The Chicago Bears will start (0-1) for the seventh time in their last eight seasons, as they dropped their Week 1 opener by a score of 34-14. Despite the positive start on the opening drive, things quickly went south and the Bears failed to lead in the game.
As with any Week 1 result, there’s no cause for overreactions this early in the season. With that being said, what if Sunday’s game confirmed your worries about a team with some serious roster flaws? That will always be the balance between judging a team based on their Week 1 showing versus how a season will play out. Especially over 17 games.
How should we feel about a 20 point loss on the road? Are there really cause for concerns or can this game simply be written off as just another Week 1 dud?
1. Andy Dalton is exactly who we thought he was
Which is completely O.K., because what else could you expect from a soon-to-be 34-year-old with limited upside?
On the night, Dalton wasn’t spectacular nor was he overly bad. Yes, he did have a red zone interception that changed the game’s momentum very early on. Yes, he attempted just one throw that travel over 10 yards through the air. No, the play calling and overall game plan were not his fault.
I think that some folks seem to forget that Dalton is still the best deep ball passer this team has had since the days of Jay Cutler. Now, obviously he is not on the same level as Cutler, but he’s much better than the likes of Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles in that department.
The reality is quite simple. Dalton is a below average quarterback who has quickly turned into a journeyman the past two years. We all knew this when the Bears gave him a one-year, $10 million deal. We also knew this when the team traded up nine slots in the first round to take Justin Fields. None of these realities have changed. Yet, patience will continue to wear more thin the longer Dalton starts and Fields is on the bench. Justifiably so.
2. The situation with Justin Fields continues to get more and more confusing
It has been well established by now that the Bears aren’t going to “rush” their rookie quarterback. While that’s a fine sentiment, words can only go so far. At least in my preseason evaluations, Fields was the better of the two quarterback during game play. He also brings an immense upside that Dalton simply can’t.
We all know Andy Reid has had a knack for sitting rookie quarterbacks and them being successful. We’re also aware that head coach Matt Nagy was in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes and played a part in his rookie year. Outside of those commonalities, there aren’t a lot of ties in the two team’s situations when it comes to their rookie quarterback situations, though.
The Bears have deemed Fields “not ready” for game action. Despite that, they have him as the active backup, which means he could be thrown into the game at any point. To that point, they have indeed thrown him into the game at controlled points. Yes, it’s a small sample size at just five snaps through one game, but it still shows a level of trust they claim not to have. That’s what makes this situation even more confusing.
If a team is “ready” to give their rookie quarterback five snaps in a game and make him the active backup, why aren’t they “ready” to start him as he’s clearly the more talented quarterback?
Fans should be glad they get to see Fields in game action, but the calls for him to start will only grow louder as this offense continues to struggling scoring points. So far, they aren’t really doing themselves any favors with their handling of the situation.
3. Speaking of the offense (again), Nagy’s offense is exactly what is has been
Which is an offense that lacks explosion and more importantly, lacks points. The Bears are the only team in the NFL through one week to not have at least four throws traveling 15 yards or more.
Yes, the Bears offense had seven drives of crossing the 50 yard line, but they still put up just 14 points. That remains the biggest issue with this offense and something that has plagued him in his three-plus years as the team’s offensive mind.
What’s more disturbing to me is that he continues to use plays and concepts that simply haven’t worked. Whether those are broken wide receiver screens or shovel passes dependent on misdirection, they haven’t worked in years.
It’s worth noting that the Rams have a top defense with two All-Pros, but shying away from the deep ball and continually dinking and dunking down the field clearly still isn’t working. It may be Year 4 of this offense but one could argue that the production looks like Year 1 (or worse).
4. Speaking of a successful offense, to find success it should be run through David Montgomery
If there was one true bright spot on the night, it was their former third-round pick out of Iowa State. It started off with a 41 yard run on the second offensive play from scrimmage and ended with 108 rushing yards, a touchdown and a reception for 10 yards.
Simply put, Montgomery is one of the team’s most steady offensive producers and one that should be more heavily relied on to keep the chains moving.
5. It’s popular to focus on the quarterback situation as the main issue on this team, but the defense came out of this game as my biggest concern for 2021
No one expected the Rams offense to be an easy matchup. But not many expected the Bears to give up 34 points and a ton of explosive plays on the back end.
General manager Ryan Pace drew a very clear line in the sand this offseason. He opted to keep his investments along the front seven and rely on those to outweigh his issues in the secondary. That was evident when they choose to cut Kyle Fuller to save $11 million in cap space over cutting Akiem Hicks, to save $10.5 million. Many saw their overall cap hit and assumed the difference was larger in savings but in reality, the difference in the two players was $500,000.
