All the talk in the lead up to the first of this season’s London series games was about the performance of the Chicago Bears defence four games into the season. Some folks in Bears circles were even talking of what it would mean for QB Mitch Trubisky’s job security if backup Chase Daniel dominated against the Oakland Raiders.
The Silver and Black seemed to get lost in all the pregame build up. Clearly that was used as bulletin board material by Jon Gruden who saw both his defensive and offensive lines come out and manhandle Chicago.
The Raiders are often dismissed as a league wide laughing stock. That probably stems from some ‘interesting’ off field decisions: the 10 year $100 million contract given to a coach who spent 10 years away from the sidelines; the trade for, and eventual release, of a diva receiver; and the handing over of All World pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Bears just before the 2018 season kicked off.
But this season there are definite signs of growth from the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders. They were efficient last week against the Colts, and despite doing their best to throw the ball away in the most Raider fashion possible, they ultimately emerged victorious behind a physical brand of offensive football.
Did the decision of the Bears to arrive in London later this week contribute to the sluggish start we saw in the first half (and which re-emerged on Oakland’s final touchdown drive)? The Raiders are all too aware of the impact of travelling to the UK given their performance at Wembley Stadium in 2014 which led to head coach Dennis Allen’s firing.
Oakland spent a full week in the UK whereas the Bears only touched down Friday morning. It sounds like a simplistic justification for the poor performance Bears fans saw Sunday evening but it’s one they will hear again and again from analysts given the contrasting levels of play we saw at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Despite a highly partisan crowd in London, which favoured Chicago, the Raiders ran all over the Bears’ vaunted defence. Rookie running back Josh Jacobs made the Bears’ ferocious front line look ordinary as he consistently provided positive gains, finishing the game with 123 rushing yards and 2 TDs. Coming into the game, the Bears defence hadn’t given up 100 rush yards to an opposing running back so far this season, even holding the Vikings’ dynamic back Dalvin Cook to 35 yards the week before.
Jacobs was helped in his task by an offensive line that asserted its physicality at the line of scrimmage continually opening up the first 2-3 yards of space for the former Alabama back. A defence that managed 6 sacks against the Vikings a week prior, only managed one QB hit and 0 sacks against Derek Carr. The Raiders’ offensive line simply overwhelmed their opponents.
The Raiders’ gameplan clearly neutralised the Bears pass rush, led by Mack. They ran the ball aggressively and got the ball out of Carr’s hands quickly, primarily to his tight ends and running backs. Those quick releases and short passes were made even more successful by a lack of hustle to the ball by the Bears’ linebackers and secondary. Defenders who in recent weeks have been flying to pass catchers appeared a step slow whilst Raiders’ receivers found space in coverage. Those issues were worsened by some woeful tackling by the Bears, enabling Oakland to regularly pick up yards after contact.
In the second half, it appeared the Raiders were going to throw the game away in calamitous fashion. A poor pitch by Carr to Jacobs was recovered by the Bears on their opponents’ side of the field and converted on an Allen Robinson touchdown grab. That seemed to spark Chicago into life and aided by a big Tarik Cohen punt return, the Bears scored 21 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter. That was followed by a ‘Peanut Punch’ forced fumble by Sherrick McManis with Raiders receiver Trevor Davis going in for the score at the Bears’ one-yard line.
However, in the fourth quarter, the Raiders reasserted their authority again with the Bears D unable to get off the field. A punt on 4th and 6 from the Raiders’ 22-yard line was called back after Bears’ special teamer Kevin Pierre-Louis ran into the kicker. With the extra 5 yards from the penalty, Gruden called a fake which was duly converted by safety Eric Harris.
Following that, the Raiders marched down the field with little worry punching the ball in from the 2-yard line. On the ensuing drive, a clear miscommunication between Daniel and receiver Anthony Miller led to the Raiders’ second pick of the night, essentially shutting the door on any Bears’ comeback.
For the Bears, this loss will end any talk of a possible QB controversy in the Windy City: as soon as Trubisky is back from injury he will be reinserted into the lineup. Will he be able to spark this sleepy offense into action though?
This result is likely to place some more pressure on head coach Matt Nagy, whose offence lacks the explosive element it showed last year. The run game lacks juice and the offensive line has put in some poor performances this year: running backs Cohen, David Montgomery and Mike Davis simply haven’t been given the running lanes so far this season. On top of that, Daniel was sacked 4 times and hit 6 more times by one of the weaker pass rushes in the league. This loss showed that when the defence isn’t on its game, the Bears are a team that looks like it will struggle to make the playoffs.
This is a signature win for the Raiders. It will also serve as a wake up call for the rest of the league that whilst Oakland might not yet be a threat to make the postseason, they are ahead of where you would expect them to be in their rebuild under Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. That’s even more impressive given the fact that a player central to their plans this season, Antonio Brown, is no longer on the roster. The engine of the offence is likely to continue to be Jacobs and the O-line, though the defence will perhaps struggle to hold up against more potent offences this year.