One obvious question hovering in the afterglow of the Bears’ breakout offensive performance against the Dallas Cowboys last Thursday is: Where has THIS been? Quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy looked more in sync than at any other time in recent memory.
So here’s a deeper question: How did that happen? The answer may be as simple as finally getting impact play from the tight end position, something the Bears haven’t had all season.
The impact plays by J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted (7 combined targets, 7 combined catches, 92 combined yards) represented the runaway best 2019 day for Bears tight ends. Against the Cowboys, Holtz actually led the team in receiving yards with 56. He and Horsted figured in the run game and screen game, bringing something to the offense that filled an enormous void.
While tight ends Trey Burton (calf) and Adam Shaheen (foot) are now on injured reserve, even when they were on the field they were largely ineffective, contributing only a combined 23 catches for 158 yards.
That left the Bears digging deep to find some production at the position. Holtz, who’s spent time on the Browns’ and Redskins’ practice squads, was claimed off waivers in September. Horsted, an undrafted free agent from Princeton, spent much of the season on the Bears’ practice squad.
“It’s a little bit of rhythm,” Nagy said. “[Holtz and Horsted] are so new to us as coaches and not knowing exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are. The other thing is that you had two other guys in Trey and Adam that were a little bit beat up and hurt physically. They weren’t 100 percent.
“You have two other guys that come in and are 100 percent and they have different types of talent. So we’re trying to figure out the best way to use them. I want to credit them, especially J.P. Holtz. Here’s a kid that’s come in here and done everything we’ve asked. He’s helped us out at that ‘Y’ [blocking tight end] position.”
Consider what’s been missing at the position for most of this season. Last year Burton was the fourth most-targeted Bear by Trubisky and caught 75 percent of the balls thrown to him. Shaheen did little with his playing time (he was inactive until game 10), but he did catch 83 percent of the balls Trubisky threw to him, and the Bears were 5-1 when he played.
Trubisky hasn’t had that security receiver this season. Burton slumped to a 58 percent catch-percentage before going on IR, Shaheen pulled in 9 of his 13 targets (69 percent), and Ben Braunecker 6 of 11 (55 percent).
So far Horsted and Holtz have caught 11 of the 12 passes directed to them. The one incompletion was to Holtz, from backup QB Chase Daniel vs. Oakland. That means that every pass Trubisky has thrown to the new TE duo has been caught.
“Tight ends are big in any offense,” Nagy said. “They help out in the run game. And then they help out in the pass game in certain areas. It’s just a benefit when you don’t always have to throw to wide receivers.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.