Following a season opening loss to the Denver Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks will make their prime-time debut in 2018, heading to Chicago to face the Bears on Monday Night Football. Chicago, meanwhile, is coming off a crushing defeat at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Both teams are facing down a dreaded 0-2 start and it should result in a tightly contested game.
Offensive and Defensive Primers
Bears head coach Matt Nagy had been with Andy Reid his entire coaching career prior to getting his own head coaching gig and so, unsurprisingly, his offense is deeply rooted in a West Coast offense. Like Reid and Doug Pederson, Nagy mixes in spread concepts, and uses his backs and tight ends to create favorable mismatches.
Nagy hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator, meaning there’s an added emphasis on using misdirection and motion to scheme players into space, just as the Ducks did so well for years, first under Chip Kelly and then Helfrich.
The Seahawks will be extremely familiar with the defense they’re coming up against. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, wisely retained by Nagy this offseason, was the San Francisco 49ers DC for four seasons from 2011-2014.
Fangio’s defense starts up front, where Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman—two massively underrated defenders—are tasked with holding the line of scrimmage and keeping the linebackers clean to flow to the football and finish. Goldman and Hicks’ strength at the line of scrimmage not only frees up the linebackers against the run, it also forces the offense’s hand on passing downs; either be overmatched inside and allow the pocket to be collapsed, or give Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd 1-on-1s outside.
In the secondary, Fangio runs one of the league’s more balanced defenses in terms of zone defense versus man coverage, around a 60-40 split.
Numbers that Matter
26: Mitchell Trubisky and Nagy’s partnership got off to a roaring start in Week 1, as Chicago marched to a 17-0 first half lead. Nagy’s creative scheme was on full display, and Trubisky’s arm talent appeared to be a perfect fit for the former Chiefs playcaller.
On his first nine passes, Trubisky was 8-of-9 for 99 yards as the Bears sliced through the Packers’ defense while working through their scripted plays. The drop off following the first two drives, however, was as discouraging as Trubisky’s start was encouraging.
Over the rest of the game, Trubisky was 15-of-26 for 72 yards—a measly 2.8 yards per attempt—as Chicago’s offense dried up. Additionally, the Bears were 3-for-4 on third downs in the first quarter and 4-for-13 over the next three.
As Nagy and Trubisky both figure out how to run an NFL offense together—it’s Nagy’s first full season as a playcaller and Trubisky’s first full season as a starter—they’ll continue to shine on scripted plays. For Seattle, keeping the game close to take advantage over the last three quarters will be crucial.
28: During John Fox’s final season in Chicago, the Bears’ offense was painfully dull, and even worse, predictable. On first downs in 2017, Chicago ran the ball a league-leading 46% of the time. At the opposite end was Nagy’s Kansas City, who ran on first down a league-low 32% of the time.
Making his head coaching debut in Week 1, Nagy continued to operate his offense in an unpredictable manner, running the ball on first down just 28% of the time. Avoiding first down runs is more efficient and stops an offense from growing predictable.
Pete Carroll’s regimented and time tested defensive system will be going up against one of the league’s most creative, diverse offenses on Monday night.
12.5: With Cliff Avril forced to retire and Michael Bennett traded in the offseason, the Seahawks were expected to regress rushing the passer. Against the Broncos in Week 1, they didn’t just show signs of regression, they were downright awful.
Though Frank Clark and Dion Jordan both remain slowed by injuries, none of Seattle’s rotational rushers were able to pick up the slack as the Seahawks pressured Case Keenum on just 12.5% of his dropbacks. Trubisky may have had a poor three quarters of football in Week 1, but in an offensive system that thrives on getting players into space, he’ll pick Seattle’s defense apart if given the time.
38: In his debut with the Bears, Allen Robinson saw a fair amount of snaps in the slot, playing 38% of his snaps there. On routes from the slot, Robinson was targeted four times, catching all four balls for 61 yards.
Though he has primarily played out on the perimeter throughout his career, Robinson excels when moved into the slot. In his last full season in 2016, Robinson’s DYAR (95, 32nd in the NFL) and DVOA (10.9%, 31st in the NFL) on 51 targets out of the slot were considerably better than his numbers outside — 94th in the NFL in DYAR (-104) and 80th in DVOA (24.8%) on 108 targets.
For the second consecutive week, Justin Coleman will see the opposing team’s best wide receiver come inside and line up across from him in big moments.
11.3: Despite playing behind a shoddy offensive line for nearly his entire career, Wilson has attacked deep downfield as well and as consistently as practically any quarterback in the NFL. Over the last five seasons (including 2018), Wilson’s average depth of target has grown each year. In the opening loss in Denver, Wilson’s average depth was nearly a yard up from 2017, from 10.4 yards to 11.3.
Against a fearsome, attacking defensive front, the Seahawks’ offensive line has to hold up to provide Wilson the time to continue hitting on passes further downfield. Granted, the bump in Wilson’s average depth per target can be credited to a small sample size, but vertical passing is a large part of Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, and that number should rise in 2018.
