Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, where it’s always Week 14 somewhere. While the 2019 Bears have their playoff aspirations dangling by the thinnest of margins, we’re in here living in the past.

For those of my dear readers who may not know, I am a high school History/English teacher and I was thinking about having my kids read “The Time Machine” by H.G Wells. I probably won’t, because books written in 1895 that read like they were written in 1895 are a tough sell for anyone, especially alternative to expulsion students that are forced to prepare for a stupid standardized test in April.

“The Time Machine” will be an irrelevant exercise for teenagers, but what about Bears fans? What will THE VAULT look like in 50 years? 100 years? Will football even exist? Will the planet even exist? I know I can’t get too deep into the radical leftist position that “climate change and humans are harming the Earth” so I won’t, but it is and we are.

So, without any further ado, let’s look at THE VAULT 2083, writing about the Peoria Bears versus the Wisconsin Rapids Packers from Smarch 18th, 2077:

Welcome back to THE VAULT, our weekly subsidized, government-funded nostalgia trip through time. I appreciate you sharing your entertainment credits with me as always, because I know that you only have 15 minutes a week that your bosses allow you to be away from your desk. Thanks for spending it with me, and I promise that I will use my accumulated credits responsibly. 

Today we’re gonna look back at the Bears vs the Packers from 2077, a game handily won by our beloved Peoria Bears 77-3, the biggest margin of victory since the Bears moved from Chicago to Peoria after the great Lake Michigan tsunami of 2058 (sponsored by BUD LIGHT- dilly dilly!) that caused Soldier Field to float all the way down to the central part of the state, and with all the remaining McCaskeys (just Virginia at the time) fleeing the country in the middle of the night, Peoria felt like the best option (a sentence never said before or after this article). As you know, the Packers were still reeling from the loss of Aaron Rodgers, who at the young age of 79 was sent to Mars to go hit on and alienate all the famous single women in an attempt to convince them to come back to Earth. 

As you may recall, this is the game that got the Packers kicked out of Green Bay, since they made a bet with new Bears General Manager Sam “brought to you by LOWE’S” Fels-McCaskey Jr over ownership of America’s second biggest small town. As you reading this may know, he had since converted the entire city to the world’s biggest Mars Cheese Castle before the military junta led by the Sons of Josh Bellamy dethroned him a bloody, cheesy uprising. Any urban explorers now know it’s haunted by the ghosts of those dead soldiers, and the only way to get past them is to throw a football directly at their chests so when they drop it you can move right past them. They can shoot a gun, but when it comes to catching passes they are no gouda. 

Those of you that remember the FEDEX Cheese Bowl of 2077 may remember that the day was paced by Khalil Mack III and his 4 touchdown passes, 3 of which went to Perg Flumpus, weeks before he was banned for life from the league for testing positive for Mango Juul pods. The Packers lone score was a dropkick through the AMAZON PRIME 3 point field goal target, just barely missing the 10 point uprights in the first year of “NFL Rock N’ Jock” rules. Chester “The Clump” Clumps grinded out 84 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown against a defense running the iconic “Cover 11” that as you know was invented by Rich “The Hedgehog” Ryan, son of Rex “The Wolfman” Ryan, who was the son of some dumbass radio DJ or something.

The Peoria Bears would ride the momentum of the Cheese Bowl victory to finish the season 21-1, and then win the first four MICROSOFT SURFACE Playoff games before losing in the WAL-MART NFC Championship to the New Orleans Football Pelicans, a game decided by the infamous broken back sack where Mack’s back cracked on impact and the loose ball was returned for the game winning touchdown. Thank god we all have free health insurance and readily available robot bones so Mack was back in black with a knack of beating the Pack. The Packers haven’t won since and I hear if they go winless again in 2083 they’re gonna be relegated to the 3rd division, the last stop before NFL teams get the death penalty. I think it’s about time they were replaced with the Arlington Heights River Rangers, personally. 

Please help me they’re keeping me here against my will and they’re forcing me to watch All-22 footage of the Second American Civil War and after this they’re gonna (REDACTED)

Football

Tony Martin: Today’s matchup post is going to look a little different than usual- since this year has been anything but normal, we are having to seriously discuss how to spend our Sunday afternoons. I just started a new job, I’m still in grad school, and I still play in multiple bands- that time of the weekend would be perfect to spend it on anything other than shitty football that I’m emotionally invested in.

