Chicago Bears: More Than the Opener, It’s Packer Week

It’s Packer Week. That means for the Chicago Bears and their fans, Thursday is more than just the 2019 NFL regular-season opener. It’s more than the start of the NFL’s 100th season. It’s the oldest rivalry in the entire league.

Thursday More Than Just Another Opener for Bears, Fans

Football is officially (officially) back and the world rejoiced. Ok, that last part is an exaggeration, but the point stands: this is a big deal for the Bears and their fans. 2019 is set to be one of two things if you follow off-season reporting. It will either be a glorious success or an unmitigated failure, rarely if ever is there an in-between.

But the path to either outcome starts on the Lakefront in Soldier Field as the Bears look to redeem their letdown from the 2018 opener. Some might argue they got redemption in week 15 last season, a 24-17 victory in Chicago. But the fashion in which they lost that opener has to make getting it right this time that much more important.

The significance of the matchup isn’t lost on anyone at Halas Hall. And with all the off-season scrutiny the team has faced, an early division win over your biggest rival would go a long way in quieting a lot of doubters.

Offense on Schedule

Much has been made of the Bears sitting their starters all but one meaningless drive this preseason. But injuries showed the ugly reality that preseason games don’t matter if it means losing key players to significant injury.

The pushback argument is cohesion; whether or not the offense clicks with only practice reps. Head coach Matt Nagy is counting on a scrimmage as game reps and they’ll get a quick test to see how far they’ve come since last season. Namely, one Mitchell Trubisky will need to prove his coach right in giving him the exhibition portion off.

Trey Burton is the only starter injured and basically has been banged up since before the Wild Card loss. Nagy and co. have had plenty of time to plan around that so while Burton is a big piece of the offense, his absence shouldn’t be a big blow.

David Mongomery will also make his official debut for the Bears. He is currently listed as third on the unofficial depth chart behind both Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis. Cohen is understandable because his role is such that it doesn’t necessarily imply he gets the bulk of the carries. Davis, while a priority free agent, seems like the second back in name only.

Defense Setup for Letdown?

We know the narratives. The one where there is no way the Bears defensive dominance from 2018 is sustainable. Or the other one where Chuck Pagano is no Vic Fangio so, inevitably, there will be some regression. Both lines of thinking are solidly rooted. But they ignore a couple of key factors that really should be at the front of the list of considerations.

First, yes, the losses of Adrian Amos (who the Bears will see on Thursday) at safety and Bryce Callahan (in Denver with Fangio) at nickelback are less than ideal. However, some of the criticisms of their replacements (and this team in general) have been slightly exaggerated.

Buster Skrine has a reputation for racking up penalties faster than pass deflections. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has a reputation for avoiding contact. The former has never played on a defense this loaded and the latter has more tackles than his predecessor in the same time frame.

If either or both fail to live up to lofty expectations there are interesting backups in safety Deon Bush and nickelback Duke Shelley. And with such a talented group, Pagano’s biggest ability won’t be in schematics, though his aggression will be a double-edged sword. It will be in his ability to relate to his players and that is a trait that has never been in question.

Special Teams Tea

Eddy Pineiro officially has the Bears kicking job to himself, at least to start the season. Nagy talked about how important it is to give the kicker, whom the team traded a draft selection to acquire, a chance to make a name for himself. That implies at least some leash even if he was to miss a kick. How long of a leash is questionable.

If Pineiro misses Thursday, a game-winner no less, will Nagy (or the fans) be willing to let him work through it? After the debacle that was Cody Parkey’s 2018 culminated in heartbreak, fans may be less than open to hanging on. But the staff is trickier to pin down. They have publicly backed Pineiro but for how long given how much is on the line in 2019?

The coverage teams should be solid as well after the team opted to keep six inside linebackers. Cordarelle Patterson should be a boon to the kick return unit and Tarik Cohen as the punt returner should be electric (duh).

It has been odd witnessing the struggles of the Bears special teams units in recent years. They were so consistent in the Lovie Smith era; admittedly a long time ago. The only thing that anybody really cares about though is kicking. They hope it doesn’t come down to that, but if it does, they better have figured it out.

It’s Packer Week

The history, the genuine dislike between fanbases, this rivalry has everything. What better way to kick off the NFL’s 100th season. The Green Bay Packers have had their fair share of noise this summer, but none of that matters come Thursday night. They will look to put 2018 behind them while the Bears are looking to use it as a springboard. Will they be the 2018 Los Angeles Rams or the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars?

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