The Bears will look to rebound from their Week 1 loss to the Packers Sunday when they visit the Broncos in Denver. Here are four storylines to monitor in the game:
(1) Will quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears offense bounce back after a subpar performance in their 10-3 loss to the Packers?
A Bears offense entering its second season under coach Matt Nagy with high expectations was out of sync, out of rhythm and out of balance against Green Bay, failing to score a touchdown for the first time in Nagy’s 18 games as coach. The unit produced its only points—an Eddy Pineiro 38-yard field goal—on a drive that started at the Packers’ 36.
The offense spent the week in practice working on getting in and out of the huddle quicker and improving communication. Deficiencies in those two areas versus the Packers resulted in “everybody not being on the same page,” according to Trubisky.
The Bears will attempt to make those corrections against a Broncos defense that yielded three touchdowns and 357 yards in a 24-16 Week 1 loss to the Raiders last Monday night in Oakland. Denver’s head coach is Vic Fangio, who spent the past four seasons as Bears defensive coordinator and—as a result—is very familiar with Trubisky and the offense he operates.
Nagy acknowledged during the week that the Bears need to be more balanced on offense in Denver than they were against the Packers when they threw 45 passes and had 15 rushes. Trubisky completed 26 of 45 passes for 228 yards with one interception and a 62.1 passer rating.
“When you hand the ball off 15 times in 65 plays, that’s not enough balance,” Nagy said. “It’s one-dimensional. We didn’t run the ball enough … In any offense, you’ve got to be able to get that run game established so it opens up other things and we know we need to be better there.”
(2) Will the Bears defense deliver another stellar performance in Denver?
The Bears defense picked up against the Packers under new coordinator Chuck Pagano where it left off last year when it was led by Fangio. The unit registered five sacks of Aaron Rodgers and allowed Green Bay to convert just 2-of-12 third-down opportunities (17 percent). The 10 points tied for the fewest the Packers have scored in Rodgers’ 22 career starts against the Bears.
The one thing the defense aims to do differently Sunday is take the ball away. After leading the NFL with 36 takeaways last season, the Bears were blanked in that category versus Green Bay. It won’t be easy against a Denver offense that didn’t commit any turnovers in its Week 1 loss to the Raiders. The biggest difference in that game was that the Broncos scored just one touchdown while settling for three field goals on four red-zone possessions.
The Bears defense is led by outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who faced the Broncos in Denver in each of his first four NFL seasons with the Raiders. In eight career games against the Broncos, Mack has registered 33 tackles, 10 sacks, 14 tackles-for-loss and three forced fumbles. He tied a team record with five sacks in Denver on Dec. 13, 2015.
The Bears will face a Broncos offense that’s quarterbacked by veteran Joe Flacco. The 12th-year pro completed 21 of 31 passes for 268 yards with one TD and a 105.3 passer rating versus the Raiders.
“He’s a talented guy and he can make all the throws,” Pagano said. “He’s a smart guy. There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen. He knows exactly where to go with the ball and he does a great job of controlling the defense with his eyes. He does a great job pre-snap gathering information. He’ll utilize the play clock, he’ll utilize cadence, he’s veteran savvy that way, to get us to show our hand and all those things and get them in the right play. He’s going to do that the majority of the time, so we’ve got to be really sharp.”
(3) How will Eddy Pineiro fare in his second game as Bears kicker?
Because the offense struggled against the Packers, Pineiro had a quiet night while making his much-anticipated NFL debut. He converted his only kick of the game, a 38-yard field goal.
“I understand why there was a lot of hoopla on the kicking thing—probably in my opinion a little much, but that’s OK, I get it,” said special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor. “But I was really happy for him and I was excited for his opportunity to go out there. Good snap, hold, kick, guys did a great job in protection. It’s Game 1. Now let’s see how he does in Game 2 and I expect him to play well. But I was fired up for him.”
Pineiro now heads to Denver, where kickers benefit from the thin air. The high altitude can add 5-8 yards to kicks and punts, which obviously will increase Pinerio’s range. “I’ll try some long ones in pregame and see how it goes,” Pineiro said. “I’ve never kicked there before, so it’ll be new for me. But it’s still kicking a football like everywhere else.”
Pineiro won the Bears kicking job by making 8-of-9 field-goal attempts and 3-of-4 extra-point tries in the preseason. With his 38-yarder against the Packers, he has now connected on nine straight field goals after missing his first attempt from 48 yards in the preseason opener.
(4) How will the familiarity between the Bears and Fangio manifest itself in the game?
There likely won’t be a whole lot of surprises Sunday when the Bears face their former defensive coordinator; they know him and he knows them, both in terms of schemes and personnel.
“We’ve got to mix it up a little bit,” Trubisky said. “We’ve got to do some things that he won’t expect and just try to keep him off balance. I think if all 11 guys on our offense are doing our jobs, then the game’s going to go the way that we want it. We want to dictate the tempo, how they’re reacting to us and just do things that he won’t expect, necessarily. And we’ve got to do some things that he hasn’t seen before. He’s a great defensive mind and we have a lot of respect for that. But we’ve got a job to do and we’ve got to make sure we do our job on offense.”
While Fangio is familiar with Trubisky’s strengths and weaknesses, the quarterback spent the week in practice honing his fundamentals like he always does regardless of the upcoming opponent.
“I respect what [Fangio] does,” Nagy said. “Our quarterbacks respect what he does. But at the end of the day, most importantly, especially at [quarterback], it comes back to us. It comes back to your eyes. It comes back to your feet. Understanding the trust factor on each one of the plays and knowing where to go on each one of the concepts, regardless of what coverage he decides to spring on us.
“It doesn’t take anything away from coach Fangio and Denver, but at this level, you have to make sure you take care of your own fundamentals first before anything else.”