Sunday’s loss was a stinker, but there were a few key performances worth our excitement. Indeed, three Bears players popped up on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week after the first round of games, each of whom played big roles in the team’s strong first-half and whose importance for the next 15 games can’t be stressed enough.
Kyle Long’s 81.4 grade was the best among right guards through Sunday’s action, before Austin Blythe of the Los Angeles Rams put forth a dominant effort against an Oakland Raiders front that sorely missed Khalil Mack (more on him in a moment). Long allowed just two pressures and put together an 85.0 pass-blocking score (10th best among the 65 qualified guards). The Bears offense needed Long to provide an immediate impact upon return and he did just that in his first regular season game action since 2017 Week 13. Long’s return beefs up the right side of an offensive line that looks to be on the cusp of excellence.
Jordan Howard earned an 80.7 grade for his play on Sunday, leading the way for all NFL running backs. Howard didn’t lead the league in rushing yards or scores in Week 1, but he averaged 5.5 yards per carry, forced three missed tackles, and gained 3.9 yards after contact per rush. The third-year back performed well enough to merit more late-game carries than he did (yeah, we’re still miffed about that), but was also impressive as he showed off his newly developed pass-catching skills. There was a trend that suggested Howard was liable to start slowly, but he put those fears to rest with a strong showing on Sunday. If he keeps this up, it won’t be the last time Howard will make the cut. And if Matt Nagy gives Howard the ball more often in crunch time, the team will be better for it.
And finally, SURPRISE! Khalil Mack’s 93.3 grade was the best among edge defenders in Week 1 and the best of the Bears’ bunch, too. Mack probably could have made it on the strength of a dominant first half that featured a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception, touchdown, and five quarterback hurries. Chicago’s defensive coaches didn’t give Mack a full workload, but that will change in due time. I’m torn between wondering how much better his performance could have been if he was in 100 percent football shape and being out-of-this-world giddy about the potential he possesses when he gets there.
Is it Monday yet?