The Bears keep finding ways to reach a new bottom and Sunday’s 26-6 loss to Browns was something special considering they finished the game with just 47 yards and one net passing yard. Here are my 10 Bears Things after sorting out the mess in Cleveland:
1. Not this again
It was Oct. 27 last year when we pondered possible offensive changes in this space after the Bears scored just 10 points in Los Angeles against the Rams. And even though the Bears were 5-2 at that point, changing the play caller was one of the many changes discussed.
“I’m really, honestly, not opposed to (giving up play calling duties),” Matt Nagy said at the time, although it took two more losses over the next two weeks before he finally relinquished those duties to Bill Lazor.
It’s only Week 4 this time, but Monday’s press conference felt very familiar.
“Just to keep it super simple, everything’s on the table. And I think that’s probably the easiest way to put it — the evaluation part, everything,” Nagy said Monday when asked about the play calling.
Also discussed last year? Changing the quarterback (back to Mitch Trubisky), changing the offensive line and getting the tight ends more involved.
Yeah, this is all too familiar.
The only difference — the biggest difference — is that the Bears now have Justin Fields, which makes the offensive redundancy even more concerning because he’s supposed to be better.
2. Change the scheme
When Nagy said, “just to keep it super simple, everything’s on the table,” I thought that wording was perfect because that’s exactly what he needs to do — keep it super simple.
A familiar coaching phrase is the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid.
I understand that Nagy's complex offense could be hard to defend if mastered by all 11 offensive players on the field, but if it’s never mastered, at what point do you consider that the scheme is the problem?
Regardless of who is calling plays, the coaching staff needs to make it as easy as possible for a rookie quarterback to operate in this complex scheme. And that means adapting the system to the player. When Fields gets more experience and the game slows down for him, he could certainly be a sit-in-the-pocket West Coast quarterback. But asking him to do that now is shortsighted. Get Fields on the move, buy him time and make the reads as easy as possible for him.
It’s exhausting that we’re already having the same conversations that we were having with Mitch Trubisky, but Fields is only three games into his career. They can fix this before real damage is done.
3. Change the play caller
Again, it’s the same conversation as last year. Just do it now and get it over with. Whether it was the game plans or the actual calls Lazor was making last year, the Bears’ offense did move the ball better after the scheme was adapted to Trubisky’s strengths and away from his weaknesses. And the running game in particular took off.
It’s not rocket science. It’s football.
4. Play better
Speaking of simple, this is as simple as it gets. But it should be pointed out that no one other than David Montgomery is really doing anything impressive on offense right now. I don’t see wide open receivers. I see a lot of missed blocks. And that includes the tight ends (i.e. Jimmy Graham’s missed block that would have resulted in a walk-in touchdown for Fields against the Bengals).
It’s easy to say “change the offensive line,” but what options do the Bears have right now? Maybe they can insert Elijah Wilkinson at right tackle instead of Germain Ifedi, but they still have a left tackle problem until rookie fifth round pick Larry Borom returns from IR and he has to miss at least one more game.
As bad as the timing was for a matchup against Myles Garrett, the timing couldn’t be better for a game against the Lions at home. The players have to make plays to help Fields out.
5. Justin is not off the hook
As ugly as it was, I couldn’t wait to re-watch the game to get a better idea of how much blame the rookie quarterback deserved.
The conclusion? The coaching staff still deserves most of the blame for that awful game plan, but Fields did more wrong than I initially thought.
After a good RPO decision on the first offensive play of the game, I thought he made a poor decision to hand the ball off on the second play when he had a lead blocker and a lot of grass in front of him.
Later, he pulled the ball on a RPO and needed to immediately let it rip to Darnell Mooney, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Fields ended up being sacked by the read defender on the play.
According to the NFL Network’s Stacey Dales, Fields held onto the ball for at least 4.5 seconds eight times and was sacked seven times on those plays. Again, it’s not like he had wide open receivers to throw to, but that’s enough time to get rid of the ball, even if it’s just to throw it away.
“I’ve coached a lot of rookies in my time and that’s just something they learn over time,” Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said Monday. “I thought any game rep he gets is valuable for him and the learning curve. But yes, there’s some things that we can speed up for sure.”
I’ve been very encouraged by Fields’ poise and the fact that the speed of the game hasn’t been too much for him — but that changed Sunday. Last week I kept saying that Fields looked “inexperienced, but not overwhelmed.” Against the Browns, I’d say he looked inexperienced and a little overwhelmed.
6. A positive development: Robert Quinn
Robert Quinn was able to stack two good games together for the first time since he signed with the Bears in 2020 and that shouldn’t be ignored. He looks healthier and faster on the edge.
“I think he’s more dialed into situational football in terms of understanding backfield sets, down and distance and those types of things,” Bears outside linebacker Bill Shuey said. “To understand when he has to play certain techniques and when he might be able to get off the ball a little bit more and rush the passer.”
Through three games, Quinn is tied for fourth in the NFL with four sacks, trailing only Myles Garrett (5.5), Chandler Jones (5.0) and Haason Reddick (4.5). He has nine total pressures, which is tied for 10th. Now we’ll see if he can keep it up all season.
7. Tonga time
A number that kept showing up on my grade sheet during my re-watch? 95. Khyiris Tonga, a seventh-round rookie, played 29 snaps (36 percent) as the Bears played more base defense against the Browns’ rushing attack and he made the most of his opportunity, frequently getting into the backfield.
There’s no question the Bears miss Eddie Goldman, but Tonga looks like he can give the Bears something they lacked last year when they didn't have Goldman: a true nose tackle.
8. Jackson’s tackling problems
The elephant in the defensive room continues to be safety Eddie Jackson’s tackling woes. He missed another one Sunday that led to a touchdown (although it should be noted that Deon Bush missed a tackle in the backfield on the same play).
“Any point in the game, that's our job,” secondary coach Deshea Townsend said. “Technique-wise, he can improve on his approach at that moment … He’s just got to square him up and find a way of getting him down. That's the thing of playing that position. We have to win our point-of-attacks, and that's how we get graded. So, Eddie knows he has to make that tackle. Like, that's our job.”
Credit to Townsend for not sugar coating a glaring issue for one of the team’s highest paid players.
9. Opponent look-ahead
It was last year against the Lions when the Bears’ season reached its low point, as they blew a 10-point lead in the final 2:18 to lose 34-30. Nagy survived that doomsday scenario, but a repeat this week would be really, really bad. The Lions have been (somewhat) competitive against three good teams (49ers, Packers and Ravens) and would have beaten Baltimore Sunday had Justin Tucker not made an NFL record 66-yard field goal off the crossbar as time expired.
Given what we saw from the Bears’ offense in Cleveland, this is not a gimme, but they’ll be facing a Lions defense that is nowhere near the same class as the Browns.
This either sets up as a bounce back week for Justin Fields or a disastrous scenario for Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, depending on how you want to look at it.
10. Final word
At least the Bears have Cairo Santos.