have found a way to remain relevant.
Despite a 1-3 record, the team has a buzz around it that hasn’t been seen in years. The potential of Mitchell Trubisky is tremendous and the excitement is real. It’s OK to be excited for this. Let’s face it, the Bears have never really had a quarterback that the city could rally around. Excuse me for hoping that it is finally our turn.
Obviously, there are 10 other players on offense and a host of player on both defense, and special teams, but the story of this game starts and ends at quarterback. That said, that story has been told many times this week. All eyes will be on number 10, but I am going to focus on the other aspects of the team that will ultimately decide the outcome of this game.
What to Watch For
On offense, it starts up front with the offensive line, as it usually does. Kyle Long and Josh Sitton have had a long break to get their body right. The interior of the offensive line is going to be key to the Bears success from here on out. Trubisky can avoid the outside rusher, but he needs a wall in front of him to be able to do that. The running game will also need to help the rookie out.
Look for the tight ends to be a more integral part of the passing attack than they have to this point. This is clearly the strength of the receiving corps and has yet to get on track. I expect to see a lot of designed rollouts and moving pockets to take advantage of Trubisky’s skill set. This is the prime opportunity to get the tight ends involved in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
Defensively, this is a unit that is missing some significant pieces. Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Quintin Demps, and now Willie Young are going to miss this game. The healthy bodies left up front are going to have to step up their game. The Vikings are missing Dalvin Cook, so the running game could struggle. The front-7 is going to need to put pressure on the lead-footed Sam Bradford — who is expected to play Monday night — if they are going to slow down the Vikings offense.
Who to Watch
Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen: The running game has been poor in the three losses this season. The lone bright spot has come in the win over Pittsburgh. With a rookie at the helm, the running game is going to need to come up big. The Vikings have a very good defense and Howard is going to have to punch them in the mouth, while Cohen makes them chase. This is how the dynamic between these two running backs, and we will need to see it on display early and often.
Adam Shaheen: The rookie tight end has slowly earned more playing time as the season has progressed. He appears to be making strides in his blocking, which is endearing him more to the coaching staff. What is undeniable though is his connection with Trubisky. They are roommates, part of the same draft class, and more importantly, they had an obvious connection in training camp. Look for Shaheen to get more snaps and a few plays designed to get him the ball.
Pernell McPhee: We need to see McPhee step up in the absence of Willie Young. I think that the oft-injured outside linebacker has actually played pretty well to this point. My hope is that this long layoff has given him a chance to be a little bit healthier, and in turn, more effective.
John Timu: This is going to be the first start of the season for Timu and my guess is that he is going to be making all of the defensive calls. This will be something to keep an eye on as the game goes along. Does the defense look out-of-sorts or do they get lined up properly. This is critical to the performance of the defense.
Keys to the Game
The Running Game: This is the first priority and needs to be established early and often. A strong running game is a young quarterback’s best friend. I don’t care how it happens but for the offense to be successful, the alpha and omega is the running game.
The Pass Rush: Sound familiar? Well again, this unit NEEDS to show up. The Vikings have some explosive weapons on offense. Regardless of what you think of Bradford as a quarterback, he is good enough to get the ball to his playmakers. The key is getting Bradford off of his spot and rushing throws. He doesn’t turn the ball over much and the Bears don’t take it away much, so the pass rushers are going to need to take over the game.
The X-Factor: You didn’t honestly think I was going to totally leave Trubisky out of this, did you? If Trubisky plays as well as I believe he is capable of, this could very well be the deciding factor. While I don’t think Bradford is a bad quarterback, I just don’t think he is capable of making the plays when they are required in order to win. I think Trubisky has the ability and the “it” factor to be able to get the job done.