Bears

Bears Grades: Tackles slow down fierce Raiders pass rush

forte-cutler-bears-offensive-line-insider-1004.png

Bears Grades: Tackles slow down fierce Raiders pass rush

The position group that has seemed in flux ever since the end of last season, even back into last season, for that matter, survived a wave of unanticipated upheaval and allowed the offense to function in the clutch.

Credit tackles Charles Leno, starting in place of injured left tackle Jermon Bushrod, and Kyle Long with superb overall handling of rush linebackers Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith without the Bears needing to over-commit tight ends or backs to chip our double-team. The Raiders did get to Jay Cutler for three sacks, one each by Mack, Smith and defensive end Justin Tuck, and four quarterback hits but the offense was able to generate 371 yards and finish with a 7-minute advantage in time of possession.

The line took a severe hit on the game’s third snap when center Will Montgomery was rolled up on while blocking and had to leave with an undisclosed injury. By the time the players were exiting the locker room, Montgomery’s lower left leg already was in a plaster cast.

Left guard Matt Slauson, who said he has taken a total of six snaps at center in this calendar year – all in practice –  moved to center and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Patrick Omameh moved in at left guard. The result was three-fifths of a line that had never worked together in any form.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

“To have Matt calling out the ‘Mike’ [middle linebacker] points was kind of strange at first,” Long admitted. “But he’s a really bright guy. If Will Montgomery can’t go, then he’s the guy who should be in there. I think he did a great job orchestrating the offense.”

The Bears did rig some protections to contain Smith but Leno consistently displayed quick feet in pass blocking, avoiding lunging or being bull-rushed. Slauson’s work at center was generally very solid before a botched snap in the second quarter gave Oakland the ball at the Chicago 25, The problem appeared to be more a case of Jay Cutler pulling back from center before securing the football although Slauson took responsibility and said he needed to have gotten the ball all the way firmly to Cutler before engaging in his block on Oakland nose tackle Dan Williams.

[MORE: Gould has his Michael Jordan moment in win]

The line put the offense in a second-quarter hole with a holding penalty inside the Chicago 20 but the Bears were able to avoid letting the mistake cause direct damage, although they did subsequently lose the fumble on the mishandled snap to give away 7 points. Vlad Ducasse committed a false start on first down with the Bears at their 20 following a Raiders field goal.

Holding together after the loss of Montgomery so early in the game, however, was an accomplishment in itself.

“Will sets the whole offense,” Slauson said. “I knew I was in that position. Definitely not as comfortable with it, but the guys battled. The defense gave us chance after chance after chance. Having a lot of guys out, having two on the O-line out, it was tough sledding.”

Grade: B+

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy's commitment to the run is fine, the Bears just have to run the ball better

Matt Nagy’s run-pass balance, actually, has been fine in 2019. 

The Bears have run on 40 percent of their plays before the off week, a tick below the NFL average of 41 percent. Nagy is trying to commit to the run, too, on first down: His team has run the ball on 53 percent of its first-and-10 plays this year, slightly above the NFL average of 52 percent. 

On third and short (defined here as fewer than three yards to gain), too, it’s not like Nagy has been willing to ditch the run. The Bears have run on 55 percent of those third and short plays this year, just below the league average of 56 percent. 

Roughly: The Bears’ run-pass balance is the NFL average. That’s okay for an offense not good enough to lean heavily in one direction, like the San Francisco 49ers (56 percent run rate, highest in the NFL) or Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent pass rate, fifth-highest). 

And this doesn’t account for a bunch of quarterback runs, either. Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel have averaged 2.2 rushes per game in 2019; last year, those two averaged 5.1 rushing attempts per game. 

So that doesn’t jive with the narrative of Nagy not being willing to commit to running the ball. He is. The will is there, but the results aren’t. 

So why haven’t the results been there? To get there, we need to take a deep dive into what's gone wrong. 

Most of this article will focus on first and 10 plays, which have a tendency to set a tone for an entire drive. 
And rather surprisingly, the Bears don’t seem to be bad at running the ball on first and 10. Per SharpFootballStats.com, The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per run on first and 10 with a 46 percent success rate — just below the NFL average of 4.3 yards per run and a 48 percent success rate. David Montgomery, taking out three first-and-goal-to-go runs, is averaging 3.7 yards per run on first and 10. 

That’s not great, of course, but Nagy would be pleased if his No. 1 running back was able to grind out three or four yards per run on first down. 

“If I’m calling a run, it needs to be a run and it’s not second and 10, it’s second and seven or six, right? That’s what we need to do,” Nagy said. 

