John Fox has yet to win a game as Bears head coach in the month of September. And when the schedule was released a few weeks ago, fans probably didn’t feel it would get much better in 2017.
While the offense adapts to new quarterbacks and receivers trying to learn a new system, the defense (particularly the secondary) will still be in the fresh stages of “getting-to-know-you.” If there’s any unit that needs to be ready (and, especially healthy) at the starting gate, it’s Vic Fangio’s guys. The offenses they’ll face will be powerful, with weapons galore.
Sept. 10 vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were the league’s No. 2 offense last season behind MVP Matt Ryan. The quarterback ranked first in passer rating (117.1), second in touchdown passes (38) and passing yards (4,944) and third in completion percentage (69.9). The NFC Champions also had the receiver with the third-most yards (1,409) in Julio Jones, and the ninth-leading rusher in Devonta Freeman (1,079). He and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,600 yards on the ground
Sept. 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs only ranked 18th in offense a year ago, and the NFL’s second-best rusher from two years ago, Doug Martin, may be out due to a suspension, forcing them to lean on ex-Bear Jacquizz Rodgers. But he still averaged 4.3 yards per rush in Martin’s absence before a season-ending injury. Jameis Winston enters his third season coming off two 4,000-yard passing seasons to begin his career. Mike Evans was a big part of that, especially last season, when he was tied for second in TD catches (12), fourth in yards (1,321) and sixth in receptions (96). But all they’ve done in the offseason is add receivers DeSean Jackson (free agency) and Chris Godwin (third round draftee), and All-American tight end O.J. Howard (19th overall draft pick).
Sept. 24 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
A week later, it’s back home against the Steelers and their seventh-ranked offense from a year ago. Ben Roethlisberger tied for sixth in touchdown passes (29) and ranked 11th in passer rating. Main target Antonio Brown was second in the NFL with 106 catches, tied for second with a dozen TD catches and was fifth in receiving yards (1,384). Not to be outdone, Le'Veon Bell ranked fifth with 1,268 rushing yards. Second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster is insurance if Martavis Bryant can’t stay off the suspended list.
Sept. 28 at Green Bay Packers
So four days after the black and gold on the lakefront it’s the green and gold up the road at Lambeau. Do we really need to go there? Well, if you want: the No. 8 offense featured the quarterback who led the league in touchdown passes (40) and finished fourth in passing yards and passer rating (4,428 and 104.2, respectively), not to mention the fact Aaron Rodgers almost always finds a way to beat the Bears. They may need to turn to fourth round rookie Jamaal Williams to run the ball, but remember how ex-wideout Ty Montgomery had no problem facing the Bears (with a 5.9 yard rushing average for the season). Then there’s Jordy Nelson, first in touchdown catches (14), fifth in receptions (97) and sixth in yards (1,257). Davante Adams’ 12 touchdown catches tied for second with Evans, as he and Randall Cobb combined for 135 receptions. Oh, and they signed former Bear Martellus Bennett to fill a “need” at tight end.
If the defense can keep the games close (a big “if”), there’s no doubt the offense will lean on Jordan Howard. Against the run a year ago, Atlanta ranked 17th, Tampa Bay 22nd, Pittsburgh 13th, and Green Bay eighth.