The Bears face a major challenge heading into their season opener Sunday at Soldier Field. On paper, anyway, the defending NFC champion Falcons seem to be the deeper and more dynamic team across the board. It will take a crisp effort with few errors for the Bears to threaten the Falcons. With kickoff nearing, here’s our snapshot look at the game.
Player in the spotlight
Of the 20 newcomers to the Bears’ 53-man roster, no player faces more pressure to make a strong debut than quarterback Mike Glennon, who will be making his first regular-season start in 1,043 days. Asked this week how he would define a successful performance in the opener, Glennon stressed the need to stay patient, protect the ball and take what the Falcons defense gives.
That’s what the Bears need out of Glennon above all else — steadiness and sound decision-making.
Inevitably, though, every Glennon miscue and every Bears defeat will be accompanied by a public outcry to make Mitch Trubisky the starting quarterback. That’s not going away.
Still, Glennon has long been lauded for his football intelligence and believes his ability to be dialed in with his preparation is a strength that will become noticeable on game days.
“I spend a lot of hours studying the opponent and studying our game plan,” Glennon said. “Then it’s blending the two together so you see where our game plan fits in with their defense and how we’re attacking them. The better you know the defense, the more answers you’ll have to the questions they’re about to ask.”
Will the Falcons offense look different with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco?
With Shanahan as their offensive coordinator last season, the Falcons scored an NFL-best 540 points. That was the eighth-highest total in league history. Quarterback Matt Ryan was the league MVP. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 2,482 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns. Julio Jones amassed 1,409 receiving yards.
Steve Sarkisian has replaced Shanahan. And while the Bears expect a few new wrinkles, it’s likely the Falcons will subscribe to an “If it ain’t broke” philosophy.
“It would be hard to drift too far away from what they did last year,” Bears coach John Fox said.
Coach Dan Quinn promises the Falcons will feature a wide-zone running attack while using a steady diet of play action and rollouts in the passing game. Quinn has appreciated Sarkisian’s collaborative communication.
“It was important for Sark to understand the players so we’d know how to best feature them,” Quinn said. “One of the parts of coaching I love best is figuring out how to feature our players within the system.”
Keep an eye on …
The Bears have two new starting safeties and feel confident in how veteran Quintin Demps and rookie Eddie Jackson complement one another. Demps was voted a defensive captain this week and brings an element of toughness and experience to the back end. In the early going, Jackson has shown impressive instincts, rarely out of place and showcasing standout ball skills.
The Bears secondary will have its hands full against a passing attack that averaged 295.3 yards per game last season, third in the NFL. The safeties also know how much attention they’ll need to pay to Jones.
“He’s an animal,” Demps said. “You have to be aware of him going deep. His ball radius is crazy. He’s going to get it no matter where it’s at. So we have to make sure we protect the back end and keep him from hitting those deep balls.”
Injuries and transactions
Cornerback Prince Amukamara is listed as doubtful, still recovering from the ankle sprain he suffered Aug. 27 in Tennessee. Amukamara was held out of all four practices this week. Left guard Kyle Long, meanwhile, is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. It seems like a long shot to expect Long to be active.
Kyle Fuller will start at corner in place of Amukamara. Tom Compton likely will be the starting left guard.
Other Bears listed as questionable include receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee).
The Bears released quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Ka’Deem Carey on Friday. Both had been on injured reserve. The team’s injury settlement with outside linebacker Lamarr Houston was for $700,000, a source indicated. That’s the equivalent of two weeks of Houston’s $5.95 million base salary for 2017.