The wait is finally over. The 2022 NFL season arrived on Thursday when the Super Bowl favorites Buffalo Bills defeated the defending prime-time champion Los Angeles Rams.
On Sunday, the next era of Bears football begins when Matt Eberflus makes his head coaching debut against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field.
The Bears have spent the last six months installing new patterns and perfecting the HITS principle (hustle, intensity, takeaway and smart football). Everyone’s buy-in is high and there’s confidence in the Bears locker room heading into Sunday.
There are also a lot of unknowns about the 2022 Bears. We’ll start getting answers on Sunday.
Here are four things to watch when the Bears open the season against the 49ers:
Justin Fields vs. Trey Lance
“I don’t think anything personal. And I’m happy to be here, so I’m glad they let me down. I’m just ready to play this weekend.”
That’s Justin Fields’ course ahead of a Week 1 date with Kyle Shanahan and Trey Lance, the man the 49ers picked to be their franchise quarterback over Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Outside of two starts for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Lance held a clipboard during his rookie season while Fields was thrown into the fire with a poor offensive line and a suspect offensive game plan.
Things are different in 2nd year.
Shanahan gave Lance the keys to the 49ers Maserati this offseason, while Fields got the gift from offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and a plan tailored to what the Bears’ sophomore pointer likes to do.
The Bears still have problems on the offensive line and are thin on skills. But the addition of Getsy and the implementation of his Shanahan-style offense has gotten many Halas Hall excited for the season ahead of the hard-working Fields.
“I just think he’s ready to go,” Eberflus said of Fields. “I think the coaches have done a great job of preparing him to be ready and he’s excited. There are different levels in the game. We use that word a lot.
Excited means you are ready, you are focused, you are prepared and you are ready to do it. That’s where I think he is and that’s where I know he is. He did it on the training ground and we are all delighted to see our whole football team going there.”
While the matchup against Shanahan and Lance may not be on Fields’ mind, it’s definitely something his primary focus is on his mind heading into Sunday.
“There are things he’s shown. I’ve seen exactly what he can do,” Mooney said of Fields. “He’s going to shine for sure. He’s going to flourish. He’s going to prove everything that everyone doubted him about – especially in Week 1. This team let him down. So they’re going to have to pay a little bit for that.”
The moment of Eberflus
Matt Eberflus rose through the coaching ranks for 30 years to head to Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Bears’ first head coach arrived in the offseason and quickly got to work building a culture based on his HITS principle. Eberflus and his team measure everything the Bears do. All.
But as the Bears enter the first season of a long rebuild, how will Eberflus and his boss, general manager Ryan Poles, measure success?
“Resilience,” said Poles. “It’s a team… Again, I’ve been on teams, a Super Bowl team and teams that, you know, anywhere in between and teams that can just stay level and ask yourself ‘What are the solutions?’ instead of pointing fingers at the problem and being negative and saying, “Look at this! It’s not good.” No. How are we going to fix it? So as an organization, as a team, as a dressing room, as a staff, just being resilient through the ups and downs down and keep fighting and have that arrow pointing up.
Eberflus’ record is 0-0. He will get his first mark on the rim Sunday against the 49ers. How does it handle game management tasks? Have the Bears been meticulously prepared for their first game?
Eberflus is one of the Bears’ many unknowns. We’re about to get our first look at what the man tasked with rebuilding the Bears looks like as head coach.
“I feel confident, I feel ready and I feel focused on the job at hand,” Eberflus said. “I think that’s where we are. We’ve been preparing for a long time to do this and we’re all in that state of readiness.”
What do you have Braxton Jones?
Fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones quickly went from developmental draft pick to starting left tackle during the offseason program and training camp. But outside of training battles with Robert Quinn, Jones was untested during pre-season.
Now he has the thrill of trying to stop Nick Bosa from destroying the Bears’ offensive game plan.
The Bears know Jones won’t earn all the reps against Bosa and the 49ers’ talented defensive front on Sunday. But it’s about eliminating losses and winning enough to keep the offense on track.
“One hundred percent,” Jones said of trying to stay confident even when he’s losing reps. “I think that’s a big thing that I’ve been working on since the spring just against Robert Quinn. I haven’t won all the reps. I’ve lost quite a few reps. So just being able to go to the game next, and I had times where I had a bad game and then I had a little adjustment on the next game that I could have been better on. But I think that’s the problem, it’s that after a bad game, just refresh it, go straight to the new room, one room at a time.
Jones focused most of his preparation on the 49ers defensive front as a whole. He understands they have eight bodies to throw on the Bears offensive line, and Bosa will be moving everywhere on Sunday. It’s not just about stopping Bosa.
“The mindset is the same,” Jones said when asked how he would approach Bosa mentally. “I think all these NFL players are here for a reason, you know. Obviously when you go up against a pass thrower like that you might be a little more alarmed, but I think even runners who don’t have not the biggest names will get you because you don’t prepare the same way.You have to prepare the same way for everyone else.
The Bears are incredibly high on Braxton Jones. If he can perform league average or above in Year 1, the Poles should bow out for potentially finding a franchise left tackle on Day 3 of the draft.
The Bears offense showed little during the team’s 3-0 preseason run.
Vanilla. Vanilla. Vanilla.
Now they are ready to open it.
“I’m tired of the three or four games we played in pre-season,” Mooney said. “I’m ready to open this thing up and get rid of everyone.”
Getsy’s offensive scheme remained a relative mystery throughout training camp and preseason. We know the basic concepts of offense and got a glimpse of its simplistic lethality in the preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.
Fields’ skills and Getsy’s scheme seem like the perfect mix. After a rookie season in which the Bears offensive staff refused to change the game plan to let Fields do what he does best, Getsy built an offense suited to his quarterback – an elite athlete who wants to attack in depth.
After months of settling in, the Bears are finally ready to show off what they’ve been working on for almost six months.
First impressions aren’t everything, but the anticipation for what Getsy and Fields can do together is palpable.