(Vic Fangio photo courtesy Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
After coming out with a dud to start the NFL’s 100th season, the Chicago Bears look to bounce back Sunday when they face former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos.
The Bears were considered a Super Bowl contender on the foundation of a tenacious defense and the expected growth of third-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, but only one of those components delivered on Sept. 5.
And it wasn’t Trubisky.
Chicago’s offense laid an egg in a defensive slugfest befitting two NFC North teams as the Bears suffered a 10-3 home defeat to their archrivals, the Green Bay Packers. Trubisky was sacked a career high-tying five times and failed to throw a touchdown pass, but it was his back-breaking red zone interception in the end zone with 2:03 to play that killed any chance of a comeback.
Now the Bears offense must deal with Fangio, who served as their defensive coordinator the past four seasons before taking the Broncos job. That means Fangio is well-versed with Nagy’s schemes, Trubisky’s tendencies and tics, and pretty much anything the Bears do on the offensive side of the ball.
But like the Bears, the Broncos are also trying to right themselves after dropping their season opener 24-16 at Oakland on Monday night. Joe Flacco had a relatively anonymous debut at quarterback for Denver, completing 21-of-31 passes for 268 yards and failed to get the Broncos into the end zone until hooking up with Emmanuel Sanders on a 1-yard TD toss with 2:15 to play.
”I was extremely disappointed in the loss but not discouraged,” Fangio said after his first game as an NFL head coach. ”Once you see some of the mistakes we made, or plays we didn’t make, that we can see we can be better than we played tonight.”
Bears Week 1 Review
For all the talk about how Bears coach Matt Nagy was going to make more use of multipurpose back Tarik Cohen, using him more in a receiver role did not appear to work out exactly as Nagy planned.
Cohen did wind up with a team-high eight receptions, but they resulted in just 49 yards as he did not have a catch for more than nine yards. With Cohen not in the backfield, the running game failed to ignite as Chicago finished with 46 yards on just 15 carries as Mike Davis and rookie David Montgomery accounted for 37 of them on 11 rushes.
“I think when this offense is at its best, it’s a balanced attack with the run game and the pass game,” Trubisky told the team’s official website, “and we just didn’t do a good enough job to get in a rhythm, and we had to lean more on the pass, which made it easier on the defense because they know it’s coming.”
Chicago’s defense, though, did its job as it limited Green Bay to 213 total yards. The issue was the three chunk plays the Bears allowed totaled 99 yards and were critical to the two scoring drives Aaron Rodgers engineered that proved to be enough to win.
Broncos Week 1 Review
One would have thought the relentless soap opera that was Antonio Brown and finally resolved Saturday with his departure would have created so many distractions the Oakland Raiders would have struggled to show any sort of efficiency or cohesion on offense against Broncos bookend pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
And one would be very wrong.
Neither Miller, nor Chubb, or anyone in a Broncos uniform got to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. He sliced and diced Denver’s defense for 259 passing yards and a touchdown while completing 22 of 26 passes.
Carr’s effectiveness allowed Josh Jacobs to gash the Broncos on the ground as he totaled 85 yards on 23 carries and scored on a couple of short touchdown runs. Denver’s defense struggled to get off the field all night as Oakland converted 10 of 14 on third down.
Flacco was hit-and-miss throughout the game, but he was also hurt by DaeSan Hamilton’s drop of a touchdown pass late in the third quarter that would have made it 14-10. Instead, the Broncos settled for a field goal and came no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
The Broncos ground game produced 95 yards as Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay accounted for 99 on 21 carries. Freeman had the biggest chunk play with a 26-yard burst in the third quarter, while Lindsay’s biggest gain was nine yards.
Bears run offense vs. Broncos run defense
When the Bears dealt Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason and drafted Montgomery, the prevailing belief was they would look to leverage the speed of both Cohen and Montgomery to pressure teams on the edge.
Free agent acquisition Mike Davis was signed to replace Howard’s between-the-tackles presence for the hard inside yards, but it was the absence of Cohen from the ground game given Nagy’s preference to use him out of the slot that contributed to a lack of effectiveness.
Missing tight end Trey Burton through a groin injury also hindered Chicago’s ground game as Green Bay’s improved lateral speed defensively caused all sorts of problems as the Bears longest run was for eight yards. That could again be the case this weekend with Burton’s availability in doubt and the Bears claiming tight end J.P. Holtz off waivers from the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Nagy appeared to be leaning towards giving Montgomery more touches running the ball after the rookie from Iowa State finished with 18 yards on six carries and added a 27-yard reception.
