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Tactical Thinking: Bears at Broncos

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After struggling in their season debut against the Packers, the Bears look to bounce back and terrorize quarterbacks at Mile High Stadium against the Broncos.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Well, last week happened. Also, last year happened after their debut ended in disappointment. There’s still 15 games left in the regular season. No need to hit the panic button.

Besides, they should have an even more favorable match-up this week against the Joe Flacco-led Denver Broncos.

On this week’s edition of Tactical Thinking, I’m going to look at how the Bears’ front seven will look to terrorize Flacco early and often. One player in particular, one who dons #52, has owned the Broncos’ number for years. If everything goes as I envision, we might see a historic night at Mile High.

Chuck Pagano takes over an elite unit with all the pieces already in place

Tennessee Titans v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Bears’ offense suffered a few flat tires against the Green Bay Packers. However, their defense picked up where they left off from last season in terms of making life miserable for quarterbacks. They registered five sacks and several more quarterback hits by the end of regulation.

A big reason for their early success can be attributed to their continuity up front. All seven of their starters in the front seven returned from the end of the 2018 season healthy. Despite installing some new terminologies, Chuck Pagano stayed true to his word in doing his best to ensure his guys will play at their highest level.

Broncos’ overhauled O-line is already facing uncertainty

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos spent a good amount of the latest offseason rebuilding the offensive line as much as possible. Vic Fangio hired a respected veteran coach in Mike Munchak to sort out the big nasties assigned to protect Joe Flacco. New faces arrived from both free agency and the draft in Ja’Wuan James and Dalton Risner, respectively.

One game into the regular season, and the Broncos have already lost a big piece to their O-Line.

Ja’Wuan James has been ruled out of the Sunday night game against the Bears. In his place will be Elijah Wilkinson, who has 7 total starts in his career. Risner is, of course, a rookie. They’ll be facing one of the most seasoned units that actively plays in the NFL.

Khalil Mack has dominated the Broncos throughout his career

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Everyone, including myself, are excited for Leonard Floyd and his two-sack performance against the Packers. What if I told you Khalil Mack had five sacks in a single game? Well, it happened.

Some would consider this game as Mack’s coming out party in his NFL career. In eight career games against Denver, Khalil has amassed 10 sacks. He’ll always be a nightmare for offensive coordinators and linemen alike. Especially when he’s not being held by the tackles he’s teeing off against.

New Scheme, same results

NFL: SEP 05 Packers at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Vic Fangio’s departure has been over-analyzed to the extreme. As I mentioned earlier, Chuck Pagano is doing everything possible to put his star studded unit in a position for success. Even if it means blending looks we saw last year with new concepts previously unseen.

One of the staple concepts we witnessed last season was the heavy usage of a 4-man rush instead of utilizing extra players in a blitz. And, to an extent, we saw plenty of that against Green Bay. They have enough talent between the defensive line and outside linebackers to use four to five guys constantly.

Of course, we’ll see Pagano bringing more heat from every level of the field. Roquan Smith, who had a fairly good game in week one, comes to mind as the prototypical inside linebacker to send on various blitzes. Pagano has one of the craftiest minds in the league.

That mindset should prove to be valuable when looking to add pressure on Joe Flacco.

Joe Flacco has struggled when under pressure

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What do you get when your team is dealing with attrition along the offensive line? Your quarterback is eating enough grass to make the local livestock feel jealous. Up to this point in his career, Joe Flacco hasn’t played well when he’s being harassed by the defense.

Ravenwire had a pretty good article describing how Flacco has performed when pass protection falls apart. It’s not pretty. He finished dead last in 2015 according to PFF’s metrics — yeah yeah, I know, PFF isn’t the final authority on anything — and was among the worst in 2018 until he was replaced by Lamar Jackson.

There’s something about getting embarrassed on national television that can fire up a team to roar out of the gates the following week. Denver boasts one of the very best records among the league in season openers. Yet, I feel the Bears are going to be hell-bent to prove themselves in a “redemption” type of game.

Oh, and I expect to see Vic Fangio crack a smile knowing his former disciples are still creating chaos from the front seven.