Bears

Is the Bears' season doomed? They don't believe so, but across-the-board regression says otherwise

Is the Bears' season doomed? They don't believe so, but across-the-board regression says otherwise

The smattering of Bears players who spoke in a quiet locker room following their humbling 36-25 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday all were able to admit their current predicament: This is a team lacking an identity on offense and missing it on defense.

But none of the players who talked believed the problems facing the 3-3 Bears are beyond repair.

“We essentially have the same guys as last year, we have the same pieces,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. “We just gotta put it together. And I know eventually we will do that.”

Why does he believe that?  

“Because we’re good,” Miller said. “We’re stacked. We got dogs everywhere. We got the pieces. We just gotta put them together.”

Running back Tarik Cohen echoed Miller’s words, saying things are “definitely fixable.” There may be a ton of things to fix on offense — from quarterback play, to route running, to run-play design, to playcalling, to run blocking, and so on — but the Bears aren’t saying they’re ready to give up.

This is a team that went 12-4 last year, after all, with largely the same group of players.

“I think it’s more encouraging that we have done it in the past,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “And we have a positive coaching staff. When we came in here after there wasn’t a lot of mother f’s and a whole bunch of volumes at 10. No one was yelling. And I feel like we have a pretty confident and mature group to where we know what we have to get done.”

Two thoughts on this, though: 

The first: This is a team that did not shy away from sky-high expectations when players and coaches reported to Bourbonnais for training camp in late July. Cohen used the word “dynasty,” and with a young core and renowned coaching staff, you could see how he believed it was possible.

But through six games, reaching a Super Bowl in the franchise’s 100th season looks like a fever dream. For the Bears, improving off 2018 would have meant earning a first-round bye, which feels out of the question right now. Just making the playoffs again would now be an accomplishment — yet it would also be a disappointment to only make the playoffs after expecting so much out of this team two months ago.

The larger thought here: What have the Bears done in the calendar year of 2019 that makes reaching the playoffs a legitimate possibility?

Only a handful of players are having better seasons in 2019 than they had in 2018. Wide receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Danny Trevathan head that list. Defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Nick Williams are on it to varying degrees. The Bears have a superior kicker in Eddy Pineiro than they had in Cody Parkey. Cordarrelle Patterson is a better kick returner — as he showed with his 102-yard touchdown Sunday — than the Bears had at any point last year.

But other than that group, players on this team have not improved. And in a lot of cases, they’ve regressed.

Members of that regression list through Week 7: Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, the entire offensive line, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson. That is not an exhaustive list, either.

Players brought in to be upgrades or replacements have either been just as good as their predecessors (Buster Skrine, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) or less productive (David Montgomery, Mike Davis). Losing Akiem Hicks to injured reserve sidelined one of the two best players on the Bears' defense for a minimum of eight weeks. 

And the Bears’ offensive coaching staff is providing fewer answers, starting with Matt Nagy, than it did a year ago. There’s less concern about Chuck Pagano’s defense, but allowing star Saints wideout Michael Thomas to have nine catches for 131 yards with Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook out probably hurt the exchange rate for Chuck Bucks.

The Bears staked their 2019 hopes on continuity and targeted improvement at certain positions. So far, continuity has led to regression. And those targeted improvements — specifically in the backfield — haven't delivered actual upgrades. 

The Bears were a great team in 2018. In games played in 2019, they’re 3-4. Players and coaches can keep telling themselves they’ve done it before, but the more they keep playing like the 2019 Bears and less like the 2018 Bears, the more a reality of mediocrity will set in.

“I’m never worried,” Cohen said. “I trust the guys in this locker room and I trust the coaching staff. We’re going to get the job done.”

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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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