The issue, though, is the Bears are 30th in the NFL in explosive rushing plays, having just three. In a small sample size, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yard dash in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos skews the Bears’ average yards per run on first and 10 higher than it’ll wind up at the end of the year if something isn’t fixed. 

Only Washington and the Miami Dolphins have a worse explosive run rate than the Bears on first-and-10. 

“First down needs to be a better play for us,” Nagy said. “Run or pass.”

Not enough opportunity

There are several damning stats about the Bears’ offense this year, which Nagy acknowledged on Thursday. 

“That’s our offense right now,” Nagy said. “That’s the simple facts. So any numbers that you look at right now within our offense, you could go to a lot of that stuff and say that. We recognize that and we need to get better at that.”

That answer was in reference to Tarik Cohen averaging just 4.5 yards per touch, but can apply to this stat, too: 

The Bears are averaging 22 first-and-10 plays per game, per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL (only the Jets, Steelers and Washington are lower). The team’s lackluster offense, which ranks 28th in first downs per game (17.4) certainly contributes heavily to that low number. 

But too: The Bears have been assessed eight penalties on first-and-10 plays, as well as one on a first-and-goal from the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line (a Charles Leno Jr. false start) and another offset by defensive holding (illegal shift vs. Oakland). 

“There’s probably not a lot of teams that are doing real great on second and long or third and long,” Nagy said. “So the other part of that too is you’re getting into first and 20 and now its second and 12.”

Can passing game help?

The Bears’ are gaining 6.3 yards per play on first-and-10 passes, the fourth-worst average in the NFL behind the Dolphins, Bengals and, interestingly, Indianapolis Colts (the Colts’ dominant offensive line, though, is allowing for an average of 5 1/2 yards per carry in those situations). 

So if the Bears aren’t having much success throwing on first-and-10, it could lead opposing defenses to feel more comfortable to sell out and stop the run. Or opposing defenses know they can stop the run without any extra effort, making it more difficult for the Bears to pass on first down. 

This is sort of a chicken-or-egg kind of deal. If the Bears run the ball more effectively on first down, it should help their passing game and vice versa. But having opposing defenses back off a bit with an effective passing game certainly couldn’t hurt. 

Situational tendencies

The Bears are atrocious at running the ball on second-and-long, and while 19 plays isn’t a lot, it’s too many. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards per carry on second-and-8-to-10-yard downs before their off week on those 19 plays, which either need to be fixed or defenestrated from a second-story window at Halas Hall. 

But on second and medium (four to seven yards, since we’re going with Nagy’s definition of run success here), the Bears are actually averaging more yards per carry (4.7) than yards per pass (4.5). Yet they’re passing on two-thirds of those plays, so if you’re looking for somewhere for Nagy to run the ball more, it might be here. 

And when the Bears do get into makable second-and-short (1-3 yards) situations, Nagy is over-committed to the run. The Bears ran on 72 percent of those plays before the off week — nearly 10 percent higher than the league average — yet averaged 1.9 yards per carry on them, 31st in the NFL behind Washington. 

“It's so easy as a player and a coach to get caught up in the trees,” Nagy said. “Especially on offense with some of the struggles that we've had, you get caught up in that and consume yourself with it. There's a right way and a wrong way with it and I feel like the past several days, really all of last week, I've had a good balance of being able to reflect, kinda reload on where we are, and I feel good with the stuff that we've done as a staff, that we've discussed where we're at and then looking for solutions. That's the No. 1 thing here.”

So what’s the solution?

Perhaps sliding Rashaad Coward into the Bears’ starting offensive line will inject some athleticism and physicality at right guard that could start opening up some more holes for the Bears’ backs. Perhaps it means less of Cohen running inside zone.

Perhaps it involves more of J.P. Holtz acting as a quasi-fullback. Perhaps it means getting more out of Adam Shaheen as a blocker. Perhaps it means, generally, better-schemed runs. 

Whatever the combination is, the Bears need to find it. 

But the solution to the Bears’ problem is not to run the ball more. It’s to run it better. 

Bears Injury Report: Trubisky practices in full Thursday

Bears Injury Report: Trubisky practices in full Thursday

It appears like Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky will, in fact, make his return to the starting lineup Sunday against the New Orleans Saints after practicing in full Thursday as he recovers from a left shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and defensive end Bilal Nichols (hand) were also full participants and both should return to action in Week 7.

Guard Ted Larsen was limited on Thursday and all indications suggest Rashaad Coward will start in place of Kyle Long, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week.

As for the Saints, running back Alvin Kamara did not participate in practice as he rehabs knee and ankle injuries. His status is likely to be a game-time decision.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.