“When he had his touches, which I think there was six of them, he did well,” Nagy said. “He had that nice catch down the sideline. It’s hard for me because I want to watch the tape and truly see, again, all three of those guys. That part is new to us a little bit, so we’ve got to make sure that, again, we figure out how to get that thing right. And luckily it is the first game of the year.”
While the Broncos did not play all that badly against the run, it was clear they sorely missed veteran linebacker and 2018 leading tackler Todd Davis. Denver allowed rookie running back Josh Jacobs to churn out 85 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in his NFL debut.
Davis, who had 80 solo tackles and 114 overall last year, returned to practice this week for the first time in nearly two months after suffering a calf injury in mid-July. He was a limited participant Wednesday but hopes to be available for this contest as he works to get his conditioning at or near game-level intensity.
“It’s just been a grind,” Davis told the team’s official website. “I’ve just been working back to get back with my team. It’s frustrating not being able to be out there, but we’re good and feeling good this week. I think the training staff has me on a good regimen and has me ready to go.”
After a five-game stretch last season in which the Broncos yielded just 77.2 rushing yards per game and 3.39 per carry, they have given up 100 or more in five of the last six contests — with opponents averaging 109.5 yards on 3.89 per rush.
Bears pass offense vs. Broncos pass defense
Staring down receivers and missing open ones is part of the learning curve of any young NFL quarterback — a universal rite of passage everyone who has ever taken a snap under center endures. As a rookie, it is expected. As a second-year signal-caller, it is frustrating yet still understandable.
In the third season, though, it becomes a troubling concern.
Despite being sacked five times, Trubisky did not have happy feet in the pocket. In fact, it was kind of surprising he took off only three times considering how effective a scrambler he was last season in finishing with 421 rushing yards. And he understands the need for week-to-week improvements heading into this game, specifically with Fangio cognizant of distinctive wrinkles in Chicago’s offense.
“Vic does a good job calling games and he’s really good with predictability; knowing what your tendencies are and knowing what you’re bringing—and putting guys in the right spot,” Trubisky noted to the team’s official website. “He does a good job of making it complicated for the quarterback to see, as far as holding the coverage and stuff. But he keeps it simple for his guys, so they’re able to play fast and be in the right spot and make plays.”
The Bears likely will spread the passing offense more considering Cohen and Robinson were targeted 23 times on Trubisky’s 50 dropbacks, with the expectation No. 2 wideout Taylor Gabriel could become more involved. Robinson has recorded back-to-back 100-yard games just once in his career, doing so in the final two weeks of the 2016 season with Jacksonville.
One of the aspects that attracted Fangio to taking the Broncos job was having one established elite pass rusher in Miller and a burgeoning one on the opposite side in Chubb. The duo, though, were complete non-factors Monday night as Denver failed to record even a quarterback pressure on Derek Carr.
A large problem for the Broncos was the Raiders ground game did just well enough to create “third-and-manageable” with regards to distance. Of the 14 third down plays Denver had with a chance to get off the field, 11 of them were five yards or shorter, and Oakland converted seven of them.
In addition to going 3 for 3 on 3rd-and-6 or longer.
“Yeah, one of the biggest issues was they had so many third-and-3 [or shorter],” Fangio admitted, “… which was more of a reflection of our first- and second-down defense than the third-down defense. But you’re right, we’ve got to be able to make some plays and make some stops no matter what the yardage is, and we didn’t get them.”
The lack of getting home on the pass rush magnified the absence of cornerback Bryce Callahan, who is sidelined with a foot injury. The Raiders made it a point to pick on Isaac Yiadom, completing 7 of 9 passes for 110 yards thrown his way without the second-year pro breaking up any attempts.
Callahan, who spent the past four seasons under Fangio in Chicago, did not practice Wednesday and his status for this game is uncertain.
Broncos run offense vs. Bears run defense
There was nothing that stood out about the performances of running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay against the Raiders, which is both good and bad. The Broncos had only two negative rushing plays, with one of them belonging to rookie tight end Noah Fant — that can be chalked up to a play call that failed to work.
