Well, Chicago Bears. You waited nine full months in between regular season games to watch a lopsided blowout loss at home to the Green Bay Packers. The good news? It’s only one game, and there are still 16 games to figure things out. The bad news? Despite Aaron Rodgers being gone, the Packers’ dominance over the Bears continued in a big way on Sunday. With so much to get into, let’s just dive right into the first regular season version of 10 Bears Takes.
1. A tradition like none other: Embarrassing losses to the Packers.
It felt like things were going to be different, didn’t they? The Boogeyman is off to New York, and the Packers appeared to be in a vulnerable spot heading into 2023. Yet, it was another multi-score loss, this time at Soldier Field. Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur is now (9-0) against the Bears since taking over back in 2019. The last time the Bears won a game in this rivalry? 2018.
As a fan, you never want to overreact too much to Week 1. If you’re looking for proof of that, all you have to do is rewind to one year ago when the Bears beat the San Francisco 49ers, who went on to play in the NFC Championship game. Many fans were dunking on national analysts for projecting them as a Bottom 3 team. It seemed like maybe the rebuild wouldn’t be quite as bad as some had expected. Fast forward 16 games later, and we were all sitting in our living rooms glued to the television, watching the Houston Texans make an improbable comeback that ultimately gifted the Bears the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Even so, losses always sting a little more when they are to your most hated rival. Despite the absence of Rogers and a litany of young new players, the Bears were thoroughly outclassed for the majority of the second half and will have to wear that until the two teams meet again in Week 18.
2. Quarterback Justin Fields’s performance was a tale of two halves. Which one should we read more into?
Going into halftime, there weren’t many that were overly impressed with the Bears’ offensive performance, but we could all hang our hats on Fields’ performance through the first 30 minutes. He wasn’t taking many shots downfield, but he was avoiding sacks and getting the ball out quickly. At the half, the Bears were down just 10-6 with lingering hope of a second-half turnaround.
In the final 30 minutes, reality hit hard. The Packers opened up the second half with an impressive 75-yard touchdown drive, followed by a miserable Bears’ three-and-out. After a long punt return, the Packers took it 42 yards down the field for another touchdown. Before Chicago could even catch its breath in the second half, they found themselves down 24-6. That’s when things started to get ugly for Fields.
Fields took a sack on the opening drive of the second half, followed by two check-downs. On the next drive, Fields had one dropback on third down, which resulted in him fumbling the ball. Things appeared to be getting better with a promising 65-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by an impressive 20-yard touchdown strike from Fields to Darnell Mooney. That small glimmer of hope quickly disappeared with a Packers touchdown and a very bad Fields pick-six. On third down, the third-year quarterback starred down his receiver over the middle of the field, and the ball was easily picked off and taken back 37 yards for the touchdown. Up until that point, Fields had stayed relatively mistake-free (outside of the fumble on a scramble).
The sacks started to add up, and Fields very quickly reverted to his old ways. He stopped going through his progressions, and the panic set in. Before we knew it, Fields was simply checking the ball down or scrambling out of the pocket to gain a few yards on the ground.
As a whole, Fields’ numbers weren’t awful. He finished the game 24/37 for 216 passing yards, a touchdown, an interception, and the lost fumble. He also added an extra 59 yards on the ground. His accuracy faded as the game went on, as did his comfort in the pocket. Now, this is not to say that this was all Fields’ fault because it wasn’t. Even so, it’s never a good sign to see a young quarterback revert to bad/old habits.
As I said above, the good news is that there are still 16 games left. There’s plenty of time for him to improve. There’s plenty of time for the offensive line to gel. Even so, things are going to need to look a lot better if he’s expecting to be the starting quarterback in 2024. At some point—Fair or not— The excuses run out, and so will his time with the team. For those hoping for a big Year 3 jump, the second half was not something you want to see. Now, we’ll see how he responds over the next few weeks against multiple quality defenses.
3. It’s only one game but... How can a team come out this unprepared?
Week 1 is one of the more unpredictable weeks of the NFL regular season. We all know that by now, and I’ll have more on that later. That said, one of the primary traits we’ve heard about this team and head coach Matt Eberflus has been the H.I.T.S. principle and how prepared they are week in and week out. If Sunday’s game was any indication, they’ve got some serious problems they’ll need to sort through in the coming weeks.
Part of me wants to blame their conservative approach during training camp and the preseason. Simply put, this was not a healthy team in the month of August. That led to many key players not seeing much time during the preseason. While we may never know the true nature of most of the injuries, it seems evident to me that they simply played it safe throughout a less meaningful period. It always makes me wonder when a group of players miss multiple weeks at a time and then magically get healthy right when games start to matter.
The other part of me wants to overreact and do a more serious dive into this coaching staff. Could it be their lack of adjustments? Is running a primarily Cover 2 defense outdated? Was Luke Getsy truly ready to be an NFL offensive coordinator? All of these questions are more than valid, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s really the time to start asking them.
No matter how you cut it, Sunday’s loss was embarrassing. They were on a national stage (Fox’s NFL Game of the Week), and they once again got blown out by their most hated rival. Oh, and they were facing a quarterback who was making his second career start, heading into his fourth professional season.
