Bears still figuring out 'what our identity is' remains main concern coming out of win over Broncos

Bears still figuring out 'what our identity is' remains main concern coming out of win over Broncos

The positive afterglow from the Bears' 16-14 comeback win over the Denver Broncos is both the way a win should be felt – an NFL win by any other name always smells this sweet – and deserved – the Bears held a seventh straight opponent to fewer than 17 or fewer points, long the unofficial defensive points target.

But the situation on the offense specifically, already exhaustively dissected since the conclusion of the Green Bay game, reached another level of concern in the aftermath of the Denver game, the fifth in the Bears’ last seven stretching back into 2018 in which they failed to score more than 16 points.

Beyond the performance issues, the sound of head coach Matt Nagy expressly talking about “figuring out how we get going offensively and what our identity is” was more than a little concerning. It was a mantra last season that Nagy applied to the running game when it was Jordan Howard-based. That is not the case anymore, and in the last draft, general manager Ryan Pace and the personnel department traded up for running back David Montgomery expressly because he fit the “identity” and parameters of the offense as conceived by Nagy.

The identity issue extends considerably deeper than Montgomery, though. At the root of the problem arguably is the mesh between Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Nagy spoke Monday about the need for more rhythm and explosive plays. Uncertain is whether Trubisky can deliver and consistently threaten explosive plays, which Nagy clearly views as a key element of the missing “identity.” Trubisky has not seen or connected with a number of open receivers already this season, for example, and those obviously are axiomatic to explosive plays.

For context purposes: Former Bears great Olin Kreutz, appearing on NBC Sports Chicago's Bears postgame show on Sunday night, detailed the Bears’ efforts to run the football into the Denver end zone using Montgomery. The touchdown was finally achieved, but as Kreutz pointed out, not without extreme difficulty. Kreutz laid out the reality that the Bears have not been constructed to run things like Power-O and load up for a smash-mouth ground game. They run myriad three-receiver personnel packages, and tight ends like Trey Burton and Ben Braunecker who are deficient as run blockers.

Applying Kreutz’s “constructed” analysis to the quarterback position, for all of the positives lavished on Trubisky by Nagy, a question has to be whether Trubisky ultimately fits the so-called identity that Nagy talks about still trying to figure out.

Nagy was hired only after it was established that there was buy-in on Trubisky as the Bears quarterback. Pace had mortgaged some draft future to secure Trubisky and the Bears weren’t going to veer from that course anytime soon. Dave Ragone, who’d been assigned by John Fox and Dowell Loggains to focus on mentoring Trubisky, was retained as quarterbacks coach.

But recall that Nagy was Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to No. 10 in the 2017 draft for purposes of selecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Meaning: Reid, Nagy and the Chiefs viewed Mahomes as the franchise quarterback for their system.

Which is not to say that the Chiefs had no regard for Trubisky; they had a private meeting with him around North Carolina’s Pro Day.

At issue now, however, is whether Trubisky fits the identity of Nagy’s offense and whether he can run it to max effectiveness, all the pre- and offseason positive platitudes to that effect notwithstanding at this point.

Indeed, the Bears may develop an identity – every team either does, or doesn’t, which in itself is a statement of identity. But the Packers and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Denver with Vic Fangio have continued the narrative that I laid out in early August, in which the concern is not just that the NFL has caught on to Nagy and Trubisky (that happens to everyone), but also that the Bears leaders aren’t up to the task of morphing to stay ahead of the adjusting.

That the Bears have now failed to reach 17 points in five of their last seven games, going back to include three of the final five last season, says that they may not be, or at least haven’t been so far.

Pace brought in his franchise quarterback, presumably operating on the plan that he would be moving on from John Fox for the coach to bring that quarterback to fruition. Pace and Nagy certainly went into great detail on personnel during Nagy’s hiring process, and Nagy was in on the Trubisky “project.”

Whether that project has reached or is approaching his ceiling plays out over the coming weeks. As far as Trubisky’s fit into the offensive identity according to Pace’s personnel moves and Nagy’s vision, whatever that turns out to be…same thing.

