There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Bears this year. They finally got their quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, Allen Robinson is back in the fold, and early reviews give new defensive coordinator Sean Desai two thumbs up. But there are plenty of reasons to be a little wary too. There are questions about the team’s depth in the secondary, the Bears will have to find a way to ratchet up their pass rush, and we don’t know how the new-look offensive line will perform. But on the latest episode of the Under Center Podcast, Robert Mays joined our crew and said he’s got macro-level concerns for the team before ever digging into the details.
“Whether they have a cohesive and complete and distilled plan and identity,” Mays said. “I think that’s been the biggest concern to me over the past three or so years. The offense feels like a hodgepodge of things. It doesn’t seem like a lot of the elements of it are connected together. There doesn’t seem to be a, ‘This is what we do well,’ a sense of how to get the most out of our players. So that to me is still the No. 1 thing and that’s independent of Justin Fields, but I think that concern connects to him.
“If you’re going to talk yourself into this coaching staff, the way that you can talk yourself into it is they never had their right guy. Without their right guy, that’s affected their ability to form a cohesive plan. Now that they have that right guy, can that cohesive plan exist? I still have serious questions about that. Other offensive coaches I’ve talked to about the Bears will say that.”
It’s a critique that comes up often when describing the Bears’ offense. Matt Nagy’s playcalling seems to lack rhythm. Plays don’t seem to build upon one another, rather they seem to be randomly thrown together in the hopes that one will work. Sunday Night Football’s Chris Simms has likened it to flipping through a rolodex, picking a play, then flipping through the rolodex again for the next play. But Mays used a musical metaphor to describe what he sees in the Bears offense.
“They’re just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Mays said. “There’s no connection between their run game and their play action game. Between this and that. It feels like there’s a lack of focus from week to week. You think about last year and the fact that they had to lean into this outside zone heavy, play action boot game with Trubisky just to get the most out of him, but it felt like they were a cover band playing cover songs doing that. That’s not what that offensive staff majors in. So it just doesn’t seem like they have their own sound, which is, I guess, the best way to say it.”
Nagy has said over this offseason that he’s aware of the offensive shortcomings, and the general lack of an identity, and he’s working hard to rectify it in his fourth season as a head coach.
“I think for us it's something where, we gotta decide, OK, our identity,” Nagy said earlier this month. “You talk about that every year. We know what we want to be… What we're doing, the coaching staff, the offensive side of the ball, i think they're doing a really good job tailoring this to all these guys' strengths. Now we'll have to kinda see and make sure that we're letting our guys play fast. That's probably the ultimate goal.
“I think every year is a little bit different but you want to create an identity as fast as you can.”
But Mays will believe it when he sees it, and he wants to see it on more than just the first couple of drives in the game.
“The first 15 (plays) can look great, because that’s something where you can plan it, you can write it out and everything else,” Mays said. “But when you start having to make your own music in the middle of the game, they struggle to do that. I think that comes up over and over again.”