The biggest storyline coming out of Monday night's game is obviously Green Bay losing Aaron Rodgers to injury on its opening series. Don't ask Chicago fans to sympathize or let Packers' fans use that as an excuse, considering the Bears lost Jay Cutler to a groin injury in the first half against Washington in Week 7. However, the truth is Chicago was in better position than Green Bay to win without its franchise quarterback. Here's why:
Josh McCown has been with the Bears since 2011 and he should have felt confident following a strong performance in relief against Washington. Plus, he was coming off a bye week that afforded him extra time to prepare for the Packers. Green Bay signed Seneca Wallace in September, he hadn't played a game since Week 17 of 2011 and he had to come off the bench.
Watching both backups Monday night reaffirmed my opinion that a team with a proven starter entering or in his 30s such as the Packers and Bears could hit the jackpot if it can land Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas in the third round or later.
Thomas has struggled with protecting the football all year and I saw him turn it over four times against Boston College on Saturday. Also, it's important not to blame all of his struggles on a weak supporting cast. After all, it's not his teammates' fault his accuracy has been erratic and he can hold onto the ball too long. On the flipside, there's no denying that the Hokies' weak running game, turnover along the offensive line and inconsistent receiver play have all hurt Thomas' development and made it difficult for him to get into any kind of a rhythm as a passer.
A team that has a proven starter could draft Thomas in the third round or later with the idea of sitting him and developing him. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Thomas has all the tools to develop into a franchise quarterback if he can improve his footwork and decision-making. He has a tremendous frame and cannon for an arm. In addition, his strength and mobility in the pocket make life difficult for opposing pass rushes in the same manner as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His ability to make plays with his feet should make him an adequate backup while he works on the other aspects of his game.
After seeing Buffalo draft EJ Manuel 16th overall in 2013, it would come as no surprise if a team takes Thomas earlier than the third round based on his skill set and intangibles. As much as I like Thomas' natural ability and intangibles, drafting him in the first or second round is too much of a gamble because he'll more than likely be asked to play as a rookie and he won't be ready. The argument of throwing him in the fire while he learns is worth considering but that didn't help Josh Freeman, a talented quarterback with similar natural tools. Thomas would be better off sitting early in his career so he can take the time to learn an offense, build chemistry with his receivers and most important work on his footwork, which will lead to better accuracy.
The other thing that jumped out from the Monday night game was the Packers are in far better position to overcome Rodgers' absence than they have been in the past thanks to a power ground game that ranks second in rushing yards per game (148.6) and 2013 second-round pick Eddie Lacy. The 5-11, 230-pound rookie's production after contact against the Bears was impressive, as he dragged defenders for extra yards when he wasn't breaking would-be tackles outright. His 56-yard run is an excellent example. He gets a defined seam, makes a good read and shows good speed. It would have been merely a 17-yard gain had he not bounced off Bears FS Chris Conte once he got into space.
With 6-2, 218-pound James Starks spelling Lacy, the Packers have the personnel to morph into a run-heavy team that keeps defensive fronts on their heels and sets up the play-action package until they get Rodgers back.
Spinning it forward to the 2014 draft, Ohio State senior Carlos Hyde is the best power back in the class and he compares favorably to Lacy. At 6-foot, 235 pounds, Hyde has a similar build and similar power. He finishes runs with purpose, lowering his shoulder and driving his legs through contact. Plus, both big backs have enough top-end speed to rip off a chunk of yards when they get a seam. Defensive backs have a tough time tackling them in space.
On the downside, any team interested in Hyde will have to determine whether or not his off-the-field decision-making will be an issue, considering the Buckeyes suspended him for three games this year following a bar altercation. In addition, his weight is an asset -- and a concern. He has to convince teams that it won't balloon and limit his effectiveness at the NFL level. However, it's important to point out that Hyde was not charged by police following that altercation and he appears to be in excellent shape.