There's a lot to digest from the Bears' season-opening 34-14 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles. After almost 24 hours to digest and re-watch the game, here are Bears Insider's Adam Hoge's 10 Bears things from Week 1:
1. A start to forget
The first drive of the game had to have been maddening to watch for Bears general manager Ryan Pace. Much of the focus in the offseason -- particularly at the quarterback position -- was improving the team's efficiency in the red zone. Following a big kick return from sixth-round rookie Khalil Herbert, a 41-yard run by David Montgomery, and a 9-yard pass from Justin Fields, the Bears faced a crucial 3rd-and-1 at the Rams' 3-yard-line.
And that's when the offense morphed right back in 2020 form. An inexcusable penalty, followed by a timeout, followed by an interception in the end zone.
It's not Andy Dalton's fault Cole Kmet jumped before the snap on 3rd-and-1 -- that simply can't happen for the second-year tight end -- but the entire sequence looked all too familiar. The Bears have been selling Dalton on his decision-making and overall clean operation of the offense, so to follow up the false start with a timeout because the play clock was running down and then to immediately throw an interception out of the timeout was disturbing.
Later, on fourth down, Dalton threw behind Allen Robinson, which allowed Jalen Ramsey to break up the pass. While Dalton didn't have a ton of time to throw, targeting Ramsey on fourth down is questionable at best, and even worse when Kmet appeared to be wide open on the shallow cross over the middle.
Dalton later showed the poise the Bears have been selling, but the offense was way too horizontal and the damage had already been done. After eight months of build up to Sunday night, that had to have been incredibly frustrating to the coaching staff, front office and, most of all, the fans.
2. The difference with Fields
Anybody that has watched Justin Fields in his football career knows he is a good downfield thrower in a vertical passing attack. My guess is the Bears don't trust their offensive line enough right now and that trust was further limited with Aaron Donald on the field at Sofi Stadium. But guess what? The Bears have a pretty good front-seven too and Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford still found ways to pile up the explosive plays the Bears' offense completely lacks. Scheme matters. In my mind, the spotlight will be even brighter on Matt Nagy whenever Fields takes over as the starter, because if the head coach can't find a way to get more verticality with Fields out there, it will be a very bad look. Sunday night's five-snap sample size for Fields is way too small to analyze fairly, but there was a two-play sequence late in the first quarter that I found concerning. With Fields on the field, Nagy called a reverse flip to Marquise Goodwin in the backfield. That's fine, except the play required 39-year-old left tackle Jason Peters to get out to the numbers to make the key block -- on Jalen Ramsey. That's asking Peters to do way too much at this stage of his career and it seemed like a complete waste of a play for Fields. Then, on the very next snap, with Dalton back on the field, the play called for a horizontal throw to the opposite side to Darnell Mooney, where Damiere Byrd, who is 5-9, 175 pounds, had to make the key block on -- Jalen Ramsey. It did not go well. One of the reasons why Ramsey is so good is because he can play all over the field in many different positions. That's where it's up to the coaching staff to devise a plan to stay away from him. Running back-to-back horizontal plays that require a key block on Ramsey to be successful is not ideal, especially when the matchups were very one-sided.
3. A route tree to forget
Getting back to the idea that McVay found ways to create explosive passing plays against a good front-seven while Matt Nagy could not, this route chart from Next Gen Stats is hard to believe.
Those are all of Allen Robinson's routes from Sunday night, and not a single one reached 10 yards downfield. Again, it was a tough matchup and pass protection was of great concern, but it's hard to find that game plan acceptable when you have a receiver as good as Robinson. And yes, that route chart would probably look different had Fields been playing quarterback all night.
4. A reason for optimism
Running backs David Montgomery and Damien Williams both looked really good from the press box and even better when I re-watched the game. There were some creative runs installed, including at least one with both of them on the field together. You would think a legitimate rushing attack with Fields playing would be hard for a defense to defend, but we're going to have to wait and see on that.
