HOUSTON – The Bears, particularly the new ones coming from winning programs, have goals that transcend win totals or statistics. And if the money brought them to Chicago, it was about instilling an attitude of wanting more.
“The attitude has got to spread like wildfire,” said linebacker Danny Trevathan, from Super Bowl champion Denver and voted by teammates as one of the two defensive co-captains with Pernell McPhee.
“These guys have got to be hungry, like I said, they are. I feel like we’ve got a great group of guys. We’ve just got to keep pushing it and keep having great days.”
The first of those days needs to be Sunday in Houston. And realistically, it will be up to Trevathan and the defense to put that “hungry” into meaningful action.
The last time the Bears saw Brock Osweiler they put him on the ground more times (five) than any quarterback they faced in 2015, and had his Denver Broncos reeling through the fourth quarter of a two-point loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Osweiler doesn’t have a Super Bowl offense in front of him now, after signing a $72 million contract this offseason to take him away from Denver. But whether the Bears can get to Osweiler the way they did last time they faced each other is a franchise-grade question.
The reason is that the Bears since the close of 2015 invested nearly $50 million in free agents, a contract extension for Willie Young, their top pass rusher over the past two seasons, and a pair of high draft choices. The clear mission statement was upgrading a defense that now is tasked with being the strength of a team building toward what it envisions to be a perennial championship contender.
[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]
“Ya’ know, I think we upgraded our talent and I think it’s a big part,” said coach John Fox. “I’m excited. I think you’ll see improvement from our defensive side of the ball.”
The surprise, inside and outside the organization, will be if the Bears don’t see a massive improvement. Fox philosophically favors a dominant defense getting the football for a run-based offense, a formula that gave Lovie Smith a very respectable 81-63 Chicago record.
The offense may struggle as it settles in behind new coordinator Dowell Loggains and without Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and a made-over offensive line. But defense typically travels well, and with their offense opening the season on the road against a top-10 defense, the challenge to the Bears’ defense is obvious and immediate.
And for all of the upgrades, there are still questions in the position groups most responsible for dealing with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (111 catches) and rookie speed receiver Will Fuller, a first-round pick this year out of Notre Dame.
“We’re basically a very similar group on the back end [secondary] right now,” said coordinator Vic Fangio. “That hasn’t changed a whole lot. I think we’ve gotten better in spots but it still has to be a better all 11.
The standard way to enhance a secondary is to put the quarterback in distress, something the Bears did too infrequently last season (35 total sacks) and did not often enough deliver the kind of assault they mounted against Osweiler last November. While upgrades at linebacker were a priority, the pass rush was the overriding offseason focus.
“We've got a lot of different types of rushers going forward with the power rushers and speed rushers and if we can get some push inside with those big D-lineman,” said GM Ryan Pace, “so that's going to be good to see.”
The Bears don’t have rush-linebacker Pernell McPhee, on the PUP list as he tries to come back from offseason knee surgery. And cornerback Kyle Fuller isn’t expected to be back from knee surgery yet.
But adding Leonard Floyd and Jonathan Bullard were part of the front-seven buildup that is now expected to harass Osweiler enough to disrupt his rhythm and that of an offense that struggled last year under current Bear Brian Hoyer.
And in the process, form into something with an identity that has been missing for too much of the past several years, aided by veterans with a mission.
“You can definitely have that chemistry a lot quicker because when you have veteran guys who've played the game, you know what to expect.,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “The transition is a little bit smoother but you still need that experience of playing together.”
Which begins in earnest Sunday afternoon.
And the winner is...
The Bears will be better than popular consensus. Which means they will win some games they’re not expected to, games like Sunday’s vs. the Texans.
But football is a game of matchups, and the strengths of the Texans, specifically the elite front seven based around J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, are precisely what a still-forming offense of Jay Cutler and his receivers and the Bears’ post-Forte running game do not need for game one.
The Bears’ defense will not be trampled by the Houston offense. The Bears’ offense just won’t be able to do enough yet in what is a winnable game to open 2016. I predicted this game as an “L” back when the schedule came out and still do.
Prediction: Texans 17, Bears 14