How much concern needs to go into this game will be uncovered in the next few weeks. Four playoff teams lost Week 1 last season. That included the Dallas Cowboys, who were embarrassed at home against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dak Prescott got hurt and ended up missing over a month. Many deemed the Cowboys season a loss, especially in Dallas. Things changed quickly, and not many will remember the panic following their 19-3 Week 1 loss.
Maybe the Bears can follow a similar script. It seems unlikely, as does a trip to the playoffs, but the picture being painted is more about not overreacting to a Week 1 performance, no matter how bad. The Packers know all about that, considering they lost 38-3 to the New Orleans Saints just two years prior. Despite all of that, these types of letdowns should not become commonplace in Year 2 of a rebuild. Only time will tell if this was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
4. Over the past two years, five of the team’s top seven free agents and five combined draft picks in the second and third rounds have been dedicated to the defensive side of the ball. So, why do they continue to give up 30-plus points per game?
Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (four-year, $72 million) and T.J. Edwards (three-year, $19.5 million), defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue (one-year, $10.5 million) and Demarcus Walker (three-year, $21 million), and defensive tackle Justin Jones (two-years, $12 million) make up five of the six biggest free agent deals (average value per year) that general manager Ryan Poles has given out. The other two? Offensive linemen Nate Davis (three-year, $30 million) and Riley Reiff (one-year, $7.5 million).
In the draft, Poles has spent five of his eight picks in the first three rounds on the defensive side of the ball. Those players include Defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker in the second round last year. Defensive linemen Gervon Dexter Sr. (second round) and Zacch Pickens (third round) and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson (second round) in 2023.
Somehow, the Bears defense gave up 31 defensive points on Sunday after averaging a league’s worst 27.2 points per game in 2022. Sure, this is a rebuilding team that severely lacked talent on both sides of the ball last season. So, how did they give up an extra 3.8 points per game to an unproven Green Bay offense on Sunday? Sure, it could be a fluke, but when the organization hires a defensive-minded head coach and spends those types of resources on that side of the ball, you expect a better product. Only time will tell if this improves (it likely will), but this is a group that should be finishing closer to the league average by year’s end if we’re being objective about measuring improvement.
5. At what point do we start questioning the viability of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and defensive coordinator Alan Williams?
We’ll start on the offensive side of the ball with Getsy. The Bears once again struggled to score points when it mattered, and their play calling was predictable. In the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, the Bears ran 19 first-down plays, and only seven of those were throws. They averaged just 2.8 yards per run on the 12 first-down run calls.
As a whole, the offense attempted just two passes over 15 air yards, and both were complete. Obviously, pressure plays a role here, but considering how bad off the Packers are at the safety position, it made many question the offensive gameplan. After the game, Fields confirmed that the game plan was to attack short in the passing game and not take many shots down the field. All of this despite Green Bay having a banged-up secondary. Getsy continues to force the screen game but had his best blocking receiver (Equanimeous St. Brown) inactive.
Defensively, the lack of adjustments was just as concerning. Despite having Green Bay’s offense in multiple third and long situations, the Packers were 9-of-16 on the day. More concerning was the fact that the Bears’ defensive line had just one sack and three quarterback hits. Most assumed this defensive line would struggle, yet Williams felt it was appropriate to rarely blitz and play a soft Cover 2 zone in most third and long situations. Yes, the Bears have spent multiple early-round resources on their secondary over the past two off-seasons, but what good does that do if the front seven is getting pressure and they are allowing teams to find the soft parts of the zone on most big plays?
Some might say, “It’s only one game,” but this issue plagued them most of last year. Simply put, both sides of the ball were severely out-coached on Sunday. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence last year, either. At some point soon, accountability needs to come into play. Last year was meant as a tear-down year, so any bad results could be written off as such. If things don’t improve early in the season, Poles and Eberflus might need to have some tough conversations in the coming weeks about making some changes to put their team in a better position to actually win football games.
6. For now, the offensive line remains a huge issue.
While many might have expected a sizable turnaround early in the season, most of that hope (for me) went away when Teven Jenkins was placed on short-term Injured Reserve before Week 1. Zooming out, this team replaced two of their five projected starters from last year’s offensive line. Right Tackle Darnell Wright played seven total snaps in the preseason and missed a few weeks of camp. Even if he doesn’t miss that time, adjusting to the NFL usually takes offensive tackles a portion of their first season. Wright’s struggles in Week 1 aren’t as surprising. Right guard Nate Davis was the bigger disappointment, though, especially in pass protection. The veteran signed a three-year, $30 million contract early in free agency and then proceeded to miss the majority of the off-season program, training camp, and all of the preseason. It showed on Sunday, as he was consistently pushed back as a pass blocker.
As a unit, the Bears gave up a total of 35 quarterback pressures. Fields was pressured on 26 of his 49 dropbacks on the day. That equated to Fields being hit six times and being sacked four times.
