Bears-Packers final thoughts: One way Khalil Mack's impact extends beyond the field


Some final thoughts before the Bears head to Green Bay to open the 2018 season…

Learning from the best

While adding Khalil Mack gave the Bears an instant superstar on this defense, Brandon Staley’s outside linebackers room still has plenty of youth in it. Specifically: Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts and second-year former undrafted free agent Isaiah Irving. 

Fitts is from Redlands, Calif., while Irving is an Oakland native. Both grew up surrounded by Raiders fans and heard from a few of them after last Saturday’s blockbuster trade. 

“I heard from a couple family members like ‘oh my gosh, you get to really play with Khalil Mack?’” Fitts said. “But it wasn’t too much.”

Being able to pick the brain of an All-Pro edge rusher is beneficial for these guys, as is just being around to observe how Mack goes about his day-to-day business.  

“Other than what you see on film, you can have that mental process and how he goes about rushing or what moves, what things that the offensive linemen give him that he takes away with his pass rushing moves,” Irving said. “It’s just that added information.”

Both Fitts and Irving studied Mack both in college and had a good idea of what to expect from him when he got here. Both players pointed to Mack’s motor, as well as how he uses his hands, explosiveness and power to put together a full arsenal of pass rushing moves and counter-moves. 

“Watching him in practice, he’s running after the ball 30 yards down the field, he’s going down to make a play,” Fitts said. 

“Definitely smart, definitely aggressive and he’s powerful,” Irving said. “He uses his power, he uses his leverage, he uses his hands. He’s complete.”

And while defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris isn’t in the same unit as Mack, he’s another Oakland native on this team who studied his new teammate long before he arrived. 

“I think he’s one fo the best in the league at using his hands, playing the run as well, not just pass rush,” Robertson-Harris said. “I think that’s going to be good for us rushing Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, I think it’s going to be really good. 

“… I got a bunch of texts and a lot of my family back home, they hate that the Raiders let him go. But it’s part of the business and I’m happy he’s here and can’t wait to see what I can learn from him in the future.” 

Right placekicker, right time?

A potentially-simmering concern for the Bears is the three missed field goals Cody Parkey had on 11 kicks over five preseason games — this for a franchise that hasn’t got the placekicker position right since letting Robbie Gould go after the 2015 season. 

Two of Parkey’s misses came from 50-plus yards, with the other hitting the upright from 39 yards in the final preseason game. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, though, wasn’t concerned about the kicker who signed a four-year contract with $9 million guaranteed back in March. 

“I thought he did a nice job,” Tabor said. “I know he had three misses there but that’s the preseason. I think probably fans see makes and misses, which obviously we do too, but in the preseason you see the ball striking was really good. Two of the three misses are right on line, he just had to tweak his line. So you say as a coach, is he hitting a good ball, because you’re trying to build up to this game right here of being in a good rhythm. And I think we’re there.”

The Bears did their homework on Parkey, who was with Tabor with the Cleveland Browns back in 2016, and he’s not going anywhere in the next two years, based on the structure of his contract (per Spotrac). While there’s plenty of attention on how the Bears’ offense and defense looks, they have to have got their placekicking situation right if they have designs on competing for a playoff spot. 

Historical precedents

You’ve probably seen the stat floating around this week that the last four Bears coaches — Dick Jauron, Love Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox — all won their first trip to Lambeau Field. None of those teams made the playoffs, and only Trestman finished with a record of .500 or better (the 2013 Bears went 8-8). But perhaps more relevant than beating the Packers is what Bears coaches have done in their first year in Chicago:

Coach 1st Year Record Final Record
John Fox 2015 6-10 14-34
Marc Trestman 2013 8-8 13-19
Lovie Smith 2004 5-11 81-63
Dick Jauron 1999 6-10 35-45
Dave Wannstedt 1993 7-9 40-56
Mike Ditka* 1982 3-6 106-62
Neill Armstrong 1978 7-9 30-34
Jack Pardee 1975 4-10 20-32
Abe Gibron 1972 4-9-1 11-30-1
Jim Dooley 1968 7-7 20-36
Paddy Driscoll 1956 9-2-1 14-9-1
Luke Johnsos/Hunk Anderson** 1942 6-0 23-11-2
Ralph Jones 1930 9-4-1 24-10-7
George Halas*** 1920 10-1-2 318-143-31

*Strike-shortened year
**Took over for George Halas seven games into the year
***First year was with Decatur Staleys

So franchise history isn’t too kind to first-year coaches, at least in the Super Bowl era. But that being said: Sean McCoy, Sean McDermott, Ben McAdoo and Adam Gase all made the playoffs as first-year head coaches in the last two seasons. 

The point of juxtaposing the Bears’ history with recent successes outside Chicago is to show how difficult it is for a first-year coach to succeed, but how it’s not impossible. 

Final Thought

The Bears hired Matt Nagy on Jan. 8, exactly eight months and one day from the 2018 season opener. We’ve spent three-fourths of the year wondering what an overhauled Bears team can look like, specifically with Nagy’s offense. 

Finally, on Sunday night, the predicting and speculating can come to an end. The Bears will be absolutely fascinating to follow over the next four months. Let’s get this thing started. 

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