Yet I know for a fact that I’ll be parked on the couch this Sunday, watching the lifeless Bears play against the Giants. I’m not sure if I’m watching to see if they have something to prove or if I do it out of sheer tradition. I feel like if there was a Dawn of the Dead style zombie apocalypse, instead of lurking to the mall you’d find my dead ass sitting on the couch with a half cashed bowl and a LaCroix within arms reach of my rotting arms, waiting for the Bears to come on.

What do the Bears have to prove over these last few games? Is this just a talent evaluation process by now? It could be. I’m thinking they need to assess what options they have at so many different positions- both sides of the line, tight end, linebacker, kicker, and the defensive backfield. At this point, let’s see what this team has going forward. A lot of what Pace and Nagy should be focusing on where the holes in this leaky sink are coming from, because even though Mitch is the most glaring problem, the reason we are where we are is deeper than bad QB play. If Kyle Orton can win games as a starting QB, so can Mitch, but the franchise needs to build and play to his strengths. A great game plan can help mitigate a lot of deficiencies if done right.

This team absolutely has a playoff core, but Pace/Nagy need to spend the offseason figuring out what the identity of the franchise actually is and then building towards it. The end of last season covered up a lot of the problems with this roster from an identity standpoint on offense. They had a bruising running back and then a scatback, an all-star caliber wide receiver and a bunch of undersized speedsters, and a tight end that was not worth the money. All they did was replace the running back with a much better prospect that fits the offense, but they get away from running as soon as they fall behind, even if it’s by something as small as a first half field goal. Now might be the time to find those things to build upon, but it’s going to be boring as shit from a fan perspective to see it.

To wrap this part up, I’ll tell you what I’m looking for as the Bears play us off (insert Bill O’Reilly impression here):

-Is there an NFL-caliber tight end on the roster?
-Is Anthony Miller consistent enough to warrant a spot as the starting slot WR?
-Which defensive linemen could create pressure on their own in the absence of Khalil Mack?
-Does Leonard Floyd still play for this team?
-Eddie Goldman somehow has a grade of 74.3 so far from PFF- how much of 2018’s 88 rating from PFF was aided by the presence of Akiem Hicks?
-Do the Bears look to extend any of the following players: Danny Trevathan, Haha Clinton-Dix, Aaron Lynch, Nick Williams, Nick Kwiatkoski, or Roy Robertson-Harris?
-Are the Bears interested in taking a harder look at Javon Wims or Ryan Nall?

 

Wes French:Tony, I have to admit – If there is a Dawn of the Dead style scenario, I’d like to come find that couch and help you finish off your party favors. Barring a Hollywood situation on Sunday, though, I think I’m checking out on the Bears for a week.

It’s the Sunday before what’s basically a holiday week – yeah, I’ve got to work a few days at the beginning, but am I REALLY working? Fuck no. And the fact the Bears don’t really seem to be working the last month+ makes me unsure about investing another 3-4 hour block of my weekend, especially against a putrid trash heap like the New York Giants. I guess this might be the BEST time to check in, since the Bears should be able to get a W against the rookie-QB led G-Men, but the last time we had that narrative was all of two weeks ago against Detroit and that game was about as entertaining as a wet fart. Plus we’ll get that same wet fart four days later, bright and early before we’re all stuffed.
Am I interested in another slog between trash teams trying to sort out how exactly to best use the players they employ? No, no I’m not. Tony outlined plenty to look for in terms of WHY you may want to check in to this game on Sunday, and beyond the Bears sorting themselves out for a hopefully more spirited run in 2020 I could see you being mildly interested in who this Daniel Jones character is playing QB for NYG and wanting to see the sometimes electric Barkley do what he does. Outside of those two, the Giants have nothing to hold the interest of anyone but the diehards in the Big Apple and even those dummies are probably on to other things by week 12 of a 2-8 season. The Giants are pretty terrible and deserve no one’s attention, and in the immortal words of Local H – And Fuck New York, Too.

