As we head into Week 2 of the 2019 NFL season, we come across a late-afternoon slate featuring two teams searching for their first win. The NFC North meets the AFC West as the Chicago Bears (0-1) travel to the Rocky Mountains to take on the Denver Broncos (0-1). One man is at the center of this matchup — Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. Fangio was the Bears defensive coordinator from 2015-18, and during his time in the Windy City, Fangio turned the Bears defense from one of the worst units into the league's best last season.
Fangio now has his first-ever head coaching job, and he's looking to turn around a Broncos team that hasn't made the postseason since winning Super Bowl 50 at the conclusion of the 2015 campaign. His team is off to a rough start; the Broncos were unable to keep up with the Oakland Raiders in a 24-16 loss under the Monday night lights in Week 1. And you have to wonder if there will be any emotional component when Fangio coaches against the team he helped build.
Chuck Pagano now holds Fangio's former job with the Bears, who came up short in this year's Thursday night opener in a 10-3 loss to the archrival Green Bay Packers. This will be the home opener for Denver, while Chicago begins a two-game road trip.
Chicago at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 15 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. A tale of two quarterbacks
Denver's Joe Flacco and Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky are coming off tough losses, albeit with contrasting performances. Flacco completed 21-of-31 passes against the Raiders for 268 yards and a touchdown. But he also took three sacks and had a fumble, not to mention the fact that Oakland held the Broncos to just six points through three quarters. Plus, two of those three sacks came on crucial drives in the second half. The Raiders also limited the Broncos' top two running backs, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, to just 99 rushing yards combined. More points, more of a ground attack, and longer, sustained drives are the Broncos' best bet against the Bears defense.
Speaking of the Bears — their signal-caller, Mitchell Trubisky, had a much tougher time against Green Bay. He completed just 26-of-45 throws for 228 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception; he averaged just five yards per completion, took five sacks, and finished with a passer rating of 62.1. There's plenty of speculation as to whether or not the lack of playing time in the preseason caused the Bears to look rusty on opening night (not having tight end Trey Burton in the lineup due to a groin injury only complicated matters).
Regardless of what the cause was, the end result was Trubisky making poor decisions. His cage was rattled, and he didn't look anything like the player we saw thrive in this same offense last season. Head coach Matt Nagy didn't call for many running plays either, as the Bears posted just 46 yards on 15 carries, with Mike Davis and David Montgomery taking 11 of those runs for a combined 37 yards. The Broncos allowed Josh Jacobs to run for 85 yards and two touchdowns last Monday night. If the Bears can dial up more carries for their backfield trio of Davis, Montgomery and Tarik Cohen (no carries against Green Bay), they can try to wear down the Broncos and take a great deal of pressure off of Trubisky.
2. A tale of two defenses
Both defenses have an immense amount of talent, but they also had mixed results in their respective openers. Despite being on the losing end, the Bears defense yielded only one touchdown to the Packers. They sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, collected nine tackles for a loss, held Green Bay to just 47 rushing yards and kept the Packers scoreless during the first and third quarters. The Bears gave Green Bay all that it could handle on opening night. They also proved that they are still a formidable unit (although nose tackle Eddie Goldman is questionable with an oblique injury). The offense just needs to improve for the Bears to be a complete team.
Denver's defense didn't quite look like a Vic Fangio product against the Raiders. Aside from the 24 points they surrendered in Oakland, they allowed the Raiders to accumulate 357 total yards, gave up 10 plays that went for double-digit yardage, didn't force a turnover, and more importantly, didn't sack Derek Carr once (nor did they hit him). Outside linebacker Von Miller (who occasionally draws comparisons to the Bears' Khalil Mack) registered only five tackles, while defensive lineman Bradley Chubb (last year's first-round draft pick) posted just three tackles. The Broncos also managed only two tackles for a loss, and linebacker Josey Jewell was the only Bronco to put up double-digit tackles (14).
I'm sure the Bears are watching film from that game. If the Bears can limit Miller's activity just as the Raiders did, then they'll be in good shape. Keeping Trubisky upright will be the biggest task for the Bears offensive line.
3. The altitude
Adjusting to the thin air in the high altitude of Denver can be challenging enough for visiting teams. But when you add the heat and humidity (91 degrees is forecast for Sunday), that creates double trouble for the players, and double the urgency for a team's medical and training staff. The Broncos are accustomed to these conditions, but the Bears will need to adapt if they want to have a chance at winning on Sunday.
These two teams have evenly split the last four meetings. The Bears were victorious in 2003 and 2007, while the Broncos got the the W's in 2011 and 2015. This will be the Bears first trip to Denver since 2011. What gives the Bears a slight edge in this game is their defense. This game will be all about the defenses, but the Bears will do just enough on offense to leave Colorado with a close win.
Prediction: Bears 10, Broncos 7
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo by Gabriel Christus, courtesy of denverbroncos.com)