Well now, that was fun, wasn’t it?
Against all odds, the “rebuilding” Chicago Bears went out on a rainy, swampy Soldier Field and knocked off the heavily-favored — and potential Super Bowl participant — San Francisco 49ers, 19-10 in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL campaign.
There were parts to the Bears’ performance that were not pretty, to be sure. Who’s to say whether that was caused more by the weather conditions, the rustiness of a Game 1, a new offensive and defensive system, or a team still missing key pieces of talent?
Whatever percentages you want to assign to each of those categories, I don’t care. The important thing is that the Bears beat, eventually in convincing fashion, the team that was on the field against them this particular afternoon. And the Bears, for the moment, are undefeated and atop the NFC North division.
Now, I’m a realist and I don’t suspect for a second that we’ll see more games than not the rest of the season that find the Bears with the heavier side of the scoreboard. There are still holes and weaknesses to be addressed, but those can be worked on as the season progresses.
The first thing we noticed about this year’s Bears squad, especially when compared to their counterpart on Sunday, is how disciplined they looked. The Bears had just three penalties for 24 yards — one of which was an insanely idiotic ruling against rookie punter Trenton Gill for bringing a towel on the field to try to clean up some of the slop on the field ahead of a Cairo Santos field goal attempt. Every rule has a reason, but this one is rather ridiculous.
Contrast the Bears’ three penalties with the 49ers’ 12 infractions for 99 yards and you witnessed a major difference. The Bears also won the turnover battle, 2-1, giving them another needed edge to help secure the victory.
The analysis of every Bears game this season must begin with and focus on Justin Fields. The second-year quarterback had a paltry 121 passing yards on 8-of-17 attempts with 2 touchdown passes and 1 interception. He also finished with an 85.7 passer rating. His overall stat line bested that of his counterpart and 2021 classmate, Trey Lance. The latter might have gained 26 more rushing yards on two more carries, but it was clear that Fields had more control over his offense than Lance did with the 49ers.
The Bears’ ground game wasn’t much to look at, gaining just 99 yards on 37 carries for a 2.7 average. The 49ers, meanwhile, rushed 37 times for 176 yards and a 4.8 average.
The two players who seemed like locks to lead the Bears in targets this year, Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet, were taken out of the game by the Niners’ defense. Mooney had just 1 catch for 8 yards on 3 targets. Kmet was targeted just once and had no receptions. Again, how much of this can be attributed to the weather conditions and the quality of the defense the Bears faced versus how good or bad the Bears offense really is is a verdict that will have to wait for another day.
On the flip side of the ball, the Bears really pestered Lance all day. Sure, he was able to pick up 54 yards on 13 carries, but that’s not a bad effort against a dynamic rushing quarterback. Lance was sacked two times and was not able to get comfortable in the pocket. There were some coverage breakdowns that will have to get ironed out, but all in all it was a good performance from the Bears’ pass defense.
I’d like to see the Bears’ secondary a little more aggressive in run support. This, of course, has been a problem for Eddie Jackson for a few years now and it was exemplified on a touchdown run by Deebo Samuel in which Jackson looked like a toddler trying to tackle a vending machine.
Nevertheless, it was important for the Bears to take the ball away and they did so twice. The first was on the 49ers’ initial drive of the game in which Jaquan Brisker fell on a fumble that was “Peanut punched” loose by Jaylon Johnson. The second turnover was a Jackson interception late in the game that helped lead to a touchdown and effectively put the game out of reach. I liked what I saw out of Brisker; was hoping to see a little more from Kyler Gordon.
The value of a win for a first-year head coach in such conditions against a good team cannot be overstated. I think these Bears are really buying into what Eberflus is selling, and it showed on the field for at least one game.
Things could be different, though, in Week 2. The Bears will travel to Lambeau Field for a prime time, nationally televised game against the rival Packers. I don’t think anybody in the organization – even those who were not on the team last year – will forget what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers shouted at Bears fans last year. Rest assured, there will be signs in the crowd reiterating what Rodgers said about owning the Bears and it will be talked about ad nauseam.
While I legitimately gave the Bears a realistic shot of beating the 49ers (in part because I think Trey Lance is one of the more overrated quarterbacks in the NFL right now), I have a hard time seeing a path to victory this week. The Packers are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Vikings in Week 1 and will have their eyes set on this as a rebound game. The Packers don’t quite have the firepower they’ve had in previous seasons with the loss of Davante Adams. But they will give the Bears a heavy dose of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, a 1-2 punch in the ground game unrivaled by most other backfields in the league.
Can the Bears offense keep up? I’m not sure. But if the team practices Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle, the Bears will at least keep that game close.