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The key to Bears’ 2020 offensive identity does not involve figuring out who’s going to start at quarterback.

The thing that’ll unlock Matt Nagy’s offense is, instead, good play from multiple tight ends. Not one, like the Bears had in 2018 (Trey Burton). Not zero, as the Bears had in 2019. Multiple. 

Cam Ellis wondered yesterday if the Bears really fixed their tight end room, and it’s a question that deserves the sort of scrutiny he put to it here. I’m here to tell you, though, if the Bears haven’t fixed their tight end room, they haven’t fixed their offense.

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Buckle up, we're about to get into some numbers. 

There’s a dimension of Nagy’s offense we haven’t seen yet because of a persistent lack of talent at tight end. The offense Nagy wants to run should involve quite a bit of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two receivers). Check out how the Bears’ 12 personnel usage compares its closest relatives since Nagy arrived in Chicago:

2019
Bears: 11% (30th)
Chiefs: 28% (5th)
Eagles: 52% (1st)

2018
Bears: 17% (T-13th)
Chiefs: 28% (4th)
Eagles: 32% (1st)

Nagy has never had a reliable “Y” (in-line) tight end, with Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen falling well short of expectations. He had 16 games of Burton playing well at the "U" and, starting with 2019’s wild card loss to the Eagles, 17 games with the now-former Bears unavailable or unproductive.

 

While passing plays are more likely to be effective out of 12 personnel than 11 personnel – per Sharp Football Stats – the Bears not only hardly used 12 personnel last year, but when they did, it was a tell Nagy was going to call a run. No team passed less frequently than the Bears out of 12 personnel in 2019 (27 percent), yet only two teams were less effective on running plays in 12 personnel (the Jets and Chargers).

The combination of sub-optimal personnel and predictable playcalling meant the Bears were, truly, awful in 12 personnel last year.

Which, again, is a critically-important part of what the Eagles and Chiefs are doing – and should be a critically-important part of what the Bears are doing.

Better tight end play equals more 12 personnel packages. More 12 personnel packages means less predictability. Less predictability means an offensive identity can actually be built, and built quickly – even with potentially fewer training camp practices and no preseason games this summer.

RELATED: How important is a fast start for the 2020 Bears?

One offshoot here, too, is how much this all would help Tarik Cohen. Get ready for one more round of numbers!

Here’s Cohen with a healthy Trey Burton and with a hobbled/out Burton, including the 2019 Wild Card game:

With Burton (16 games, 2018): 4.5 yards/carry, 10.2 yards/reception, 6.9 yards/touch
Without Burton (17 games, 2019): 3.3 yards/carry, 6.1 yards/reception, 4.6 yards/touch

That’s just one tight end, too. If the Bears can get multiple tight ends playing well – or even just capably – that should mean more matchups against linebackers for Cohen when he runs routes, and more matchups against defensive backs when he takes handoffs.

This'll sort of be the canary in the coal mine to watch during training camp. If Cole Kmet and Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris don't look impressive, and the Bears aren't able to get much out of 12 personnel packages...it might not matter who the starting quarterback is. But if the Bears' moves to overhaul their tight end room show signs of paying off, there's a good chance this offense will be a whole lot better in 2020 than it was in 2019. 

 

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