Finding fault with a winning record, particularly one that was compiled while a team has not played especially well, could be construed as picking nit or looking for negatives. And the reality is that the Bears are within one defensive stop (Sunday vs. Oakland) of being 4-1, and within one offensive drive and two-point conversion (week one vs. Green Bay) of being 5-0.
But virtually all of the NFL can point to one play in any loss as the great “What-if….” And within the Bears’ record, one of 10 – repeat, ten, one-zero – 3-2 records in the NFL, are issues broader than one Chase Daniel interception or one Akiem Hicks elbow injury. While players bear ultimate responsibility for their individual and collective results, the issues go above the players.
Decisively identifying and resolving those issues needs to happen during the upcoming off week. Or else. The Bears were fortunate to have two doormats (Denver, Washington) among their first five opponents. The trouble now is that nine of the Bears’ final 11 opponents currently have winning records; the Bears lost two of the three games played so far against teams with winning records.
Whether the Bears are “good” or “not good” isn’t actually the broader point. More important is whether they are simply better than the folks around them.
Of those 10 teams sitting at 3-2, six of them reside in the NFC. The Bears also reside in the NFC North, the only division in the league comprised entirely of teams with winning records.
The Bears faced three winning-record teams through their first five games (Green Bay, Minnesota, Oakland); they lost two of those three.
Matters toughen now, with four “winners” (New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit and the Rams) in their next five, the 2-3 Chargers being the fourth.
Following one template for diagnoses for medical problems, a look into the crises – and they are “crises,” plural, and “crises,” as in serious matters for a team with now-shaky Super Bowl aspirations – facing the Bears necessarily begins with eliminating possible reasons for the issues.
This isn’t going to be a chronicle of specifics like what’s wrong with the offensive line (four-fifths of which are on second contracts under GM Ryan Pace), what special teams were thinking (victimized by a penalty and failure to stop a fake punt on successive fourth-quarter snaps), or the run defense (which was missing two of its three main down-linemen in Hicks Bilal and Nichols after the former’s elbow injury Sunday).
But in the aftershocks of the 24-21 loss in London to the Oakland Raiders – a game between one team ecstatic to be 3-2 and one wondering what went wrong to leave them at 3-2 – the first thing is to knock out the things that aren’t causes.
Start with jet lag. The Bears were sluggish to start the overseas game, but scoring 21 straight points in the third quarter says that being logy from travel wasn’t a fatal problem. That two of the TD’s came on drives all of 14 and 16 yards, OK, but at least the offense closed the deal.
And set Daniel off to the side, too. The ghastly interception and turnover concerns notwithstanding, the career backup has been exactly what he’s always been – a backup. For that matter, actually, a little better than just-a-backup: Daniel has outperformed starter Mitchell Trubisky, who rates among the NFL’s lowest according to ESPN’s QBR scale (while Daniel is 6th among quarterbacks with more than a dozen QB plays) and trails Daniel (95.6) in passer rating (81.0), although Daniel clearly is committing too many turnovers.
Best ‘comp’ for Daniel: Josh McCown, the guy who coaches knew and ran Marc Trestman’s offense better than Jay Cutler but was what he always was, a solid teammate and bridge to get across times when the No. 1’s were out.
(Sidebar here: Trestman inherited Cutler and was stuck with him after then-GM Phil Emery decided Cutler was “elite” and saddled the Bears with a massive and unnecessary contract extension. Looking ahead now, GM Ryan Pace’s career-defining draft of Trubisky foreshadows a picking up of Trubisky’s fifth-year option after this season, and a seriously likely major contract for Trubisky. Matt Nagy inherited Trubisky, but also was in KC when the Chiefs went all in on Patrick Mahomes. Just wondering what Nagy thinks about his long-range QB situation at night when the lights are out and he’s lying there before going to sleep. Just sayin’… .)
Problems beyond players
Noted in this space previously have been concerning comments from Nagy that he has not established an identity with his team, something that was going on last year with Jordan Howard and the run game but now seems broader.
“I need to figure out as a leader of this team what our hot buttons are and how we get better in certain areas,” Nagy said post-Raiders. One-third of the way through year two, not knowing the hot buttons is not a good thing.
Credit Nagy with pointing the thumb first rather than the finger, although best guess is that there were some seriously sharp words directed at his players in private.
Probably at his coaches as well. Special teams coach Chris Tabor may have had to contend with a wearying kicker competition; but that rusher Kevin Pierre-Louis would come anywhere near the Oakland punter in the fourth quarter, negating a punt and return that would’ve given the football to the Bears at the Chicago 49, and that the punt-return unit would be burned by a fake punt on the next play, falls on more than just the players.
Best guess, judging from the inert performances on offense and defense through the first half, Nagy rhetoric likely was spread around to more than just special teams.