So what else should you be doing on Sunday? I’m going to play hockey and casually catch a nice dose of Red Zone with NINE noon games. Why the NFL can’t sort themselves out enough to have a better division of games through the day (there are only TWO late afternoon contests, but one is DAL @ NE) remains a mystery, but I digress. There are some strong teams on bye this week (KC/MIN), but while the schedule at first glance looks like a mirror of Bears/Giants, I’d say we’re in for a noon slate of some wild football with goofy fun matchups galore: 
– SEA @ PHI: The best game on paper at noon, Seattle looks to keep the Eagles down as they chase the 49ers for the NFC West/#1 seed. The Eagles are maddening, but always capable of a breakout performance and still have a shot at their own shitty Division
– TB @ ATL: Human Turnover Machine/Piece of Shit Jameis Winston goes into Hotlanta, quietly one of the best defensive units in the league since Week 5; I’ll guarantee at least 3 INTs and a DEF TD
– DEN @ BUF/ OAK @ NYJ: On the surface, the Bills and Raiders should cruise, but the Broncos have proved a difficult out and the Jets are scoring in bunches of late. The Bills and Raiders also remain the Bills and Raiders, so place those bets cautiously
– PIT @ CIN: A once fierce rivalry reduced to Mason Rudolph against Ryan Finley. I’ll be honest, this one excites even less than the Bears, but it does produce a decent opportunity for the Bungals to get their first win…it could totally be worse, Bears fans
– CAR @ NO: This sees two teams heading in wildly opposite directions, with the Panthers looking like they might be onto their third QB of the season and just about dead in the NFC at 5-5. Saints are aiming for NFC’s top spot. Divisional games can be weird, though
– MIA @ CLE/DET @ WSH: These two matchups pit four of the leagues worst franchises (of late, at least) against each other, and while on the surface the matchups look shit you should NEVER discount a game between the worst of the worst. How will Cleveland respond after the brawl to end last week’s game? Can Miami make it 3 wins in 4 after starting 0-7? Will the Lions continue to be the tonic that aids young/under-performing QBs for Dwayne Haskins and the Racial Slurs???
TUNE IN TO FIND OUT
Football

Rams (5-4) vs. BEARS (4-5)

Kickoff: 7:20pm

TV: NBC

Radio: 780 WBBM

You ever see the movie “Big Fan”? It’s a wonderful film, and at the end (no spoilers), the main character played by Patton Oswalt is looking at the newly released schedule for the NY Giants (his favorite team), and says aloud “it’s gonna be a great year.” I remember looking at the Bears schedule before the season and marking this game down as the game where the collective fanbase could know what type of team we were looking at by how they played against the cream of the NFC’s crop. This, my friends, is why I don’t write about football for a living.

Both the Rams and the Bears hobble into this game starkly different than they were when they battled at Soldier Field nearly a year ago, despite not many major personnel changes save for the addition of Jalen Ramsey. The places these teams find themselves is a testament to the parity of the modern NFL, when two teams that were primed to be perennial playoff contenders last year now look at the playoffs from the outside if the season ended today.

That said, these two teams have stumbled to a position where they can ride a mid-season surge to relevancy and possible Wild Card spots, but both need a win to do that. A win here for the Bears could be a signature one, and with their next two games at home against the Giants and at Detroit, the best case scenario for Nagy and the boys would be a 3 game win streak before the season ending gauntlet of Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City, and Minnesota. A 7-5 Bears going into that last 4 game stretch could be confident knowing that going .500 and catching a break or two along the way could get them into the playoffs, where anything can happen. This paragraph is the last of my optimism for 2019 about this team save for a convincing win on Sunday in front of America and Carrie Underwood.

The Rams need this one badly too, since while their remaining schedule has Arizona twice, they also go against Dallas, Baltimore, Seattle, and the 49ers. Both teams are looking for a big win to prove the same thing: the best moments of last season were not just flashes of what could be, but honest reflections of who these teams are when they get hot. Both teams also look at a potential loss as the moment when hopes for this season are dashed hopelessly against the rocks like Lady fuckin MacBeth did it herself. Admittedly, the Rams can lose this game but the Bears absolutely cannot.

I wholeheartedly believe an embarrassing showing by the Bears puts Matt Nagy on the hot seat, less than a year removed from winning Coach of the Year, a mind-blowing take that really encapsulates exactly how far this franchise has fallen. Both the Bears and Rams have been trainwrecks, but not even especially fun to watch trainwrecks.

