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Bears ready for weak one, err, week one
Storylines other than who is playing QB. And some quick advice for Kris Bryant's return.
The Bears are starting Andy Dalton in their season opener on Sunday night and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it, so we probably should stop complaining about it. Just kidding. Of course we’re going to keep complaining about it. We waited more than half a century for a quarterback, and we got one and now we’re still waiting for no apparent reason. But there actually are other things to focus on.
What’s the defense going to look like under new coordinator Sean Desai?
We all harken back to the way Vic Fangio’s defenses, especially the one in 2018, carried an inconsistent offense. Then Cody Parkey double doinked away a playoff win, Matt Nagy’s brain broke, Vic was suddenly available to fly to Denver that week to interview for the Broncos job, and John Elway inexplicably hired him. The Bears tried to keep one of Vic’s coaches to run the defense, but Vic convinced that assistant to come with him to Denver. The fact that the guy the Bears identified to try to keep was Ed Donatell and not Brandon Staley is further confirmation that they don’t know what they’re doing. Staley went with Vic and Ed to Denver, then was hired to run the Rams’ defense last year and now he’s the Chargers’ head coach. He’s literally the frontrunner for coach of the year. But hey…Chuck Pagano.
Desai is by all accounts a sharp guy, and he’s a unique story. He’s the first Indian-American coordinator in NFL history. He’s an actual doctor. Well, not a medical doctor, he’s a doctor of educational administration (so don’t ask him about your rash), he didn’t play college football, and most amazingly he was an assistant at Temple when they had an actual winning season!
The promise is that Desai will return the Bears to a more Fangio approach. Vic didn’t blitz a lot, but he was very good at scheming to get pressure. Khalil Mack lined up all over the place under Vic. Under Chuck he basically walked around with a “triple team me” sticker on his helmet. The return of Eddie Goldman will help (though he’s apparently not going to be back on Sunday night), and I’m sure Desai can draw up ways to get Robert Quinn to the quarterback. Or, perhaps he’s not a miracle worker.
The biggest problem he will face is that the secondary he’s working with is not the one Vic had in his final season. In that one, when Bryce Callahan got hurt teams could try to pick on Sherrick McManus. In this one, teams can just pick on anybody. That’s a problem.
Alec Ogletree is kind of a neat story--he was in town visiting Quinn and the Bears signed him. But isn’t it kind of alarming that days before training camp the Bears signed a street free agent and he was so much better than most of their other linebackers that by the third preseason game he wasn’t dressing because he’d already locked up a spot on the team?
A better defensive approach than they had the last two seasons will help. But the personnel isn’t the same, and that’s the problem.
Why is Nagy calling the plays again?
What do you think these numbers are? 28, 35, 63, 49, 96, 56, 41. BINGO? Lotto? No, those were the Bears rushing yardage totals from weeks four through ten last season. Yikes.
The Bears went 2-5 in those games, and Matt Nagy finally handed over the playcalling duties to his actual offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Then there we these numbers: 121, 140, 169, 199, 128, 108. Those were their rushing totals from weeks 12 (week 11 was the bye) through the end of the regular season. The Bears went 3-3 (they handed the Lions a win with a late Mitch fumble in their own end) and had their four biggest scoring games in that span. Then there was 48. That was their rushing total in the playoff game against the Saints. Nagy had taken the play calling back by then.
Other things factored in to those totals of course. The Bears finally settled on an offensive line with Sam Mustifer and Cody Whitehair anchoring the middle. The opponents certainly played a factor, too. While they played Green Bay twice, they also got the Lions, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars mixed in. But the fact remained that the biggest difference was that they actually tried to run the ball, and didn’t stop if it didn’t work immediately. The Bears offense isn’t good enough to just throw, throw, throw, and their line is poor and being in obvious passing situations is death to them. Bill Lazor isn’t mid 80s Bill Walsh, but there was a difference when he called the plays.
So why did they switch back? And why is Nagy calling the plays again this year? And why did there seem to be no discussion about why that’s a bad idea?
I suppose the easy answer is that Nagy’s job is on the line and in his mind if he’s going down, he’s going down calling the plays. But sadly, him calling the plays makes it more likely he’ll go down.
His Chiefs tenure ended ignominiously. Nagy had finally been made play caller in his final season and the Chiefs went 10-6, got a great year out of Alex Smith and hosted a first round playoff game against the Titans. They had a 21-3 halftime lead and managed to lose 22-21, running the ball just 16 times for 69 yards.
Nagy thought he’d blown his big shot to be a head coach. But Ryan Pace interviewed him the next day and hired him. If Pace thought Nagy had learned from that experience, we have four years of proof that he didn’t.
But I’m sure this will be the year he gets it.