If the offensive line can’t protect Wilson, however, Seattle may be forced to rely on quick-hitters in a short passing game. That goes against Schottenheimer’s background and Wilson’s skill set; as it has been all too often over the past several seasons, it’s on the offensive line to be simply good enough.
Matchups to Watch
Russell Wilson versus Khalil Mack: The defensive star was limited in his debut for Chicago last week, playing just 32 snaps for the Bears. Limited, of course, just in play time. Mack made the most of his time on the field, becoming the first player to record an interception, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown in the same game since Khalil Mack.
Mack’s one-of-a-kind defensive plays rightfully stole the show, but something that went unnoticed on the broadcast is particularly interesting. All 32 of Mack’s snaps came over the right tackle, and as The Athletic’s Dan Durkin observed, it wasn’t simply to get to Aaron Rodgers on every throw:
“Mack rushed the outside contain lane, boxing in Rodgers to eliminate his front-side escape route. In doing so, he was constantly in Rodgers’ frame of view, speeding up his decisions and muddying his reads.”
Rodgers, like Wilson, thrives on creating outside of the offense. When Rodgers is enshrined in Canton, half of his career highlights will involve him escaping to his right and launching a perfect pass with the flick of his wrist. Mack’s containment to Rodgers’ right prevented him from doing one of the things he does best.
Again facing a mobile quarterback in Wilson this week, Chicago will likely have Mack do something similar. With Mack containing on one side and Leonard Floyd spying, Wilson will be forced to pirouette out to his left when the pocket breaks down—something that got him into trouble against the Broncos.
Will Dissly versus Nick Kwiatkoski: Forced to start with Roquan Smith still working his way back from a hamstring injury, Nick Kwiatkoski was victimized in coverage over and over until the Bears were forced to insert Smith. By the time he was pulled, Kwiatkoski had allowed five catches for 56 yards and four first downs. Rodgers and Green Bay found and exploited the inside linebacker repeatedly until mercy came in the form of a banged up top-10 selection.
Nagy said on Thursday Smith will likely see more than the eight snaps he saw in Week 1, however we won’t know ahead of time whether the rookie is in the starting lineup. Regardless of his involvement, Smith’s play time will continue to be managed after an extremely short preseason.
As long as Kwiatkoski is on the field, the Seahawks should follow the Packers’ lead and exploit him mercilessly. The main benefactor of this would be Dissly, who is coming off a dream debut: Three catches, 105 yards (52 of which came after contact) and a touchdown.
Dissly’s movement after the catch, and Kwiatkoski’s penchant for losing players before it, could mean the rookie is in for back-to-back big games to begin his career. Just as everyone expected.
Shaquem Griffin versus Jordan Howard: This potential matchup was thrown a curveball on Thursday night, as Adam Schefter reported Seattle had signed Mychal Kendricks to aid their linebacker corps. While there’s a chance Kendricks is ready to play in time for Monday night, Griffin and Austin Calitro should continue to be involved at least in Week 2.
Griffin’s work will come in sub packages, where his range and speed can be utilized against running backs and tight ends. In Week 1, Griffin had a couple poor moments. The worst, however, came on a 29 yard touchdown to UDFA Phillip Lindsay, who went untouched after Griffin jumped inside.
Of course, Chicago’s biggest weapon out of the backfield is satellite back extraordinaire Tarik Cohen. But in Week 1, it was Howard utilized more than he had ever been before in the passing game. His 23 routes were more than he ran in any game in the 2017 season, as the Bears completed the fifth most passes to their running backs among all teams in Week 1.
Similar to the Seahawks and Kwiatkoski, the Bears will be well aware of Griffin’s Week 1 struggles. As they continue to lean on their running backs, Griffin will be tasked with bouncing back in a tough matchup.
Opponent to Know
Roy Robertson-Harris, DE: Following the arrival of Mack, Chicago’s lone weak spot in a loaded front seven was at defensive end, opposite Akiem Hicks. Jonathan Bullard has held onto his starting spot as he provides a steady presence against the run. The emergence of Robertson-Harris has not only strengthen a weakness, it allows the Bears to bring in yet another disruptive pass rusher on third downs.
Mack was the star in Week 1, but Robertson-Harris was disruptive inside as he came in on passing downs. Whether it was closing on DeShone Kizer to ruin an attempted screen, or looping and disengaging to collect a sack, Robertson-Harris managed to stand out during Mack’s incredible debut.
Germain Ifedi will have the toughest assignment, but Ethan Pocic and the interior will see constant disruption from Hicks, Goldman and Robertson-Harris.
With a fresh, exciting offensive coaching staff in place, Chicago is one of the league’s most intriguing teams in the NFL. Trubisky is yet to firmly establish himself as the Bears’ future, but he possesses several enticing traits and is already one of the league’s best passers on the move. Monday night will provide Seattle with another strong test for a new group as they look to avoid starting the season 0-2.