LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' problems on offense run deeper than one person or position group. Even coach Matt Nagy, the Bears' playcaller, is partly to blame.
Save for the mostly stellar play of wide receivers Allen Robinson II and Taylor Gabriel -- plus backup quarterback Chase Daniel’s game against the Minnesota Vikings in relief on Mitchell Trubisky -- the Bears have experienced a near collective failure on the offensive side of the ball.
“I had a lot of time [to reflect on the offense over the bye week],” Nagy said.
“… I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here. For us, five games into it, we could be in a lot different scenario and we're not.”
At 3-2, the Bears are in the thick of the NFC North race. But Chicago’s great defense cannot save it all season.
Nagy arrived in January 2018, with impressive offensive credentials after spending 10 years as an assistant under Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. The first-year head coach guided the Bears to their first playoff bid since 2010, but the offense wasn’t exactly a juggernaut.
Chicago ranked seventh in total QBR (65.5), 21st in yards per game (344), 20th in yards per play (5.43), 11th in rushing yards per game (121), 21st in passing yards per game (222.8), 14th in net yards per pass attempt (6.96) and 11th in third down conversion percentage (41), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
And, in the last 10 games, including the NFC division round loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears are averaging 17.9 points per game.
With another offseason in the offensive system and Trubisky’s comfort level running it, the general assumption would be signs of gradual improvement this season.
Instead, the opposite happened. The Bears are statistically much worse in 2019.
Entering Week 6, the Bears were 21st in total QBR (44.3), 30th in yards per game (266), 30th in yards per play (4.48), 26th in rushing yards per game (80.6), 29th in rushing yards per attempt (3.42), 30th in passing yards per game (185.4), 30th in net yards per pass attempt (5.58) and 23rd in third down conversion percentage (34.8).
“What’s the identity of the Bears offense?” ESPN NFL Insider Matt Bowen asked rhetorically. “Exactly. I don’t think they have one.”
The Bears fail to do anything exceptionally well on offense, and it starts at quarterback.
“They have limited quarterback play,” Bowen said. “You have to acknowledge that. They are limited at the quarterback position.”
Trubisky attempted 45 passes in Week 1’s 10-3 to the Green Bay Packers. The former No. 2 overall pick showed in that loss he's clearly not a polished pocket-passer. Nagy significantly scaled the offense back against the Denver Broncos the following week. Trubisky passed for 120 yards but Chicago escaped with an improbable last-second victory thanks to kicker Eddy Pineiro and the defense.
The Bears and Trubisky somewhat righted the ship versus Washington’s woeful defense in Week 3 and Daniel came off the bench to steer Chicago to an important home won over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4. But the offense unraveled again in London as the Oakland Raiders built a 21-point halftime lead and eventually hung on for the win.
Having a limited quarterback is not conducive to explosive plays. Nagy has lamented the lack of big plays on several occasions. However, Trubisky’s most explosive play of the year -- Gabriel’s 36-yard touchdown in Washington -- was not scripted. That completion happened because Trubisky felt pressure, slid up, slid over and made an instinctual play.
Aside from Robinson and Gabriel (pre-concussion), the only other player to catch a touchdown pass is Tarik Cohen. There’s been little production from highly paid tight end Trey Burton or former second-round picks Anthony Miller and Adam Shaheen.
Still, teams can win with a great defense and game-manager quarterback as long as they control the line of scrimmage, be a little creative and run the ball effectively.
The Bears have done none of that.
The loss to the Raiders was particularly galling because Oakland’s defense consistently won at the point of attack. Had the Bears committed to the run, they still wouldn’t have found much daylight for rookie running David Montgomery, who has rushed for just 225 yards this season. Cordarrelle Patterson (71) has rushed for most yards than Cohen (37). Veteran back Mike Davis, who’s making $3 million guaranteed this year, has carried the ball nine times for 22 yards.
The Bears invested heavily in the offseason on the offensive line. But it also has failed to perform. The Bears placed right tackle Kyle Long, who’s battled injuries since 2016, on injured reserve on Monday.
“Obviously, you understand when a move like this is made, right, and then you have the issues that we've had with the run game, it's really easy to just go ahead and say, is it because of one person?” Nagy said. “I can clear it up right now and tell you it's not because of one person. I don't know where that goes with whoever that next person is but we know there's a lot more to our run game than one person, for instance Kyle Long, there's a lot more to it than him.”
The Bears want a versatile rushing game to set up their offense, and one part that is clearly missing from Nagy’s game plan is Trubisky, whose greatest asset is the ability to run. You can question Trubisky’s pocket presence, but not the athleticism. Trubisky rushed for 669 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Before he got hurt against Minnesota, Trubisky had run five times for 21 yards.
“Given where Trubisky’s development is right now as a pocket-passer, if I’m the coach I’m calling more quarterback designed runs, six to eight per game,” Bowen said. “More quick RPOs, more rolling outside the pocket and more designed runs.”
Trubisky is coming back from a separated non-throwing shoulder, but Nagy insisted on Monday, “if a player is cleared to play, then I assume he’ll be able to take a hit.”
True as that may be, Nagy must always weigh the risk vs. reward of subjecting his quarterback to unnecessary hits.
What if Trubisky’s shoulder pops out again on a designed run? Can the Bears make the playoffs with Daniel?
The answer is probably no.
“I mean it’s just opportunities,” Gabriel said on Monday when asked how Chicago can jump-start the offense. “Just throwing the ball up and giving guys opportunities. That’s all you can ask for. At the end of the day, we’ll game plan Wednesday when we come back and just more opportunities and hopefully we can get over the top of that.”
If it were only that easy.