Todd Gurley has been underutilized this season, and the Rams as a whole aren’t taking the league by storm in terms of how effectively they run the ball, which I believe was a big reason why play action was so essential to their success last year. Gurley has 104 carries on the year, while David Montgomery has 129. Monty also has more rushing yards than Gurley, which blows my mind considering I believed that he had been underutilized for most of the beginning of the season.

Unfortunately for Sunday, this is the time of the year when offenses buckle down and start to rely on the run game to prepare for the postseason and I believe that is a major strength for Los Angeles. Danny Trevathan is out, Akiem Hicks is out, and the Bears are weak up the middle. Nick Kwiatkoski has filled in well, but this game is a big test. Zone blocking techniques have found success against this defense (Oakland, anyone?) and I fear this might be a breakout game for Todd Gurley. It’ll be interesting to see if an offensive line missing a starting Tackle (Rob Havenstein) and it’s Center (Brian Allen) can find consistency against the Bears.

One key element of the Rams offense that is playing this week and didn’t last year is Cooper Kupp, Goff’s favorite target. He was shut out last week, but still ranks 7th in the NFL in catches and yards per game. Expect the Bears to pay extra attention to Cupp while also trying to contain Robert Woods, who is coming off a 7 catch, 95 yard performance in last weeks drubbing by the Steelers. Woods hasn’t scored yet this year, but he should still be considered a threat.

Do the Bears have what it takes to build another win streak and set themselves up for a December run? There is certainly going to be an opportunity to do that on Sunday night. The Rams are not playing at their best, but at the same time do we really even know what the best version of these Bears looks like?

Prediction: Bears 16 Rams 14

Statistics from Pro Football Reference @ pro-football-reference.com

Everything Else

Welcome back #Vaultgang to another edition of THE VAULT, my weekly podcast- in blog form! Every week I take a look back at a game between our perennially disappointing Bears and whatever team they’re playing this week, but get this- I look at an old matchup! It’s super relevant to all of us, I know.

I wanted to talk about Bears/Eagles, but honestly I’m getting tired of bringing up the 1998-2009 teams as much as I have so I’m switching it up today and I’m sure as shit not talking about last January’s playoff game. The Fog Bowl, played on New Years Eve 1988, took place two years and a few months after I was born, so it’s probably even less vivid for me than it was for the players on the field that day. While looking at the pictures I was totally like “woah this looks like weed smoke lol” and then instantly was like “I should write about weed lol”and so here we are.

Beloved #Vaultgang member, I don’t drink. There’s some addictive genes in my septic tank that I call my DNA, and I’ve always been swamped with extra work for most of my adult Bears fandom life, so I’ve naturally preferred the loving embrace of weed instead. I’ve got my medical card, so what I’d like to do is prepare you, the Bears fan and maybe casual pot smoker, for Illinois legalization to help you find the strains to best enhance your gameday experience. Basically I’d like to be a shot lady that you’d see at the bar but with one hitters at your tailgates. Since the Bears will be out of the playoff hunt and you’ll be looking at marijuana to assist you in your playoff football watching, here’s-

The Vault Guide to Football and Weed:

Durban Poison: This South African strain is now most likely grown in greenhouses that are administered by people named “Moonbeam”, which is kinda cool I guess. Durban Poison is a heavy sativa. Smoke it and you’ll be productive, creative, and want to go outside. It’s a great first half weed for Bears fans, when things seem optimistic and fun, and hey if the Bears start to suck you can always take a nature walk. Since the Bears won’t be in the playoffs this year, feel free to light up some Durban Poison and take the dog for a super long walk when whatever bullshit team emerges from the AFC South to get fed to the Patriots or Chiefs and goes down by 21 in the first quarter. Sorry, Jacoby Brissett.

Katsu Bubba Kush: With a super high THC content, this heavy ass indica will knock you on your ass. I smoked it immediately after the Bears loss on Sunday and sunk deep into the couch, unconcerned with my fantasy team also taking a shellacking in the late games. Felt great to erase the bad taste that the Bears game left in my mouth and instead replace it with weed that tastes like paradise. This isn’t quite “sad bastard weed” that will leave you lazily listening to Fleetwood Mac and thinking about rolling joints with Ashley, your high school girlfriend who’s parents worked till late, but it will most certainly make you eat as much as your 16 year old ass did when you got home and raided the pantry before taking an entire box of cereal to your basement bedroom.

