September 23, 2021

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Audibles at the Line: 2019 Opening Night

13 min read

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren’t going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team’s game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we’re personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

We start, as is now tradition, with this Opening Night special.

Green Bay Packers 10 at Chicago Bears 3

Bryan Knowles: I think this should cover all my Audibles contributions for this year.

Dave Bernreuther: I raced into the room in order to sit down in time to watch what I hope will be a very exciting Packers offense. That … was not it. I blame Aaron Rodgers’ cartoon villain moustache.

That said, the second-down screen attempt to Aaron Jones looked like it was a really effective design, as the play by Roquan Smith to trip him up kept him from hitting what appeared to be a very large open space.

Both teams open up with a disastrous pitch play; Tarik Cohen didn’t catch his, and the Bears got bailed out by a defensive holding call I didn’t really see. I hate pitches. Too much risk for very little reward. Just hand it off.

Bryan Knowles: I love pitches, but a half-yard spread between quarterback and running back is probably less than ideal.

We kind of suspected coming in that Green Bay’s offense would be a work in progress, with Matt LaFleur taking over the reins. Through a half-quarter, my most trenchant insight is that it sucks to be a work in progress against a defense as talented as Chicago’s, projected regression or no projected regression.

Dave Bernreuther: If Rodgers is going to throw short passes into the turf at the feet of his receivers at the line of scrimmage and continue to take sacks on every third down like last year, it won’t matter how different the design of LaFleur’s offense is.

Credit for that second sack goes mostly to Khalil Mack, even though he got held (a lot) and thus couldn’t wrap Rodgers up himself. In the replay, Cris Collinsworth talked about the Bears “surprising people with Khalil Mack.” Um, how do you surprise someone with Mack?

Rodgers has made two throws so far and both have been bad. The Bears being good enough to hold you to three three-and-outs is not surprising. That, however, is.

Aaron Schatz: Have the Packers considered just punting on third down in honor of our celebration of the NFL in the 1920s?

Rivers McCown: The Mike McCarthy defenders have Logged On.

Vince Verhei: Five drives into the NFL season, and every team that has played so far has negative net passing yardage.

Dave Bernreuther: Whatever they’re doing with the cameras on this drive — it appears to be using the SkyCam but from a lower version of the normal sideline angle, then moving it mid-play — needs to stop. Immediately. It’s incredibly distracting and a little bit nauseating.

Bryan Knowles: Hey, it turns out, “throw deep, Aaron” is still a pretty good play call. Just took the Packers a quarter to figure it out.

Maybe Rodgers just had some rust to shake off after sitting out all preseason. Packers take a 7-3 lead after the big bomb to Marques Valdes-Scantling.

Scott Spratt: I like that when Mitchell Trubisky breaks football convention and throws across his body, it’s nearly intercepted. But when Aaron Rodgers throws off of his back foot into traffic, it’s a touchdown.

Dave Bernreuther: So following a brutal dropped pick by Kevin King, which was one of those throws bad enough that you wish there was a stat to use to penalize the quarterback more than just incomplete, the Packers wake up, completing a 47-yarder and then a jump ball to former basketball player Jimmy Graham. A lot happened on that deep ball. First, the Pack used more misdirection in one play than I remember in years. And man did that open up the pocket for Rodgers. Second … well, I hate to say it, but he left that ball short. If you’re Aaron Rodgers and you get that pocket, I expect better. Third … my goodness. They really need to cut the crap with this camera. It almost missed the play.

The Bears just lined Cordarrelle Patterson up in the backfield, and I said “oh cool, a nice homage to his role with the Pats.” Then they ran him straight up the gut as if he was Jerome Bettis. I guess there could’ve been some value in the deceptiveness of that move, but, uh … burn that play, Coach Nagy.

Derrik Klassen: So, aside from whatever the hell happened on Chicago’s first play, Tarik Cohen has zero carries, but has three targets. They also just had him in motion from a wide receiver position on that last third-down play. Don’t think it’s any surprise Cohen is being used this way and not as a runner, but it’s still interesting to see Matt Nagy commit to it so strongly, so early.

Aaron Schatz: My girlfriend wants to know when the commentators are going to discuss some players that aren’t Aaron Rodgers.

Scott Spratt: Friendly reminder that Davante Adams converted 19 third-down catches in 2018. Jimmy Graham converted nine. No other Packers player converted more than six.

Vince Verhei: I know there’s still the second half and 15 more games to go, but I can’t explain how funny it strikes me that Chicago was so worried about their kicking game that they let their entire offense decay to … whatever this is. Every time they pick up a first down or two, I think they’ve turned it around … then I realize they’re still inside their own 40.

Rivers McCown: I mean Chicago’s offense was real streaky last year as well. It rides with Trubisky.

Vince Verhei: OK, replace “decay” with “stagnate” then. Point still stands.

On the other side, we have Matt LaFleur’s first half: 21 pass plays, six runs, including one by Valdes-Scantling. iViva la revolución!

