Bears offense piling up yards but seems to have lost its compass

Bears offense piling up yards but seems to have lost its compass

The game-changing mistakes of the Bears offense in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts – Jordan Howard’s first-quarter facemask penalty at the Indianapolis goal line, Cameron Meredith’s lost fourth-quarter fumble, Brian Hoyer’s failure to spot Alshon Jeffery open in the Indianapolis end zone – deserved their prominent focus in a six-point Bears loss.

But something else – actually something elses, plural – is simply not making sense.

The offensive movement – 522 yards – was the fifth-highest total in franchise history. It was also a completely hollow stat, coming in the one game of those top five that was a loss. The offensive yardage has increased every game — 258, 284, 390, 408 and last Sunday’s 522. Also hollow, since the record is 1-4.

The Bears’ franchise receiver (Jeffery) is in a cluster of pass-catchers ranked 49th in targets (31), tied with Eddie Royal and one ahead of Zach Miller.

Beyond individual specifics, however… .

Philosophically, coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated the intention of adhering to a run-based offense, expected to produce a balance more run-oriented even than the 47-percent ratio under Adam Gase. John Fox has a preference for ball control, and the talk of the offseason was of a running-back-by-committee approach.

Yet through the first five games of 2016, with a quarterback transition, an offensive line still forming and health issues at receiver, the Bears have fallen to 1-4 with offensive play calling in the line with some of the most disastrous breakdowns in recent seasons.

Hitting the low points

The offense’s relegation of franchise wideout to a peripheral player even in the passing game is one thing. The relegation of the supposed foundation of the offense – running the football – to its current state borders on the bewildering.

Despite multiple situations of trailing in games by a touchdown or less, Loggains and the offense for the year are running the football just 33.6 percent of its plays. For perspective: That falls below some of the lows in recent Bears history.

In 2010, Mike Martz ran the football 33.7 percent of the time through the first six games with Jay Cutler before a bloodletting at the off week in which coach Lovie Smith, whose defense was holding the season together, ordered an expanded role in game-planning for the offensive-line coach and restructured around the offensive line and Matt Forte.

In 2013, Marc Trestman tilted away from the winning Smith formula of 2012 (47 percent) and dialed back to 39.9 percent run. The following year the offense completely lost its compass and ran on just 35.3 percent of its plays.

Defenses can obviously dictate what offenses will do. But the reverse is also true and the Bears have operated seemingly without a commitment to much of anything, or anyone.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Colts conundrum

Against the Colts, the Bears trailed 16-13 at halftime with Hoyer throwing 16 times and the Bears running 11. While barely over 40 percent run, it was balanced compared to Loggains’ second half: 35 plays, eight runs (30.6 percent).

Matters spiraled precipitously down in the fourth quarter. The Bears took a 23-19 lead on a drive that had three Howard runs vs. five passes, before a check-down flip to Howard went for a 21-yard touchdown.

After the Colts scored to go back up by three points, the first Bears snap was a throw to Meredith, who fumbled to set up a Colts field goal.

At that point, with 2:28 remaining and a situation where a balanced drive could consume time on the way to a winning TD, Loggains called eight straight pass plays (one nullified by a Bobby Massie holding infraction to set up a third-and-15) – zero runs.

Even without his 57-yard run in the first half, Howard averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Howard had carries of four, 12 and six yards on the Bears’ go-ahead drive of 96 yards, yet never saw the football again after his catch-and-run score.

Second-guessing is always easy, with or without hotdogs, and Fox looked at the offensive progress after the Indianapolis loss and has no alluded to the minimalist run game.

“Anytime you put up 525 yards, there's some good things,” he said. “I think our demise has been the collection of points. We made two drives down there early in the game and come away with 6 points instead of 14 and those are big swings, especially on the road against an explosive team like an Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts team, so I think that was really our bugaboo and over the last few weeks.

“I think we've gotten better at moving the ball offensively, distributing it. I think our timing's been better, all in all though we still need to capitalize on more points.”

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”