On the other end, the Broncos had just one running play go for over 10 yards, with Freeman’s 26-yard jaunt in the third quarter setting up a field goal. Fangio said he was pleased overall with the play-calling of offensive coordinator Rich Scangerello, which is understandable considering Denver moved the ball all game.
If you remove Fant’s effort and Flacco’s one-yard scramble, Freeman and Lindsay combined for 99 yards and averaged a respectable 4.71 yards per carry between them. This week is much tougher sledding for the pair given the Bears stout run defense, which will put the onus on Scarangello to balance the Broncos offense and prevent Chicago from walking a safety into the box on first and second down.
Not much more could have been asked of the Bears when it came to their run defense against the Packers in Week 1. Chicago limited Green Bay to 47 yards on 22 carries and the longest run allowed was a 10-yard scramble by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The defense had three run stuffs and nine tackles for losses, with linemen Leonard Floyd and Roy Robertson-Harris notching two apiece, and the linebacking trio of Mack, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan cleaned up the middle all game and combined to record 13 solo tackles.
“He does things every day that amaze me, and that’s exciting,” inside linebackers coach Mike DeLeone told The Athletic about Smith. “He’s going to keep doing those things, we’re going to clean up a couple of those plays he wished he had back, and it’s going to be really fun to watch.”
Broncos pass offense vs Bears pass defense
Save Hamilton’s drop in the end zone, there was not much the Broncos did poorly offensively against the Raiders. That said, however, it came at arguably the worst possible moment.
To his credit, Flacco did not throw the second-year receiver under the bus as the veteran quarterback looked at the larger picture, which included a public vote of confidence in Hamilton.
“Listen, DaeSean is a really good wide receiver, and he’s going to have an awesome year,” Flacco told BroncosWire on Wednesday. “He’s going to be a really great, reliant receiver in this league. I know how he feels about it, but we’re a team and those things happen. That’s not why we lost the game.
“That’s hard, especially when we were struggling in the red zone and we don’t get any momentum at all in that game,” Hamilton told the Denver Post. “I told somebody earlier, ‘No doubt in my mind I catch that and we win the game.’ The momentum is different, the whole vibe of the game goes differently and that was the spark we needed.”
Flacco’s vote of confidence comes as Hamilton has a firm hold on the No. 3 receiver spot after the Broncos put wide receiver Tim Patrick on injured reserve Wednesday with a hand injury.
Denver’s top two wideouts, though, are coming off big games as Sutton had career highs of seven receptions and 120 yards while Sanders showed no ill-effects from suffering a torn Achilles late last season with five catches for 86 yards. What impressed Flacco was Sanders showing maturity running intermediate routs as five of his receptions went for 15 or more yards.
“I thought he did a good job getting some yardage after the catch also,” Flacco said of his second-year wideout. “It wasn’t like he was wide open, but he’s a big physical guy that I can feel comfortable throwing the ball to in some of those situations. It was good to see him play the way he did and really rise to the occasion and get himself going.”
”I didn’t see much that was good obviously,” Fangio said of the red-zone offense. ”We didn’t make the plays down there. That was really a big difference in the game in spite of everything else. They scored touchdowns and we didn’t.”
At a distance, the Bears did most things right when it came to defense against the Packers, but the few chunk yardage plays they allowed were the pivotal ones that contributed to Green Bay’s two scoring drives that proved enough to win.
Chicago’s pass rush also got home consistently, even if it wasn’t Mack who finished things off with a sack. Leonard Floyd recorded two of the five takedowns of Rodgers, and like Smith, appears to be scratching the surface of what he can do in Chuck Pagano’s system.
“You exceed expectations or you fail to meet expectations, and right now he’s meeting expectations,” Bears coach Ted Monachino told The Athletic about Floyd. “Based on his talent and his opportunities, he’s meeting that expectation. Through his own work is how he’s going to learn to exceed expectations. He’s not shy of that.”
The only other notable shortcoming for the Bears in their opener was their inability to force a turnover, something that happened just twice last year en route to recording league bests of 27 interceptions and 36 takeaways. Facing another savvy — albeit less mobile quarterback in Flacco — offers opportunities, especially if the pass rush flushes the veteran signal-caller out of the pocket.
The rest of the story
All of Chicago released a cathartic exhale of relief when Eddy Pineiro split the uprights on his lone field goal attempt, and it’s possible no 38-yard field goal will ever be as lustily cheered going forward.
