Consider this a presentation of the best-case outlook for a Bears’ offense that’s slogged its way through two ineffective games to begin the 2019 season.
It doesn’t mean it’ll definitely come true. But this is the line of thinking being presented around Halas Hall this week: This offense is close to clicking, and when it does click, it’ll be spectacular.
Digging deeper into that glass-half-full thought, it can be explained by this simple truth: The Bears haven’t found their offensive identity yet.
That lack of an identity has shown up in the different personnel packages coach Matt Nagy used over the first two games. The Bears are running fewer 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) and 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) packages than they did in 2018, for example.
Also: They’ve already run 22 plays out of 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends, three receivers). In 2018, the Bears ran only six plays using 20 personnel; only the Bears and New England Patriots have run more than four plays out of 20 personnel in 2019.
“I think when you are where we are at in the last two games and trying to figure out, massage and find out exactly what your identity is, you play through personnels,” Nagy said. “You play through matchups. You play through how guys are playing and how coaches are coaching, myself. So you play through all of that and try to put that puzzle together and then what you do is hope that you continue to stack wins and then you kind of morph by Week 6, Week 7 and you say, okay, you know what, we went through all of that and now know who we are and now let’s go ball out.”
The Bears did this a year ago, though not to as extreme of an extent. They ran just as much 11 personnel in Weeks 1-3 as they did in Weeks 4-17 (with Week 4 being that offensive explosion against Tampa Bay) but wound up using less 12 personnel from Week 4 on than they did over the first three games. A large part of that was personnel-driven, though: The Bears quickly figured out Dion Sims wasn’t cutting it as a “Y” (in-line) tight end, and didn’t have much flexibility to plug in trustworthy receivers behind Allen Robinson/Taylor Gabriel/Anthony Miller.
Perhaps the perceived improvements made to the Bears’ roster in 2019 — David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson — have allowed Nagy to try more things than he was able to early in the season last year. That could be a double-edged sword, though, as the Bears’ offense showed more signs of life early in 2018 than 2019’s group has.
Perhaps, too, the absence of Trey Burton in Week 1 and the gradual integration of him back into the offense in Week 2 has hurt the Bears’ chances of finding that identity. The more Burton plays, the better shot the Bears may have at getting their offense to click.
“You just gotta believe this week is gonna be the week,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “So we haven’t been executing the way we want to. There [are] definitely some things that we are missing on film but we’re coming together and we’re correcting them.
“The most important thing to me is that my guys still believe in me. I believe in myself and we’re one unit. We’re together. We’re sticking together and we’re gonna do what we gotta do to correct it and we gotta believe that this offense could explode at any minute because of the playmakers and the special guys we have in the locker room.”
So in the confines of playing games without an offensive identity, a team can have more receptions by running backs than wide receivers through two weeks, a clear sign of a team lacking any sort of rhythm or explosiveness:
Through Week 2, here is the distribution of receptions by each team.— Anthony Staggs (@staggsNFL) September 19, 2019
Nearly 43% of the Bears completions have gone to their RBs. Yuck. pic.twitter.com/uLuxMiaU11
Again, this is the optimistic viewpoint, one carrying the implication that the Bears' offense will be fixed once Nagy, Trubisky, etc. can settle on an identity marrying playcalling and execution. Trubisky said he and Nagy are working through that process, with the quarterback acting as a conduit for his playmakers to his coach.
"I talk the most with coach about what guys are comfortable with, what they’re feeling, what they like and what they don’t like and just where we’re at as an offense and where we wanna go," Trubisky said. "So we kind of had this last year in the beginning of the season where we had some offensive struggles on third down, not clicking, and we got a couple guys in some new spots and obviously we added some new pieces so we’re not clicking the way we want to.
"... I think we have that faith and that strong core that believes if we just continue to do our jobs, like work even harder, get in the film room a little more and study our game plan and just go out there and play the game that we know how to do, and make sure that I am doing my job and getting the ball to the playmakers that we can be the explosive offense that we saw at times throughout last year and that the offensive struggles or whatever you want to call it is a thing of the past. Hopefully that is not us anymore."
The glass-half-empty view of the Bears' offensive issues is troubling, though: Has the league figured out Nagy and Trubisky? Are the Bears' weapons not as good as we thought? Has Trubisky somehow regressed?
While Weeks 1 and 2 have been dismal, it's too early to answer any of those questions in the affirmative. Two weeks is not enough time to slam the panic button, even if it's fair to be moving toward it.
So all the Bears can do right now is trust and believe that this thing will get fixed. It's early enough in the season to hang on to that hope, and lean on the crutch of not having an identity yet.
But the clock is ticking. And it won't be long before the Bears run out of excuses.