Cheese and Chong: Oh I get it, like the actors! Fuckin hilarious, guys. Whoever names weed must also name craft beer and think they get bonus points for naming their beers after Stooges songs as if those songs aren’t all 60 years old already. This weed smells like “oh shit even if I hide it in the trunk if I get pulled over I’m fucked” weed. It’s a hybrid on the sativa side, apparently used for motivation and daytime pain relief, and for our purposes it’s a great Super Bowl strain. Fire up a joint of this shit at your Super Bowl party and all of a sudden everyone loves all the commercials during the game. They say it tastes like fancy cheese when smoked. To me it tastes like weed but it’ll sure as shit have you standing by the food spread throughout most of halftime, which is fine because I like both J-Lo and Shakira, but their collective hips will still be telling the truth if you choose to watch it on Youtube later.

Dead Cherries: I guess this is some proprietary strain, which means it was designed, sold, and made by one company? Harsh tokes, man. This shit is fire and will knock you on your ass, it’s the perfect “rainy Sunday” weed. It hit me so hard at first it made me feel like… well, super high. Maybe too high. I smoked some of this during the Chiefs/Packers game and was like “damn, maybe Andy Reid was right to punt the ball”. Basically, this shit will turn you into a terrible coach. Don’t smoke Dead Cherries if you have any logistical decisions you have to make for the next couple hours.

Throughout the year I’ll be including weed flavors for you to use during upcoming Bears games, and if you like what you read pitch in to my football/weed fund on Patreon under the name xXxBearsFan42069xXx.

Oh, also, don’t smoke weed and drive. You suck at it.

Football

Hey it’s yr boi DJ Yung Milwaukee- Wes and I decided to collab again on a matchup post for Sunday’s weekly nightmare. One of the greatest things about football is it’s ability to take us away from the problems of the workweek or whatever. Watching the Bears in 2019 is still therapeutic, because no matter how bad things get for me at least I’m not on this team, I just write about them

*sobs to the tune of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears”*

Mornin, Wes! Let’s chop up these Bears/Chargers matchups, shall we? Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ll take the Bears offense vs the Chargers defense.
 
Looking at the NFL.com stats for the Bears offense this season is a new, special form of torture. It’s the kind of torture that you know will keep bringing you back for more, but I think hopefully for us the expectations have been completely removed so we can laugh. They say comedy is tragedy plus time, and I’d say it’s time we went full Joker.
 
Look, the Bears live in a society. A society where they have 420 rushing yards in six games. They have gotten 17 first downs this year via the run game, and 15 first downs via penalty. Mitch can’t run a simple RPO. Kids are getting booed at Hawks games for going as Trubisky for Halloween, as if that wasn’t the spookiest costume in Chicagoland right now.
 
Anthony Miller is officially a ghost, Taylor Gabriel exploded for a huge game and is now also a non-factor, and the Bears customary jet sweep motion is bringing extra men into the box to stop the run. They’re shooting themselves in the foot left and right. The line isn’t performing well, but how well can you expect a line to hold up when they’re constantly facing 2nd-and-8 or 3rd-and-10? Hopefully the Bears take advantage of the Chargers allowing for 3rd down conversions literally half the time (39 conversions in 78 tries).
The interior of the Chargers line (Justin Jones and Brandon Mebane) are both out, so hopefully the Bears take advantage of that and establish the run for once. That said, Joey Bosa is still a monster and I’d hope the Bears keep some extra blockers back there to chip and give Mitch extra time to survey the field before eventually taking a sack.
 
Basically I’m afraid that Ryan Tannehill is going to have a better game against this team than Mitch will, but if the Bears watch tape they’ll know that the best way to beat the Chargers is to run the ball. Darwin James has been out all season, which opens up the box for more running lanes. You would think the Bears have plenty of options this Sunday going against a middling defense missing both it’s defensive tackles and safeties, right? The Chargers hemorrhaged yards to Titans receivers last week, with Ryan Tannehill going 12/13 for 181 yards and 2 TDs when targeting the middle of the field last week. Naturally, I’m expecting Matt Nagy to do the opposite.
 
Well, I’m thoroughly depressed now. What ya got, Wes?
I wish I could tell you that I’ve got a pick me up…and I might?

