They Are Who We Thought They Were

Everyone is looking to figure out how the season will end, based on week one. I’ve got news for you. You can’t. It’s one game. But everyone seems to insist on figuring if they’ll be in the super bowl based on this Sunday. So if you were trying to figure out the Packers or the Bears and predict the season based on game 1, I think all you can take away is a similar analysis of the Packers from the end of the 2016 season (with Hundley at the helm, I didn’t know what to make of the end of last season), and a similar analysis of the Bears from the end of the 2017 season.

The Bears are being completely misrepresented as a result of game 1, and I actually spent the day yesterday in Chicago listening to Bears talk radio. The new coach is hailed as a offensive genius, a guy that finally gets it, uses new looks, and utilizes the players’ talents to put them in a position to succeed. Sure, those things MIGHT eventually turn out be true, but I assure you, the first game DID NOT establish those positions in any fashion. In fact, in many ways, those are all false assertions.

 

What could I tell you about the Bears prior to this game? top notch defense, virtually a rookie QB, average offense at best. After the game, all of those things remain true, except that you can now add that their new coach used his entire bag of tricks in a single drive, and then went vanilla for the rest of the game; a strategy that turned out to be grossly ineffective. If he’s a genius, it was not on display on Sunday.

Their only offensive touchdown was the result of an opening drive in which the Bears thoroughly embarrassed the Packers D, and that drive is being celebrated as if their coach had cured cancer. But, almost EVERY play during that drive was out of a unique and unscouted formation. Often plays like that have a high probability of success, because the D has absolutely no clue what’s going to happen or how to prepare for their own individual responsibilities as the play unfolds. Problem is, you simply cannot sustain that as a gameplan. You can’t call a new formation every play, and once you repeat yourself, the play gets scouted, and its no longer unique.

Plus, the exotic plays often have only a few options for execution. Pro-style sets have tremendous options available, which is why they’re the most commonly used. Unique formations and exotic plays need to remain unique to be a success, because their options are limited and once the league knows what your uses are, there is nothing unique about it and your play is highly predictable. Know what happened after the playcalling genius shot his whole playcalling load on a single drive? The Bears almost completely abandoned unique looks and used mostly vanilla formations for the rest of the game. Know how effective their offense was after they went to a pro-style offense? Two field goals for the entire game. Their offense was almost nonexistent when you took away the element of surprise and just started playing regular season NFL football. Their offense is just as inept as you remember from last season (and how many consecutive seasons prior), except when benefiting from a ton of misdirection.

Their defense is not only top notch, but they also now added Khalil Mack. That literally requires no further analysis. Although Rodgers did slay their badass defense in the second half, don’t be fooled. Rodgers had an absolutely magical game. It was a historic performance that will be remembered similarly to Favre v. Raiders. Even the Bears D can’t beat someone playing at that level in a league where playing defense is against the rules, and none of Rodgers’ heroics would have been remembered if the Bears D made it easy. It wasn’t just memorable because Rodgers had been carted off earlier. It was also memorable because throughout the comeback the Bears D was ferocious. Rodgers was just that much more fantastic. Don’t be fooled by Rodgers in the 2nd half any more than you should not be fooled by the Bears 1st drive of the season. The Bears defense is LEGIT.

They are who we thought they were. If you must predict the Bears future based on Sunday, See 2017. Rinse and repeat. They will go where their defense takes them. Again.

As for the Packers:
Well, we have Aaron Rodgers on offense. I could stop there and my point would be fully made, but I suppose I could dig a bit deeper. He’s the same as he was before he got hurt in 2017. By far the best in the game, despite stubbornly insisting on keeping that pocket alive 3-5 seconds past the time the offensive line needed him to deliver the ball. He literally had ZERO success at that, but as usual, he’d rather have a 30 yard incompletion and be knocked to the ground than take what was given to him and help out his completely overwhelmed offensive line (how many times did the Bears crush the pocket with a 3 man rush? I mean, that was embarrassing).

Enter a backup QB, and he marches straight down the field where Rodgers could not, by using timing and rhythm passing to negate the pass rush. The injury forced Rodgers to adjust, and when he started using rhythm and timing to beat that pass rush, he showed yet again why he’s the most talented qb, possibly of all time. So, as usual, I’ll gladly take the stubbornness of the 1st quarter, because he’s the only guy on earth that can do what he did in the 2nd half.

He is who we think he is.