Scott Spratt: Gotta establish the run, Vince.

Derrik Klassen: It’s kind of painful watching Matt Nagy’s offense sometimes. Nagy himself is solid, he does some cool things, but the offense still feels handcuffed by Mitchell Trubisky. I have to imagine Trubisky’s shaky ability from the pocket and slow processing rips a large chunk out of Nagy’s playbook. The offense rarely feels like it’s being pieced together and instead feels more like each individual play is designed to emphasize anyone but Trubisky. Maybe I’m too harsh — and I’ve never been big on Trubisky — but through one half, we’ve seen a lot of what scared us (or at least me) about Trubisky.

Tom Gower: Halftime, Packers lead 7-3. They’ve only had one really good drive, but it finished in the end zone. Chicago’s offense has felt a little bit better to me, conceptually, but the triggerman has done nothing to make me comfortable. I thought the best reason to expect offensive improvement would be actually having Allen Robinson, a significant upgrade as their best wideout. He has been open a couple times and has the Bears’ biggest play, a 27-yard gain where he won in the air on an inaccurate pass. But I still have the same concerns I had last year and that have been expressed in this thread.

Matt LaFleur started off the game for Green Bay trying to run like he was in Tennessee last year, with familiar-looking results. What I’ve seen out there seems a mix of Lafleur from Shanahan/McVay/Kubiak and some Mike McCarthy. But McCarthy was a West Coast guy and Shanahan also has its roots in West Coast stuff, so it’s not like you’re blending Air Raid and the slot-T or something. I don’t really think outside zone is a real option to run against a team with this sort of defensive talent up front and speed at the second level, and I wonder if Lafleur’s pass orientation is a reaction to those hopeless early runs.

Bryan Knowles: Trubisky just has terrible field vision. It kind of was highlighted most on that play where he ran out of bounds with a couple open(ish) receivers ahead of him, but it never feels like he’s able to find receivers if they’re not just where they’re supposed to be.

Outside of that one deep shot to Allen Robinson, the Bears just have nothing going on.

Scott Spratt: Do we feel differently about the Packers defense after one half? They were 26th in projected defensive DVOA this year.

Bryan Knowles: Not particularly; it feels like this is more Chicago unable to get out of their own way rather than anything in particular Green Bay is doing.

Rivers McCown: In the sense that I already thought that number felt low, yes.

But I agree with Bryan that it hasn’t felt like they’ve had to do a whole lot. A lot of Trubisky’s passes have been late.

Tom Gower: Packers defensive backs looked to be extremely aggressive going after the ball in the first half. That seems like a good sign. I don’t know how much of that is the opponent.

Derrik Klassen: Re: Packers defense: Maybe They did have a high ceiling (relative to what they were) with all those new pieces, but I’m more convinced for now that it’s the Bears’ offense just not getting it together.

Vince Verhei: I’m leaning towards bad offense more than good defense, but I will note that Green Bay has been using high picks on defensive backs for years, so it’s reasonable that that tactic would start to pay dividends.

I’ll also note that last year’s Atlanta-Philadelphia contest was also gruesome to watch, so this may be a “season opener” thing

Scott Spratt: So David Montgomery is the first prospect who has copied the Le’Veon Bell style of waiting in the backfield, right? Is that going to be the NFL equivalent of Steph Curry shooting crazy threes? I similarly feel like it’s not a great idea.

Vince Verhei: Bears still trail 7-3 late in the fourth quarter. Following a delay of game, they go for it on fourth-and-10 from the 33. Trubisky scrambles but comes up way short.

Anyone want to argue they should have tried a 50-yard kick?

Add to that: earlier tonight, the Bears punted on fourth-and-3 from the Green Bay 41.

Aaron Schatz: I’m definitely curious what the EdjSports GWC model says about that fourth-and-10.

Vince Verhei: In the last five years, NFL kickers are 570-of-719 (79%) from the 32-, 33-, or 34-yard lines. It’s the kind of thing that gets missed all the time. And if he had hit it, they still would have been behind.

On the other hand, the Bears offense has been so terrible tonight, I wouldn’t have counted on them to win the game there anyway. They’re way more likely to win with two field goals then with a touchdown.

Yeah, I would have kicked.

Bryan Knowles: I think I would have kicked as well — but if I wasn’t going to, and was going to go for it on fourth, I think I would have run the ball on third down rather than targeted Cordarelle Patterson. Two of Patterson’s three targets have come on third down; I can’t imagine that he’s the best target they have there.

Aaron Schatz: Looks like the EdjSports GWC model has going for it on fourth-and-10 as a 2.4% win probability error, preferring that the Bears had tried the field goal.

Tom Gower: Can we also get what EdjSports thought of the earlier decision to punt on fourth-and-3?

Aaron Schatz: That decision to punt was a 2.9% error.

