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Shouldn’t a team with a big-ticket free agent and a former second round draft pick at tight end be not only able to get production out of that position, but production with both of those players on the field at the same time?

The Bears guaranteed $22 million to Trey Burton in the four-year contract he signed last year, and used the 45th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Adam Shaheen. Burton hasn’t looked or played like he’s 100 percent recovered from the groin injury he suffered just before the season started: He’s averaging just 5.2 yards per reception and has only been targeted 15 times in four games. 

But Burton was productive last year (54 receptions, 10.5 yards per catch), so if he uses the off week to get closer to full strength, the Bears can reasonably expect him to be okay. 

Can the same be said for Shaheen?

"Numbers don’t lie. Not good enough," Nagy said of the Bears' offense. "You put in a lot of work to be better and we know where we’re at. It’s my job to make sure it gets better and what’s the how, what’s the why. 

"And I believe wholeheartedly in all of our guys. But we need to — each person, every coach, every player, it’s time to start looking at themselves in the mirror and figure out why you’re out there, or why we’re out there." 

Through five games in his third year in the NFL, Shaheen has just seven catches for 50 yards — good for an average of about 1-2 receptions and 10 yards per game. But what's more concerning is how little he's been on the field.  

 

Shaheen has not played more than 50 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a given game, and in Week 5’s loss to the Oakland Raiders he was on the field just 12 times on offense, representing 20.7 percent of his team’s plays. He hadn’t been used that infrequently in a gameplan since Week 5 of the 2017 season — a year in which he played at least half of John Fox’s offensive snaps in a given game three times. 

After returning from an ankle injury and then a concussion in 2018, Shaheen played 38 percent of the Bears’ snaps in the six games in which he played. Through five games in 2019, he’s played only 37 percent of the Bears’ snaps. 

That’s a signal the Bears don't trust Shaheen as a pass catcher or as a run blocker. He’s their primary “Y” in-line tight end, yet hasn’t been used much. 

Since Burton returned in Week 2, the Bears have run 17 percent of their offensive plays out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two receivers) — right about in line with their 2018 usage. There’s certainly room for 12 personnel in versions of Nagy’s offense — the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles use it on 28 and 31 percent of their plays, per SharpFootballStats.com. 

And analytics show teams are more successful using 12 personnel than 11 personnel (the Bears’ most-used grouping for the second consecutive year). But if the Bears can’t trust Shaheen, they can’t run 12 personnel as much as they may want, further limiting the effectiveness of their offense. 

A coaching issue, too

Perhaps during the off week Nagy will conclude he needs to use Shaheen more. Perhaps not. But either way, Nagy himself has to be a better playcaller when he has two tight ends on the field. 

The Bears have run 43 plays out of 12 personnel in 2019, per SharpFootballStats.com. Thirty-six have been runs. Some of those might be the product of RPO decisions, but that’s still a significant imbalance. 

That sort of predictability is not helping the Bears run the ball successfully. Opposing defenses have an 84 percent chance of being right when they sell out for a run with two tight ends on the field.

As a result, the Bears are averaging 3.8 yards per carry out of 12 personnel, with a successful run play rate of just 31 percent (league average: 4.2 yards per carry, 48 percent successful run rate). Yet Chase Daniel and Mitch Trubisky have completed five of seven passes for 63 yards in 12 personnel, though one of those two incompletions was an interception. 

So even if the Bears don’t run more 12 personnel as the season goes on, Nagy needs to be less predictable in what he calls in these situations.

One of the ways the Bears' offense could've evolved, and countered the league's adjustment to Nagy's scheme, is by using more 12 personnel. So far, that hasn't happened. 

 

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