The Bears’ problems on offense aren’t difficult to find. They can’t really run the football very well. They are penalized too much. Look at the scoreboard.
But arguably the true crisis facing the offense of coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich is not the inability to run the football. In the nearly two years since the hiring of Nagy, the Bears have not been built to be a running team anyway, the drafting of David Montgomery notwithstanding.
No, the bigger concern looming over all of the problems on offense is that its strength – the West Coast, high-percentage-passing scheme of Nagy/Andy Reid – isn’t a strength. And it was supposed to be.
The Nagy Bears were constructed by GM Ryan Pace to be a pass-based offense; the pass can be used to set up the run, as well as vice versa. And yet for all the concern over the run failures, the fact is that the Bears aren’t very good doing what they were designed to do.
Mitch Trubisky, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Allen Robinson, even Adam Shaheen – all these supposed “weapons” were to have been fashioned into an offensive force under Nagy. It hasn’t happened and is sliding in the opposite direction; more on that shortly.
Right now, only Robinson warrants the “weapon” designation. But that’s a personnel discussion for another time.
At this point, one reason the Bears are poor at running the football is that their quarterbacks just aren’t very good, certainly not good enough to make a defense pay for selling out to stop the Bears running, which teams really don’t have to do at this point.
And the unsettling fact is that it is more than a little bit possible to be very, very good in the NFL without a good run game. New England is 5-0 while averaging 3.5 yards per rush (compared to the Bears’ 3.4 ypc). Green Bay is 4-1 despite their 3.7 ypc. Kansas City and Seattle are 4-1 with rushing averages of 4.0 ypc.
The difference with those division leaders is obvious: quarterback competence. Not that Trubisky or Chase Daniel are to be or need to be compared to Brady, Rodgers, Mahomes or Wilson. But right now Trubisky/Daniel are throwing at a combined 86.3 passer rating, which ranks the Bears 24th in the NFL. And that’s right about even with Jay Cutler’s career mark (85.3).
The Bears were designed and staffed to do RPO’s and other assorted offensive creativities around their passing game. And they aren’t doing what they were built to do. That stands as a more ominous, broader problem for an offense that simply cannot score at even a mid-range NFL level.
Continuing overall offensive regression?
The overarching issue with the offense, beyond the run or the pass, is the one that is still unresolved since I noted in early August that the substantial scoring and yardage-production falloff in the second half of last season hinted at broader concerns about whether the NFL was onto Nagy and Trubisky. Along with that, whether the two would be able to respond.
Results suggest that they, along with Daniel, haven’t been, and in fact may be backsliding.
Over the final five 2018 games, the Bears failed to top 16 points three times and scored 92 points, total. Over the first five this season, the Bears have again failed to top 16 three times while scoring just 87 points. Total.
Only Cincinnati, Miami, Washington and the Jets have scored fewer points than the Bears, and that august foursome has zero wins. O-18 combined.
Over the final five games last season the offense was at least exhibiting a pulse; 325 yards or more in four of the five and 294 in the fifth.
The offense has failed to muster 300 yards even once through these 2019 first five games. The “strength” of the offense, the Nagy passing game, has produced 208 yards twice, vs. Green Bay and Washington; the other three game totals have been sub-200 yards.
Looking a little deeper: The Bears have been outscored 33-6 through five fourth quarters this season, the only quarter in which opponents hold a scoring edge on them, but obviously a staggeringly significant one. There is something fundamentally wrong with an offense that has not scored a fourth-quarter touchdown in five games this year and not since the 9-minute mark of their playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nagy does indeed need to discover his team’s hot buttons. And those buttons need to be pressed. Hard.