Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic provides us with a viewer’s guide to Sunday’s matchup.
“In Nagy’s season openers with the Bears, the first drive has turned out to be prescient.
“Let’s go back to September 2018 at Lambeau Field. Curiosity was the sentiment at the time, as we wondered what Nagy’s offense would look like. It began in the T-formation and ended with a Trubisky touchdown run. It resembled nothing seen in Chicago in the John Fox era. The rest of the season, the offense wasn’t great, and often not even good, but it was adept enough for a 12-4 mark.
“If 2018 was about curiosity, 2019 was about confidence. We heard about taking the offense from 101 to 202. All the starters but one returned. This would be Trubisky’s finest hour.
“With the country watching as the Bears kicked off the league’s 100th season, the opening play was a fumble. The drive resulted in a punt. The offense sputtered all night, and then all season.”
Fishbain goes on to identify a number of other differnt things to watch and they’re all good points. The article is worth reading.
Having said that, I thought I’d provide some other things that I will be watching that aren’t specifically called out or emphasized.
- Watch the yards per carry and the yards per attempt.
In particular, the yards per attempt is perhaps the best indication of how well an offense is operating. Not coincidentally, quarterback Mitch Trubisky was last in the league in this department in 2019 at 6.1 yards.
The heart of any good scoring offense is completions in the 10-20 yard range, close enough to make a connection realistic most of the time yet far enough to represent a good chunk of yardage. These are the bread and butter plays that you see executed over and over in sustained drives by good offenses like that of the Kansas City Chiefs. Its not a great signs that reports indicate that Bears quarterbacks struggled with these throws in a pandemic shortened camp. What the yards per attempt is at half time will be a huge indicator of where they are at.
Similarly, the Bears struggles in the running game were well documented last year. They are going nowhere unless this imporoves.
- Watch Tarik Cohen.
Cohen was the heart of much of what the Bears did in 2018. He was a match up nightmare for defenses and what he did with the ball after the catch was a big part of the offense, such as it was. Last year with no good tight ends like the 2018 version of Trey Burton to worry the opposing linbackers and safeties, teams focused entirely on stopping Cohen. It had a major effect on the offense.
The Bears evidently have high hopes that their current tight ends, Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris, will produce more in the offense this year. If they are even just decent, as Burton was in 2018, perhaps the biggest observable effect will be that things will loosen up again for Cohen.
- Watch Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine.
Although the Fishbain did highlight Johnson’s role and the importance that he perform as a rookie, I’ll be interested in seeing if the Bears only play him in nickel situations. It’s entirely possible that nickel back Buster Skrine will be moved outside in the base defense.
If that happens, how the relatively undersized Skrine performs will be important. Similarly, how quickly the Bears gain or lose confidence in Johnson will be very evident in how much he plays as the game wears on and how he holds up when the Lions test him (which they undoubtedly will).
- Watch Khalil Mack.
This isn’t a revelation but how much the Lions can afford to concentrate on stopping Mack will go a long way towards telling you how this game went. Last year teams literally triple teamed him with an offenseive tackle and a tight end to his side and a running back kept in specifically to concentrate on making sure he never got loose. They could do this because Akiem Hicks was injured and the Bears literally got nothing from the one-on-one matchups that Leonard Floyd consistently got on the other side.
Whether new pass rusher Robert Quinn plays or not will be a big factor here. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday with an ankle injury. But even with Quinn out, the presence of Hicks should make a big difference. If it doesn’t, I would say that fans shouldn’t get too carried away with their optimism for the season.