All Pineiro has to do is make every kick inside of 50 yards and not hit an upright so Bears fans forget about Robbie Gould enjoying San Francisco, and everything will be fine.
Bears punter Pat O’Donnell did well, putting three of his eight punts inside the opposing 20-yard line and giving the Bears coverage unit time to get downfield — the Packers tried only one runback that netted one yard.
The concern with Nagy is the possibility he gets too cute and overcompensates for his sub-par play-calling in Week 1 with a whole new exotic look in this game. He does not have to reinvent the wheel because of one loss, but he does need to get Cohen more involved in the running game and rotate his three running backs better.
Fangio’s replacement Pagano, however, may be the one under pressure here through no fault of his own. The big plays were more about individual breakdowns than schematic ones, but the Bears are still asking much of their pass rush to help avoid those moments. If they are unable to get off the field, those mistakes could happen, especially late in the thin Denver air.
Broncos kicker Brandon McManus made all three of his expected field goals to salvage failed red zone opportunities, which makes the 64-yard miss at the end of the first half palatable. The thin air of Denver should help his kickoffs result in touchbacks — that was an area of concern as Dwayne Harris had returns of 72 and 29 yards for the Raiders.
Colby Wadman had a simple and effective game — he averaged 48.3 yards on three punts, put two of them inside the Raiders’ 20, and the one that was returned only got nine yards.
Fangio has said all the right things leading up to this game, and it is clear he has an affinity for his time in Chicago. And he should considering he was the architect of arguably the league’s best defense that is now the foundation of the Bears and a reason they have a Super Bowl window.
How rapidly he makes adjustments upon Nagy’s adjustments could very well determine how this game plays out. Fangio is also essentially letting Scarangello sink or swim offensively in terms of play-calling, so that dynamic may be something to watch if Denver’s red zone struggles continue.
In the end…
The best bet of the bunch, unsurprisingly, is take the under at 40 points. In fact, it may be safe to ride it down as low as 39 points given the ineffectiveness both teams had in Week 1 coupled with how the defenses match up against the offenses.
It is easier to expect the Bears to have another strong defensive effort while flustering Flacco, while it is also reasonable to expect Miller and Chubb will not be held down for a second straight contest. Much of this game could come down to “third and manageable.”
The team that does not have its playbook restricted on third down should be the team that emerges victorious. With regards to the under, it has trended well in Denver, delivering in the Broncos last seven home games and the last five when the Broncos are home underdogs.
Denver is also 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games as a home underdog between 0.5 to 3.0 points, but the lack of a big-play game-breaker against this Bears defense makes following that trend more challenging. The Bears are 4-1 against the number in their last five road games and 6-2 in the last eight coming off a loss.
This will not be an aesthetically pleasing game except for those who like defense, and in the end, the Bears should have just enough to hold off the Broncos and get their season back on track.
Three Prop Plays We Like:
David Montgomery OVER 39.5 yards (-114)
Phillip Lindsay UNDER 45.5 yards (-114)
Allen Robinson OVER 65.5 yards (-114)
Of the three, Montgomery appears to be the best since Nagy has all but come out publicly with an increased number on the amount of touches the rookie running back will get. And in the thin air of Denver, keeping the defense fresh will be a motivating factor in Chicago balancing its offense more with the run, which means more touches for Montgomery.
Lindsay is the kind of elusive back the Bears see every day in practice in Cohen and Montgomery and should be able to shut down running lanes similar to how they did against Aaron Jones and Green Bay in their season opener. While Gabriel should see more passes from Trubisky than he did in Week 1, Robinson showed he is ready to take on the burden of being the go-to No. 1 receiver and should clear this number.
With the expectation of this being a very low-scoring game, the feel is both team totals are too high, but with the Bears being the pick to win, taking the Broncos under 19 points is the better play of the two.
The first-half line of the Bears being favored by a half-point is a toss-up, and with the Broncos going 2-4-2 at home last year in the first half, Chicago should be able to eke out a halftime lead. Both teams came in under 15 first-half points last week and combined to score three points in the opening two quarters, which makes the first-half under of 19.5 points a compelling play.
The individual under for both teams are well-placed with Chicago at 10 points and Denver 9.5, which makes taking either of them a challenging pick. The hedge is for the Broncos under 9.5 points more than the Bears over 10 given the expected defensive prowess of both teams and Fangio’s knowledge of Chicago’s offense.