Bears

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

Bear Nation has waited a long time for this. Now it’s here. A time without an excuse that has been conveniently, albeit painfully, there almost back into the time of Mike Ditka.

How many years has the lament resonated that if the Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers, the Packers REALLY aren’t any better than the victim-cast Bears? Well, Sunday in Soldier Field, no Rodgers. And the Packers have never beaten the Bears without Rodgers since he succeeded Brett Favre in 2008, a downturn in Bears fortunes vs. Green Bay because Lovie Smith teams had their way with Favre (8-5), whatever uniform the Packers great donned.

Maybe this game projects as a mini-referendum on Ryan Pace. The general manager has had three drafts and three offseasons to build a roster built ideally to eclipse those of the Packers, Lions and Vikings. He drafted his Clay Matthews/Ziggy Ansah edge rusher (Leonard Floyd). He secured his Mike Daniels/Everson Griffen/Linval Joseph defensive linemen (Eddie Goldman/Akiem Hicks). And now he’s made his play for a franchise quarterback.

All of this doesn’t exactly translate into any sort of made-up “pressure” on the Bears. That’s already there to excess in the form of a 3-5 record and a make-or-break game for any wistful playoff hopes. (Every game for the foreseeable future will be “make or break” in that regard.).

Packers limping sans Rodgers

Forget the point spread, which was up to favoring the Bears by 5 points on Wednesday. That’s basically an opinion poll, based on where the wager money is going, based on what football bettors think.

The facts are that the Packers are a combined 3-10-1 since 2008 without Rodgers taking the majority of the snaps: 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their primary quarterback this year, 2-5-1 in 2013 after Shea McClellin’s tackle turned the first Bears game over to Seneca Wallace, 1-0 in ’11 and 0-2 in ’10.

To expect a walk-over would be a mistake. The Packers did lead the Saints 14-7 at halftime. And the Bears need to demonstrate they can win a second half; they are 3-0 when leading at halftime but 0-5 when tied or trailing at halftime. Best guess for a game plan would a change in general mindset of keeping the game close with defense and ball control. In this situation, keeping the Packers close is higher risk than there needs to be.

Not that Bears World needs any perspective like this, but the Bears know painfully well what Green Bay is feeling right now. Last year the Bears were 3-13 without someone approximating a No. 1 quarterback. Jay Cutler may have been the titular starter, but that arguably was a default setting. The Bears were 1-4 in Cutler starts, 1-4 in Brian Hoyer starts; and and 1-5 with Matt Barkley.

They are already better off (2-2) with a rookie in Mitch Trubisky, in no small measure because of an exponentially better defense. But part of that clearly traces to Trubisky and the Bears overall reducing giveaways from 10 to five in his four starts, vs. the issues during Mike Glennon’s stewardship.

Making a point

Green Bay is 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their quarterback, including the Minnesota game in which Hundley took over when Rodgers was hurt. The Packers have failed to top 17 points and have been outscored by an average of nearly 12 points in the three games against reasonably strong opponents (Minnesota, New Orleans, Detroit).

Ominously for the Packers, the defense appears to have contracted the malaise that Hundley brought to the offense. With Rodgers, the Packers are allowing 22.4 points per game. In the three Hundley games they are giving up 26.3.

The Bears can relate to a quarterback having a ripple effect on other phases. Opponents were putting 26 points per game on the Bears when Glennon started. In Mitch Trubisky’s four starts, opponents have managed just 16.8 ppg., and that with two TD kick returns by Baltimore. Trubisky hasn’t played a defensive snap yet but his effect around the locker room is palpable.

“They’ve done an excellent job schematically tying it all together,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s definitely something that jumps off the tape. [Trubisky] is very smart with his decisions. He can make throws in the pocket, he can make throws out of the pocket. It’s clearly a better offense today than the one we saw going into the first game. They’re taking care of the football and they’re playing old school, hard John Fox football.

“I think they’re playing excellent on defense and they’re doing a really good job running it and taking care of that ball and time of possession is something that hasn’t been where it needs to be for us clearly the last two weeks. It’s a focal point for us.”

Bears have 6 players ranked in Top 5 by Pro Football Focus through 2 games

Bears have 6 players ranked in Top 5 by Pro Football Focus through 2 games

The Bears are off to their best start since 2014, and the team seems to be playing well together through two games of the season.

The offense is finding creative ways to put points on the board early, and the defense has emerged as one of the top units in the league so far. It’s only resulted in one win, but Chicago seems to be on the right track for more success this season.

The analysts over at Pro Football Focus like what they’ve seen, and their grades are high on a number of individual Bears players. Six of them rank in the top five of their respective positions so far this season.

Khalil Mack, Kyle Long and Charles Leno are all the second highest-graded players among their peers, Jordan Howard has the third-highest grade for a running back, Akiem Hicks is tied for fourth among defensive linemen, and Pat O’Donnell is the fifth-ranked punter.

Just missing the cut is Bryce Callahan, who currently ranks sixth among cornerbacks with an 81.8 overall grade. As a whole the Bears have PFF’s highest-graded defense, while the offense ranks 21st.

It’s clear the team has had a lot of individual success on both sides of the ball, and the next step is converting that into team success with more wins on Sundays.

Bears fan presumably spends his hard-earned money on Jon Gruden Bears jersey

Bears fan presumably spends his hard-earned money on Jon Gruden Bears jersey

Look, we've got no business telling you how to spend your money. 

We will, however, question how you spend your money. Especially if it's to create a Jon Gruden Bears jersey, like our friend at Monday night's game did: 

It's an honorable commitment to the bit, if nothing else. When you get the opportunity to roast someone you've never met by spending your money on an expensive jersey with the name of a coach who's not on the Bears, all in the name of Content, you have to do it.