The Chargers offense can boast the third highest average passing yards a game at 293 and change, but they’re only one spot ahead of the putrid Bear rushing attack at 74 yard/game. So while they’ve been able to move the ball through the air with some ease, they are just as atrocious running the ball and the passing yards are nice, but they’re a 11/6 TD/INT ratio through the air and fumbled five times, bringing the overall TD/TO ratio to 14/11. The Bears TD/TO ratio is 10/6.

This is NOT going to be a battle of competent offense/teams; things will be ugly.

Things aren’t getting any easier for the Chargers before they even leave for Chicago. Recently promoted G Forrest Lamp broke his ankle last weekend and will miss the rest of the season. It’s another hit to a line that’s already down Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung, though even with Okung reportedly be back this week you could expect some rust.
Melvin Gordon will continue trying to get up to speed after ending his hold out a few weeks ago, but neither he or Austin Ekeler have gotten much going at 2.3 and 3.6 yards/carry, respectively.

Ekeler is helping to prop up that passing game with 44 receptions for nearly 500 yards and four TDs, most on the team. He’s joined by Keenan Allen with 49/564/3, but after that it’s a steep drop to Mike Williams at just 23 catches. In fact, only TE Hunter Henry is in double digits for receptions on the season, and he’s gotten 14 of them the last two weeks. Philip Rivers has a game plan, and it’s to feed Allen, Ekeler and now Henry.

The Bears will need to get the pass rush back on track to create pressures and get Rivers forcing balls to those guys to early or into what should be some stiff coverage for his three favorite targets. Ekeler gets most of his on designed screens and check downs, so Roquan Smith will need to shake out of his funk to keep himself and his front-7 on task to stymie the few things the Chargers do well. The way that Allen makes more of his catches in the short to intermediate route tree, I’d like to see Prince Amukamara stick with Allen all over the field, but the next time we see the Bears employs such a tactic will be the first.

This really feels like the perfect “get back to basics” opponent for Matt Nagy and Chuck Pagano to hit the reset button. You already spoke to the offense having an opportunity to exploit a battered and ineffective defense. The Bears defense doesn’t really need a full reset, but they need an easier matchup in terms of the game as a whole, and if the offense can put even some semblance of sustained drives together, that alone will make the job a much simpler one for the defense. They’ve also got a strong potential for turnovers, which we know they thrive off of and use to build confidence.

This could game could lift a lot of spirits IF Nagy and Pagano and be simple, be basic and just play a clean game, because Anthony Lynn’s Chargers are more than capable of demolishing themselves if you give them slight trouble and can mitigate the big play here and there. Would be nice to see that from the other side in 2019.

Everything Else Football

Content Warning: Self-Harm

I got a text at 11:45pm this last Monday from my main football watching homie that just said “I can’t do it anymore, thank you for always being real. Love ya.”

I wake up at 5am for work so I was asleep and therefore missed it, but as soon as I saw it I messaged him until he woke up. Turns out he was drunk and sad and lonely and in a very very dark place, and had no recollection of sending me that text message. I told him if he ever tried to hurt himself I would beat him to death with my own hands.

My guy has been there for me since I was 17, so pretty much exactly half my life. We’ve lived together and helped each other out, and if I had a “real” wedding, he’d be the best man for sure. Football is a big part of that bond, as I’m sure it is for a lot of the people reading this and their friends. It takes a special kind of friendship to be able to sit there in silence for hours except for the occasional snarky comment or mention of how awful your fantasy team is looking this week.

You know the old adage: “If horseracing is the sport of kings, then surely football is… a very good sport as well.” What makes sports so great for me, my buddy, you reading this: the escape. Fuck your dead-end job or your overdue car payment, and that term paper can wait until Sunday night, because it’s Bears football. The thing you grew up watching. The team that means so much to you even though there’s no logical reason to explain why.

That Sunday time is a sort of collective unwinding time for those of us lucky to not be at work, leaving us (hopefully) recharged for the next week of new or repeating nightmares. It’s for that reason that I stopped being so emotionally invested in the outcome of Bears games and just love the experience of watching “My Team” play on Sundays, regardless of what the final score reflects.

Writing “The Vault” has become one of my favorite assignments during the week, because as I’m looking at box scores and game notes and trying to remember how to spell player names, I’m also going back to old memories. I can remember where I was when so many of these games happened, from the couch I sat on to what I ate to how it felt watching Johnny Knox damn near break in half.

