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.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.