Our defense? No way of knowing whats up there after one game, but I suspect positive things are coming. I give the Bears zero credit for the total gimmick first drive, so I also give a pass to the Packers D for that drive. Yes, I wish we could have done something to stop them just a bit, but once the gimmick of the first drive went away, our defense gave up 2 field goals for the ENTIRE GAME. I’m THRILLED with that, but once again, I can make no predictions, and you should stop making predictions as well. It didn’t hurt after all, that Trubisky couldn’t hit a WR if his life depended on it. This was the Bears offense we’re talking about after all, and it was the first game.

IF the Bears turn out to be great later, then we can talk about keeping them out of the endzone for all but one flukey drive of the game. Until then, lets just say I have my eyebrows raised. This could go very very well. Lets see what happens against an efficient offense. Then I’ll get excited.

Other Notes, Leading to things that Game 1 ACTUALLY merits watching, where the first quarter (not first game) of the season could actually allow for a reasonable prediction of where this season will end up:

Bulaga was brutalized by Mack, a guy trying to build a hall of fame resume, Bulaga being a senior citizen and coming back early after an acl injury, did a solid job of getting in Mack’s way and lived to tell the tale. This should not result in serious concern YET, but my eyebrows are raised and I want to see what happens in the coming weeks when Bulaga has matchups against mere mortals.

The young DBs had a VERY quiet night. Are they playing great already? Or were they just playing the Bears? Again, my eyebrows are raised.

Mathews hasn’t been Mathews in years. YEARS. When he’s on the field he’s still undoubtedly an upper echelon player that offenses cannot ignore, but he is not and has not been THE Clay Matthews in years, and if you’re not THE Clay Matthews, it does not go overlooked when you hit someone late (YET AGAIN) at a critical moment in the game. If you’re going to do things detrimental to the team like that, you better be bringing enough positives to outweigh the negatives. I will always love the reckless abandon, but the benefits have to outweigh the costs. He either needs to make a bigger positive impact, or stop boneheaded plays that make a negative impact. If one of the greatest receivers in packers history, who also is Rodgers best friend isn’t safe, neither is a highly paid linebacker that is no longer making the impact that justified his contract.

Linebackers seemed mostly quiet otherwise. Does that even mean anything given how often the dime defense was on the field? The linebackers seem to be an annual question mark.

Thrilled with all the WRs, but there are expectations for Cobb and Adams. I’m especially thrilled with Geronimo. What an improvement he seems to have made. I’m not worried about a lack of Graham impact. These guys are all going to contribute to one another getting covered up, and they’ll take turns having big impact games.

And finally the thing I really want to watch: This is something I wanted to bring up before the season began, but never got the chance. Just a reminder, of 2 things we have in common today with Rodgers best years. 1. A scary threat at TE, and 2. Joe Philbin as offensive coordinator.

Sure, offensive coordinators get a bad rap as glorified baggage handlers with McCarthy calling the plays, but when Philbin left, Jason Wilde did some reporting that I can’t get out of my mind. He predicted that our offense would take a serious hit(and it did surely take a hit) because Philbin is not only a certifiable offensive mind, but he was also the ONLY guy on the staff that could say no to McCarthy. Philbin kept plays and playcalling unique, steered McCarthy away from his own tendencies, and was McCarthy’s absolute right hand. And Wilde was correct, although we still had Rodgers, things truly haven’t been the same since he left. I’m excited to see if a similar chemistry can be created.

I also wonder if Philbin can get through to whoever is responsible (Rodgers or McCarthy or both) for Rodgers continuing to dance in the backfield in what seems to be a refusal to play some more timing and rhythm passing. I’m not asking to abandon the deep pass. The opposite actually. I love those long developing deep plays, but I just wish we’d stop abandoning the short and mid range pass, exclusively throwing 30 yard vertical passes. We’re much more effective at the deep ball when we’re incorporating mid and short range rhythm and timing.

On Sunday McRodgers resumed exactly where they left off when Rodgers got hurt last season, and they have this tendency to completely abandon the short and mid range pass, and fool around in the back field for 7+ seconds waiting for the deep route to come open. Love it when it works, but it doesn’t work very well when it’s our only gameplan.

And what exactly was Edgar Bennett going to do about it as offensive coordinator? He was basically an intern, not a guy that was going to say boo to a guru like McCarthy.  Joe Philbin, sir, is no Edgar Bennett. I’m watching to see if Philbin can get them back to a more productive passing attack ala Philbin’s last stint in Green Bay (can you even believe that our offense is capable of being even better? scary thought, but it IS possible). If he’s really the only guy that can stand up to McRodgers, that could happen, and I’m genuinely optimistic that it will happen because to make Rodgers even more effective would be absolutely deadly.

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