For reasons that still aren’t entirely clear to me, a lot of my conversations about football take place in the company of Steelers fans.
As with all fans of the NFL, they have a tendency to overreact to bad results and to judge a whole season too quickly based on one week’s failings. Despite their enviable number of recent playoff appearances and there, always impeccable, conference record, they rail against their “naive” coaches, their “prima donna” stars and their “out-of-touch” owners.
But my fellow Bears fans, through all of this, they have one thing that we don’t – EXPECTATIONS.
With their team sat at 3-2 (and 1) they’re not mad this season because; their offense sputtered in the second half allowing their bitter divisional rival to hand them a loss (14-26 to the Ravens in week 4), or because they lost a road game they could’ve-should’ve won (37-42 to the Chiefs in week 2).
They’re mad because they EXPECT to be successful.
I guess that’s what having; a top 10 all-time QB, 8 playoff appearances from 2007 to 2017, and not having a losing record since 2003 will do for you.
For me, though I didn’t know it at the time, EXPECTATIONS went out of the window (or more accurately, the door) in 2006 when Lovie was booted out of Halas Hall.
To be clear, it wasn’t my EXPECTATION that the Bears under Mr. Smith would be world-beaters, it was merely that they’d be competitive. Have winning seasons. Flirt with the playoffs. Maybe win the occasional NFC North Crown?
What was my EXPECTATION replaced with? Well, I guess, over the years since then, it’s been HOPE.
HOPE that some of Phil Emery’s outlandish moves might pay off. HOPE that Marc Trestman might know the “magic words” that would prevent Jay Cutler from being a liability. HOPE that John Fox would “do what he always does” and take one of his teams pretty-much straight to the Big Show. HOPE replaced EXPECTATION and that’s where I still am. I’m guessing a lot of you are with me.
This season though… This season is different. It’s not just HOPE anymore. At least, I HOPE it’s not just HOPE?
The Defense: despite surrendering too many easy completions and all those missed tackles have genuinely shown flashes of immortality.
The Offense: despite serving up too many overthrows and all those near-disaster and “just throw it” moments has genuinely shown flashes of competence. (Too harsh? Mitch has shown signs of potential brilliance and his demeanor and work ethic seem light years ahead of the previous incumbents’).
Coming off a perplexing loss to an under-strength Dolphins team, the Bears have something to prove this Sunday. The Defense should come out angry and will need to sustain their effort for 4 quarters against an Offense that will attempt to spread them out and expose the weaknesses that Green Bay and Miami both managed to, so readily, exploit.
Vic Fangio’s aversion to blitzing could be a strength against a Quarterback who sees a blitz as an opportunity to attack. However, Fangio’s predilection to allow completions underneath could be the Bears undoing against Edelman, (the, possibly injured?) Gronkowski and a running back, in James White, who leads the league in targets and receiving TDs.
The Offense will, rightfully, feel that they did enough to have beaten the Dolphins in week 6. They should expect exotic looks this week from a Patriots front seven who, on several occasions against the Chiefs (Week 6), went with no down linemen.
Their Linebacker corps will also find ways to generate pressure and Trubisky should make sure he doesn’t lose sight of big-game player D’onta Hightower who superbly baited Patrick Mahomes into throwing a pick in their win at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bears multitude of offensive weapons, paced by Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen in Miami, could cause problems for a New England secondary who handed the combination of Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt 247 yards and 4 TDs through the air last week.
And Nagy, Nagy needs to read his own play sheet. He’s spoken about it on several occasions and eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed a big box in bottom corner of the sheet that reminds him “Be You”. “Be You” means committing to what you believe in, trusting in your team and putting other teams to the sword when you’ve got the chance.
It doesn’t mean calling a fifth consecutive run play on 3rd and 4 which barely gets back to the line of scrimmage and results in an agonizing (not that) long, missed field goal. Be You, Matt, Be You – we all wanted you to call play-action there or even the zone-read-RPO-shovel-pass-to-a-TE that has proven to be so effective.
Make no mistake, this is a game that the Bears can win and they stand a solid chance of beating the Patriots if:
- The secondary comes to play. Linebackers in coverage will also need to be on their game so step up Roquan.
- Mitch trusts his preparation against a complex defense. Offensive weapons get going early and often, playing from behind is not where you want to be.
- Nagy plays to win. Step on the gas. Keep stepping on the gas. Stop, stopping stepping on the gas.
Is it hyperbole to say that October 21st, 2018 could be a defining day in Bears history?
Probably. Well, definitely.
But, for me, it’s a game that could help push my emotional slider further away from HOPE. Come to the end of the weekend, if the Bears are 4-2, I will EXPECT them to win their next three games. I will EXPECT them to be in with a shot of making the playoffs. Winning the Division will not be an EXPECTATION just yet, but it won’t be just a HOPE either. It’ll be somewhere in the between.
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Featured Photo Credit: NFL.com