My friend was there for so many of those afternoons or nights. The amazing second half comeback against Arizona in 2006. The entire Super Bowl run, when we looked at each other after Devin Hester’s opening kickoff touchdown and knew this was the year without saying a word. We were horribly wrong and smoked the saddest blunt when we got home.

I knew he was lonely and depressed, but one of the hardest things to break out of is the mask of masculinity that we all wear, especially when a lot of the time you spend with someone is spent watching hours of the most bro sport in existence.

Sometimes it doesn’t get any deeper than “what should we get for lunch?”, but I need to do a better job. We all need to do a better job. Maybe it isn’t a good time to ask if someone is doing okay emotionally when the Broncos go ahead late with a 2-point conversion, but football brings us closer together and I hope we can use the bonds we’re strengthening with every yell at the television to notice when our football friends aren’t acting like we’re used to. Prince Amukamara posted the picture and caption on Instagram that I used for the banner image this week, presumably to let his friend Roquan Smith know that he has his back no matter what, and that, combined with my friend’s scary text on Monday really changed how I wanted to do this piece today.

As I sat down to write this, I looked back at the 2015 Bears/Raiders game, and I watched highlight videos. I looked up how to spell Sebastian Janikowski, I looked at how open Marty Bennett got for a Jay Cutler pass, and I got sad. All I could think about is how hard it would be to reminisce on these games if I lost the friend that I spent so many weekends watching them with. So I hope you’ll understand if today’s Vault is more of a reflection on why it is that Bears football means so much to me, and also a plea to you, the reader: check in with your friends, because okay doesn’t always mean okay.

Football

The “Black and Blue” division, a title that Bears fans have worn with pride for decades. My dad used to love to talk about how tough and gritty a team needed to be to win in the former NFC Central division, and that shit’s goofy. Sure, toughness is important in a physically demanding and violent sport, but the “three yards and a cloud of dust” adage is kind of tired in 2019.

Needless to say, our dads are gonna LOVE the Bears/Vikings game this Sunday, because the trenches will be a war. Minnesota comes to Soldier Field planning on running the ball. They’ve rushed the ball 103 times in three games thus far, and average 193.7 yards a game. Holy shit. That sort of commitment to the run is something the suburban dads who listen to The Score salivate over, so I hope they enjoy it. Minnesota has opened some almost unbelievably wide lanes for Dalvin Cook, and as the NFL’s leading rusher this season, he’s got the juice to take the ball all the way damn near every time he touches it. Needless to say, the matchups between Minnesota’s rushing attack and Chicago’s run defense look like the most likely factor in the outcome of Sunday’s tilt, so let’s get into it. For the dads.

Minnesota Run Offense: A kickass running attack needs two things: a killer line and a running back who can make people miss at the second level. Minnesota has both. Their line has the 4th best Adjusted Line Yards on the season thus far (a Football Outsiders metric attempting to quantify how much of a runner’s success is due to good blocking), and Dalvin Cook has the highest yards per carry average for any runs broken at least 11 yards from the line of scrimmage. These dudes can ball. Right Guard Josh Kline is in concussion protocol, and though it would make the Bears’ task easier on Sunday, it would be a bummer if the Hoffman Estates kid missed his chance to play in Chicago. Also, I’m sure he told everyone he grew up in the city when he made it to the NFL. Look for Minnesota to run left frequently, since they rank second in the NFL in success rate for runs to the left (also a Football Outsiders metric).

Chicago Run Defense: So much of what the Bears are trying to do up front is reliant on Akiem Hicks being an actual bear and wrecking plays in the backfield, so it’s with great anxiety that Bears fans wait to see if he’ll suit up on Sunday (as of this writing, he’s expected to be a game-time decision). The run defense with Hicks in so far has been dominant through three games: the defense has literally allowed a 0% success rate on runs that take place on 3rd/4th down with two yards to go or less, and they allow a measly 0.11 yards in the open field, a testament to the fast, swarming linebackers the Bears employ. If Hicks is indeed out, and since the thought is that the Bears will also potentially be missing Bilal Nichols, the defensive line will need to demonstrate their depth. Nick Williams, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Eddie Goldman will have a mammoth task ahead of them.

