Despite a dream start for the Chicago Bears and a 20-0 lead, they fell to their arch nemesis, Green Bay Packers on Sunday night by a score of 24-23. While this loss will sting the fan base in a long week before their home opener next Monday night, there was still plenty to like about the team’s performance.
Whether it was the offense or the defense, I saw plenty of standout performers, but only two players (one on each side of the ball) could get this week’s game ball.
RB Jordan Howard
The talk all off-season was about how Howard’s fit in this new offense was in question. Despite that, the third-year running back came out and impressed.
Howard finished the game with 82 rushing yards and caught all five of his targets out of the backfield for 25 yards.
This was a welcomed sight for most Bears fans, as there were trade rumors swirling before the draft as most questioned his fit in the new scheme. Howard’s 5.5 yard-per-carry average was up over a yard in comparison to last year, but his hands looks vastly improved in the passing game.
As the offense continues to meld together, Howard’s value will continue to grow. The team added multiple pass catchers over the off-season, including Allen Robinson (4 catches for 61 yards), Taylor Gabriel (5 catches for 25 yards), Trey Burton (1 catch for 15 yards) and Anthony Miller (2 catches for 14 yards).
Yet it was Howard who led the offense in total yards gained (107). All of this mainly coming after the offense stalled from the second quarter on.
This unit is going to take time to grow together, and it should over the next few weeks, but there’s no denying Howard’s value in this new offense. If he can continue to catch the ball he’ll be a valuable weapon over the next 15 games.
OLB Khalil Mack
Simply put, Mack was as advertised on Sunday night. All of this comes after just one week of practice.
Mack’s first half was one of the best the Bears have seen in quite some time. He had multiple quarterback pressures, a strip sack with the Packers in the redzone, and a pick-six of Deshone Kizer.
All of this while only playing 70% of the team’s overall snaps and not technically starting the game.
Mack’s presence was felt early and often, but much like the rest of the team’s defense, he did bog down in the second half as they struggled to get pressure on a hobbled Aaron Rodgers.
The 27-year-old’s presence adds an entirely new element to a Bears defense that finished 2017 ranked in the top 10 in most statistical categories. That should continue to improve as the season goes on and gas tanks don’t burn nearly as quick.
Once Leonard Floyd’s club comes off, and one of the depth pass rushers steps up, Mack’s impact on this defense should only grow. For the meantime, Bears fans will just have to “settle” for his performances like he had in the first half.
So far, it’s obvious that Mack has been worth his price tag and more.
Honorable Mention: DL Akiem Hicks
While there can only be two games ball handed out, Hicks at least deserves some credit.
All the focus was solely on Mack most of the night, but Hicks once again proved why he is one of the best five-techniques in the league. He also had a sack, three tackles, two tackles-for-loss and multiple pressures, including a quarterback hit.
Hicks’ impact on this defense is a large one, and until Floyd gets back to 100% health, his production is going to help the Bears consistently get pressure on the quarterback.