Bears

Bears midseason grades: Rating Nagy's offense after Week 9

Bears

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Halfway through the season the Bears’ offense has largely struggled. While that may be a tale as old as time in Chicago, there is a new wrinkle this year. They finally have an exciting, rookie quarterback who provides genuine hope that the Bears can score more points, more consistently, in the not too distant future. Matt Nagy’s offense looks nothing like it did when the Bears first hired him in 2018. But they’ve built a clear identity that could be the foundation of better things to come in the second half. Before we look ahead, however, let’s look back and assess how the first half went.

QUARTERBACKS: B

For all the hullabaloo surrounding the non-competition between Andy Dalton and Justin Fields to start the season, Dalton actually played pretty well in his 1.5 games for the Bears. He wasn’t terrible against the Rams. Against the Bengals he looked like a legit upgrade over any quarterback that’s played for the Bears since Jay Cutler left town. The decision to not give Fields any chance to win the job in training camp remains dubious, however, especially considering how dynamic Fields has looked recently. But this is not an assessment of the depth chart decision making, this is an assessment of the play on the field. And when Fields did finally take over the starting job, it was rough. After a historically bad game vs. the Browns, Fields rebounded a bit against the Lions and Raiders. But then his play dipped again when the Bears took on the Packers and Buccaneers. Lately he’s shown incredible upside with the ability to make explosive plays with high degrees of difficulty. It’s just been a bit of a bumpy road for him.

 

RUNNING BACKS: A+

Arguably the biggest bright spot on the entire team has been the Bears’ rushing attack. In the offseason, David Montgomery said he had totally changed how ran and expected a big improvement, and he wasn’t kidding. He’s always been a tough back to bring down, but he’s looked more explosive in space this year. Couple the extra gear with his natural shiftiness and incredible strength and you’ve got one of the most well-rounded running backs in the league. The Bears recognized that and made the prudent decision of making Montgomery the focus of their offense. But then Montgomery went down with a knee injury at the tail end of Week 4. At the time it seemed like it would be a devastating blow to the offense, but Khalil Herbert filled in almost seamlessly. The rookie sixth-round draft pick looked like a veteran when he took over as the lead back. Herbert has shown incredible field vision and a knack for timing his cutbacks perfectly. He’s coupled that with good speed to break off several 20+ yard runs. The result has been two reliable backs boasting 4+ YPC rates.

WIDE RECEIVERS: C-

If the biggest bright spot on offense has been the RBs, then the biggest disappointment has been Allen Robinson’s slow start to the season. In fact, outside Darnell Mooney, no other wide receiver has provided consistent production in the passing game. It’s hard to say how much of the blame for that lies with the players themselves, and how much is due to the lack of reps Fields in training camp and the preseason. But the fact remains the wide receivers haven’t caught many passes. Behind Mooney and Robinson, who have 36 and 30 catches respectively, the next-highest number of receptions is Marquise Goodwin’s 12. To give you some context, 10 NFL teams have three WRs with at least 20 catches. Two teams have three wideouts with 30+ catches and four teams have two wideouts with 40+ catches. As the season goes on, we’ll see if the Bears numbers ascend along with Fields’ play, or if the wide receivers start holding him back.

TIGHT ENDS: C

Like the wide receivers, the tight ends have contributed next to nothing in the passing game outside of Week 9’s breakout performance. Jimmy Graham has two catches for 39 yards. Over nine games. Take out Week 9, and the unit as a whole had only amassed 30 catches for 268 yards. That’s an average of 3.75 catches for 33.5 yards. In Nagy’s offense, which emphasizes tight end production, that's simply not enough. But the tight ends deserve credit for their contributions in both the run game and pass protection. Blocking has never been considered a strong suit for either Cole Kmet or Graham, but they一 plus Jesse James and J.P. Holtz一 have been essential in shoring up the blocking deficiencies this season.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE: C

The offensive line was the No. 1 question mark heading into Week 1 for the offense. Plan A of rolling with Teven Jenkins at left tackle carried some unknowns, since he was a rookie with limited time playing on the left side. Backup plan Elijah Wilkinson wasn’t getting it done either, so Ryan Pace brought in 39-year-old vet Jason Peters to see if he had anything left in the tank. On the right side, Germain Ifedi has dealt with nagging injuries, as has Larry Borom. In the middle, James Daniels moved to right guard after playing on the left side in 2020. Understandably that led to a rocky start for the unit as a whole. No week was worse than Week 3 against the Browns when they surrendered nine sacks. That game alone feels like it should preclude the unit from receiving a B grade. On the whole, they’ve allowed 33 sacks, which is most in the NFL. Recently they’ve played better in pass pro, although they’ve still surrendered three or more sacks in two-thirds of their games, including four-plus sacks in three of the past four weeks. The story in the run game has been very different however. The line has done a great job generating push up front for Montgomery and Herbert. Yes, they’ve had help from the tight ends and some extra blockers, but the main unit deserves credit for sealing off lanes in the Bears’ wide-zone scheme.

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