Derrik Klassen: I am almost certain Aaron Rodgers just shouted “Iced Coors, iced Coors, iced Coors,” and Green Bay ended up running split zone. I have no idea if this actually means anything but now it is my mission to find out.

Bryan Knowles: NFL first: a (regular-season) pass interference challenge.

I think it’s pretty clearly not going to work, but hey. Gotta start somewhere.

Carl Yedor: We have a pass interference review! Call stands. Curious choice to challenge that in my opinion, but I do think it’s useful in general to have that as a data point for what officials will consider “clear and obvious” enough to turn non-PI into PI. It’s only a first step in that regard, but hopefully we have a better understanding of what is and isn’t reversible before long. Knowing the NFL, that might not be until the end of the season, but we can only hope.

Aaron Schatz: Playbook doesn’t have a lot of plays for first-and-40.

Bryan Knowles: After yet ANOTHER Bears penalty, we have a first-and-40. Since 1994, there have only been four first-and-40-plusses — once for the Raiders in ’97, and then twice in 2017 (Saints and Vikings).

Vince Verhei: That first-and-40 was set up by what might have been Trubisky’s worst throw of the night, which should have been intercepted, but the defensive back jumped too early, giving up Chicago’s biggest play of the game, but then the receiver was called for OPI. Almost everyone involved played badly on that snap.

Bryan Knowles: Not a lot of plays have a high chance of converting on third-and-40, but the wide receiver screen ain’t it. Throw it at least medium length; maybe you’ll draw a holding or something.

Dave Bernreuther: I wonder if they’d have challenged that non-interception if they hadn’t just lost the one on the pass interference challenge. It did touch the ground, but only barely, and while he had it as under control as is possible by the fingertips. I’ve seen worse upheld as catches/picks.

Of course, at first-and-FORTY, the Packers may end up with better field position even without that.

Aaron Schatz: Really would have been a great opportunity for a quick-kick surprise punt.

Dave Bernreuther: Exactly, Bryan. Either throw a pass that can draw you a penalty and freebie, or you might as well just punt it on third down; might even make more sense to, since it could keep more time available for a comeback, given that it’s the fourth quarter and you’re trailing.

Vince Verhei: Conversely, I think Green Bay made the correct decision to kick a short field goal on fourth-and-2. Now Chicago has to score twice to beat you, which feels impossible the way they’ve played tonight.

Bryan Knowles: For the first time all night, the Bears offense starts looking good, as a combination of up-tempo offense and three-man rushes actually gives Chicago room to throw and space to make plays. Maybe we’re headed for something exciting here…

… and then Trubisky lobs a rainbow into double-coverage, and Adrian Amos, fresh from Chicago, makes what is, in all likelihood, the game-sealing interception. Whoops.

Scott Spratt: There isn’t enough time left, but in future games, teams will always challenge those interceptions in the end zone looking for defensive PI. What’s the downside other than fan annoyance?

Aaron Schatz: I look forward to more discussion on Twitter of Trubisky’s inability to throw to his left.

Not sure why the Packers threw in an RPO — and Rodgers threw on the play — which handed the Bears an extra timeout for their final drive.

Vince Verhei: Because it’s more fun to win after Trubisky throws up on himself again.

Seriously, though, if you’re going to throw, I can understand doing it on second down when it’s less expected. If they execute better and pick up the first down we’re praising their aggressiveness.

Tom Gower: That looked like a coverage-related audible by Rodgers, not a called play. But if he can call it and you’ll take it if you get the look, it’s part of the game plan.

Final, 10-3. The Packers had one good drive in the second half. The Bears had a couple of non-awful offensive possessions. One ended in that fourth-and-10 should’ve-kicked it. One ended in an incredible series of penalties. The other ended on a Trubisky lollipop to the end zone. It’s possible this game looks a lot better than it does. I mean, I still don’t see any reason to have confidence in Trubisky in tough situations, but Allen Robinson is fantastic and while you can quibble with some of what Matt Nagy did, I maintain he still had the better offense in this game. Overall, the big winner of the night may be our projection of the Lions to win the division, but that’s a thing you can say before the Lions have played.

Vince Verhei: Oh, I must disagree, Mr. Gower. The Bears occasionally moved the ball on their own side of the field, but could barely function once crossing the 50. Their only score came on a drive that gained 16 yards of offense. Let’s not crown Green Bay’s ass, but I can’t say that they were the worse offense tonight.

Tom Gower: Well, which team had the better offensive performance and which team was the better-designed offense are different questions. My take on this game is that Green Bay had the worse offensive design but has the better quarterback, whereas Mr. Trubisky’s struggles really hamstrung the small- and large-scale efficiency of what was overall an offense that produced a better schematic advantage.

Vince Verhei: Fair enough.

Bryan Knowles: Hey, at least the Bears kicked a field goal.

In a division as close as we’re projecting the NFC North, divisional road wins are worth their weight in gold.

Rivers McCown:

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