That was not the start the Chicago Bears were hoping for in their season opener against the Green Bay Packers. In the 100th anniversary season for both the NFL and the Bears, Chicago was supposed to build off their NFC North crown and 12-4 record from a year ago and kickoff the 2019 season in style. Their ferocious defense showed up, with zero signs of regression mind you, but it was their offense that laid an egg and only mustered three points in the 10-3 loss. It was the worst offensive performance of the Matt Nagy era and he’ll need to find a way to get his team ready to bounce back and even their record against the Denver Broncos this week.
What makes this game even tougher is that it takes place in the Mile High City, and playing in Denver in September is usually a recipe for disaster for visiting teams. Since the NFL and AFL merged in 1966, the Broncos are 50-8-2 in the first two weeks of the season when playing at home. Denver has also won fourteen straight September home games, so this is a franchise that expects to win in the early part of the season.
Part of that is the team itself -- in being one of the most successful franchises in the NFL they have consistently put a good product on the field -- but even in their down years visitors playing in the high altitude are at a disadvantage. Opposing teams simply aren’t accustomed to less oxygen being available when playing a mile above sea level, so they have a harder time catching their breath and their heart rate increases. The Bears would be wise to travel as early as possible to get their players some time to acclimate to the conditions.
Luckily for the Bears they have a very deep roster, so keeping a fresh rotation for their players is a must.
In week one we saw Chicago’s defense go five deep at defensive line, and I’d expect the snap counts to increase from back-ups Roy Robertson-Harris and Nick Williams for week two. At outside linebacker, the Bears went four deep, but I’d expect number three OLB Aaron Lynch to see an increase from the eight snaps he received against Green Bay. The Broncos play plenty of three wide, but they’ll also use two tight end sets, so expect the Bears to mix and match in their secondary with nickel, big nickel, and some dime too.
On offense, the Bears need to use their stable of running backs better than a week ago, and I’m not just talking about actually running the ball on occasion, I’m talking evening out their playing time better. Tarik Cohen shouldn’t lead the position group in snaps, even if he is spending the majority of his time at wide out. Rookie running back David Montgomery clearly has some juice when he runs the ball, so getting his playing time up closer to Mike Davis’ is a must this week. On Thursday night Davis played 56% of the snaps to Montgomery’s 38% and that isn’t going to cut it this week.
At wide out, there’s no reason why the Bears can’t go five deep with enough rest for number one receiver Allen Robinson II. Second year pro Anthony Miller only played in 22% of the snaps last week, so he should see an uptick in production. Robinson and Miller, who both play well from the slot, should be able to find room to operate against the Broncos with Denver nickelback Bryce Callahan expected to miss this week’s game.
The Bears could use a full complement of tight ends this week, but it seems like starting “U” Trey Burton may be a game time decision again on Sunday. Denver allowed Oakland Raiders’ tight ends to rack up nine catches and ninety yards in their week one game, so this is a match up the Bears could exploit. Then again, Oakland quarterback Derek Carr went 22 of 26 without even being hit once by Denver’s pass rushers, so the Bears passing game might be primed to get on track.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Chicago’s offense will be facing former defensive coordinator, and current Bronco head coach, Vic Fangio, so if anyone knows how to fluster Trubisky, it’ll be Fangio. But Trubisky has the experience of practicing against Vic’s defense for two years in Chicago, so he may have a small level of comfort when he takes the field on Sunday.
I hate calling a week two game a must win, but with the way the Bears looked week one they need to make a statement in Denver. Plus there’s the whole starting 0-2 thing that could be hanging over their heads. Did you realize that since 1990, 87.4% of the teams that lost their first two games missed the playoffs?
Denver’s pass rush is much better than what they showed on Sunday in Oakland, and Chicago’s pass protection struggled mightily in their opening game by allowing five sacks and eleven quarterback hits.
History is against Chicago as they have to fight from being another September Mile High victim in order to avoid being in a tough-to-come-back-from 0-2 hole. But if Chicago can give Trubisky time to throw, they’ll win this game.