I fear the Bears defensive line might be too banged up to keep this Minnesota rushing attack to around the 69 yards a game they’re currently allowing (nice), but expect Chuck Pagano to load up the box to contain Dalvin Cook. Start Roquan Smith in fantasy if you play an IDP league, since I expect him to be around the ball early and often. Look for the Bears to drop HaHa into the box to hopefully stifle those big play opportunities before they get started, because if Cook gets a lane, it’s really just a matter of what angle Eddie Jackson takes to see if he goes to the house or not.

I’ll close this piece by speaking directly to the suburban dads in the audience. Dads, this game was made for you. It’s got everything that will remind you of the football of your childhood:
-Inept QB play
-Playcalling that YOU would do if given the chance (Payton left, Payton right, Payton middle, Punt)
-Hard nosed, smash-mouth football
-Most likely a lot of punts
-Grit
-A “glory boy” wide receiver on the other team for you to root against
-A white, small-school wide receiver on the other team for you to wish the Bears signed
-An early fall game where you can toggle the thermostat once or twice without any wise talk from the wife or kids

Final Prediction:

Dalvin Cook puts up a good fantasy football day, going for 121 and a touchdown, but Kirk Cousins is sacked five times and turns the ball over twice en route to a Bears win.

Bears win, 17-13.

Football

Sunday at 3:25, our beloved and disappointing Chicago Bears travel to Mile High Stadium to face the Denver Broncos. The Broncos are one of those teams that seem like the boring background noise of the NFL at the moment, being roughly about as interesting as the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, and that Washington team. The Broncos don’t even have the luxury of being a flaming dumpster fire (Miami, the Giants), they just come out and play. Truth be told, if they weren’t on the late slate so often on Red Zone I’d forget they exist. Luckily, I got a chance to scout them on Monday and then promptly fell asleep on my couch at halftime.

However, I rewatched their loss against the Raiders and did a little bit of research on my own, so I’ll spend this article letting you know all you need to know about the Broncos so you can impress everyone at your watch party.

First off: this team does not pass the eye test. They have budding stars at WR (Courtland Sutton) and RB (Phillip Lindsay), with solid veterans to compliment them in Emmanuel Sanders and the also young but uninspiring Royce Freeman, respectively. So they go and invest in… Joe Flacco and Vic Fangio. Fangio is a brilliant defensive mind, and since Denver went defensive when selecting their head coach, they hopped on the new trend in the NFL and picked someone who once ripped bongs with Sean McVay in college to run the offense. Imagine being Rich Scangarello and getting a chance to FINALLY have an offense of your own and being gifted Joe fucking Flacco to run it. Oof.

The Defense is great on paper. Von Miller is going to be a problem and demand extra help almost no matter what, and Chris Harris Jr is an outstanding defensive back. Bradley Chubb is also a beast. Kareem Jackson is a decent corner, and it looks right now like Bryce Callahan might not play, which is a bummer. I hope nothing but good health for that dude because he is as close to a shutdown slot corner as there is in the NFL, and Bears fans appreciate good defense if for no other reason because we’ve been conditioned to expect defenders to be better than the offense. Unfortunately for this “wonderful” defense, they played terribly against Oakland. The Raiders went 10-14 on 3rd down last week and those defensive numbers don’t look good, no matter if you’re playing backyard football or in the NFL.

As for what to expect, look for a lot of slants, quick reads, and plays designed to get the ball out of Flacco’s hands as quickly as possible, he’s about as mobile as my Grandpa who candidly has never won a Super Bowl but did fight in World War II. Be on the lookout for 60/40 split between Lindsay and Freeman, for some stupid reason. Courtland Sutton will pop on screen when you watch, he’s dynamic. The Broncos sucked in the red zone last week and there has been a lot of talk about opening up the playbook, so we will see stuff we haven’t seen yet. Expect Flacco to air it out a few times, and for Vic to try to confuse Mitch into bad throws and poor reads. When the Bears offense is on the field, we’ll see exactly how much new creativity Matt Nagy has put into the playbook in the offseason, and it should be an entertaining chess match to say the least.

If the Bears are legit, games like this shouldn’t be close and we can all breathe calmly when we reflect on the what happened on Monday morning. If the Bears are truly hitting the regression button, this game could be a surprise loss. As of Wednesday the line is Bears by 3, and while my heart says that’s a good bet, recent data implies this game might be too close for comfort.