Mitch Trubisky might not be playing, but there will be no shortage of fascinating storylines when the 3-1 Bears and 2-2 Raiders clash in London. From the sweet, sweet revenge games for Khalil Mack and Eddy Pineiro and whether the offense’s functionality actually improves going from Trubisky to Chase Daniel, to the latest in a season full of scheduling quirks for the Bears and the NFL’s official ribbon-cutting on Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the league brings plenty of intrigue overseas in Week 5, even if it’s also delivering a potentially lopsided matchup.
Down three defensive starters entering Week 4 and losing Trubisky to a left shoulder injury after only six plays didn’t prevent the Bears from mauling the rival Vikings for their third consecutive victory. The way the shorthanded “D” dominated was staggering, not unlike the Raiders going on the road and bullying the nicked-up Colts to get back to .500.
This will be the Bears’ third trip to London, but first since October 2011, when they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24-18, at Wembley Stadium.
Raiders offense vs. Bears defense
A few hours after Oakland piled up nearly 400 yards of offense and 31 points on the Colts in a well-balanced attack Sunday, a Bears “D” missing its top two front-seven defenders in Akiem Hicks (knee) and Roquan Smith (late scratch because of a personal issue), as well as up-and-coming star Bilal Nichols (broken hand), shut out the Vikings for 57-plus minutes in a frighteningly dominant defensive display.
As usual, the charge was highlighted by ex-Raider Khalil Mack, who notched his third strip-sack in his past two games and upped his NFL-leading QB pressure total to 19. But don’t overlook the yeoman’s work by Chicago’s next D-linemen up, Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris, who combined for 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery, and the work they and ILB3 Nick Kwiatkoski (team-high nine tackles) did in holding the NFL’s best run game to 40 yards on 16 carries (2.5).
With Hicks and Nichols possibly out again and Smith’s status uncertain, Chicago will need another stout showing against another play-action offense. Oakland is led by Derek Carr and powerful first-round RB Josh Jacobs, and buoyed by a talented offensive line that ranks 15th in sack percentage, but is helping a rush attack tied for fifth in average per tote (5.1 yards).
In the middle, Eddie Goldman pivots from seeing a first-round rookie to an elite veteran in C Rodney Hudson, and Mack, the NFL’s highest-paid defender, draws its top-earning blocker, mammoth RT Trent Brown. Carr’s favorite target is mismatch weapon, TE Darren Waller, but WR Tyrell Williams also will challenge Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix vertically.
Bears offense vs. Raiders defense
Daniel was efficient, if not explosive, in place of Trubisky, completing more than 73 percent of his passes and improving to 2-0 in games with the Bears when he doesn’t turn the ball over. He made swift, smart decisions, but will need to improve in the red zone, where the Bears settled for three field goals in four trips.
With Taylor Gabriel (concussion, check status) missing his first game with the Bears, Daniel, like Trubisky, leaned heavily on Allen Robinson but also helped Javon Wims tally a career-high 56 receiving yards. The O-line, also down a starter (Kyle Long, hip, check status) and, at times, his replacement (Ted Larsen, knee), performed admirably in protection vs. the Vikings’ vaunted pass rush, but again struggled blocking the run, with David Montgomery managing only 53 yards on his career-high 21 touches and 50 snaps.
But while their “D” gets a stiffer challenge up front on offense, the Bears offense sees a step down in class from the defense of Minnesota to Oakland. It might be the run game’s needed elixir, especially after the Raiders this week lost captain Vontaze Burfict to a season-long suspension.
The Raiders’ pass rush continues to miss Mack in the worst way (imagine that!), with only five sacks through four games, so this theoretically should mark a soft landing for Daniel in his first start. But talent abounds in the secondary, where former first-round CB Gareon Conley and FS Lamarcus Joyner present tough matchups for Allen Robinson and Chicago’s tight ends.
Special teams: Chicago’s kicking battery, with another assist from Gruden in the Pineiro trade, has been dynamite. Its return tandem has that potential, but hasn’t been given many chances to stick out. Oakland’s third phase has a decidedly NFC North feel with new return man Trevor Davis, the speedy former Packer who took an end around 60 yards to the house in his Raiders debut Sunday, and ex-Viking PK Daniel Carlson, who’s off to a quiet start.
Coaching: While Raiders fans await signs that their team’s 10-year, $100 million investment in Gruden eventually may pay off, Nagy sits at 15-6 in his first 21 games, with a Coach of the Year award already under his belt and early signs emanating that his pivot from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano and a reworked defensive staff only made the best “D” in football a year ago even better.