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Former Bears DC Vic Fangio off to rough start as Broncos coach

Former Bears DC Vic Fangio off to rough start as Broncos coach

Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was one of the few head-coaching candidates last offseason whose reputation in the league was based on defense. With most teams looking for the next young offensive guru, Fangio's stature as a veteran defensive coach made the Denver Broncos' decision to name him their head coach a pretty bold move.

After a 3-6 start and a change from Joe Flacco to Brandon Allen at quarterback, Denver's lacking offense has sparked internal frustration, according to CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora.

The real source of the difficulty, however, appears to be Fangio.

Fangio has had issues with offensive assistants, the sources said, and at one point top receiver Emmanuel Sanders in essence walked out on the team, leading to his eventual trade. Lines of communication have been strained, and Fangio has been quick to dispute play calls and come across as overbearing on the headsets, sources said, which has created issues in-game and otherwise.

Fangio's time in Chicago was highlighted by the dominant performance of the Bears' defense in 2018, one that led the team to an NFC North championship and its first playoff berth since 2010.

But he was never able to establish himself as the kind of coach who could handle the media or other responsibilities that come along with being atop the coaching food chain. His to-the-point and sometimes brutally honest style worked well for a grizzled defensive coordinator, but head coaches are held to a different standard.

It would be unfair to expect Fangio to change who he is at this point in his coaching career, which began with the New Orleans Saints 33 seasons ago. 

Maybe we're just starting to see why it took so long for him to actually land a head coaching position.

(Too) Bold Predictions: The Blake Bortles-Mitch Trubisky debate gets answered once and for all

(Too) Bold Predictions: The Blake Bortles-Mitch Trubisky debate gets answered once and for all

(Too) Bold Predictions aims to take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

J.J. Stankevitz
1. Eddie Jackson -- finally! -- has his first two interceptions of the season.
Does this count as a bold prediction if I've predicted it, incorrectly, multiple times this year? Whatever. Either way: It finally happens! Jared Goff has nine interceptions this year and the Rams' offense has looked broken at times. Sunday should be a nice opportunity for Jackson to finally get that takeaway he's so hungry for, and we'll say he stacks another one on it. These things do come in bunches, after all.

2. Blake Bortles vs. Mitch Trubisky gets settled once and for all.
Sean McVay intentionally put Blake Bortles in the Rams' loss to the Steelers last week, as if one of the NFL's foremost offensive minds was taken over by Jason from "The Good Place." The prediction here: Things go catastrophically wrong for Goff in the first half Sunday night, but the Bears aren't able to capitalize, holding a 6-0 lead at halftime. With the Rams' season on the line, McVay breaks the glass and gives Bortles a shot in the second half, which goes...actually, kind of well? I have the Rams beating the Bears in my official prediction, and I wouldn't imagine a Bortles-led offense would be good enough to beat the Bears. But is a Trubisky-led offense good enough for the Bears to beat the Rams? This could be an ugly, yet fascinating, night if Bortles and Trubisky wind up quarterbacking against each other.

Cam Ellis
1. David Montgomery has his most impressive game of the season. 
The Bears probably aren't going to have a lot of success running it through some of the interior gaps, because, you know, Aaron Donald and all. The Rams' run defense is great (3rd in DVOA) so getting over the (kind of arbitrary) 100-yard mark may not happen, but without Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, and Jalen Ramsey smothering Allen Robinson, the Bears aren't going to have that many options available to them on Sunday night. It sounds like Montgomery may be a gametime decision, but it's hard to imagine how the Bears move the ball at all without him. Whether it's total yardage, the number of touchdowns, or some jaw-dropping display of his space alien abilities to avoid being tackled, Montgomery's the story on Monday morning. 

2. The Bears' offense looks as good as it has all year. 
Like I said in prediction 1, the Bears' offense goes into Sunday night with a serious lack of NFL experience at the skill position. Shaheen and Burton are out, so they'll have to rely on JP Holtz, Ben Braunecker, and Bradley Sowell, who I promise are all real people. Allen Robinson has to go up against Ramsey, and David Montgomery's ankle has made him a maybe. But who cares?! All the common sense says a Trubisky/Cohen/Braunecker core probably isn't getting the best of Wade Phillips, but (Too) Bolds is not the place for common sense. For no rhyme or reason, something about the Bears' offense clicks tonight. Will it be fun? Yes! Will it continue going forward? No!