Bears' playoff hopes dashed in Week 11 loss to Rams, so what's next?

Bears' playoff hopes dashed in Week 11 loss to Rams, so what's next?

The Bears' 2019 season all but came to an end Sunday night after falling to the Los Angeles Rams, 17-7, in what amounted to another lackluster performance by an offense that climaxed late in the fourth quarter when Matt Nagy pulled Mitch Trubisky for Chase Daniel.

Nagy said after the game that his decision to pull Trubisky was related to a hip injury he suffered a few series earlier. But social media lit up with speculation that the Bears finally decided it was time to move on from the franchise's most costly asset.

Whether Nagy and the Bears are being honest about Trubisky's health will be revealed in time.

It seems more likely that it was injury-related considering Trubisky had one of his better performances of the season, even if his final stat line (24-of-43, 190 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) doesn't reflect it. He was victimized by several drops.

But we've been down this road before. Another loss followed by an optimistic message from Nagy about the character in the locker room and the ability to continue playing hard in a season with nothing left to play for. Nagy said the pieces are in place for the Bears to have a productive offense, but early-game failures and the inability to seize the moment -- like converting turnovers into touchdowns -- continue to haunt the team.

Sound familiar? 

At this point, it's time to look forward. With 10 games (4-6) and 11 weeks in the rear-view mirror, the roster's weaknesses have crystallized and the offseason needs have become clear. If this team really wants to be a Super Bowl contender, changes have to happen.

It starts at quarterback, where general manager Ryan Pace is facing the most difficult decision of his tenure in Chicago. Trubisky is his guy, the player he hand-picked to be this franchise's Drew Brees. He hasn't shown anything on the field in many of his 35 regular-season starts that suggests he can be relied on as a consistent NFL starter, let alone a Hall-of-Fame caliber player. So, the most important responsibility Pace must meet over the next several months is to protect Chicago's championship window by adding a quality veteran quarterback who can win games.

But it doesn't end there. The Bears can't just add a stop-gap; the veteran they add has to serve as a bridge to a bright future. Maybe that's Trubisky. Maybe it's a rookie added in the second round of April's 2020 NFL draft. The bottom line is Pace can't get this wrong and he can't let his ego get in the way. He has to be honest in his evaluation of Trubisky. His career and the future of this team depend on it.

The Bears' problems aren't limited to Trubisky, though. The offense as a whole needs rebuilding and the most logical place to start is the offensive line. The duo of tackles Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie have been solid in recent seasons, but as 2019 has shown, solid isn't good enough. The Bears have to consider adding a top-flight offensive tackle in free agency (if there's one available) and invest draft picks into the offensive line. No position is immune to an upgrade at this point. Pace has to hit the reset button and evaluate all five starters without being influenced by draft pedigree or contract status. 

As for the defense, the Bears don't need much of a facelift. But they do need a running mate for Khalil Mack. The pass rush has been non-existent since Akiem Hicks suffered an elbow injury in Week 5, and he was placed on injured reserve shortly thereafter. Leonard Floyd has been a complete failure as a pass rusher and no other Bears defender aside from Nick Williams has had a pulse in that department since the loss of Hicks, including Mack.

The Bears mortgaged their future on Mack when they traded two first-round picks (and then some) for him at the start of the 2018 season. In order to get a maximum return on that investment, they need to provide him with some help. As much as he plays like Superman, he isn't a superhero. If the Bears don't find a way to generate pressure opposite him, he'll fail to live up to the expectations that came along with the trade.

And then there's the unavoidable problem at kicker. Eddy Pineiro is trending in the wrong direction after missing two kicks Sunday night, and while Nagy said the Bears aren't going to bring in any competition, they have to invest free-agent dollars on a proven veteran this offseason.

Sure, they tried that approach with the failed Cody Parkey transaction, but that failure can't make Pace fear a second swing. Too many points have been left on the field because of missed kicks. It's unacceptable and needs to be a priority, not a gimmicky series of tryouts.

Quarterback, offensive line, pass rusher and kicker. The Bears' season is over because of those four problem areas, and it may take more than one offseason to truly repair.

And we haven't even tapped into the coaching staff. That's for another day.

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The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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