The Bears will visit Las Vegas for the first time this week when they take on the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday.
The Bears and Raiders will meet on U.S. soil for the first time since 2015. Their last meeting was in London in 2019. It will be the Bears’ first trip to the Raiders’ home stadium since they visited Oakland in 2011.
It will also be the Bears’ first game in the state of Nevada. The Bears haven’t played in a new state since their first trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to face the Panthers in 2002.
Here’s what to watch for in the Week 5 matchup.
1. The Bears running back situation
Running back David Montgomery has been the identity of the Bears offense so far. His 309 rushing yards through four games ranks fifth in the NFL. Yet, a knee injury suffered late in the game last week against Detroit has put Montgomery out for several weeks.
In steps veteran Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert. Williams has experience and performed well when asked to be a No. 1 running back in Kansas City during stretches of the 2019 season. But is this Bears rushing attack going to have the same punch without Montgomery?
“David plays a big role in all of that with his ability to break tackles and stay up, and just the unbelievable balance that he has,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “But we’re going to continue to create those holes for these other running backs.”
2. Raiders offensive line woes
The Raiders drafted Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood with the 17th overall pick in the draft last spring. Many draft analysts projected Leatherwood as a guard, not a tackle, but the Raiders went ahead and put him at right tackle to start the season.
The results have been uninspiring. Defenses have taken advantage of the inexperience at tackle. Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa made Leatherwood look silly Monday night.
Now, the Raiders are reportedly moving Leatherwood to right guard, or at least experimenting with the possibility. Brandon Parker, who was primarily a backup this season, has moved to right tackle. No matter what the Raiders’ offensive line looks like, the Bears’ pass rush could be in for a big day.
3. Khalil Mack’s revenge
Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack will face his old team again Sunday. Shortly after Jon Gruden returned to the Raiders as coach and de facto general manager in 2018, he traded Mack to the Bears in exchange for two future first-round draft picks.
Mack doesn’t need extra motivation, but any time a player faces a team that traded him away, there has to be a desire to prove it wrong. Mack’s return will certainly be discussed on the game broadcast, especially after a report surfaced in August that Gruden called the Bears to try to get Mack back.
4. Renfrow is everywhere
Whether on offense or special teams, Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow is all over the field. He made an impressive special teams play on Monday night when the Chargers attempted a fake punt. Renfrow sprinted 10 yards in a hurry to break up a pass.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Renfrow covered 10.4 yards in 1.5 seconds and reached a top speed of 17.04 miles per hour on the play.
“He’s just a good football player,” Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “He’s not a receiver, he’s a good football player. I bet you they could plug that guy into a lot of different areas and he would do a just fine.”
The Bears will need to know where Renfrow is. They’ll see him on punt returns and he’s caught 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns on offense.
5. The Bears’ play calling
Matt Nagy reluctantly admitted he gave up play calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor last week. The Bears used more two- and three-tight end sets against the Lions in an effort to protect the quarterback as much as possible.
With rookie Justin Fields taking over quarterback duties moving forward, the Bears must do whatever they can to utilize his skillset properly. That will be more challenging, potentially, without Montgomery at running back. If the running game can’t replicate what Montgomery does, more of the burden will be on Fields’ shoulders.
Lazor is going to have to find ways to play to Fields’ strengths.