As the late Dennis Green previously said back in 2006 that still applies today, the Chicago Bears are who we thought they were. From the start, Chicago was set up for regression with it being nearly impossible to top their unreal defensive performance in 2018. Not to mention, Chicago has to survive 2019 with one of the toughest schedules in the NFL in regard to PFFELO power rating. As a result, it is all up to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to progress from his poor 2018 to save Chicago’s 2019 and bury the infamous “double-doink” for good.
Green Bay came into the 2019 season with more drama than quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted. With back-to-back losing seasons, Green Bay fired their long-time head coach Mike McCarthy with just four weeks to spare in 2018. Henceforth, the Packers brought in former Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as his replacement. With not even playing a game yet, there was already reported drama between the franchise quarterback and first-time head coach. With that and LaFleur’s questionable play-calling experience, the Packers seemed to already be starting the season behind the pack.
In other words, this game meant a lot to both teams and the result will be pivotal come December. Nonetheless, the Packers came away victorious in a slugfest and shutdown “club dub” for the time being. With that said, here are five takeaways from what we saw from both teams that kicked off the 100th season of the NFL.
Mitchell Trubisky looked a lot like Mitchell Trubisky
After his first year in Matt Nagy’s system, there were (and sadly still are) high hopes from Chicagoans that Trubisky would breakout in 2019 and become the franchise quarterback the Windy City deserved. In his first “prove-it” game, Trubisky showed very little, if any, progression.
Maserati Mitch lacked the horsepower needed to push the ball downfield, recording just a 35.3% adjusted completion percentage on targets of 10-plus yards. On those targets last night, Trubisky had an underwhelming 46.4 PFF passing grade, 30.0 passer rating and 6.6 yards per attempt while throwing 53.3% uncatchable passes. He may have had two big-time throws on throws past the 10-yard distance; however, Trubisky had two turnover-worthy plays as well to essentially offset it.
With a young quarterback in their first few seasons in the league, the clutch gene is not as apparent and there are low expectations for them to showcase this real quarterback quality. As Trubisky enters Year 3, it’s time to lay off the “young” quarterback excuse and expect him to show he, in fact, has the clutch gene. Last night, Trubisky lacked the clutch gene. On third and fourth down, Trubisky finished with a 26.8 PFF passing grade and a 23.7 passer rating while his two turnover-worthy plays came on these game-changing downs. Moreover, in the fourth quarter alone, over 50% of Trubisky’s passes were deemed uncatchable.
Despite all the dogging on Trubisky thus far, he actually performed better than normal in a clean pocket. In fact, he graded out better than Rodgers on those plays. In addition, both of Trubisky’s big-time throws came when there wasn’t a blitz. However, when he was hit with adversity, Trubisky literally fell apart. His inability to perform outside of structure was what lost Chicago the game and should give massive cause for concern for the future of the Bears. On the 10 dropbacks Trubisky had when moved off spot, he allowed a sack to himself three times and had a turnover-worthy play. When working outside the pocket, Trubisky’s passing performance lost the Bears nearly a full point in PFF’s expected points added (EPA) metric. To take it even a step further, Trubisky had a 30.9 PFF passing grade when his first read wasn’t there. This is bad.
Green Bay’s secondary looked like a top-5 unit
One of the more intriguing things to watch heading into the Packers’ 2019 season debut was at the safety position with Adrian Amos leaving the rivaled Bears to join Green Bay in free agency and the selection of Darnell Savage Jr. in the first round of the draft, one of PFF’s top-rated safeties coming out of the class who compares favorably to Bob Sanders. Neither disappointed in their first game as Cheeseheads and brought out the best in returning cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams and Kevin King as they didn’t have worry about blown coverages from their safeties.
Amos finished the night as Green Bay’s highest-graded defensive player at 78.1, and Savage Jr. put up a solid (for a rookie in their NFL debut) 69.9 overall grade. Alexander was a stud in coverage with a 77.2 coverage grade, while forcing two incompletions and allowing a 37.5% catch rate on his eight targets in coverage. As for Williams, he was the most targeted Packer defensive back in coverage with 11 targets thrown his way; however, he made big-time plays with three forced incompletions aiding in his 73.6 coverage grade. King may have had a dropped interception, but he too added a forced incompletion.