What was more confusing was Pace sinking more resources on three more front seven pieces. Mario Edwards Jr. (3 years, $11.66 million), Angelo Blackson (two years, $5 million) and Jeremiah Attaochu (two years, $5.5 million). Yet, he signed Desmond Trufant and re-signed Artie Burns to veteran minimum deals to sure up the cornerback position. He was rewarded with one sack and no real production from Blackson and Attaochu, while Trufant is in New Orleans and Burns didn’t play a single snap.
Considering the struggles this front seven has had generating pressure of the past few seasons, it seemed unwise (even at the time) to invest less in the secondary. Through one game and multiple blown assignments, that gamble looks to be a complete bust.
Getting this defense back on track and to a league-average level will be key for any success the Bears might have this season.
6. Speaking of the defense’s disappointments, one thing is for sure- Their high paid players need to start producing
The Bears have a total of seven players on their defensive depth chart making $2 million or more this season. Eddie Goldman counts against that but obviously did not play. Yet, Khalil Mack was held to a lone tackle. Robert Quinn and Hicks combined for a sack and a pair of quarterback hits, respective. Eddie Jackson was burned in coverage a few times and missed multiple tackles. Blackson played 22 snaps and had four tackles with no pressures, sacks or tackles for loss.
The Bears have far too much money tied up into a single unit for them to perform as poorly as they did. They need their high paid players to make plays and that did not happen on Sunday night. Many players have spoke about “The Standard”. Through three preseason games and a single regular season game, that standard looks much closer to a Mel Tucker defense than anything they’ve fielded over the last six seasons.
7. It’s never wise to overreact to any single game, especially Week 1. With that being said, the Bears are exactly who I thought they were (so far)
Can things change? They absolutely can. Again, it’s never wise to make sweeping judgements on any single game. With that being said, the Bears had a few clear weaknesses moving into this season and they were almost all exposed on Sunday night.
Going into the year I felt the offense would take a minimal step forward, but lack consistency or real explosion. I also believed that starting Dalton over Fields was a misguided exercise based on outdated ideology. Finally, this secondary looked about as bad as the Minnesota Vikings from a year ago and my fear was a similar drop off.
Through one game, most of those concerns seem to be correct. Yes, things should level out. Yes, things can change. But it’s hard to see how some of these major roster weaknesses will magically fix themselves over time. In a season where the Bears should have cut dead weight and re-tooled, they choose to push more dead cap space into the future and make something out of nothing.
The real focus needs to be on roster development moving forward. Regardless of their final record. That starts with better play from younger players on both sides of the ball.
8. A few other positives I noted in Week 1’s game
- The offensive line looked much better than I had expected. Take out the final desperation drive or two and the protection held up well. They also helped pave the way for a 5.2 yards-per-carry line within the run game. Obviously there some concerns at left tackle with both Jason Peters and Larry Borom going down with injuries but all in all, that first outing should be counted as a win.
- Marquise Goodwin was a surprising development in an offense that could use speed and explosion. No, he didn’t have any deep catches, but he was one of their more involved receivers on the night. I would expect him to be a primary deep threat against lesser defenses in the coming weeks.
- Despite his one drop, Cole Kmet’s role is clear. He should be a big piece in this offense moving forward. Not only did he dominate the snap count over Jimmy Graham, he was targeted seven times and had five catches for 42 yards.
- For as bad as the secondary was, Jaylon Johnson was one player who didn’t look overmatched. He finished the game with a pass breakup and five tackles. All in all, not a bad start for the second-year cornerback.
9. For as bad as the night went for the Bears, they still heading into Week 2 in first place
It was a rough week for the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers were blown out 38-3, The Detroit Lions were handled at home and the Minnesota Vikings lost in overtime after being outplayed for the majority of the game.
For as bad of a game as it was for the Bears, they sit in the company of three other winless teams heading into Week 2. Nothing quite like hitting the reset button after a bad game.
10. Looking for a little more positivity? Week 2 is a much more winnable game
Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals are (1-0). They did beat the Vikings, but they are still a young team with plenty of flaws. They are also a team learning how to win football games. Much like I said at the top, you never want to overreact too much to Week 1 and that goes just as much for the Bengals’ win, as it does for the Bears’ loss.
The Bengals offensive line isn’t nearly as good as the Rams, their play makers aren’t nearly as proven and their defense isn’t to the quality of the Bears’ last opponent. Oh and it’s Chicago’s first home game of the 2021 season. Vegas also has the Bears opening up as a 3.5 point favorite.
If Week 2 goes similarly to Week 1, then it’s time to panic. Until then, there’s still some hope the Bears can get things turned around this early in the season.