Matt Nagy didn’t spend much time Monday talking about who his starting quarterback will be against the Green Bay Packers this weekend. He didn’t have to, by the way. Teams are not required to disclose injuries until Wednesday in a normal game week.
So Nagy did not have to discuss, for example, why Nick Foles (hip) was not present during the portion of Monday’s practice open to the media – but Mitch Trubisky (shoulder) was.
“With both these guys with where they're at and their injuries, that's what we're kind of working through right now to see exactly where they're at,” Nagy said. “The good thing for us coming off the bye is it happened over the bye for Nick and now we're able to kind of day by day just see where he's at. We're going through and trying to figure out, OK, health-wise, where they're at.
“Also us, too, coming through the bye, like I said (last week) – us evaluating where we're at as a team, as an offense, all of that is on the table.”
“That” being a quarterback change.
And regardless of whether it’s because of injury or performance, Nagy needs to go back to Trubisky beginning Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.
That’s not because of anything Trubisky can do better than Foles as a passer, although he can run for his life behind a leaky offensive line, at least.
It’s because two months ago, when the Bears benched Trubisky and turned to Foles, it had the consequence of absolutely tanking this team's run game. A run game that showed signs of life before Foles took over.
A few things to compare:
First down run percentage (Trubisky starting): 54 percent
First down run percentage (Foles starting): 35 percent
First down yards per rush (Trubisky starting): 4.9
First down yards per rush (Foles starting): 2.8
Stats via SharpFootballStats.com
The Bears were a good-ish run team on first down before Foles took over. They were trying to create an identity built around running the ball – and first down is where you build that identity – and, early on, were fine at doing it.
The Bears’ identity with Foles has been to pass, pass, pass because this team cannot run the ball effectively on first down. And that has a lot to do with this next set of numbers:
% of plays under center (Trubisky starting): 47 percent
% of plays under center (Foles starting): 24 percent
% of under center run plays (Trubisky starting) 67 percent
% of under center run plays (Foles starting): 62 percent
The Bears aren’t necessarily running the ball from shotgun at a significantly higher rate. The problem here is they’re running so few snaps from under center that it’s been hard to establish much of a rhythm with the run game. Instead of about two of the first four plays of a drive being under center, it's one of the first four plays (if they even make it to four plays).
Going back to Trubisky would mean more running plays on first down, most likely from under center, and at least a renewed commitment to David Montgomery (who was present at Monday’s practice after missing Monday night's loss to the Minnesota Vikings with a concussion).
But what about the offensive line? It’s been slammed by injuries and illness since Trubisky was benched.
James Daniels was lost for the season in Week 5, Bobby Massie went on injured reserve on Election Day, Cody Whitehair missed two games with a calf injury and COVID-19, Sam Mustipher got hurt in his first career start and backup tackle Jason Spriggs missed time with injuries and COVID-19.
Is there any reason to believe this banged-up, depleted, under-resourced group can play better regardless of the quarterback and scheme?
This is not a perfect measure by any means, but trying to isolate Daniels’ injury and Whitehair’s absence gets us here:
Runs behind the center or right guard (Trubisky + Whitehair starting): 5.4 yards per carry
Runs behind the center or right guard (Foles + Whitehair starting): 2.7 yards per carry
Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s a rough statistical way to show how much worse the Bears’ run game has been that isn’t necessarily related to Daniels’ injury. The Bears are half as good at doing something they were pretty good at when Trubisky started.
“You've gotta look at it in different points of the season, and I say that meaning, for us, you look at the first couple games, really the first three games, we were able to get that run game established,” Nagy said. “And that helps out when you're able to get that going.
“… A lot of that was before some of the injuries that have happened and/or the COVID. And then we made the move at the quarterback position and we ended up struggling to run the ball against the Colts and Tampa Bay and for, again, different reasons.
“I just felt like looking back at it, that we were never able to just establish that identity, per se. We were just kinda, 'Hey, well we've gotta get the run game going,' well we get that going, and then we weren't able to pass the ball, our protection would break down or whatever it was. Or next week we'd get great protection and then we'd struggle for different reasons to run the ball.”
The Bears enter Week 12 with the NFL’s worst rushing offense, and it’s not a coincidence they’ve sunk to that depth since changing quarterbacks – and, again, schemes for the different quarterbacks.
But since the Foles-led passing offense has been bad, too, it’s hard to come up with a reason to stick with it. Even if that means going back to Trubisky, who's proven to be a below-average NFL starter over the last three years.
So even if Foles returns to practice this week and is given the green light to play at Lambeau Field, he shouldn’t. The Bears have to try something different. Maybe going back to Trubisky and the offense the Bears ran early in the season will marginally help the run game. It's worth a shot, even if all it'd accomplish is a minor improvement at best.
Because what's the downside at this point? Not scoring an offensive touchdown in a primetime game for the third time in 2020?