Bears at the Bye: Kyle Long headlines a brutal start for Chicago's O-line

Bears at the Bye: Kyle Long headlines a brutal start for Chicago's O-line

It's easy to cast blame on the quarterback, running back, wide receivers and tight end when an offense is struggling, as is the case with the Chicago Bears in 2019. In an era dominated by fantasy football and box-score scouting, production (or lack of it) tends to sculpt team and player narratives.

There's no denying Mitch Trubisky and the rest of the Bears' skill players have to improve over the final 11 games of the regular season. They've certainly played their part in what's been one of the worst offenses in the NFL through five weeks (30th overall), but their struggles will continue if there isn't a marked turnaround by the offensive line. It's been, by far, the most frustrating collection of five players on the roster this year and is the one position group where a change in the starting lineup could be on its way.

Right guard Kyle Long is playing the worst football of his seven-year career. There's no way around it. He's Chicago's lowest-graded player on offense (37.5), and out of 200 offensive linemen evaluated by Pro Football Focus in 2019, Long ranks 192nd. 

Injuries have become commonplace for Long over the last several seasons. He hasn't started more than nine games in any season since 2016 and he's already missed one game this year (hip). His poor play has been attributed to his hip injury by some analysts, but it might be time to simply recognize that Long isn't the same player he was when he entered the NFL in 2013. He's a great leader and one of the most recognizable faces on this team, but his performance has regressed to a reserve's level.

Long isn't alone with his struggles along the offensive line. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. is off to a rough start in 2019; he leads the Bears with 15 pressures allowed, a total that's 19th-most among all offensive linemen this year. His 44.0 run-blocking grade from PFF is by far the lowest of his career and is contributing to Chicago's strains to establish a running game. Leno's made a living as an underrated left tackle who's outplayed his seventh-round draft status, but now that GM Ryan Pace has made a long-term commitment to him as the left tackle of this franchise — he signed a four-year, $37 million contract extension in 2017 — he's being held to a higher standard. 

Left guard Cody Whitehair and center James Daniels swapped positions this offseason with the hope that Daniels would emerge as a young building block in the middle of Chicago's offensive line. The 22-year-old hasn't been great, but he hasn't disappointed either. His 74.6 pass-blocking grade is the best among Bears starters this year and his 54.2 run-blocking score ranks second on the team, which is probably more of an indication of how poorly Chicago is doing in that department. Daniels isn't a finished product yet but he's off to a strong Year 1 as this team's pivot man.

Whitehair has been solid as well. He's been the only halfway competent run blocker through five games and at this point in his career has settled into his role as a reliable starting guard who Chicago can count on to play mistake-free football. He's been penalized only one time in 320 snaps this season, compared to Leno who's been flagged eight times.

Right tackle Bobby Massie, whose four-year, $30.8 million extension signed in the offseason is a bargain in today's market, is playing like a sound starter for the second year in a row. He's allowed just eight pressures in 2019, but (here we go again) needs to get better in in the run game. He missed one game because of vertigo.

So, where could that change in the offensive line come? Rashaad Coward, who's lodged 30 snaps this year and was the Bears' second-most effective lineman in the limited sample size, is a candidate to bump Long from the starting lineup. Maybe it won't happen in Week 7, but if Long's struggles continue after healing up during the bye, coach Matt Nagy will have little choice but to make the swap.

Coward, 24, fits the replacement mold. He's a young player with upside who's gotten better over time. Remember, he was a defensive lineman just two seasons ago.

The Bears will only go as far as their offensive line takes them in 2019. If this group fails, Trubisky and the rest of the offense will fail along with it. Hopefully, it will only get better from here.

Bears OL grade at the bye: F

It was too little, too late for the Bears on Sunday – just like it's been all season

It was too little, too late for the Bears on Sunday – just like it's been all season

Ultimately, the Bears’ loss to Green Bay on Sunday afternoon ended the same way their 2019 season will: with too little, too late. After coming up one yard short in a 20-13 loss, they now have less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Playoff Predictions. 

“Really big picture is that we don’t get the win,” Matt Nagy said. “We could have played better in really all three phases. You could point to a lot of different things, but I’m going to stay positive with our guys because I appreciate their fight.” 

The loss played out like much of their season, which started with Super Bowl aspirations, has: with the offense spending the entirety of the first half searching for any type of spark. They went into the locker room with three points and 115 net yards of offense – 36 on the ground and 79 through the air. They were 0-1 in the red zone, committed two penalties, and started drives deep in their own territory. Tarik Cohen had the same amount of receptions (3) as Anthony Miller (2) and Allen Robinson (1) combined. It was the familiar brand of disjointed, dysfunctional offense that’s held them back countless times throughout the once-promising campaign. 