Can this team realistically make the playoffs?
A quick rundown of the schedule makes you cringe. The Bears have baked in losses against the Packers (2), Rams, Browns, Bucs, and Steelers. If you figure you need to win 10 games in the new 17 game schedule to get a wild card spot, that means they’d have to go 10-1 in the other eleven games to get there.
So it’s impossible.
Well, it’s the NFL. When they went 12-4 in 2018 nobody expected that. They had pretty good injury luck that year, the defense scored touchdowns and set up short fields on a lot of others and they got solid, if limited, play from their quarterback. And, shit gets weird in NFL seasons. You can’t bank on it, but it can happen. There’s also a chance that nine wins gets the last spot. Hell, eight wins did it last year. The Bears know, that was them.
Early season lines are a crapshoot, especially the ones set for every week, but as of right now the Bears are only favorites in four of their 17 games. That’s not ideal. I don’t know how clarity at the QB position (meaning the Bears just go with Fields) impacts any of those lines.
But the question was, can the Bears realistically make the playoffs?
No. Not realistically. But does that mean they won’t? Nope. One of the reasons we watch football is that weird shit happens every year. Sometimes your favorite team is the beneficiary of that weird shit. Other times, this happens.
I would have picked the Bucs to cover the 7.5 against Dallas, so I would have been super wrong. Take that into consideration with the rest of these then.
Niners -8 over Lions
The Dan Campbell era will begin with a thud, because honestly, that’s kind of seems like the plan this year.
Bills -6.5 over Steelers
The Bears better hope that the Bills are as good as everybody thinks, because the lasting impression of the preseason was the Bills’ second and third stringers just beating the crap out of the “real” Bears.
Titans -2.5 over Cardinals
Give Kliff Kingsbury eight months to prepare for an opponent…and he’ll still lose.
Seahawks -2.5 over Colts
Colts have been notoriously slow starters under Frank Reich. And, you’d have to take Carson Wentz over Russell Wilson. So, no.
Vikings -3.5 over Bengals
Can you blame the Bengals for looking ahead one week to the Andy Dalton revenge game?
Chargers +1 over Football Team
Probably not smart to pick three west coast teams winning early games in the Eastern Time Zone. But at least this one is (nominally) an upset.
Falcons -3.5 over Eagles
I really don’t think the Eagles are good. Some day they will curse Howie Roseman for passing up Justin Fields and Mac Jones the way we cursed Pace for Mitch over Mahomes and Watson only they’ll do it in an even more annoying accent.
Panthers -4 over Jets
The Sam Darnold revenge game! I just wonder which side wants the revenge more. One of the rookie QBs will go HAM in week one, and it could be Zach Wilson, but I think it’s going to be Trevor Lawrence…
Jaguars -3 over Texans
How bad are the Texans if they are three point underdogs to the Jags at home? This bad.
Chiefs -5 over Browns
Does Cleveland get meaningless game one revenge for the Browns playoff loss last year? Nah. The Chiefs should start Chad Henne for a play just to freak them out.
Patriots -3 over Dolphins
Mac and Tua. I’m already sick of hearing about it. It also sounds a like a disgusting sandwich.
Giants +3 over Broncos
Vic finally gets Bradley Chubb and Vin Miller on the field at the same time. That’s nice. I’d love to pick them over the uninspiring Giants, but I just can’t. Maybe next year when they have Aaron Rodgers.
Packers -3.5 over Saints
Speaking of that guy. They’re playing this game in Jacksonville due to the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. I don’t doubt the Saints’ motivation. I do doubt Jameis beating Rodgers.
Rams -8 over Bears
I’m not sure they can give the Bears enough points to make me pick them. The only line that was close to this big was Tampa over Dallas and we saw how that turned out, so maybe there’s a chance!
Raiders +3.5 over Ravens
Do the Raiders always play on opening Monday night? It seems like it. We’re down to one game now. No more awkward second, hastily assembled crew doing the first game, which always started too early. This one is the opening of the Roomba Dome (with fans, at least) and the Ravens are down to their fourth string running back already. It’s a guy named Ty’son Williams. What letters do we think that apostrophe is supposed to be replacing?
Oh, and one last thing.
Kris Bryant returns to Wrigley this afternoon. I’m not telling you how to welcome him back, but Mark DeRosa got standing ovations in his first AB for all three games of a series with the Indians when he returned in 2009.
You know what to do.
Oh, and one more, one more thing. Nice to see KB stop by and check out a fan painted mural of himself yesterday. Must have been an emotional moment.
I mean, we do know that the mural was painted by someone that Red Bull paid, right? It’s a billboard, just on the side of a building.
Anyway, welcome back Kris. You really are missed. Even in a non-corporate advertised way.