As a whole, this secondary had arguably one of their best performances in the last two years. Among their last 33 regular-season games, this Green Bay secondary last night put together the most forced incompletions in a game with eight, second-most defensive stops with 16, second lowest passer rating allowed to targets to the slot and out wide at 56.4 and the second-lowest rate of positive EPA allowed.
Allen Robinson was a lone bright spot for the Bears’ offense
Allen Robinson was Trubisky’s go-to wide receiver last night with being targeted on over 25% of his routes. Despite one bad drop, Robinson was lights out from a production standpoint with 2.00 yards per route ran and three explosive plays (15-plus yards). In his first season with ‘da Bears in 2018, Robinson was one of the best receivers in the NFL in tight separation scenarios. This showed last night as he had three contested catches and two broken tackles after the catch.
On specifically go routes, Trubisky was all over Robinson targeting him on four his six go routes ran, and Robinson thrived with a 92.2 receiving grade. Robinson had 24.5 yards per reception on those and was the only receiver in the game to catch a go route target.
Bears new wide receiver Tarik Cohen makes debut
What Matt Nagy did last night with Tarik Cohen was unprecedented. Quite literally, we here at PFF have seen nothing like it. No running back ever ran more routes in a single game lined up at wide receiver than Cohen did last night (41 snaps, next closest is Andre Ellington in 2017 Week 13 with 34). Prior to last night, the most routes Cohen ever ran in a single game at wide receiver was 10. Nagy opted to pass 87.2% of the time when Cohen was lined up at wide receiver (passed on 61.5% on all other plays). Consequently, it’s not surprising to see that no running back was targeted or caught more passes in a single game in the PFF era when lined up at receiver than Cohen last night.
Cohen caught three contested catches at wide receiver, but also recorded a drop and was not as productive with just 1.23 yards per route run. With David Montgomery joining the backfield, it’s not surprising to see Cohen being used this way. With his explosiveness and past receiving success, Cohen can do some real damage at slot receiver. Just as long as he’s receiving catchable targets of course. This is something to watch in the coming weeks.
Matt LaFleur is still a work in progress
Being one of the establish-the-run truthers, LaFleur’s play-calling already puts the Packers at a disadvantage. From a personnel usage point of view, the LaFleur offense is vastly different than the Mike McCarthy one we grew accustomed to.
Last night, the Packers ran the league’s most popular personnel package, 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) at an incredibly low rate of 45.3%. Which is nearly 30% lower than in 2018 when they had the second-highest usage rate of 11 personnel. To make up for it, LaFleur doubled their 12 personnel (1 RB 2 TE, 2 WR) usage to 32.8% and ran almost as much 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) than they did all last season (12.5% last night, 1.5% last year). LaFleur’s usage of heavy sets isn’t a bad thing at all, in fact, it’s a great thing as in the passing game it has been proven to give a competitive advantage. However, LaFleur’s play-calling out of these sets is what sets the Packers offense up for failure.
Coming out of the half, LaFleur told NBC Sunday Night Football reporter Michele Tafoya that they “needed to run the ball more in the second half.” That’s a bold strategy Cotton, especially for a team that’s up only four points and facing off against arguably the best run defense in the league. Subsequently, Green Bay went on to run the ball on 53.6% of their plays in the second half and averaged 2.5 yards per carry on those (ran the ball 20.7% of the time in the first half for 1.2 yards per carry). Overall, when Green Bay had five or more yards to go for the first down, they ran the ball 38.5% of the time (had lowest rate of runs in that scenario in 2018 at 27.8%). Not only was it predictable that they were going to run the ball in the second half, it was predictable as to what run scheme they’d use. Nearly every designed rush attempt was a zone concept. Whether it was inside zone (1.6 yards per carry) or outside zone (3.0 yards per carry), neither were successful and the run was not established. The Packers are just lucky they faced off against an offense that was abysmal. If LaFleur stands pat on his offense, things will get ugly quick.