The Bears' offense has a major tight end issue: 'I know I'm not playing well'

The Bears' offense has a major tight end issue: 'I know I'm not playing well'

Tight ends are incredibly important to the health of Matt Nagy’s offense, specifically the “U” position played by Trey Burton. It’s not a coincidence, then, that the Bears’ offense ranks 27th in scoring and 30th in yards per play while Burton is averaging two catches and 12 yards per game over the first half of 2019. 

“I don’t want to make any excuses for my play,” Burton said. “I know I’m not playing well."

Burton was not willing to use his offseason sports hernia surgery and August groin injury as an explanation for his steep drop in production (“doesn’t matter,” he said). Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he doesn’t think Burton is at 100 percent yet, an observation which has played out in how he’s used the 28-year-old former Super Bowl hero. 

The highest rate of snaps Burton has played in a given game this year has been 75 percent; he played more than 75 percent of the Bears’ offense snaps in 12 of the Bears’ 16 games in 2018 (two games in which he didn’t: The blowout win vs. Tampa Bay and the season finale in Minnesota). He’s not only struggled to be productive, he’s also just not been on the field much. 

And for an offense that relies so heavily on his position, his lack of usage and production goes a long way to explaining why, collectively, things have been so disappointing in 2019. 

“It’s a focal point in the offense,” Burton said. “And usually when this type of offense is doing well, the tight end’s doing well.”

But it’s not just Burton. The Bears have not shown much trust in 2017 second-round pick Adam Shaheen, who’s yet to play more than half their offensive snaps in a game this year. He has nine catches for 74 yards, and his sparing playtime suggests the Bears don’t feel they can rely on his run blocking ability, too. 

"I can’t worry about that," Shaheen said of lack of usage. "Just control what I can control and it’ll take care of itself." 

Consider this: The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles — the offenses most similar to the Bears’ in terms of scheme and structure — are two of the most 12-personnel (one running back, two receivers, two tight ends) heavy teams in the NFL. No team uses 12 personnel more than the Eagles (40 percent), while the Chiefs use it on the fifth-highest percentage of their offensive plays (30 percent). 

The Bears, through eight games, have used 12 personnel on 14 percent of their offensive plays, tied for sixth-lowest in the NFL, per 

“There are other times where, yes, tight-end production-wise, those guys want to be able to have more production,” Nagy said. “But when you have those guys on the field, the other guys you have — at times, you’re taking other good players off the field. And so it’s just a juggling act. When you don’t have a lot of plays and you’re not getting first downs, you can’t get into all that.”

But this is where it’s often difficult to tell where one problem ends and another begins. 

Trubisky targeted Burton only one against the Eagles and airmailed a throw up the seam, for one. And when the Bears are in 12 personnel they’re too predictable, running on 74 percent of those plays. Only the best-in-the-AFC New England Patriots run the ball more frequently out of 12 personnel, while statistically it’s advantageous to pass the ball with two tight ends on the field (both the Eagles’ and Chiefs’ quarterbacks have passer ratings over 100 from 12 personnel). 

So issues with the quarterback and playcalling bleed into issues with the tight ends. But it nonetheless is helpful to silo off Burton and Shaheen, understanding their importance to the Bears’ offense and the resources general manager Ryan Pace spent to get them, in evaluating what’s gone wrong in 2019. 

And not getting much out of either player has not helped the Bears’ coach and quarterback pull out of the rut in which they’re mired. 

“I’ve talked to (Trubisky) about it like, bro, I need to hold up my end of the deal,” Burton said. “It’s not fair but it goes both ways — when we’re doing really well he’s the best thing ever and then when we’re doing really bad he’s the worst thing ever. I understand, he understands it too. All I can do is my part and I talked to him about it and let him know like, bro, I’m not playing well, I need to pick my game up. It’s affecting you, it’s affecting other things.”

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Bears not among 8 teams in attendance at Colin Kaepernick's workout

Bears not among 8 teams in attendance at Colin Kaepernick's workout

So much for free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick throwing in front of 25 teams in a workout orchestrated by the NFL on Saturday in Atlanta.

Instead, he ran through a 40-minute session at Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, Georgia, and only eight teams were there: Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans.

No Ryan Pace. No Bears.

The bizarre twists and turns in what was supposed to be a formal private workout for the one-time 49ers' star have been hard to keep up with. But one thing is certain: At this point in the regular season, it seems like an awfully distracting proposition to consider adding Kaepernick the Chicago's roster.