5. A reason for pessimism
Matt Nagy did not provide any injury updates during his Monday press conference, but it was concerning to see both Peters and rookie Larry Borom (ankle) go down with injuries during the game. Elijah Wilkinson actually held his own there in the second half, but it was his struggles at left tackle during the preseason that prompted the Bears to go out and sign Peters. It was a small sample size, but Borom looked pretty good when he was in there. The severity of his ankle injury will be an important development. If you include Teven Jenkins, the Bears were down to Plan D at left tackle in the second half against the Rams. Meanwhile, the other big deficiency -- the nickel corner spot -- provided no answers either. Duke Shelley being a healthy scratch was a bad sign and Marqui Christian struggled enough that you wonder if the front office is scrambling to find another option outside Halas Hall. But if they couldn't find better options in the offseason, how are they going to find one now?
6. Which brings us to Jimmy Graham...
The Bears are in this position in part because they decided to keep Graham and his sizeable contract around when they instead could have kept left tackle Charles Leno Jr., cornerback Kyle Fuller, or used that money to sign other help. I have somewhat defended the move to keep Graham around because he did catch nine touchdowns last season, but that was under the assumption that he would play more than 14 snaps a game, which is how many he played against the Rams. If he's not going to play a lot, then that seems like a miscalculated use of cap space in a year when the Bears didn't have much flexibility. The Bears did restructure Graham's contract last week to lower the cap hit to $5.34 million in 2021, but that pushed $4.66 million of dead cap to 2022.
7. Other observations
- One player to be excited about: right guard James Daniels. I thought he played really well against the Rams and he was showing signs of breaking out in 2020 before suffering as season-ending pectoral tear. - On the other hand, I thought left guard Cody Whitehair really struggled Sunday night. - It was a quiet night for No. 2 cornerback Kindle Vildor, which I actually think is a good thing. He played pretty well. Jaylon Johnson, meanwhile, was outstanding. - I didn't write No. 52 down once during the game or during my re-watch Monday morning. Yikes. - Second-year edge rusher Trevis Gipson needs to play more because Robert Quinn just isn't getting it done. Gipson only received seven defensive snaps Sunday night.
8. Around the NFC North
There's panic in Green Bay and Minneapolis today, while the Lions are probably looking at the positives of almost coming back to stun the 49ers. Fun fact from Sunday: Fields had nearly six times as many fantasy points as Aaron Rodgers. Fields only played five snaps. The guess here is that the Packers will rebound from their blowout loss to the Saints and Rodgers will be just fine, while likely not matching his MVP level play from 2020. Still, it's hard to envision Green Bay not winning the NFC North. As for the Vikings, they are similar to the Bears -- a flawed team scrambling for answers. And the Lions, well, as I always say, they're the Lions.
9. Opponent look-ahead: Cincinnati Bengals
The Vikings woke up Monday morning with major concerns about their offensive line and secondary after a bad loss to the Bengals Sunday. Sound familiar? The Bengals suddenly have some firepower on offense with Joe Burrow throwing to rookie Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Mixon running the football. Based on what we saw from the Bears' defense in Los Angeles, the Bengals are going to be a tough test at Soldier Field. Andy Dalton will face his former team for the second time after beating the Bengals 30-7 in Cincinnati last year with the Cowboys, but this looks like a different matchup now. And the Bears can't afford to fall to 0-2 with a home loss to the Bengals.
10. Final word
It's a long season. There are ebbs and flows, as the Bears showed last year with their 5-1 start and six-game losing streak. I tend to look at player development and there were some positive signs in Los Angeles with players like Montgomery, Daniels and Johnson. Perhaps there's a time later in the season when Fields is playing, Borom and Jenkins are manning both tackle spots and the two veteran safeties aren't playing like rookies. Then again, it might all be wishful thinking. But at least take a deep breath, because it was just one game.