I honestly can tell you I’m not surprised that the Bears are 3-1 going into their bye weekend.
The outcomes of their first four games have been as I expected going into the season. I knew how tough it would be going into Lambeau Field on a Sunday night prime-time opener against Aaron Rodgers, that Seattle’s and Arizona’s arrows most likely would be pointing south, and was assuming the Bucs weren’t a very good football team.
I was surprised the Bucs came to town at 2-1, and I’m very surprised the Packers and Vikings aren’t 3-1 and in a three-way tie with the Bears atop the NFC North.
The Bears’ record isn’t shocking, but there are a few things that have been quite surprising in getting them here, and there are a couple of disappointments that may not bode well for the future if they don’t get them fixed.
We knew Khalil Mack already was an NFL Defensive MVP when he arrived, so although the level of dominance he’s played with probably was unpredictable, there’s nothing surprising about the effect he’s had on the defense. But the bigger stunner for me has been the emergence of Eddie Goldman, Roy Robertson-Harris, Eddie Jackson and Bryce Callahan, who consistently have played at the level of the best players in the league at their positions.
Mack, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Kyle Fuller will continue to command most of the headlines, and deservedly so, but when you dig into the tape of the first four games and watch the play of those four youngsters, their development and playmaking ability has been super impressive.
It is that depth that threatens to make this Bears defense so dominant.
The next most pleasant surprise has to be Aaron Lynch. After not participating in a single practice after Day 1 in Bourbonnais and missing the entire exhibition season, he seemed like a long shot to make the team, but Matt Nagy consistently said he was comfortable with what Bears coaches believed Lynch would bring.
After Lynch’s checkered four years with the 49ers, after a troubled college career, we had to wonder what the Bears were thinking.
But Lynch was at practice the Monday before the Green Bay opener. He was on the field for the first play of the game and has played about 40 percent of the snaps through the first four weeks, when he made a real impact with two sacks, an interception, excellent run support and consistent pressure on the pocket.
Give the young man credit if he’s finally figured things out – and if he has, it’s a huge bonus for the Bears.
It’s fair to say that general manager Ryan Pace has struggled at times with free agency. Still, I loved the Allen Robinson signing but assumed he’d need the first quarter or half of the season at least to get to full speed coming back from ACL surgery.
Robinson has appeared to be 95 to 100 percent since the Packers game, and although the offense has struggled, where would it be without him?
I am not disappointed in the offensive line, which has played well at times, and it’s great to see Kyle Long once again one of the best guards in football. I didn’t doubt Long, but with all the surgeries, we couldn’t know where he was until we saw for ourselves, and it’s been really fun to watch.
But the line has not yet figured out how to block the run game between the tackles. Most of what Jordan Howard’s been able to do he’s had to do on his own, and he is getting hit behind the line of scrimmage way too often.
That must be fixed before the Bears mess with the Patriots, Vikings, Rams and Packers again if they hope to win the NFC North.
And although I’m not disappointed in quarterback Mitch Trubisky – it’s way too early for that – it was disappointing that he and the offense weren’t further along heading into the Tampa Bay game.
But if those last two things can be fixed, the Bears can win the NFC North this season, and that’s not something I saw coming four weeks ago.
• Hub Arkush is the executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.