"I've been ready for three years,'' Kaepernick said, via ESPN. "I've been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here. [I] showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we're waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people.

"We're out here. We're ready to play. We're ready to go anywhere. My agent, Jeff Nalley, is ready to talk any team. I'll interview with any team at any time. I've been ready.''

The originally scheduled workout was derailed over Kaepernick's camp changing the language of the liability waiver players sign before participating in private workouts. They wanted the workout open to the media, too, something the league refused to allow.

"We are disappointed that Colin did not appear for his workout," the NFL said in its statement Saturday. "He informed us of that decision at 2:30 pm today along with the public. Today's session was designed to give Colin what he has consistently said he wants -- an opportunity to show his football readiness and desire to return to the NFL. Twenty-five (25) clubs were present for the workout, and all 32 clubs, their head coaches, general managers, and other personnel executives would have received video footage of the interview and workout."

The NFL said the rewritten liability waiver provided by Kaepernick's representatives was "insufficient" and that although the league had agreed to allow Kaepernick's representatives on the field for the workout, it would remain mostly private. 

The disagreement over the workout's particulars isn't overly surprising. It was an odd situation to begin with considering the NFL was controlling the "who" and the "how" of the event. You can't fault Kaepernick for wanting some say in it all, especially since he's been waiting three years for the opportunity.

And even though he didn't get the chance to showcase his skills in front of as many teams as advertised, Kaepernick still made a positive impression on the field.

Where this all leads is anyone's guess. But it doesn't appear it will end in Chicago. 

How Tua Tagovailoa's injury will impact Bears' quarterback situation

How Tua Tagovailoa's injury will impact Bears' quarterback situation

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a devastating season-ending hip injury late in the first half of  Saturday's game against Mississippi State, one that likely marks the end of his career as a member of the Crimson Tide. 

Next stop: NFL.

"Tua Tagovailoa sustained a right hip dislocation that was immediately reduced at the stadium," Alabama Team Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain said in a statement following the game. "He is undergoing further testing to determine the best course of treatment. He is expected to make a full recovery but will miss the remainder of the season."

As Dr, Lyle pointed out, Tagovailoa is expected to make a full recovery. His timetable to return is unknown, but it's at least a positive sign that his team of doctors is optimistic about his future.

The harsh reality, however, is that Tagovailoa's injury is going to have a significant impact on his 2020 NFL draft stock, which before Saturday seemed like a top-five lock. After suffering ankle injuries in back-to-back seasons and now a disastrous hip injury, teams selecting in the top 10 will be extremely careful before hinging the future of their franchise on a player with major medical red flags.

And while the Bears were never in the mix to draft Tagovailoa, they will be in the quarterback market this offseason assuming Mitch Trubisky continues to struggle down the stretch. Tagovailoa's injury will make it more difficult for Chicago to land a veteran free agent who prior to Saturday may not have been on a team like the Dolphins' wish list.

That's all changed now.

If Miami had planned for Tagovailoa to be 'the guy' in 2020, their objective in free agency would've been to sign a veteran who can serve as an extra coach in the meeting room rather than a threat for reps on the field. But with Tagovailoa's health now a huge question mark, the Dolphins may not have a choice but to add a player like Cam Newton or Marcus Mariota who can come in and start not only in 2020, but for the foreseeable future as well.

The Bears aren't going to find their 2020 starting quarterback in the draft. If it isn't Trubisky, it has to be a veteran who has a resume of production that can take advantage of a championship window because of the talent on defense. But the price has to be right, and even adding just one team into the free-agent bidding war can have a massive impact on whether Ryan Pace is able to land his guy at his price.

Remember: It's not just the Dolphins whose draft and free agency plans will be impacted by Tagovailoa's injury. Quarterback prospects like Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Georgia's Jake Fromm could get pushed up the draft board because they have cleaner medicals or because teams realize they can't assume next year's prospect pool will offer them the answer they're looking for.

Tagovailoa's injury proves there's no such thing as a long-term strategy in a sport where one play can completely derail the best-laid plans. The club that may be eyeing Clemson's Trevor Lawrence in 2021 could choose to snag Oregon's Justin Herbert instead simply because he's healthy and available.

As a result, a run on quarterbacks might occur before the Bears are ever on the clock. That, combined with the free-agent market getting more expensive, could turn one hip injury into another season of Trubisky or bust in 2020.

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