No game is insignificant in a sport where the season consists of only 16 of them, but some games take on added significance for a variety of reasons. And Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles is one of those games, for many of those reasons.
The obvious is to avoid an 0-2 start. The Bears have reached the playoffs after losing two of their first three games (1977, 1994, 2005) but never after losing their first two. And for a franchise still working to shake free of any vestiges of the losing culture of Marc Trestman, the need is there to avoid a second straight start under John Fox losing the first two (first three last year).
One of the ancillary things the Bears did this offseason was to bring in free agents from winning programs (Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England). Ex-Bronco Danny Trevathan never lost a season opener before last weekend. Right tackle Bobby Massie lost only one in four years as a Cardinal. (Josh Sitton and the Packers did lose week one three of the last four years, but with Aaron Rodgers, all of those seasons ended in the playoffs).
“The first game by itself doesn’t matter,” Massie said. “All the games obviously count for the season but in our case, there’s no change, because it wasn’t like we got blown out 60-0 or something. We had opportunities but just couldn’t capitalize on them, and nobody’s down or approaching anything differently.”
The Bears are entering the stretch of their season that offers perhaps the greatest chance for upward movement. The Philadelphia game begins a run of five straight games against opponents without winning records in 2015. After that come the Packers and Vikings, and after the Bears were the only NFC North team not to win in week one, this weekend began with the Bears already looking up at a difficult division.
The mission statement is pretty simple: “We want to limit turnovers, we have to be more efficient on third down, we have to keep the chains moving,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We have to stay on the field.
“We got into a situation there in the second half [vs. Houston] where we got behind and we got in a little bit of a ‘throw’ situation with going against that front… Second down we have to improve on, I thought we were really good on first down, second down we have to get a little bit better in that area. We watched the film, there wasn't anything crazy on there that we have to change.”
Own the middle
With their signing of Sitton, the Bears field a tandem of Pro Bowl guards (Kyle Long) flanking a second-round draft choice. That is the strength of an offense that Fox envisions with a dominant running team.
The problem is that the middle also is a defensive strength of the Eagles, beginning with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and backed by veteran safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod (13 combined seasons). And running their defense is coordinator Jim Schwartz, a Bears nemesis while Detroit Lions head coach.
“The Eagles are strong up the middle,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “’91’ [Cox] is a really good player. The ‘Mike’ linebacker [Jordan Hicks] is a good player and the safeties are both good.
“I worked with Jim Schwartz for multiple years in Tennessee. I know that that’s how he believes in building a football team. Those guys quarterback the defense. They’re smart and you have to make sure what they’re doing and where they’re lined up because they can be a big problem for you.”
Get the rook
The objective of the Bears defense is to be a big problem for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, a rookie making his second start. Wentz benefited last week by his team getting up 10-0 on the Cleveland Browns, who didn’t score until mid-second quarter, and Wentz never played from behind on his way to 278 passing yards and two TD’s without an interception.
But the Bears called unflattering stereotypes of rookie quarterbacks “myths” and one member of the defense has seen Wentz up close.
“Cannon for an arm, not afraid to run it, so he’s not one-dimensional by any means,” said cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, who faced Wentz more than once while playing at Northern Iowa and Wentz was at North Dakota State. “A lot of his check-down passes to his tight ends was what he did a lot of NDSU. He wasn’t running it as much but we definitely know they have it in their system.”
And the winner is…
The Bears’ 1-7 record in Soldier Field was perhaps the biggest mystery of the 2015 season, with glaring late-game mistakes by veterans leading to losses to Minnesota, San Francisco and Washington. The defensive front-seven can take over this game by disrupting Wentz, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s creativity with blitzes in particular have the potential to control the game if the edge rushers can get home more than they did at Houston.
Bears 20, Eagles 13
View from the Moon ’16 record: 1-0