Bears

Bears hit new low in loss to Lions: 'It's been going on like this all year'

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USA TODAY

Bears hit new low in loss to Lions: 'It's been going on like this all year'

The Bears thought perhaps they had put the wheels back on at least a small part of their lost 2017 season last week in Cincinnati. It was illusory.

In the latest game that justifiably falls under the heading of “embarrassing,” the wheels were completely off in a 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions (8-6) that said that the Bears (4-10) are not even within hailing distance of their NFC North cousins at the end of a third straight, and presumably last, season of double-digit losses under coach John Fox.

The Bears have had worse losses under Fox. They have had few worse games, top to bottom.

Any faint chance of Fox surviving for a fourth season as Bears coach depended on a run of solid performances to finish out the season. This was anything but and was yet another game marked and marred by inept performances in all three phases, four if coaching counts as a separate one.

The loss was the sixth in the seven games since the Bears held their destiny in their own hands at 3-4, only to deteriorate rather than improve as the season went along. And it was a game that at different points, in particular during a collapsing second half, the sense reached the point of “you couldn’t make this up.” The Cincinnati game now stands as a clear outlier; the Green Bay and San Francisco games and this Detroit game have become the hood ornaments of the 2017 Bears.

As for specific bewilderings: The NFL’s No. 32 rushing team (Detroit) finished with more than double the rushing yards of the Bears, 91-43, one game after the Bears rushed for more than 200 yards for the fourth time this season — including 222 the last time they saw the Lions on Nov. 19. Against the No. 20 rushing defense (Detroit) the Bears threw the football 43 times and ran it 15, including two by quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Much more on that shortly, because it gets at deeper problems.

Jordan Howard was handed the football exactly 10 times, just three in the second half. The stated reason for it will be that the Bears were playing from behind, but the Bears didn’t fall behind by three scores until midway through the third quarter.

“Lack of rhythm on offense, penalty, and I need to take care of the football,” Trubisky said by way of summarizing a day of yards (349 vs. 293 for Detroit) but too many of the plays that epitomize what bad football teams do, or don’t do. Trubisky finished with 314 passing yards, his first 300-yard day, but turnovers and a handful of poor decisions overshadowed any positives for his 10th NFL start.

Franchise-quarterback-in-progress Trubisky went from the best game of his career a week ago against the Bengals to arguably his poorest, based on three second-half interceptions when the game was still within reach, at least emotionally.

One, on the second play of the second half from the Bears 22, was turned into a Detroit touchdown. The second was thrown into double coverage in the Detroit end zone and cost the Bears at least three points. The third ended the final Bears possession at the Detroit 16.

“Sometimes quarterbacks have those days,” Fox said. “He’ll have better days.”

Fox has had better ones, too.

In a return of another issue reflecting very poorly on Fox’s coaching staff, the number and kinds of penalties became a statement in themselves. Special teams lost a 90-yard kickoff return by Tarik Cohen because of a holding penalty against DeAndre Houston-Carson.

Later, with the football at the Bears' eight-yard line: a holding penalty on fill-in offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu, followed a snap later by a holding flag on wide receiver Josh Bellamy, capped off by a delay of game call, which falls on Trubisky. With five minutes still to play in the fourth quarter the Bears had had 13 penalties walked off.

Coaching mysteries

A Detroit team that came into Saturday giving up at least 100 rushing yards in the past five games — including more than 130 in four of those — "held" the Bears to 43. Those last five teams ran the football 28, 27, 41, 30 and 33 times; the Bears on Saturday ran it a total of 15. Late in a season with a 4-9 record the Bears were ordered to punt on a fourth-and-one situation in the second quarter from their own 41 — doubtless the safe play intended to set up field position. But the Bears ran the football football four more times in the half, gaining four, two, four and five yards on those. And three of the Bears’ previous four run plays before that situation had gained at least one yard.

As for the field position resulting from the punt, the Lions took the ball 92 yards for a touchdown, the third time in four possessions that the Bears defense had allowed a drive of at least eight plays and for points.

In one of those moments that sparks a “what are they teaching these guys?” question, safety Eddie Jackson was inexplicably passive waiting on a third-and-18 pass from Stafford to wide receiver Marvin Jones, who took the ball that was made for Jackson. Instead of an interception, the Lions had a 58-yard completion and the Bears had one of those plays that turned a small spotlight toward secondary coaching. Two years ago it was veteran Antrel Rolle failing to attack a looping, wobbling third-down heave by the Minnesota Vikings that resulted in a completion that cost the Bears that game.

Saturday marked the 10th time in 14 games in which the Bears have allowed 20 or more points. That encapsulates the decline and fall of defensive hopes under coordinator Vic Fangio, while the fact that the Bears have lost nine of those games says it all as far as the offensive ineptness under coordinator Dowell Loggains.

For his part, Loggains earned another question mark at the end of the first half when, after a takeaway gave the offense the ball at the Detroit 27 with 12 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in hand, Trubisky settled for a four-yard flip underneath to tight end Daniel Brown. Nothing in the middle of the field, nothing challenging the Detroit end zone down 13-0. The Bears settled for a field goal, probably not the kind of “drive” that general manager Ryan Pace had in mind when he made sure the Bears landed Trubisky on draft day.

To the point of the overall, however, which transcends any specific bad or good coming out of Fox’s fifth loss in six Bears games vs. Detroit, former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, linebacker Lance Briggs and quarterback Jim Miller voiced identical sentiments on NBC Sports Chicago’s “Bears Postgame Live” show:

“It’s been going on like this all year.”

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per SharpFootballStats.com, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and 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.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better. 

Bears Injury Report: Trubisky practices in full Thursday

Bears Injury Report: Trubisky practices in full Thursday

It appears like Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky will, in fact, make his return to the starting lineup Sunday against the New Orleans Saints after practicing in full Thursday as he recovers from a left shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and defensive end Bilal Nichols (hand) were also full participants and both should return to action in Week 7.

Guard Ted Larsen was limited on Thursday and all indications suggest Rashaad Coward will start in place of Kyle Long, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week.

As for the Saints, running back Alvin Kamara did not participate in practice as he rehabs knee and ankle injuries. His status is likely to be a game-time decision.

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