Would beating the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener make for a feel-good moment? Sure. Will it have any impact on the overall year? Zero. The Chicago Bears story lines for this 2017 kickoff game are plentiful. More so than in a long time. Hopes are high that this is the year the team starts pulling itself out of the doldrums after a long rebuilding phase.
Of course head coach John Fox hates using the word “rebuild” but facts are facts. In a short space of time the Bears have gone from one of the oldest NFL teams to one of the youngest. That is undoubtedly going to come with some growing pains. What fans want to see is how quickly they can get over such issues.
So what should fans be watching rather than the actual final score? What do they really want to see? Here are five key subplots that deserve careful observation.
Mitch Trubisky vs. the blitz
This may seem oddly specific. At this point people just want to see the #2 overall pick of the draft play in live NFL action. That’s fair, but for the Bears it goes deeper than that. One of the things they’ve focused on throughout training camp are his fundamentals. They want to get him to a point where he doesn’t fall back into his college habits when under duress.
For rookie QBs, the quickest way this happens is by seeing frequent blitzing. One can bet the Broncos defense will be anxious to throw some exotic looks his way. It will be interesting to see if Trubisky can adjust to the pressure and makes some plays. Not only with his feet, as he’s done in camp, but also with good reads in the pocket.
Tarik Cohen vs. live tackling
Easily the most exciting rookie of training camp to this point has been fourth rounder Tarik Cohen. The 5’6″ running back has created all sorts of havoc on the field with his mix of speed, agility and quickness. It’s difficult for defenders to get a bead on him and he’s a nightmare in open space. Of course that’s well and good when live bullets aren’t firing.
Head coach John Fox warned he’s not drawing conclusions until he sees Cohen against serious tackling. That means this preseason matchup will be the first indication on whether Cohen is for real. Admittedly the play calling will also play a factor. Will the Bears get a little creative to find him space or just keep it simple?
— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) August 5, 2017
Who steps up at wide receiver?
This is a big one. Outside of Cameron Meredith, who seems poised for a big year, the Bears have zero clue what they have at wide receiver. At this point it’s assortment of has-been veterans (Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright), youngsters slowed by injury (Kevin White, Markus Wheaton) and training camp darlings (Tanner Gentry, Daniel Braverman).
It’s a group with loads of potential but also loads of question marks. Going up against a strong secondary like Denver will be a great measuring stick for them. More than anything it will help the coaches sort out who is for real and who’s been pretending in practice. Sometimes it comes down to who gets the hot hand at the right time.
The interior defense against the run
The front seven of the Bears defense is widely viewed as their biggest strength on the team. There is young talent across the board from the defensive line to the linebackers. Problem is despite this praise they haven’t lived up to the hype. Not yet anyway. Part of the reason is a litany of injuries that struck last year along with a persistent issue.
That being their run defense. Chicago was 27th in the league at stopping opponents on the ground. That averages out to over 121 yards per game. It’s little wonder they kept failing to win close games. The defense never had the gas at the end to prevent decisive scores. Having a healthy Eddie Goldman in the middle and Danny Trevathan at linebacker will be vital to changing that.
— Jeffery L Carter (@jcarter54) April 1, 2017
Finding the hawks
If the defense has one overarching obsession going into 2017, it’s finding a way to create more turnovers. An understandable thing when they have a league-worst 11 last year. Another of those key stats that explain why they didn’t win more games. It’s for that reason they so drastically overhauled the secondary in March and April.
Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper and Eddie Jackson arrive on the roster with backgrounds centered around taking the ball away. So far the results in practice are promising. The next step is whether they can so the same in a game situation. Add in the fact that several other young DBs are fighting for a roster spot, and each turnover could be a game-changer.