The NFL season got off to an ugly start Thursday night with the Green Bay Packers heading to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.
It was the start of the league’s 100th season. One winner almost became evident before kickoff. But once on the field, Green Bay took out Chicago by the score of 10-3 in game that set us back a century.
These are among the biggest winners and losers from Green Bay’s win in the first game of the 2019 NFL season.
Winner: Roquan Smith is already a legend
Chicago knew it was getting a stud in this inside linebacker last year. Selected No. 8 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Smith showed out big time as a rookie. He recorded 121 tackles and five sacks in an awe-inspiring performance.
The Packers found out first-hand Thursday night just how much of a problem Smith is going to be for the next several years. He started the game out with two tackles at the line of scrimmage on Green Bay’s first two drives and was all over the field throughout the rest of the evening.
As the on-field play caller for one of the most-complex defenses in the NFL, Smith has his work cut out for him. Despite a pass interference penalty in the second half, Smith continued to prove his worth as one of the leaders on the NFL’s best defense.
Loser: Lane Taylor
A three-year starter at left guard for the Packers, Taylor faced stiff competition during the summer from rookie second-round pick Elgton Jenkins. In fact, there was talk that Green Bay might either trade or release Taylor. That didn’t happen. Unfortunately for the Packers, he had no chance against an elite Bears defense Thursday.
Led by Roy Robertson-Harris, that was a jailbreak from the Bears’ pass-rush group. It led to the first of two sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the opening quarter. The quarterback would then find himself under duress the remainder of the game with Taylor being picked on big time. Not a great way for the guard to start this season. Jenkins could soon be inserted in at left guard for the Pack.
Winner: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
This second-year receiver was all the rage for Green Bay this past offseason. In fact, the Packers had designed some plays around the former mid-round pick. Valdes-Scantling did not disappoint in the season opener. After seeing his Packers struggle early on, the receiver put up the first big catch of the season.
This catch went for 47 yards and set up Green Bay’s only touchdown of the game, a strike from Aaron Rodgers to Jimmy Graham. All said, Valdes-Scantling went for 52 yards on four receptions before leaving with cramps in the fourth quarter.
Loser: Aaron Jones
People were expecting a whole lot from this third-year back under rookie head coach Matt LaFleur. He led the NFL in yards per attempt at 5.5 per tote last season. Was Jones finally going to provide Rodgers the balance he’s been missing since Eddie Lacy’s heyday? If Thursday night is any indication, that’s far from happening.
Jones went for 39 yards on 13 attempts and was largely invisible throughout the game. Instead, the Packers relied a bit more on what was a questionable passing game. Either way, Green Bay’s rushing attack went for a total of 47 yards on 22 attempts. Sure the Bears’ defense is good. But that’s not going to cut it moving forward. Jones was the primary culprit here.
Winner: Chuck Pagano
We’re going to give Chicago’s first-year defensive coordinator a lot of credit here. It’s not an easy job replacing the great Vic Fangio. It’s especially difficult when you have to take on Aaron Rodgers and a completely new Packers offense in your debut. While Chicago came up short in this one, Pagano more than proved that he’s up for the task.
Primarily, we love how the longtime NFL coach dialed up pressures of Rodgers on third down. He showed a bunch of different looks and brought pressure from all over the field. Given the talent Chicago boasts in its front seven, this season is going to be fun to watch. The five times this defense sacked Rodgers Thursday magnifies that to a T.
Loser: Mitch Trubisky
The Bears hoped that this third-year quarterback would take the next step to elite status after surprising the masses last season. We didn’t see much of Trubisky during the summer. That was by design. Head coach Matt Nagy figured that he didn’t need to prove anything during the exhibition slate. Nagy could not have been more wrong. The quarterback was absolutely brutal in his 2019 debut Thursday night.
Too often, the North Carolina product was zoning in on his initial read. Green Bay’s defense was all over it. These were rookie lapses from a third-year quarterback. They are unacceptable. But that wasn’ the end of it, either.
With Chicago driving late in the third quarter, Trubisky took two delay of game penalties within a three-play span to push the team out of field goal position. A score there would have made it 7-6. Again, rookie mistakes. If that weren’t enough, Trubisky threw a horrible interception in the end zone with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. Just ouch.
Winner: Za’Darius Smith
Green Bay signed Smith away from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency for one reason. Get to the quarterback. That’s what the veteran did early and often against the Bears Thursday night.
Smith put pressure on Trubisky four times throughout the game, recording one sack, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. This is the type of edge pressure that the Packers have been missing since Clay Matthews was in his prime. It should be a boon for Green Bay, especially with fellow free-agent acquisition Preston Smith (1.5 sacks Thursday) opposite Za’Darius.
Loser: Matt Nagy
Chicago’s second-year head coach really wanted to make a statement after leading the team to a surprising division title as a rookie last season. It did not go too swimmingly. In fact, Nagy was completely out-coached by Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. It really was something to behold, and fans in Chicago agreed.
We’re not sure why the innovative offensive mind had Trubisky dropping back on a consistent basis when pressure was squarely the name of the game from Green Bay’s defense. We didn’t see many screens to Tarik Cohen or change-of-direction plays. Rather, it was a bland opener for a coach that had in the past proved to be a genius play-caller. What exactly went wrong here?
Winner: Leonard Floyd
A night that saw former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack disappear to an extent also saw this former first-round pick step up big time in his stead. Chicago was pressuring Aaron Rodgers throughout the game. Said pressure was led by both Floyd and Roy Robertson-Harris. Either one could have joined other winners in this ugly game.
However, Floyd’s two-sack performance tells us a story of a Bears front seven that’s going to continue dominating opposing offensive lines. Coming from a guy that had recorded just 15.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons, this could be a harbinger of things to come for Floyd. If so, NFC North offenses must be having nightmares.
Loser: NFL fans
We were all excited to watch this season-opening game between two of the most historical franchises in NFL history as the league celebrates its 100th year of existence. Instead, we got a game that reminded us of football a century ago.
The forward pass seemingly didn’t exist. Chicago and Green Bay combined for 20 penalties. There was a first-and-40 at one point in the fourth quarter. Offensive minds Matt LaFleur and Matt Nagy looked like two defensive coaches navigating through a game in a blizzard.
From start to finish, the entire game was a travesty. We all wanted to forget about the past five weeks of preseason football. That didn’t happen. Thursday night simply acted as an extension of it.