LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears made big moves in the offseason they hope will help catapult them from the bottom of the NFL.
It's not just the changes to the roster that have coach Matt Eberflus thinking bigger things are in store, though. He sees something else at play, too.
“I would say I feel better about the identity overall, just because we’re in the system one more year, the coaches are more familiar with the players, the players that we have, bringing the new guys on, we’re bringing more experienced players,” Eberflus said. “So definitely feel more comfortable with that piece of it.”
The Bears will start to see how they stack up when they host Green Bay in the season opener on Sunday. The NFL's oldest rivalry will have a different feel, with Aaron Rodgers now with the New York Jets and Jordan Love at quarterback for the Packers.
Green Bay has dominated Chicago in recent decades, winning eight straight and going 25-5 counting the playoffs with Rodgers behind center.
The Bears, of course, also have a different look.
They made a blockbuster trade for a playmaking receiver to help quarterback Justin Fields when they acquired DJ Moore from Carolina for the No. 1 pick in the draft. They added to their offensive line and also addressed their defense, signing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards and veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
All those moves have them thinking they're poised to head in a different direction in their second season under Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles.
Considering they finished with a league-worst 3-14 record and set a franchise record for losses last season, they need to show bigger things are in store.
“We have acquired a lot of players you know, and some good ones if you look at both sides of the ball,” Eberflus said.
“So we feel good about our players. We’re excited about the matchup and we’re excited about those guys being able to go against our rival. It’s going to be exciting.”
But it's not just how the Bears stack up against Green Bay. While Rodgers is now with the New York Jets, reigning division champion Minnesota has a different look.
The Vikings got rid of four players with a combined 10 Pro Bowl appearances, including running back Dalvin Cook after his fourth 1,000-yard season. Though the Vikings went 13-4 in coach Kevin O’Connell’s rookie season, they set an NFL record by winning 11 one-score games.
“I know what’s going on around the league and around our division,” safety Jaquan Brisker said. “But as long as we worry about what we gotta do, we’re just going to keep moving forward.”
How far they go will obviously hinge largely on Fields' development as a passer. While he dazzled by running for 1,143 yards and just missing Lamar Jackson's NFL single-season rushing record for a QB, it was a different story throwing the ball.
Fields threw for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns while tying Russell Wilson for the league lead with 55 sacks. He had just two 200-yard passing games, and his season high was 254 against the Packers at Soldier Field in December.
The defense also had big issues.
The Bears finished with a league-worst 20 sacks, the fewest for Chicago since the 2003 team had 18. No defensive lineman had more than three, and the team leader was Brisker with four. Ngakoue, a Pro Bowl pick in 2017 with the Jaguars, should help the pass rush. He had 9 1/2 sacks last season for Indianapolis and 10 in 2021 for Las Vegas.
“The standard is very high for this year, whether that’s in the back seven or the front four," Brisker said. "The standard’s high so I feel like the energy is just different. We all trust each other, our chemistry is great. And then we’ve got that swag, that’s a huge thing having our swag, energy and things like that.”
NOTE: Brisker said he “should be ready to go” for the opener after missing the preseason with an undisclosed injury.
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Andrew Seligman, The Associated Press