“We’ve felt that in each of our games,” Cohen said after the loss. “The offense has kind of taken too long to get things rolling. It’s kind of been the same thing. If you magnify it with the season, we took too long to get everything going in our season.” 

“I think we had some penalties, we had some times we didn’t capitalize on first down,” Allen Robinson added. “I thought the first possession, we started off 2nd-and-4, but I think we didn’t keep that up over the course of the game.”  

Then, like clockwork, the Bears showed up in the second half and looked like a team that had won three straight games and had their sights firmly set on a playoff push. After finishing the first half with nine yards, Allen Robinson had eight catches for 116 yards in the final 30 minutes; he now has over 1,000 yards for only the second time in his career. Anthony Miller hauled in seven more balls for 79 yards, including the Bears’ only touchdown against Green Bay all season. The running game was abandoned in the second half, which is about the only place this comparison fails (though when you’re down 21-3 late in the game, can you really blame them?). 

It all culminated on the Bears’ final play of the game, an intricate prayer full of weaves and backwards passes that, for about nine yards, looked like the type of miraculous, season-saving touchdown that can breath new life into a team. Instead, Jesper Horsted – who was a distant practice squad footnote when these teams first met in Week 1 – couldn’t find Allen Robinson with one final lateral, and now the Bears are stuck asking what-if. Sound familiar?

“I had my eyes on the inside where the ball was coming from,” Horsted explained. “I was focused on would I be running with it or blocking, and then I got the ball, and the first thing I looked downfield and I saw a little bit of daylight, but I knew that I had a guy on the outside.”

“In hindsight I should have gotten there a little bit earlier, but it was moving quickly and it was a little bit hard to see exactly what was going on to the right when I was focusing on straight and left.” 

There figures to be a lot of hindsight over the Bears’ next two weeks. If they somehow manage to survive the night with their playoff hopes still on life support, it doesn’t get any easier. They’ll need to win out, obviously, and need a 0-4 performance from the Vikings and Rams too. Minnesota has Green Bay (11-3) and the Bears (7-7), while Los Angeles plays Seattle (11-3) and … Arizona (3-9-1). The Bears weren’t interested in speculating much on the fateful late-afternoon games that they’ll all be watching on the flight (bus?) home, but there was a noticeable sense in the Lambeau Field away locker room that reality had begun setting in. 

“It’s always disappointing to not meet your expectations,” Akiem Hicks said. “I think, for us, as a group, we have to be able to say that we finished playing the rest of the season the way that we played that streak where we won three games in a row. Just keep fighting. I think that’s the character of this team anyways, just to never lay down. You saw it out there today …”

Bears defense whiffs on chance to keep playoff hopes alive vs. Packers

Bears defense whiffs on chance to keep playoff hopes alive vs. Packers

The Chicago Bears' 2019 season likely came to an end Sunday following their 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and while the blame for the defeat can be shared equally between the offense and defense's failures, untimely mistakes by the Bears' defense cost the team in big moments.

Take this missed tackle by cornerback Prince Amukamara, for example, which occurred with 12:50 left to play in the third quarter:

"Tackles are want-tos," former Bears linebacker and NBC Sports Chicago's Lance Briggs said on The Football Aftershow. "You gotta want to do it. You gotta be willing to do it. Missed tackles in games like that gets guys cussed out. It’s gotten me cussed out. Mike Brown has been quick to cuss me out. Brian [Urlacher]. This guy (pointing to Alex Brown) and you definitely know I’ve cussed this guy out for some plays. And the problem with that, Alex was sacrificing on a play but when your competitive bloods are flowing, you want to keep getting more out of your teammates."

Matt Nagy tried to dismiss any concerns over the team's effort after the game and said the poor tackling performance wasn't due to a lack of hustle.

"I don’t see how you can make an excuse for missed tackles," Alex Brown said. "I don’t understand that, if a guy is in position to make a tackle you gotta make it. Just go to the Prince play, that was a huge missed tackle there and passed that Eddie Jackson’s gotta get him down. Okay, Prince missed a tackle, now Eddie gotta get him down on the two or three-yard line, get him down so the defense can come out and play another play. You just can’t concede that play."

Especially not in a do-or-die game, which is how all three of Chicago's remaining contests were dubbed entering Week 15.

Now 7-7, it appears safe to close the book on the 2019 season. Maybe Sunday's poor tackling performance is a fitting end to a year that was supposed to be highlighted by a championship-caliber defense.

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