The Baltimore Ravens meet the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game from Canton on Thursday, Aug. 2 at 8pmET (NBC). The Bears finished 5-11 in 2017 and wound up firing veteran coach John Fox. Enter 40-year old Matt Nagy, the former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. Baltimore held on to long-time coach John Harbaugh, despite missing the playoffs for the third straight season. But they did promote linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale to defensive coordinator after Dean Pees “retired”.
In 2017, Chicago edged Baltimore, 27-24 on the road in overtime. Connor Barth’s 39-yard field goal in the extra session proved to be the game-winner and was set up by a 53-yard run by Jordan Howard.
Will Trubisky make the jump?
Last season, Rams new coach Sean McVay helped quarterback Jared Goff jump from pedestrian rookie to potential star. The Bears hope that Nagy can do something similar with second-year pro Mitch Trubisky. The athletic quarterback from North Carolina produced a 77.5 passer rating with seven touchdowns and seven picks with 2,193 yards last season. With Mike Glennon gone, there’s really no competition from Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray.
The offense was dismal last season, averaging just 287.4 yards per game (30th) and 175.7 passing yards (32nd). Fortunately, the Bears have a strength and that’s the ground attack led by their dynamic running tandem of Jordan Howard (1,122yds, 9 TDs) and Tarik Cohen (370 yds, 53 rec.). They also added to their receiving corps with the additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and TE Trey Burton from Philadelphia. Add a healthy Kevin White, who has been hurt in his first three seasons and this should be one of the most improved passing games in the NFL. However, with Robinson coming off an ACL tear and White a broken shoulder, health is definitely a major concern.
The defense was No. 10 in yards allowed (319.1ypg), 11th in rushing yards allowed (108.1ypg) and seventh in passing yards allowed (211ypg) in 2017. Nagy kept defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, which makes a lot of sense considering how good the unit was last season. DE Akiem Hicks is back after recording 8.5 sacks, while linebacker Danny Trevathan is the leading returning tackler (89). They did lose top tackler Christian Jones in free agency, but first-round rookie linebacker Roquan Smith (Georgia) has the speed and talent to be a star. However, he’s currently holding out due to a contract impasse.
Can Flacco regain his form?
Since winning the Super Bowl in 2013, the Baltimore Ravens have been a mediocre 40-40. Quarterback Joe Flacco was offered a six-year, $120.6 million extension and since then, has suffered a torn ACL, had back issues, a woeful receiving corps, erratic offensive line and his play has been inconsistent at best. Last season, Flacco threw for 3,141 yards with 18 TDs and 13 picks with a number one receiver in Mike Wallace. That’s part of the reason the Ravens finished 9-7 and just missed the playoffs for the second straight season after their opponent drove the field for a late-game winning score.
The good news for the 33-year old Flacco is that his receiving corps has changed for the better. Baltimore added veterans Michael Crabtree from San Francisco, Willie Snead IV from New Orleans and John Brown from Arizona as free agents. They also drafted athletic tight ends Hayden Hurst (1st round) and Mark Andrews (3rd). Baltimore shocked most by trading up in the late first round to select former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville. That move should help push Flacco, though Jackson is expected to sit in his first season, assuming Flacco produces wins.
Running back Alex Collins, who was released by Seattle early in the year, was Baltimore’s best player on offense last season with 973 yards and six TDs. He led an offense that finished 11th in rushing (116ypg) and 27th overall (305.4ypg). The defense was solid, allowing 325.1 yards per game and just 213.8 yards per game in the air (10th). That’s with top corner Jimmy Smith (Achilles) getting hurt in December and slot corner Tavon Young blowing out his knee in the preseason. Both are back along with second-year pro Marlon Humphrey, who had a strong rookie season. Baltimore, under Martindale, needs to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks (41 sacks, T11th NFL). Second-year linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams should receive much more time after playing sparingly in their respective rookie seasons.
- 1-6 ATS last 7 Thursday games.
- 3-0-1 ATS last 4 Thursday games.
John Harbaugh is a coach who does not like to lose, whether it’s the regular season, preseason or tiddlywinks. That doesn’t mean he’ll be playing Flacco a lot or most of his starters. But he is 9-1 SU in Week 1 and is 23-7 in the first three weeks of preseason so he’s not just out there evaluating players. Jackson should receive the most time at quarterback with Robert Griffin III likely playing most of the second half. That’s an advantage for the Ravens over the Bears, who have Bray as the third-stringer