The goal of the off-season was to set the team’s starting offensive line and let them gel. Thanks to injuries, that never went to plan. They moved Cody Whitehair back to left guard and slotted Lucas Patrick back to center. That likely changes once Jenkins is healthy, but they continue to rely too heavily on average-to-below-average veterans to fill the gaps in the meantime. It’s hard to re-make an entire offensive line over one off-season, but considering both their general manager and assistant general manager played the position, Year 2 needs to look considerably better than it did in 2022. So far, it’s not off to a great start, but there’s still time to see meaningful improvement.
7. Rookie running back Roschon Johnson continues his campaign for more meaningful snaps.
Going back to draft weekend, many (including myself) were pleasantly surprised that Chicago was able to land Johnson in the fourth round of the draft. At that point, they had already signed D’Onta Foreman and Travis Homer in free agency and still had a No. 1-like option in Khalil Herbert. It has always been assumed that it would take the rookie some time to earn meaningful snaps, and Sunday was another step in the right direction.
Johnson ended up with a team-high six receptions for 35 yards and averaged a running back-best four yards per carry on the ground. All of this despite not having a single touch until midway through the third quarter. The rookie’s ability to run through contact was notable, even on his nine-yard run that got called back on a holding penalty.
The coaching staff has said they will use a running back by committee, but at some point, a consistent hot-hand is likely to emerge. Considering the lackluster results of the run game in Week 1, Johnson’s viability should tick up for Week 2.
8. Looking around the NFL, somehow, the Bears didn’t top the worst performance of Week 1.
Make no mistake: any time you are blown out and completely outclassed by a division rival at home, it will always be cause for concern. With that being said, there are sure to be multiple other fanbases around the league that are feeling similar to Bears fans after Week 1’s set of games.
We’ll start with the Sunday night game where the Dallas Cowboys took it to their inner division rival, New York Giants, with an impressive 40-0 victory at Metlife Stadium. Despite a special opening drive from the Giants, things quickly went south when the opening field goal was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Newly-extended quarterback Daniel Jones went 15/28 for 104 passing yards and two interceptions.
The Pittsburgh Steelers impressed during the preseason, especially with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. Their first-team offense played five preseason drives and scored five touchdowns. On Sunday, they scored one touchdown at the end of the first half and ended up being blown out 30-7 by the San Francisco 49ers. Pickett finished the game 31/46 for 232 yards passing with a touchdown and two interceptions. The majority of those yards came in the second half, with the team down multiple scores.
The Los Angeles Rams shocked the Seattle Seahawks with an impressive 30-13 win. The Cincinnati Bengals were dominated on the road against the Cleveland Browns, scoring just three points in a 24-3 loss, as well. The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs had more drops than I could count on Thursday and dropped a close game to the Detroit Lions.
There were many 2022 playoff teams who performed poorly on Sunday, which just goes to highlight the unpredictability of Week 1 as a whole. While it does not excuse the Bears’ performance, they were far from the only letdown.
9. NFC North Lookaround: A division split heading into Week 2.
Like most divisions around the league, the opening week of football was a mixed bag in the NFC North. The Lions opened up the season with an impressive 21-20 victory against the Chiefs. It took everything going wrong for Kansas City, but it should not discount the quality of win Detroit had in front of a national audience. The projected NFC North winner is off to a strong start heading into Week 2 as they’ll face a Seahawks team looking to rebound after a poor opener against the Rams.
The Minnesota Vikings’ string of impressive luck in one-score games came to a crashing half on Sunday, as they lost their season opener by a score of 20-17 to the Bears’ Week 2 opponent in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 344 yards and a pair of touchdowns but turned the ball over three times, including an interception on the goal line. The Vikings will travel to Philadelphia on a short week to face the Eagles on Thursday night in Week 2.
As we know, the Packers took down the Bears in Week 1 and will head to Atlanta for a very winnable Week 2 matchup against the Falcons next Sunday. This was a division many projected to be a close finish between teams, and it’ll be fun to watch it play out over the first few weeks of the season.
10. Week 2 look ahead: The (1-0) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chicago will head out on the road for the first time in 2023 to face a (1-0) Buccaneers team that surprised the Vikings at home in Week 1. Gone are the days of Tom Brady, but this is still a good defense with plenty of skill position talent. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had a mixed-bag of production on Sunday but finished the game strong with 173 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns.
For the better part of Sunday’s game, Tampa Bay’s offense struggled. They had just 73 rushing yards on the day, and Mayfield’s accuracy was an issue for the majority of the first half. This isn’t likely to be an offense that will light the world on fire, but their receivers could give the Bears secondary problems with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin headlining that group.
Defensively, this will be a tougher matchup for the Bears than they saw in Green Bay. Tampa Bay’s defense had two sacks, nine quarterback hits, and six tackles for loss on the day. All while creating three takeaways.
It’s going to be a hot day in Tampa Bay, which should play to the Bucs advantage. The current forecast calls for a high of 89 degrees with a 50-percent chance of rain. So not only will it be hot and humid, but they could be playing on a wet field. Considering the Bears’ Week 3 matchup against the Chiefs at Arrowhead, Sunday’s matchup becomes somewhat of a “must-win” early in the season if this team has any plans of being “in the race” come December.